Under this conviction, the following Course of Lectures was planned. The several titles will best explain the particular subjects and purposes of each; but the main objects proposed, as the result of all, are the two following:
I. To convey, in a form best fitted to render them impressive at the time, and remembered afterwards, rules and principles of sound judgment, with a kind and degree of connected information, such as the hearers, generally speaking, cannot be supposed likely to form, collect, and arrange for themselves, by their own unassisted studies. It might be presumption to say, that any important part of these Lectures could not be derived from books; but none, I trust, in supposing, that the same information could not be so surely or conveniently acquired from such books as are of commonest occurrence, or with that quantity of time and attention which can be reasonably expected, or even wisely desired, of men engaged in business and the active duties of the world.
II. Under a strong persuasion that little of real value is derived by persons in general from a wide and various reading; but still more deeply convinced as to the actual 'mischief' of unconnected and promiscuous reading, and that it is sure, in a greater or less degree, to enervate even where it does not likewise inflate; I hope to satisfy many an ingenuous mind, seriously interested in its own development and cultivation, how moderate a number of volumes, if only they be judiciously chosen, will suffice for the attainment of every wise and desirable purpose: that is, 'in addition' to those which he studies for specific and professional purposes. It is saying less than the truth to affirm, that an excellent book (and the remark holds almost equally good of a Raphael as of a Milton) is like a well-chosen and well-tended fruit-tree. Its fruits are not of one season only. With the due and natural intervals, we may recur to it year after year, and it will supply the same nourishment and the same gratification, if only we ourselves return with the same healthful appetite.
The subjects of the Lectures are indeed very 'different', but not (in the strict sense of the term) 'diverse': they are 'various', rather than 'miscellaneous'. There is this bond of connexion common to them all,—that the mental pleasure which they are calculated to excite is not dependant on accidents of fashion, place or age, or the events or the customs of the day; but commensurate with the good sense, taste, and feeling, to the cultivation of which they themselves so largely contribute, as being all in 'kind', though not all in the same 'degree', productions of GENIUS.
What it would be arrogant to promise, I may yet be permitted to hope,—that the execution will prove correspondent and adequate to the plan. Assuredly my best efforts have not been wanting so to select and prepare the materials, that, at the conclusion of the Lectures, an attentive auditor, who should consent to aid his future recollection by a few notes taken either during each Lecture or soon after, would rarely feel himself, for the time to come, excluded from taking an intelligent interest in any general conversation likely to occur in mixed society.
SYLLABUS OF THE COURSE.
LECTURE I. 'Tuesday Evening, January' 27, 1818.—On the manners, morals, literature, philosophy, religion, and the state of society in general, in European Christendom, from the eighth to the fifteenth century (that is, from A.D. 700 to A.D. 1400), more particularly in reference to England, France, Italy, and Germany: in other words, a portrait of the (so called) dark ages of Europe.
II. On the tales and metrical romances common, for the most part, to England, Germany, and the North of France; and on the English songs and ballads; continued to the reign of Charles the First.—A few selections will be made from the Swedish, Danish, and German languages, translated for the purpose by the Lecturer.
III. Chaucer and Spenser; of Petrarch; of Ariosto, Pulci, and Boiardo.
IV. V. and VI. On the Dramatic Works of SHAKSPEARE. In these Lectures will be comprised the substance of Mr. Coleridge's former Courses on the same subject, enlarged and varied by subsequent study and reflection.
VII. On Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Massinger; with the probable causes of the cessation of Dramatic 'Poetry' in England with Shirley and Otway, soon after the Restoration of Charles the Second.
VIII. Of the Life and 'all' the Works of CERVANTES, but chiefly of his Don Quixote. The Ridicule of Knight-Errantry shewn to have been but a secondary object in the mind of the Author, and not the principal Cause of the Delight which the Work continues to give in all Nations, and under all the Revolutions of Manners and Opinions.
IX. On Rabelais, Swift, and Sterne: on the Nature and Constituents of genuine Humour, and on the Distinctions of the Humorous from the Witty, the Fanciful, the Droll, the Odd, &c.
X. Of Donne, Dante, and Milton.
XI. On the Arabian Nights Entertainments, and on the 'romantic' use of the supernatural in Poetry, and in works of fiction not poetical. On the conditions and regulations under which such Books may be employed advantageously in the earlier Periods of Education.
