C. V. Le Grice.
P. S.—I was a witness to the breathless delight with which he hastened to give his friends intelligence of his success. The following lines, in his "Verses written in Early Youth," are a memorial of the pleasure, which he felt in the sympathy of one who was then most dear to him:—
"With faery wand, O bid the maid arise, Chaste joyance dancing in her bright blue eyes, As erst, when, from the Muse's calm abode, I came with learning's meed not unbestowed."
See Poems, Edit. 1805, p. 34.
He wrote, to my certain knowledge, for the prize in the ensuing year; but it was most deservedly given to Keate's beautiful Ode. The subject Laus Astronomiae. No one was more convinced of the propriety of the decision than Coleridge himself. He used to repeat Ramsden's Greek Ode on Gibraltar, and Smith's Latin one on Mare Liberum, with incessant rapture. It would have been his glory to have caught their spirit,—he was absorbed in these things. A Classical Tripos would have changed Coleridge's destiny."—Gentleman's Magazine, Dec. 1834.
* * * * *
The reader's attention will now be directed to Mr. Coleridge, after he left Malta, when he visited Bristol, in the year 1807. I accidentally learned that Mr. C. had returned to England, not in good health, and that he was at Mr. Poole's, when I addressed a letter to him, expressing a hope that his health would soon allow him to pay me a visit, in Bristol. To this letter he thus replied:
On my return to Bristol, whenever that may be, I will certainly give you the right hand of old fellowship; but, alas! you will find me the wretched wreck of what you knew me, rolling, rudderless. My health is extremely bad. Pain I have enough of, but that is indeed to me, a mere trifle, but the almost unceasing, overpowering sensations of wretchedness: achings in my limbs, with an indescribable restlessness, that makes action to any available purpose, almost impossible: and worst of all, the sense of blighted utility, regrets, not remorseless. But enough; yea, more than enough; if these things produce, or deepen the conviction of the utter powerlessness of ourselves, and that we either perish, or find aid from something that passes understanding.
S. T. C."
The preceding letter of Mr. Coleridge led me to anticipate a worse state of health, on his arrival in Bristol, than appearances authorized. I knew nothing of opium, and was pleased to notice the clearness of his understanding, as well as much struck with the interesting narratives he gave of Malta, Italy, and his voyage to England. I knew that Mr. C. was somewhat in the habit of accommodating his discourse to the sentiments of the persons with whom he was conversing; but his language was now so pious and orthodox, that the contrast between his past and present sentiments was most noticeable. He appeared quite an improved character, and was about, I thought, to realise the best hopes of his friends. I found him full of future activity, projecting new works, and particularly a 'New Review,' of which he himself was to be the Editor! At this time not one word was said about opium, Colerton, Ottery, or Mrs. Coleridge, and I thought the prospect never appeared so cheering.
In my state of exultation, I invited Mr. Foster to come to Bristol, from Frome, to renew his acquaintance with the improved and travelled Mr. Coleridge. Mr. Tester's reply is here given.
"Frome, June, 1807.
My dear sir,
I am very unfortunate in having made an engagement, two or three weeks back, to go just at this time on a very particular occasion, to a distant place in this county, and therefore being deprived of the very high luxury to which you so kindly invite me. I shall be unavoidably detained, for a very considerable time, and my imagination will strongly represent to me the pleasure and advantage of which an inevitable necessity deprives me. But I will indulge the hope, that I shall sometime be known to Mr. Coleridge, under more favourable circumstances, in a literary respect, than I can at present, after a regular application to the severer order of studies shall in some measure have retrieved the consequences of a very loose and indolent intellectual discipline, and shall have lessened a certain feeling of imbecility which always makes me shrink from attempting to gain the notice of men whose talents I admire.
No man can feel a more animated admiration of Mr. Coleridge than I have retained ever since the two or three times that I was a little while in his company; and during his absence in the south and the east, I have very often thought with delight of the immense acquisitions which he would at length bring back to enrich the works, which I trust the public will in due time receive from him, and to which it has an imperious claim. And still I trust he will feel the solemn duty of making his very best and continued efforts to mend as well as delight mankind, now that he has attained the complete mastery and expansion of his admirable powers. You do not fail, I hope, to urge him to devote himself strenuously to literary labour. He is able to take a station amongst the most elevated ranks, either of the philosophers or the poets. Pray tell me what are his immediate intentions, and whether he has any important specific undertaking in hand. For the sake of elegant literature, one is very glad, that he has had the opportunity of visiting those most interesting scenes and objects which you mention. Will you express to him in the strongest terms, my respect and my animated wishes for his health, his happiness, and his utility. You can inform me what is the nature of that literary project to which you allude. Tell me also, what is the state and progress of your own literary projects, and, I hope I may say, labours. I behaved shabbily about some slight remarks which I was to have ventured on Mr. Southey's 'Madoc,' in the 'Eclectic Review.' On reading the critiques in the 'Edinburgh Review,' on 'Thalaba' and 'Madoc,' I found what were substantially my own impressions, so much better developed than I could have done, that I instantly threw my remarks away. Let me hear from you when you have half an hour of leisure, and believe me to be, with every kind remembrance to your most excellent, family, my dear sir,
Most cordially yours,
To Joseph Cottle."
Some weeks after, Mr. Coleridge called on me; when, in the course of conversation, he entered into some observations on his own character, that made him appear unusually amiable. He said that he was naturally very arrogant; that it was his easily besetting sin; a state of mind which he ascribed to the severe subjection to which he had been exposed, till he was fourteen years of age, and from which, his own consciousness of superiority made him revolt. He then stated that he had renounced all his Unitarian sentiments; that he considered Unitarianism as a heresy of the worst description; attempting in vain, to reconcile sin and holiness; the world and heaven; opposing the whole spirit of the Bible; and subversive of all that truly constituted christianity. At this interview he professed his deepest conviction of the truth of Revelation; of the Fall of Man; of the Divinity of Christ, and redemption alone through his blood. To hear these sentiments so explicitly avowed, gave me unspeakable pleasure, and formed a new, and unexpected, and stronger bond of union.
A long and highly interesting theological conversation; followed, in which Mr. C. proved, that, however weak his body, the intellectual vigour of his mind was unimpaired. He exhibited, also, more sobriety of manner than I had before noticed in him, with an improved and impressive maturity in his reflections, expressed in his happiest language; and which, could it have been accurately recorded, would have adorned the most splendid of his pages;—so rare and pre-eminent was the powerful and spontaneous utterance with which this gifted son of genius was endowed.
Mr. Coleridge, at his next visit, related to me some of his Italian adventures; one or two of which I here introduce.
After quitting Malta, he had landed in Sicily, and visited Etna; his ascent up whose side, to the crater, he graphically described, with some striking features; but as this is a subject proverbially enlarged upon by all travellers, I waive further notice, and proceed to state, that Mr. C. after leaving Sicily passed over to the south of Italy, and journeyed on to Rome.
Shortly after Mr. Coleridge had arrived in this city, he attracted some notice amongst the literati, as an English "Man of Letters." Cardinal Fesch, in particular, was civil, and sought his company; but that which was more remarkable, Jerome Buonaparte was then a resident at Rome, and Mr. C.'s reputation becoming known to him, he sent for him, and after showing him his palace, pictures, &c. thus generously addressed him: "Sir, I have sent for you to give you a little candid advice. I do not know that you have said, or written anything against my brother Napoleon, but as an Englishman, the supposition is not unreasonable. If you have, my advice is, that you leave Italy as soon as you possibly can!"
This hint was gratefully received, and Mr. Coleridge soon after quitted Rome, in the suite of Cardinal Fesch. From his anxiety to reach England, he proceeded to Leghorn, where a circumstance occurred which will excite every reader's sympathy. Mr. Coleridge had journeyed to this port, where he rather hoped, than expected to find some conveyance, through the medium of a neutral, that should waft him to the land, "more prised than ever." The hope proved delusive. The war was now raging between England and France, and Buonaparte being lord of the ascendant in Italy, Mr. Coleridge's situation became insecure, and even perilous. To obtain a passport was impossible; and as Mr. C. had formerly rendered himself obnoxious to the great Captain by some political papers, he was in daily and hourly expectation of being incarcerated in an Italian prison, which would have been the infallible road to death!
In half despair of ever again seeing his family and friends, and under the constant dread of apprehension by the emissaries of the Tuscan government, or French spies; he went out one morning to look at some ruins in the neighbourhood of Leghorn, in a state of despondency, where, certainty, however terrible, would have been almost preferable to suspense. While musing on the ravages of time, he turned his eye, and observed at a little distance, a seafaring looking man, musing in silence, like himself, on the waste around. Mr. Coleridge advanced towards him, supposing, or at least deeming it possible, that he also might be mourning his captivity, and commenced a discourse with him; when he found that the stranger was an American captain, whose ship was then in the harbour, and on the point of sailing for England.
