English Men of Letters: Coleridge
by H. D. Traill
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"And I have travelled far as Hull to see What clothes he might have left or other property."

Defend them indeed the ordinary reader probably would not, preferring even the abandonment of his theory to a task so humiliating. But the theory has so much of truth and value in it that the critic who has redeemed it from the discredit of Wordsworth's misapplications of it is entitled to the thanks of every friend of simplicity, who is at the same time an enemy of bathos. There is no longer any reason to treat the deadly commonplaces, amid which we toil through so many pages of the Excursion, as having any true theoretic affinity with its but too occasional majestic interludes. The smooth square-cut blocks of prose which insult the natural beauty of poetic rock and boulder even in such a scene of naked moorland grandeur as that of Resolution and Independence are seen and shown to be the mere intruders which we have all felt them to be. To the Wordsworthian, anxious for a full justification of the faith that is in him, the whole body of Coleridge's criticism on his friend's poetry in the Biographia Literaria may be confidently recommended. The refutation of what is untenable in Wordsworth's theory, the censure pronounced upon certain characteristics of his practice, are made all the more impressive by the tone of cordial admiration which distinguishes every personal reference to the poet himself, and by the unfailing discrimination with which the critic singles out the peculiar beauties of his poetry. No finer selection of finely characteristic Wordsworthian passages could perhaps have been made than those which Coleridge has quoted in illustration of his criticisms in the eighteenth and two following chapters of the Biographia Literaria. For the rest, however, unless indeed one excepts the four chapters on the Hartleian system and its relation to the German school of philosophy, the book is rather one to be dipped into for the peculiar pleasure which an hour in Coleridge's company must always give to any active intelligence, than to be systematically studied with a view to perfecting one's conception of Coleridge's philosophical and critical genius considered in its totality.

As to the two lay sermons, the less ambitious of them is decidedly the more successful. The advice to "the higher and middle classes" on the existing distresses and discontents contains at least an ingredient of the practical; its distinctively religious appeals are varied by sound political and economical arguments; and the enumeration and exposure of the various artifices by which most orators are accustomed to delude their hearers is as masterly as only Coleridge could have made it. Who but he, for instance, could have thrown a piece of subtle observation into a form in which reason and fancy unite so happily to impress it on the mind as in the following passage: "The mere appeal to the auditors, whether the arguments are not such that none but an idiot or an hireling could resist, is an effective substitute for any argument at all. For mobs have no memories. They are in nearly the same state as that of an individual when he makes what is termed a bull. The passions, like a fused metal, fill up the wide interstices of thought and supply the defective links; and thus incompatible assertions are harmonised by the sensation, without the sense of connection." The other lay sermon, however, the Statesman's Manual, is less appropriately conceived. Its originating proposition, that the Bible is "the best guide to political skill and foresight," is undoubtedly open to dispute, but might nevertheless be capable of plausible defence upon a priori grounds. Coleridge, however, is not content with this method of procedure; as, indeed, with so avowedly practical an object in view he scarcely could be, for a "manual" is essentially a work intended for the constant consultation of the artificer in the actual performance of his work, and ought at least to contain illustrations of the application of its general principles to particular cases. It is in undertaking to supply these that the essential mysticism of Coleridge's counsels comes to light. For instance: "I am deceived if you will not be compelled to admit that the prophet Isaiah revealed the true philosophy of the French Revolution more than two thousand years before it became a sad irrevocable truth of history. 'And thou saidst, I shall be a lady for ever, so that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart neither didst remember the latter end of it.... Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth, etc.'" And to this ast-quoted sentence Coleridge actually appends the following note: "The reader will scarcely fail to find in this verse a remembrancer of the sudden setting in of the frost before the usual time (in a country, too, where the commencement of its two seasons is in general scarcely less regular than that of the wet and dry seasons between the tropics) which caused, and the desolation which accompanied, the flight from Moscow." One can make no other comment upon this than that if it really be wisdom which statesmen would do well to lay to heart, the late Dr. Cumming must have been the most profound instructor in statesmanship that the world has ever seen. A prime minister of real life, however, could scarcely be seriously recommended to shape his policy upon a due consideration of the possible allegoric meaning of a passage in Isaiah, to say nothing of the obvious objection that this kind of appeal to Sortes Biblicae is dangerously liable to be turned against those who recommend it. On the whole, one must say of this lay sermon that it justifies the apprehension expressed by the author in its concluding pages. It does rather "resemble the overflow of an earnest mind than an orderly and premeditated," in the sense, at any rate, of a well- considered "composition."

In the month of January 1818 Coleridge once more commenced the delivery of a course of lectures in London. The scope of this series-fourteen in number was, as will be seen from the subjoined syllabus, an immensely comprehensive one. The subject of the first was "the manners, morals, literature, philosophy, religion, and state of society in general in European Christendom, from the eighth to the fifteenth century;" and of the second "the tales and metrical romances common for the most part to England, Germany, and the north of France; and English songs and ballads continued to the reign of Charles I." In the third the lecturer proposed to deal with the poetry of Chaucer and Spenser, of Petrarch, and of Ariosto, Pulci, and Boiardo. The fourth, fifth, and sixth were to be devoted to the dramatic works of Shakespeare, and to comprise the substance of Coleridge's former courses on the same subject, "enlarged and varied by subsequent study and reflection." In the seventh he was to treat of the other principal dramatists of the Elizabethan period, Ben Jonson, Massinger, and Beaumont and Fletcher; in the eighth of the life and all the works of Cervantes; in the ninth of Rabelais, Swift, and Sterne, with a dissertation "on the nature and constituents of genuine humour, and on the distinctions of humorous from the witty, the fanciful, the droll, the odd, etc." Donne, Dante, and Milton formed the subject of the tenth; the Arabian Nights Entertainment, and the romantic use of the supernatural in poetry, that of the eleventh. The twelfth was to be on "tales of witches and apparitions, etc.," as distinguished from magic and magicians of Asiatic origin; and the thirteenth,—"on colour, sound, and form in nature, as connected with Poesy—the word 'Poesy' being used as the generic or class term including poetry, music, painting, statuary, and ideal architecture as its species, the reciprocal relations of poetry and philosophy to each other, and of both to religion and the moral sense.'" In the fourteenth and final lecture Coleridge proposed to discuss "the corruptions of the English language since the reign of Queen Anne, in our style of writing prose," and to formulate "a few easy rules for the attainment of a manly, unaffected, and pure language in our genuine mother tongue, whether for the purposes of writing, oratory, or conversation."

These lectures, says Mr. Gillman, were from Coleridge's own account more profitable than any he had before given, though delivered in an unfavourable situation; a lecture-room in Flower de Luce Court, which, however, being near the Temple, secured to him the benefit—if benefit it were—of a considerable number of law students among his auditors. It was the first time that his devoted guardian had ever heard him in public, and he reports the significant fact that though Coleridge lectured from notes, which he had carefully made, "it was obvious that his audience were more delighted when, putting his notes aside, he spoke extempore...." He was brilliant, fluent, and rapid; his words seemed to flow as from a person repeating with grace and energy some delightful poem. If he sometimes paused, it was not for the want of words, but that he was seeking their most appropriate or most logical arrangement.

An incident related with extreme, though in a great measure unconscious, drollery by Mr. Gillman in connection with a lecture delivered at this period is to my mind of more assistance than many of the accounts of his "lay sermons" in private circles, in enabling us to comprehend one element of Coleridge's marvellous powers of discourse. Early one morning at Mr. Gillman's he received two letters-one to inform him that he was expected that same evening to deliver a lecture, at the rooms of the London Philosophical Society, to an audience of some four or five hundred persons; the other containing a list of the previous lecturers and the lectures delivered by them during the course of the season. At seven o'clock in the evening Coleridge and Mr. Gillman went up to town to make some inquiries respecting this unexpected application; but, on arriving at the house of the gentleman who had written the letter, they were informed that he was not at home, but would return at eight o'clock— the hour fixed for the commencement of the lecture. They then proceeded to the Society's rooms, where in due time the audience assembled; and the committee having at last entered and taken their places on the seats reserved for them, "Mr. President arose from the centre of the group, and, putting on a 'president's hat,' which so disfigured him that we could scarcely refrain from laughter, addressed the company in these words: This evening Mr. Coleridge will deliver a lecture on 'the Growth of the Individual Mind.'" Coleridge at first "seemed startled," as well he might, and turning round to Mr. Gillman whispered: "A pretty stiff subject they have chosen for me." However, he instantly mounted his standing-place and began without hesitation, previously requesting his friend to observe the effect of his lecture on the audience. It was agreed that, should he appear to fail, Gillman was to "clasp his ancle; but that he was to continue for an hour if the countenances of his auditors indicated satisfaction." Coleridge then began his address in these words: "The lecture I am about to give this evening is purely extempore. Should you find a nominative case looking out for a verb, or a fatherless verb for a nominative case, you must excuse it. It is purely extempore, though I have read and thought much on the subject." At this the company smiled, which seemed to inspire the lecturer with confidence. He plunged at once into his lecture—and most brilliant, eloquent, and logically consecutive it was. The time moved on so swiftly that Mr. Gillman found, on looking at his watch, that an hour and a half had passed away, and, therefore, he continues "waiting only a desirable moment—to use his own playful words—I prepared myself to punctuate his oration. As previously agreed, I pressed his ancle, and thus gave him the hint he had requested; when, bowing graciously, and with a benevolent and smiling countenance, he presently descended. The lecture was quite new to me, and I believe quite new to himself so far as the arrangement of his words was concerned. The floating thoughts were beautifully arranged, and delivered on the spur of the moment. What accident gave rise to the singular request, that he should deliver this lecture impromptu, I never learnt; nor did it signify, as it afforded a happy opportunity to many of witnessing in part the extent of his reading and the extraordinary strength of his powers."

