English Men of Letters: Coleridge
by H. D. Traill
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In a tolerably well-known passage in one of his essays De Quincey enumerates the multiform attainments and powers of Coleridge, and the corresponding varieties of demand made by them on any one who should aspire to become this many-sided man's biographer. The description is slightly touched with the humorous hyperbole characteristic of its author; but it is in substance just, and I cannot but wish that it were possible, within the limits of a preface, to set out the whole of it in excuse for the many inevitable shortcomings of this volume. Having thus made an "exhibit" of it, there would only remain to add that the difficulties with which De Quincey confronts an intending biographer of Coleridge must necessarily be multiplied many-fold by the conditions under which this work is here attempted. No complete biography of Coleridge, at least on any important scale of dimensions, is in existence; no critical appreciation of his work as a whole, and as correlated with the circumstances and affected by the changes of his life, has, so far as I am aware, been attempted. To perform either of these two tasks adequately, or even with any approach to adequacy, a writer should at least have the elbow-room of a portly volume. To attempt the two together, therefore, and to attempt them within the limits prescribed to the manuals of this series, is an enterprise which I think should claim, from all at least who are not offended by its audacity, an almost unbounded indulgence.

The supply of material for a Life of Coleridge is fairly plentiful, though it is not very easily come by. For the most part it needs to be hunted up or fished up—those accustomed to the work will appreciate the difference between the two processes—from a considerable variety of contemporary documents. Completed biography of the poet-philosopher there is none, as has been said, in existence; and the one volume of the unfinished Life left us by Mr. Gillman—a name never to be mentioned with disrespect, however difficult it may sometimes be to avoid doing so, by any one who honours the name and genius of Coleridge—covers, and that in but a loose and rambling fashion, no more than a few years. Mr. Cottle's Recollections of Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge contains some valuable information on certain points of importance, as also does the Letters, Conversations, etc., of S. T. C. by Mr. Allsop. Miss Meteyard's Group of Eminent Englishmen throws much light on the relations between Coleridge and his early patrons the Wedgwoods. Everything, whether critical or biographical, that De Quincey wrote on Coleridgian matters requires, with whatever discount, to be carefully studied. The Life of Wordsworth, by the Bishop of St. Andrews; The Correspondence of Southey; the Rev. Derwent Coleridge's brief account of his father's life and writings; and the prefatory memoir prefixed to the 1880 edition of Coleridge's Poetical and Dramatic Works, have all had to be consulted. But, after all, there remain several tantalising gaps in Coleridge's life which refuse to be bridged over; and one cannot but think that there must be enough unpublished matter in the possession of his relatives and the representatives of his friends and correspondents to enable some at least, though doubtless not all, of these missing links to be supplied. Perhaps upon a fitting occasion and for an adequate purpose these materials would be forthcoming.



CHAPTER I. [1772-1794.] Birth, parentage, and early years—Christ's Hospital—Jesus College, Cambridge.

CHAPTER II. [1794-1797.] The Bristol Lectures—Marriage—Life at Clevedon—The Watchman— Retirement to Stowey—Introduction to Wordsworth.

CHAPTER III. [1797-1799.] Coleridge and Wordsworth—Publication of the Lyrical Ballads—The Ancient Mariner—The first part of Christabel—Decline of Coleridge's poetic impulse—Final review of his poetry.


CHAPTER IV. [1799-1800.] Visit to Germany—Life at Gottingen—Return—Explores the Lake country— London—The Morning Post—Coleridge as a journalist—Retirement to Keswick.

CHAPTER V. [1800-1804.] Life at Keswick—Second part of Christabel—Failing health—Resort to opium—The Ode to Dejection—Increasing restlessness—Visit to Malta.

CHAPTER VI. [1806-1809.] Stay at Malta—Its injurious effects—Return to England—Meeting with De Quincey—Residence in London—First series of lectures.

CHAPTER VII. [1809-1810.] Return to the Lakes—From Keswick to Grasmere—With Wordsworth at Allan Bank—The Friend—Quits the Lake country for ever.

CHAPTER VIII. [1810-1816.] London again—Second recourse to journalism—The Courier articles— The Shakespeare lectures—Production of Remorse—At Bristol again as lecturer—Residence at Calne—Increasing ill health and embarrassments —Retirement to Mr. Gillman's.


CHAPTER IX. [1816-1818.] Life at Highgate—Renewed activity—Publications and republications—The Biographia Literaria—The lectures of 1818—Coleridge as a Shakespearian critic.

CHAPTER X. [1818-1834.] Closing years—Temporary renewal of money troubles—The Aids to Refection—Growing weakness-Visit to Germany with the Wordsworths— Last illness and death.

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

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




Birth, parentage, and early years—Christ's Hospital—Jesus College, Cambridge.


On the 21st of October 1772 there was added to that roll of famous Englishmen of whom Devonshire boasts the parentage a new and not its least illustrious name. SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE was the son of the Rev. John Coleridge, vicar of Ottery St. Mary in that county, and head master of Henry VIII.'s Free Grammar School in the same town. He was the youngest child of a large family. To the vicar, who had been twice married, his first wife had borne three children, and his second ten. Of these latter, however, one son died in infancy; four others, together with the only daughter of the family, passed away before Samuel had attained his majority; and thus only three of his brothers, James, Edward, and George Coleridge, outlived the eighteenth century. The first of these three survivors became the father of Henry Nelson Coleridge—who married his cousin Sara, the poet's accomplished daughter, and edited his uncle's posthumous works—and of the late Mr. Justice Coleridge, himself the father of the present Lord Chief-Justice of England. Edward, the second of the three, went, like his eldest brother William, to Pembroke College, Oxford, and like him took orders; and George, also educated at the same college and for the same profession, succeeded eventually to his father's benefice and school. The vicar himself appears from all accounts to have been a man of more mark than most rural incumbents, and probably than a good many schoolmasters of his day. He was a Hebrew scholar of some eminence, and the compiler of a Latin grammar, in which, among other innovations designed to simplify the study of the language for "boys just initiated," he proposed to substitute for the name of "ablative" that of "quale-quare-quidditive case." The mixture of amiable simplicity and not unamiable pedantry to which this stroke of nomenclature testifies was further illustrated in his practice of diversifying his sermons to his village flock with Hebrew quotations, which he always commended to their attention as "the immediate language of the Holy Ghost"—a practice which exposed his successor, himself a learned man, to the complaint of his rustic parishioners, that for all his erudition no "immediate language of the Holy Ghost" was ever to be heard from him. On the whole the Rev. John Coleridge appears to have been a gentle and kindly eccentric, whose combination of qualities may have well entitled him to be compared, as his famous son was wont in after- life to compare him, to Parson Adams.

Of the poet's mother we know little; but it is to be gathered from such information as has come to us through Mr. Gillman from Coleridge himself that, though reputed to have been a "woman of strong mind," she exercised less influence on the formation of her son's mind and character than has frequently been the case with the not remarkable mothers of remarkable men. "She was," says Mr. Gillman, "an uneducated woman, industriously attentive to her household duties, and devoted to the care of her husband and family. Possessing none even of the most common accomplishments of her day, she had neither love nor sympathy for the display of them in others. She disliked, as she would say, your 'harpsichord ladies,' and strongly tried to impress upon her sons their little value" (that is, of the accomplishments) "in their choice of wives." And the final judgment upon her is that she was "a very good woman, though, like Martha, over careful in many things; very ambitious for the advancement of her sons in life, but wanting, perhaps, that flow of heart which her husband possessed so largely." Of Coleridge's boyhood and school-days we are fortunate in being able to construct an unusually clear and complete idea. Both from his own autobiographic notes, from the traditionary testimony of his family, and from the no less valuable evidence of his most distinguished schoolfellow, we know that his youthful character and habits assign him very conspicuously to that perhaps somewhat small class of eminent men whose boyhood has given distinct indications of great things to come. Coleridge is as pronounced a specimen of this class as Scott is of its opposite. Scott has shown the world how commonplace a boyhood may precede a maturity of extraordinary powers. In Coleridge's case a boy of truly extraordinary qualities was father to one of the most remarkable of men. As the youngest of ten children (or of thirteen, reckoning the vicar's family of three by his first wife), Coleridge attributes the early bent of his disposition to causes the potency of which one may be permitted to think that he has somewhat exaggerated. It is not quite easy to believe that it was only through "certain jealousies of old Molly," his brother Frank's "dotingly fond nurse," and the infusions of these jealousies into his brother's mind, that he was drawn "from life in motion to life in thought and sensation." The physical impulses of boyhood, where they exist in vigour, are not so easily discouraged, and it is probable that they were naturally weaker and the meditative tendency stronger than Coleridge in after-life imagined. But to continue: "I never played," he proceeds, "except by myself, and then only acting over what I had been reading or fancying, or half one, half the other" (a practice common enough, it may be remarked, among boys of by no means morbidly imaginative habit), "cutting down weeds and nettles with a stick, as one of the seven champions of Christendom. Alas! I had all the simplicity, all the docility of the little child, but none of the child's habits. I never thought as a child—never had the language of a child." So it fared with him during the period of his home instruction, the first eight years of his life; and his father having, as scholar and schoolmaster, no doubt noted the strange precocity of his youngest son, appears to have devoted especial attention to his training. "In my ninth year," he continues, "my most dear, most revered father died suddenly. O that I might so pass away, if, like him, I were an Israelite without guile. The image of my father, my revered, kind, learned, simple-hearted father, is a religion to me."