XII. On tales of witches, apparitions, &c. as distinguished from the magic and magicians of asiatic origin. The probable sources of the former, and of the belief in them in certain ages and classes of men. Criteria by which mistaken and exaggerated facts may be distinguished from absolute falsehood and imposture. Lastly, the causes of the terror and interest which stories of ghosts and witches inspire, in early life at least, whether believed or not.
XIII. On colour, sound, and form, in nature, as connected with POESY: the word, 'Poesy' used as the 'generic' or class term, including poetry, music, painting, statuary, and ideal architecture, as its species. The reciprocal relations of poetry and philosophy to each other; and of both to religion, and the moral sense.
XIV. On the corruptions of the English language since the reign of Queen Anne, in our style of writing prose. A few easy rules for the attainment of a manly, unaffected, and pure language, in our genuine mother-tongue, whether for the purposes of writing, oratory, or conversation. Concluding Address."
These lectures, from his own account, were the most profitable of any he had before given, though delivered in an unfavorable situation; but being near the Temple, many of the students were his auditors. It was the first time I had ever heard him in public. He lectured from notes, which he had carefully made; yet it was obvious, that his audience was more delighted when, putting his notes aside, he spoke extempore;—many of these notes were preserved, and have lately been printed in the Literary Remains. In his lectures he was brilliant, fluent, and rapid; his words seemed to flow as from a person repeating with grace and energy some delightful poem. If, however, he sometimes paused, it was not for the want of words, but that he was seeking the most appropriate, or their most logical arrangement.
The attempts to copy his lectures verbatim have failed, they are but comments. Scarcely in anything could he be said to be a mannerist, his mode of lecturing was his own. Coleridge's eloquence, when he gave utterance to his rich thoughts, flowing like some great river, which winds its way majestically at its own "sweet will," though occasionally slightly impeded by a dam formed from its crumbling banks, but over which the accumulated waters pass onward with increased force, so arrested his listeners, as at times to make them feel almost breathless. Such seemed the movement of Coleridge's words in lecture or in earnest discourse, and his countenance retained the same charms of benignity, gentleness, and intelligence, though this expression varied with the thoughts he uttered, and was much modified by his sensitive nature. His quotations from the poets, of high character, were most feelingly and most luminously given, as by one inspired with the subject. In my early intimacy with this great man, I was especially struck with the store of knowledge he possessed, and on which I ever found one might safely rely. I begged him to inform me by what means the human mind could retain so much, to which he always gave the following answer:
"The memory is of two kinds," (a division I have ever found useful), "the one kind I designate the passive memory, the other the creative, with the first I retain the names of 'things', 'figures', and 'numbers', &c. and this in myself I believe to be very defective. With the other I recall facts, and theories, &c. by means of their law or their principle, and in tracing these, the images or facts present themselves to me."
Coleridge, as a motto to the first essay in 'The Friend', quotes the following observation from the life of Petrarch:
"Believe me," says this writer, "it requires no little confidence to promise help to the struggling, counsel to the doubtful, light to the blind, hope to the desponding, refreshment to the weary; these are great things if they are accomplished, trifles if they exist but in promise. I, however, aim not so much to prescribe a law for others, as to set forth the law of my own mind." At this Coleridge always aimed, and continuing the quotation from Petrarch, "Let the man who shall approve of it, abide, and let him to whom it shall appear not reasonable, reject it. 'Tis my earnest wish, I confess, to employ my understanding and acquirements in that mode and direction in which I may be able to benefit the largest number possible of my fellow-creatures."
Such was Coleridge's wish, and with this view, and with this end, he constantly employed his time.
His mind was occupied with serious thoughts—thoughts connected with the deep truths he was endeavouring to inculcate. His heart was from his early youth full of sympathy and love, and so remained till his latest hour. To his friend, when in trouble or sorrow, this sympathy and solace were freely given; and when he received, or thought he received, a benefit, or a kindness, his heart overflowed with gratitude—even slight services were sometimes over-valued by him. I have selected the following from among many letters written at different periods, as characteristic of the man, and evincing those religious, grateful, and affectionate feelings which are so strongly marked in all he has ever written, for, from his youth upward, he was wedded to the lovely and the beautiful. In his letters, these feelings were occasionally expressed with much liveliness, terseness, and originality.