It is tantalising to think that no record of this remarkable performance remains; but, indeed, the same may to some extent be said, and in various degrees, of nearly all the lectures which Coleridge ever delivered. With the exception of seven out of the fifteen of 1811, which were published in 1856 by Mr. Payne Collier from shorthand notes taken at the time, Coleridge's lectures scarcely exist for us otherwise than in the form of rough preparatory notes. A few longer pieces, such as the admirable observations in the second volume of the Literary Remains, on poetry, on the Greek drama, and on the progress of the dramatic art in England, are, with the exception above noticed, almost the only general disquisitions on these subjects which appear to have reached us in a complete state. Of the remaining contents of the volume, including the detailed criticisms now textual, now analytic—of the various plays of Shakespeare, a considerable portion is frankly fragmentary, pretending, indeed, to no other character than that of mere marginalia. This, however, does not destroy—I had almost said it does not even impair—their value. It does but render them all the more typical productions of a writer, whose greatest services to mankind in almost every department of human thought and knowledge with which he concerned himself were much the most often performed in the least methodical way. In reading through these incomparable notes on Shakespeare we soon cease to lament, or even to remember, their unconnected form and often somewhat desultory appearance; if, indeed, we do not see reason to congratulate ourselves that the annotator, unfettered by the restraints which the composition of a systematic treatise would have imposed upon him, is free to range with us at will over many a flower-strewn field, for which otherwise he could not perhaps have afforded to quit the main road of his subject. And this liberty is the more welcome, because Coleridge, primus inter pares as a critic of any order of literature, is in the domain of Shakespearian commentary absolute king. The principles of analysis which he was charged with having borrowed without acknowledgment from Schlegel, with whose Shakespearian theories he was at the time entirely unacquainted, were in fact of his own excogitation. He owed nothing in this matter to any individual German, nor had he anything in common with German Shakespearianism except its profoundly philosophising spirit, which, moreover, was in his case directed and restrained by other qualities, too often wanting in critics of that industrious race; for he possessed a sense of the ridiculous, a feeling for the poetic, a tact, a taste, and a judgment, which would have saved many a worthy but heavy-handed Teutonic professor, who should have been lucky enough to own these gifts, from exposing himself and his science to the satire of the light-minded. Very rarely, indeed, do we find Coleridge indulging plus 'quo his passion for psychological analysis. Deeply as his criticism penetrates, it is yet loyally recognitive of the opacity of milestones. Far as he sees into his subject, we never find him fancying that he sees beyond the point at which the faculty of human vision is exhausted. His conception of the more complex of Shakespeare's personages, his theory of their characters, his reading of their motives, is often subtle, but always sane; his interpretation of the master's own dealings with them, and of the language which he puts into their mouths, is often highly imaginative, but it is rarely fanciful. Take, as an illustration of the first-mentioned merit, the following acute but eminently sensible estimate of the character of Polonius:—

"He is the personified memory of wisdom no longer actually possessed. This admirable character is always misrepresented on the stage. Shakspeare never intended to exhibit him as a buffoon; for although it was natural for Hamlet—a young man of fire and genius, detesting formality and disliking Polonius on political grounds, as imagining that he had assisted his uncle in his usurpation—should express himself satirically, yet this must not be taken exactly as the poet's conception of him. In Polonius a certain induration of character had arisen from long habits of business; but take his advice to Laertes, and Ophelia's reverence for his memory, and we shall see that he was meant to be represented as a statesman somewhat past his faculties—his recollections of life all full of wisdom, and showing a knowledge of human nature, while what immediately takes place before him and escapes from him is indicative of weakness."

Or this comment on the somewhat faint individualisation of the figure of Lear:

"In Lear old age is itself a character-natural imperfections being increased by life-long habits of receiving a prompt obedience. Any addition of individualisation would have been unnecessary and painful; for the relation of others to him, of wondrous fidelity and of frightful ingratitude, alone sufficiently distinguish him. Thus Lear becomes the open and ample playroom of nature's passions."

Or lastly, in illustration of my second point, let us take this note on the remark of the knight that "since my young lady's going into France the fool hath much pined away ":—

"The fool is no comic buffoon—to make the groundlings laugh—no forced condescension of Shakspeare's genius to the taste of his audience. Accordingly the poet prepares us for the introduction, which he never does with any of his common clowns and fools, by bringing him into living connection with the pathos of the play. He is as wonderful a creation as Caliban,—his wild babblings and inspired idiocy articulate and gauge the horrors of the scene."

The subject is a tempting one to linger over, did not imperative Exigencies of space compel me to pass on from it. There is much—very much—more critical matter in the Literary Remains of which it is hard to forbear quotation; and I may mention in particular the profoundly suggestive remarks on the nature of the humorous, with their accompanying analysis of the genius and artistic method of Sterne. But it is, as has been said, in Shakespearian criticism that Coleridge's unique mastery of all the tools of the critic is most conspicuous, and it is in the brilliant, if unmethodised, pages which I have been discussing that we may most readily find consolation for the too early silencing of his muse. For these consummate criticisms are essentially and above all the criticisms of a poet They are such as could not have been achieved by any man not originally endowed with that divine gift which was fated in this instance to expend itself within so few years. Nothing, indeed, could more strikingly illustrate the commanding advantage possessed by a poet interpreting a poet than is to be found in Coleridge's occasional sarcastic comments on the banalites of our national poet's most prosaic commentator, Warburton—the "thought-swarming, but idealess Warburton," as he once felicitously styles him. The one man seems to read his author's text under the clear, diffused, unwavering radiance emitted from his own poetic imagination; while the criticism of the other resembles a perpetual scratching of damp matches, which ash a momentary light into one corner of the dark assage, and then go out.


Closing years—Temporary renewal of money troubles—The Aids to Reflection —Growing weakness-Visit to Germany with the Wordsworths—Last illness and death.


For the years which now remained to Coleridge, some sixteen in number, dating from his last appearance as a public lecturer, his life would seem to have been attended with something, at least, of that sort of happiness which is enjoyed by the nation of uneventful annals. There is little to be told of him in the way of literary performance; little record remains, unfortunately, of the discursively didactic talk in which, during these years, his intellectual activity found its busiest exercise; of incident in the ordinary sense of the word there is almost none. An account of these closing days of his life must resolve itself almost wholly into a "history of opinion,"—an attempt to reanimate for ourselves that life of perpetual meditation which Coleridge lived, and to trace, so far as the scanty evidence of his utterances enables us to do so, the general tenor of his daily thoughts. From one point of view, of course, this task would be extremely difficult, if not impossible; from another comparatively easy. It is easy, that is to say, to investigate Coleridge's speculations, so far as their subject is concerned, whatever difficulties their obscurity and subtlety may present to the inquirer; for, as a matter of fact, their subject is remarkably uniform. Attempts to divide the literary life of a writer into eras are more often arbitrary and fanciful than not; but the peculiar circumstances of Coleridge's career did in fact effect the division for themselves. His life until the age of twenty-six may fairly be described as in its "poetic period." It was during these years, and indeed during the last two or three of them, that he produced all the poetry by which he will be remembered, while he produced little else of mark or memorability. The twenty years which follow from 1798 to 1818 may with equal accuracy be styled the "critical period." It was during these years that he did his best work as a journalist, and all his work as a public lecturer on aesthetics. It was during them that he said his say, and even his final say, so far as any public modes of expression were concerned, on politics and on art. From 1818 to his death his life was devoted entirely to metaphysics and theology, and with such close and constant reference to the latter subject, to which indeed his metaphysics had throughout his life been ancillary, that it deserves to give the name of the "theological period" to these closing years.

Their lack of incident, however, is not entirely as favourable a circumstance as that uneventfulness of national annals to which I have compared it; for, though "no news may be good news" in the case of a nation's history, it is by no means as certainly so in the case of a man's biography, and, least of all, when the subject is a man whose inward life of thought and feeling so completely overshadowed his outward life of action throughout his whole career. There is indeed evidence, slight in amount, but conclusive in character-plain and painful evidence enough to show that at least the first four or five years of the period we have mentioned were not altogether years of resignation and calm; that they were embittered by recurring agonies of self-reproach, by

"Sense of past youth, and manhood come in vain, And genius given, and knowledge won in vain;"

and by the desolating thought that all which had been "culled in wood- walks wild," and "all which patient toil had reared," were to be

—"but flowers Strewn on the corse, and borne upon the bier, In the same coffin, for the self-same grave!"