Before he had attained his tenth year a presentation to Christ's Hospital was obtained for him by that eminent judge Mr. Justice Buller, a former pupil of his father's; and he was entered at the school on the 18th July 1782. His early bent towards poetry, though it displayed itself in youthful verse of unusual merit, is a less uncommon and arresting characteristic than his precocious speculative activity. Many a raw boy "lisps in numbers, for the numbers come;" but few discourse Alexandrian metaphysics at the same age, for the very good reason that the metaphysics as a rule do not "come." And even among those youth whom curiosity, or more often vanity, induces to dabble in such studies, one would find few indeed over whom they have cast such an irresistible spell as to estrange them for a while from poetry altogether. That this was the experience of Coleridge we have his own words to show. His son and biographer, the Rev. Derwent Coleridge, has a little antedated the poet's stages of development in stating that when his father was sent to Christ's Hospital in his eleventh year he was "already a poet, and yet more characteristically a metaphysician." A poet, yes, and a precocious scholar perhaps to boot, but a metaphysician, no; for the "delightful sketch of him by his friend and schoolfellow Charles Lamb" was pretty evidently taken not at "this period" of his life but some years later. Coleridge's own account of the matter in the Biographia Literaria is clear. [1] "At a very premature age, even before my fifteenth year," he says, "I had bewildered myself in metaphysics and in theological controversy. Nothing else pleased me. History and particular facts lost all interest in my mind. Poetry (though for a schoolboy of that age I was above par in English versification, and had already produced two or three compositions which I may venture to say were somewhat above mediocrity, and which had gained me more credit than the sound good sense of my old master was at all pleased with),—poetry itself, yea, novels and romance, became insipid to me." He goes on to describe how highly delighted he was if, during his friendless wanderings on leave-days, "any passenger, especially if he were dressed in black," would enter with him into a conversation, which he soon found the means of directing to his favourite subject of "providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate; fixed fate, freewill, foreknowledge absolute." Undoubtedly it is to this period that one should refer Lamb's well-known description of "Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Logician, Metaphysician, Bard."

"How have I seen the casual passer through the cloisters stand still, entranced with admiration (while he weighed the disproportion between the speech and the garb of the young Mirandula), to hear thee unfold in thy deep and sweet intonations the mysteries of Iamblichus or Plotinus (for even in those years thou waxedst not pale at such philosophic draughts), or reciting Homer in the Greek, or Pindar, while the walls of the old Grey Friars re-echoed with the accents of the inspired charity-boy."

It is interesting to note such a point as that of the "deep and sweet intonations" of the youthful voice—its most notable and impressive characteristic in after-life. Another schoolfellow describes the young philosopher as "tall and striking in person, with long black hair," and as commanding "much deference" among his schoolfellows. Such was Coleridge between his fifteenth and seventeenth year, and such continued to be the state of his mind and the direction of his studies until he was won back again from what he calls "a preposterous pursuit, injurious to his natural powers and to the progress of his education," by—it is difficult, even after the most painstaking study of its explanations, to record the phenomenon without astonishment—a perusal of the sonnets of William Lisle Bowles. Deferring, however, for the present any research into the occult operation of this converting agency, it will be enough to note Coleridge's own assurance of its perfect efficacy. He was completely cured for the time of his metaphysical malady, and "well were it for me perhaps," he exclaims, "had I never relapsed into the same mental disease; if I had continued to pluck the flowers and reap the harvest from the cultivated surface instead of delving in the unwholesome quicksilver mines of metaphysic depths." And he goes on to add, in a passage full of the peculiar melancholy beauty of his prose, and full too of instruction for the biographer, "But if, in after-time, I have sought a refuge from bodily pain and mismanaged sensibility in abstruse researches, which exercised the strength and subtlety of the understanding without awakening the feelings of the heart, there was a long and blessed interval, during which my natural faculties were allowed to expand and my original tendencies to develop themselves—my fancy, and the love of nature, and the sense of beauty in forms and sounds." This "long and blessed interval" endured, as we shall see, for some eleven or twelve years.

His own account of his seduction from the paths of poetry by the wiles of philosophy is that physiology acted as the go-between. His brother Luke had come up to London to walk the hospitals, and young Samuel's insatiable intellectual curiosity immediately inspired him with a desire to share his brother's pursuit. "Every Saturday I could make or obtain leave, to the London Hospital trudged I. O! the bliss if I was permitted to hold the plaisters or attend the dressings.... I became wild to be apprenticed to a surgeon; English, Latin, yea, Greek books of medicine read I incessantly. Blanchard's Latin Medical Dictionary I had nearly by heart. Briefly, it was a wild dream, which, gradually blending with, gradually gave way to, a rage for metaphysics occasioned by the essays on Liberty and Necessity in Cato's Letters, and more by theology." [2] At the appointed hour, however, Bowles the emancipator came, as has been said, to his relief, and having opportunely fallen in love with the eldest daughter of a widow lady of whose son he had been the patron and protector at school, we may easily imagine that his liberation from the spell of metaphysics was complete. "From this time," he says, "to my nineteenth year, when I quitted school for Jesus, Cambridge, was the era of poetry and love."

Of Coleridge's university days we know less; but the account of his schoolfellow, Charles Le Grice, accords, so far as it goes, with what would have been anticipated from the poet's school life. Although "very studious," and not unambitious of academical honours—within a few months of his entering at Jesus he won the Browne Gold Medal for a Greek Ode on the Slave Trade [3]—his reading, his friend admits, was "desultory and capricious. He took little exercise merely for the sake of exercise, but he was ready at any time to unbend his mind in conversation, and for the sake of this his room was a constant rendezvous of conversation-loving friends. I will not call them loungers, for they did not call to kill time but to enjoy it." From the same record we gather that Coleridge's interest in current politics was already keen, and that he was an eager reader, not only of Burke's famous contributions thereto, but even a devourer of all the pamphlets which swarmed during that agitated period from the press. The desultory student, however, did not altogether intermit his academical studies. In 1793 he competed for another Greek verse prize, this time unsuccessfully. He afterwards described his ode On Astronomy as "the finest Greek poem I ever wrote;" [4] but, whatever may have been its merits from the point of view of scholarship, the English translation of it, made eight years after by Southey (in which form alone it now exists), seems hardly to establish its title to the peculiar merit claimed by its author for his earlier effort. The long vacation of this year, spent by him in Devonshire, is also interesting as having given birth to one of the most characteristic of the Juvenile Poems, the Songs of the Pixies, and the closing months of 1793 were marked by the most singular episode in the poet's earlier career.

It is now perhaps impossible to ascertain whether the cause of this strange adventure of Coleridge's was, "chagrin at his disappointment in a love affair" or "a fit of dejection and despondency caused by some debts not amounting to a hundred pounds;" but, actuated by some impulse or other of restless disquietude, Coleridge suddenly quitted Cambridge and came up, very slenderly provided with money, to London, where, after a few days' sojourn, he was compelled by pressure of actual need to enlist, under the name of Silas Titus Comberback (S. T. C.), [5] as a private in the 15th Light Dragoons. It may seem strange to say so, but it strikes one as quite conceivable that the world might have been a gainer if fate had kept Coleridge a little longer in the ranks than the four months of his actual service. As it was, however, his military experiences, unlike those of Gibbon, were of no subsequent advantage to him. He was, as he tells us, an execrable rider, a negligent groom of his horse, and, generally, a slack and slovenly trooper; but before drill and discipline had had time to make a smart soldier of him, he chanced to attract the attention of his captain by having written a Latin quotation on the white wall of the stables at Reading. This officer, who it seems was either able to translate the ejaculation, "Eheu! quam infortunii miserrimum est fuisse felicem," [7] or, at any rate, to recognise the language it was written in, interested himself forthwith on behalf of his scholarly recruit. [6] Coleridge's discharge was obtained at Hounslow on April 10, 1794, and he returned to Cambridge.

The year was destined to be eventful for him in more ways than one. In June he went to Oxford to pay a visit to an old schoolfellow, where an accidental introduction to Robert Southey, then an undergraduate of Balliol, laid the foundation of a friendship destined largely to influence their future lives. In the course of the following August he came to Bristol, where he was met by Southey, and by him introduced to Robert Lovell, through whom and Southey he made the acquaintance of two persons of considerable, if not exactly equal, importance to any young author—his first publisher and his future wife. Robert Lovell already knew Mr. Joseph Cottle, brother of Amos Cottle (Byron's "O! Amos Cottle! Phoebus! what a name"), and himself a poet of some pretensions; and he had married Mary Fricker, one of whose sisters, Edith, was already engaged to Southey; while another, Sara, was afterwards to become Mrs. Coleridge.