This information sent joy into his heart; but he testified no emotion, determined to obtain the captain's good will, by showing him all the civilities in his power, as a preliminary to any future service the captain might be disposed to render him, whether the power were united with the disposition or not. This showed adroitness, with great knowledge of human nature; and more winning and captivating manners than those of Mr. C. when called forth, were never possessed by mortal! In conformity with this almost forlorn hope, Mr. Coleridge explained to the American captain the history of the ruin; read to him some of the half defaced Latin and Italian inscriptions, and concluded with extolling General Washington, and predicting the stability of the Union. The right keys, treble and tenor, were touched at the same moment. "Pray young man," said the captain, "who are you?" Mr. C. replied, "I am a poor unfortunate Englishman, with a wife and family at home; but I am afraid I shall never see them more! I have no passport, nor means of escape; and, to increase my sorrow, I am in daily dread of being thrown into jail, when those I love will not have the last pleasure of knowing that I am dead!" The captain's heart was touched. He had a wife and family at a distance. "My young man," said he, "what is your name?" The reply was, "Samuel Taylor Coleridge." "Poor young man," answered the captain. "You meet me at this place to-morrow morning, exactly at ten o'clock." So saying, the captain withdrew, Mr. C. stood musing on the singular occurrence, in which there was something inexplicable. His discernment of the stranger's character convinced him there existed no under plot, but still there was a wide space between probability and certainty. On a balance of circumstances, he still thought all fair, and, at the appointed hour, repaired to the interior of the ruins.
No captain was there; but in a few minutes he appeared, and, hastening up to Mr. Coleridge, exclaimed exultingly, "I have got your passport!" "How! What!" said Mr. C. almost overpowered by his feelings. "Ask me no questions," replied the captain; "you are my steward, and you shall sail away with me to-morrow morning!" He continued, giving him his address, "You come to my house to-morrow early, when I will provide you with a jacket and trowsers, and you shall follow me to the ship with a basket of vegetables" In short, thus accoutred, he did follow the captain to the ship the next morning; and in three hours fairly sailed out of Leghorn harbour, triumphantly on his course to England!
As soon as the ship had cleared the port, Mr. Coleridge hastened down to the cabin, and cried, "my dear captain, tell me how you obtained my passport?" Said the captain, very gravely, "Why, I went to the authorities, and swore that you were an American, and my steward! I swore also, that I knew your father and mother; that they lived in a red-brick house, about half a mile out of New York, on the road to Boston!"
It is gratifying to add, that this benevolent little-scrupulous captain refused to accept any thing from Mr. C. for his passage to England; and, behaved in many other respects, with the same uniform kindness. During the voyage, Mr. Coleridge told me, he was attacked with a dangerous illness, when he thought he should have died, but for the "good captain," who attended him with the solicitude of a father. Mr. C. also said, had he known what the captain was going to swear, whatever the consequences might have been, he would have prevented him.
The following long letter will be read with interest.
To pursue our last conversation. Christians expect no outward or sensible miracles from prayer. Its effects, and its fruitions are spiritual, and accompanied says that true Divine, Archbishop Leighton, 'not by reasons and arguments, but by an inexpressible kind of evidence, which they only know who have it.'
To this I would add, that even those who, like me I fear, have not attained it, yet may presume it. First, because reason itself, or rather mere human nature, in any dispassionate moment, feels the necessity of religion, but if this be not true there is no religion, no religation, or binding over again; nothing added to reason, and therefore Socinianism, misnamed Unitarianism, is not only not Christianity, it is not even religion, it does not religate; does not bind anew. The first outward and sensible result of prayer is, a penitent resolution, joined with a consciousness of weakness in effecting it, yea even a dread, too well grounded, lest by breaking and falsifying it, the soul should add guilt to guilt; by the very means it has taken to escape from guilt; so pitiable is the state of unregenerate man.
Are you familiar with Leighton's Works? He resigned his archbishoprick, and retired to voluntary poverty on account of the persecutions of the Presbyterians, saying, 'I should not dare to introduce christianity itself with such cruelties, how much less for a surplice, and the name of a bishop.' If there could be an intermediate space between inspired, and uninspired writings, that space would be occupied by Leighton. No show of learning, no appearance, or ostentatious display of eloquence, and yet both may be shown in him, conspicuously and holily. There is in him something that must be felt, even as the scriptures must be felt.
You ask me my views of the Trinity. I accept the doctrine, not as deduced from human reason, in its grovelling capacity for comprehending spiritual things, but as the clear revelation of Scripture. But perhaps it may be said, the Socinians do not admit this doctrine as being taught in the bible. I know enough of their shifts and quibbles, with their dexterity at explaining away all they dislike, and that is not a little, but though beguiled once by them, I happily for my own peace of mind, escaped from their sophistries, and now hesitate not to affirm, that Socinians would lose all character for honesty, if they were to explain their neighbour's will with the same latitude of interpretation, which they do the Scriptures.
I have in my head some floating ideas on the Logos, which I hope, hereafter, to mould into a consistent form; but it is a gross perversion of the truth, in Socinians, to declare that we believe in three gods; and they know it to be false. They might, with equal justice affirm that we believe in three suns. The meanest peasant, who has acquired the first rudiments of christianity, would shrink back from a thing so monstrous. Still the Trinity has its difficulties. It would be strange if otherwise. A Revelation that revealed nothing, not within the grasp of human reason!—no religation, no binding over again, as before said; but these difficulties are shadows, contrasted with the substantive and insurmountable obstacles, with which they contend who admit the Divine authority of Scripture, with the superlative excellence of Christ, and yet undertake to prove that these Scriptures teach, and that Christ taught his own pure humanity.
If Jesus Christ was merely a man, if he was not God as well as man, be it considered, he could not have been even a good man. There is no medium. The SAVIOUR in that case was absolutely a deceiver! one, transcendantly unrighteous! in advancing pretensions to miracles, by the 'Finger of God,' which he never performed; and by asserting claims, (as a man) in the most aggravated sense, blasphemous. These consequences, Socinians, to be consistent, must allow, and which impious arrogation of Divinity in Christ, according to their faith, as well as his false assumption of a community of 'glory' with the Father, 'before the world was,' even they will be necessitated completely to admit the exoneration of the Jews, according to their law, in crucifying one, who 'being a man,' 'made himself God!' But in the Christian, rather than in the Socinian, or Pharisaic view, all these objections vanish, and harmony succeeds to inexplicable confusion. If Socinians hesitate in ascribing unrighteousness to Christ, the inevitable result of their principles, they tremble, as well they might, at their avowed creed, and virtually renounce what they profess to uphold.
The Trinity, as Bishop Leighton has well remarked, is 'a doctrine of faith, not of demonstration,' except in a moral sense. If the New Testament declare it, not in an insulated passage, but through the whole breadth of its pages, rendering, with any other admission, the book which is the christian's anchor-hold of hope, dark and contradictory, then it is not to be rejected, but on a penalty that reduces to an atom, all the sufferings this earth can inflict.
Let the grand question be determined.—Is, or is not the bible inspired? No one book has ever been subjected to so rigid an investigation as the Bible, by minds the most capacious, and in the result, which has so triumphantly repelled all the assaults of infidels. In the extensive intercourse which I have had with this class of men, I have seen their prejudices surpassed only by their ignorance. This I found particularly the case in Dr. Darwin, (p. 1-85.) the prince of their fraternity. Without therefore, stopping to contend on what all dispassionate men must deem undebatable ground, I may assume inspiration as admitted; and equally so, that it would be an insult to man's understanding, to suppose any other revelation from God than the christian scriptures. If these Scriptures, impregnable in their strength, sustained in their pretensions, by undeniable prophecies and miracles, and by the experience of the inner man, in all ages, as well as by a concatenation of arguments, all bearing upon one point, and extending with miraculous consistency, through a series of fifteen hundred years; if all this combined proof does not establish their validity, nothing can be proved under the sun; but the world and man must be abandoned, with all its consequences, to one universal scepticism! Under such sanctions, therefore, if these scriptures, as a fundamental truth, do inculcate the doctrine of the Trinity; however surpassing human comprehension; then I say, we are bound to admit it on the strength of moral demonstration.
The supreme Governor of the world and the Father of our spirits, has seen fit to disclose to us much of his will, and the whole of his natural and moral perfections. In some instances he has given his word only, and demanded our faith; while on other momentous subjects, instead of bestowing full revelation, like the Via Lactea, he has furnished a glimpse only, through either the medium of inspiration, or by the exercise of those rational faculties with which he has endowed us. I consider the Trinity as substantially resting on the first proposition, yet deriving support from the last.