Here and there in the correspondence with Thomas Allsop we obtain a glimpse into that vast half-darkened arena in which this captive spirit self-condemned to the lions was struggling its last. To one strange and hitherto unexplained letter I have already referred. It was written from Ramsgate in the autumn of 1822, evidently under circumstances of deep depression. But there is a letter nearly two years earlier in date addressed to the same correspondent which contains by far the fullest account of Coleridge's then condition of mind, the state of his literary engagements and his literary projects, his completed and uncompleted work. As usual with him it is stress of money matters that prompts him to write, and he prefaces his request for assistance with the following portentous catalogue of realised or contemplated schemes. "Contemplated," indeed, is too modest a word, according to his own account, to be applied to any one item in the formidable list. Of all of them, he has, he tells Allsop, "already the written materials and contents, requiring only to be put together from the loose papers and commonplace in memorandum books, and needing no other change, whether of omission, addition, or correction, than the mere act of arranging, and the opportunity of seeing the whole collectively, bring with them of course." Heads I. and II. of the list comprise those criticisms on Shakespeare and the other principal Elizabethan dramatists; on Dante, Spenser, Milton, Cervantes, Calderon; on Chaucer, Ariosto, Donne, Rabelais, etc., which formed the staple of the course of lectures delivered in 1818, and which were published after his death in the first two of the four volumes of Literary Remains brought out under the editorship of Mr. H. N. Coleridge. Reserving No. III. for a moment we find No. IV. to consist of "Letters on the Old and New Testament, and on the Doctrines and Principles held in common by the Fathers and Founders of the Reformation, addressed to a Candidate for Holy Orders, including advice on the plan and subjects of preaching proper to a minister of the Established Church." The letters never apparently saw the light of publicity, at any rate, in the epistolary form, either during the author's lifetime or after his death; and with regard to II. and III., which did obtain posthumous publication, the following caution should be borne in mind by the reader. "To the completion," says Coleridge, "of these four works I have literally nothing more to do than to transcribe; but, as I before hinted, from so many scraps and Sibylline leaves, including margins of blank pages that unfortunately I must be my own scribe, and, not done by myself, they will be all but lost." As matters turned out he was not his own scribe, and the difficulty which Mr. Nelson Coleridge experienced in piecing together the fragmentary materials at his disposal is feelingly described by him in his preface to the first edition. He added that the contents of these volumes were drawn from a portion only of the MSS. entrusted to him, and that the remainder of the collection, which, under favourable circumstances, he hoped might hereafter see the light, "was at least of equal value" with what he was then presenting to the reader. This hope was never realised; and it must be remembered, therefore, that the published record of Coleridge's achievements as a critic is, as has already been pointed out, extremely imperfect. [1] That it is not even more disappointingly so than it is, may well entitle his nephew and editor to the gratitude of posterity; but where much has been done, there yet remains much to do ere Coleridge's consummate analyses of poetic and dramatic works can be presented to the reader in other than their present shape of a series of detached brilliancies. The pearls are there, but the string is wanting. Whether it will be ever supplied, or whether it is possible now to supply it, one cannot say.

The third of Coleridge's virtually completed works there is much virtue in a "virtually"-was a "History of Philosophy considered as a Tendency of the Human Mind to exhibit the Powers of the Human Reason, to discover by its own strength the Origin and Laws of Man and the World, from Pythagoras to Locke and Condillac." This production, however, considerable as it is, was probably merely ancillary to what he calls "My GREAT WORK, to the preparation of which more than twenty years of my life have been devoted, and on which my hopes of extensive and permanent utility, of fame in the noblest sense of the word, mainly rest." To this work he goes on to say:

"All my other writings, unless I except my Poems (and these I can exclude in part only), are introductory and preparative, while its result, if the premises be as I with the most tranquil assurance am convinced they are-incontrovertible, the deductions legitimate, and the conclusions commensurate, and only commensurate with both [must be], to effect a revolution in all that has been called Philosophy and Metaphysics in England and France since the era of commencing predominance of the mechanical system at the Restoration of our Second Charles, and with [in] the present fashionable views not only of religion, morals, and politics, but even of the modern physics and physiology."

This, it must be allowed, is a sufficiently "large order," being Apparently indeed nothing less than an undertaking to demolish the system of Locke and his successors, and to erect German Transcendentalism on the ruins. With anything less than this, however with any less noble object or less faith in their attainments— Coleridge could not, he declares, have stood acquitted of folly and abuse of time, talent, and learning, on a labour of three—fourths of his intellectual life. Somewhat more than a volume of this magnum opus had been dictated by him to his "friend and enlightened pupil, Mr. Green, so as to exist fit for the press;" and more than as much again had been done, but he had been compelled to break off the weekly meetings with his pupil from the necessity of writing on subjects of the passing day. Then comes a reference, the last we meet with, to the real "great work," as the unphilosophic world has always considered and will always consider it. On this subject he says:

"Of my poetic works I would fain finish the Christabel, Alas! for the proud time when I planned, when I had present to my mind the materials as well as the scheme of the Hymns entitled Spirit, Sun, Earth, Air, Water, Fire, and Man; and the Epic Poem on what appears to me the only fit subject remaining for an Epic Poem—Jerusalem besieged and destroyed by Titus."

And then there follows this most pathetic passage, necessary, in spite of its length, to be transcribed entire, both on account of the value of its biographic details—its information on the subject of the useless worldly affairs, etc.—and because of the singularly penetrating light which it throws upon the mental and moral nature of the man:—

"I have only by fits and starts ever prayed—I have not prevailed upon myself to pray to God in sincerity and entireness for the fortitude that might enable me to resign myself to the abandonment of all my life's best hopes, to say boldly to myself, 'Gifted with powers confessedly above mediocrity, aided by an education of which no less from almost unexampled hardships and sufferings than from manifold and peculiar advantages I have never yet found a parallel, I have devoted myself to a life of unintermitted reading, thinking, meditating, and observing, I have not only sacrificed all worldly prospects of wealth and advancement, but have in my inmost soul stood aloof from temporary reputation. In consequence of these toils and this self-dedication I possess a calm and clear consciousness that in many and most important departments of truth and beauty I have outstrode my contemporaries, those at least of highest name, that the number of my. printed works bear witness that I have not been idle, and the seldom acknowledged but strictly proveable effects of my labours appropriated to the welfare of my age in the Morning Post before the peace of Amiens, in the Courier afterwards, and in the serious and various subjects of my lectures... (add to which the unlimited freedom of my communications to colloquial life) may surely be allowed as evidence that I have not been useless to my generation. But, from circumstances, the main portion of my harvest is still on the ground, ripe indeed and only waiting, a few for the sickle, but a large part only for the sheaving and carting and housing-but from all this I must turn away and let them rot as they lie, and be as though they never had been; for I must go and gather black berries and earth-nuts, or pick mushrooms and gild oak-apples for the palate and fancies of chance customers. I must abrogate the name of philosopher and poet, and scribble as fast as I can and with as little thought as I can for Blackwood's Magazine, or as I have been employed for the last days in writing MS. sermons for lazy clergymen who stipulate that the composition must be more than respectable.'... This" [i.e. to say this to myself] "I have not yet had courage to do. My soul sickens and my heart sinks, and thus oscillating between both" [forms of activity—the production of permanent and of ephemeral work] "I do neither—neither as it ought to be done to any profitable end."

And his proposal for extricating himself from this distressing position is that "those who think respectfully and hope highly of my power and attainments should guarantee me a yearly sum for three or four years, adequate to my actual support, with such comforts and decencies of appearance as my health and habit have made necessaries, so that my mind may be unanxious as far as the present time is concerned." Thus provided for he would undertake to devote two-thirds of his time to some one work of those above mentioned that is to say, of the first four—and confine it exclusively to it till finished, while the remaining third of his time he would go on maturing and completing his "great work," and "(for, if but easy in my mind, I have no doubt either of the reawakening power or of the kindling inclination) my Christabel and what else the happier hour may inspire." Mr. Green, he goes on to say, had promised to contribute L30 to L40 yearly, another pupil, "the son of one of my dearest old friends, L50," and L10 or L20 could, he thought, be relied on from another. The whole amount of the required annuity would be about L200, to be repaid of course should disposal or sale of his works produce, or as far as they should produce, the means. But "am I entitled," he asks uneasily, "have I a right to do this I Can I do it without moral degradation? And lastly, can it be done without loss of character in the eyes of my acquaintances and of my friends' acquaintances?"

I cannot take upon myself to answer these painful questions. The reply to be given to them must depend upon the judgment which each individual student of this remarkable but unhappy career may pass upon it as a whole; and, while it would be too much to expect that that judgment should be entirely favourable, one may at least believe that a fair allowance for those inveterate weaknesses of physical constitution which so largely aggravated, if they did not wholly generate, the fatal infirmities of Coleridge's moral nature, must materially mitigate the harshness of its terms.

The story of Coleridge's closing years is soon told. It is mainly a record of days spent in meditation and discourse, in which character it will be treated of more fully in a subsequent chapter. His literary productions during the last fourteen years of his life were few in number, and but one of them of any great importance. In 1821 he had offered himself as an occasional contributor to Blackwood's Magazine, but a series of papers promised by him to that periodical were uncompleted, and his only two contributions (in October 1821 and January 1822) are of no particular note. In May 1825 he read a paper on the Prometheus of 'schylus before the Royal Society of Literature; but "the series of disquisitions respecting the Egyptian in connection with the sacerdotal theology and in contrast with the mysteries of ancient Greece," to which this essay had been announced as preparatory, never made their appearance. In the same year, however, he published one of the best known of his prose works, his Aids to Reflection.