In doing this, I believe, I must anticipate some of the incidents of his life; the first letter written was addressed to a friend, who was in great anguish of mind from the sudden death of his mother, and was written thirty years before his decease:
"Your letter, my friend, struck me with a mighty horror. It rushed upon me and stupified my feelings. You bid me write you a religious letter; I am not a man who would attempt to insult the greatness of your anguish by any other consolation. Heaven knows that in the easiest fortunes there is much dissatisfaction and weariness of spirit; much that calls for the exercise of patience and resignation; but in storms, like these, that shake the dwelling and make the heart tremble, there is no middle way between despair and the yielding up of the whole spirit unto the guidance of faith. And surely it is a matter of joy, that your faith in Jesus has been preserved; the Comforter that should relieve you is not far from you. But as you are a Christian, in the name of that Saviour, who was filled with bitterness and made drunken with wormwood, I conjure you to have recourse in frequent prayer to 'his God and your God,'  the God of mercies, and father of all comfort. Your poor father is, I hope, almost senseless of the calamity; the unconscious instrument of Divine Providence knows it not, and your mother is in heaven. It is sweet to be roused from a frightful dream by the song of birds, and the gladsome rays of the morning. Ah, how infinitely more sweet to be awakened from the blackness and amazement of a sudden horror, by the glories of God manifest, and the hallelujahs of angels.
As to what regards yourself, I approve altogether of your abandoning what you justly call vanities. I look upon you as a man, called by sorrow and anguish and a strange desolation of hopes into quietness, and a soul set apart and made peculiar to God; we cannot arrive at any portion of heavenly bliss without in some measure imitating Christ. And they arrive at the largest inheritance who imitate the most difficult parts of his character, and bowed down and crushed under foot, cry in fulness of faith, 'Father, thy will be done.'
I wish above measure to have you for a little while here—no visitants shall blow on the nakedness of your feelings—you shall be quiet, and your spirit may be healed. I see no possible objection, unless your father's helplessness prevent you, and unless you are necessary to him. If this be not the case, I charge you write me that you will come.
I charge you, my dearest friend, not to dare to encourage gloom or despair—you are a temporary sharer in human miseries, that you may be an eternal partaker of the Divine nature. I charge you, if by any means it be possible, come to me. I remain, your affectionate,
"MY DEAR SIR,
Accept my thanks for your kind remembrance of me, and for the proof of it in the present of your tribute of friendship, I have read it with uninterrupted interest, and with satisfaction scarcely less continuous. In adding the three last words, I am taking the word satisfaction in its strictest sense: for had I written pleasure, there would have been no ground for the limitation. Indeed as it was, it is a being scrupulous over much. For at the two only passages at which I made a moment's 'halt' (viz. p. 3, , and p. 53, last line but five,) she had seldom—oppressive awe, my not 'objection' but 'stoppage' at the latter amounted only to a doubt, a 'quaere', whether the trait of character here given should not have been followed by some little comment, as for instance, that such a state of feeling, though not desirable in a regenerate person, in whom belief had wrought love, and love obedience, must yet be ranked amongst those constitutional differences that may exist between the best and wisest Christians, without any corresponding difference in their spiritual progress. One saint fixes his eyes on the 'palm', another saint thinks of the previous 'conflict', and closes them in prayer. Both are waters of the same fountain—'this' the basin, 'that' the salient column, both equally dear to God, and both may be used as examples for men, the one to invite the thoughtless sceptic, the other to alarm the reckless believer. You will see, therefore, that I do not object to the sentence itself; but as a matter of 'feeling', it met me too singly and suddenly. I had not anticipated such a trait, and the surprise counterfeited the sensation of perplexity for a moment or two. On as little objection to any thing you have said, did the 'desiderium' the sense of not being quite satisfied, proceed in regard to the 44. p. 3. In the particular instance in the application of the sentiment, I found nothing to question or qualify. It was the rule or principle which a certain class of your readers might be inclined to deduce from it, it was the possible generalization of the particular instance that made me pause. I am jealous of the disposition to turn Christianity or Religion into a particular 'business' or line. 'Well, Miss, how does your pencil go on, I was delighted with your last landscape.' 'Oh, sir, I have quite given 'up' that, I have got into the religious line.' Now, my dear sir, the rule which I have deduced from the writings of St. Paul and St. John, and (permit me also to add) of Luther, would be this. Form and endeavour to strengthen into an habitual and instinct-like feeling, the sense of the utter incompatibility of Christianity with every thing wrong or unseemly, with whatever betrays or fosters the mind of flesh, the predominence of the 'animal' within us, by having habitually present to the mind, the full and lively conviction of its perfect compatibility with whatever is innocent of its harmony, with whatever contra-distinguishes the HUMAN from the animal; of its sympathy and coalescence with the cultivation of the faculties, affections, and fruitions, which God hath made 'peculiar' to 'man', either wholly or in their ordained 'combination' with what is peculiar to humanity, the blurred, but not obliterated signatures of our original title deed, (and God said, man will we make in our own image.) What?—shall Christianity exclude or alienate us from those powers, acquisitions, and attainments, which Christianity is so pre-eminently calculated to elevate and enliven and sanctify?
