English Men of Letters: Coleridge
by H. D. Traill
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to his own home appears to show that now, at any rate, his fatal habit had obtained a firm hold upon him. And his "writing a great deal resulted" only in the filling of many note-books, and perhaps the sketching out of many of those vast schemes of literary labour of which he was destined to leave so remarkable a collection at his death. One such we find him forwarding to Southey in the August of 1803—the plan of a Bibliotheca Britannica, or "History of British Literature, bibliographical, biographical, and critical," in eight volumes. The first volume was to contain a "complete history of all Welsh, Saxon, and Erse books that are not translations, but the native growth of Britain;" to accomplish which, writes Coleridge, "I will with great pleasure join you in learning Welsh and Erse." The second volume was to contain the history of English poetry and poets, including "all prose truly poetical." The third volume "English prose, considered as to style, as to eloquence, as to general impressiveness; a history of styles and manners, their causes, their birthplace and parentage, their analysis." The fourth volume would take up "the history of metaphysics, theology, medicine, alchemy; common, canon, and Roman law from Alfred to Henry VII." The fifth would "carry on metaphysics and ethics to the present day in the first half, and comprise in the second half the theology of all the reformers." In the sixth and seventh volumes were to be included "all the articles you (Southey) can get on all the separate arts and sciences that have been treated of in books since the Reformation; and by this time," concludes the enthusiastic projector, "the book, if it answered at all, would have gained so high a reputation that you need not fear having whom you liked to write the different articles— medicine, surgery, chemistry, etc.; navigation, travellers' voyages, etc., etc." There is certainly a melancholy humour in the formulation of so portentous a scheme by a man who was at this moment wandering aimlessly among the lakes and mountains, unable to settle down to any definite piece of literary work, or even to throw off a fatal habit, which could not fail, if persevered in, to destroy all power of steady application in the future. That neither the comic nor the pathetic element in the situation was lost upon Southey is evident from his half-sad, half-satirical, wholly winning reply. "Your plan," he writes, "is too good, too gigantic, quite beyond my powers. If you had my tolerable state of health and that love of steady and productive employment which is now grown into a necessary habit with me, if you were to execute and would execute it, it would be beyond all doubt the most valuable work of any age or any country; but I cannot fill up such an outline. No man can better feel where he fails than I do, and to rely upon you for whole quartos! Dear Coleridge, the smile that comes with that thought is a very melancholy one; and if Edith saw me now she would think my eyes were weak again, when in truth the humour that covers them springs from another cause." A few weeks after this interchange of correspondence Coleridge was once again to prove how far he was from possessing Southey's "tolerable state of health." Throughout the whole of this year he had been more restless than ever. In January 1803 we find him staying with Southey at Bristol, "suffering terribly from the climate, and talking of going abroad." A week later he is at Stowey, planning schemes, not destined to be realised, of foreign travel with Wedgwood. Returning again to Keswick, he started, after a few months' quiescence, on 15th August, in company with Wordsworth and his sister, for a tour in Scotland, but after a fortnight he found himself too ill to proceed. The autumn rains set in, and "poor Coleridge," writes Miss Wordsworth, "being very unwell, determined to send his clothes to Edinburgh, and make the best of his way thither, being afraid to face much wet weather in an open carriage." It is possible, however, that his return to Keswick may have been hastened by the circumstance that Southey, who had paid a brief visit to the Lake country two years before, was expected in a few days at the house which was destined to be his abode for the longest portion of his life. He arrived at Greta Hall on 7th September 1803, and from time to time during the next six months his correspondence gives us occasional glimpses of Coleridge's melancholy state. At the end of December, his health growing steadily worse, he conceived the project of a voyage to Madeira, and quitted Keswick with the intention, after paying a short visit to the Wordsworths, of betaking himself to London to make preparations. His stay at Grasmere, however, was longer than he had counted on. "He was detained for a month by a severe attack of illness, induced, if his description is to be relied on, by the use of narcotics. [2] Unsuspicious of the cause, Mrs. and Miss Wordsworth nursed him with the tenderest affection, while the poet himself, usually a parsimonious man, forced upon him, to use Coleridge's own words, a hundred pounds in the event of his going to Madeira, and his friend Stuart offered to befriend him." From Grasmere he went to Liverpool, where he spent a pleasant week with his old Unitarian friend, Dr. Crompton, and arrived in London at the close of 1803. Here, however, his plans were changed. Malta was substituted for Madeira, in response to an invitation from his friend Mr., afterwards Sir John, Stoddart, then resident as judge in the Mediterranean island. By 12th March, as we gather from the Southey correspondence, the change of arrangements had been made. Two days afterwards he receives a letter of valediction from his "old friend and brother" at Greta Hall, and on 2d April 1804, he sailed from England in the Speedwell, dropping anchor sixteen days later in Valetta harbour.


1. Were it not for Coleridge's express statement that he first took opium at Keswick, one would be inclined to attribute the gorgeous but formless imagery of that poem to the effects of the stimulant. It is certainly very like a metrical version of one of the pleasant variety of opium-dreams described in De Quincey's poetic prose.

2. See Miss Meteyard (A Group of Englishmen, p. 223). Her evidence, however, on any point otherwise doubtful in Coleridge's history should be received with caution, as her estimate of the poet certainly errs somewhat on the side of excessive harshness.


Stay at Malta—Its injurious effects—Return to England—Meeting with De Quincey—Residence in London—First series of lectures.


Never was human being destined so sadly and signally to illustrate the coelum non animum aphorism as the unhappy passenger on the Speedwell. Southey shall describe his condition when he left England; and his own pathetic lines to William Wordsworth will picture him to us on his return. "You are in great measure right about Coleridge," writes the former to his friend Rickman, "he is worse in body than you seem to believe; but the main cause lies in his own management of himself, or rather want of management. His mind is in a perpetual St. Vitus's dance—eternal activity without action. At times he feels mortified that he should have done so little, but this feeling never produces any exertion. 'I will begin to-morrow,' he says, and thus he has been all his lifelong letting to-day slip. He has had no heavy calamities in life, and so contrives to be miserable about trifles. Poor fellow, there is no one thing which gives me so much pain as the witnessing such a waste of unequalled powers." Then, after recalling the case of a highly promising schoolfellow, who had made shipwreck of his life, and whom "a few individuals only remember with a sort of horror and affection, which just serves to make them melancholy whenever they think of him or mention his name," he adds: "This will not be the case with Coleridge; the disjecta membra will be found if he does not die early: but having so much to do, so many errors to weed out of the world which he is capable of eradicating, if he does die without doing his work, it would half break my heart, for no human being has had more talents allotted." Such being his closest friend's account of him, and knowing, as we now do (what Southey perhaps had no suspicion of at the time), the chief if not the sole or original cause of his morally nerveless condition, it is impossible not to feel that he did the worst possible thing for himself in taking this journey to Malta. In quitting England he cut himself off from those last possibilities of self-conquest which the society and counsels of his friends might otherwise have afforded him, and the consequences were, it is to be feared, disastrous. After De Quincey's incredibly cool assertion that it was "notorious that Coleridge began the use of opium, not as a relief from any bodily pain or nervous irritations, since his constitution was strong and excellent(!), but as a source of luxurious sensations," we must receive anything which he has to say on this particular point with the utmost caution; but there is only too much plausibility in his statement that, Coleridge being necessarily thrown, while at Malta, "a good deal upon his own resources in the narrow society of a garrison, he there confirmed and cherished ... his habit of taking opium in large quantities." Contrary to his expectations, moreover, the Maltese climate failed to benefit him. At first, indeed, he did experience some feeling of relief, but afterwards, according to Mr. Gillman, he spoke of his rheumatic limbs as "lifeless tools," and of the "violent pains in his bowels, which neither opium, ether, nor peppermint combined could relieve."

Occupation, however, was not wanting to him, if occupation could have availed in the then advanced stage of his case. He early made the acquaintance of the governor of the island, Sir Alexander Ball, who, having just lost his secretary by death, requested Cole- ridge to undertake that official's duties until his successor should be appointed. By this arrangement the governor and the public service in all likelihood profited more than the provisional secretary; for Coleridge's literary abilities proved very serviceable in the department of diplomatic correspondence. The dignities of the office, Mr. Gillman tells us, no doubt on Coleridge's own authority, "he never attempted to support; he was greatly annoyed at what he thought its unnecessary parade, and he petitioned Sir Alexander Ball to be relieved from it." The purely mechanical duties of the post, too, appear to have troubled him. He complains, in one of the journals which he kept during this period, of having been "for months past incessantly employed in official tasks, subscribing, examining, administering oaths, auditing, etc." On the whole it would seem that the burden of his secretarial employment, though doubtless it would have been found light enough by any one accustomed to public business, was rather a weariness to the flesh than a distraction to the mind; while in the meantime a new symptom of disorder—a difficulty of breathing, to which he was always afterwards subject—began to manifest itself in his case. Probably he was glad enough—relieved, in more than one sense of the word—when, in the autumn of 1805, the new secretary arrived at Malta to take his place.