Of the success of this latest of Coleridge's more important contributions to literature there can be no doubt. New editions of it seem to have been demanded at regular intervals for some twenty years after its first production, and it appears to have had during the same period a relatively equal reissue in the United States. The Rev. Dr. James Marsh, an American divine of some ability and reputation, composed a preliminary essay (now prefixed to the fifth English edition), in which he elaborately set forth the peculiar merits of the work, and undertook to initiate the reader in the fittest and most profitable method of making use of it. In these remarks the reverend essayist insists more strongly on the spiritually edifying quality of the Aids than on their literary merits, and, for my own part, I must certainly consider him right in doing so. As a religious manual it is easy to understand how this volume of Coleridge's should have obtained many and earnest readers. What religious manual, which shows traces of spiritual insight, or even merely of pious yearnings after higher and holier than earthly things, has ever failed to win such readers among the weary and heavy-laden of the world? And that Coleridge, a writer of the most penetrating glance into divine mysteries, and writing always from a soul all tremulous, as it were, with religious sensibility, should have obtained such readers in abundance is not surprising. But to a critic and literary biographer I cannot think that his success in this respect has much to say. For my own part, at any rate, I find considerable difficulty in tracing it to any distinctively literary origin. There seems to me to be less charm of thought, less beauty of style, less even of Coleridge's seldom- failing force of effective statement, in the Aids to Reflection than in almost any of his writings. Even the volume of some dozen short chapters on the Constitution of the Church and State, published in 1830, as an "aid towards a right judgment in the late Catholic Kelief Bill," appears to me to yield a more characteristic flavour of the author's style, and to exhibit far more of his distinction of literary workmanship than the earlier and more celebrated work.

Among the acquaintances made by Coleridge after his retirement to Mr. Gillman's was one destined to be of some importance to the history of his philosophical work. It was that of a gentleman whose name has already been mentioned in this chapter, Mr. Joseph Henry Green, afterwards a distinguished surgeon and Fellow of the Royal Society, who in his early years had developed a strong taste for metaphysical speculation, going even so far as to devote one of his hard-earned periods of professional holiday to a visit to Germany for the sake of studying philosophy in that home of abstract thought. To him Coleridge was introduced by his old Roman acquaintance, Ludwig Tieck, on one of the latter's visits to England, and he became, as the extract above quoted from Coleridge's correspondence shows, his enthusiastic disciple and indefatigable fellow-worker. In the pursuit of their common studies and in those weekly reunions of admiring friends which Coleridge, while his health permitted it, was in the habit of holding, we may believe that a considerable portion of these closing years of his life was passed under happier conditions than he had been long accustomed to. It is pleasant to read of him among his birds and flowers, and surrounded by the ever-watchful tendance of the affectionate Gillmans, tranquil in mind at any rate, if not at ease from his bodily ailments, and enjoying, as far as enjoyment was possible to him, the peaceful close of a stormy and unsettled day. For the years 1825-30, moreover, his pecuniary circumstances were improved to the extent of L105 per annum, obtained for him at the instance of the Royal Society of Literature, and held by him till the death of George IV.

Two incidents of his later years are, however, worthy of more special mention—a tour up the Rhine, which he took in 1828, in company with Wordsworth and his daughter; and, some years earlier, a meeting with John Keats. "A loose, slack, not well dressed youth," it is recorded in the Table Talk, published after his death by his nephew, "met Mr.———" (it was Mr. Green, of whom more hereafter) "and myself in a lane near Highgate. Green knew him and spoke. It was Keats. He was introduced to me, and stayed a minute or so. After he had left us a little way, he came back and said, 'Let me carry away the memory, Coleridge, of having pressed your hand.' 'There is death in that hand,' I said to Green when Keats was gone; yet this was, I believe, before the consumption showed itself distinctly."

His own health, however, had been steadily declining in these latter years, and the German tour with the Wordsworths must, I should imagine, have been the last expedition involving any considerable exercise of the physical powers which he was able to take. Within a year or so afterwards his condition seems to have grown sensibly worse. In November 1831 he writes that for eighteen months past his life had been "one chain of severe sicknesses, brief and imperfect convalescences, and capricious relapses." Henceforth he was almost entirely confined to the sick-room. His faculties, however, still remained clear and unclouded. The entries in the Table Talk do not materially dimmish in frequency. Their tone of colloquy undergoes no perceptible variation; they continue to be as stimulating and delightful reading as ever. Not till 11th July 1834 do we find any change; but here at last we meet the shadow, deemed longer than it was in reality, of the approaching end. "I am dying," said Coleridge, "but without expectation of a speedy release. Is it not strange that, very recently, bygone images and scenes of early life have stolen into my mind like breezes blown from the spice-islands of Youth and Hope—those twin realities of the phantom world! I do not add Love, for what is Love but Youth and Hope embracing, and, so seen, as one.... Hooker wished to live to finish his Ecclesiastical Polity—so I own I wish life and strength had been spared to me to complete my Philosophy. For, as God hears me, the originating, continuing, and sustaining wish and design in my heart were to exalt the glory of His name; and, which is the same thing in other words, to promote the improvement of mankind. But visum aliter Deo, and His will be done."

The end was nearer than he thought. It was on the 11th of July, as has been said, that he uttered these last words of gentle and pious resignation. On that day fortnight he died. Midway, however, in this intervening period, he knew that the "speedy release" which he had not ventured to expect was close at hand. The death, when it came, was in some sort emblematic of the life. Sufferings severe and constant, till within thirty-six hours of the end: at the last peace. On the 25th of July 1834 this sorely-tried, long-labouring, fate-marred and self- marred life passed tranquilly away. The pitiful words of Kent over his dead master rise irrepressibly to the lips—

"O let him pass: he hates him Who would upon the rack of this tough world Stretch him out longer."

There might have been something to be said, though not by Kent, of the weaknesses of Lear himself; but at such a moment compassion both for the king and for the poet may well impose silence upon censure.


1. How imperfect, a comparison between estimated and actual bulk will show. No. I. was, according to Coleridge's reckoning, to form three volumes of 500 pages each. In the Literary Remains it fills less than half of four volumes of little more than 400 pages each.


Coleridge's metaphysics and theology—The Spiritual Philosophy of Mr. Green.

In spite of all the struggles, the resolutions, and the entreaties which displayed themselves so distressingly in the letter to Mr. Allsop, quoted in the last chapter, it is doubtful whether Coleridge's "great work" made much additional progress during the last dozen years of his life. The weekly meeting with Mr. Green seems, according to the latter's biographer, to have been resumed. Mr. Simon tells us that he continued year after year to sit at the feet of his Gamaliel, getting more and more insight into his opinions, until, in 1834, two events occurred which determined the remaining course of Mr. Green's life. One of these events, it is needless to say, was Coleridge's death; the other was the death of his disciple's father, with the result of leaving Mr. Green possessed of such ample means as to render him independent of his profession. The language of Coleridge's will, together, no doubt, with verbal communications which had passed, imposed on Mr. Green what he accepted as an obligation to devote so far as necessary the whole remaining strength and earnestness of his life to the one task of systematising, developing, and establishing the doctrines of the Coleridgian philosophy. Accordingly, in 1836, two years after his master's death, he retired from medical practice, and thenceforward, until his own death nearly thirty years afterwards, he applied himself unceasingly to what was in a twofold sense a labour of love.

We are not, it seems from his biographer's account, to suppose that Mr. Green's task was in any material degree lightened for him by his previous collaboration with Coleridge. The latter had, as we have seen, declared in his letter to Allsop that "more than a volume" of the great work had been dictated by him to Mr. Green, so as to exist in a condition fit for the press: but this, according to Mr. Simon, was not the case; and the probability is therefore that "more than a volume" meant written material equal in amount to more than a volume—of course, an entirely different thing. Mr. Simon, at any rate, assures us that no available written material existed for setting comprehensively before the public, in Coleridge's own language, and in an argued form, the philosophical system with which he wished his name to be identified. Instead of it there were fragments—for the most part mutually inadaptable fragments, and beginnings, and studies of special subjects, and numberless notes on the margins and fly-leaves of books.

With this equipment, such as it was, Mr. Green set to work to methodise the Coleridgian doctrines, and to construct from them nothing less than such a system of philosophy as should "virtually include the law and explanation of all being, conscious and unconscious, and of all correlativity and duty, and be applicable directly or by deduction to whatsoever the human mind can contemplate—sensuous or supersensuous—of experience, purpose, or imagination." Born under post-diluvian conditions, Mr. Green was of course unable to accomplish his self- proposed enterprise, but he must be allowed to have attacked his task with remarkable energy. "Theology, ethics, politics and political history, ethnology, language, aesthetics, psychology, physics, and the allied sciences, biology, logic, mathematics, pathology, all these subjects," declares his biographer, "were thoughtfully studied by him, in at least their basial principles and metaphysics, and most were elaborately written of, as though for the divisions of some vast cyclop'dic work." At an early period of his labours he thought it convenient to increase his knowledge of Greek; he began to study Hebrew when more than sixty years old, and still later in life he took up Sanscrit. It was not until he was approaching his seventieth year and found his health beginning to fail him that Mr. Green seems to have felt that his design, in its more ambitious scope, must be abandoned, and that, in the impossibility of applying the Coleridgian system of philosophy to all human knowledge, it was his imperative duty under his literary trust to work out that particular application of it which its author had most at heart. Already, in an unpublished work which he had made it the first care of his trusteeship to compose, he had, though but roughly and imperfectly, as he considered, exhibited the relation of his master's doctrines to revealed religion, and it had now become time to supersede this unpublished compendium, the Religio Laici, as he had styled it, by a fuller elaboration of the great Coleridgian position, that "Christianity, rightly understood, is identical with the highest philosophy, and that, apart from all question of historical evidence, the essential doctrines of Christianity are necessary and eternal truths of reason—truths which man, by the vouchsafed light of Nature and without aid from documents or tradition, may always and anywhere discover for himself." To this work accordingly Mr. Green devoted the few remaining years of his life, and, dying in 1863 at the age of seventy-two, left behind him in MS. the work entitled Spiritual Philosophy: founded on the teaching of the late Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which was published two years later, together with the memoir of the author, from which I have quoted, by Mr. John Simon. It consists of two volumes, the first of which is devoted to the exposition of the general principles of Coleridge's philosophy, while the second is entirely theological, and aims at indicating on principles for which the first volume has contended, the essential doctrines of Christianity.