As the marriage turned out on the whole an unhappy one, the present may be a convenient moment for considering how far its future character was determined by previously existing and unalterable conditions, and how far it may be regarded as the result of subsequent events. De Quincey, whose acute and in many respects most valuable monograph on the poet touches its point of least trustworthiness in matters of this kind, declares roundly, and on the alleged authority of Coleridge himself, that the very primary and essential prerequisite of happiness was wanting to the union. Coleridge, he says, assured him that his marriage was "not his own deliberate act, but was in a manner forced upon his sense of honour by the scrupulous Southey, who insisted that he had gone too far in his attentions to Miss Fricker for any honourable retreat." On the other hand, he adds, "a neutral spectator of the parties protested to me that if ever in his life he had seen a man under deep fascination, and what he would have called desperately in love, Coleridge, in relation to Miss F., was that man." One need not, I think, feel much hesitation in preferring this "neutral spectator's" statement to that of the discontented husband, made several years after the mutual estrangement of the couple, and with no great propriety perhaps, to a new acquaintance. There is abundant evidence in his own poems alone that at the time of, and for at least two or three years subsequently to, his marriage Coleridge's feeling towards his wife was one of profound and indeed of ardent attachment. It is of course quite possible that the passion of so variable, impulsive, and irresolute a temperament as his may have had its hot and cold fits, and that during one of the latter phases Southey may have imagined that his friend needed some such remonstrance as that referred to. But this is not nearly enough to support the assertion that Coleridge's marriage was "in a manner forced upon his sense of honour," and was not his own deliberate act. It was as deliberate as any of his other acts during the years 1794 and 1795,—that is to say, it was as wholly inspired by the enthusiasm of the moment, and as utterly ungoverned by anything in the nature of calculation on the possibilities of the future. He fell in love with Sara Fricker as he fell in love with the French Revolution and with the scheme of "Pantisocracy," and it is indeed extremely probable that the emotions of the lover and the socialist may have subtly acted and reacted upon each other. The Pantisocratic scheme was essentially based at its outset upon a union of kindred souls, for it was clearly necessary of course that each male member of the little community to be founded on the banks of the Susquehanna should take with him a wife. Southey and Lovell had theirs in the persons of two sisters; they were his friends and fellow-workers in the scheme; and they had a sympathetic sister-in-law disengaged. Fate therefore seemed to designate her for Coleridge and with the personal attraction which she no doubt exerted over him there may well have mingled a dash of that mysterious passion for symmetry which prompts a man to "complete the set." After all, too, it must be remembered that, though Mrs. Coleridge did not permanently retain her hold upon her husband's affections, she got considerably the better of those who shared them with her. Coleridge found out the objections to Pantisocracy in a very short space of time, and a decided coolness had sprung up between him and Madame la Revolution before another two years had passed.

The whole history indeed of this latter liaison is most remarkable, and no one, it seems to me, can hope to form an adequate conception of Coleridge's essential instability of character without bestowing somewhat closer attention upon this passage in his intellectual development than it usually receives. It is not uncommon to see the cases of Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge lumped together indiscriminately, as interequivalent illustrations of the way in which the young and generous minds of that era were first fascinated and then repelled by the French Revolution. As a matter of fact, however, the last of the three cases differed in certain very important respects from the two former. Coleridge not only took the "frenzy-fever" in a more violent form than either Wordsworth or Southey, and uttered wilder things in his delirium than they, but the paroxysm was much shorter, the immediate reaction more violent in its effects and brought about by slighter causes in his case than in theirs. This will appear more clearly when we come to contrast the poems of 1794 and 1795 with those of 1797. For the present it must suffice to say that while the history of Coleridge's relations to the French Revolution is intellectually more interesting than that of Wordsworth's and Southey's, it plainly indicates, even in that early period of the three lives, a mind far more at the mercy of essentially transitory sentiment than belonged to either of the others, and far less disposed than theirs to review the aspirations of the moment by the steady light of the practical judgment.

This, however, is anticipating matters. We are still in the summer of 1794, and we left Coleridge at Bristol with Southey, Lovell, and the Miss Frickers. To this year belongs that remarkable experiment in playwriting at high pressure, The Fall of Robespierre. It originated, we learn from Southey, in "a sportive conversation at poor Lovell's," when each of the three friends agreed to produce one act of a tragedy, on the subject indicated in the above title, by the following evening. Coleridge was to write the first, Southey the second, and Lovell the third. Southey and Lovell appeared the next day with their acts complete, Coleridge, characteristically, with only a part of his. Lovell's, however, was found not to be in keeping with the other two, so Southey supplied the third as well as the second, by which time Coleridge had completed the first. The tragedy was afterwards published entire, and is usually included in complete editions of Coleridge's poetical works. It is an extremely immature production, abounding in such coquettings (if nothing more serious) with bathos as

"Now, Aloof thou standest from the tottering pillar, And like a frighted child behind its mother, Hidest thy pale face in the skirts of Mercy."


"Liberty, condensed awhile, is bursting To scatter the arch-chemist in the explosion."

Coleridge also contributed to Southey's Joan of Arc certain lines of which, many years afterwards, he wrote in this humorously exaggerated but by no means wholly unjust tone of censure:—"I was really astonished (1) at the schoolboy, wretched, allegoric machinery; (2) at the transmogrification of the fanatic Virago into a modern novel-pawing proselyte of the Age of Reason—a Tom Paine in petticoats; (3) at the utter want of all rhythm in the verse, the monotony and dead plumb-down of the pauses, and at the absence of all bone, muscle, and sinew in the single lines."

In September Coleridge returned to Cambridge, to keep what turned out to be his last term at Jesus. We may fairly suppose that he had already made up his mind to bid adieu to the Alma Mater whose bosom he was about to quit for that of a more venerable and, as he then believed, a gentler mother on the banks of the Susquehanna; but it is not impossible that in any case his departure might have been expedited by the remonstrances of college authority. Dr. Pearce, Master of Jesus, and afterwards Dean of Ely, did all he could, records a friend of a somewhat later date, "to keep him within bounds; but his repeated efforts to reclaim him were to no purpose, and upon one occasion, after a long discussion on the visionary and ruinous tendency of his later schemes, Coleridge cut short the argument by bluntly assuring him, his friend and master, that he mistook the matter altogether. He was neither Jacobin, [8] he said, nor Democrat, but a Pantisocrat." And, leaving the good doctor to digest this new and strange epithet, Coleridge bade farewell to his college and his university, and went forth into that world with which he was to wage so painful and variable a struggle.


1. He tells us in the Biographia Literaria that he had translated the eight hymns of Synesius from the Greek into English anacreontics "before his fifteenth year." It is reasonable to suppose, therefore, that he had more scholarship in 1782 than most boys of ten years.

2. Footnote: Gillman, pp. 22, 23.

3. Of this Coleridge afterwards remarked with justice that its "ideas were better than the language or metre in which they were conveyed." Porson, with little magnanimity, as De Quincey complains, was severe upon its Greek, but its main conception—an appeal to Death to come, a welcome deliverer to the slaves, and to bear them to shores where "they may tell their beloved ones what horrors they, being men, had endured from men"—is moving and effective. De Quincey, however, was undoubtedly right in his opinion that Coleridge's Greek scholarship was not of the exact order. No exact scholar could, for instance, have died in the faith (as Coleridge did) that [Greek Text: epsilon-sigma-tau-eta- sigma-epsilon] (S. T. C.) means "he stood," and not "he placed."

4. Adding "that which gained the prize was contemptible"—an expression of opinion hardly in accordance with Le Grice's statement ("Recollections" in Gentleman's Magazine for 1836) that "no one was more convinced of the propriety of the decision than Coleridge himself." Mr. Le Grice, however, bears valuable testimony to Coleridge's disappointment, though I think he exaggerates its influence in determining his career.

5. It is characteristic of the punctilious inaccuracy of Mr. Cottle (Recollections, ii. 54) that he should insist that the assumed name was "Cumberbatch, not Comberback," though Coleridge has himself fixed the real name by the jest, "My habits were so little equestrian, that my horse, I doubt not, was of that opinion." This circumstance, though trifling, does not predispose us to accept unquestioningly Mr. Cottle's highly particularised account of Coleridge's experience with his regiment.

6. Miss Mitford, in her Recollections of a Literary Life, interestingly records the active share taken by her father in procuring the learned trooper's discharge.

7. "In omni adversitate fortunae, infelicissimum genus est infortunii fuisse felicem."—Boethius.

8. Carrlyon's Early Years and late Reflections, vol. i. p. 27.


The Bristol Lectures—Marriage—Life at Clevedon—The Watchman— Retirement to Stowey—Introduction to Wordsworth.