Far, very far, am I from suspecting in you, my dear sir, any participation in these prejudices of a shrivelled proselyting and censorious religionist. But a numerous and stirring faction there is, in the so called Religious Public, whose actual and actuating principles, with whatever vehemence they may disclaim it in words, is, that redemption is a something not yet effected—that there is neither sense nor force in our baptism—and that instead of the Apostolic command, 'Rejoice, and again I say unto you, rejoice'; baptized Christians are to be put on sackcloth and ashes, and try, by torturing themselves and others, to procure a rescue from the devil. Again, let me thank you for your remembrance of me, and believe me from the hour we first met at Bristol, with esteem and regard,
Your sincere friend,
S. T. COLERIDGE."
Ramsgate, 28th Oct. 1822.
Words I know are not wanted between you and me. But there are occasions so awful, there may be instances and manifestations of friendship so affecting, and drawing up with them so long a train from behind, so many folds of recollection as they come onward on one's mind, that it seems but a mere act of justice to oneself, a debt we owe to the dignity of our moral nature to give them some record; a relief which the spirit of man asks and demands to contemplate in some outward symbol, what it is inwardly solemnizing. I am still too much under the cloud of past misgivings, too much of the stun and stupor from the recent peals and thunder-crush still remains, to permit me to anticipate others than by wishes and prayers. What the effect of your unwearied kindness may be on poor M.'s mind and conduct, I pray fervently, and I feel a cheerful trust that I do not pray in vain, that on my own mind and spring of action, it will be proved not to have been wasted. I do inwardly believe, that I shall yet do something to thank you, my dear—in the way in which you would wish to be thanked—by doing myself honour.—Dear friend and brother of my soul, God only knows how truly, and in the depth, you are loved and prized by your affectionate friend,
S. T. COLERIDGE."
During the first lecture of the course in 1817, a young man of modest demeanor sent him a letter, and afterwards introduced himself, stating ti that he was a student in literature, and from his conversation, he struck Coleridge as one much more attached to the better part of our nature than to the love of gain. An intimacy consequently took place, and Coleridge addressed many letters to him, from which will be selected such as are critical or autobiographical. Fortunately they have been preserved, and are too valuable not to form a part of this volume.
The following is an answer to the first letter Coleridge received from him:
"Wednesday Morning, Jan. 28th, 1818.
Your friendly letter was first delivered to me at the lecture-room door on yesterday evening, ten minutes before the lecture, and my spirits were so sadly depressed by the circumstance of my hoarseness, that I was literally incapable of reading it. I now express my acknowledgments, and with them the regret that I had not received the letter in time to have availed myself of it.
When I was young I used to laugh at flattery, as, on account of its absurdity, I now abhor it, from my repeated observations of its mischievous effects. Amongst these, not the least is, that it renders honourable natures more slow and reluctant in expressing their real feelings in praise of the deserving, than, for the interests of truth and virtue, might be desired. For the weakness of our moral and intellectual being, of which the comparatively strongest are often the most, and the most painfully, conscious, needs the confirmation derived from the coincidence and sympathy of the friend, as much as the voice of honour within us denounces the pretences of the flatterer. Be assured, then, that I write as I think, when I tell you that, from the style and thoughts of your letter, I should have drawn a very different conclusion from that which you appear to have done, concerning both your talents and the cultivation which they have received. Both the matter and manner are manly, simple, and correct.