I recollect when I stood on the summit of Etna, and darted my gaze down the crater; the immediate vicinity was discernible, till, lower down, obscurity gradually terminated in total darkness. Such figures exemplify many truths revealed in the Bible. We pursue them, until, from the imperfection of our faculties, we are lost in impenetrable night. All truths, however, that are essential to faith, honestly interpreted; all that are important to human conduct, under every diversity of circumstance, are manifest as a blazing star. The promises also of felicity to the righteous in the future world, though the precise nature of that felicity may not be defined, are illustrated by every image that can swell the imagination; while the misery of the lost, in its unutterable intensity, though the language that describes it is all necessarily figurative, is there exhibited as resulting chiefly, if not wholly, from the withdrawment of the light of God's countenance, and a banishment from his presence! best comprehended in this world by reflecting on the desolations, which would instantly follow the loss of the sun's vivifying and universally diffused warmth.
You, or rather all, should remember that some truths from their nature, surpass the scope of man's limited powers, and stand as the criteria of faith, determining by their rejection, or admission, who among the sons of men can confide in the veracity of heaven. Those more ethereal truths, of which the Trinity is conspicuously the chief, without being circumstantially explained, may be faintly illustrated by material objects. The eye of man cannot discern the satellites of Jupiter, nor become sensible of the multitudinous stars, whose rays have never reached our planet, and consequently garnish not the canopy of night; yet are they the less real, because their existence lies beyond man's unassisted gaze? The tube of the philosopher, and the celestial telescope,—the unclouded visions of heaven will confirm the one class of truths, and irradiate the other.
The Trinity is a subject on which analogical reasoning may advantageously be admitted, as furnishing, at least a glimpse of light, and with this, for the present, we must be satisfied. Infinite Wisdom deemed clearer manifestations inexpedient; and is man to dictate to his Maker? I may further remark, that where we cannot behold a desirable object distinctly, we must take the best view we can; and I think you, and every candid enquiring mind, may derive assistance from such reflections as the following.
Notwithstanding the arguments of Spinosa, and Des Cartes, and other advocates of the Material system, or, in more appropriate language, the Atheistical system! it is admitted by all men, not prejudiced, not biased by sceptical prepossessions, that mind is distinct from matter. The mind of man, however, is involved in inscrutable darkness, (as the profoundest metaphysicians well know) and is to be estimated, if at all, alone by an inductive process; that is, by its effects. Without entering on the question, whether an extremely circumscribed portion of the mental process, surpassing instinct, may or may not be extended to quadrupeds, it is universally acknowledged, that the mind of man alone, regulates all the actions of his corporeal frame. Mind, therefore, may be regarded as a distinct genus, in the scale ascending above brutes, and including the whole of intellectual existences; advancing from thought, that mysterious thing! in its lowest form, through all the gradations of sentient and rational beings, till it arrives at a Bacon, a Newton; and then, when unincumbered by matter, extending its illimitable sway through Seraph and Archangel, till we are lost in the GREAT INFINITE!
Is it not deserving of notice, as an especial subject of meditation, that our limbs, in all they do or can accomplish, implicitly obey the dictation of the mind? that this operating power, whatever its name, under certain limitations, exercises a sovereign dominion not only over our limbs, but over our intellectual pursuits? The mind of every man is evidently the fulcrum, the moving force,—which alike regulates all his limbs and actions: and in which example, we find a strong illustration of the subordinate nature of mere matter. That alone which gives direction to the organic parts of our nature, is wholly mind; and one mind if placed over a thousand limbs, could, with undiminished ease, control and regulate the whole.
This idea is advanced on the supposition that one mind could command an unlimited direction over any given number of limbs, provided they were all connected by joint and sinew. But suppose, through some occult and inconceivable means, these limbs were dis-associated, as to all material connexion; suppose, for instance, one mind with unlimited authority, governed the operations of two separate persons, would not this substantially, be only one person, seeing the directing principle was one? If the truth here contended for, be admitted, that two persons, governed by one mind, is incontestably one person; the same conclusion would be arrived at, and the proposition equally be justified, which affirmed that, three, or otherwise four persons, owning also necessary and essential subjection to one mind, would only be so many diversities or modifications of that one mind, and therefore, the component parts virtually collapsing into one whole, the person would be one. Let any man ask himself, whose understanding can both reason and become the depository of truth, whether, if one mind thus regulated with absolute authority, three, or otherwise four persons, with all their congeries of material parts, would not these parts inert in themselves, when subjected to one predominant mind, be in the most logical sense, one person? Are ligament and exterior combination indispensable pre-requisites to the sovereign influence of mind over mind? or mind over matter?
But perhaps it may be said, we have no instance of one mind governing more than one body. This may be, but the argument remains the same. With a proud spirit, that forgets its own contracted range of thought, and circumscribed knowledge, who is to limit the sway of Omnipotence? or presumptuously to deny the possibility of that Being, who called light out of darkness, so to exalt the dominion of one mind, as to give it absolute sway over other dependant minds, or (indifferently) over detached, or combined portions of organized matter? But if this superinduced quality be conferable on any order of created beings, it is blasphemy to limit the power of God, and to deny his capacity to transfuse his own Spirit, when and to whom he will.
This reasoning may now be applied in illustration of the Trinity. We are too much in the habit of viewing our Saviour Jesus Christ, through the medium of his body. 'A body was prepared for him,' but this body was mere matter; as insensible in itself as every human frame when deserted by the soul. If therefore the Spirit that was in Christ, was the Spirit of the Father; if no thought, no vibration, no spiritual communication, or miraculous display, existed in, or proceeded from Christ, not immediately and consubstantially identified with Jehovah, the Great First cause; if all these operating principles were thus derived, in consistency alone with the conjoint divine attributes; if this Spirit of the Father ruled and reigned in Christ as his own manifestation, then in the strictest sense, Christ exhibited 'the Godhead bodily,' and was undeniably 'one with the Father;' confirmatory of the Saviour's words: 'Of myself, (my body) I can do nothing, the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.'
But though I speak of the body as inert in itself, and necessarily allied to matter, yet this declaration must not be understood as militating against the christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body. In its grosser form, the thought is not to be admitted, for 'flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,' but that the body, without losing its consciousness and individuality, may be subjected by the illimitable power of omnipotence, to a sublimating process, so as to be rendered compatible with spiritual association, is not opposed to reason, in its severe abstract exercises, while in attestation of this exhilarating belief, there are many remote analogies in nature exemplifying the same truth, while it is in the strictest accordance with that final dispensation, which must, as christians, regulate all our speculations. I proceed now to say, that
If the postulate be thus admitted, that one mind influencing two bodies, would only involve a diversity of operations, but in reality be one in essence; or otherwise as an hypothetical argument, illustrative of truth, if one preeminent mind, or spiritual subsistence, unconnected with matter, possessed an undivided and sovereign dominion over two or more disembodied minds, so as to become the exclusive source of all their subtlest volitions and exercises, the unity, however complex the modus of its manifestation, would be fully established; and this principle extends to Deity itself, and shows the true sense, as I conceive, in which Christ and the Father are one.
In continuation of this reasoning, if God who is light, the Sun of the moral world, should in his union of infinite wisdom, power, and goodness, and from all eternity, have ordained that an emanation from himself,—for aught we know, an essential emanation, as light is inseparable from the luminary of day—should not only have existed in his Son, in the fulness of time to be united to a mortal body, but that a like emanation from himself, also perhaps essential, should have constituted the Holy Spirit, who, without losing his ubiquity, was more especially sent to this lower earth, by the Son, at the impulse of the Father, then in the most comprehensive sense, God, and his Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, are ONE. 'Three persons in one God,' and thus form the true Trinity in Unity.
To suppose that more than one independent power, or governing mind, exists in the whole universe, is absolute Polytheism, against which the denunciations of all the Jewish and Christian canonical books were directed. And if there be but ONE directing MIND, that mind is God! operating however, in three persons, according to the direct and uniform declarations of that inspiration which 'brought life and immortality to light.' Yet this divine doctrine of the Trinity is to be received, not because it is or can be clear to finite apprehension, but, in reiteration of the argument, because the Scriptures, in their unsophisticated interpretation expressly state it. The Trinity, therefore, from its important aspects, and biblical prominence, is the grand article of faith, and the foundation of the whole christian system.