On 27th September Coleridge quitted the island on his homeward journey via Italy, stopping for a short time at Syracuse on his way. At Naples, which he reached on the 15th of December, he made a longer stay, and in Rome his sojourn lasted some months. Unfortunately, for a reason which will presently appear, there remains no written record of his impressions of the Eternal City; and though Mr. Gillman assures us that the gap is "partly filled by his own verbal account, repeated at various times to the writer of this memoir," the public of to-day is only indebted to "the writer of this memoir" for the not very startling information that Coleridge, "while in Rome, was actively employed in visiting the great works of art, statues, pictures, buildings, palaces, etc. etc., observations on which he minuted down for publication." It is somewhat more interesting to learn that he made the acquaintance of many literary and artistic notabilities at that time congregated there, including Tieck, the German poet and novelist, and the American painter Alston, to whose skill we owe what is reputed to be the best of his many not easily reconcilable portraits. The loss of his Roman memoranda was indirectly brought about by a singular incident, his account of which has met with some undeserved ridicule at the hands of Tory criticism. When about to quit Rome for England via Switzerland and Germany he took the precaution of inquiring of Baron von Humboldt, brother of the traveller, and then Prussian Minister at the Court of Rome, whether the proposed route was safe, and was by him informed that he would do well to keep out of the reach of Bonaparte, who was meditating the seizure of his person. According to Coleridge, indeed, an order for his arrest had actually been transmitted to Rome, and he was only saved from its execution by the connivance of the "good old Pope," Pius VII., who sent him a passport and counselled his immediate flight. Hastening to Leghorn, he discovered an American vessel ready to sail for England, on board of which he embarked. On the voyage she was chased by a French vessel, which so alarmed the captain that he compelled Coleridge to throw his papers, including these precious MSS., overboard. The wrath of the First Consul against him was supposed to have been excited by his contributions to the Morning Post, an hypothesis which De Quincey reasonably finds by no means so ridiculous as it appeared to a certain writer in Blackwood, who treated it as the "very consummation of moonstruck vanity," and compared it to "John Dennis's frenzy in retreating from the sea-coast under the belief that Louis XIV. had commissioned commissaries to land on the English shore and make a dash at his person." It must be remembered, however, that Mr. Fox, to whose statement on such a point Napoleon would be likely to attach especial weight, had declared in the House of Commons that the rupture of the Peace of Amiens had been brought about by certain essays in the Morning Post, and there is certainly no reason to believe that a tyrant whose animosity against literary or quasi-literary assailants ranged from Madame de Stael down to the bookseller Palm would have regarded a man of Coleridge's reputation in letters as beneath the stoop of his vengeance.

After an absence of two years and a half Coleridge arrived in England in August 1806. That his then condition of mind and body was a profoundly miserable one, and that he himself was acutely conscious of it, will be seen later on in certain extracts from his correspondence; but his own Lines to William Wordsworth—lines "composed on the night after his recitation of a poem on the growth of an individual mind"—contain an even more tragic expression of his state. It was Wordsworth's pensive retrospect of their earlier years together which awoke the bitterest pangs of self-reproach in his soul, and wrung from it the cry which follows:—

"Ah! as I listened with a heart forlorn The pulses of my being beat anew: And even as life returns upon the drowned, Life's joy rekindling roused a throng of pains— Keen pangs of Love, awakening as a babe Turbulent, with an outcry in the heart; And fears self-willed, that shunned the eye of hope; And hope that scarce would know itself from fear; Sense of past youth, and manhood come in vain, And genius given, and knowledge won in vain; And all which I had culled in wood-walks wild, And all which patient toil had reared, and all, Commune with thee had opened out—but flowers Strewn on my corse, and borne upon my bier, In the same coffin, for the self-same grave!"

A dismal and despairing strain indeed, but the situation unhappily was not less desperate. We are, in fact, entering upon that period of Coleridge's life—a period, roughly speaking, of about ten years—which no admirer of his genius, no lover of English letters, no one, it might even be said, who wishes to think well of human nature, can ever contemplate without pain. His history from the day of his landing in England in August 1806 till the day when he entered Mr. Gillman's house in 1816 is one long and miserable story of self-indulgence and self- reproach, of lost opportunities, of neglected duties, of unfinished undertakings. His movements and his occupation for the first year after his return are not now traceable with exactitude, but his time was apparently spent partly in London and partly at Grasmere and Keswick. When in London, Mr. Stuart, who had now become proprietor of the Courier, allowed him to occupy rooms at the office of that newspaper to save him expense; and Coleridge, though his regular connection with the Courier did not begin till some years afterwards, may possibly have repaid the accommodation by occasional contributions or by assistance to its editor in some other form. It seems certain, at any rate, that if he was earning no income in this way he was earning none at all. His friend and patron, Mr. Thomas Wedgwood, had died while he was in Malta; but the full pension of L150 per annum bestowed upon him by the two brothers jointly continued to be paid to him by Josiah, the senior. Coleridge, however, had landed in England in ignorance of his patron's death. He had wholly neglected to keep up any correspondence with the Wedgwoods during his stay in Malta, and though "dreadfully affected" by it, as Mr. Poole records, he seems to have allowed nearly a year to elapse before communicating with the surviving brother. The letter which he then wrote deserves quotation, not only as testimony to his physical and pecuniary condition on his arrival in England, but as affording a distressing picture of the morbid state of his emotions and the enfeebled condition of his will. "As to the reasons for my silence, they are," he incoherently begins, "impossible, and the numbers of the causes of it, with the almost weekly expectation for the last eight months of receiving my books, manuscripts, etc. from Malta, has been itself a cause of increasing the procrastination which constant ill health, despondency, domestic distractions, and embarrassment from accidents, equally unconnected with my will or conduct" [every cause mentioned, it will be seen, but the true one], "had already seated deep in my very muscles, as it were. I do not mean to accuse myself of idleness—I have enough of self-crimination without adding imaginary articles—but in all things that affect my moral feelings I have sunk under such a strange cowardice of pain that I have not unfrequently kept letters from persons dear to me for weeks together unopened. After a most miserable passage from Leghorn of fifty-five days, during which my life was twice given over, I found myself again in my native country, ill, penniless, and worse than homeless. I had been near a month in the country before I ventured or could summon courage enough to ask a question concerning you and yours, and yet God Almighty knows that every hour the thought had been gnawing at my heart. I then for the first time heard of that event which sounded like my own knell, without its natural hope or sense of rest. Such shall I be (is the thought that haunts me), but O! not such; O! with what a different retrospect! But I owe it to justice to say, Such good I truly can do myself, etc., etc." The rest of this painfully inarticulate letter is filled with further complaints of ill health, with further protestations of irresponsibility for the neglect of duties, and with promises, never to be fulfilled, of composing or assisting others to compose a memoir of Thomas Wedgwood, who, in addition to his general repute as a man of culture, had made a special mark by his speculations in psychology.

The singular expression, "worse than homeless," and the reference to domestic distractions, appear to indicate that some estrangement had already set in between Coleridge and his wife. De Quincey's testimony to its existence at the time (a month or so later) when he made Coleridge's acquaintance may, subject to the usual deductions, be accepted as trustworthy; and, of course, for aught we know, it may then have been already of some years' standing. That the provocation to it on the husband's part may be so far antedated is at least a reasonable conjecture. There may be nothing—in all likelihood there is nothing—worth attention in De Quincey's gossip about the young lady, "intellectually very much superior to Mrs. Coleridge, who became a neighbour and daily companion of Coleridge's walks" at Keswick. But if there be no foundation for his remarks on "the mischiefs of a situation which exposed Mrs. Coleridge to an invidious comparison with a more intellectual person," there is undoubtedly plenty of point in the immediately following observation that "it was most unfortunate for Coleridge himself to be continually compared with one so ideally correct and regular in his habits as Mr. Southey." The passion of female jealousy assuredly did not need to be called into play to account for the alienation of Mrs. Coleridge from her husband. Mrs. Carlyle has left on record her pathetic lament over the fate of a woman who marries a man of genius; but a man of genius of the coldly selfish and exacting type of the Chelsea philosopher would probably be a less severe burden to a woman of housewifely instincts than the weak, unmethodical, irresolute, shiftless being that Coleridge had by this time become. After the arrival of the Southeys, Mrs. Coleridge would indeed have been more than human if she had not looked with an envious eye upon the contrast between her sister Edith's lot and her own. For this would give her the added pang of perceiving that she was specially unlucky in the matter, and that men of genius could ("if they chose," as she would probably, though not perhaps quite justly have put it) make very good husbands indeed. If one poet could finish his poems, and pay his tradesmen's bills, and work steadily for the publishers in his own house without the necessity of periodical flittings to various parts of the United Kingdom or the Continent, why, so could another. With such reflections as these Mrs. Coleridge's mind was no doubt sadly busy during the early years of her residence at the Lakes, and, since their causes did not diminish but rather increased in intensity as time went on, the estrangement between them—or rather, to do Coleridge justice, her estrangement from her husband—had, by 1806, no doubt become complete. The fatal habit which even up to this time seems to have been unknown to most of his friends could hardly have been a secret to his wife, and his four or five years of slavery to it may well have worn out her patience.