The earlier chapters of this volume Mr. Green devotes to an exposition (if indeed the word can be applied to what is really a catalogue of the results of a transcendental intuition) of the essential difference between the reason and the understanding—a distinction which Coleridge has himself elsewhere described as preeminently the gradus ad philosophiam, and might well have called its pons asinorum. In the second part of his first volume Mr. Green applies himself to the establishment of a position which, fundamental as it must be accounted in all philosophical speculations of this school, is absolutely vital to the theology which Coleridge sought to erect upon a metaphysical basis. This position is that the human will is to be regarded as the one ultimate fact of self-consciousness. So long as man confines himself to the contemplation of his percipient and reflective self alone—so long as he attends only to those modes of consciousness which are produced in him by the impressions of the senses and the operations of thought, he can never hope to escape from the famous reductio ad inscibile of Hume. He can never affirm anything more than the existence of those modes of consciousness, or assert, at least as a direct deliverance of intuition, that his conscious self is anything apart from the perceptions and concepts to which he is attending. But when he turns from his perceiving and thinking to his willing self he becomes for the first time aware of something deeper than the mere objective presentations of consciousness; he obtains a direct intuition of an originant, causative, and independent self-existence. He will have attained in short to the knowledge of a noumenon, and of the only knowable noumenon. The barrier, elsewhere insuperable between the subject and object, is broken down; that which knows becomes identified with that which is; and in the consciousness of will the consciousness also of a self, as something independent of and superior to its own modifications, is not so much affirmed as acquired. The essence, in short, of the Coleridgian ontology consists in the alteration of a single though a very important word in the well-known Cartesian formula. Cogito ergo sum had been shown by Hume to involve an illicit process of reasoning. Descartes, according to the Scottish sceptic, had no right to have said more than Cogito ergo cogitationes sunt. But substitute willing for thinking, convert the formula into Volo ergo sum, and it becomes irrefragable.

So far as I can perceive, it would have been sufficient for Mr. Green's subsequent argument to have thus established the position of the will as the ultimate fact of consciousness, but he goes on to assert that he has thus secured the immovable ground of a philosophy of Realism. For since man, "in affirming his Personality by the verb substantive I am, asserts, nay, acquires, the knowledge of his own Substance as a Spiritual being, and thereby knows what substance truly and properly is—so he contemplates the outward, persons or things, as subjects partaking of reality by virtue of the same substance of which he is conscious in his own person." So far, however, from this being a philosophy of Realism, it is in effect, if not indeed in actual terms, a philosophy of Idealism. I, at least, am unable to see how any Idealist, from Berkeley downwards, could ask for a better definition of his theory of the external world than that it "partakes of reality by virtue of the same substance of which he is conscious in his own person."

But it is, of course, with the second volume of Mr. Green's work that one is chiefly concerned. Had Coleridge been a mere Transcendentalist for Transcendentalism's sake, had there been no connection between his philosophy of Being and his religious creed, it might be a question whether even the highly condensed and necessarily imperfect sketch which has here been given of it would not have been superfluous and out of place. But Coleridge was a Theosophist first, and a philosopher afterwards; it was mainly as an organon of religion that he valued his philosophy, and it was to the development and perfection of it, as such organon, that he may be said to have devoted, so far as it could be redeemed from its enthralment to lower necessities, the whole of the latter half of his career. No account of his life, therefore, could be complete without at least some brief glance at the details of this notable attempt to lead the world to true religion by the road of the Transcendental philosophy. It is difficult, of course, for those who have been trained in a wholly differet school of thought to do justice to processes of reasoning carried on, as they cannot but hold, in terms of the inconceivable; it is still more difficult to be sure that you have done justice to it after all has been said; and I think that no candid student of the Coleridgian philosophico-theology (not being a professed disciple of it, and therefore bound, at any rate, to feign familiarity with incomprehensibilities) will deny that he is often compelled, to formulate its positions and recite its processes in somewhat of the same modest and confiding spirit as animates those youthful geometricians who leacn their Euclid by heart. With this proviso I will, as briefly as may be, trace the course of the dialectic by which Mr. Green seeks to make the Coleridgian metaphysics demonstrative of the truth of Christianity.

Having shown that the Will is the true and the only tenable base of Philosophic Realism, the writer next proceeds to explain the growth of the Soul, from its rudimental strivings in its fallen condition to the development of its spiritual capabilities and to trace its ascent to the conception of the Idea of God. The argument—if we may apply so definite a name to a process which is continually forced to appeal to something that may perhaps be higher, but is certainly other than the ratiocinative faculty—is founded partly on moral and partly on intellectual considerations. By an analysis of the moral phenomena associated with the action of the human will, and, in particular, of the conflict which arises between "the tendency of all Will to make itself absolute," and the consciousness that, under the conditions of man's fallen state, nothing but misery could result both to the individual and the race from the fulfilment of this tendency,—Mr. Green shows how the Soul, or the Reason, or the Speculative Intellect (for he seems to use all three expressions indiscriminately) is morally prepared for the reception of the truth which his Understanding alone could never have compassed,—the Idea of God. This is in effect neither more nor less than a restatement of that time-honoured argument for the existence of some Being of perfect holiness which has always weighed so much with men of high spirituality as to blind them to the fact of its actually enhancing the intellectual difficulties of the situation. Man possesses a Will which longs to fulfil itself; but it is coupled with a nature which constantly impels him to those gratifications of will which tend not to self-preservation and progress, but to their contraries. Surely, then, on the strength of the mere law of life, which prevails everywhere, here must be some higher archetypal Will, to which human wills, or rather certain selected examples of them, may more and more conform themselves, and in which the union of unlimited efficiency in operation with unqualified purity of aim has been once for all effected. Or to put it yet another way: The life of the virtuous man is a life auxiliary to the preservation and progress of the race; but his will is under restraint. The will of the vicious man energises freely enough, but his life is hostile to the preservation and progress of the race. Now the natural and essential nisus of all Will is towards absolute freedom. But nothing in life has a natural and essential nisus towards that which tends to its deterioration and extinction. Therefore, there must be some ultimate means of reconciling absolute freedom of the Will with perfectly salutary conditions of its exercise. And since Mr. Green, like his master and all other Platonists, is incapable of stopping here, and contenting himself with assuming the existence of a "stream of tendency" which will gradually bring the human will into the required conditions, he here makes the inevitable Platonic jump, and proceeds to conclude that there must be a self-existent ideal Will in which absolute freedom and power concur with perfect purity and holiness.

So much for the moral part of Mr. Green's proof, which so far fails, it will be observed, to carry us much beyond the Pantheistic position. It has, that is to say, to be proved that the "power not ourselves," which has been called Will, originates in some source to which we should be rationally justified in giving the name of "God;" and, singular as such a thing may seem, it is impossible at any rate for the logic of the understanding to regard Mr. Green's argument on this point as otherwise than hopelessly circular. The half-dozen pages or so which he devotes to the refutation of the Pantheistic view reduce themselves to the following simple petitio principii: the power is first assumed to be a Will; it is next affirmed with perfect truth that the very notion of Will would escape us except under the condition of Personality; and from this the existence of a personal God as the source of the power in question deduced. And the same vice underlies the further argument by which Mr. Green meets the familiar objection to the personality of the Absolute as involving contradictory conceptions. An infinite Person, he argues, is no contradiction in terms, unless "finition or limitation" be regarded as identical with "negation" (which, when applied to a hypothetical Infinite, one would surely think it is); and an Absolute Will is not the less absolute from being self-determined ab intra. For how, he asks, can any Will which is causative of reality be conceived as a Will except by conceiving it as se finiens, predetermining itself to the specific processes required by the act of causation? How, indeed? But the answer of a Pantheist would of course be that the very impossibility of conceiving of Will except as se finiens is his very ground for rejecting the notion of a volitional (in the sense of a personal) origin of the cosmos.