Who can say, as Christ and the Holy Ghost proceeded from, and are still one with the Father, and as all the disciples of Christ derive their fulness from him, and, in spirit, are inviolately united to him as a branch is to the vine, who can say, but that in one view, what was once mysteriously separated, may as mysteriously, be re-combined, and, without interfering with the everlasting Trinity, and the individuality of the spiritual and seraphic orders, the Son at the consummation of all things, deliver up his mediatorial kingdom to the Father, and God, in some peculiar and infinitely sublime sense, become all in all! God love you,
S. T. Coleridge."
In a former page, Mr. Coleridge has been represented as entertaining sentiments in early life, approaching to, though not identified with, those of Unitarians; on his return to Bristol, in the year 1807, a complete reverse had taken place in his theological tenets. Reflection and reading, particularly the bible, had taught him, as he said, the unstable foundation on which Unitarians grounded their faith; and in proportion as orthodox sentiments acquired an ascendancy in his mind, a love of truth compelled him to oppose his former errors, and stimulated him, by an explicit declaration of his religious views, to counteract those former impressions, which his cruder opinions had led him once so strenuously to enforce on all around.
The editor of Mr. Coleridge's "Table Tails," has conferred an important benefit on the public, by preserving so many of his familiar conversations, particularly those on the important subject of Unitarianism. Few men ever poured forth torrents of more happily-expressed language, the result of more matured reflection, in his social intercourse, than Mr. Coleridge; and at this time, the recollection is accompanied with serious regret, that I allowed to pass unnoticed so many of his splendid colloquies, which, could they be recalled, would exhibit his talents in a light equally favourable with his most deliberately-written productions.
I did indeed take notes of one of his conversations, on his departure from a supper party, and which I shall subjoin, because the confirmed general views, and individual opinions of so enlarged a mind must command attention; especially when exercised on subjects intrinsically important. I however observe, that my sketch of the conversation must be understood as being exceedingly far from doing justice to the original.
At this time I was invited to meet Mr. Coleridge with a zealous Unitarian minister. It was natural to conclude, that such uncongenial, and, at the same time, such inflammable materials would soon ignite. The subject of Unitarianism having been introduced soon after dinner, the minister avowed his sentiments, in language that was construed into a challenge, when Mr. Coleridge advanced at once to the charge, by saying "Sir, you give up so much, that the little you retain of Christianity is not worth keeping." We looked in vain for a reply. After a manifest internal conflict, the Unitarian minister very prudently allowed the gauntlet to remain undisturbed. Wine he thought more pleasant than controversy.
Shortly after this occurrence, Mr. Coleridge supped with the writer, when his well known conversational talents were eminently displayed; so that what Pope affirmed of Bolingbroke, that "his usual conversation, taken down verbatim, from its coherence and accuracy, would have borne printing, without correction," was fully, and perhaps, more justly applicable to Mr. C.
Some of his theological observations are here detailed. He said, he had recently had a long conversation with an Unitarian minister, who declared, that, he could discover nothing in the New Testament which in the least favoured the Divinity of Christ, to which Mr. C. replied that it appeared to him impossible for any man to read the New Testament, with the common exercise of an unbiassed understanding, without being convinced of the Divinity of Christ, from the testimony almost of every page.
He said it was evident that different persons might look at the same object with very opposite feelings. For instance, if Sir Isaac Newton looked at the planet Jupiter, he would view him with his revolving moons, and would be led to the contemplation of his being inhabited, which thought would open a boundless field to his imagination: whilst another person, standing perhaps at the side of the great philosopher, would look at Jupiter with the same set of feelings that he would at a silver sixpence. So some persons were wilfully blind, and did not seek for that change, that preparation of the heart and understanding, which would enable them to see clearly the gospel truth.
He said that Socinians believed no more than St. Paul did before his conversion: for the Pharisees believed in a Supreme Being, and a future state of rewards and punishments. St. Paul thought he ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. The saints he shut up in prison, having received authority from the High Priest, and when they were put to death, he gave his voice against them. But after his conversion, writing to the Romans, he says, 'I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation unto every man that believeth: to the Jew first, and also to the Gentiles.'
He then referred to the dreadful state of the literati in London, as it respects religion, and of their having laughed at him, and believed him to be in jest, when he professed his belief in the Bible.
Having introduced Mr. Davy to Mr. C. some years before, I inquired for him with some anxiety, and expressed a hope that he was not tinctured with the prevailing scepticism since his removal from Bristol to London. Mr. C. assured me that he was not: that his heart and understanding were not the soil for infidelity. I then remarked, "During your stay in London, you doubtless saw a great many of what are called 'the cleverest men,' how do you estimate Davy, in comparison with these?" Mr. Coleridge's reply was strong, but expressive. "Why, Davy could eat them all! There is an energy, an elasticity in his mind, which enables him to seize on, and analyze, all questions, pushing them to their legitimate consequences. Every subject in Davy's mind has the principle of vitality. Living thoughts spring up like the turf under his feet." With equal justice, Mr. Davy entertained the same exalted opinion of Mr. Coleridge.
Mr. C. now changed the subject, and spoke of Holcroft; who he said was a man of but small powers, with superficial, rather than solid talents, and possessing principles of the most horrible description; a man who at the very moment he denied the existence of a Deity, in his heart believed and trembled. He said that Holcroft, and other Atheists, reasoned with so much fierceness and vehemence against a God, that it plainly showed they were inwardly conscious there was a GOD to reason against; for, a nonentity would never excite passion.
He said that in one of his visits to London, he accidentally met Holcroft in a public office without knowing his name, when he began, stranger as he was, the enforcement of some of his diabolical sentiments! which, it appears, he was in the habit of doing, at all seasons, and in all companies; by which he often corrupted the principles of those simple persons who listened to his shallow, and worn-out impieties. Mr. C. declared himself to have felt indignant at conduct so infamous, and at once closed with the "prating atheist," when they had a sharp encounter. Holcroft then abruptly addressed him, "I perceive you have mind, and know what you are talking about. It will be worth while to make a convert of you. I am engaged at present, but if you vrill call on me to-morrow morning, giving him his card, I will engage, in half an hour, to convince you there is no God!"
Mr. Coleridge called on him the next morning, when the discussion was renewed, but none being present except the disputants, no account is preserved of this important conversation; but Mr. C. affirmed that he beat all his arguments to atoms; a result that none who knew him could doubt. He also stated that instead of his being converted to atheism, the atheist himself, after his manner, was converted; for the same day he sent Mr. C. a letter, saying his reasoning was so clear and satisfactory, that he had changed his views and was now "a theist." The next sun probably beheld him an atheist again; but whether he called himself this or that, his character was the same.
Soon after the foregoing incident, Mr. Coleridge said, he found himself in a large party, at the house of a man of letters, amongst whom to his surprise, he saw Mr. and Mrs. Holcroft, when, to incite to a renewal of their late dispute, and before witnesses, (in the full consciousness of strength) Mr. C. enforced the propriety of teaching children, as soon as they could articulate, to lisp the praises of their Maker; "for," said he, "though they can, form no correct idea of God, yet they entertain a high opinion of their father, and it is an easy introduction to the truth, to tell them that their Heavenly Father is stronger, and wiser, and better, than their earthly father."
The whole company looked at Mr. Holcroft, implying that now was the time for him to meet a competent opponent, and justify sentiments which he had so often triumphantly advanced. They looked in vain. He maintained, to their surprise, a total silence, well remembering the severe castigation he had so recently received. But a very different effect was produced on Mrs. Holcroft. She indignantly heard, and giving vent to her passion and her tears, said, she was quite surprised at Mr. Coleridge talking in that way before her, when he knew that both herself and Mr. Holcroft were atheists!
Mr. C. spoke of the unutterable horror he felt, when Holcroft's son, a boy eight years of age, came up to him and said, "There is no God!" So that these wretched parents, alike father and mother, were as earnest in inculcating atheism on their children, as christian parents are in inspiring their offspring with respect for religious truth.
Actions are often the best illustration of principles. Mr. Coleridge also stated the following circumstance, notorious at the time, as an evidence of the disastrous effects of atheism. Holcroft's tyrannical conduct toward his children was proverbial. An elder son, with a mind embued with his father's sentiments, from extreme severity of treatment, had run away from his paternal roof, and entered on board a ship. Holcroft pursued his son, and when the fugitive youth saw his father in a boat, rowing toward the vessel, rather than endure his frown and his chastisement, he seized a pistol, and blew his brains out!
An easy transition having been made to the Bible, Mr. C. spoke of our Saviour with an utterance so sublime and reverential, that none could have heard him without experiencing an accession of love, gratitude, and adorations to the Great Author of our salvation. He referred to the Divinity of Christ, as a truth, incontestable to all who admitted the inspiration, and consequent authority of Scripture. He particularly alluded to the 6th of John, v. 15. "When Jesus perceived that they would come and take him by force to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain 'alone.'" He said it characterized the low views, and worldly-mindedness of the Jews, that, after they had seen the miracles of Jesus Christ, and heard his heavenly doctrine, and had been told that his kingdom was not of this world, they should think of conferring additional honour on him, by making him their King! He departed from these little views and scenes, by night, to a neighbouring mountain, and there, in the spirit of prescience, meditated on his approaching crucifixion; on that attendant guilt, which would bring on the Jews, wrath to the uttermost, and terminate their impieties, by one million of their race being swept from the face of the earth.