This single cause indeed, namely, Coleridge's addiction to opium, is quite sufficient, through the humiliations, discomfort, and privations, pecuniary and otherwise, for which the vice was no doubt mediately or immediately responsible, to account for the unhappy issue of a union which undoubtedly was one of love to begin with, and which seems to have retained that character for at least six years of its course. We have noted the language of warm affection in which the "beloved Sara" is spoken of in the early poems, and up to the time of Coleridge's stay in Germany his feelings towards his wife remained evidently unchanged. To his children, of whom three out of the four born to him had survived, he was deeply attached; and the remarkable promise displayed by the eldest son, Hartley, and his youngest child and only daughter, Sara, made them objects of no less interest to his intellect than to his heart. "Hartley," he writes to Mr. Poole in 1803, "is a strange, strange boy, exquisitely wild, an utter visionary; like the moon among thin clouds, he moves in a circle of light of his own making. He alone is a light of his own." And of his daughter in the same poetic strain: "My meek little Sara is a remarkably interesting baby, with the finest possible skin, and large blue eyes, and she smiles as if she were basking in a sunshine as mild as moonlight of her own quiet happiness." Derwent, a less remarkable but no less attractive child than his brother and sister (whom he was destined long to survive), held an equal place in his father's affections. Yet all these interwoven influences—a deep love of his children and a sincere attachment to his wife, of whom, indeed, he never ceased to speak with respect and regard—were as powerless as in so many thousands of other cases they have been, to brace an enfeebled will to the task of self-reform. In 1807 "respect and regard" had manifestly taken the place of any warmer feeling in his mind. Later on in the letter above quoted he says, "In less than a week I go down to Ottery, with my children and their mother, from a sense of duty" (i.e. to his brother, the Rev. George Coleridge, who had succeeded his father as head master of the Ottery St. Mary Grammar School) "as far as it affects myself, and from a promise made to Mrs. Coleridge, as far as it affects her, and indeed of a debt of respect to her for her many praiseworthy qualities." When husbands and wives take to liquidating debts of this kind, and in this spirit, it is pretty conclusive evidence that all other accounts between them are closed.

The letter from which these extracts have been taken was written from Aisholt near Bridgewater, where Coleridge was then staying, with his wife and children, as the guest of a Mr. Price; and his friend Poole's description to Josiah Wedgwood of his state at that time is significant as showing that some at least of his intimate acquaintances had no suspicion of the real cause of his bodily and mental disorders. "I admire him," Poole writes, "and pity him more than ever. His information is much extended, the great qualities of his mind heightened and better disciplined, but alas! his health is much weaker, and his great failing, procrastination, or the incapability of acting agreeably to his wish and will, much increased."

Whether the promised visit to Ottery St. Mary was ever paid there is no record to show, but at the end of July 1807 we again hear of the Coleridges at the house of a Mr. Chubb, a descendant of the Deist, at Bridgewater; and here it was that De Quincey, after having endeavoured in vain to run the poet to earth at Stowey, where he had been staying with Mr. Poole, and whence he had gone to pay a short visit to Lord Egmont, succeeded in obtaining an introduction to him. The characteristic passage in which the younger man describes their first meeting is too long for quotation, and it is to be hoped too well known to need it: his vivid and acute criticism of Coleridge's conversation may be more appropriately cited hereafter. His evidence as to the conjugal relations of Coleridge and his wife has been already discussed; and the last remaining point of interest about this memorable introduction is the testimony which it incidentally affords to De Quincey's genuine and generous instinct of hero-worship, and to the depth of Coleridge's pecuniary embarrassments. The loan of L300, which the poet's enthusiastic admirer insisted on Cottle's conveying to him as from an unknown "young man of fortune who admired his talents," should cover a multitude of De Quincey's subsequent sins. It was indeed only upon Cottle's urgent representation that he had consented to reduce the sum from L500 to L300. Nor does there seem any doubt of his having honestly attempted to conceal his own identity with the nameless benefactor, though, according to his own later account, he failed. [1]

This occurred in November 1807, and in the previous month De Quincey had been able to render Coleridge a minor service, while at the same moment gratifying a long cherished wish of his own. Mrs. Coleridge was about to return with her children to Keswick, but her husband, not yet master of this L300 windfall, and undoubtedly at his wits' end for money, was arranging for a course of lectures to be delivered at the Royal Institution early in the ensuing year, and could not accompany them. De Quincey offered accordingly to be their escort, and duly conducted them to Wordsworth's house, thus making the acquaintance of the second of his two great poetical idols within a few months of paying his first homage to the other. In February 1808 Coleridge again took up his abode in London at his old free quarters in the Courier office, and began the delivery of a promised series of sixteen lectures on Poetry and the Fine Arts. "I wish you could see him," again writes Poole to Wedgwood, "you would pity and admire. He is much improved, but has still less voluntary power than ever. Yet he is so committed that I think he must deliver these lectures." Considering that the authorities of the Royal Institution had agreed to pay him one hundred guineas for delivering the lectures, he undoubtedly was more or less "committed;" and his voluntary power, however small, might be safely supposed to be equal to the task of fulfilling a contract. But to get the lecturer into the lecture-room does not amount to much more than bringing the horse to the water. You can no more make the one drink than you can prevent the other from sending his audience away thirsty. Coleridge's lectures on Poetry and the Fine Arts were confused, ill arranged, and generally disappointing to the last degree. Sometimes it was not even possible to bring the horse to the water. Charles Lamb writes to Manning on the 20th of February 1808 (early days indeed) that Coleridge had only delivered two lectures, and that though "two more were intended, he did not come." De Quincey writes of "dismissals of audience after audience, with pleas of illness; and on many of his lecture-days I have seen all Albemarle Street closed by a lock of carriages filled with women of distinction, until the servants of the Institution or their own footmen advanced to the carriage-doors with the intelligence that Mr. Coleridge had been suddenly taken ill." Naturally there came a time when the "women of distinction" began to tire of this treatment. "The plea, which at first had been received with expressions of concern, repeated too often began to rouse disgust. Many in anger, and some in real uncertainty whether it would not be trouble thrown away, ceased to attend." And what De Quincey has to say of the lectures themselves when they did by chance get delivered is no less melancholy. "The lecturer's appearance," he says, "was generally that of a man struggling with pain and over-mastering illness."

"His lips were baked with feverish heat, and often black in colour; and in spite of the water which he continued drinking through the whole course of the lecture, he often seemed to labour under an almost paralytic inability to raise the upper jaw from the lower" [i.e. I suppose to move the lower jaw]. "In such a state it is clear that nothing could save the lecture itself from reflecting his own feebleness and exhaustion except the advantage of having been precomposed in some happier mood. But that never happened: most unfortunately, he relied on his extempore ability to carry him through. Now, had he been in spirits, or had he gathered animation and kindled by his own emotion, no written lecture could have been more effectual than one of his unpremeditated colloquial harangues. But either he was depressed originally below the point from which reascent was possible, or else this reaction was intercepted by continual disgust from looking back upon his own ill success; for assuredly he never once recovered that free and eloquent movement of thought which he could command at any time in a private company. The passages he read, moreover, in illustrating his doctrines, were generally unhappily chosen, because chosen at haphazard, from the difficulty of finding at a moment's summons these passages which his purpose required. Nor do I remember any that produced much effect except two or three which I myself put ready marked into his hands among the Metrical Romances, edited by Ritson. Generally speaking, the selections were as injudicious and as inappropriate as they were ill delivered, for among Coleridge's accomplishments good reading was not one. He had neither voice (so at least I thought) nor management of voice. This defect is unfortunate in a public lecturer, for it is inconceivable how much weight and effectual pathos can be communicated by sonorous depth and melodious cadence of the human voice to sentiments the most trivial; [2] nor, on the other hand, how the grandest are emasculated by a style of reading which fails in distributing the lights and shadows of a musical intonation. However, this defect chiefly concerned the immediate impression; the most afflicting to a friend of Coleridge's was the entire absence of his own peculiar and majestic intellect; no heart, no soul, was in anything he said; no strength of feeling in recalling universal truths, no power of originality or compass of moral relations in his novelties,—all was a poor, faint reflection from pearls once scattered on the highway by himself in the prodigality of his early opulence—a mendicant dependence on the alms dropped from his own overflowing treasury of happier times."