Had I the time in my own power, compatibly with the performance of duties of immediate urgency, I would endeavour to give you, by letter, the most satisfactory answer to your questions that my reflections and the experience of my own fortunes could supply. But, at all events, I will not omit to avail myself of your judicious suggestion in my last lecture, in which it will form a consistent part of the subject and purpose of the discourse. Meantime, believe me, with great respect,
Your obliged fellow-student of the true and the beseeming
S. T. COLERIDGE."
"Sept. 20th, 1818.
Those who have hitherto chosen to take notice of me, as known to them only by my public character, have for the greater part taken out, not, indeed, a poetical, but a critical, license to make game of me, instead of sending game to me. Thank heaven! I am in this respect more tough than tender. But, to be serious, I heartily thank you for your polite remembrance; and, though my feeble health and valetudinarian stomach force me to attach no little value to the present itself, I feel still more obliged by the kindness that prompted it.
I trust that you will not come within the purlieus of Highgate without giving me the opportunity of assuring you personally that I am, with sincere respect,
S. T. COLERIDGE."
Following the chronological order I proposed, I am led to speak again of Lamb, who having at this time collected many little poems and essays, scattered in different publications, he reprinted and published them in two small volumes, which he dedicated to Coleridge; and those of my readers who have not seen this work will, doubtless, find it interesting. The simplicity of this dedication, and above all the biographical portion of it, seem to render it appropriate to this work, and it is therefore subjoined.
TO S. T. COLERIDGE, Esq.
MY DEAR COLERIDGE,
You will smile to see the slender labors of your friend designated by the title of 'Works'; but such was the wish of the gentlemen who have kindly undertaken the trouble of collecting them, and from their judgment could be no appeal.
It would be a kind of disloyalty to offer to any one but yourself, a volume containing the 'early pieces' which were first published among your poems, and were fairly derivatives from you and them. My friend Lloyd and myself came into our first battle (authorship is a sort of warfare) under cover of the greater Ajax. How this association, which shall always be a dear and proud recollection to me, came to be broken;—who snapped the three-fold cord,—whether yourself (but I know that was not the case,) grew ashamed of your former companions,—or whether (which is by much the more probable) some ungracious bookseller was author of the separation, I cannot tell;—but wanting the support of your friendly elm, (I speak for myself,) my vine has, since that time, put forth few or no fruits; the sap (if ever it had any) has become in a manner dried up and extinct: and you will find your old associate in his second volume, dwindled into prose and criticism. Am I right in assuming this as the cause? or is it that, as years come upon us, (except with some more healthy-happy spirits,) life itself loses much of its poetry for us? we transcribe but what we read in the great volume of Nature: and, as the characters grow dim, we turn of and look another way. You, yourself, write no Christabels, nor Ancient Marriners, now. Some of the Sonnets, which shall be carelessly turned over by the general reader, may happily awaken in you remembrances, which I should be sorry should be ever totally extinct—the memory
Of summer days and of delightful years.
Even so far back as to those old suppers at our old——Inn, when life was fresh, and topics exhaustless,—and you first kindled in me, if not the power, yet the love of poetry, and beauty and kindliness,
What words have I heard Spoke at the Mermaid?
The world has given you many a shrewd nip and gird since that time, but either my eyes are grown dimmer, or my old friend is the same, who stood before me three-and-twenty years ago—his hair a little confessing the hand of time, but still shrouding the same capacious brain,—his heart not altered, scarcely where it "alteration finds."
One piece, Coleridge, I have ventured to publish in its original form, though I have heard you complain of a certain over-imitation of the antique in the style. If I could see any way of getting rid of the objection, without re-writing it entirely, I would make some sacrifices. But when I wrote John Woodville, I never proposed to myself any distinct deviation from common English. I had been newly initiated in the writings of our elder dramatists; Beaumont, and Fletcher, and Massinger, were then a 'first love'; and from what I was so freshly conversant in, what wonder if my language imperceptibly took a tinge? The very 'time', which I had chosen for my story, that which immediately followed the Restoration, seemed to require in an English play, that the English should be of rather an older cast, than that of the precise year in which it happened to be written. I wish it had not some faults which I can less vindicate than the language.
I remain, my dear Coleridge, Yours, with unabated esteem, C. LAMB.
In Feb. 1819, application was made to Mr. Coleridge to give a course of lectures at the Russell Institution, to which he sent the following reply, addressed to Mr. Britton:
Highgate, 28th Feb., 1819.
