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English Critical Essays - Nineteenth Century
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Hamelin Town's in Brunswick, By famous Hanover city; The river Weser, deep and wide, Washes its walls on the southern side; A pleasanter spot you never spied; But, when begins my ditty, Almost five hundred years ago, To see the townsfolk suffer so From vermin was a pity.

Rats! They fought the dogs, and killed the cats, And bit the babies in the cradles, And ate the cheeses out of the vats, And licked the soup from the cook's own ladles, Split open the kegs of salted sprats, Made nests inside men's Sunday hats, And even spoiled the women's chats By drowning their speaking With shrieking and squeaking In fifty different sharps and flats.

At last the people in a body To the Town Hall came flocking: ''Tis clear', cried they, 'our Mayor's a noddy; And as for our Corporation—shocking To think we buy gowns lined with ermine For dolts that can't or won't determine What's best to rid us of our vermin! You hope, because you're old and obese, To find in the furry civic robe ease? Rouse up, Sirs! Give your brains a racking To find the remedy we're lacking, Or, sure as fate, we'll send you packing!' At this the Mayor and Corporation Quaked with a mighty consternation.

A person of musical abilities proposes to extricate the civic dignitaries from the difficulty, and they promise him a thousand guilders if he does.

Into the street the Piper stept, Smiling first a little smile, As if he knew what magic slept In his quiet pipe the while; Then, like a musical adept, To blow the pipe his lips he wrinkled, And green and blue his sharp eye twinkled Like a candle-flame where salt is sprinkled; And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered You heard as if an army muttered; And the muttering grew to a grumbling; And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling; And out of the houses the rats came tumbling. Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats, Brown rats, black rats, grey rats, tawny rats, Grave old plodders, gay young friskers, Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins, Cooking tails and pricking whiskers, Families by tens and dozens, Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives— Followed the Piper for their lives. From street to street he piped advancing, And step for step they followed dancing, Until they came to the river Weser, Wherein all plunged and perished! —Save one who, stout as Julius Caesar, Swam across and lived to carry (As he, the manuscript he cherished) To Rat-land home his commentary: Which was, 'At the first shrill notes of the pipe, I heard a sound as of scraping tripe, And putting apples, wondrous ripe, Into a cider-press's gripe: And a moving away of pickle-tub boards, And a leaving ajar of conserve-cupboards, And a drawing the corks of train-oil flasks, And a breaking the hoops of butter-casks: And it seemed as if a voice (Sweeter far than by harp or by psaltery Is breathed) called out, "Oh rats, rejoice! The world is grown to one vast drysaltery! So, munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon, Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!" And just as a bulky sugar-puncheon, All ready staved, like a great sun shone Glorious scarce an inch before me, Just as methought it said, "Come, bore me!" —I found the Weser rolling o'er me.' You should have heard the Hamelin people Ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple. 'Go', cried the Mayor, 'and get long poles, Poke out the nests and block up the holes! Consult with carpenters and builders, And leave in our town not even a trace Of the rats!'—when suddenly, up the face Of the Piper perked in the market-place, With a 'First, if you please, my thousand guilders!' A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue; So did the Corporation too. For council dinners made rare havoc With Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock; And half the money would replenish Their cellar's biggest butt with Rhenish. To pay this sum to a wandering fellow With a gipsy coat of red and yellow! 'Beside,' quoth the Mayor with a knowing wink, 'Our business was done at the river's brink; We saw with our eyes the vermin sink, And what's dead can't come to life, I think. So, friend, we're not the folks to shrink From the duty of giving you something for drink, And a matter of money to put in your poke; But as for the guilders, what we spoke Of them, as you very well know, was in joke. Besides, our losses have made us thrifty. A thousand guilders! Come, take fifty!'

The piper's face fell, and he cried, 'No trifling! I can't wait, beside! I've promised to visit by dinner time Bagdat, and accept the prime Of the Head-Cook's pottage, all he's rich in, For having left, in the Caliph's kitchen, Of a nest of scorpions no survivor— With him I proved no bargain-driver, With you, don't think I'll bate a stiver! And folks who put me in a passion May find me pipe to another fashion.'

'How?' cried the Mayor, 'd'ye think I'll brook Being worse treated than a Cook? Insulted by a lazy ribald With idle pipe and vesture piebald? You threaten us, fellow? Do your worst, Blow your pipe there till you burst!'

Once more he stept into the street And to his lips again Laid his long pipe of smooth straight cane; And ere he blew three notes (such sweet Soft notes as yet musician's cunning Never gave the enraptured air) There was a rustling, that seemed like a bustling Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling. Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering, Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering, And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering, Out came the children running.

All the little boys and girls, With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls, And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls. Tripping and skipping ran merrily after The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.

* * * * *

And I must not omit to say That in Transylvania there's a tribe Of alien people that ascribe The outlandish ways and dress On which their neighbours lay such stress, To their fathers and mothers having risen Out of some subterraneous prison Into which they were trepanned Long time ago in a mighty band Out of Hamelin town in Brunswick land, But how or why, they don't understand.

Something more we had to say of Mr. Browning, but we must stop. It is singularly characteristic of this age that the poems which rise to the surface should be examples of ornate art, and grotesque art, not of pure art. We live in the realm of the half educated. The number of readers grows daily, but the quality of readers does not improve rapidly. The middle class is scattered, headless; it is well-meaning but aimless; wishing to be wise, but ignorant how to be wise. The aristocracy of England never was a literary aristocracy, never even in the days of its full power, of its unquestioned predominance, did it guide—did it even seriously try to guide—the taste of England. Without guidance young men and tired men are thrown amongst a mass of books; they have to choose which they like; many of them would much like to improve their culture, to chasten their taste, if they knew how. But left to themselves they take, not pure art, but showy art; not that which permanently relieves the eye and makes it happy whenever it looks, and as long as it looks, but glaring art which catches and arrests the eye for a moment, but which in the end fatigues it. But before the wholesome remedy of nature—the fatigue—arrives, the hasty reader has passed on to some new excitement, which in its turn stimulates for an instant, and then is passed by for ever. These conditions are not favourable to the due appreciation of pure art—of that art which must be known before it is admired—which must have fastened irrevocably on the brain before you appreciate it—which you must love ere it will seem worthy of your love. Women too, whose voice in literature counts as well as that of men—and in a light literature counts for more than that of men—women, such as we know them, such as they are likely to be, ever prefer a delicate unreality to a true or firm art. A dressy literature, an exaggerated literature seem to be fated to us. These are our curses, as other times had theirs.

And yet Think not the living times forget, Ages of heroes fought and fell, That Homer in the end might tell; O'er grovelling generations past Upstood the Gothic fane at last; And countless hearts in countless years Had wasted thoughts, and hopes, and fears, Rude laughter and unmeaning tears; Ere England Shakespeare saw, or Rome The pure perfection of her dome. Others I doubt not, if not we, The issue of our toils shall see; And (they forgotten and unknown) Young children gather as their own The harvest that the dead had sown.



WALTER HORATIO PATER

1839-1894

COLERIDGE'S WRITINGS (1866)

Conversations, Letters, and Recollections of S. T. Coleridge. Edited by THOMAS ALLSOP. London. 1864.

Forms of intellectual and spiritual culture often exercise their subtlest and most artful charm when life is already passing from them. Searching and irresistible as are the changes of the human spirit on its way to perfection, there is yet so much elasticity of temper that what must pass away sooner or later is not disengaged all at once even from the highest order of minds. Nature, which by one law of development evolves ideas, moralities, modes of inward life, and represses them in turn, has in this way provided that the earlier growth should propel its fibres into the later, and so transmit the whole of its forces in an unbroken continuity of life. Then comes the spectacle of the reserve of the elder generation exquisitely refined by the antagonism of the new. That current of new life chastens them as they contend against it. Weaker minds do not perceive the change; clearer minds abandon themselves to it. To feel the change everywhere, yet not to abandon oneself to it, is a situation of difficulty and contention. Communicating in this way to the passing stage of culture the charm of what is chastened, high-strung, athletic, they yet detach the highest minds from the past by pressing home its difficulties and finally proving it impossible. Such is the charm of Julian, of St. Louis, perhaps of Luther; in the narrower compass of modern times, of Dr. Newman and Lacordaire; it is also the peculiar charm of Coleridge.