However, it is beyond my purposes to enter into any detailed criticism of Mr. Green's position, more especially as I have not yet reached the central and capital point of his spiritual philosophy—the construction of the Christian theology on the basis of the Coleridgian metaphysics. Having deduced the Idea of God from man's consciousness of an individual Will perpetually affirming itself, Mr. Green proceeds to evolve the Idea of the Trinity, by (as he considers it) an equally necessary process from two of the invariable accompaniments of the above-mentioned introspective act. "For as in our consciousness," he truly says, "we are under the necessity of distinguishing the relation of 'myself,' now as the subject thinking and now as the object contemplated in the manifold of thought, so we might express the relations in the Divine instance as Deus Subjectivus and Deus Objectimis,—that is, the Absolute Subjectivity or Supreme Will, uttering itself as and contemplating itself in the Absolute Objectivity or plenitude of Being eternally and causatively realised in his Personality." Whence it follows (so runs or seems to run the argument) that the Idea of God the Father as necessarily involves the Idea of God the Son as the "I" who, as the thinking subject, contemplate myself, implies the contemplated "Me" as the object thought of. Again, the man who reflects on the fact of his consciousness, "which discloses to him the unavoidable opposition of subject and object in the self of which he is conscious, cannot fail to see that the conscious mind requires not only the distinction in order to the act of reflection in itself, but the continual sense of the relative nature of the distinction and of the essential oneness of the mind itself." Whence it follows (so runs or seems to run the argument) that the Idea of the first two Persons of the Trinity as necessarily involves the Idea of the Third Person, as the contemplation of the "Me" by the "I" implies the perpetual consciousness that the contemplator and the contemplated—the "I" and the "Me"—are one. In this manner is the Idea of the Trinity shown to be involved in the Idea of God, and to arise out of it by an implication as necessary as that which connects together the three phases of consciousness attendant upon every self-contemplative act of the individual mind. [1]

It may readily be imagined that after the Speculative Reason has been made to perform such feats as these the remainder of the work proposed to it could present no serious difficulty. And in the half-dozen chapters which follow it is made to evolve in succession the doctrine of the Incarnation, the Advent, and the Atonement of Christ, and to explain the mysteries of the fall of man and of original sin. Considered in the aspect in which Coleridge himself would have preferred to regard his pupil's work, namely as a systematic attempt to lead the minds of men to Christianity by an intellectual route, no more hopeless enterprise perhaps could have been conceived than that embodied in these volumes. It is like offering a traveller a guide-book written in hieroglyphics. Upon the most liberal computation it is probable that not one-fourth part of educated mankind are capable of so much as comprehending the philosophic doctrine upon which Coleridge seeks to base Christianity, and it is doubtful whether any but a still smaller fraction of these would admit that the foundation was capable of supporting the superstructure. That the writings of the pupil, like the teachings of the master whom he interprets, may serve the cause of religion in another than an intellectual way is possible enough. Not a few of the functions assigned to the Speculative Reason will strike many of us as moral and spiritual rather than intellectual in their character, and the appeal to them is in fact an appeal to man to chasten the lower passions of his nature, and to discipline his unruly will. Exhortations of that kind are religious all the world of philosophy over, and will succeed in proportion to the moral fervour and oratorical power which distinguish them. But if the benefits of Coleridge's theological teachings are to be reduced to this, it would of course have been much better to have dissociated them altogether from the exceedingly abstruse metaphysic to which they have been wedded.


1. Were it not hazardous to treat processes of the Speculative Reason as we deal with the vulgar dialectic of the Understanding, one would be disposed to reply that if the above argument proves the existence of three persons in the Godhead, it must equally prove the existence of three persons in every man who reflects upon his conscious self. That the Divine Mind, when engaged in the act of self-contemplation, must be conceived under three relations is doubtless as true as that the human mind, when so engaged, must be so conceived; but that these three relations are so many objective realities is what Mr. Green asserts indeed a few pages farther on, but what he nowhere attempts to prove.


Coleridge's position in his later years—His discourse—His influence on contemporary thought—Final review of his intellectual work.

The critic who would endeavour to appreciate the position which Coleridge fills in the history of literature and thought for the first half of the nineteenth century must, if he possesses ordinary candour and courage, begin, I think, with a confession. He must confess an inability to comprehend the precise manner in which that position was attained, and the precise grounds on which it was recognised. For vast as were Coleridge's powers of thought and expression, and splendid, if incomplete, as is the record which they have left behind them in his works, they were never directed to purposes of instruction or persuasion in anything like that systematic and concentrated manner which is necessary to him who would found a school. Coleridge's writings on philosophical and theological subjects were essentially discursive, fragmentary, incomplete. Even when he professes an intention of exhausting his subject and affects a logical arrangement, it is not long before he forgets the design and departs from the order. His disquisitions are in no sense connected treatises on the subjects to which they relate. Brilliant apercus, gnomic sayings, flights of fervid eloquence, infinitely suggestive reflections—of these there is enough and to spare; but these, though an ample equipment for the critic, are not sufficient for the constructive philosopher. Nothing, it must be frankly said, in Coleridge's philosophical and theological writings—nothing, that is to say, which appeals in them to the mere intelligence—suffices to explain, at least to the appreciation of posterity, the fact that he was surrounded during these closing years of his life by an eager crowd of real or supposed disciples, including two, at any rate, of the most remarkable personalities of the time. And if nothing in Coleridge's writings serves to account for it, so neither does anything traceable or tangible in the mere matter of his conversations. This last point, however, is one which must be for the present reserved. I wish for the moment to confine myself to the fact of Coleridge's position during his later life at Highgate. To this we have, as we all know, an extremely eminent witness, and one from whose evidence most people, one may suppose, are by this time able to make their own deductions in all matters relating to the persons with whom he was brought into contact. Carlyle on Charles Lamb, few as the sour sentences are, must always warn us to be careful how we follow Carlyle "on" anybody whomsoever. But there is no evidence of any ill feeling on Carlyle's part towards Coleridge—nothing but a humorous, kindly- contemptuous compassion for his weaknesses and eccentricities; and the famous description in the Life of Sterling may be taken therefore as a fairly accurate account of the man and the circumstances to which it refers:—

"Coleridge sat on the brow of Highgate Hill in those years, looking down on London and its smoke tumult like a sage escaped from the inanity of life's battle, attracting towards him the thoughts of innumerable brave souls still engaged there. His express contributions to poetry, philosophy, or any specific province of human literature or enlightenment had been small and sadly intermittent; but he had, especially among young inquiring men, a higher than literary, a kind of prophetic or magician character. He was thought to hold—he alone in England—the key of German and other Transcendentalisms; knew the sublime secret of believing by the 'reason' what the 'understanding' had been obliged to fling out as incredible; and could still, after Hume and Voltaire had done their best and worst with him, profess himself an orthodox Christian, and say and print to the Church of England, with its singular old rubrics and surplices at Allhallowtide, Esto perpetua. A sublime man; who alone in those dark days had saved his crown of spiritual manhood, escaping from the black materialisms and revolutionary deluges with 'God, Freedom, Immortality,' still his; a king of men. The practical intellects of the world did not much heed him, or carelessly reckoned him a metaphysical dreamer; but to the rising spirits of the young generation he had this dusky sublime character, and sat there as a kind of Magus, girt in mystery and enigma; his Dodona oak-grove (Mr. Gillman's house at Highgate) whispering strange things, uncertain whether oracles or jargon."

The above quotation would suffice for my immediate purpose, but it is impossible to deny oneself or one's readers the pleasure of a refreshed recollection of the noble landscape-scene and the masterly portrait that follow:

"The Gillmans did not encourage much company or excitation of any sort round their sage; nevertheless, access to him, if a youth did reverently wish it, was not difficult. He would stroll about the pleasant garden with you, sit in the pleasant rooms of the place—perhaps take you to his own peculiar room, high up, with a rearward view, which was the chief view of all. A really charming outlook in fine weather. Close at hand wide sweeps of flowing leafy gardens, their few houses mostly hidden, the very chimney-pots veiled under blossoming umbrage, flowed gloriously down hill; gloriously issuing in wide-tufted undulating plain country, rich in all charms of field and town. Waving blooming country of the brightest green, dotted all over with handsome villas, handsome groves crossed by roads and human traffic, here inaudible, or heard only as a musical hum; and behind all swam, under olive-tinted haze, the illimitable limitary ocean of London, with its domes and steeples definite in the sun, big Paul's and the many memories attached to it hanging high over all. Nowhere of its kind could you see a grander prospect on a bright summer day, with the set of the air going southward —southward, and so draping with the city smoke not you but the city."

Then comes the invariable final touch, the one dash of black—or green, shall we call it—without which the master left no picture that had a human figure in the foreground:—

"Here for hours would Coleridge talk concerning all conceivable or inconceivable things; and liked nothing better than to have an intelligent, or, failing that, even a silent and patient human listener. He distinguished himself to all that ever heard him as at least the most surprising talker extant in this world,—and to some small minority, by no means to all, as the most excellent."

Then follows the well-known, wonderfully vivid, cynically pathetic, sketch of the man:—

"The good man—he was now getting old, towards sixty perhaps, and gave you the idea of a life that had been full of sufferings; a life heavy-laden, half-vanquished, still swimming painfully in seas of manifold physical and other bewilderment. Brow and head were round and of massive weight, but the face was flabby and irresolute. The deep eyes, of a light hazel, were as full of sorrow as of inspiration; confused pain looked mildly from them, as in a kind of mild astonishment. The whole figure and air, good and amiable otherwise, might be called flabby and irresolute; expressive of weakness under possibility of strength. He hung loosely on his limbs, with knees bent, and stooping attitude; in walking he rather shuffled than decisively stept; and a lady once remarked he never could fix which side of the gardenwalk would suit him best, but continually shifted, corkscrew fashion, and kept trying both; a heavy-laden, high- aspiring, and surely much-suffering man. His voice, naturally soft and good, had contracted itself into a plaintive snuffle and singsong; he spoke as if preaching—you could have said preaching earnestly and almost hopelessly the weightiest things. I still recollect his 'object' and 'subject,' terms of continual recurrence in the Kantean province; and how he sang and snuffled them into 'om-m-ject' and 'sum-m-mject,' with a kind of solemn shake or quaver as he rolled along. [1] No talk in his century or in any other could be more surprising."