Mr. C. noticed Doddridge's works with great respect, particularly his "Rise and Progress of Religion." He thought favourably of Lord Rochester's conversion as narrated by Burnet; spoke of Jeremy Taylor in exalted terms, and thought the compass of his mind discovered itself in none of his works more than in his "Life of Christ," extremely miscellaneous as it was. He also expressed the strongest commendation of Archbishop Leighton, whose talents were of the loftiest description, and which were, at the same time, eminently combined with humility. He thought Bishop Burnet's high character of Leighton justly deserved, and that his whole conduct and spirit were more conformed to his Divine Master, than almost any man on record.
I now proceed to say, it was with extreme reluctance that the Unitarians in Bristol resigned their champion, especially as other defections had recently occurred in their community, and that among the more intellectual portion of their friends. Although the expectation might be extravagant, they still cherished the hope, however languid, that Mr. C. after some oscillations, would once more bestow on them his suffrage; but an occurrence took place, which dissipated the last vestige of this hope, and formed between them a permanent wall of separation.
Mr. Coleridge was lecturing in Bristol, surrounded by a numerous audience, when, in referring to the "Paradise Regained," he said that Milton had clearly represented Satan, as a "sceptical Socinian." This was regarded as a direct and undisguised declaration of war. It so happened that indisposition prevented me from attending that lecture, but I received from Mr. C. directly after, a letter, in which he thus writes:
"... Mr. —— I find is raising the city against me, as far as he and his friends can, for having stated a mere matter of fact; viz. that Milton had represented Satan as a sceptical Socinian; which is the case; and I could not have explained the excellence of the sublimest single passage in all his writings, had I not previously informed the audience, that Milton had represented Satan, as knowing the Prophetic and Messianic character of Christ, but was sceptical as to any higher claims. And what other definition could Mr. —— himself give of a sceptical Socinian? (with this difference indeed, that Satan's faith somewhat exceeded that of Socinians.) Now that Satan has done so, will you consult 'Paradise Regained,' Book IV. from line 196, and the same Book, from line 500."
It is of consequence that Mr. Coleridge's later sentiments on the subject of Socinianism should be given; but as I had no opportunity of ascertaining what those sentiments were, it was satisfactory to learn from the testimony of Mr. C.'s "Table Talk," that his last and maturest opinions were, to the fullest, confirmatory of those expressed by him in these pages.
The following letter was written by Mr. Coleridge, to Mr. George Fricker, his brother-in-law; it is believed in 1807. Mr. F. died 1828; pious and respected.
My dear young friend,
I am sorry that you should have felt any delicacy in disclosing to me your religious feelings, as rendering it inconsistent with your tranquillity of mind to spend the Sunday evening with me. Though I do not find in that book, which we both equally revere, any command, either express, or which I can infer, which leads me to attach any criminality to cheerful and innocent social intercourse on the Lord's day; though I do not find that it was in the least degree forbidden to the Jews on their Sabbath; and though I have been taught by Luther, and the great founders of the Church of England, that the Sabbath was a part of the ceremonial and transitory parts of the law given by heaven to Moses; and that our Sunday is binding on our consciences, chiefly from its manifest and most awful usefulness, and indeed moral necessity; yet I highly commend your firmness in what you think right, and assure you solemnly, that I esteem you greatly for it. I would much rather that you should have too much, than an atom too little. I am far from surprised that, having seen what you have seen, and suffered what you have suffered, you should have opened your soul to a sense of our fallen nature; and the incapability of man to heal himself. My opinions may not be in all points the same as yours; but I have experienced a similar alteration. I was for many years a Socinian; and at times almost a Naturalist, but sorrow, and ill health, and disappointment in the only deep wish I had ever cherished, forced me to look into myself; I read the New Testament again, and I became fully convinced, that Socinianism was not only not the doctrine of the New Testament, but that it scarcely deserved the name of a religion in any sense. An extract from a letter which I wrote a few months ago to a sceptical friend, who had been a Socinian, and of course rested all the evidences of christianity on miracles, to the exclusion of grace and inward faith, will perhaps, surprise you, as showing you how much nearer our opinions are than what you must have supposed. 'I fear that the mode of defending christianity, adopted by Grotius first; and latterly, among many others, by Dr. Paley, has increased the number of infidels;—never could it have been so great, if thinking men had been habitually led to look into their own souls, instead of always looking out, both of themselves, and of their nature. If to curb attack, such as yours on miracles, it had been answered:—"Well, brother! but granting these miracles to have been in part the growth of delusion at the time, and of exaggeration afterward, yet still all the doctrines will remain untouched by this circumstance, and binding on thee. Still mast thou repent and be regenerated, and be crucified to the flesh; and this not by thy own mere power; but by a mysterious action of the moral Governor on thee; of the Ordo-ordinians, the Logos, or Word. Still will the eternal filiation, or Sonship of the Word from the Father; still will the Trinity of the Deity, the redemption, and the thereto necessary assumption of humanity by the Word, 'who is with God, and is God,' remain truths: and still will the vital head-and-heart FAITH in these truths, be the living and only fountain of all true virtue. Believe all these, and with the grace of the spirit consult your own heart, in quietness and humility, they will furnish you with proofs, that surpass all understanding, because they are felt and known; believe all these I say, so as that thy faith shall be not merely real in the acquiescence of the intellect; but actual, in the thereto assimilated affections; then shalt thou KNOW from God, whether or not Christ be of God. But take notice, I only say, the miracles are extra essential; I by no means deny their importance, much less hold them useless, or superfluous. Even as Christ did, so would I teach; that is, build the miracle on the faith, not the faith on the miracle."
May heaven bless you, my dear George, and
Your affectionate friend,
S. T. C."
In the intervening time, between the receipt of Mr. C.'s last letter, and his calling on me, I received a note from a lady, an old friend, begging permission to introduce to me, a clever young man of her acquaintance, whom she even so honoured as to call "A little John Henderson;" concerning whom, this young man wished to make inquiries. An invitation immediately followed, and the lady introduced to me, young Mr. De Quincey. Several interviews followed, each exhibiting his talents in a more favourable view, till I was satisfied he would either shine in literature, or, with steady perseverance, acquire eminence in either of the professions.
He made many inquiries respecting John Henderson, of whose learning, and surprising attainments, he had heard much. After conversing long on this subject, Mr. De Q. asked me if I knew any thing of Mr. Coleridge's pecuniary affairs. I replied, "I am afraid he is a legitimate son of genius." He asked if I thought he would accept a hundred or two pounds. I answered, I could not tell, but that I expected shortly to see him, when, if he seriously desired to learn, I would ascertain what the state of his finances was, and let him know. This he said, was his particular wish.
When Mr. Coleridge called on me, and the extended conversation had occurred, before stated, I asked him concerning his circumstances. He confessed that he had some present difficulties, which oppressed his mind. He said that all the money he had received from his office in Malta, as secretary to Sir Alexander Ball, had been expended in Italy, and on his way home. I then told him, that a young man of fortune, who admired his talents, had inquired of me, if I thought he would accept the present of a hundred or two pounds, "and I now ask you," said I, "that question, that I may return an answer." Mr. Coleridge rose from his seat. He appeared much oppressed, and agitated, and, after a short silence, he turned to me, and said. "Cottle I will write to you. We will change the subject." The next day I received from Mr. C. the following letter.
"My dear Cottle,
Independent of letter-writing, and a dinner engagement with C. Danvers, I was the whole of yesterday till evening, in a most wretched restlessness of body and limbs, having imprudently discontinued some medicines, which are now my anchor of hope. This morning I dedicate to certain distant calls on Dr. Beddoes and Colston, at Clifton, not so much for the calls themselves, as for the necessity of taking brisk exercise.
But no unforeseen accident intervening, I shall spend the evening with you from seven o'clock.
I will now express my sentiments on the important subject communicated to you. I need not say it has been the cause of serious meditation. Undoubtedly, calamities have so thickened on me for the last two years, that the pecuniary pressures of the moment, are the only serious obstacles at present to my completion of those works, which, if completed, would make me easy. Besides these, I have reason for belief that a Tragedy of mine will be brought on the stage this season, the result of which is of course only one of the possibilities of life, on which I am not fool enough to calculate.
Finally therefore, if you know that any unknown benefactor is in such circumstances, that, in doing what he offers to do, he transgresses no duty of morals, or of moral prudence, and does not do that from feeling, which after reflection might perhaps discountenance, I shall gratefully accept it, as an unconditional loan, which I trust I shall be able to restore at the close of two years. This however, I shall be able to know at the expiration of one year, and shall then beg to know the name of my benefactor, which I should then only feel delight in knowing, when I could present to him some substantial proof, that I have employed the tranquillity of mind, which his kindness has enabled me to enjoy, in sincere desires to benefit my fellow men. May God bless you.