Severe as is this censure of the lectures, there is unhappily no good ground for disputing its substantial justice. And the inferences which it suggests are only too painfully plain. One can well understand Coleridge's being an ineffective lecturer, and no failure in this respect, however conspicuous, would necessarily force us to the hypothesis of physical disability. But a Coleridge who could no more compose a lecture than he could deliver one-a Coleridge who could neither write nor extemporise anything specially remarkable on a subject so congenial to him as that of English poetry—must assuredly have spent most of his time, whether in the lecture-room or out of it, in a state of incapacity for sustained intellectual effort. De Quincey's humorous account of the lecturer's shiftless untidy life at the Courier office, and even the Rabelaisian quip which Charles Lamb throws at it in the above-quoted letter to Manning, are sufficient indications of his state at this time. "Oh, Charles," he writes to Lamb, early in February, just before the course of lectures was to begin, "I am very, very ill. Vixi." The sad truth is that, as seems to have been always the case with him when living alone, he was during these months of his residence in London more constantly and hopelessly under the dominion of opium than ever.


1. "In a letter written by him (Coleridge) about fifteen years after that time, I found that he had become aware of all the circumstances, perhaps through some indiscretion of Mr. Cottle's." Perhaps, however, no very great indiscretion on Mr. Cottle's part was needed to enable Coleridge to trace the loan to so ardent a young admirer and disciple.

2. The justice of this criticism will be acknowledged by those many persons whom Mr. Bright's great elocutionary skill has occasionally deluded into imagining that the very commonplace verse which the famous orator has been often known to quote with admiration is poetry of a high order.


Return to the Lakes—From Keswick to Grasmere—With Wordsworth at Allan Bank—The Friend—Quits the Lake country for ever.


From the close of this series of lectures in the month of May 1808 until the end of the year it is impossible to trace Coleridge's movements or even to determine the nature of his occupation with any approach to exactitude. The probability is, however, that he remained in London at his lodgings in the Courier office, and that he supported himself by rendering assistance in various ways to Mr. Daniel Stuart. We know nothing of him, however, with certainty until we find him once more at the Lakes in the early part of the year 1809, but not in his own home. Wordsworth had removed from his former abode at Grasmere to Allan Bank, a larger house some three-quarters of a mile distant, and there Coleridge took up his residence, more, it would seem, as a permanent inmate of his friend's house than as a guest. The specific cause of this migration from Greta Hall to Allan Bank does not appear, but all the accessible evidence, contemporary and subsequent, seems to point to the probability that it was the result of a definite break-up of Coleridge's own home. He continued, at any rate, to reside in Wordsworth's house during the whole seven months of his editorship of the Friend, a new venture in periodical literature which he undertook at this period; and we shall see that upon its failure he did not resume his residence at Greta Hall, but quitted the Lake country at once and for ever.

We need not take too literally Coleridge's declaration in the Biographia Literaria that one "main object of his in starting the Friend was to establish the philosophical distinction between the Reason and the Understanding." Had this been so, or at least had the periodical been actually conducted in conformity with any such purpose, even the chagrined projector himself could scarcely have had the face to complain, as Coleridge did very bitterly, of the reception accorded to it by the public. The most unpractical of thinkers can hardly have imagined that the "general reader" would "take in" a weekly metaphysical journal published at a town in Cumberland. The Friend was not quite so essentially hopeless an enterprise as that would have been; but the accidents of mismanagement and imprudence soon made it, for all practical purposes, sufficiently desperate. Even the forlorn Watchman, which had been set on foot when Coleridge had fourteen years' less experience of the world, was hardly more certainly foredoomed. The first care of the founder of the Friend was to select, as the place of publication, a town exactly twenty-eight miles from his own abode—a distance virtually trebled, as De Quincey observes, "by the interposition of Kirkstone, a mountain only to be scaled by a carriage ascent of three miles, and so steep in parts that without four horses no solitary traveller can persuade the neighbouring innkeepers to convey him." Here, however, at Penrith, "by way of purchasing intolerable difficulties at the highest price," Coleridge was advised and actually persuaded to set up a printer, to buy and lay in a stock of paper, types, etc., instead of resorting to some printer already established at a nearer place—as, for instance, Kendal, which was ten miles nearer, and connected with Coleridge's then place of residence by a daily post, whereas at Penrith there was no post at all. Having thus studiously and severely handicapped himself, the projector of the new periodical set to work, upon the strength of what seems to have been in great measure a fancy list of subscribers, to print and, so far as his extraordinary arrangements permitted, to circulate his journal. With naive sententiousness he warns the readers of the Biographia Literaria against trusting, in their own case, to such a guarantee as he supposed himself to possess. "You cannot," he observes, "be certain that the names on a subscription list have been put down by sufficient authority; or, should that be ascertained, it still remains to be known whether they were not extorted by some over-zealous friend's importunity; whether the subscriber had not yielded his name merely from want of courage to say no! and with the intention of dropping the work as soon as possible." Thus out of a hundred patrons who had been obtained for the Friend by an energetic canvasser, "ninety threw up the publication before the fourth number without any notice, though it was well known to them that in consequence of the distance and the slowness and irregularity of the conveyance" [it is amusing to observe the way in which Coleridge notes these drawbacks of his own creation as though they were "the act of God"] "I was compelled to lay in a stock of stamped paper for at least eight weeks beforehand, each sheet of which stood me in fivepence previous to its arrival at my printer's; though the subscription money was not to be received till the twenty- first week after the commencement of the work; and, lastly, though it was in nine cases out of ten impracticable for me to receive the money for two or three numbers without paying an equal sum for the postage."

Enough appears in this undesignedly droll account of the venture to show pretty clearly that, even had the Friend obtained a reasonable measure of popularity at starting, the flagrant defects in the methods of distributing and financing it must have insured its early decease. But, as a matter of fact, it had no chance of popularity from the outset. Its first number appeared on 1st August 1809, and Coleridge, writing to Southey on 20th October of the same year, speaks of his "original apprehension" that the plan and execution of the Friend is so utterly unsuitable to the public taste as to preclude all rational hopes of its success. "Much," he continues, "might have been done to have made the former numbers less so, by the interposition of others written more expressly for general interest;" and he promises to do his best in future to "interpose tales and whole numbers of amusement, which will make the periods lighter and shorter." Meanwhile he begs Southey to write a letter to the Friend in a lively style, rallying its editor on "his Quixotism in expecting that the public will ever pretend to understand his lucubrations or feel any interest in subjects of such sad and unkempt antiquity." Southey, ever good-natured, complied, even amid the unceasing press of his work, with the request; and to the letter of lightly-touched satire which he contributed to the journal he added a few private lines of friendly counsel, strongly urging Coleridge to give two or three amusing numbers, and he would hear of admiration on every side. "Insert too," he suggested, "a few more poems—any that you have, except Christabel, for that is of too much value. And write now that character of Bonaparte, announced in former times for 'to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow.'" It was too late, however, for good advice to be of any avail: the Friend was past praying for. It lingered on till its twenty-eighth number, and expired, unlike the Watchman, without any farewell to its friends, in the third week of March 1810.