Modern thought is distinguished from ancient by its cultivation of the 'relative' spirit in place of the 'absolute'. Ancient philosophy sought to arrest every object in an eternal outline, to fix thought in a necessary formula, and types of life in a classification by 'kinds' or genera. To the modern spirit nothing is, or can be rightly known except relatively under conditions. An ancient philosopher indeed started a philosophy of the relative, but only as an enigma. So the germs of almost all philosophical ideas were enfolded in the mind of antiquity, and fecundated one by one in after ages by the external influences of art, religion, culture in the natural sciences, belonging to a particular generation, which suddenly becomes preoccupied by a formula or theory, not so much new as penetrated by a new meaning and expressiveness. So the idea of 'the relative' has been fecundated in modern times by the influence of the sciences of observation. These sciences reveal types of life evanescing into each other by inexpressible refinements of change. Things pass into their opposites by accumulation of undefinable quantities. The growth of those sciences consists in a continual analysis of facts of rough and general observation into groups of facts more precise and minute. A faculty for truth is a power of distinguishing and fixing delicate and fugitive details. The moral world is ever in contact with the physical; the relative spirit has invaded moral philosophy from the ground of the inductive science. There it has started a new analysis of the relations of body and mind, good and evil, freedom and necessity. Hard and abstract moralities are yielding to a more exact estimate of the subtlety and complexity of our life. Always, as an organism increases in perfection the conditions of its life become more complex. Man is the most complex of the products of nature. Character merges into temperament; the nervous system refines itself into intellect. His physical organism is played upon not only by the physical conditions about it, but by remote laws of inheritance, the vibrations of long past acts reaching him in the midst of the new order of things in which he lives. When we have estimated these conditions he is not yet simple and isolated; for the mind of the race, the character of the age, sway him this way or that through the medium of language and ideas. It seems as if the most opposite statements about him were alike true; he is so receptive, all the influences of the world and of society ceaselessly playing upon him, so that every hour in his life is unique, changed altogether by a stray word, or glance, or touch. The truth of these relations experience gives us; not the truth of eternal outlines effected once for all, but a world of fine gradations and subtly linked conditions, shifting intricately as we ourselves change; and bids us by constant clearing of the organs of observation and perfecting of analysis to make what we can of these. To the intellect, to the critical spirit, these subtleties of effect are more precious than anything else. What is lost in precision of form is gained in intricacy of expression. To suppose that what is called 'ontology' is what the speculative instinct seeks, is the misconception of a backward school of logicians. Who would change the colour or curve of a roseleaf for that [Greek: ousia achromatos, aschematistos, anaphes]. A transcendentalism that makes what is abstract more excellent than what is concrete has nothing akin to the leading philosophies of the world. The true illustration of the speculative temper is not the Hindoo, lost to sense, understanding, individuality; but such an one as Goethe, to whom every moment of life brought its share of experimental, individual knowledge, by whom no touch of the world of form, colour, and passion was disregarded.

The literary life of Coleridge was a disinterested struggle against the application of the relative spirit to moral and religious questions. Everywhere he is restlessly scheming to apprehend the absolute; to affirm it effectively; to get it acknowledged. Coleridge failed in that attempt, happily even for him, for it was a struggle against the increasing life of the mind itself. The real loss was, that this controversial interest betrayed him into a direction which was not for him the path of the highest intellectual success; a direction in which his artistic talent could never find the conditions of its perfection. Still, there is so much witchery about his poems, that it is as a poet that he will most probably be permanently remembered. How did his choice of a controversial interest, his determination to affirm the absolute, weaken or modify his poetical gift?

In 1798 he joined Wordsworth in the composition of a volume of poems—the Lyrical Ballads. What Wordsworth then wrote is already vibrant with that blithe elan which carried him to final happiness and self-possession. In Coleridge we feel already that faintness and obscure dejection which cling like some contagious damp to all his writings. Wordsworth was to be distinguished by a joyful and penetrative conviction of the existence of certain latent affinities between nature and the human mind, which reciprocally gild the mind and nature with a kind of 'heavenly alchemy':

... My voice proclaims How exquisitely the individual mind (And the progressive powers perhaps no less Of the whole species) to the external world Is fitted:—and how exquisitely, too, The external world is fitted to the mind: And the creation, by no lower name Can it be called, which they with blended might Accomplish.[37]

[37] Preface to the Excursion.

In Wordsworth this took the form of an unbroken dreaming over the aspects and transitions of nature, a reflective, but altogether unformulated, analysis of them.

There are in Coleridge's poems expressions of this conviction as deep as Wordsworth's. But Coleridge could never have abandoned himself to the dream as Wordsworth did, because the first condition of such abandonment is an unvexed quietness of heart. No one can read the Lines composed above Tintern without feeling how potent the physical element was among the conditions of Wordsworth's genius:—'felt in the blood and felt along the heart,'—'My whole life I have lived in quiet thought.' The stimulus which most artists require from nature he can renounce. He leaves the ready-made glory of the Swiss mountains to reflect a glory on a mouldering leaf. He loves best to watch the floating thistledown, because of its hint at an unseen life in the air. Coleridge's temperament, [Greek: aei en sphodra orexei], with its faintness, its grieved dejection, could never have been like that.

My genial spirits fail And what can these avail To lift the smothering weight from off my breast? It were a vain endeavour, Though I should gaze for ever On that green light that lingers in the west: I may not hope from outward forms to win The passion and the life whose fountains are within.

It is that flawless temperament in Wordsworth which keeps his conviction of a latent intelligence in nature within the limits of sentiment or instinct, and confines it, to those delicate and subdued shades of expression which perfect art allows. In sadder dispositions, that is in the majority of cases, where such a conviction has existed, it has stiffened into a formula, it has frozen into a scientific or pseudo-scientific theory. For the perception of those affinities brings one so near the absorbing speculative problems of life—optimism, the proportion of man to his place in nature, his prospects in relation to it—that it ever tends to become theory through their contagion. Even in Goethe, who has brilliantly handled the subject in his lyrics entitled Gott und Welt, it becomes something stiffer than poetry; it is tempered by the 'pale cast' of his technical knowledge of the nature of colours, of anatomy, of the metamorphosis of plants.

That, however, which had only a limited power over Coleridge as sentiment, entirely possessed him as a philosophical idea. We shall see in what follows how deep its power was, how it pursued him everywhere, and seemed to him to interpret every question. Wordsworth's poetry is an optimism; it says man's relation to the world is, and may be seen by man to be, a perfect relation; but it is an optimism that begins and ends in an abiding instinct. Coleridge accepts the same optimism as a philosophical idea, but an idea is relative to an intellectual assent; sometimes it seems a better expression of facts, sometimes a worse, as the understanding weighs it in the logical balances. And so it is not a permanent consolation. It is only in the rarer moments of intellectual warmth and sunlight that it is entirely credible. In less exhilarating moments that perfect relation of man and nature seems to shift and fail; that is, the philosophical idea ceases to be realizable; and with Coleridge its place is not supplied, as with Wordsworth, by the corresponding sentiment or instinct.

What in Wordsworth is a sentiment or instinct, is in Coleridge a philosophical idea. In other words, Coleridge's talent is a more intellectual one than Wordsworth's, more dramatic, more self-conscious. Wordsworth's talent, deeply reflective as it is, because its base is an instinct, is deficient in self-knowledge. Possessed by the rumours and voices of the haunted country, the borders of which he has passed alone, he never thinks of withdrawing from it to look down upon it from one of the central heights of human life. His power absorbs him, not he it; he cannot turn it round or get without it; he does not estimate its general relation to life. But Coleridge, just because the essence of his talent is the intuition of an idea, commands his talent. He not only feels with Wordsworth the expression of mind in nature, but he can project that feeling outside him, reduce it to a psychological law, define its relation to other elements of culture, place it in a complete view of life.

And in some such activity as that, varied as his wide learning, in a many-sided dramatic kind of poetry, assigning its place and value to every mode of the inward life, seems to have been for Coleridge the original path of artistic success. But in order to follow that path one must hold ideas loosely in the relative spirit, not seek to stereotype any one of the many modes of that life; one must acknowledge that the mind is ever greater than its own products, devote ideas to the service of art rather than of [Greek: gnosis], not disquiet oneself about the absolute. Perhaps Coleridge is more interesting because he did not follow this path. Repressing his artistic interest and voluntarily discolouring his own work, he turned to console and strengthen the human mind, vulgarized or dejected, as he believed, by the acquisition of new knowledge about itself in the eclaircissement of the eighteenth century.