The reflections of the worthy Master of Jesus upon the strange reply of the wayward young undergraduate would have been involved in even greater perplexity if he could have looked forward a few months into the future. For after a winter spent in London, and enlivened by those noctes conoque Deum at the "Cat and Salutation," which Lamb has so charmingly recorded, Coleridge returned with Southey to Bristol at the beginning of 1795, and there proceeded to deliver a series of lectures which, whatever their other merits, would certainly not have assisted Dr. Pearce to grasp the distinction between a Pantisocrat and a Jacobin. As a scholar and a man of literary taste he might possibly have admired the rhetorical force of the following outburst, but, considering that the "HE" here gibbeted in capitals was no less a personage than the "heaven-born minister" himself, a plain man might well have wondered what additional force the vocabulary of Jacobinism could have infused into the language of Pantisocracy. After summing up the crimes of the Reign of Terror the lecturer asks: "Who, my brethren, was the cause of this guilt if not HE who supplied the occasion and the motive? Heaven hath bestowed on that man a portion of its ubiquity, and given him an actual presence in the sacraments of hell, wherever administered, in all the bread of bitterness, in all the cups of blood." And in general, indeed, the Conciones ad Populum, as Coleridge named these lectures on their subsequent publication, were rather calculated to bewilder any of the youthful lecturer's well- wishers who might be anxious for some means of discriminating his attitude from that of the Hardys, the Horne Tookes, and the Thelwalls of the day. A little warmth of language might no doubt be allowed to a young friend of liberty in discussing legislation which, in the retrospect, has staggered even so staunch a Tory as Sir Archibald Alison; but Coleridge's denunciation of the Pitt and Grenville Acts, in the lecture entitled The Plot Discovered, is occasionally startling, even for that day of fierce passions, in the fierceness of its language. It is interesting, however, to note the ever-active play of thought and reasoning amid the very storm and stress of political passion. Coleridge is never for long together a mere declaimer on popular rights and ministerial tyranny, and even this indignant address contains a passage of extremely just and thoughtful analysis of the constituent elements of despotism. Throughout the spring and summer of 1795 Coleridge continued his lectures at Bristol, his head still simmering—though less violently, it may be suspected, every month— with Pantisocracy, and certainly with all his kindred political and religious enthusiasms unabated.

A study of these crude but vigorous addresses reveals to us, as does the earlier of the early poems, a mind struggling with its half-formed and ever-changing conceptions of the world, and, as is usual at such peculiar phases of an intellectual development, affirming its temporary beliefs with a fervour and vehemence directly proportioned to the recency of their birth. Commenting on the Conciones ad Populum many years afterwards, and invoking them as witnesses to his political consistency as an author, Coleridge remarked that with the exception of "two or three pages involving the doctrine of philosophical necessity and Unitarianism," he saw little or nothing in these outbursts of his youthful zeal to retract, and, with the exception of "some flame- coloured epithets" applied to persons, as to Mr. Pitt and others, "or rather to personifications"—for such, he says, they really were to him—as little to regret.

We now, however, arrive at an event, important in the life of every man, and which influenced that of Coleridge to an extent not the less certainly extraordinary because difficult, if not impossible, to define with exactitude. On the 4th of October 1795 Coleridge was married at St. Mary Redcliffe Church, Bristol, to Sarah (or as he preferred to spell it Sara) Fricker, and withdrew for a time from the eager intellectual life of a political lecturer to the contemplative quiet appropriate to the honeymoon of a poet, spent in a sequestered cottage amid beautiful scenery, and within sound of the sea. No wonder that among such surroundings, and with such belongings, the honeymoon should have extended from one month to three, and indeed that Coleridge should have waited till his youthful yearnings for a life of action, and perhaps (though that would have lent itself less gracefully to his poem of farewell to his Clevedon cottage) his increasing sense of the necessity of supplementing the ambrosia of love with the bread and cheese of mortals, compelled him to re-enter the world. No wonder he should have delayed to do so, for it is as easy to perceive in his poems that these were days of unclouded happiness as it is melancholy to reflect by how few others like them his life was destined to be brightened. The Aeolian Harp has no more than the moderate merits, with its full share of the characteristic faults, of his earlier productions; but one cannot help "reading into it" the poet's after-life of disappointment and disillusion—estrangement from the "beloved woman" in whose affection he was then reposing; decay and disappearance of those "flitting phantasies" with which he was then so joyously trifling, and the bitterly ironical scholia which fate was preparing for such lines as

"And tranquil muse upon tranquillity."

One cannot in fact refrain from mentally comparing the 'olian Harp of 1795 with the Dejection of 1803, and no one who has thoroughly felt the spirit of both poems can make that comparison without emotion. The former piece is not, as has been said, in a literary sense remarkable. With the exception of the one point of metrical style, to be touched on presently, it has almost no note of poetic distinction save such as belongs of right to any simple record of a mood which itself forms the highest poetry of the average man's life; and one well knows whence came the criticism of that MS. note inscribed by S. T. C. in a copy of the second edition of his early poems, "This I think the most perfect poem I ever wrote. Bad may be the best perhaps." One feels that the annotator might just as well have written, "How perfect was the happiness which this poem recalls!" for this is really all that Coleridge's eulogium, with its touching bias from the hand of memory, amounts to.

It has become time, however, to speak more generally of Coleridge's early poems. The peaceful winter months of 1795-96 were in all likelihood spent in arranging and revising the products of those poetic impulses which had more or less actively stirred within him from his seventeenth year upwards; and in April 1797 there appeared at Bristol a volume of some fifty pieces entitled Poems on Various Subjects, by S. T. Coleridge, late of Jesus College Cambridge. It was published by his friend Cottle, who, in a mixture of the generous with the speculative instinct, had given him thirty guineas for the copyright. Its contents are of a miscellaneous kind, consisting partly of rhymed irregular odes, partly of a collection of Sonnets on Eminent Characters, and partly (and principally) of a blank verse poem of several hundred lines, then, and indeed for years afterwards, regarded by many of the poet's admirers as his masterpiece—the Religious Musings. [1]

To the second edition of these poems, which was published in the following year, Coleridge, at all times a candid critic (to the limited extent to which it is possible even for the finest judges to be so) of his own works, prefixed a preface, wherein he remarks that his poems have been "rightly charged with a profusion of double epithets and a general turgidness," and adds that he has "pruned the double epithets with no sparing hand," and used his best efforts to tame the swell and glitter both of thought and diction. "The latter fault, however, had," he continues, "so insinuated itself into my Religious Musings with such intricacy of union that sometimes I have omitted to disentangle the weed from fear of snapping the flower." This is plain- spoken criticism, but I do not think that any reader who is competent to pronounce judgment on the point will be inclined to deprecate its severity. Nay, in order to get done with fault-finding as soon as possible, it must perhaps be added that the admitted turgidness of the poems is often something more than a mere defect of style, and that the verse is turgid because the feeling which it expresses is exaggerated. The "youthful bard unknown to fame" who, in the Songs of the Pixies, is made to "heave the gentle misery of a sigh," is only doing a natural thing described in ludicrously and unnaturally stilted terms; but the young admirer of the Robbers, who informs Schiller that if he were to meet him in the evening wandering in his loftier mood "beneath some vast old tempest-swinging wood," he would "gaze upon him awhile in mute awe" and then "weep aloud in a wild ecstasy," endangers the reader's gravity not so much by extravagance of diction as by over-effusiveness of sentiment. The former of these two offences differs from the latter by the difference between "fustian" and "gush." And there is, in fact, more frequent exception to be taken to the character of the thought in these poems than to that of the style. The remarkable gift of eloquence, which seems to have belonged to Coleridge from boyhood, tended naturally to aggravate that very common fault of young poets whose faculty of expression has outstripped the growth of their intellectual and emotional experiences—the fault of wordiness. Page after page of the poems of 1796 is filled with what one cannot, on the most favourable terms, rank higher than rhetorical commonplace; stanza after stanza falls pleasantly upon the ear without suggesting any image sufficiently striking to arrest the eye of the imagination, or awakening any thought sufficiently novel to lay hold upon the mind. The Aeolian Harp has been already referred to as a pleasing poem, and reading it, as we must, in constant recollection of the circumstances in which it was written, it unquestionably is so. But in none of the descriptions either of external objects or of internal feeling which are to be found in this and its companion piece, the Reflections on having left a Place of Retirement, is there anything which can fairly be said to elevate them above the level of graceful verse. It is only in the region of the fantastic and supernatural that Coleridge's imagination, as he was destined to show by a far more splendid example two years afterwards, seems to acquire true poetic distinction. It is in the Songs of the Pixies that the young man "heaves the gentle misery of a sigh," and the sympathetic interest of the reader of today is chilled by the too frequent intrusion of certain abstract ladies, each preceded by her capital letter and attended by her "adjective-in-waiting;" but, after all deductions for the conventionalisms of "white-robed Purity," "meek-eyed Pity," "graceful Ease," etc., one cannot but feel that the Songs of the Pixies was the offspring not of a mere abundant and picturesque vocabulary but of a true poetic fancy. It is worth far more as an earnest of future achievement than the very unequal Monody on the Death of Chatterton (for which indeed we ought to make special allowance, as having been commenced in the author's eighteenth year), and certainly than anything which could be quoted from the Effusions, as Coleridge, unwilling to challenge comparison with the divine Bowles, had chosen to describe his sonnets. It must be honestly said indeed that these are, a very few excepted, among the least satisfactory productions of any period of his poetic career. The Coleridgian sonnet is not only imperfect in form and in marked contrast in the frequent bathos of its close to the steady swell and climax of Wordsworth, but, in by far the majority of instances in this volume, it is wanting in internal weight. The "single pebble" of thought which a sonnet should enclose is not only not neatly wrapped up in its envelope of words, but it is very often not heavy enough to carry itself and its covering to the mark. When it is so, its weight, as in the sonnet to Pitt, is too frequently only another word for an ephemeral violence of political feeling which, whether displayed on one side or the other, cannot be expected to reproduce its effect in the minds of comparatively passionless posterity. Extravagances, too, abound, as when in Kosciusko Freedom is made to look as if, in a fit of "wilfulness and sick despair," she had drained a mystic urn containing all the tears that had ever found "fit channel on a Patriot's furrowed cheek." The main difficulty of the metre, too—that of avoiding forced rhymes—is rarely surmounted. Even in the three fine lines in the Burke—-