The republication of this periodical, or rather selections from it, which appeared in 1818, is hardly perhaps described with justice in De Quincey's words as "altogether and absolutely a new work." A reader can, at any rate, form a pretty fair estimate from it of the style and probable public attractions of the original issue; and a perusal of it, considered in its character as a bid for the patronage of the general reader, is certainly calculated to excite an astonishment too deep for words. We have, of course, to bear in mind that the standard of the readable in our grandfathers' days was a more liberal and tolerant one than it is in our own. In those days of leisurely communications and slowly moving events there was relatively at least a far larger public for a weekly issue of moral and philosophical essays, under the name of a periodical, than it would be found easy to secure at present, when even a monthly discourse upon things in general requires Mr. Euskin's brilliancy of eloquence, vivacity of humour, and perpetual charm of unexpectedness to carry it off. Still the Spectator continued to be read in Coleridge's day, and people therefore must have had before them a perpetual example of what it was possible to do in the way of combining entertainment with instruction. How, then, it could have entered into the mind of the most sanguine projector to suppose that the longueurs and the difficulty of the Friend would be patiently borne with for the sake of the solid nutriment which it contained it is quite impossible to understand. Even supposing that a weekly, whose avowed object was "to aid in the formation of fixed principles in politics, morals, and religion," could possibly be floated, even "with literary amusements interspersed," it is evident that very much would depend upon the character of these "amusements" themselves. In the republication of 1817 they appear under the heading of "landing-places." One of them consists of a parallel between Voltaire and Erasmus, and between Rousseau and Luther, founded, of course, on the respective attitudes of the two pairs of personages to the Revolution and the Reformation. Another at the end of the series consists of a criticism of, and panegyric on, Sir Alexander Ball, the governor of Malta. Such are the landing-places. But how should any reader, wearied with "for ever climbing up the climbing wave" of Coleridge's eloquence, have found rest or refreshment on one of these uncomfortable little sandbanks? It was true that the original issue of the Friend contained poetical contributions which do not appear in the republication; but poetry in itself, or, at any rate, good poetry, is not a relief to the overstrained faculties, and, even if it were, the relief would have been provided at too infrequent intervals to affect the general result. The fact is, however, that Coleridge's own theory of his duty as a public instructor was in itself fatal to any hope of his venture proving a commercial success. Even when entreated by Southey to lighten the character of the periodical, he accompanies his admission of the worldly wisdom of the advice with something like a protest against such a departure from the severity of his original plan. His object, as he puts it with much cogency from his own unpractical point of view—his object being to teach men how to think on politics, religion, and morals, and thinking being a very arduous and distasteful business to the mass of mankind, it followed that the essays of the Friend (and particularly the earlier essays, in which the reader required to be "grounded" in his subject) could hardly be agreeable reading. With perfect frankness indeed does he admit in his prospectus that he must "submit to be thought dull by those who seek amusement only." He hoped, however, as he says in one of his earlier essays, to become livelier as he went on. "The proper merit of a foundation is its massiveness and solidity. The conveniences and ornaments, the gilding and stucco-work, the sunshine and sunny prospects, will come with the superstructure." But the building, alas! was never destined to be completed, and the architect had his own misgivings about the attractions even of the completed edifice. "I dare not flatter myself that any endeavours of mine, compatible with the duty I owe to the truth and the hope of permanent utility, will render the Friend agreeable to the majority of what is called the reading public. I never expected it. How indeed could I when, etc." Yet, in spite of these professions, it is clear from the prospectus that Coleridge believed in the possibility of obtaining a public for the Friend. He says that "a motive for honourable ambition was supplied by the fact that every periodical paper of the kind now attempted, which had been conducted with zeal and ability, was not only well received at the time, but has become popular;" and he seems to regard it as a comparatively unimportant circumstance that the Friend would be distinguished from "its celebrated predecessors, the Spectator and the like," by the "greater length of the separate essays, by their closer connection with each other, and by the predominance of one object, and the common bearing of all to one end." It was, of course, exactly this plus of prolixity and minus of variety which lowered the sum of the Friend's attractions so far below that of the Spectator as to deprive the success of Addison of all its value as a precedent.

Nor is it easy to agree with the editor of the reprint of 1837 that the work, "with all its imperfections, is perhaps the most vigorous" of its author's compositions. That there are passages in it which impress us by their force of expression, as well as by subtlety or beauty of thought, must of course be admitted. It was impossible to a man of Coleridge's literary power that it should be otherwise. But "vigorous" is certainly not the adjective which seems to me to suggest itself to an impartial critic of these too copious disquisitions. Making every allowance for their necessary elasticity of scope as being designed to "prepare and discipline the student's moral and intellectual being, not to propound dogmas and theories for his adoption," it must, I think, be allowed that they are wanting in that continuity of movement and co-ordination of parts which, as it seems to me, enters into any intelligible definition of "vigour," as attributed to a work of moral and political exposition considered as a whole. The writer's discursiveness is too often and too vexatiously felt by the reader to permit of the survival of any sense of theorematic unity in his mind; he soon gives up all attempts at periodical measurement of his own and his author's progress towards the prescribed goal of their journey; and he resigns himself in this, as in so many other of Coleridge's prose works, to a study of isolated and detached passages. So treated, however, one may freely admit that the Friend is fully worthy of the admiration with which Mr. H. N. Coleridge regarded it. If not the most vigorous, it is beyond all comparison the most characteristic of all his uncle's performances in this field of his multiform activity. In no way could the peculiar pregnancy of Coleridge's thoughts, the more than scholastic subtlety of his dialectic, and the passionate fervour of his spirituality be more impressively exhibited than by a well-made selection of loci from the pages of the Friend.


London again—Second recourse to journalism—The Courier articles—The Shakespeare lectures—Production of Remorse—At Bristol again as lecturer—Residence at Calne—Increasing ill health and embarrassment—Retirement to Mr. Gillman's.


The life led by Coleridge during the six years next ensuing is difficult to trace, even in the barest outline; to give a detailed and circumstantial account of it from any ordinarily accessible source of information is impossible. Nor is it, I imagine, very probable that even the most exhaustive search among whatever imprinted records may exist in the possession of his friends would at all completely supply the present lack of biographical material. For not only had it become Coleridge's habit to disappear from the sight of his kinsmen and acquaintances for long periods together; he had fallen almost wholly silent also. They not only ceased to see him, but they ceased to hear of him. Letters addressed to him, even on subjects of the greatest importance, would remain for months unnoticed, and in many instances would receive no answer at all. His correspondence during the next half-dozen years must have been of the scantiest amount and the most intermittent character, and a biographer could hope, therefore, for but little aid in bridging over the large gaps in his knowledge of this period, even if every extant letter written by Coleridge during its continuance were to be given to the world.

Such light, too, as is retrospectively thrown upon it by Coleridge's correspondence of a later date is of the most fitful description,— scarcely more than serves, in fact, for the rendering of darkness visible. Even the sudden and final departure from the Lakes it leaves involved in as much obscurity as ever. Writing to Mr. Thomas Allsop [1] from Ramsgate twelve years afterwards (8th October 1822) he says that he "counts four grasping and griping sorrows in his past life." The first of these "was when" [no date given] "the vision of a happy home sank for ever, and it became impossible for me longer even to hope for domestic happiness under the name of husband." That is plain enough on the whole, though it still leaves us in some uncertainty as to whether the "sinking of the vision" was as gradual as the estrangement between husband and wife, or whether he refers to some violent rupture of relations with Mrs. Coleridge, possibly precipitating his departure from the Lakes. If soothe second "griping and grasping sorrow" followed very quickly on the first, for he says that it overtook him "on the night of his arrival from Grasmere with Mr. and Mrs. Montagu;" while in the same breath and paragraph, and as though undoubtedly referring to the same thing, he speaks of the "destruction of a friendship of fifteen years when, just at the moment of Tenner and Curtis's (the publishers) bankruptcy" (by which Coleridge was a heavy loser, but which did not occur till seven years afterwards), somebody indicated by seven asterisks and possessing an income of L1200 a-year, was "totally transformed into baseness." There is certainly not much light here, any more than in the equally enigmatical description of the third sorrow as being "in some sort included in the second," so that "what the former was to friendship the latter was to a still more inward bond." The truth is, that all Coleridge's references to himself in his later years are shrouded in a double obscurity. One veil is thrown over them by his deliberate preference for abstract and mystical forms of expression, and another perhaps by that kind of shameful secretiveness which grows upon all men who become the slaves of concealed indulgences, and which often displays itself on occasions when it has no real object to gain of any kind whatever.

Thus much only we know, that on reaching London in the summer of 1810 Coleridge became the guest of the Montagus, and that, after some months' residence with them, he left as the immediate result of some difference with his host which was never afterwards composed. Whether it arose from the somewhat trivial cause to which De Quincey has, admittedly upon the evidence of "the learned in literary scandal," referred it, it is now impossible to say. But at some time or other, towards the close probably of 1810, or in the early months of 1811, Coleridge quitted Mr. Montagu's house for that of Mr. John Morgan, a companion of his early Bristol days, and a common friend of his and Southey's; and here, at No. 7 Portland Place, Hammersmith, he was residing when, for the second time, he resolved to present himself to the London public in the capacity of lecturer. His services were on this occasion engaged by the London Philosophical Society, at Crane Court, Fleet Street, and their prospectus announced that on Monday, 18th November, Mr. Coleridge would commence "a course of lectures on Shakspeare and Milton, in illustration of the principles of poetry and their application, on grounds of criticism, to the most popular works of later English poets, those of the living included. After an introductory lecture on false criticism (especially in poetry) and on its causes, two-thirds of the remaining course," continues the prospectus, "will be assigned, 1st, to a philosophical analysis and explanation of all the principal characters of our great dramatists, as Othello, Falstaff, Richard the Third, Lago, Hamlet, etc., and to a critical comparison of Shakspeare in respect of diction, imagery, management of the passions, judgment in the construction of his dramas—in short, of all that belongs to him as a poet, and as a dramatic poet, with his contemporaries or immediate successors, Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Ford, Massinger, and in the endeavour to determine which of Shakespeare's merits and defects are common to him, with other writers of the same age, and what remain peculiar to his genius."

