Reminiscences of Coleridge, Biographical, Philosophical, Poetical, And Critical.
Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country.
Vol. X. No. LVIII. October, 1834.
This month we redeem a promise accidentally withheld the last,—an article on Coleridge in some humble measure worthy of his name and writings. Previously to the poet’s death, indeed, we designed to render him this justice, and had prepared what, when the tidings of his decease came upon us, seemed no less than a very monument—a solemn cenotaph of ashes yet to be.
No author had wanted a critic more than Coleridge, whether as bard or sage. As the latter, he never had a critic before ourselves; and the brief account which, in 1832, we gave of his sublime philosophy, is among the events of our career to which we recur with pleasure and with pride. That analysis (for such it was) of his system procured us thanks from many quarters. It was a work of love, and was lovingly accepted; all confessed that we had reduced within intelligible limits the transcendental speculations of the gifted seer—the old man eloquent of Highgate Hill and Grove.
Such was our conviction with regard to his philosophy, and in reference to his poetry our sentiments were nearly the same. As a poet, we felt that the productions of his genius had never been adequately examined. For this, we consoled ourselves with the reflection, that such was the fate of all great men and great works. We remembered how difficult it is for the ordinary mind to rise to the level of the extraordinary; nay, the very grandeur of an undertaking will sometimes be the main bar to success. We know that an uneasy sensation is, in all such cases, produced in the poor wearied critic-in-ordinary, who, borne down and over-whelmed by the novel impression, feels smitten into stupidity and dullness—a state of mind which immediately he would fain attribute to the work which he is perusing. Great will then be the sense of fatigue, and he would willingly go sleep; but, unfortunately, a secret stimulus keeps him awake—an impression is made which he cannot throw off, and he probably toils on to the end of his task. Nothing, however, he recollects but that he has been exceedingly troubled in mind—that his self-complacency has been disturbed; and, having consequently felt very unhappy, he complains of oppression from certain incubi, and pronounces the effect to be remarkably unpleasant, and is therefore exceedingly sorry that he cannot give a favourable opinion of a work so far beyond his comprehension. He will probably, nevertheless, separate the author from his production, and pronounce the former to be as excellent for his talents as the latter is execrable for its defects—his opinion of such talents, all the while, being abstracted from the very work at which so much offence has been taken. Thus a certain opinionist pronounced, that Wordsworth was a good man, but no poet; and, having so delivered himself, thought he had settled the question for ever. “Ah!” said some one, in reply, “you know not how much poetry there is in goodness!” A great poet, who is at the same time pious, requires the religious audience of good men, to be appreciated even for what is poetical in him.
Such were the thoughts that had been revolving in our minds, when tidings came of Coleridge’s death. With all our reverence for his genius, we had not visited him lately—years, in fact, had rolled away since we last spake to him, and we had not attended to any rumours of his state of health, knowing that he was always sickly. We still thought upon him as living and well; and while we looked upon Pickering’s popular three-volumed edition of his poems, exclaimed, that even in his lifetime he had become a classic, though without finding a critic. Two elegant editions of his poetical works had recently been exhausted; and that his publisher now thought it worth his while to re-issue them in a cheap form was to us matter of triumph; and in our exultation we said—
“In this consummation, we rejoice; we share the victory of the poet, and feel pride in beholding the living laurel crowning his living head. It is a glorious object—it is a consoling reflection. Nothing can be grander in reality or idea. No Cæsar was ever so majestically diademed. The wreath of Julius was adopted only to hide a bald head—a natural defect of which he was ashamed. But wisdom has been as grey hair to Coleridge, and the coronal encircles brows honoured, and not shorn, by time. His state is now imperial—his immortality assured. Art thou not happy, O Poet? exultest thou not, O thou King of Song?”
Such was the greeting which we either said or sung. And well we might; for, as we have mentioned, the poems of our favourite poet had become classics in his land’s language. In defiance of long neglect, they were at last even popular; and here we had them in a popular shape, impressing the vulgar mind, as they long had the cultivated, with a sublime sentiment of the dignity and capabilities of human genius. Imagination and enthusiasm had, in these three five-shilling volumes, opened on the general heart the view, as it were, of a new Eden. A magnificent temple had been there disclosed for universal entry, where the high priest shall be perpetually heard in tones of music, uttering the sublimest mysteries to no irreverent votaries. Visions there also might be seen, and voices heard, by the initiate, in gloom and terror, or in gladness and light. Vigour, sublimity, softness, depth, to strengthen, to raise, to melt, and to awe, should come like spiritual influences over the spirit of the enraptured reader, and make him rise from the perusal a wiser and a better man. From these works his principles might derive energy, his imagination and fancy loftiness, his feelings sentimentality, and his thoughts profundity. A perfect humanity, we concluded, awaited him who realised in thought, word, and deed, what is contained in the prose and poetic productions of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Alas!—and yet not all alas!—for the influence of Coleridge’s works shall never die; and all we said about them shall stand as long as the pillars of the world. Not all alas!—yet in a personal reference to Coleridge, alas for our anticipations—not for him. We were about to conclude our article, and had written, “and now farewell, old man!” Farewell? even while we traced the lines, intelligence reached us of the decease of Coleridge. Dead! we exclaimed, Coleridge dead!