First permit me to remove a very natural, indeed almost inevitable, mistake, relative to my lectures; namely, that I 'have' them, or that the lectures of one place or season are in any way repeated in another. So far from it, that on any point that I had ever studied (and on no other should I dare discourse—I mean, that I would not lecture on any subject for which I had to 'acquire' the main knowledge, even though a month's or three months' previous time were allowed me; on no subject that had not employed my thoughts for a large portion of my life since earliest manhood, free of all outward and particular purpose)—on any point within my habit of thought, I should greatly prefer a subject I had never lectured on, to one which I had repeatedly given; and those who have attended me for any two seasons successively will bear witness, that the lecture given at the London Philosophical Society, on the 'Romeo and Juliet', for instance, was as different from that given at the Crown and Anchor, as if they had been by two individuals who, without any communication with each other, had only mastered the same principles of philosophical criticism. This was most strikingly evidenced in the coincidence between my lectures and those of Schlegel; such, and so close, that it was fortunate for my moral reputation that I had not only from five to seven hundred ear witnesses that the passages had been given by me at the Royal Institution two years before Schlegel commenced his lectures at Vienna, but that notes had been taken of these by several men and ladies of high rank. The fact is this; during a course of lectures, I faithfully employ all the intervening days in collecting and digesting the materials, whether I have or have not lectured on the same subject before, making no difference.
The day of the lecture, till the hour of commencement, I devote to the consideration, what of the mass before me is best fitted to answer the purposes of a lecture, that is, to keep the audience awake and interested during the delivery, and to leave a sting behind, that is, a disposition to study the subject anew, under the light of a new principle. Several times, however, partly from apprehension respecting my health and animal spirits, partly from the wish to possess copies that might afterwards be marketable among the publishers, I have previously written the lecture; but before I had proceeded twenty minutes, I have been obliged to push the MS. away, and give the subject a new turn. Nay, this was so notorious, that many of my auditors used to threaten me, when they saw any number of written papers on my desk, to steal them away; declaring they never felt so secure of a good lecture as when they perceived that I had not a single scrap of writing before me. I take far, far more pains than would go to the set composition of a lecture, both by varied reading and by meditation; but for the words, illustrations, &c., I know almost as little as any one of the audience (that is, those of anything like the same education with myself) what they will be five minutes before the lecture begins. Such is my way, for such is my nature; and in attempting any other, I should only torment myself in order to disappoint my auditors—torment myself during the delivery, I mean; for in all other respects it would be a much shorter and easier task to deliver them from writing. I am anxious to preclude any semblance of affectation; and have therefore troubled you with this lengthy preface before I have the hardihood to assure you, that you might as well ask me what my dreams were in the year 1814, as what my course of lectures was at the Surrey Institution. 'Fuimus Troes'."
The following anecdote will convey to my readers a more accurate notion of Coleridge's powers, when called upon to lecture, even without previous notice. Early one morning he received two letters, which he sent me to read; one to inform him that he was 'expected' that same evening to deliver a lecture at the rooms of the London Philosophical Society, where it was supposed that four or five hundred persons would be present: the other contained a list of the gentlemen who had already given a lecture in the course; to which was added, the subject on which each had addressed the audience. I well knew that Coleridge, not expecting this sudden appeal, would be agitated, as he was always excited before delivering a lecture, and that this would probably bring on a return of his inward suffering. After consulting together, we determined to go to town at seven o'clock in the evening, to make some enquiries respecting this unexpected application, and arrived at the house of the gentleman who had written the letter. His servant informed us that he was not at home, but would return at eight o'clock, the hour fixed for the commencement of the lecture. We then proceeded to the society's room, which we found empty. It was a long one, partitioned off by a pole, the ends of which were fastened to the side-walls, and from this pole was nailed a length of baize which reached the floor, and in the centre was fixed a square piece of board to form a desk. We passed under this baize curtain to observe the other arrangements, from whence we could easily discern the audience as they entered. When we looked over the pole which formed the partition, we saw rows of benches across the room, prepared for about four or five hundred persons—on the side were some short ones, one above the other, intended for the committee. The preparations looked formidable—and Coleridge was anxiously waiting to be informed of the subject on which he was to lecture. At length the committee entered, taking their seats—from the centre of this party Mr. President arose, and put on a president's hat, which so disfigured him that we could scarcely refrain from laughter. He thus addressed the company:—"This evening, Mr. Coleridge will deliver a lecture on the 'Growth of the Individual Mind.'" Coleridge at first seemed startled, and turning round to me whispered, "a pretty stiff subject they have chosen for me." He instantly mounted his standing-place, and began without hesitation; previously requesting me to observe the effect of his lecture on the audience. It was agreed, that, should he appear to fail, I was to clasp his ancle, but that he was to continue for an hour if the countenances of his auditors indicated satisfaction. If I rightly remember his words, he thus began his address:
"The lecture I am about to give this evening is purely extempore. Should you find a nominative case looking out for a verb—or a fatherless verb for a nominative case, you must excuse it. It is purely extempore, though I have thought and read much on this subject."