Such, as he appeared to this half-contemptuous, half-compassionate, but ever acute observer, was Coleridge at this the zenith of his influence over the nascent thought of his day. Such to Carlyle seemed the manner of the deliverance of the oracles; in his view of their matter, as we all know from an equally well-remembered passage, his tolerance disappears, and his account here, with all its racy humour, is almost wholly impatient. Talk, "suffering no interruption, however reverent," "hastily putting aside all foreign additions, annotation, or most ingenuous desires for elucidation, as well-meant superfluities which would never do;" talk "not flowing anywhither, like a river, but spreading everywhither in inextricable currents and regurgitations like a lake or sea;" a "confused unintelligible flood of utterance, threatening to submerge all known landmarks of thought and drown the world with you"—this, it must be admitted, is not an easily recognisable description of the Word of Life. Nor, certainly, does Carlyle's own personal experience of its preaching and effects—he having heard the preacher talk "with eager musical energy two stricken hours, his face radiant and moist, and communicate no meaning whatsoever to any individual of his hearers," —certain of whom, the narrator for one, "still kept eagerly listening in hope, while the most had long before given up and formed (if the room was large enough) humming groups of their own." "He began anywhere," continues this irresistibly comic sketch; "you put some question to him, made some suggestive observation; instead of answering this, or decidedly setting out towards an answer of it, he would accumulate formidable apparatus, logical swim-bladders, transcendental life-preservers, and other precautionary and vehiculatory gear for setting out; perhaps did at last get under way —but was swiftly solicited, turned aside by the flame of some radiant new game on this hand or on that into new courses, and ever into new; and before long into all the universe, where it was uncertain what game you would catch, or whether any." He had, indeed, according to the dissatisfied listener, "not the least talent for explaining this or anything to them; and you swam and fluttered on the mistiest, wide, unintelligible deluge of things for most part in a rather profitless uncomfortable manner." And the few vivid phrases of eulogy which follow seem only to deepen by contrast the prevailing hue of the picture. The "glorious islets" which were sometimes seen to "rise out of the haze," the "balmy sunny islets of the blest and the intelligible, at whose emergence the secondary humming group would all cease humming and hang breathless upon the eloquent words, till once your islet got wrapped in the mist again, and they would recommence humming"—these, it seems to be suggested, but rarely revealed themselves; but "eloquent, artistically expressive words you always had; piercing radiances of a most subtle insight came at intervals; tones of noble pious sympathy recognisable as pious though strangely coloured, were never wanting long; but, in general, you could not call this aimless cloud-capt, cloud-bound, lawlessly meandering discourse, by the name of excellent talk, but only of surprising.... The moaning sing-song of that theosophico-metaphysical monotony left in you at last a very dreary feeling."

It is tolerably clear, I think, that some considerable discount must be allowed upon the sum of disparagement in this famous criticism. We have learnt, indeed, to be more on the look-out for the disturbing influences of temperament in the judgments of this atrabilious observer than was the case when the Life of Sterling was written, and it is difficult to doubt that the unfavourable strokes in the above-quoted description have been unduly multiplied and deepened, partly in the mere waywardness of a sarcastic humour, and partly perhaps from a less excusable cause. It is always dangerous to accept one remarkable talker's view of the characteristics of another; and if this is true of men who merely compete with each other in the ordinary give-and-take of the dinner-table epigrammatist and raconteur, the caution is doubly necessary in the case of two rival prophets—two competing oracles. There are those among us who hold that the conversation of the Chelsea sage, in his later years, resembled his own description of the Highgate philosopher's, in this, at any rate, that it was mightily intolerant of interruption; and one is apt to suspect that at no time of his life did Carlyle "understand duologue" much better than Coleridge. It is probable enough, therefore, that the young lay- preacher did not quite relish being silenced by the elder, and that his account of the sermons was coloured by the recollection that his own remained undelivered. There is an abundance of evidence that the "glorious islets" emerged far more often from the transcendental haze than Carlyle would have us suppose. Hazlitt, a bitter assailant of Coleridge's, and whose caustic remark that "his talk was excellent if you let him start from no premisses and come to no conclusion" is cited with approval by Carlyle, has elsewhere spoken of Coleridge as the only person from whom he ever learned anything, has said of him that though he talked on for ever you wished him to talk on for ever, that "his thoughts did not seem to come with labour and effort, but as if borne on the gusts of genius, and as if the wings of his imagination lifted him from his feet." And besides this testimony to the eloquence which Carlyle only but inadequately recognises, one should set for what it is worth De Quincey's evidence to that consequence of thought which Carlyle denies altogether. To De Quincey the complaint that Coleridge wandered in his talk appeared unjust. According to him the great discourser only "seemed to wander," and he seemed to wander the most "when in fact his resistance to the wandering instinct was greatest, viz. when the compass and huge circuit by which his illustrations moved travelled farthest into remote regions before they began to revolve. Long before this coming round commenced most people had lost him, and, naturally enough, supposed that he had lost himself. They continued to admire the separate beauty of the thoughts, but did not see their relations to the dominant theme." De Quincey however, declares positively in the faith of his "long and intimate knowledge of Coleridge's mind, that logic the most severe was as inalienable from his modes of thinking as grammar from his language."

Nor should we omit the testimony of another, a more partial, perhaps, but even better informed judge. The Table Talk, edited by Mr. Nelson Coleridge, shows how pregnant, how pithy, how full of subtle observation, and often also of playful humour, could be the talk of the great discourser in its lighter and more colloquial forms. The book indeed is, to the thinking of one, at any rate, of its frequent readers, among the most delightful in the world. But thus speaks its editor of his uncle's conversation in his more serious moods:—

"To pass an entire day with Coleridge was a marvellous change indeed [from the talk of daily life]. It was a Sabbath past expression, deep and tranquil and serene. You came to a man who had travelled in many countries and in critical times; who had seen and felt the world in most of its ranks and in many of its vicissitudes and weaknesses; one to whom all literature and art were absolutely subject; and to whom, with a reasonable allowance as to technical details, all science was, in a most extraordinary degree, familiar. Throughout a long-drawn summer's day would this man talk to you in low, equable, but clear and musical tones concerning things Iranian and divine; marshalling all history, harmonising all experiment, probing the depths of your consciousness, and revealing visions of glory and terror to the imagination; but pouring withal such floods of light upon the mind that you might for a season, like Paul, become blind in the very act of conversion. And this he would do without so much as one allusion to himself, without a word of reflection upon others, save when any given art fell naturally in the way of his discourse; without one anecdote that was not proof and illustration of a previous position; —gratifying no passion, indulging no caprice, but, with a calm mastery over your soul, leading you onward and onward for ever through a thousand windings, yet with no pause, to some magnificent point in which, as in a focus, all the parti-coloured rays of his discourse should converge in light. In all these he was, in truth, your teacher and guide; but in a little while you might forget that he was other than a fellow-student and the companion of your way— so playful was his manner, so simple his language, so affectionate the glance of his eye!"

Impressive, however, as these displays may have been, it is impossible to suppose that their direct didactic value as discourses was at all considerable. Such as it was, moreover, it was confined in all probability to an extremely select circle of followers. A few mystics of the type of Maurice, a few eager seekers after truth like Sterling, may have gathered, or fancied they gathered, distinct dogmatic instruction from the Highgate oracles; and no doubt, to the extent of his influence over the former of these disciples, we may justly credit Coleridge's discourses with having exercised a real if only a transitory directive effect upon nineteenth-century thought. But the terms in which his influence is sometimes spoken of appear, as far as one can judge of the matter at this distance of time, to be greatly exaggerated. To speak of it in the same way as we are—or were— accustomed to speak of the influence of Carlyle, is to subject it to an altogether inappropriate comparison. It is not merely that Coleridge founded no recognisable school, for neither did Carlyle. It is that the former can show absolutely nothing at all resembling that sort of power which enabled the latter to lay hold upon all the youthful minds of his time—minds of the most disparate orders and associated with the utmost diversities of temperament, and detain them in a captivity which, brief as it may have been in some cases, has in no case failed to leave its marks behind it. Over a few spirits already prepared to receive them Coleridge's teachings no doubt exerted power, but he led no soul captive against its will. There are few middle-aged men of active intelligence at the present day who can avoid a confession of having "taken" Carlylism in their youth; but no mental constitutions not predisposed to it could ever have caught Coleridgism at all. There is indeed no moral theory of life, there are no maxims of conduct, such as youth above all things craves for, in Coleridge's teaching. Apart from the intrinsic difficulties of the task to which he invites his disciples, it labours under a primary and essential disadvantage of postponing moral to intellectual liberation. Contrive somehow or other to attain to just ideas as to the capacities and limitations of the human consciousness, considered especially in relation to its two important and eternally distinct functions, the Reason and the Understanding: and peace of mind shall in due time be added unto you. That is in effect Coleridge's answer to the inquirer who consults him; and if the distinction between the Reason and the Understanding were as obvious as it is obscure to the average unmetaphysical mind, and of a value as assured for the purpose to which Coleridge applies it as it is uncertain, the answer would nevertheless send many a would-be disciple sorrowful away. His natural impulse is to urge the oracle to tell him whether there be not some one moral attitude which he can wisely and worthily adopt towards the universe, whatever theory he may form of his mental relations to it, or without forming any such theory at all. And it was because Carlyle supplied, or was believed to supply an answer, such as it was, to this universal question, that his train of followers, voluntary and involuntary, permanent and temporary, has been so large.