What the reader of our own generation will least find in Coleridge's prose writings is the excitement of the literary sense. And yet in those grey volumes we have the production of one who made way ever by a charm, the charm of voice, of aspect, of language, above all, by the intellectual charm of new, moving, luminous ideas. Perhaps the chief offence in Coleridge is an excess of seriousness, a seriousness that arises not from any moral principle, but from a misconception of the perfect manner. There is a certain shade of levity and unconcern, the perfect manner of the eighteenth century, which marks complete culture in the handling of abstract questions. The humanist, he who possesses that complete culture, does not 'weep' over the failure of 'a theory of the quantification of the predicate', nor 'shriek' over the fall of a philosophical formula. A kind of humour is one of the conditions of the true mental attitude in the criticism of past stages of thought. Humanity cannot afford to be too serious about them, any more than a man of good sense can afford to be too serious in looking back upon his own childhood. Plato, whom Coleridge claims as the first of his spiritual ancestors, Plato, as we remember him, a true humanist, with Petrarch and Goethe and M. Renan, holds his theories lightly, glances with a blithe and naive inconsequence from one view to another, not anticipating the burden of meaning 'views' will one day have for humanity. In reading him one feels how lately it was that Croesus thought it a paradox to say that external prosperity was not necessarily happiness. But on Coleridge lies the whole weight of the sad reflection that has since come into the world, with which for us the air is full, which the children in the market-place repeat to each other. Even his language is forced and broken, lest some saving formula should be lost—'distinctities', 'enucleation', 'pentad of operative Christianity'—he has a whole vocabulary of such phrases, and expects to turn the tide of human thought by fixing the sense of such expressions as 'reason', 'understanding', 'idea'.

Again, he has not the jealousy of the true artist in excluding all associations that have no charm or colour or gladness in them; everywhere he allows the impress of an inferior theological literature; he is often prolix and importunate about most indifferent heroes—Sir Alexander Ball, Dr. Bell, even Dr. Bowyer, the coarse pedant of the Blue-coat School. And the source of all this is closely connected with the source of his literary activity. For Coleridge had chosen as the mark of his literary egotism a kind of intellectual tour de force—to found a religious philosophy, to do something with the 'idea' in spite of the essential nature of the 'idea'. And therefore all is fictitious from the beginning. He had determined, that which is humdrum, insipid, which the human spirit has done with, shall yet stimulate and inspire. What he produced symbolizes this purpose—the mass of it ennuyant, depressing: the Aids to Reflection, for instance, with Archbishop Leighton's vague pieties all twisted into the jargon of a spiritualistic philosophy. But sometimes 'the pulse of the God's blood' does transmute it, kindling here and there a spot that begins to live; as in that beautiful fragment at the end of the Church and State, or in the distilled and concentrated beauty of such a passage as this:

The first range of hills, that encircles the scanty vale of human life, is the horizon for the majority of its inhabitants. On its ridges the common sun is born and departs. From them the stars rise, and touching them they vanish. By the many, even this range, the natural limit and bulwark of the vale, is but imperfectly known. Its higher ascents are too often hidden by mists and clouds from uncultivated swamps, which few have courage or curiosity to penetrate. To the multitude below these vapours appear now as the dark haunts of terrific agents, on which none may intrude with impunity; and now all a-glow, with colours not their own, they are gazed at as the splendid palaces of happiness and power. But in all ages there have been a few who, measuring and sounding the rivers of the vale at the feet of their furthest inaccessible falls, have learned that the sources must be far higher and far inward; a few who, even in the level streams, have detected elements which neither the vale itself nor the surrounding mountains contained or could supply.

Biographia Literaria.

'I was driven from life in motion to life in thought and sensation.' So Coleridge sums up his childhood with its delicacy, its sensitiveness, and passion. From his tenth to his eighteenth year he was at a rough school in London. Speaking of this time, he says:

When I was first plucked up and transplanted from my birthplace and family, Providence, it has often occurred to me, gave me the first intimation that it was my lot, and that it was best for me, to make or find my way of life a detached individual, a terrae filius, who was to ask love or service of no one on any more specific relation than that of being a man, and as such to take my chance for the free charities of humanity.[38]

[38] Biographical Supplement to Biographia Literaria, chap. ii.

Even his fine external nature was for years repressed, wronged, driven inward—'at fourteen I was in a continual state of low fever.' He becomes a dreamer, an eager student, but without ambition.

This depressed boy is nevertheless, on the spiritual side, the child of a noble house. At twenty-five he is exercising a wonderful charm, and has defined for himself a peculiar line of intellectual activity. He had left Cambridge without a degree, a Unitarian. Unable to take orders, he determined through Southey's influence to devote himself to literature. When he left Cambridge there was a prejudice against him which has given occasion to certain suspicions. Those who knew him best discredit these suspicions. What is certain is that he was subject to fits of violent, sometimes fantastic, despondency. He retired to Stowey, in Somersetshire, to study poetry and philosophy. In 1797 his poetical gift was in full flower; he wrote Kubla Khan, the first part of Christabel, and The Ancient Mariner. His literary success grew in spite of opposition. He had a strange attractive gift of conversation, or rather of monologue, as De Stael said, full of bizarrerie, with the rapid alternations of a dream, and here and there a sudden summons into a world strange to the hearer, abounding with images drawn from a sort of divided, imperfect life, as of one to whom the external world penetrated only in part, and, blended with all this, passages of the deepest obscurity, precious only for their musical cadence, the echo in Coleridge of the eloquence of the older English writers, of whom he was so ardent a lover. All through this brilliant course we may discern the power of the Asiatic temperament, of that voluptuousness which is perhaps connected with his appreciation of the intimacy, the almost mystical rapport, between man and nature. 'I am much better', he writes, 'and my new and tender health is all over me like a voluptuous feeling.'

And whatever fame, or charm, or life-inspiring gift he has had is the vibration of the interest he excited then, the propulsion into years that clouded his early promise of that first buoyant, irresistible self-assertion: so great is even the indirect power of a sincere effort towards the ideal life, of even a temporary escape of the spirit from routine. Perhaps the surest sign of his election—that he was indeed, on the spiritual side, the child of a noble house—is that story of the Pantisocratic scheme, which at this distance looks so grotesque. In his enthusiasm for the French Revolution, the old communistic dream with its appeal to nature (perhaps a little theatrical), touched him, as it had touched Rousseau, Saint-Pierre, and Chateaubriand. He had married one, his affection for whom seems to have been only a passing feeling; with her and a few friends he was to found a communistic settlement on the banks of the Susquehannah—'the name was pretty and metrical.' It was one of Coleridge's lightest dreams; but also one which could only have passed through the liberal air of his earlier life. The later years of the French Revolution, which for us have discredited all such dreams, deprived him of that youthfulness which is the preservative element in a literary talent.

In 1798, he visited Germany. A beautiful fragment of this period remains, describing a spring excursion to the Brocken. His excitement still vibrates in it. Love, all joyful states of mind, are self-expressive; they loosen the tongue, they fill the thoughts with sensuous images, they harmonize one with the world of sight. We hear of the 'rich graciousness and courtesy' of Coleridge's manner, of the white and delicate skin, the abundant black hair, the full, almost animal lips, that whole physiognomy of the dreamer already touched with fanaticism. One says of the text of one of his Unitarian sermons, 'his voice rose like a stream of rich distilled perfumes'; another, 'he talks like an angel, and does—nothing.'

Meantime, he had designed an intellectual novelty in the shape of a religious philosophy. Socinian theology and the philosophy of Hartley had become distasteful. 'Whatever is against right reason, that no faith can oblige us to believe.' Coleridge quotes these words from Jeremy Taylor. And yet ever since the dawn of the Renaissance, had subsisted a conflict between reason and faith. From the first, indeed, the Christian religion had affirmed the existence of such a conflict, and had even based its plea upon its own weakness in it. In face of the classical culture, with its deep wide-struck roots in the world as it permanently exists, St. Paul asserted the claims of that which could not appeal with success to any genuinely human principle. Paradox as it was, that was the strength of the new spirit; for how much is there at all times in humanity which cannot appeal with success for encouragement or tolerance to any genuinely human principle. In the Middle Ages it might seem that faith had reconciled itself to philosophy; the Catholic church was the leader of the world's life as well as of the spirit's. Looking closer we see that the conflict is still latent there; the supremacy of faith is only a part of the worship of sorrow and weakness which marks the age. The weak are no longer merely a majority, they are all Europe. It is not that faith has become one with reason; but a strange winter, a strange suspension of life, has passed over the classical culture which is only the human reason in its most trenchant form. Glimpse after glimpse, as that pagan culture awoke to life, the conflict was felt once more. It is at the court of Frederick II that the Renaissance first becomes discernible as an actual power in European society. How definite and unmistakable is the attitude of faith towards that! Ever since the Reformation all phases of theology had been imperfect philosophies—that is, in which there was a religious arriere pensee; philosophies which could never be in the ascendant in a sincerely scientific sphere. The two elements had never really mixed. Writers so different as Locke and Taylor have each his liberal philosophy, and each has his defence of the orthodox belief; but, also, each has a divided mind; we wonder how the two elements could have existed side by side; brought together in a single mind, but unable to fuse in it, they reveal their radical contrariety. The Catholic church and humanity are two powers that divide the intellect and spirit of man. On the Catholic side is faith, rigidly logical as Ultramontanism, with a proportion of the facts of life, that is, all that is despairing in life coming naturally under its formula. On the side of humanity is all that is desirable in the world, all that is sympathetic with its laws, and succeeds through that sympathy. Doubtless, for the individual, there are a thousand intermediate shades of opinion, a thousand resting-places for the religious spirit; still, [Greek: to diorizein ouk esti ton pollon], fine distinctions are not for the majority; and this makes time eventually a dogmatist, working out the opposition in its most trenchant form, and fixing the horns of the dilemma; until, in the present day, we have on one side Pius IX, the true descendant of the fisherman, issuing the Encyclical, pleading the old promise against the world with a special kind of justice; and on the other side, the irresistible modern culture, which, as religious men often remind us, is only Christian accidentally.