"Thee stormy Pity and the cherished lure Of Pomp and proud precipitance of soul, Wildered with meteor fires"—

we cannot help feeling that "lure" is extremely harsh, while the weakness of the two concluding lines of the sonnet supplies a typical example of the disappointment which these "effusions" so often prepare for their readers.

Enough, however, has been said of the faults of these early poems; it remains to consider their merits, foremost among which, as might be expected, is the wealth and splendour of their diction in these passages, in which such display is all that is needed for the literary ends of the moment. Over all that wide region of literature, in which force and fervour of utterance, depth and sincerity of feeling avail, without the nameless magic of poetry in the higher sense of the word, to achieve the objects of the writer and to satisfy the mind of the reader, Coleridge ranges with a free and sure footstep. It is no disparagement to his Religious Musings to say that it is to this class of literature that it belongs. Having said this, however, it must be added that poetry of the second order has seldom risen to higher heights of power. The faults already admitted disfigure it here and there. We have "moon blasted Madness when he yells at midnight;" we read of "eye-starting wretches and rapture-trembling seraphim," and the really striking image of Ruin, the "old hag, unconquerable, huge, Creation's eyeless drudge," is marred by making her "nurse" an "impatient earthquake." But there is that in Coleridge's aspirations and apostrophes to the Deity which impresses one even more profoundly than the mere magnificence, remarkable as it is, of their rhetorical clothing. They are touched with so penetrating a sincerity; they are so obviously the outpourings of an awe-struck heart. Indeed, there is nothing more remarkable at this stage of Coleridge's poetic development than the instant elevation which his verse assumes whenever he passes to Divine things. At once it seems to take on a Miltonic majesty of diction and a Miltonic stateliness of rhythm. The tender but low-lying domestic sentiment of the Aeolian Harp is in a moment informed by it with the dignity which marks that poem's close. Apart too from its literary merits, the biographical interest of Religious Musings is very considerable. "Written," as its title declares, but in reality, as its length would suggest and as Mr. Cottle in fact tells us, only completed, "on the Christmas eve of 1794," it gives expression to the tumultuous emotions by which Coleridge's mind was agitated at this its period of highest political excitement. His revolutionary enthusiasm was now at its hottest, his belief in the infant French Republic at its fullest, his wrath against the "coalesced kings" at its fiercest, his contempt for their religious pretence at its bitterest. "Thee to defend," he cries,

"Thee to defend, dear Saviour of mankind! Thee, Lamb of God! Thee, blameless Prince of Peace! From all sides rush the thirsty brood of war— Austria, and that foul Woman of the North, The lustful murderess of her wedded lord, And he, connatural mind! whom (in their songs, So bards of elder time had haply feigned) Some Fury fondled in her hate to man, Bidding her serpent hair in tortuous fold Lick his young face, and at his mouth imbreathe Horrible sympathy!"

This is vigorous poetic invective; and the effect of such outbursts is heightened by the rapid subsidence of the passion that inspires them and the quick advent of a calmer mood. We have hardly turned the page ere denunciations of Catherine and Frederick William give place to prayerful invocations of the Supreme Being, which are in their turn the prelude of a long and beautiful contemplative passage: "In the prim'val age, a dateless while," etc., on the pastoral origin of human society. It is as though some sweet and solemn strain of organ music had succeeded to the blast of war-bugles and the roll of drums. In the Ode to the Departing Year, written in the last days of 1796, with its "prophecy of curses though I pray fervently for blessings" upon the poet's native country, the mood is more uniform in its gloom; and it lacks something, therefore, of those peculiar qualities which make the Religious Musings one perhaps of the most pleasing of all Coleridge's earlier productions. But it shares with the poems shortly to be noticed what may be called the autobiographic charm. The fresh natural emotion of a young and brilliant mind is eternally interesting, and Coleridge's youthful Muse, with a frankness of self- disclosure which is not the less winning because at times it provokes a smile, confides to us even the history of her most temporary moods. It is, for instance, at once amusing and captivating to read in the latest edition of the poems, as a footnote to the lines—

"Not yet enslaved, not wholly vile, O Albion! O my mother isle!"

the words—

"O doomed to fall, enslaved and vile—1796."

Yes; in 1796 and till the end of 1797 the poet's native country was in his opinion all these dreadful things, but, directly the mood changes, the verse alters, and to the advantage, one cannot but think, of the beautiful and often-quoted close of the passage—

"And Ocean mid his uproar wild Speaks safety to his island child. Hence for many a fearless age Has social Quiet loved thy shore, Nor ever proud invader's rage, Or sacked thy towers or stained thy fields with gore."

And whether we view him in his earlier or his later mood there is a certain strange dignity of utterance, a singular confidence in his own poetic mission, which forbids us to smile at this prophet of four-and- twenty who could thus conclude his menacing vaticinations:—

"Away, my soul, away! I, unpartaking of the evil thing, With daily prayer and daily toil Soliciting for food my scanty soil, Have wailed my country with a loud lament. Now I recentre my immortal mind In the deep Sabbath of meek self-content, Cleansed from the vaporous passions which bedim God's image, sister of the Seraphim."

If ever the consciousness of great powers and the assurance of a great future inspired a youth with perfect and on the whole well-warranted fearlessness of ridicule it has surely done so here.

Poetry alone, however, formed no sufficient outlet for Coleridge's still fresh political enthusiasm—an enthusiasm which now became too importunate to let him rest in his quiet Clevedon cottage. Was it right, he cries in his lines of leave-taking to his home, that he should dream away the entrusted hours "while his unnumbered brethren toiled and bled"? The propaganda of Liberty was to be pushed forward; the principles of Unitarianism, to which Coleridge had become a convert at Cambridge, were to be preached. Is it too prosaic to add that what poor Henri Murger calls the "chasse aux piece de cent sous" was in all probability demanding peremptorily to be resumed?