S. T. C."
Soon after the receipt of this letter, (on my invitation) Mr. De Quincey called on me. I said, I understood from Mr. Coleridge himself, that he laboured under embarrassments. "Then" said he, "I will give him five hundred pounds." "Are you serious?" I said. He replied, "I am." I then inquired, "Are you of age?" He said "I am." I then asked, "Can you afford it?" He answered, "I can," and continued, "I shall not feel it." I paused. "Well" I said, "I can know nothing of your circumstances but from your own statement, and not doubting its accuracy, I am willing to become an agent, in any way you prescribe." Mr. De Quincey then said, "I authorise you, to ask Mr. Coleridge, if he will accept from a gentleman, who admires his genius, the sum of five hundred pounds, but remember, he continued, I absolutely prohibit you from naming to him, the source whence it was derived." I remarked; "To the latter part of your injunction, if you require it, I will accede, but although I am deeply interested in Mr. Coleridge's welfare, yet a spirit of equity compels me to recommend you, in the first instance, to present Mr. C. with a smaller sum, and which, if you see it right, you can at any time, augment." Mr. De Quincey then replied, "Three hundred pounds, I will give him, and you will oblige me by making this offer of mine to Mr. Coleridge." I replied, "I will." I then gave him Mr. Coleridge's letter, requesting him to put it in his pocket, and read it at his leisure. Soon after, I received the following communication from Mr. De Quincey.
"My dear Sir,
I will write for the three hundred pounds to-morrow. I am not able to say anything farther at present, but will endeavour to call on you in a day or two. I am very sincerely, and with many thanks for your trouble in this affair,
Thomas De Quincey."
In a day or two, Mr. De Quincey enclosed me the three hundred pounds, when I received from Mr. Coleridge, the following receipt, which I still retain.
"November 12, 1807. Received from Mr. Joseph Cottle, the sum of three hundred pounds, presented to me, through him, by an unknown friend.
S. T. Coleridge."
I have been thus particular in detailing the whole of this affair, so honourable to Mr. De Quincey; and, as I was the communicating agent, I thought it right, on this occasion, to give publicity to the transaction, on the principle of doing justice to all. Notwithstanding the prohibition, some indirect notices from myself, could have left no doubt with Mr. C. of the source of this handsome gift.
It is singular, that a little before this time, (1807) Mr. Coleridge had written to his friend Mr. Wade a melancholy letter, detailing his embarrassed circumstances; so that Mr. De Quincey's L300 must have been received at an acceptable time!
* * * * *
No date determines when the following letter was written: supposed, 1807.
"My dear Cottle,
... The common end of all narrative, nay, of all poems is, to convert a series into a whole, to make those events, which, in real or imagined history, move on in a straight line, assume to our understandings a circular motion—the snake with its tail in its mouth. Hence, indeed, the almost flattering and yet appropriate term, Poesy, i. e. Poieses—making. Doubtless, to His eye, which alone comprehends all past and all future, in one eternal, what to our short sight appears straight, is but a part of the great cycle, just as the calm sea to us appears level, though it be indeed only a part of the globe. Now what the globe is in geography, miniaturing in order to manifest the truth, such is a poem to that image of God, which we were created into, and which still seeking that unity, or revelation of the one, in and by the many, which reminds it, that though in order to be an individual being, it must go farther from God; yet as the receding from him, is to proceed toward nothingness and privation, it must still at every step turn back toward him, in order to be at all. A straight line continually retracted, forms of necessity a circular orbit. Now God's will and word CANNOT be frustrated. His fiat was, with ineffable awfulness, applied to man, when all things, and all living things, and man himself, (as a mere animal) included, were called forth by the Universal, 'Let there be,' and then the breath of the Eternal superadded, to make an immortal spirit—immortality being, as the author of the 'Wisdom of Soloman' profoundly expresses it, 'the only possible reflex, or image of eternity.' The immortal finite is the contracted shadow of the eternal Infinite. Therefore nothingness, or death, to which we move, as we recede from God and from the Word, cannot be nothing; but that tremendous medium between nothing and true being, which Scripture and inmost reason present as most, most horrible!
S. T. C."
The following letter to Mr. Wade has no date.
"Tuesday night, i. e. Wednesday morning.
My best and dearest friend,
I have barely time to scribble a few lines, so as not to miss the post, for here as every where, there are charitable people, who, taking for granted that you have no business of your own, would save from the pain of vacancy, by employing you in theirs.
As to the letter you propose to write to a man who is unworthy even of a rebuke from you, I might most unfeignedly object to some parts of it, from a pang of conscience forbidding me to allow, even from a dear friend, words of admiration, which are inapplicable in exact proportion to the power given to me of having deserved them, if I had done my duty.
It is not of comparative utility I speak: for as to what has been actually done, and in relation to useful effects produced, whether on the minds of individuals, or of the public, I dare boldly stand forward, and (let every man have his own, and that be counted mine which, but for, and through me, would not have existed) will challenge the proudest of my literary contemporaries to compare proofs with me, of usefulness in the excitement of reflection, and the diffusion of original or forgotten, yet necessary and important truths and knowledge; and this is not the less true, because I have suffered others to reap all the advantages. But, O dear friend, this consciousness, raised by insult of enemies, and alienated friends, stands me in little stead to my own soul, in how little then, before the all-righteous Judge! who, requiring back the talents he had entrusted, will, if the mercies of Christ do not intervene, not demand of me what I have done, but why I did not do more; why, with powers above so many, I had sunk in many things below most! But this is too painful, and in remorse we often waste the energy which should be better employed in reformation—that essential part, and only possible proof, of sincere repentance....
May God bless you, and your affectionate friend,
S. T. Coleridge."
Toward the end of 1807, Mr. Coleridge left Bristol, and I saw nothing more of him for another seven years, that is, till 1814. All the leading features in Mr. Coleridge's life, during these two septennial periods, will no doubt, be detailed by others. My undertaking recommences in 1814. Some preliminary remarks must precede the narrative, which has now arrived at an important part.
Neither to clothe the subject of biography with undeserved applause, nor unmerited censure, but to present an exact portraiture, is the object which ought scrupulously to be aimed at by every impartial writer. Is it expedient; is it lawful; to give publicity to Mr. Coleridge's practice of inordinately taking opium? which, to a certain extent, at one part of his life, inflicted on a heart naturally cheerful, the stings of conscience, and sometimes almost the horrors of despair? Is it right, in reference to one who has passed his ordeal, to exhibit sound principles, habitually warring with inveterate and injurious habits; producing for many years, an accumulation of bodily suffering, that wasted the frame; poisoned the sources of enjoyment; entailed, in the long retinue of ills, dependence and poverty, and with all these, associated that which was far less bearable, an intolerable mental load, that scarcely knew cessation?
In the year 1814, all this, I am afflicted to say, applied to Mr. Coleridge. The question to be determined is, whether it be best or not, to obey the first impulse of benevolence, and to throw a mantle over these dark and appalling occurrences, and, since the sufferer has left this stage of existence, to mourn in secret, and consign to oblivion the aberrations of a frail mortal? This was my first design, but other thoughts arose. If the individual were alone concerned, the question would be decided; but it might almost be said, that the world is interested in the disclosures connected with this part of Mr. Coleridge's life. His example forms one of the most impressive memorials the pen ever recorded; so that thousands hereafter, may derive instruction from viewing in Mr. C. much to approve, and in other features of his character, much also to regret and deplore. Once Mr. Coleridge expressed to me, with indescribable emotion, the joy he should feel, if he could collect around him all who were "beginning to tamper with the lulling, but fatal draught;" so that he might proclaim as with a trumpet, "the worse than death that opium entailed." I must add, if he could now speak from his grave, retaining his earthly, benevolent solicitude for the good of others, with an emphasis that penetrated the heart, he would doubtless utter, "Let my example be a warning!"
This being my settled conviction, it becomes in me a duty, with all practicable mildness, to give publicity to the following facts; in which censure will often be suspended by compassion, and every feeling be absorbed in that of pity; in which, if the veil be removed, it will only be, to present a clear and practical exemplification of the consequences that progressively follow indulgences in, what Mr. Coleridge latterly denominated, "the accursed drug!"
To soften the repugnance which might, pardonably, arise in the minds of some of Mr. G.'s friends, it is asked, whether it be not enough to move a breast of adamant, to behold a man of Mr. Coleridge's genius, spell-bound by his narcotic draughts? deploring, as he has done, in his letters to myself, the destructive consequences of opium; writhing under its effects,—so injurious to mind, body, and estate; submitting to the depths of humiliation and poverty, and all this for a season at least, accompanied with no effectual effort to burst his fetters, and assume the station in society which became his talents; but on the contrary, submitting patiently to dependence, and grovelling where he ought to soar!