It appears to me, therefore, on as careful an examination of the point as the data admit of, that Coleridge's position in these latter days of his life has been somewhat mythically exalted by the generation which succeeded him. There are, I think, distinct traces of a Coleridgian legend which has only slowly died out. The actual truth I believe to be that Coleridge's position from 1818 or 1820 till his death, though one of the greatest eminence, was in no sense one of the highest, or even of any considerable influence. Fame and honour, in the fullest measure, were no doubt his: in that matter, indeed, he was only receiving payment of long-delayed arrears. The poetic school with which he was, though not with entire accuracy, associated had outlived its period of contempt and obloquy. In spite of the two quarterlies, the Tory review hostile, its Whig rival coldly silent, the public had recognised the high imaginative merit of Christabel; and who knows but that if the first edition of the Lyrical Ballads had appeared at this date instead of twenty years before, it would have obtained a certain number of readers even among landsmen? [2] But over and above the published works of the poet there were those extraordinary personal characteristics to which the fame of his works of course attracted a far larger share than formerly of popular attention. A remarkable man has more attractive power over the mass of mankind than the most remarkable of books, and it was because the report of Coleridge among those who knew him was more stimulating to public curiosity than even the greatest of his poems, that his celebrity in these latter years attained such proportions. Wordsworth said that though "he had seen many men do wonderful things, Coleridge was the only wonderful man he had ever met," and it was not the doer of wonderful things but the wonderful man that English society in those days went out for to see. Seeing would have been enough, but for a certain number there was hearing too, with the report of it for all; and it is not surprising that fame of the marvellous discourser should, in mere virtue of his extraordinary power of improvised speech, his limitless and untiring mastery of articulate words, have risen to a height to which writers whose only voice is in their pens can never hope to attain.

A reputation of that kind, however, must necessarily perish with its possessor; and Coleridge's posthumous renown has grown, his place in English literature has become more assured, if it has not been even fixed higher, since his death than during his lifetime. This is, in part no doubt, one among the consequences of those very defects of character which so unfortunately limited his actual achievements. He has been credited by faith, as it were, with those famous "unwritten books" of which he assured Charles Lamb that the titles alone would fill a volume, and such "popular reputation," in the strict sense of the word, as he has left behind him, is measured rather by what he was thought capable of doing than by what he did. By serious students, however, the real worth of Coleridge will be differently estimated. For them his peculiar value to English literature is not only undiminished by the incompleteness of his work; it has been, in a certain sense, enhanced thereby. Or, perhaps, it would be more strictly accurate to say that the value could not have existed without the incompleteness. A Coleridge with the faculty of concentration, and the habit of method superadded—a Coleridge capable of becoming possessed by any one form of intellectual energy to the exclusion of all others—might, indeed, have left behind him a more enduring reputation as a philosopher, and possibly (although this, for reasons already stated, is, in my own opinion, extremely doubtful) bequeathed to his countrymen more poetry destined to live; but, unquestionably, he would never have been able to render that precise service to modern thought and literature which, in fact, they owe to him. To have exercised his vivifying and fertilising influence over the minds of others his intellect was bound to be of the dispersive order; it was essential that he should "take all knowledge to be his province," and that that eager, subtle, and penetrative mind should range as freely as it did over subject after subject of human interest;—illuminating each of them in turn with those rays of true critical insight which, amid many bewildering cross-lights and some few downright ignes fatui, flash forth upon us from all Coleridge's work.

Of the personal weaknesses which prevented the just development of the powers, enough, perhaps, has been incidentally said in the course of this volume. But, in summing up his history, I shall not, I trust, be thought to judge the man too harshly in saying that, though the natural disadvantages of wretched health, almost from boyhood upward, must, in common fairness, be admitted in partial excuse for his failure, they do not excuse it altogether. It is difficult not to feel that Coleridge's character, apart altogether from defects of physical constitution, was wanting in manliness of fibre. His willingness to accept assistance at the hands of others is too manifestly displayed even at the earlier and more robust period of his life. It would be a mistake, of course, in dealing with a literary man of Coleridge's era, to apply the same standards as obtain in our own days. Wordsworth, as we have seen, made no scruple to accept the benevolences of the Wedgwoods. Southey, the type of independence and self-help, was, for some years, in receipt of a pension from a private source. But Coleridge, as Miss Meteyard's disclosures have shown, was at all times far more willing to depend upon others, and was far less scrupulous about soliciting their bounty, than was either of his two friends. Had he shared more of the spirit which made Johnson refuse to owe to the benevolence of others what Providence had enabled him to do for himself, it might have been better, no doubt, for the world and for the work which he did therein.

But when we consider what that work was, how varied and how wonderful, it seems idle—nay, it seems ungrateful and ungracious—to speculate too curiously on what further or other benefits this great intellect might have conferred upon mankind, had its possessor been endowed with those qualities of resolution and independence which he lacked. That Coleridge so often only shows the way, and so seldom guides our steps along it to the end, is no just ground of complaint. It would be as unreasonable to complain of a beacon-light that it is not a steam-tug, and forget in the incompleteness of its separate services the glory of their number. It is a more reasonable objection that the light itself is too often liable to obscuration,—that it stands erected upon a rock too often enshrouded by the mists of its encircling sea. But even this objection should not too greatly weigh with us. It would be wiser and better for us to dwell rather upon its splendour and helpfulness in the hours of its efficacy, to think how vast is then the expanse of waters which it illuminates, and its radiance how steady and serene.


1. No one who recollects the equally singular manner in which another most distinguished metaphysician—the late Dean Hansel—was wont to quaver forth his admirably turned and often highly eloquent phrases of philosophical exposition, can fail to be reminded of him by the above description. No two temperaments or histories however could be more dissimilar. The two philosophers resembled each other in nothing save the "om-mject" and "sum-mject" of their studies.

2. The Longmans told Coleridge that the greater part of the first edition of the Lyrical Ballads had been sold to seafaring men, who, having heard of the Ancient Mariner, took the volume for a naval song-book.


Adams, Dr.,

Aeolian Harp, circumstances under which it was written, Coleridge's opinion of,

Aids to Reflection, its popularity, its value as a spiritual manual, its inferiority from a literary point of view,

Allan Bank,

Allsop, Mr. Thomas,

Ancient Mariner, how and when first conceived, its uniqueness, Wordsworth's account of its origin and of his suggestions, a sublime "pot-boiler," realistic force of its narrative, its vividness of imagery, its wonderful word-pictures, its evenness of execution, examples of its consummate art, its chief characteristics,


Ball, Sir Alexander,

Beaumont, Lady,


Biographia Literaria, its interest, critical and illustrative, its main value, its analysis of the principles of poetry, its examination of Wordsworth's theory, its contents,

Blackwood's Magazine, Coleridge's contributions to,


Borderers (Wordsworth's),

Bowles, William Lisle,

Burke, sonnet to,


Calne, Coleridge at,

Cambridge Intelligencer (Flower's),

Carlyle, description of Coleridge by,

Carrlyon, Dr., reminiscences of Coleridge in Germany by,

Christabel, Coleridge's opinion of, its unfinished condition, the lines on the "spell," its high place as a work of creative art, its fragmentary beauties, the description of Christabel's chamber, its main idea, outline of the unfinished parts, Lamb and Hartley Coleridge on, its perfection from the metrical point of view, publication of the second part, its popularity, Coleridge's great desire to complete it,

Circassian Love Chant, its charm of melody,

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. His biographers, birth and family history, his boyhood and school days, early childhood, death of his father, goes to Christ's Hospital, goes to Jesus College, Cambridge, wins the Browne Gold Medal, leaves Cambridge suddenly and enlists in the army, his discharge, returns to Cambridge, his meeting with Southey and Sara Fricker (his future wife), writes the Fall of Robespierre with Southey, leaves Cambridge, delivers the Bristol lectures, marries Sara Fricker at Bristol, writes the Aeolian Harp, plunges into politics and journalism, projects the Watchman and goes on a canvassing tour, preaches Unitarian sermons by the way, brings out the Watchman, retires to a cottage in Somersetshire with Charles Lloyd, his meeting with Wordsworth, cooling of his revolutionary enthusiasm, his intercourse with Wordsworth, writes Osorio, his rambles with Wordsworth among the Quantock Hills, projects the Lyrical Ballads, writes the Ancient Mariner, Christabel, Love, Kubla Khan, undertakes the duties of a Unitarian preacher at Shrewsbury, accepts an annuity from the two Wedgwoods, goes to Germany with the Wordsworths, returns to England after a year's absence, translates Schiller's Wallenstein, devotes himself again to journalism, goes to the Lake country, takes opium as an anodyne, writes the Ode to Dejection, goes on a tour with Thomas Wedgwood, visits the Wordsworths at Grasmere, his illness there, goes to Malta, ill effects of his stay there, becomes Secretary to the Governor of the island, goes to Italy, returns to England after two and a half years' absence, his wretched condition of mind and body, estrangement from his wife, domestic unhappiness, meeting with De Quincey, pecuniary embarrassments, his lectures at the Royal Institution, lives with Wordsworth at Allan Bank, founds and edits the Friend, delivers lectures on Shakespeare, returns to journalism, his necessities, loses his annuity, neglect of his family, successful production of his play Remorse, lectures again at Bristol, retires to Calne with Mr. Morgan, more financial troubles, lives with Dr. Gillman at Highgate, undergoes medical treatment for the opium habit, returning health and vigour, renewed literary activity, writes the Biographia Literaria, lectures again in London, more money troubles, publishes Aids to Reflection, accompanies Wordsworth on a tour up the Rhine, his declining years, contemplation of his approaching end, his death,

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