Anyhow it so fell out that in the spring of the year 1796 Coleridge took his first singular plunge into the unquiet waters of journalism, instigated thereto by "sundry philanthropists and anti-polemists," whose names he does not record, but among whom we may conjecturally place Mr. Thomas Poole of Stowey, with whom he had formed what was destined to be one of the longest and closest friendships of his life. Which of the two parties—the advisers or the advised—was responsible for the general plan of this periodical and for the arrangements for its publication is unknown; but one of these last-mentioned details is enough to indicate that there could have been no "business head" among them. Considering that the motto of the Watchman declared the object of its issue to be that "all might know the truth, and that the truth might make them free," it is to be presumed that the promoters of the scheme were not unwilling to secure as many subscribers as possible for their sheet of "thirty-two pages, large octavo, closely printed, price only fourpence." In order, however, to exempt it from the stamp- tax, and with the much less practical object of making it "contribute as little as possible to the supposed guilt of a war against freedom," it was to be published on every eighth day, so that the week-day of its appearance would of course vary with each successive week—an arrangement as ingeniously calculated to irritate and alienate its public as any perhaps that the wit of man could have devised. So, however, it was to be, and accordingly with "a naming prospectus, 'Knowledge is Power,' to cry the state of the political atmosphere," Coleridge set off on a tour to the north, from Bristol to Sheffield, for the purpose of procuring customers, preaching Unitarian sermons by the way in most of the great towns, "as an hireless volunteer in a blue coat and white waistcoat that not a rag of the woman of Babylon might be seen on me." How he sped upon his mission is related by him with infinite humour in the Biographia Literaria. He opened the campaign at Birmingham upon a Calvinist tallow-chandler, who, after listening to half an hour's harangue, extending from "the captivity of the nations" to "the near approach of the millennium," and winding up with a quotation describing the latter "glorious state" out of the Religious Musings, inquired what might be the cost of the new publication. Deeply sensible of "the anti-climax, the abysmal bathos" of the answer, Coleridge replied, "Only fourpence, each number to be published every eighth day," upon which the tallow-chandler observed doubtfully that that came to "a deal of money at the end of the year." What determined him, however, to withhold his patronage was not the price of the article but its quantity, and not the deficiency of that quantity but its excess. Thirty-two pages, he pointed out, was more than he ever read all the year round, and though "as great a one as any man in Brummagem for liberty and truth, and them sort of things, he begged to be excused." Had it been possible to arrange for supplying him with sixteen pages of the paper for twopence, a bargain might no doubt have been struck; but he evidently had a business-like repugnance to anything in the nature of "over-trading." Equally unsuccessful was a second application made at Manchester to a "stately and opulent wholesale dealer in cottons," who thrust the prospectus into his pocket and turned his back upon the projector, muttering that he was "overrun with these articles." This, however, was Coleridge's last attempt at canvassing. His friends at Birmingham persuaded him to leave that work to others, their advice being no doubt prompted, in part at least, by the ludicrous experience of his qualifications as a canvasser which the following incident furnished them. The same tradesman who had introduced him to the patriotic tallow-chandler entertained him at dinner, and, after the meal, invited his guest to smoke a pipe with him and "two or three other illuminati of the same rank." The invitation was at first declined on the plea of an engagement to spend the evening with a minister and his friends, and also because, writes Coleridge, "I had never smoked except once or twice in my lifetime, and then it was herb-tobacco mixed with Oronooko." His host, however, assured him that the tobacco was equally mild, and "seeing, too, that it was of a yellow colour," he took half a pipe of it, "filling the lower half of the bowl," for some unexplained reason, "with salt." He was soon, however, compelled to resign it "in consequence of a giddiness and distressful feeling" in his eyes, which, as he had drunk but a single glass of ale, he knew must have been the effect of the tobacco. Deeming himself recovered after a short interval, he sallied forth to fulfil the evening's engagement; but the symptoms returned with the walk and the fresh air, and he had scarcely entered the minister's drawing-room and opened a packet of letters awaiting him there than he "sank back on the sofa in a sort of swoon rather than sleep." Fortunately he had had time to inform his new host of the confused state of his feelings and of its occasion; for "here and thus I lay," he continues, "my face like a wall that is whitewashing, deathly pale, and with the cold drops of perspiration running down it from my forehead; while one after another there dropped in the different gentlemen who had been invited to meet and spend the evening with me, to the number of from fifteen to twenty. As the poison of tobacco acts but for a short time, I at length awoke from insensibility and looked round on the party, my eyes dazzled by the candles, which had been lighted in the interim. By way of relieving my embarrassment one of the gentlemen began the conversation with: 'Have you seen a paper to-day, Mr. Coleridge?' 'Sir,' I replied, rubbing my eyes, 'I am far from convinced that a Christian is permitted to read either newspapers or any other works of merely political and temporary interest.'" The incongruity of this remark, with the purpose for which the speaker was known to have visited Birmingham, and to assist him in which the company had assembled, produced, as was natural, "an involuntary and general burst of laughter," and the party spent, we are told, a most delightful evening. Both then and afterwards, however, they all joined in dissuading the young projector from proceeding with his scheme, assuring him "in the most friendly and yet most flattering expressions" that the employment was neither fit for him nor he for the employment. They insisted that at any rate "he should make no more applications in person, but carry on the canvass by proxy," a stipulation which we may well believe to have been prompted as much by policy as by good nature. The same hospitable reception, the same dissuasion, and, that failing, the same kind exertions on his behalf, he met with at Manchester, Derby, Nottingham, and every other place he visited; and the result of his tour was that he returned with nearly a thousand names on the subscription list of the Watchman, together with "something more than a half conviction that prudence dictated the abandonment of the scheme." Nothing but this, however, was needed to induce him to persevere with it. To know that a given course of conduct was the dictate of prudence was a sort of presumptive proof to him at this period of life that the contrary was the dictate of duty. In due time, or rather out of due time,—for the publication of the first number was delayed beyond the day announced for it,—the Watchman appeared. Its career was brief—briefer, indeed, than it need have been. A naturally short life was suicidally shortened. In the second number, records Coleridge, with delightful naivete, "an essay against fast-days, with a most censurable application of a text from Isaiah [2] for its motto, lost me near five hundred subscribers at one blow." In the two following numbers he made enemies of all his Jacobin and democratic patrons by playing Balaam to the legislation of the Government, and pronouncing something almost like a blessing on the "gagging bills"—measures he declared which, "whatever the motive of their introduction, would produce an effect to be desired by all true friends of freedom, as far as they should contribute to deter men from openly declaiming on subjects the principles of which they had never bottomed, and from pleading to the poor and ignorant instead of pleading for them." At the same time the editor of the Watchman avowed his conviction that national education and a concurring spread of the Gospel were the indispensable conditions of any true political amelioration. We can hardly wonder on the whole that by the time the seventh number was published its predecessors were being "exposed in sundry old iron shops at a penny a piece."

And yet, like everything which came from Coleridge's hand, this immature and unpractical production has an interest of its own. Amid the curious mixture of actuality and abstract disquisition of which each number of the Watchman is made up, we are arrested again and again by some striking metaphor or some weighty sentence which tells us that the writer is no mere wordy wielder of a facile pen. The paper on the slave trade in the seventh number is a vigorous and, in places, a heart-stirring appeal to the humane emotions. There are passages in it which foreshadow Coleridge's more mature literary manner—the manner of the great pulpit orators of the seventeenth century—in a very interesting way. [3] But what was the use of No. IV containing an effective article like this when No. III. had opened with an "Historical Sketch of the Manners and Religion of the Ancient Germans, introductory to a sketch of the Manners, Religion, and Politics of present Germany"? This to a public who wanted to read about Napoleon and Mr. Pitt! No. III. in all probability "choked off" a good proportion of the commonplace readers who might have been well content to have put up with the humanitarian rhetoric of No. IV., if only for its connection with so unquestionable an actuality as West Indian sugar. It was, anyhow, owing to successive alienations of this kind that on 13th May 1796 the editor of the Watchman was compelled to bid farewell to his few remaining readers in the tenth number of his periodical, for the "short and satisfactory" reason that "the work does not pay its expenses." "Part of my readers," continues Coleridge, "relinquished it because it did not contain sufficient original composition, and a still larger part because it contained too much;" and he then proceeds with that half-humorous simplicity of his to explain what excellent reasons there were why the first of these classes should transfer their patronage to Flower's Cambridge Intelligencer, and the second theirs to the New Monthly Magazine.

It is not, however, for the biographer or the world to regret the short career of the Watchman, since its decease left Coleridge's mind in undivided allegiance to the poetic impulse at what was destined to be the period of its greatest power. In the meantime one result of the episode had been to make a not unimportant addition to his friendships. Mention has already been made of his somewhat earlier acquaintance with Mr. Thomas Poole of Nether Stowey, a man of high intelligence and mark in his time; and it was in the course of his northern peregrinations in search of subscribers that he met with Charles Lloyd. This young man, the son of an eminent Birmingham banker, was so struck with Coleridge's genius and eloquence as to conceive an "ardent desire to domesticate himself permanently with a man whose conversation was to him as a revelation from heaven;" and shortly after the decease of the Watchman he obtained his parents' consent to the arrangement.

Early, therefore, in the year 1797 Coleridge, accompanied by Charles Lloyd, removed to Nether Stowey in Somersetshire, where he occupied a cottage placed at his disposal by Mr. Poole. His first employment in his new abode appears to have been the preparation of the second edition of his poems. In the new issue nineteen pieces of the former publication were discarded and twelve new ones added, the most important of which was the Ode to the Departing Year, which had first appeared in the Cambridge Intelligencer, and had been immediately afterwards republished in a separate form as a thin quarto pamphlet, together with some lines of no special merit "addressed to a young man of fortune" (probably Charles Lloyd), "who abandoned himself to an indolent and causeless melancholy." To the new edition were added the preface already quoted from, and a prose introduction to the sonnets. The volume also contained some poems by Charles Lloyd and an enlarged collection of sonnets and other pieces by Charles Lamb, the latter of whom about the time of its publication paid his first visit to the friend with whom, ever since leaving Christ's Hospital, he had kept up a constant and, to the student of literature, a most interesting correspondence. [4] In June 1797 Charles and Mary Lamb arrived at the Stowey cottage to find their host disabled by an accident which prevented him from walking during their whole stay. It was during their absence on a walking expedition that he composed the pleasing lines—

"The lime-tree bower my prison,"

in which he thrice applies to his friend that epithet which gave such humorous annoyance to the "gentle-hearted Charles." [5]

But a greater than Lamb, if one may so speak without offence to the votaries of that rare humorist and exquisite critic, had already made his appearance on the scene. Some time before this visit of Lamb's to Stowey Coleridge had made the acquaintance of the remarkable man who was destined to influence his literary career in many ways importantly, and in one way decisively. It was in the month of June 1797, and at the village of Racedown in Dorsetshire, that he first met William Wordsworth.