The peculiar temper of Coleridge's intellect made the idea of reconciling this conflict very seductive. With a true speculative talent he united a false kind of subtlety and the full share of vanity. A dexterous intellectual tour de force has always an independent charm; and therefore it is well for the cause of truth that the directness, sincerity, and naturalness of things are beyond a certain limit sacrificed in vain to a factitious interest. A method so forced as that of Coleridge's religious philosophy is from the first doomed to be insipid, so soon as the temporary interest or taste or curiosity it was designed to meet has passed away. Then, as to the manner of such books as the Aids to Reflection, or The Friend:—These books came from one whose vocation was in the world of art; and yet, perhaps, of all books that have been influential in modern times, they are farthest from the classical form—bundles of notes—the original matter inseparably mixed up with that borrowed from others—the whole, just that mere preparation for an artistic effect which the finished artist would be careful one day to destroy. Here, again, we have a trait profoundly characteristic of Coleridge. He often attempts to reduce a phase of thought, subtle and exquisite, to conditions too rough for it. He uses a purely speculative gift in direct moral edification. Scientific truth is something fugitive, relative, full of fine gradations; he tries to fix it in absolute formulas. The Aids to Reflection, or The Friend, is an effort to propagate the volatile spirit of conversation into the less ethereal fabric of a written book; and it is only here and there that the poorer matter becomes vibrant, is really lifted by the spirit.

At forty-two, we find Coleridge saying in a letter:

I feel with an intensity unfathomable by words my utter nothingness, impotence, and worthlessness in and for myself. I have learned what a sin is against an infinite, imperishable being such as is the soul of man. The consolations, at least the sensible sweetness of hope, I do not possess. On the contrary, the temptation which I have constantly to fight up against is a fear that, if annihilation and the possibility of heaven were offered to my choice, I should choose the former.

What was the cause of this change? That is precisely the point on which, after all the gossip there has been, we are still ignorant. At times Coleridge's opium excesses were great; but what led to those excesses must not be left out of account. From boyhood he had a tendency to low fever, betrayed by his constant appetite for bathing and swimming, which he indulged even when a physician had opposed it. In 1803, he went to Malta as secretary to the English Governor. His daughter suspects that the source of the evil was there, that for one of his constitution the climate of Malta was deadly. At all events, when he returned, the charm of those five wonderful years had failed at the source.

De Quincey said of him, 'he wanted better bread than can be made with wheat.' Lamb said of him that from boyhood he had 'hungered for eternity'. Henceforth those are the two notes of his life. From this time we must look for no more true literary talent in him. His style becomes greyer and greyer, his thoughts outre, exaggerated, a kind of credulity or superstition exercised upon abstract words. Like Clifford, in Hawthorne's beautiful romance—the born Epicurean, who by some strange wrong has passed the best of his days in a prison—he is the victim of a division of the will, often showing itself in trivial things: he could never choose on which side of the garden path he would walk. In 1803, he wrote a poem on 'The Pains of Sleep'. That unrest increased. Mr. Gillman tells us 'he had long been greatly afflicted with nightmare, and when residing with us was frequently aroused from this painful sleep by any one of the family who might hear him'.

That faintness and continual dissolution had its own consumptive refinements, and even brought, as to the 'Beautiful Soul' in Wilhelm Meister, a faint religious ecstasy—that 'singing in the sails' which is not of the breeze. Here, again, is a note of Coleridge's:

'In looking at objects of nature while I am thinking, as at yonder moon, dim-glimmering through the window-pane, I seem rather to be seeking, as it were asking, a symbolical language for something within me that already and for ever exists, than observing anything new. Even when that latter is the case, yet still I have always an obscure feeling, as if that new phenomenon were the dim awaking of a forgotten or hidden truth of my inner nature.' Then, 'while I was preparing the pen to write this remark, I lost the train of thought which had led me to it.'

What a distemper of the eye of the mind! What an almost bodily distemper there is in that!

Coleridge's intellectual sorrows were many; but he had one singular intellectual happiness. With an inborn taste for transcendental philosophy he lived just at the time when that philosophy took an immense spring in Germany, and connected itself with a brilliant literary movement. He had the luck to light upon it in its freshness, and introduce it to his countrymen. What an opportunity for one reared on the colourless English philosophies, but who feels an irresistible attraction towards metaphysical synthesis! How rare are such occasions of intellectual contentment! This transcendental philosophy, chiefly as systematized by Schelling, Coleridge applies, with an eager, unwearied subtlety, to the questions of theology and art-criticism. It is in his theory of art-criticism that he comes nearest to true and important principles; that is the least fugitive part of his work. Let us take this first; here we shall most clearly apprehend his main principle.

What, then, is the essence of this criticism? On the whole it may be described as an attempt to reclaim the world of art as a world of fixed laws—to show that the creative activity of genius and the simplest act of thought are but higher and lower products of the laws of a universal logic. Criticism, feeling its own unsuccess in dealing with the greater works of art, has sometimes made too much of those dark and capricious suggestions of genius which even the intellect possessed by them is unable to track or recall. It has seemed due to their half-sacred character to look for no link between the process by which they were produced and the slighter processes of the mind. Coleridge assumes that the highest phases of thought must be more, not less, than the lower, subjects of law.

With this interest, in the Biographia Literaria, he refines Schelling's 'Philosophy of Nature' into a theory of art. 'Es giebt kein Plagiat in der Philosophie' says Heine, alluding to the charge brought against Schelling of unacknowledged borrowing from Bruno, and certainly that which is common to Coleridge and Schelling is of far earlier origin than the Renaissance. Schellingism, the 'Philosophy of Nature', is indeed a constant tradition in the history of thought; it embodies a permanent type of the speculative temper. That mode of conceiving nature as a mirror or reflex of the intelligence of man may be traced up to the first beginnings of Greek speculation. There are two ways of envisaging those aspects of nature which appear to bear the impress of reason or intelligence. There is the deist's way, which regards them merely as marks of design, which separates the informing mind from nature, as the mechanist from the machine; and there is the pantheistic way, which identifies the two, which regards nature itself as the living energy of an intelligence of the same kind as, but vaster than, the human. Greek philosophy, finding indications of mind everywhere, dwelling exclusively in its observations on that which is general or formal, on that which modern criticism regards as the modification of things by the mind of the observer, adopts the latter, or pantheistic way, through the influence of the previous mythological period. Mythology begins in the early necessities of language, of which it is a kind of accident. But at a later period its essence changes; it becomes what it was not at its birth, the servant of a genuine poetic interest, a kind of vivification of nature. Played upon by those accidents of language, the Greek mind becomes possessed by the conception of nature as living, thinking, almost speaking to the mind of man. This unfixed poetical prepossession, reduced to an abstract form, petrified into an idea, is the conception which gives a unity of aim to Greek philosophy. Step by step it works out the substance of the Hegelian formula: 'Was ist, das ist vernuenftig; was vernuenftig ist, das ist'—'Whatever is, is according to reason; whatever is according to reason, that is.' A science of which that could be the formula is still but an intellectual aspiration; the formula of true science is different. Experience, which has gradually saddened the earth's colour, stiffened its motions, withdrawn from it some blithe and debonair presence, has moderated our demands upon science. The positive method makes very little account of marks of intelligence in nature; in its wider view of phenomena it sees that those incidents are a minority, and may rank as happy coincidences; it absorbs them in the simpler conception of law. But the suspicion of a mind latent in nature, struggling for release and intercourse with the intellect of man through true ideas, has never ceased to haunt a certain class of minds. Started again and again in successive periods by enthusiasts on the antique pattern, in each case the thought has seemed paler and more evanescent amidst the growing consistency and sharpness of outline of other and more positive forms of knowledge. Still, wherever a speculative instinct has been united with extreme inwardness of temperament, as in Jakob Boehme, there the old Greek conception, like some seed floating in the air, has taken root and sprung up anew. Coleridge, thrust inward upon himself, driven from 'life in thought and sensation' to life in thought only, feels in that dark London school a thread of the Greek mind vibrating strangely in him. At fifteen he is discoursing on Plotinus, and has translated the hymns of Synesius. So in later years he reflects from Schelling the flitting tradition. He conceives a subtle co-ordination between the ideas of the mind and the laws of the natural world. Science is to be attained, not by observation, analysis, generalization, but by the evolution or recovery of those ideas from within, by a sort of [Greek: anamnesis], every group of observed facts remaining an enigma until the appropriate idea is struck upon them from the mind of Newton or Cuvier, the genius in whom sympathy with the universal reason is entire. Next he supposes that this reason or intelligence in nature gradually becomes reflective—self-conscious. He fancies he can track through all the simpler orders of life fragments of an eloquent prophecy about the human mind. He regards the whole of nature as a development of higher forms out of the lower, through shade after shade of systematic change. The dim stir of chemical atoms towards the axes of a crystal form, the trance-like life of plants, the animal troubled by strange irritabilities, are stages which anticipate consciousness. All through that increasing stir of life this was forming itself; each stage in its unsatisfied susceptibilities seeming to be drawn out of its own limits by the more pronounced current of life on its confines, the 'shadow of approaching humanity' gradually deepening, the latent intelligence working to the surface. At this point the law of development does not lose itself in caprice; rather it becomes more constraining and incisive. From the lowest to the highest acts of intelligence, there is another range of refining shades. Gradually the mind concentrates itself, frees itself from the limits of the particular, the individual, attains a strange power of modifying and centralizing what it receives from without according to an inward ideal. At last, in imaginative genius, ideas become effective; the intelligence of nature, with all its elements connected and justified, is clearly reflected; and the interpretation of its latent purposes is fixed in works of art.