A couple of months before the commencement of this course, viz. in September 1811, Coleridge seems to have entered into a definite journalistic engagement with his old editor, Mr. Daniel Stuart, then the proprietor of the Courier. It was not, however, his first connection with that journal. He had already published at least one piece of verse in its columns, and two years before, while the Friend was still in existence, he had contributed to it a series of letters on the struggle of the Spaniards against their French invaders. In these, as though to show that under the ashes of his old democratic enthusiasm still lived its wonted fires, and that the inspiration of a popular cause was only needed to reanimate them, we find, with less of the youthful lightness of touch and agility of movement, a very near approach to the vigour of his early journalistic days. Whatever may be thought of the historic value of the parallel which he institutes between the struggle of the Low Countries against their tyrant, and that of the Peninsula against its usurping conqueror, it is worked out with remarkable ingenuity of completeness. Whole pages of the letters are radiant with that steady flame of hatred which, ever since the hour of his disillusionment, had glowed in his breast at the name and thought of Bonaparte; and whenever he speaks of the Spaniards, of Spanish patriotism, of the Spanish Cortes, we see that the names of "the people," of "freedom," of "popular assembly," have some of their old magic for him still. The following passage is almost pathetic in its reminder of the days of 1792, before that modern Leonidas, the young French Republic, had degenerated into the Xerxes of the Empire.

"The power which raised up, established, and enriched the Dutch republic,—the same mighty power is no less at work in the present struggle of the Spanish nation, a power which mocks the calculations of ordinary statecraft too subtle to be weighed against it, and mere outward brute force too different from it to admit of comparison. A power as mighty in the rational creation as the element of electricity in the material world; and, like that element, infinite in its affinities, infinite in its mode of action, combining the most discordant natures, fixing the most volatile, and arming the sluggish vapour of the marsh with arrows of fire; working alike in silence and in tempest, in growth and in destruction; now contracted to an individual soul, and now, as in a moment, dilating itself over a whole nation! Am I asked what this mighty power may be, and wherein it exists? If we are worthy of the fame which we possess as the countrymen of Hampden, Russell, and Algernon Sidney, we shall find the answer in our own hearts. It is the power of the insulted free-will, steadied by the approving conscience and struggling against brute force and iniquitous compulsion for the common rights of human nature, brought home to our inmost souls by being, at the same time, the rights of our betrayed, insulted, and bleeding country."

And as this passage recalls the most striking characteristics of his earlier style, so may its conclusion serve as a fair specimen of the calmer eloquence of his later manner:—

"It is a painful truth, sir, that these men who appeal most to facts, and pretend to take them for their exclusive guide, are the very persons who most disregard the light of experience when it refers them to the mightiness of their own inner nature, in opposition to those forces which they can see with their eyes, and reduce to figures upon a slate. And yet, sir, what is history for the greater and more useful part but a voice from the sepulchres of our forefathers, assuring us, from their united experience, that our spirits are as much stronger than our bodies as they are nobler and more permanent? The historic muse appears in her loftiest character as the nurse of Hope. It is her appropriate praise that her records enable the magnanimous to silence the selfish and cowardly by appealing to actual events for the information of these truths which they themselves first learned from the surer oracle of their own reason."

But this reanimation of energy was but a transient phenomenoa It did not survive the first freshness of its exciting cause. The Spanish insurrection grew into the Peninsular war, and though the glorious series of Wellington's victories might well, one would think, have sustained the rhetorical temperature at its proper pitch, it failed to do so. Or was it, as the facts appear now and then to suggest, that Coleridge at Grasmere or Keswick-Coleridge in the inspiring (and restraining) companionship of close friends and literary compeers—was an altogether different man from Coleridge in London, alone with his thoughts and his opium? The question cannot be answered with confidence, and the fine quality of the lectures on Shakespeare is sufficient to show that, for some time, at any rate, after his final migration to London, his critical faculty retained its full vigour. But it is beyond dispute that his regular contributions to the Courier in 1811-12 are not only vastly inferior to his articles of a dozen years before in the Morning Post but fall sensibly short of the level of the letters of 1809, from which extract has just been made. Their tone is spiritless, and they even lack distinction of style. Their very subjects, and the mode of treating them, appear to show a change in Coleridge's attitude towards public affairs if not in the very conditions of his journalistic employment. They have much more of the character of newspaper hack-work than his earlier contributions. He seems to have been, in many instances, set to write a mere report, and often a rather dry and mechanical report of this or the other Peninsular victory. He seldom or never discusses the political situation, as his wont had been, au large; and in place of broad statesmanlike reflection on the scenes and actors in the great world-drama then in progress, we meet with too much of that sort of criticism on the consistency and capacity of "our contemporary, the Morning Chronicle," which had less attraction, it may be suspected, even for the public of its own day than for the journalistic profession, while for posterity, of course, it possesses no interest at all. The series of contributions extends from September of 1811 until April of the following year, and appears to have nearly come to a premature and abrupt close in the intermediate July, when an article written by Coleridge in strong opposition to the proposed reinstatement of the Duke of York in the command-in-chief was, by ministerial influence, suppressed before publication. This made Coleridge, as his daughter informs us on the authority of Mr. Crabb Kobinson, "very uncomfortable," and he was desirous of being engaged on another paper. He wished to be connected with the Times, and "I spoke," says Mr. Eobinson, "with Walter on the subject, but the negotiation failed."

With the conclusion of the lectures on Shakespeare, and the loss of the stimulus, slight as it then was to him, of regular duties and recurring engagements, Coleridge seems to have relapsed once more into thoroughly desultory habits of work. The series of aphorisms and reflections which he contributed in 1812 to Southey's Omniana, witty, suggestive, profound as many of them are, must not of course be referred to the years in which they were given to the world. They belong unquestionably to the order of marginalia, the scattered notes of which De Quincey speaks with not extravagant admiration, and which, under the busy pencil of a commentator always indefatigable in the strenua inertia of reading, had no doubt accumulated in considerable quantities over a long course of years.

The disposal, however, of this species of literary material could scarcely have been a source of much profit to him, and Coleridge's difficulties of living must by this time have been growing acute. His pension from the Wedgwoods had been assigned, his surviving son has stated, to the use of his family, and even this had been in the previous year reduced by half. "In Coleridge's neglect," observes Miss Meteyard, "of his duties to his wife, his children, and his friends, must be sought the motives which led Mr. Wedgwood in 1811 to withdraw his share of the annuity. An excellent, even over-anxious father, he was likely to be shocked at a neglect which imposed on the generosity of Southey, himself heavily burdened, those duties which every man of feeling and honour proudly and even jealously guards as his own.... The pension of L150 per annum had been originally granted with the view to secure Coleridge independence and leisure while he effected some few of his manifold projects of literary work. But ten years had passed, and these projects were still in nubibus—even the life of Leasing, even the briefer memoir of Thomas Wedgwood; and gifts so well intentioned, had as it were, ministered to evil rather than to good." We can hardly wonder at the step, however we may regret it; and if one of the reasons adduced in defence of it savours somewhat of the fallacy known as ... non cause, pro cause, we may perhaps attribute that rather to the maladroitness of Miss Meteyard's advocacy than to the weakness of Mr. Wedgwood's logic. The fact, however, that this "excellent, even over-anxious father" was shocked at a neglect which imposed a burden on the generosity of Southey, is hardly a just ground for cutting off one of the supplies by which that burden was partially relieved. As to the assignment of the pension to the family, it is impossible to question what has been positively affirmed by an actual member of that family, the Rev. Derwent Coleridge himself; though, when he adds that not only was the school education of both the sons provided from this source, but that through his (Coleridge's) influence they were both sent to college, his statement is at variance, as will be presently seen, with an authority equal to his own.

In 1812, at any rate, we may well believe that Coleridge's necessities had become pressing, and the timely service then rendered to him by Lord Byron may have been suggested almost as much by a knowledge of his needs as by admiration for the dramatic merits of his long-since rejected tragedy. Osorio's time had at any rate come. The would-be fratricide changed his name to Ordonio, and ceased to stand sponsor to the play, which was rechristened Remorse, and accepted at last, upon Byron's recommendation, by the committee of Drury Lane Theatre, the playhouse at whose doors it had knocked vainly fifteen years before it was performed there for the first time on the 23d of January 1813. The prologue and epilogue, without which in those times no gentleman's drama was accounted complete, was written, the former by Charles Lamb, the latter by the author himself. It obtained a brilliant success on its first representation, and was honoured with what was in those days regarded as the very respectable run of twenty nights.

The success, however, which came so opportunely for his material necessities was too late to produce any good effect upon Coleridge's mental state. But a month after the production of his tragedy we find him writing in the most dismal strain of hypochondria to Thomas Poole. The only pleasurable sensation which the success of Remorse had given him was, he declares, the receipt of his friend's "heart- engendered lines" of congratulation. "No grocer's apprentice, after his first month's permitted riot, was ever sicker of figs and raisins than I of hearing about the Remorse. The endless rat-a-tat-tat at our black-and-blue bruised doors, and my three master-fiends, proof-sheets, letters, and—worse than these—invitations to large dinners, which I cannot refuse without offence and imputation of pride, etc., oppress me so much that my spirits quite sink under it. I have never seen the play since the first night. It has been a good thing for the theatre. They will get eight or ten thousand pounds by it, and I shall get more than by all my literary labours put together —nay, thrice as much." So large a sum of money as this must have amounted to should surely have lasted him for years; but the particular species of intemperance to which he was now hopelessly enslaved is probably the most costly of all forms of such indulgence, and it seems pretty evident that the proceeds of his theatrical coup were consumed in little more than a year.