I could see the company begin to smile, and this at once seemed to inspire him with confidence. This beginning appeared to me a sort of mental curvetting, while preparing his thoughts for one of his eagle flights, as if with an eagle's eye he could steadily look at the mid-day sun. He was most brilliant, eloquent, and logically consecutive. The time moved on so swiftly, that on looking at my watch, I found an hour and a half had passed away, and therefore waiting only a desirable moment (to use his own playful words;) I prepared myself to punctuate his oration." As previously agreed, I pressed his ancle, and thus gave hire the hint he had requested-when bowing graciously, and with a benevolent and smiling countenance he presently descended.
The lecture was quite new to me, and I believe quite new to himself, at least so far as the arrangement of his words were concerned. The floating thoughts were most beautifully arranged, and delivered on the spur of the moment. What accident gave rise to the singular request, that he should deliver this lecture impromptu, I never learnt; nor did it signify, as it afforded a happy opportunity to many of witnessing in part the extent of his reading, and the extraordinary strength of his powers.
At this time an intimate and highly accomplished friend of my wife's, who was also a very sensible woman, a fine musician, and considered one of the best private performers in the country, came on a visit. The conversation turned on music, and Coleridge, speaking of himself, observed, "I believe I have no ear for music, but have a taste for it." He then explained the delight he received from Mozart, and how greatly he enjoyed the dithyrambic movement of Beethoven; but could never find pleasure in the fashionable modern composers. It seemed to him "playing tricks with music—like nonsense verses—music to please me," added he, "must have a subject." Our friend appeared struck with this observation, "I understand you, sir," she replied, and immediately seated herself at the piano. "Have the kindness to listen to the three following airs, which I played on a certain occasion extempore, as substitutes for words. Will you try to guess the meaning I wished to convey, and I shall then ascertain the extent of my success." She instantly gave us the first air,—his reply was immediate. "That is clear, it is solicitation."—"When I played this air," observed the lady, "to a dear friend whom you know, she turned to me, saying, 'what do you want?'—I told her the purport of my air was to draw her attention to her dress, as she was going out with me to take a drive by the seashore without her cloak." Our visitor then called Coleridge's attention to her second air; it was short and expressive. To this he answered, "that is easily told—it is remonstrance." "Yes," replied she, "for my friend again shewing the same inattention, I played this second extemporaneous air, in order to remonstrate with her." We now listened to the third and last air. He requested her to repeat it, which she did.—"That," said he, "I cannot understand." To this she replied,—"it is I believe a failure," naming at the same time the subject she had wished to convey. Coleridge's answer was—"That is a sentiment, and cannot be well expressed in music."
The evening before our friend left us, Coleridge had a long conversation with her on serious and religious subjects. Fearing, however, that he might not have been clearly understood, he the next morning brought down the following paper, written before he had retired to rest:—
'S. T. Coleridge's confession of belief; with respect to the true grounds of Christian morality', 1817.
1. I sincerely profess the Christian faith, and regard the New Testament as containing all its articles, and I interpret the words not only in the obvious, but in the 'literal' sense, unless where common reason, and the authority of the Church of England join in commanding them to be understood FIGURATIVELY: as for instance, 'Herod is a Fox.'
2. Next to the Holy Scriptures, I revere the Liturgy, Articles, and Homilies of the Established Church, and hold the doctrines therein expressly contained.
3. I reject as erroneous, and deprecate as 'most' dangerous, the notion, that our 'feelings' are to be the ground and guide of our actions. I believe the feelings themselves to be among the things that are to be grounded and guided. The feelings are effects, not causes, a part of the 'instruments' of action, but never can without serious injury be perverted into the 'principles' of action. Under 'feelings', I include all that goes by the names of 'sentiment', sensibility, &c. &c. These, however pleasing, may be made and often are made the instruments of vice and guilt, though under proper discipline, they are fitted to be both aids and ornaments of virtue. They are to virtue what beauty is to health.