In this fanciful and bizarre attempt to rationalize art, to range it under the dominion of law, there is still a gap to be filled up. What is that common law of the mind, of which a work of art and the slighter acts of thought are alike products? Here Coleridge weaves in Kant's fine-spun theory of the transformation of sense into perception. What every theory of perception has to explain is that associative power which gathers isolated sensible qualities into the objects of the world about us. Sense, without an associative power, would be only a threadlike stream of colours, sounds, odours—each struck upon one for a moment, and then withdrawn. The basis of this association may be represented as a material one, a kind of many-coloured 'etching' on the brain. Hartley has dexterously handled this hypothesis. The charm of his 'theory of vibrations' is the vivid image it presents to the fancy. How large an element in a speculative talent is the command of these happy images! Coleridge, by a finer effort of the same kind, a greater delicacy of fancy, detects all sorts of slips, transitions, breaks of continuity in Hartley's glancing cobweb. Coleridge, with Kant, regards all association as effected by a power within, to which he gives a fanciful Greek name.[39] In an act of perception there is the matter which sense presents, colour, tone, feeling; but also a form or mould, such as space, unity, causation, suggested from within. In these forms we arrest and frame the many attributes of sense. It is like that simple chemical phenomenon where two colourless fluids uniting reflect a full colour. Neither matter nor form can be perceived asunder; they unite into the many-coloured image of life. This theory has not been able to bear a loyal induction. Even if it were true, how little it would tell us; how it attenuates fact! There, again, the charm is all in the clear image; the image of the artist combining a few elementary colours, curves, sounds into a new whole. Well, this power of association, of concentrating many elements of sense in an object of perception, is refined and deepened into the creative acts of imagination.

[39] Esemplastic.

We of the modern ages have become so familiarized with the greater works of art that we are little sensitive of the act of creation in them; they do not impress us as a new presence in the world. Only sometimes in productions which realize immediately a profound emotion and enforce a change in taste, such as Werther or Emile, we are actual witnesses of the moulding of an unforeseen type by some new principle of association. By imagination, the distinction between which and fancy is so thrust upon his readers, Coleridge means a vigorous act of association, which, by simplifying and restraining their natural expression to an artificial order, refines and perfects the types of human passion. It represents the excitements of the human kind, but reflected in a new manner, 'excitement itself imitating order.' 'Originally the offspring of passion,' he somewhere says, 'but now the adopted children of power.' So far there is nothing new or distinctive; every one who can receive from a poem or picture a total impression will admit so much. What makes the view distinctive in Coleridge are the Schellingistic associations with which he colours it, that faint glamour of the philosophy of nature which was ever influencing his thoughts. That suggested the idea of a subtly winding parallel, a 'rapport' in every detail, between the human mind and the world without it, laws of nature being so many transformed ideas. Conversely, the ideas of the human mind would be only transformed laws. Genius would be in a literal sense an exquisitely purged sympathy with nature. Those associative conceptions of the imagination, those unforeseen types of passion, would come, not so much of the artifice and invention of the understanding, as from self-surrender to the suggestions of nature; they would be evolved by the stir of nature itself realizing the highest reach of its latent intelligence; they would have a kind of antecedent necessity to rise at some time to the surface of the human mind.

It is natural that Shakespeare should be the idol of all such criticism, whether in England or Germany. The first effect in Shakespeare is that of capricious detail, of the waywardness that plays with the parts careless of the impression of the whole. But beyond there is the constraining unity of effect, the uneffaceable impression, of Hamlet or Macbeth. His hand moving freely is curved round by some law of gravitation from within; that is, there is the most constraining unity in the most abundant variety. Coleridge exaggerates this unity into something like the unity of a natural organism, the associative act that effected it into something closely akin to the primitive power of nature itself. 'In the Shakespearian drama', he says, 'there is a vitality which grows and evolves itself from within.' Again:

He, too, worked in the spirit of nature, by evolving the germ from within by the imaginative power according to the idea. For as the power of seeing is to light, so is an idea in mind to a law in nature. They are correlatives which suppose each other.

Again:

The organic form is innate; it shapes, as it develops, itself from within, and the fulness of its development is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form. Such as the life is, such is the form. Nature, the prime genial artist, inexhaustible in diverse powers, is equally inexhaustible in forms; each exterior is the physiognomy of the being within, and even such is the appropriate excellence of Shakespeare, himself a nature humanized, a genial understanding, directing self-consciously a power and an implicit wisdom deeper even than our consciousness.

There 'the absolute' has been affirmed in the sphere of art; and thought begins to congeal. Coleridge has not only overstrained the elasticity of his hypothesis, but has also obscured the true interest of art. For, after all, the artist has become something almost mechanical; instead of being the most luminous and self-possessed phase of consciousness, the associative act itself looks like some organic process of assimilation. The work of art is sometimes likened to the living organism. That expresses the impression of a self-delighting, independent life which a finished work of art gives us; it does not express the process by which that work was produced. Here there is no blind ferment of lifeless elements to realize a type. By exquisite analysis the artist attains clearness of idea, then, by many stages of refining, clearness of expression. He moves slowly over his work, calculating the tenderest tone, and restraining the subtlest curve, never letting his hand or fancy move at large, gradually refining flaccid spaces to the higher degree of expressiveness. Culture, at least, values even in transcendent works of art the power of the understanding in them, their logical process of construction, the spectacle of supreme intellectual dexterity which they afford.

Coleridge's criticism may well be remembered as part of the long pleading of German culture for the things 'behind the veil'. It recalls us from the work of art to the mind of the artist; and, after all, this is what is infinitely precious, and the work of art only as the index of it. Still, that is only the narrower side of a complete criticism. Perhaps it is true, as some one says in Lessing's Emilie Galotti, that, if Michael Angelo had been born without hands, he would still have been the greatest of artists. But we must admit the truth also of an opposite view: 'In morals as in art', says M. Renan, 'the word is nothing—the fact is everything. The idea which lurks under a picture of Raphael is a slight matter; it is the picture itself only that counts.'

What constitutes an artistic gift is, first of all, a natural susceptibility to moments of strange excitement, in which the colours freshen upon our thread bare world, and the routine of things about us is broken by a novel and happier synthesis. These are moments into which other minds may be made to enter, but which they cannot originate. This susceptibility is the element of genius in an artistic gift. Secondly, there is what may be called the talent of projection, of throwing these happy moments into an external concrete form—a statue, or play, or picture. That projection is of all degrees of completeness; its facility and transparence are modified by the circumstances of the individual, his culture, and his age. When it is perfectly transparent, the work is classical. Compare the power of projection in Mr. Browning's Sordello, with that power in the Sorrows of Werther. These two elements determine the two chief aims of criticism. First, it has to classify those initiative moments according to the amount of interest excited in them, to estimate their comparative acceptability, their comparative power of giving joy to those who undergo them. Secondly, it has to test, by a study of the artistic product itself, in connexion with the intellectual and spiritual condition of its age, the completeness of the projection. These two aims form the positive, or concrete, side of criticism; their direction is not towards a metaphysical definition of the universal element in an artistic effort, but towards a subtle gradation of the shades of difference between one artistic gift and another. This side of criticism is infinitely varied; and it is what French culture more often achieves than the German.