Early in 1814, at any rate, Coleridge once more returned to his old occupation of lecturer, and this time not in London, but in the scene of his first appearance in that capacity. The lectures which he proposed to deliver at Bristol were, in fact, a repetition of the course of 1811-12; but the ways of the lecturer, to judge from an amusing story recorded by Cottle, more nearly resembled his proceedings in 1808. A "brother of Mr. George Cumberland," who happened to be his fellow-traveller to Bristol on this occasion, relates that before the coach started Coleridge's attention was attracted by a little Jew boy selling pencils, with whom he entered into conversation, and with whose superior qualities he was so impressed as to declare that "if he had not an important engagement at Bristol he would stay behind to provide some better condition for the lad." The coach having started, "the gentleman" (for his name was unknown to the narrator of the incident) "talked incessantly and in a most entertaining way for thirty miles out of London, and, afterwards, with little intermission till they reached Marlborough," when he discovered that a lady in the coach with him was a particular friend of his; and on arriving at Bath he quitted the coach declaring that he was determined not to leave her till he had seen her safe to her brother's door in North Wales. This was the day fixed for the delivery of Coleridge's first lecture. Two or three days afterwards, having completed his detour by North Wales, he arrived at Bristol: another day was fixed for the commencement of the course, and Coleridge then presented himself an hour after the audience had taken their seats. The "important engagement" might be broken, it seems, for a mere whim, though not for a charitable impulse—a distinction testifying to a mixture of insincerity and unpunctuality not pleasant to note as an evidence of the then state of Coleridge's emotions and will.

Thus inauspiciously commenced, there was no reason why the Bristol lectures of 1814 should be more successful than the London Institution lectures of 1808; nor were they, it appears, in fact. They are said to have been "sparsely attended,"—no doubt owing to the natural unwillingness of people to pay for an hour's contemplation of an empty platform; and their pecuniary returns in consequence were probably insignificant. Coleridge remained in Bristol till the month of August, when he returned to London.

The painful task of tracing his downward course is now almost completed. In the middle of this year he touched the lowest point of his descent. Cottle, who had a good deal of intercourse with him by speech and letter in 1814, and who had not seen him since 1807, was shocked by his extreme prostration, and then for the first time ascertained the cause. "In 1814," he says in his Recollections, "S. T. C. had been long, very long, in the habit of taking from two quarts of laudanum a week to a pint a day, and on one occasion he had been known to take in the twenty-four hours a whole quart of laudanum. The serious expenditure of money resulting from this habit was the least evil, though very great, and must have absorbed all the produce of his writings and lectures and the liberalities of his friends." Cottle addressed to him a letter of not very delicate remonstrance on the subject, to which Coleridge replied in his wontedly humble strain.

There is a certain Pharisaism about the Bristol poet-publisher which renders it necessary to exercise some little caution in the acceptance of his account of Coleridge's condition; but the facts, from whatever source one seeks them, appear to acquit him of any exaggeration in his summing up of the melancholy matter. "A general impression," he says, "prevailed on the minds of Coleridge's friends that it was a desperate case, that paralysed all their efforts; that to assist Coleridge with money which, under favourable circumstances would have been most promptly advanced, would now only enlarge his capacity to obtain the opium which was consuming him. We merely knew that Coleridge had retired with his friend, Mr. John Morgan, to a small house at Calne in Wiltshire."

It must have been at Calne, then, that Coleridge composed the series of "Letters to Mr. Justice Fletcher concerning his charge to the Grand Jury of the county of Wexford, at the summer Assizes in 1814," which appeared at intervals in the Courier between 20th September and 10th December of this year. Their subject, a somewhat injudiciously animated address to the aforesaid Grand Jury on the subject of the relations between Catholicism and Protestantism in Ireland, was well calculated to stimulate the literary activity of a man who always took something of the keen interest of the modern Radical in the eternal Irish question; and the letters are not wanting either in argumentative force or in grave impressiveness of style. But their lack of spring and energy as compared with Coleridge's earlier work in journalism is painfully visible throughout.

Calne, it is to be supposed, was still Coleridge's place of abode when Southey (17th October) wrote Cottle that letter which appears in his Correspondence, and which illustrates with such sad completeness the contrast between the careers of the two generous, romantic, brilliant youths who had wooed their wives together—and between the fates, one must add, of the two sisters who had listened to their wooing—eighteen years before: a letter as honourable to the writer as it is the reverse to its subject. "Can you," asks Southey, "tell me anything of Coleridge? A few lines of introduction for a son of Mr.—— of St. James's, in your city, are all that we have received from him since I saw him last September twelvemonth (1813) in town. The children being thus left entirely to chance, I have applied to his brothers at Ottey (Ottery?) concerning them, and am in hopes through their means and the assistance of other friends of sending Hartley to college. Lady Beaumont has promised L30 a year for the purpose, and Poole L10. I wrote to Coleridge three or four months ago, telling him that unless he took some steps in providing for this object I must make the application, and required his answer within a given term of three weeks. He received the letter, and in his note by Mr.——promised to answer it, but he has never taken any further notice of it. I have acted with the advice of Wordsworth. The brothers, as I expected, promise their concurrence, and I daily expect a letter stating to what extent they will contribute." With this letter before him an impartial biographer can hardly be expected to adopt the theory which has commended itself to the filial piety of the Rev. Derwent Coleridge— namely, that it was through the father's "influence" that the sons were sent to college. On a plain matter of fact such as this, one may be permitted, without indelicacy, to uphold the conclusions compelled by the evidence. Such expressions of opinion, on the other hand, as that Coleridge's "separation from his family, brought about and continued through the force of circumstances over which he had far less control than has been commonly supposed, was in fact nothing else but an ever-prolonged absence;" and that "from first to last he took an affectionate, it may be said a passionate, interest in the welfare of his children"—such expressions of mere opinion as these it may be proper enough to pass by in respectful silence.

The following year brought with it no improvement in the embarrassed circumstances, no reform of the disordered life. Still domiciled with Mr. Morgan at Calne, the self-made sufferer writes to Cottle: "You will wish to know something of myself. In health I am not worse than when at Bristol I was best; yet fluctuating, yet unhappy, in circumstances poor indeed! I have collected my scattered and my manuscript poems sufficient to make one volume. Enough I have to make another. But, till the latter is finished, I cannot, without great loss of character, publish the former, on account of the arrangement, besides the necessity of correction. For instance, I earnestly wish to begin the volumes with what has never been seen by any, however few, such as a series of odes on the different sentences of the Lord's Prayer, and, more than all this, to finish my greater work on 'Christianity considered as philosophy, and as the only philosophy.'" Then follows a request for a loan of forty pounds on the security of the MSS., an advance which Cottle declined to make, though he sent Coleridge "some smaller temporary relief." The letter concludes with a reference to a project for taking a house and receiving pupils to hoard and instruct, which Cottle appeared to consider the crowning "degradation and ignominy of all."

A few days later we find Lord Byron again coming to Coleridge's assistance with a loan of a hundred pounds and words of counsel and encouragement. Why should not the author of Remorse repeat his success I "In Kean," writes Byron, "there is an actor worthy of expressing the thoughts of the character which you have every power of embodying, and I cannot but regret that the part of Ordonio was disposed of before his appearance at Drury Lane. We have had nothing to be mentioned in the same breath with Remorse for very many years, and I should think that the reception of that play was sufficient to encourage the highest hopes of author and audience." The advice was followed, and the drama of Zapolya was the result. It is a work of even less dramatic strength than its predecessor, and could scarcely, one thinks, have been as successful with an audience. It was not, however, destined to see the footlights. Before it had passed the tribunal of the Drury Lane Committee it had lost the benefit of Byron's patronage through the poet's departure from England, and the play was rejected by Mr. Douglas Kinnaird, the then reader for the theatre, who assigned, according to Mr. Gillman, "some ludicrous objections to the metaphysics." Before leaving England, however, Byron rendered a last, and, as the result proved, a not unimportant service to his brother- poet. He introduced him to Mr. Murray, who, in the following year, undertook the publication of Christabel—the most successful, in the sense of the most popular, of all its author's productions in verse.