1. The volume contained also three sonnets by Charles Lamb, one of which was destined to have a somewhat curious history.

2. "Wherefore my bowels shall sound like an harp."—Is. xvi. 11.

3. Take for instance this sentence: "Our own sorrows, like the Princes of Hell in Milton's Pandemonium, sit enthroned 'bulky and vast;' while the miseries of our fellow-creatures dwindle into pigmy forms, and are crowded in an innumerable multitude into some dark corner of the heart." Both in character of imagery and in form of structure we have here the germ of such passages as this which one might confidently defy the most accomplished literary "taster" to distinguish from Jeremy Taylor: "Or like two rapid streams that at their first meeting within narrow and rocky banks mutually strive to repel each other, and intermix reluctantly and in tumult, but soon finding a wider channel and more yielding shores, blend and dilate and flow on in one current and with one voice."—Biog. Lit. p. 155.

4. Perhaps a "correspondence" of which only one side exists may be hardly thought to deserve that name. Lamb's letters to Coleridge are full of valuable criticism on their respective poetical efforts. Unfortunately in, it is somewhat strangely said, "a fit of dejection" he destroyed all Coleridge's letters to him.

5. Lamb's Correspondence with Coleridge, Letter XXXVII.


Coleridge and Wordsworth—Publication of the Lyrical Ballads—The Ancient Mariner—The first part of Christabel—Decline of Coleridge's poetic impulse- Final review of his poetry.


The years 1797 and 1798 are generally and justly regarded as the blossoming-time of Coleridge's poetic genius. It would be scarcely an exaggeration to say that they were even more than this, and that within the brief period covered by them is included not only the development of the poet's powers to their full maturity but the untimely beginnings of their decline. For to pass from the poems written by Coleridge within these two years to those of later origin is like passing from among the green wealth of summer foliage into the well-nigh naked woods of later autumn. During 1797 and 1798 the Ancient Mariner, the first part of Christabel, the fine ode to France, the Fears in Solitude, the beautiful lines entitled Frost at Midnight, the Nightingale, the Circassian Love-Chant, the piece known as Love from the poem of the Dark Ladie, and that strange fragment Kubla Khan, were all of them written and nearly all of them published; while between the last composed of these and that swan-song of his dying Muse, the Dejection, of 1802, there is but one piece to be added to the list of his greater works. This therefore, the second part of Christabel (1800), may almost be described by the picturesque image in the first part of the same poem as

"The one red leaf, the last of its clan, Hanging so light and hanging so high, On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky."

The first to fail him of his sources of inspiration was his revolutionary enthusiasm; and the ode to France—the Recantation, as it was styled on its first appearance in the Morning Post—is the record of a reaction which, as has been said, was as much speedier in Coleridge's case than in that of the other ardent young minds which had come under the spell of the Revolution as his enthusiasm had been more passionate than theirs. In the winter of 1797-98 the Directory had plunged France into an unnatural conflict with her sister Republic of Switzerland, and Coleridge, who could pardon and had pardoned her fierce animosity against a country which he considered not so much his own as Pitt's, was unable to forgive her this. In the Recantation he casts her off for ever; he perceives at last that true liberty is not to be obtained through political, but only through spiritual emancipation; that—

"The sensual and the dark rebel in vain, Slaves by their own compulsion! In mad game They burst their manacles, and wear the name Of Freedom graven on a heavier chain";

and arrives in a noble peroration at the somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion, that the spirit of liberty, "the guide of homeless winds and playmate of the waves," is to be found only among the elements, and not in the institutions of man. And in the same quaintly ingenuous spirit which half touches and half amuses us in his earlier poems he lets us perceive a few weeks later, in his Fears in Solitude, that sympathy with a foreign nation threatened by the invader may gradually develop into an almost filial regard for one's own similarly situated land. He has been deemed, he says, an enemy of his country.

"But, O dear Britain! O my mother Isle,"

once, it may be remembered, "doomed to fall enslaved and vile," but now—

"Needs must them prove a name most dear and holy, To me a son, a brother, and a friend, A husband and a father! who revere All bonds of natural love, and find them all Within the limits of thy rocky shores."

After all, it has occurred to him, England is not only the England of Pitt and Grenville, and in that capacity the fitting prey of the insulted French Republic: she is also the England of Sara Coleridge, and little Hartley, and of Mr. Thomas Poole of Nether Stowey. And so, to be sure, she was in 1796 when her downfall was predicted, and in the spirit rather of the Old Testament than of the New. But there is something very engaging in the candour with which the young poet hastens to apprise us of this his first awakening to the fact.

France may be regarded as the last ode, and Fears in Solitude as the last blank-verse poem of any importance, that owe their origin to Coleridge's early political sentiments. Henceforth, and for the too brief period of his poetic activity, he was to derive his inspiration from other sources. The most fruitful and important of these was unquestionably his intercourse with Wordsworth, from whom, although there was doubtless a reciprocation of influence between them, his much more receptive nature took a far deeper impression than it made. [1] At the time of their meeting he had already for some three years been acquainted with Wordsworth's works as a poet, and it speaks highly for his discrimination that he was able to discern the great powers of his future friend, even in work so immature in many respects as the Descriptive Sketches. It was during the last year of his residence at Cambridge that he first met with these poems, of which he says in the Biographia Literaria that "seldom, if ever, was the emergence of an original poetic genius above the literary horizon more evidently announced;" and the effect produced by this volume was steadily enhanced by further acquaintance both with the poet and his works. Nothing, indeed, is so honourably noticeable and even touching in Coleridge's relation to his friend as the tone of reverence with which, even in the days of his highest self-confidence and even almost haughty belief in the greatness of his own poetic mission, he was accustomed to speak of Wordsworth. A witness, to be more fully cited hereafter, and whose testimony is especially valuable as that of one who was by no means blind to Coleridge's early foible of self- complacency, has testified to this unbounded admiration of his brother- poet. "When," records this gentleman, "we have sometimes spoken complimentarily to Coleridge of himself he has said that he was nothing in comparison with Wordsworth." And two years before this, at a time when they had not yet tested each other's power in literary collaboration, he had written to Cottle to inform him of his introduction to the author of "near twelve hundred lines of blank verse, superior, I dare aver, to anything in our language which in any way resembles it," and had declared with evident sincerity that he felt "a little man" by Wordsworth's side.

His own impression upon his new friend was more distinctively personal in its origin. It was by Coleridge's total individuality, by the sum of his vast and varied intellectual powers, rather than by the specific poetic element contained in them, that Wordsworth, like the rest of the world indeed, was in the main attracted; but it is clear enough that this attraction was from the first most powerful. On that point we have not only the weighty testimony of Dorothy Wordsworth, as conveyed in her often-quoted description [2] of her brother's new acquaintance, but the still more conclusive evidence of her brother's own acts. He gave the best possible proof of the fascination which had been exercised over him by quitting Racedown with his sister for Alfoxden near Nether Stowey within a few weeks of his first introduction to Coleridge, a change of abode for which, as Miss Wordsworth has expressly recorded, "our principal inducement was Coleridge's society."

By a curious coincidence the two poets were at this time simultaneously sickening for what may perhaps be appropriately called the "poetic measles." They were each engaged in the composition of a five-act tragedy, and read scenes to each other, and to each other's admiration, from their respective dramas. Neither play was fortunate in its immediate destiny. Wordsworth's tragedy, the Borderers, was greatly commended by London critics and decisively rejected by the management of Covent Garden. As for Coleridge, the negligent Sheridan did not even condescend to acknowledge the receipt of his manuscript; his play was passed from hand to hand among the Drury Lane Committee; but not till many years afterwards did Osorio find its way under another name to the footlights.

For the next twelvemonth the intercourse between the two poets was close and constant, and most fruitful in results of high moment to English literature. It was in their daily rambles among the Quantock Hills that they excogitated that twofold theory of the essence and functions of poetry which was to receive such notable illustration in their joint volume of verse, the Lyrical Ballads; it was during a walk over the Quantock Hills that by far the most famous poem of that series, the Ancient Mariner, was conceived and in part composed. The publication of the Lyrical Ballads in the spring of the year 1798 was, indeed, an event of double significance for English poetry. It marked an epoch in the creative life of Coleridge, and a no less important one in the critical life of Wordsworth. In the Biographia Literaria the origination of the plan of the work is thus described:—

"During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbours our conversation turned frequently on the two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of the imagination. The sudden charm which accidents of light and shade, which moonlight or sunset diffused over a known and familiar landscape appeared to represent the practicability of combining both. These are the poetry of nature. The thought suggested itself (to which of us I do not recollect) that a series of poems might be composed of two sorts. In the one the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the interest aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real.... For the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life; the characters and incidents were to be such as will be found in every village and its vicinity where there is a meditative and feeling mind to seek after them, or to notice them when they present themselves. In this idea originated the plan of the Lyrical Ballads, in which it was agreed that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith. Mr. Wordsworth, on the other hand, was to propose to himself, as his object, to give the charm of novelty to things of everyday, and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural by awakening the mind's attention from the lethargy of custom and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us; an inexhaustible treasure, but for which, in consequence of the film of familiarity and selfish solicitude, we have eyes which see not, ears that hear not, and hearts which neither feel nor understand."