Another powerful reason, which should reconcile the friends of Mr. Coleridge to this detail of his destructive habits, arises from the recollection that the pain given to their minds, is present and temporary. They should wisely consider that, though they regret, their regrets, like themselves, as time rolls on, are passing away! but the example,—this clear, full, incontestable example, remains! And who can estimate the beneficial consequences of this undisguised statement to numerous succeeding individuals? It is consolatory to believe, that had I written nothing else, this humble but unflinching narrative would be an evidence that I had not lived in vain.
When it is considered also, how many men of high mental endowments, have shrouded their lustre, by a passion for this stimulus, and thereby, prematurely, become fallen spirits: would it not be a criminal concession to unauthorized feelings, to allow so impressive an exhibition of this subtle species of intemperance to escape from public notice; and, that no discredit might attach to the memory of the individual we love, to conceal an example, fraught with so much instruction, brought out into full display? In the exhibition here made, the inexperienced, in future, may learn a memorable lesson, and be taught to shrink from opium, as they would from a scorpion; which, before it destroys, invariably expels peace from the mind, and excites the worst species of conflict, that of setting a man at war with himself.
The most expressive and pungent of all Mr. Coleridge's self-upbraidings, is that, in which he thrills the inmost heart, by saying, with a sepulchral solemnity, "I have learned what a sin is against an infinite, imperishable being, such as is the soul of man!" And yet, is this, and such as this, to be devoted to forgetfulness, and all be sacrificed, lest some friend, disdaining utility, should prefer flattery to truth? A concession to such advice would be treachery and pusillanimity combined, at which none would so exult as the spirits of darkness.
If some of the preceding language should be deemed too strong, by those who take but a contracted view of the subject, and who would wish to screen the dead, rather than to improve the living, let them judge what their impressions would be, in receiving, like myself, at this time, the communications from Mr. C. which will subsequently appear, and then dispassionately ask themselves, whether such impressive lessons of instruction ought to be doomed to oblivion.
* * * * *
The following letter to Mr. Wade, has no date, but the post-mark determines it to have been Dec. 8, 1813.
"... Since my arrival at the Greyhound, Bath, I have been confined to my bed-room, almost to my bed. Pray for my recovery, and request Mr. Roberts's prayers, for my infirm, wicked heart; that Christ may mediate to the Father, to lead me to Christ, and give me a living instead of a reasoning faith! and for my health, so far only as it may be the condition of my improvement, and final redemption.
My dear affectionate friend, I am your obliged, and grateful, and affectionate, friend,
S. T. Coleridge."
I now proceed further to notice Mr. Coleridge's reappearance in Bristol.
Mr. C. had written from London in the year 1814, to a friend in Bristol, to announce that he was coming down to give a course of Lectures on Shakspeare, such as he had delivered at the Royal Institution, London, and expressing a hope that his friends would obtain for him as many subscribers as they could. Great efforts were made to obtain these subscribers, and the lectures were accordingly advertised, to commence at the time appointed by the lecturer, and the place specified with the day and hour; of the whole of which arrangement Mr. C. had received due notice, and expressed his approval.
On the morning on which the lectures were to begin, a brother of Mr. George Cumberland, (a gentleman well known in the literary world, residing in Bristol,) arrived in this city from London, on a visit to his brother, and casually said to him, "I came as far as Bath with one of the most amusing men I ever met with. At the White Horse, Piccadilly, he entered the coach, when a jew boy came up with pencils to sell. This amusing gentleman asked the boy a few questions, when his answers being what he thought unusually acute, the gentleman said, 'that boy is not where he ought to be. He has talent, and if I had not an important engagement at Bristol to-morrow, I would not mind the loss of my fare, but would stay a day or two in London to provide some better condition for him.' He then called the waiter; wrote to a gentleman in the neighbourhood, with a pencil, urging him to patronize the bearer; gave the boy five shillings, and sent him, with the waiter, according to the address of the note."
This same gentleman, he said, talked incessantly for thirty miles out of London, in the most entertaining way, and afterwards, with little intermission, till they arrived about Marlborough, when he discovered that the lady who was in the coach with them, was the sister of a particular friend of his. "On our arrival at Bath," said the brother, "this entertaining gentleman observed to me, 'I must here quit you, as I am determined not to leave this lady, who is going into North Wales, till I have seen her safe at her brother's door;' so here the amusing gentleman left us."
"Why" said Mr. Cumberland, "I should not be surprised if that were Coleridge, and yet that cannot be, for he has an appointment this day in Bristol." "That is the very name," said his brother. Mr. G. C. remarked, "This Mr. Coleridge is coming to Bristol, to give us a course of lectures on Shakspeare, and this evening he has appointed for his first lecture, at the Great Boom, White Lion." "Whatever the engagement may be," replied the brother, "rely upon it you will have no lecture this evening. Mr. C. at the present moment is posting hard towards North Wales!" The great business now was for those who had interested themselves in the sale of tickets for the course, to hasten round to the purchasers, to announce that Mr. C. would be prevented from giving the lectures till further notice.
In two or three days, Mr. Coleridge presented himself in Bristol, after a right true journey into North Wales; and then, another day was appointed to begin the course. The day arrived. His friends met in the afternoon, full of anxiety, lest a second disappointment should take place. Not one of them had seen Mr. C. in the course of that day, and they could not tell where he had dined. They then set off, to find out this intricate point, and having discovered him, after some difficulty, hurried him from the bottle, and the argument, to fulfil his less important, or at least, his less pleasing engagement.
He arrived at the lecture-room, just one hour after all the company had impatiently awaited him. Apologizing for an unavoidable interruption! Mr. C. commenced his lecture on Hamlet. The intention is not entertained of pursuing this subject, except to remark, that no other important delay arose, and that the lectures gave great satisfaction. I forbear to make further remarks, because these lectures will form part of the London narrative.
After this course had been terminated, and one or more friends had given him five pounds for his ticket, so rich a mine was not to be abandoned. Another printed proposal was sent round for a course of six lectures, which was well attended. After this, a proposal came for four lectures, which were but indifferently attended. Not discouraged, Mr. C. now issued proposals on a new subject, which he hoped would attract the many; but alas, although the subject of the lectures was on no less a theme than that of Homer, only a few of his old staunch friends attended; the public were wearied out, and the plan of lecturing now ceased, for these latter lectures scarcely paid the expenses.
I should here mention, that Mr. Coleridge's lectures bore but a small resemblance to the polished compositions of Sir James Mackintosh. They were all of a conversational character, and were little other than the earnest harangues, with which on all possible occasions, he indulged his friends, so that there was little of the toil of preparation with him, and if the demand had been equal to the supply, he might have lectured continuously. But if there was little of formal and finished composition in Mr. C.'s lectures, there were always racy and felicitous passages, indicating deep thought, and indicative of the man of genius; so that if polish was not always attained, as one mark of excellence, the attention of his hearers never flagged, and his large dark eyes, and his countenance, in an excited state, glowing with intellect, predisposed his audience in his favor.
It may here be mentioned, that in the year 1814, when Buonaparte was captured and sent to Elba, the public, expression of joy burst forth in a general illumination; when Mr. Josiah Wade, wishing to display a large transparency, applied to his friend Mr. Coleridge, then residing with him, for a subject, as a guide to his ingenious painter, of which the following is a copy, from Mr. C.'s original.
The four lines were chosen, of which the two last have something of a prophetic aspect.
"On the right side of the transparency, a rock with the word Elba on it: chained to this by one leg, put a vulture with the head of Napoleon Buonaparte; then a female genius, representing BRITANNIA, in a bending posture, with one hand holding out one wing of the vulture, and with the other clipping it with a large pair of shears; on the one half of which appears either the word 'WELLINGTON,' or the word 'ARMY,' and on the other, either 'NELSON,' or else 'NAVY;' I should prefer WELLINGTON and NELSON, but that I fear Wellington may be a word of too many letters. Behind Britannia, and occupying the right side of the transparency, a slender gilded column, with 'TRADE' on its base, and the cap of liberty on its top; and on one side, leaning against it, a trident laurelled, and on the other a laurelled sword.
At the top of the transparency, and quite central, a dove, with an olive branch, may be hovering over the bending figure of Britannia.
N. B.—The trident to be placed with the points upwards, the sword with its hilt upwards.
We've conquer'd us a PEACE, like lads true metall'd: And bankrupt NAP.'S accompts seem all now settled.
We've fought for peace, and conquer'd it at last, The rav'ning vulture's leg seems fetter'd fast! Britons, rejoice! and yet be wary too; The chain may break, the clipt wing sprout anew."