With the coming of spring in the following year that dreary story of slow self-destruction, into which the narrative of Coleridge's life from the age of thirty to that of forty-five resolves itself, was brought to a close. Coleridge had at last perceived that his only hope of redemption lay in a voluntary submission of his enfeebled will to the control of others, and he had apparently just enough strength of volition to form and execute the necessary resolve. He appears, in the first instance, to have consulted a physician of the name of Adams, who, on the 9th of April 1816, put himself in communication with Mr. Gillman of Highgate. "A very learned, but in one respect an unfortunate gentleman, has," he wrote, "applied to me on a singular occasion. He has for several years been in the habit of taking large quantities of opium. For some time past he has been in vain endeavouring to break himself of it. It is apprehended his friends are not firm enough, from a dread lest he should suffer by suddenly leaving it off, though he is conscious of the contrary, and has proposed to me to submit himself to any regimen, however severe. With this view he wishes to fix himself in the house of some medical gentleman who will have the courage to refuse him any laudanum, and under whose assistance, should he be the worse for it, he may be relieved." Would such a proposal, inquires the writer, be absolutely inconsistent with Mr. Gillman's family arrangements? He would not, he adds, have proposed it "but on account of the great importance of the character as a literary man. His communicative temper will make his society very interesting as well as useful." Mr. Gillman's acquaintance with Dr. Adams was but slight, and he had had no previous intention of receiving an inmate into his house. But the case very naturally interested him; he sought an interview with Dr. Adams, and it was agreed that the latter should drive Coleridge to Highgate the following evening. At the appointed hour, however, Coleridge presented himself alone, and, after spending the evening at Mr. Gillman's, left him, as even in his then condition he left most people who met him for the first time, completely captivated by the amiability of his manners and the charm of his conversation. The next day Mr. Gillman received from him a letter, finally settling the arrangement to place himself under the doctor's care, and concluding with the following pathetic passage:

"And now of myself. My ever wakeful reason and the keenness of my moral feelings will secure you from all unpleasant circumstances connected with me save only one, viz. the evasion of a specific madness. You will never hear anything but truth from me; prior habits render it out of my power to tell an untruth, but, unless carefully observed, I dare not promise that I should not, with regard to this detested poison, be capable of acting one. Not sixty hours have yet passed without my having taken laudanum, though, for the last week, comparatively trifling doses. I have full belief that your anxiety need not be extended beyond the first week, and for the first week, I shall not, must not, be permitted to leave your house, unless with you; delicately or indelicately, this must be done, and both the servants, and the assistant, must receive absolute commands from you. The stimulus of conversation suspends the terror that haunts my mind; but, when I am alone, the horrors I have suffered from laudanum, the degradation, the blighted utility, almost overwhelm me. If (as I feel for the first time a soothing confidence that it will prove) I should leave you restored to my moral and bodily health, it is not myself only that will love and honour you; every friend I have (and, thank God! in spite of this wretched vice I have many and warm ones, who were friends of my youth, and have never deserted me) will thank you with reverence. I have taken no notice of your kind apologies. If I could not be comfortable in your house and with your family, I should deserve to be miserable."

This letter was written on a Saturday, and on the following Monday Coleridge presented himself at Mr. Gillman's, bringing in his hand the proof—sheets of Christabel, now printed for the first time. He had looked, as the letter just quoted shows, with a "soothing confidence" to leaving his retreat at some future period in a restored condition of moral and bodily health; and as regards the restoration, his confidence was in a great measure justified. But the friendly doors which opened to receive him on this 15th of April 1816, were destined to close only upon his departing bier. Under the watchful and almost reverential care of this well-chosen guardian, sixteen years of comparatively quiet and well-ordered life, of moderate but effective literary activity, and of gradual though never complete emancipation from his fatal habit, were reserved to him. He had still, as we shall see, to undergo certain recurrences of restlessness and renewals of pecuniary difficulty; his shattered health was but imperfectly and temporarily repaired; his "shaping spirit of imagination" could not and did not return; his transcendental broodings became more and more the "habit of his soul." But henceforth he recovers for us a certain measure of his long-lost dignity, and a figure which should always have been "meet for the reverence of the hearth" in the great household of English literature, but which had far too long and too deeply sunk below it, becomes once more a worthy and even a venerable presence. At evening-time it was light.


1. Coleridge made the acquaintance of this gentleman, who became his enthusiastic disciple, in 1818. His chief interest for us is the fact that for the next seven years he was Coleridge's correspondent. Personally, he was a man of little judgment or critical discrimination, and his sense of the ridiculous may be measured by the following passage. Speaking of the sweetness of Charles Lamb's smile, he says that "there is still one man living, a stockbroker, who has that smile," and adds: "To those who wish to see the only thing left on earth, if it is still left, of Lamb, his best and most beautiful remain—his smile, I will indicate its possessor, Mr.—— of Throgmorton Street." How the original "possessor" of this apparently assignable security would have longed to "feel Mr. Allsop's head"!


Life at Highgate-Renewed activity-Publications and re-publications—The Biographia Literaria—The lectures of 1818-Coleridge as a Shakespearian critic.


The results of the step which Coleridge had just taken became speedily visible in more ways than one, and the public were among the first to derive benefit from it. For not only was he stimulated to greater activity of production, but his now more methodical way of life gave him time and inclination for that work of arrangement and preparation for the press which, distasteful to most writers, was no doubt especially irksome to him, and thus insured the publication of many pieces which otherwise might never have seen the light. The appearance of Christabel was, as we have said, received with signal marks of popular favour, three editions being called for and exhausted in the same year. In 1816 there appeared also The Statesman's Manual; or the Bible the best guide to Political Skill and Foresight: a Lay Sermon addressed to the higher classes of Society, with an Appendix containing Comments and Essays connected with the Study of the Inspired Writings; in 1817, another Lay Sermon addressed to the higher and middle classes on the existing distresses and discontents; and in the same year followed the most important publication of this period, the Biographia Literaria.

In 1817, too, it was that Coleridge at last made his long-meditated collection and classification of his already published poems, and that for the first time something approaching to a complete edition of the poet's works was given to the world. The Sibylline Leaves, as this reissue was called, had been intended to be preceded by another volume of verse, and "accordingly on the printer's signatures of every sheet we find Vol. II, appearing." Too characteristically, however, the scheme was abandoned, and Volume II. emerged from the press without any Volume I. to accompany it. The drama of Zapolya followed in the same year, and proved more successful with the public than with the critic of Drury Lane. The "general reader" assigned no "ludicrous objections to its metaphysics;" on the contrary, he took them on trust, as his generous manner is, and Zapolya, published thus as a Christmas tale, became so immediately popular that two thousand copies were sold in six weeks. In the year 1818 followed the three-volume selection of essays from the Friend, a reissue to which reference has already been made. With the exception of Christabel, however, all the publications of these three years unfortunately proceeded from the house of Gale and Fenner, a firm which shortly afterwards became bankrupt; and Coleridge thus lost all or nearly all of the profits of their sale.

The most important of the new works of this period was, as has been said, the Biographia Literaria, or, to give it its other title, Biographical Sketches of my Literary Life and Opinions. Its interest, however, is wholly critical and illustrative; as a narrative it would be found extremely disappointing and probably irritating by the average reader. With the exception of one or two incidental disclosures, but little biographical information is to be derived from it which is not equally accessible from sources independent of the author; and the almost complete want of sequence and arrangement renders it a very inconvenient work of reference even for these few biographical details. Its main value is to be found in the contents of seven chapters, from the fourteenth to the twentieth; but it is not going too far to say that, in respect of these, it is literally priceless. No such analysis of the principles of poetry—no such exact discrimination of what was sound in the modern "return-to- nature" movement from what was false—has ever been accomplished by any other critic, or with such admirable completeness by this consummate critic at any other time. Undoubtedly it is not of the light order of reading; none, or very little, of Coleridge's prose is. The whole of chapter xv., for instance, in which the specific elements of "poetic power" are "distinguished from general talent determined to poetic composition by accidental motives," requires a close and sustained effort of the attention, but those who bestow it will find it amply re- paid. I know of no dissertation conceived and carried out in terms of the abstract which in the result so triumphantly justifies itself upon application to concrete cases, As regards the question of poetic expression, and the laws by which its true form is determined, Coleridge's analysis is, it seems to me, final. I cannot, at least, after the most careful reflection upon it, conceive it as being other than the absolutely last word on the subject. Reasoning and illustration are alike so convincing that the reader, like the contentious student who listened unwillingly to his professor's demonstration of the first proposition of Euclid, is compelled to confess that "he has nothing to reply." To the judicious admirer of Wordsworth, to every one who, while recognising Wordsworth's inestimable services to English literature as the leader of the naturalist reaction in poetry, has yet been vaguely conscious of the defect in his poetic theory, and very keenly conscious of the vices of his poetic practice,—to all such persons it must be a profound relief and satisfaction to be guided as unerringly as Coleridge guides them to the "parting of the ways" of truth and falsity in Wordsworth's doctrines, and to be enabled to perceive that nothing which has offended him in that poet's thought and diction has any real connection with whatever in the poet's principles has commanded his assent. There is no one who has ever felt uneasy under the blasphemies of the enemy but must entertain deep gratitude for so complete a discharge as Coleridge has procured him from the task of defending such lines as

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