We may measure the extent to which the poetic teaching and practice of Wordsworth have influenced subsequent taste and criticism by noting how completely the latter of these two functions of poetry has overshadowed the former. To lend the charm of imagination to the real will appear to many people to be not one function of poetry merely but its very essence. To them it is poetry, and the only thing worthy of the name; while the correlative function of lending the force of reality to the imaginary will appear at best but a superior kind of metrical romancing, or clever telling of fairy tales. Nor of course can there, from the point of view of the highest conception of the poet's office, be any comparison between the two. In so far as we regard poetry as contributing not merely to the pleasure of the mind but to its health and strength—in so far as we regard it in its capacity not only to delight but to sustain, console, and tranquillise the human spirit— there is, of course, as much difference between the idealistic and the realistic forms of poetry as there is between a narcotic potion and a healing drug. The one, at best, can only enable a man to forget his burdens; the other fortifies him to endure them. It is perhaps no more than was naturally to be expected of our brooding and melancholy age, that poetry (when it is not a mere voluptuous record of the subjective impressions of sense) should have become almost limited in its very meaning to the exposition of the imaginative or spiritual aspect of the world of realities; but so it is now, and so in Coleridge's time it clearly was not. Coleridge, in the passage above quoted, shows no signs of regarding one of the two functions which he attributes to poetry as any more accidental or occasional than the other; and the fact that the realistic portion of the Lyrical Ballads so far exceeded in amount its supernatural element, he attributes not to any inherent supremacy in the claims of the former to attention but simply to the greater industry which Wordsworth had displayed in his special department of the volume. For his own part, he says, "I wrote the Ancient Mariner, and was preparing, among other poems, the Dark Ladie and the Christabel, in which I should have more nearly realised my ideal than I had done in my first attempt. But Mr. Wordsworth's industry had proved so much more successful, and the number of the poems so much greater, that my compositions, instead of forming a balance, appeared rather an interpolation of heterogeneous matter." There was certainly a considerable disparity between the amount of their respective contributions to the volume, which, in fact, contained nineteen pieces by Wordsworth and only four by Coleridge. Practically, indeed, we may reduce this four to one; for, of the three others, the two scenes from Osorio are without special distinction, and the Nightingale, though a graceful poem, and containing an admirably-studied description of the bird's note, is too slight and short to claim any importance in the series. But the one long poem which Coleridge contributed to the collection is alone sufficient to associate it for ever with his name. Unum sed leonem. To any one who should have taunted him with the comparative infertility of his Muse he might well have returned the haughty answer of the lioness in the fable, when he could point in justification of it to the Rime of the Ancient Marinere.

There is, I may assume, no need at the present day to discuss the true place in English literature of this unique product of the human imagination. One is bound, however, to attempt to correlate and adjust it to the rest of the poet's work, and this, it must be admitted, is a most difficult piece of business. Never was there a poem so irritating to a critic of the "pigeon-holing" variety. It simply defies him; and yet the instinct which he obeys is so excusable, because in fact so universal, that one feels guilty of something like disloyalty to the very principles of order in smiling at his disappointment. Complete and symmetrical classification is so fascinating an amusement; it would simplify so many subjects of study, if men and things would only consent to rank themselves under different categories, and remain there; it would, in particular, be so inexpressibly convenient to be able to lay your hand upon your poet whenever you wanted him by merely turning to a shelf labelled "Realistic" or "Imaginative" (nay, perhaps, to the still greater saving of labour—Objective or Subjective), that we cannot be surprised at the strength of the aforesaid instinct in many a critical mind. Nor should it be hard to realise its revolt against those single exceptions which bring its generalisations to nought. When the pigeon-hole will admit every "document" but one, the case is hard indeed; and it is not too much to say that the Ancient Mariner is the one document which the pigeon-hole in this instance declines to admit. If Coleridge had only refrained from writing this remarkable poem, or if, having done so, he had written more poems like it, the critic might have ticketed him with a quiet mind, and gone on his way complacent. As it is, however, the poet has contrived in virtue of this performance not only to defeat classification but to defy it. For the weird ballad abounds in those very qualities in which Coleridge's poetry with all its merits is most conspicuously deficient, while on the other hand it is wholly free from the faults with which he is most frequently and justly chargeable. One would not have said in the first place that the author of Religious Musings, still less of the Monody on the Death of Chatterton, was by any means the man to have compassed triumphantly at the very first attempt the terseness, vigour, and naivete of the true ballad-manner. To attain this, Coleridge, the student of his early verse must feel, would have rather more to retrench and much more to restrain than might be the case with many other youthful poets. The exuberance of immaturity, the want of measure, the "not knowing where to stop," are certainly even more conspicuous in the poems of 1796 than they are in most productions of the same stage of poetic development; and these qualities, it is needless to say, require very stern chastening from him who would succeed in the style which Coleridge attempted for the first time in the Ancient Mariner.

The circumstances of this immortal ballad's birth have been related with such fulness of detail by Wordsworth, and Coleridge's own references to them are so completely reconcilable with that account, that it must have required all De Quincey's consummate ingenuity as a mischief-maker to detect any discrepancy between the two.

In the autumn of 1797, records Wordsworth in the MS. notes which he left behind him, "Mr. Coleridge, my sister, and myself started from Alfoxden pretty late in the afternoon with a view to visit Linton and the Valley of Stones near to it; and as our united funds were very small, we agreed to defray the expense of the tour by writing a poem to be sent to the New Monthly Magazine. Accordingly we set off, and proceeded along the Quantock Hills towards Watchet; and in the course of this walk was planned the poem of the Ancient Mariner, founded on a dream, as Mr. Coleridge said, of his friend Mr. Cruikshank. Much the greatest part of the story was Mr. Coleridge's invention, but certain parts I suggested; for example, some crime was to be committed which should bring upon the Old Navigator, as Coleridge afterwards delighted to call him, the spectral persecution, as a consequence of that crime and his own wanderings. I had been reading in Shelvocke's Voyages, a day or two before, that while doubling Cape Horn they frequently saw albatrosses in that latitude, the largest sort of sea-fowl, some extending their wings twelve or thirteen feet. 'Suppose,' said I, 'you represent him as having killed one of these birds on entering the South Sea, and that the tutelary spirits of these regions take upon them to avenge the crime.' The incident was thought fit for the purpose, and adopted accordingly. I also suggested the navigation of the ship by the dead men, but do not recollect that I had anything more to do with the scheme of the poem. The gloss with which it was subsequently accompanied was not thought of by either of us at the time, at least not a hint of it was given to me, and I have no doubt it was a gratuitous afterthought. We began the composition together on that to me memorable evening. I furnished two or three lines at the beginning of the poem, in particular—

"'And listened like a three years' child: The Mariner had his will.'

"These trifling contributions, all but one, which Mr. C. has with unnecessary scrupulosity recorded,[3] slipped out of his mind, as they well might. As we endeavoured to proceed conjointly (I speak of the same evening) our respective manners proved so widely different that it would have been quite presumptuous in me to do anything but separate from an undertaking upon which I could only have been a clog.... The Ancient Mariner grew and grew till it became too important for our first object, which was limited to our expectation of five pounds; and we began to think of a volume which was to consist, as Mr. Coleridge has told the world, of poems chiefly on supernatural subjects." Except that the volume ultimately determined on was to consist only "partly" and not "chiefly" of poems on supernatural subjects (in the result, as has been seen, it consisted "chiefly" of poems upon natural subjects), there is nothing in this account which cannot be easily reconciled with the probable facts upon which De Quincey bases his hinted charge against Coleridge in his Lake Poets. It was not Coleridge who had been reading Shelvocke's Voyages, but Wordsworth, and it is quite conceivable, therefore, that the source from which his friend had derived the idea of the killing of the albatross may (if indeed he was informed of it at the time) have escaped his memory twelve years afterwards, when the conversation with De Quincey took place. Hence, in "disowning his obligations to Shelvocke," he may not by any means have intended to suggest that the albatross incident was his own thought. Moreover, De Quincey himself supplies another explanation of the matter, which we know, from the above-quoted notes of Wordsworth's, to be founded upon fact. "It is possible," he adds, "from something which Coleridge said on another occasion, that before meeting a fable in which to embody his ideas he had meditated a poem on delirium, confounding its own dream- scenery with external things, and connected with the imagery of high latitudes." Nothing, in fact, would be more natural than that Coleridge, whose idea of the haunted seafarer was primarily suggested by his friend's dream, and had no doubt been greatly elaborated in his own imagination before being communicated to Wordsworth at all, should have been unable, after a considerable lapse of time, to distinguish between incidents of his own imagining and those suggested to him by others. And, in any case, the "unnecessary scrupulosity," rightly attributed to him by Wordsworth with respect to this very poem, is quite incompatible with any intentional denial of obligations.

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