Coleridge has not achieved this side in an equal degree with the other; and this want is not supplied by the Literary Remains, which contain his studies on Shakespeare. There we have a repetition, not an application, of the absolute formula. Coleridge is like one who sees in a picture only the rules of perspective, and is always trying to simplify even those. Thus: 'Where there is no humour, but only wit, or the like, there is no growth from within.' 'What is beauty'? he asks. 'It is the unity of the manifold, the coalescence of the diverse.' So of Dante: 'There is a total impression of infinity; the wholeness is not in vision or conception, but in an inner feeling of totality and absolute being.' Again, of the Paradise Lost: 'It has the totality of the poem as distinguished from the ab ovo birth and parentage or straight line of history.'

That exaggerated inwardness is barren. Here, too, Coleridge's thoughts require to be thawed, to be set in motion. He is admirable in the detection, the analysis, and statement of a few of the highest general laws of art-production. But he withdraws us too far from what we can see, hear, and feel. Doubtless, the idea, the intellectual element, is the spirit and life of art. Still, art is the triumph of the senses and the emotions; and the senses and the emotions must not be cheated of their triumph after all. That strange and beautiful psychology which he employs, with its evanescent delicacies, has not sufficient corporeity. Again, one feels that the discussion about Hartley, meeting us in the way, throws a tone of insecurity over the critical theory which it introduces. Its only effect is to win for the terms in which that criticism is expressed, the associations of one side in a metaphysical controversy.

The vagueness and fluidity of Coleridge's theological opinions have been exaggerated through an illusion, which has arisen from the occasional form in which they have reached us. Criticism, then, has to methodize and focus them. They may be arranged under three heads; the general principles of supernaturalism, orthodox dogmas, the interpretation of Scripture. With regard to the first and second, Coleridge ranks as a Conservative thinker; but his principles of Scriptural interpretation resemble Lessing's; they entitle him to be regarded as the founder of the modern liberal school of English theology. By supernaturalism is meant the theory of a divine person in immediate communication with the human mind, dealing with it out of that order of nature which includes man's body and his ordinary trains of thought, according to fixed laws, which the theologian sums up in the doctrines of 'grace' and 'sin'. Of this supernaturalism, the Aids to Reflection attempts to give a metaphysical proof. The first necessity of the argument is to prove that religion, with its supposed experiences of grace and sin, and the realities of a world above the world of sense, is the fulfilment of the constitution of every man, or, in the language of the 'philosophy of nature', is part of the 'idea' of man; so that, when those experiences are absent, all the rest of his nature is unexplained, like some enigmatical fragment, the construction and working of which we cannot surmise. According to Schelling's principle, the explanation of every phase of life is to be sought in that next above it. This axiom is applied to three supposed stages of man's reflective life: Prudence, Morality, Religion. Prudence, by which Coleridge means something like Bentham's 'enlightened principle of self-preservation', is, he says, an inexplicable instinct, a blind motion in the dark, until it is expanded into morality. Morality, again, is but a groundless prepossession until transformed into a religious recognition of a spiritual world, until, as Coleridge says in his rich figurative language, 'like the main feeder into some majestic lake, rich with hidden springs of its own, it flows into, and becomes one with, the spiritual life.' A spiritual life, then, being the fulfilment of human nature, implied, if we see clearly, in those instincts which enable one to live on from day to day, is part of the 'idea' of man.

The second necessity of the argument is to prove that 'the idea', according to the principle of the 'philosophy of nature', is an infallible index of the actual condition of the world without us. Here Coleridge introduces an analogy:

In the world, we see everywhere evidences of a unity, which the component parts are so far from explaining, that they necessarily presuppose it as the cause and condition of their existing as those parts, or even of their existing at all. This antecedent unity, or cause and principle of each union, it has, since the time of Bacon and Kepler, been customary to call a law. This crocus for instance; or any other flower the reader may have before his sight, or choose to bring before his fancy; that the root, stem, leaves, petals, &c., cohere to one plant is owing to an antecedent power or principle in the seed which existed before a single particle of the matters that constitute the size and visibility of the crocus had been attracted from the surrounding soil, air, and moisture. Shall we turn to the seed? there, too, the same necessity meets us: an antecedent unity must here, too, be supposed. Analyse the seeds with the finest tools, and let the solar microscope come in aid of your senses, what do you find?—means and instruments; a wondrous fairy tale of nature, magazines of food, stores of various sorts, pipes, spiracles, defences; a house of many chambers, and the owner and inhabitant invisible.

Aids to Reflection.

Nature, that is, works by what we may call 'intact ideas'. It co-ordinates every part of the crocus to all the other parts; one stage of its growth to the whole process; and having framed its organism to assimilate certain external elements, it does not cheat it of those elements, soil, air, moisture. Well, if the 'idea' of man is to be intact, he must be enveloped in a supernatural world; and nature always works by intact ideas. The spiritual life is the highest development of the idea of man; there must be a supernatural world corresponding to it.

One finds, it is hard to say how many, difficulties in drawing Coleridge's conclusion. To mention only one of them—the argument looks too like the exploded doctrine of final causes. Of course the crocus would not live unless the conditions of its life were supplied. The flower is made for soil, air, moisture, and it has them; just as man's senses are made for a sensible world, and we have the sensible world. But give the flower the power of dreaming, nourish it on its own reveries, put man's wild hunger of heart and susceptibility to ennui in it, and what indication of the laws of the world without it, would be afforded by its longing to break its bonds?

In theology people are content with analogies, probabilities, with the empty schemes of arguments for which the data are still lacking; arguments, the rejection of which Coleridge tells us implies 'an evil heart of unbelief', but of which we might as truly say that they derive all their consistency from the peculiar atmosphere of the mind which receives them. Such arguments are received in theology because what chains men to a religion is not its claim on their reason, their hopes or fears, but the glow it affords to the world, its 'beau ideal'. Coleridge thinks that if we reject the supernatural, the spiritual element in life will evaporate also, that we shall have to accept a life with narrow horizons, without disinterestedness, harshly cut off from the springs of life in the past. But what is this spiritual element? It is the passion for inward perfection, with its sorrows, its aspirations, its joy. These mental states are the delicacies of the higher morality of the few, of Augustine, of the author of the 'Imitation', of Francis de Sales; in their essence they are only the permanent characteristics of the higher life. Augustine, or the author of the 'Imitation', agreeably to the culture of their age, had expressed them in the terms of a metaphysical theory, and expanded them into what theologians call the doctrines of grace and sin, the fluctuations of the union of the soul with its unseen friend. The life of those who are capable of a passion for perfection still produces the same mental states; but that religious expression of them is no longer congruous with the culture of the age. Still, all inward life works itself out in a few simple forms, and culture cannot go very far before the religious graces reappear in it in a subtilized intellectual shape. There are aspects of the religious character which have an artistic worth distinct from their religious import. Longing, a chastened temper, spiritual joy, are precious states of mind, not because they are part of man's duty or because God has commanded them, still less because they are means of obtaining a reward, but because like culture itself they are remote, refined, intense, existing only by the triumph of a few over a dead world of routine in which there is no lifting of the soul at all. If there is no other world, art in its own interest must cherish such characteristics as beautiful spectacles. Stephen's face, 'like the face of an angel,' has a worth of its own, even if the opened heaven is but a dream.

Our culture, then, is not supreme, our intellectual life is incomplete, we fail of the intellectual throne, if we have no inward longing, inward chastening, inward joy. Religious belief, the craving for objects of belief, may be refined out of our hearts, but they must leave their sacred perfume, their spiritual sweetness behind. This law of the highest intellectual life has sometimes seemed hard to understand. Those who maintain the claims of the older and narrower forms of religious life against the claims of culture are often embarrassed at finding the intellectual life heated through with the very graces to which they would sacrifice it. How often in the higher class of theological writings—writings which really spring from an original religious genius, such as those of Dr. Newman—does the modern aspirant to perfect culture seem to find the expression of the inmost delicacies of his own life, the same yet different! The spiritualities of the Christian life have often drawn men on, little by little, into the broader spiritualities of systems opposed to it—pantheism, or positivism, or a philosophy of indifference. Many in our own generation, through religion, have become dead to religion. How often do we have to look for some feature of the ancient religious life, not in a modern saint, but in a modern artist or philosopher! For those who have passed out of Christianity, perhaps its most precious souvenir is the ideal of a transcendental disinterestedness. Where shall we look for this ideal? In Spinoza; or perhaps in Bentham or in Austin.