4. All men, the good as well as the bad, and the bad as well as the good, act with motives. But what is motive to one person is no motive at all to another. The pomps and vanities of the world supply 'mighty' motives to an ambitious man; but are so far from being a 'motive' to a humble Christian, that he rather wonders how they can be even a temptation to any man in his senses, who believes himself to have an immortal soul. Therefore that a title, or the power of gratifying sensual luxury, is the motive with which A. acts, and no motive at all to B.—must arise from the different state of the moral being in A. and in B.—consequently motives too, as well as 'feelings' are 'effects'; and they become causes only in a secondary or derivative sense.
5. Among the motives of a probationary Christian, the practical conviction that all his intentional acts have consequences in a future state; that as he sows here, he must reap hereafter; in plain words, that according as he does, or does not, avail himself of the light and helps given by God through Christ, he must go either to heaven or hell; is the 'most' impressive, were it only from pity to his own soul, as an everlasting sentient being.
6. But that this is a motive, and the most impressive of motives to any given person, arises from, and supposes, a commencing state of regeneration in that person's mind and heart. That therefore which 'constitutes' a regenerate STATE is the true PRINCIPLE ON which, or with a 'view' to which, actions, feelings, and motives ought to be grounded.
7. The different 'operations' of this radical principle, (which principle is called in Scripture sometimes faith, and in other places love,) I have been accustomed to call good impulses because they are the powers that impel us to do what we ought to do.
8. The impulses of a full grown Christian are 1. Love of God. 2. Love of our neighbour for the love of God. 3. An undefiled conscience, which prizes above every comprehensible advantage 'that peace' of God which passeth all understanding.
9. Every consideration, whether of hope or of fear, which is, and which 'is adopted' by 'us', poor imperfect creatures! in our present state of probation, as MEANS of 'producing' such impulses in our hearts, is so far a right and 'desirable' consideration. He that is weak must take the medicine which is suitable to his existing weakness; but then he ought to know that it is a 'medicine', the object of which is to remove the disease, not to feed and perpetuate it.
10. Lastly, I hold that there are two grievous mistakes,—both of which as 'extremes' equally opposite to truth and the Gospel,—I equally reject and deprecate. The first is, that of Stoic pride, which would snatch away his crutches from a curable cripple before he can walk without them. The second is, that of those worldly and temporizing preachers, who would disguise from such a cripple the necessary truth that crutches are not legs, but only temporary aids and substitutes."
[Footnote 1: I give the letter as I received it,—of course it was never intended for the public eye.]
[Footnote 2: This is too strong an expression. It was not idleness, it was not sensual indulgence, that led Coleridge to contract this habit. No, it was latent disease, of which sufficient proof is given in this memoir.]
[Footnote 3: Those who have witnessed the witches scampering off the stage, cannot forget the ludicrous appearance they make.]
[Footnote 4: Of the historical plays, he observes:
"It would be a fine national custom to act such a series of dramatic histories in orderly succession, in the yearly Christmas holidays, and could not but tend to counteract that mock cosmopolitism, which, under a positive term, really implies nothing but a negation of, or indifference to, the particular love of our country."
'Literary Remains', Vol. ii. p. 161.]
[Footnote 5: Vide Vol. ii. p. 1.—Also p. 103 of this work.]
[Footnote 6: He had long been greatly afflicted with nightmare; and, when residing with us, was frequently roused from this painful sleep by any one of the family who might hear him.]
[Footnote 7: From an anonymous criticism published soon after the 'Christabel'.]
[Footnote 8: In the "Improved Version of the New Testament," the spirit of this Evangelist is perverted.]
[Footnote 9: He used to say, in St. John is the philosophy of Christianity; in St. Paul, the moral reflex.]
[Footnote 10: The last lines are in the 'Aids to Reflection'. The former six lines are from a note written from his conversation.]
[Footnote 11: The 'Christabel' was published by Murray, but the 'Sibylline Leaves' and the 'Biog. Liter.' by Rest Fenner.]
[Footnote 12: The first was published in 1816, and the second in 1817.]
[Footnote 13: 'Vide' St. John, ch. xx. ver. 17.]