Returning now to the lectures. During their delivery it was remarked by many of Mr. C.'s friends, with great pain, that there was something unusual and strange in his look and deportment. The true cause was known to few, and least of all to myself. At one of the lectures, meeting Mr. Coleridge at the inn door, he said, grasping my hand with great solemnity, "Cottle, this day week I shall not be alive!" I was alarmed, and speaking to another friend, he replied, "Do not be afraid. It is only one of Mr. C.'s odd fancies." After another of the lectures, he called me on one side, and said, "My dear friend, a dirty fellow has threatened to arrest me for ten pounds." Shocked at the idea, I said, "Coleridge, you shall not go to gaol while I can help it," and immediately gave him the ten pounds.
The following two letters were sent me, I believe, at or about this time. They have no date.
"My dear Cottle,
An erysipelatous complaint, of all alarming nature, has rendered me barely able to attend and go through with my lectures, the receipts of which, have almost paid the expenses of the room, advertisements, &c. Whether this be to my discredit, or that of the good citizens of Bristol, it is not for me to judge. I have been persuaded to make another trial, by advertising three lectures, on the rise, and progress, and conclusion of the French Revolution, with a critique on the proposed constitution, but unless fifty names are procured, not a lecture give I.
Even so the two far, far more important lectures, for which I have long been preparing myself, and have given more thought to, than to any other subject, viz.: those on female education, from infancy to womanhood practically systematized, I shall be (God permitting) ready to give the latter end of the week after next, but upon condition that I am assured of sixty names. Why as these are lectures that I must write down, I could sell them as a recipe for twice the sum at least.
If I can walk out, I will be with you on Sunday. Has Mr. Wade called on you? Mr. Le Breton, a near neighbour of your's, in Portland Square, would, if you sent a note to him, converse with you on any subject relative to my interest, with congenial sympathy; but indeed I think your idea one of those Chimeras, which kindness begets upon an unacquaintance with mankind.
'Harry! thy wish was father to that thought.'
God bless you,
S. T. C."
"My dear Cottle,
I have been engaged three days past, to dine with the sheriff, at Merchant's Hall to-morrow. As they will not wield knife and fork till near six, I cannot of course attend the meeting, [for the establishment of an Infant School] but should it be put off, and you will give me a little longer notice, I will do my best to make my humble talents serviceable in their proportion to a cause in which I take no common interest, which has always my best wishes, and not seldom my prayers. God bless you, and your affectionate friend,
S. T. Coleridge.
P. S. To you who know I prefer a roast potatoe and salt to the most splendid public dinner, the very sight of which always offends my infant appetite, I need not say that I am actuated solely by my pre-engagement, and by the impropriety of disappointing the friend whom I am to accompany, and to whom probably I owe the unexpected compliment of the sheriff's invitation.
I have read two-thirds of Dr. Pole's pamphlet on Infant Schools, with great interest. Thoughts on thoughts, feelings on feelings, crowded upon my mind and heart during the perusal, and which I would fain, God willing, give vent to! I truly honor and love the orthodox dissenters, and appreciate with heart-esteem their works of love. I have read, with much pleasure, the second preface to the second edition of your 'Alfred.' It is well written."
Mr. Coleridge's health appeared, at this time, increasingly precarious; one complaint rapidly succeeding another; as will appear by the three following notes.
My dear Cottle,
On my return home yesterday, I continued unwell, so as to be obliged to lie down for the greater part of the evening, and my indisposition keeping me awake during the whole night, I found it necessary to take some magnesia and calomel, and I am at present very sick. I have little chance of being able to stir out this morning, but if I am better I will see you in the evening. God bless you,
Mr. Wade's, Queen Square.
S. T. Coleridge."
Written on a card.
My dear Cottle,
The first time I have been out of the house, save once at meeting; and the very first call I have made. I will be with you to-morrow by noon, if I have no relapse. This is the third morning, that, thank heaven, I have been free from vomiting...."
Mr. Coleridge having designed to attend Broadmead meeting, I sent him a note to inquire if he would allow me to call and take him up; he sent me the following reply.
My dear Cottle,
It was near ten before the maid got up, or waked a soul in the house. We are all in a hurry, for we had all meant to go to Broadmead. As to dining, I have not five minutes to spare to the family below, at meals. Do not call, for, if possible, I shall meet you at the Meeting.
S. T. Coleridge.
Mr. Wade's, Queen Square."
I must now enter on a subject of profound interest. I had often spoken to Hannah More of S. T. Coleridge, and proceeded with him, one morning to Barley Wood, her residence, eleven miles from Bristol. The interview was mutually agreeable, nor was there any lack of conversation; but I was struck with something singular in Mr. Coleridge's eye. I expressed to a friend, the next day, my concern at having beheld him, during his visit to Hannah More, so extremely paralytic, his hands shaking to an alarming degree, so that he could not take a glass of wine without spilling it, though one hand supported the other! "That," said he, "arises from the immoderate quantity of OPIUM he takes."
It is remarkable, that this was the first time the melancholy fact of Mr. Coleridge's excessive indulgence in opium had come to my knowledge. It astonished and afflicted me. Now the cause of his ailments became manifest. On this subject, Mr. C. may have been communicative to others, but to me he was silent. I now saw it was mistaken kindness to give him money, as I had learned that he indulged in his potions according to the extent of his means, so that to be temperate, it was expedient that he should be poor.
I ruminated long upon this subject, with indescribable sorrow; and having ascertained from others, not only the existence of the evil, but its extent, so as to render doubt impossible, such was the impression of duty on my mind, I determined, however hazardous, to write to Mr. Coleridge, and that faithfully, otherwise, I considered myself not a friend, but an enemy. At the end of his course, therefore, I addressed to him the following letter, under the full impression that it was a case of "life and death," and that if some strong effort were not made to arouse him from his insensibility, speedy destruction must inevitably follow.. Nothing but so extreme a case, could have prompted, or could justify, such a letter as the following.
"Bristol, April 25, 1814.
I am conscious of being influenced by the purest motives in addressing to you the following letter. Permit me to remind you that I am the oldest friend you have in Bristol, that I was such when my friendship was of more consequence to you than it is at present, and that at that time, you were neither insensible of my kindnesses, nor backward to acknowledge them. I bring these things to your remembrance, to impress on your mind, that it is still a friend who is writing to you; one who ever has been such, and who is now going to give you the most decisive evidence of his sincerity.
When I think of Coleridge, I wish to recall the image, of him, such as he appeared in past years; now, how has the baneful use of opium thrown a dark cloud over you and your prospects. I would not say anything needlessly harsh or unkind, but I must be faithful. It is the irresistible voice of conscience. Others may still flatter you, and hang upon your words, but I have another, though a less gracious duty to perform. I see a brother sinning a sin unto death, and shall I not warn him? I see him perhaps on the borders of eternity, in effect, despising his Maker's law, and yet indifferent to his perilous state!
In recalling what the expectations concerning you once were, and the excellency with which, seven years ago, you wrote and spoke on religious truth, my heart bleeds to see how you are now fallen; and thus to notice, how many exhilarating hopes are almost blasted by your present habits. This is said, not to wound, but to arouse you to reflection.
I know full well the evidences of the pernicious drug! You cannot be unconscious of the effects, though you may wish to forget the cause. All around you behold the wild eye! the sallow countenance! the tottering step! the trembling hand! the disordered frame! and yet will you not be awakened to a sense of your danger, and I must add, your guilt? Is it a small thing, that one of the finest of human understandings should be lost! That your talents should be buried! That most of the influences to be derived from your present example, should be in direct opposition to right and virtue! It is true you still talk of religion, and profess the warmest admiration of the church and her doctrines, in which it would not be lawful to doubt your sincerity; but can you be unaware, that by your unguarded and inconsistent conduct, you are furnishing arguments to the infidel; giving occasion for the enemy to blaspheme; and (amongst those who imperfectly know you) throwing suspicion over your religious profession! Is not the great test in some measure against you, 'By their fruits ye shall know them?' Are there never any calm moments, when you impartially judge of your own actions by their consequences?
Not to reflect on you; not to give you a moment's needless pain, but, in the spirit of friendship, suffer me to bring to your recollection, some of the sad effects of your undeniable intemperance.
I know you have a correct love of honest independence, without which, there can be no true nobility of mind; and yet for opium, you will sell this treasure, and expose yourself to the liability of arrest, by some 'dirty fellow,' to whom you choose to be indebted for 'ten pounds!' You had, and still have, an acute sense of moral right and wrong, but is not the feeling sometimes overpowered by self-indulgence? Permit me to remind you, that you are not more suffering in your mind than you are in your body, while you are squandering largely your money in the purchase of opium, which, in the strictest equity, should receive a different direction.