Some of those who have wished to save supernaturalism—as, for instance, Theodore Parker—have rejected more or less entirely the dogmas of the Church. Coleridge's instinct is truer than theirs; the two classes of principles are logically connected. It was in defence of the dogmas of the Church that Coleridge elaborated his unhappy crotchet of the diversity of the reason from the understanding. The weakness of these dogmas had ever been, not so much a failure of the authority of Scripture or tradition in their favour, as their conflict with the reason that they were words rather than conceptions. That analysis of words and conceptions which in modern philosophy has been a principle of continual rejuvenescence with Descartes and Berkeley, as well as with Bacon and Locke, had desolated the field of scholastic theology. It is the rationality of the dogmas of that theology that Coleridge had a taste for proving.

Of course they conflicted with the understanding, with the common daylight of the mind, but then might there not be some mental faculty higher than the understanding? The history of philosophy supplied many authorities for this opinion. Then, according to the 'philosophy of nature', science and art are both grounded upon the 'ideas' of genius, which are a kind of intuition, which are their own evidence. Again, this philosophy was always saying the ideas of the mind must be true, must correspond to reality; and what an aid to faith is that, if one is not too nice in distinguishing between ideas and mere convictions, or prejudices, or habitual views, or safe opinions! Kant also had made a distinction between the reason and the understanding. True, this harsh division of mental faculties is exactly what is most sterile in Kant, the essential tendency of the German school of thought being to show that the mind always acts en masse. Kant had defined two senses of reason as opposed to the understanding. First, there was the 'speculative reason', with its 'three categories of totality', God, the soul, and the universe—three mental forms which might give a sort of unity to science, but to which no actual intuition corresponded. The tendency of this part of Kant's critique is to destroy the rational groundwork of theism. Then there was the 'practical reason', on the relation of which to the 'speculative', we may listen to Heinrich Heine:

'After the tragedy comes the farce. [The tragedy is Kant's destructive criticism of the speculative reason.] So far Immanuel Kant has been playing the relentless philosopher; he has laid siege to heaven.' Heine goes on with some violence to describe the havoc Kant has made of the orthodox belief: 'Old Lampe,[40] with the umbrella under his arm, stands looking on much disturbed, perspiration and tears of sorrow running down his cheeks. Then Immanuel Kant grows pitiful, and shows that he is not only a great philosopher but also a good man. He considers a little; and then, half in good nature, half in irony, he says, "Old Lampe must have a god, otherwise the poor man will not be happy; but man ought to be happy in this life, the practical reason says that; let the practical reason stand surety for the existence of a god; it is all the same to me." Following this argument, Kant distinguishes between the theoretical and the practical reason, and, with the practical reason for a magic wand, he brings to life the dead body of deism, which the theoretical reason had slain.'

[40] The servant who attended Kant in his walks.

Coleridge first confused the speculative reason with the practical, and then exaggerated the variety and the sphere of their combined functions. Then he has given no consistent definition of the reason. It is 'the power of universal and necessary convictions'; it is 'the knowledge of the laws of the whole considered as one'; it is 'the science of all as a whole'. Again, the understanding is 'the faculty judging according to sense', or 'the faculty of means to mediate ends'; and so on. The conception floating in his mind seems to have been a really valuable one; that, namely, of a distinction between an organ of adequate and an organ of inadequate ideas. But when we find him casting about for a definition, not precisely determining the functions of the reason, making long preparations for the 'deduction' of the faculty, as in the third column of The Friend, but never actually starting, we suspect that the reason is a discovery in psychology which Coleridge has a good will to make, and that is all; that he has got no farther than the old vague desire to escape from the limitations of thought by some extraordinary mystical faculty. Some of the clergy eagerly welcomed the supposed discovery. In their difficulties they had often appealed in the old simple way to sentiment and emotion as of higher authority than the understanding, and on the whole had had to get on with very little philosophy. Like M. Jourdain, they were amazed to find that they had been all the time appealing to the reason; now they might actually go out to meet the enemy. Orthodoxy might be cured by a hair of the dog that had bitten it.

Theology is a great house, scored all over with hieroglyphics by perished hands. When we decipher one of these hieroglyphics, we find in it the statement of a mistaken opinion; but knowledge has crept onward since the hand dropped from the wall; we no longer entertain the opinion, and we can trace the origin of the mistake. Dogmas are precious as memorials of a class of sincere and beautiful spirits, who in a past age of humanity struggled with many tears, if not for true knowledge, yet for a noble and elevated happiness. That struggle is the substance, the dogma only its shadowy expression; received traditionally in an altered age, it is the shadow of a shadow, a mere [Greek: triton eidolon], twice removed from substance and reality. The true method then in the treatment of dogmatic theology must be historical. Englishmen are gradually finding out how much that method has done since the beginning of modern criticism by the hands of such writers as Baur. Coleridge had many of the elements of this method: learning, inwardness, a subtle psychology, a dramatic power of sympathy with modes of thought other than his own. Often in carrying out his own method he gives the true historical origin of a dogma, but, with a strange dullness of the historical sense, he regards this as a reason for the existence of the dogma now, not merely as reason for its having existed in the past. Those historical elements he could not envisage in the historical method, because this method is only one of the applications, the most fruitful of them all, of the relative spirit.

After Coleridge's death, seven letters of his on the inspiration of Scripture were published, under the title of Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit. This little book has done more than any other of Coleridge's writings to discredit his name with the orthodox. The frequent occurrence in it of the word 'bibliolatry', borrowed from Lessing, would sufficiently account for this pious hatred. From bibliolatry Coleridge was saved by the spiritualism, which, in questions less simple than that of the infallibility of Scripture, was so retarding to his culture. Bibliolators may remember that one who committed a kind of intellectual suicide by catching at any appearance of a fixed and absolute authority, never dreamed of resting on the authority of a book. His Schellingistic notion of the possibility of absolute knowledge, of knowing God, of a light within every man which might discover to him the doctrines of Christianity, tended to depreciate historical testimony, perhaps historical realism altogether. Scripture is a legitimate sphere for the understanding. He says, indeed, that there is more in the Bible that 'finds' him than he has experienced in all other books put together. But still, 'There is a Light higher than all, even the Word that was in the beginning. If between this Word and the written letter I shall anywhere seem to myself to find a discrepance, I will not conclude that such there actually is; nor on the other hand will I fall under the condemnation of them that would lie for God, but seek as I may, be thankful for what I have—and wait.' Coleridge is the inaugurator of that via media of Scriptural criticism which makes much of saving the word 'inspiration', while it attenuates its meaning; which supposes a sort of modified inspiration residing in the whole, not in the several parts. 'The Scriptures were not dictated by an infallible intelligence;' nor 'the writers each and all divinely informed as well as inspired'. 'They refer to other documents, and in all points express themselves as sober-minded and veracious writers under ordinary circumstances are known to do.' To make the Bible itself 'the subject of a special article of faith, is an unnecessary and useless abstraction'.

His judgement on the popular view of inspiration is severe. It is borrowed from the Cabbalists; it 'petrifies at once the whole body of Holy Writ, with all its harmonies and symmetrical gradations;—turns it at once into a colossal Memnon's head, a hollow passage for a voice, a voice that mocks the voices of many men, and speaks in their names, and yet is but one voice and the same;—and no man uttered it and never in a human heart was it conceived'. He presses very hard on the tricks of the 'routiniers of desk and pulpit'; forced and fantastic interpretations; 'the strange—in all other writings unexampled—practice of bringing together into logical dependency detached sentences from books composed at the distance of centuries, nay, sometimes a millennium, from each other, under different dispensations, and for different objects.'

Certainly he is much farther from bibliolatry than from the perfect freedom of the humanist interpreters. Still he has not freed himself from the notion of a sacred canon; he cannot regard the books of Scripture simply as fruits of the human spirit; his criticism is not entirely disinterested. The difficulties he finds are chiefly the supposed immoralities of Scripture; just those difficulties which fade away before the modern or relative spirit, which in the moral world, as in the physical traces everywhere change, growth, development. Of historical difficulties, of those deeper moral difficulties which arise, for instance, from a consideration of the constitutional unveracity of the Oriental mind, he has no suspicion. He thinks that no book of the New Testament was composed so late as A.D. 120.

Coleridge's undeveloped opinions would be hardly worth stating except for the warning they afford against retarding compromises. In reading these letters one never doubts what Coleridge tells us of himself: 'that he loved truth with an indescribable awe,' or, as he beautifully says, 'that he would creep towards the light, even if the light had made its way through a rent in the wall of the temple.' And yet there is something sad in reading them by the light which twenty-five years have thrown back upon them. Taken as a whole, they contain a fallacy which a very ardent lover of truth might have detected.

The Bible is not to judge the spirit, but the spirit the Bible. The Bible is to be treated as a literary product. Well, but that is a conditional, not an absolute principle—that is not, if we regard it sincerely, a delivery of judgement, but only a suspension of it. If we are true to the spirit of that, we must wait patiently the complete result of modern criticism. Coleridge states that the authority of Scripture is on its trial—that at present it is not known to be an absolute resting-place; and then, instead of leaving that to aid in the formation of a fearless spirit, the spirit which, for instance, would accept the results of M. Renan's investigations, he turns it into a false security by anticipating the judgement of an undeveloped criticism. Twenty-five years of that criticism have gone by, and have hardly verified the anticipation.

The man of science asks, Are absolute principles attainable? What are the limits of knowledge? The answer he receives from science itself is not ambiguous. What the moralist asks is, Shall we gain or lose by surrendering human life to the relative spirit? Experience answers, that the dominant tendency of life is to turn ascertained truth into a dead letter—to make us all the phlegmatic servants of routine. The relative spirit, by dwelling constantly on the more fugitive conditions or circumstances of things, breaking through a thousand rough and brutal classifications, and giving elasticity to inflexible principles, begets an intellectual finesse, of which the ethical result is a delicate and tender justness in the criticism of human life. Who would gain more than Coleridge by criticism in such a spirit? We know how his life has appeared when judged by absolute standards. We see him trying to apprehend the absolute, to stereotype one form of faith, to attain, as he says, 'fixed principles' in politics, morals, and religion; to fix one mode of life as the essence of life, refusing to see the parts as parts only; and all the time his own pathetic history pleads for a more elastic moral philosophy than his, and cries out against every formula less living and flexible than life itself.

'From his childhood he hungered for eternity.' After all, that is the incontestable claim of Coleridge. The perfect flower of any elementary type of life must always be precious to humanity, and Coleridge is the perfect flower of the romantic type. More than Childe Harold, more than Werther, more than Rene, Coleridge, by what he did, what he was, and what he failed to do, represents that inexhaustible discontent, languor, and home-sickness, the chords of which ring all through our modern literature. Criticism may still discuss the claims of classical and romantic art, or literature, or sentiment; and perhaps one day we may come to forget the horizon, with full knowledge to be content with what is here and now; and that is the essence of classical feeling. But by us of the present moment, by us for whom the Greek spirit, with its engaging naturalness, simple, chastened, debonair, [Greek: tryphes, habrotetos, chlides, chariton, himerou pothou pater], is itself the Sangraal of an endless pilgrimage, Coleridge, with his passion for the absolute, for something fixed where all is moving, his faintness, his broken memory, his intellectual disquiet, may still be ranked among the interpreters of one of the constituent elements of our life.



RALPH WALDO EMERSON

1803-1882

SHAKESPEARE; OR, THE POET. 1850.

Great men are more distinguished by range and extent than by originality. If we require the originality which consists in weaving, like a spider, their web from their own bowels; in finding clay, and making bricks, and building the house; no great men are original. Nor does valuable originality consist in unlikeness to other men. The hero is in the press of knights, and the thick of events; and, seeing what men want, and sharing their desire, he adds the needful length of sight and of arm, to come at the desired point. The greatest genius is the most indebted man. A poet is no rattlebrain, saying what comes uppermost, and, because he says everything, saying, at last, something good; but a heart in unison with his time and country. There is nothing whimsical and fantastic in his production, but sweet and sad earnest, freighted with the weightiest convictions, and pointed with the most determined aim which any man or class knows of in his times.

The Genius of our life is jealous of individuals, and will not have any individual great, except through the general. There is no choice to genius. A great man does not wake up on some fine morning, and say, 'I am full of life, I will go to sea, and find an Antarctic continent: to-day I will square the circle: I will ransack botany, and find a new food for man: I have a new architecture in my mind: I foresee a new mechanic power:' no, but he finds himself in the river of the thoughts and events, forced onward by the ideas and necessities of his contemporaries. He stands where all the eyes of men look one way, and their hands all point in the direction in which he should go. The church has reared him amidst rites and pomps, and he carries out the advice which her music gave him, and builds a cathedral needed by her chants and processions. He finds a war raging: it educates him, by trumpet, in barracks, and he betters the instruction. He finds two counties groping to bring coal, or flour, or fish, from the place of production to the place of consumption, and he hits on a railroad. Every master has found his material collected, and his power lay in his sympathy with his people, and in his love of the materials he wrought in. What an economy of power! and what a compensation for the shortness of life! All is done to his hand. The world has brought him thus far on his way. The human race has gone out before him, sunk the hills, filled the hollows, and bridged the rivers. Men, nations, poets, artisans, women, all have worked for him, and he enters into their labours. Choose any other thing, out of the line of tendency, out of the national feeling and history, and he would have all to do for himself; his powers would be expended in the first preparations. Great genial power, one would almost say, consists in not being original at all; in being altogether receptive; in letting the world do all, and suffering the spirit of the hour to pass unobstructed through the mind.

Shakespeare's youth fell in a time when the English people were importunate for dramatic entertainments. The court took offence easily at political allusions, and attempted to suppress them. The Puritans, a growing and energetic party, and the religious among the Anglican church, would suppress them. But the people wanted them. Inn-yards, houses without roofs, and extemporaneous enclosures at country fairs, were the ready theatres of strolling players. The people had tasted this new joy; and, as we could not hope to suppress newspapers now,—no, not by the strongest party,—neither then could king, prelate, or puritan, alone or united, suppress an organ, which was ballad, epic, newspaper, caucus, lecture, punch, and library, at the same time. Probably king, prelate, and puritan, all found their own account in it. It had become, by all causes, a national interest,—by no means conspicuous, so that some great scholar would have thought of treating it in an English history,—but not a whit less considerable, because it was cheap, and of no account, like a baker's shop. The best proof of its vitality is the crowd of writers which suddenly broke into this field: Kyd, Marlowe, Greene, Jonson, Chapman, Dekker, Webster, Heywood, Middleton, Peele, Ford, Massinger, Beaumont, and Fletcher.

The secure possession, by the stage, of the public mind, is of the first importance to the poet who works for it. He loses no time in idle experiments. Here is audience and expectation prepared. In the case of Shakespeare, there is much more. At the time when he left Stratford, and went up to London, a great body of stage-plays, of all dates and writers, existed in manuscript, and were in turn produced on the boards. Here is the Tale of Troy, which the audience will bear hearing some part of every week; the Death of Julius Caesar, and other stories out of Plutarch, which they never tire of; a shelf full of English history, from the chronicles of Brut and Arthur, down to the royal Henries, which men hear eagerly; and a string of doleful tragedies, merry Italian tales, and Spanish voyages, which all the London prentices know. All the mass has been treated, with more or less skill, by every playwright, and the prompter has the soiled and tattered manuscripts. It is now no longer possible to say who wrote them first. They have been the property of the Theatre so long, and so many rising geniuses have enlarged or altered them, inserting a speech, or a whole Scene, or adding a song, that no man can any longer claim copyright in this work of numbers. Happily, no man wishes to. They are not yet desired in that way. We have few readers, many spectators and hearers. They had best lie where they are.

Shakespeare, in common with his comrades, esteemed the mass of old plays, waste stock, in which any experiment could be freely tried. Had the prestige which hedges about a modern tragedy existed, nothing could have been done. The rude warm blood of the living England circulated in the play, as in street-ballads, and gave body which he wanted to his airy and majestic fancy. The poet needs a ground in popular tradition on which he may work, and which, again, may restrain his art within the due temperance. It holds him to the people, supplies a foundation for his edifice; and, in furnishing so much work done to his hand, leaves him at leisure, and in full strength for the audacities of his imagination. In short, the poet owes to his legend what sculpture owed to the temple. Sculpture in Egypt, and in Greece, grew up in subordination to architecture. It was the ornament of the temple wall: at first, a rude relief carved on pediments, then the relief became bolder, and a head or arm was projected from the wall, the groups being still arranged with reference to the building, which serves also as a frame to hold the figures; and when, at last, the greatest freedom of style and treatment was reached, the prevailing genius of architecture still enforced a certain calmness and continence in the statue. As soon as the statue was begun for itself, and with no reference to the temple or palace, the art began to decline; freak, extravagance, and exhibition, took the place of the old temperance. This balance-wheel, which the sculptor found in architecture, the perilous irritability of poetic talent found in the accumulated dramatic materials to which the people were already wonted, and which had a certain excellence which no single genius, however extraordinary, could hope to create.

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