“Is that a deathbed where a Christian lies?
Yes! but not his—’tis Death itself there dies.”
A spirit had departed from the earth, but had not died; and even on earth its memory remaineth. It is now immortal! We had spoken but just then of his poems being on the verge of popularity—of late justice being done to him—of his being at last admitted as a classic in general estimation. And what now? Ah! we felt that the seal was fixed to his fame indeed. Henceforth we were—we are—conscious nothing but praise awaits his works—henceforth his thoughts are received as the responses from an oracle—they are as voices from the sepulchre of the mighty.
In spirit are we now by the vaults in Highgate church, where his remains were, in private, deposited—not among the illustrious dead; for none are there—but “alone in his glory.” Dim, dim, was the fane before; but now a glory dwells in it and about it, that shall perish never—unfading because holy. An incorruptible glory irradiates the place, as of a saintly brow which the foot of death hath there pressed beneath the chancel-stone, but of which the light-circle could not be extinguished. Thither shall come the spirits of many times and many places, murmuring the secrets of Chaldea and of Babylon, and, in louder tones, the story of the children of Heber, whether in the line of Israel or Ishmael—or deciphering some Syriac or Ethiopic scroll in half-audible whispers, but reading, in accents clear and high, the sonorous verses of the master-poets of Greece and Italy. Then shall it seem in Fancy’s ear as if Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, and Milton wove a star-like choral harmony; and Schiller shall come in at the close, and so shall the mystic blessing be pronounced which involves the history of genius from the earliest to the latest times. Now they have vanished; and we, without these immortal companions, are left sole visitant—a mere earthly votary—at the poet’s vaulted resting place. What harmony have we to weave—what song to sing? Alas! no verse is ours—no music—but a chaplet of homely prose is all that we have to render by way of gift at this holiest of altars. It is as the widow’s mite—’tis all we can, and will be more acceptable than half a miser’s horde, were it sufficient to build up a pyramid to Cheops.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born at Ottery Saint Mary, Devonshire, in 1773. He was the youngest son of the clergyman of the parish, the Rev. John Coleridge, whose scholarship is well known, and received his early education at Christ’s Hospital—the Rev. James Bowyer being then head-master of the grammar-school, a severe master but a good, and one to whom his pupil owed much. By him the taste of Coleridge was moulded to the preference of Demosthenes to Cicero, of Homer and Theocritus to Virgil, and again, of Virgil to Ovid. High is the tribute of recollection paid by Coleridge to a man whose severities, ever after, “not seldom furnished the dreams, by which the blind fancy would fain interpret to the mind the painful sensations of distempered sleep; but neither lessened nor dimmed the deep sense of his moral and intellectual obligations.”
Such was the severe discipline by which the mind of Coleridge was prepared for that “manly energy” which enabled him to become the guide of other minds in the great business of reflection. Of his studies at Jesus College, Cambridge, which he entered at the age of eighteen, we know not that any record exists. It seems he suffered from the want of pecuniary means; and, falling in love with the sister of a schoolfellow, came to London with some companions in 1793. Having exhausted his funds in conviviality with these brother-collegians, he was left by them as destitute as an Otway or a Chatterton. “Poor Chatterton!” he says in one of his juvenile poems,
“Poor Chatterton! he sorrows for thy fate
Who would have praised and loved thee ere too late.
Poor Chatterton, farewell! of darkest hues
This chaplet cast I on thy unshaped tomb;
But dare no longer on the sad theme muse,
Lest kindred woes persuade a kindred doom:
For, oh! big gall-drops, shook from Folly’s wing,
Have blackened the fair promise of my spring;
And the stern Fate transpierced, with viewless dart,
The last pale Hope that shivered at my heart.”
Monody on the Death of Chatterton.
Coleridge’s Biographia commences with the year 1794, at which period he had just arrived at mature age. A volume of juvenile poems announced the dawn of a reputation which was destined for immortality. Turgidness of diction, and a profusion of new-coined double epithets, are faults belonging to them confessed by their author. Among these was the “Religious Musings.” In the collected edition, the original redundancies of this poem are pruned away, and we have it now in an amended state. The poem itself is interesting as marking the state of his mind at this period of his life, when he named David Hartley “wisest of mortal kind.” Even before his fifteenth year, Coleridge’s mind had shewn its tendency to metaphysical speculations and theological controversy. “Nothing else pleased me,” he says; “history and particular facts lost all interest in my mind.” For his deliverance from this state of intellect, he expresses his obligations to the Rev. W. L. Bowles, whose sonnets, at the time of their publication, made a great impression on Coleridge. Our poet shewed his gratitude in a sonnet of his own.
Coleridge had just entered on his seventeenth year when the sonnets of Bowles, twenty in number, and then first published in a quarto pamphlet, were presented to him by his school-fellow, the learned Dr. Middleton, bishop of Calcutta. Year after year, he tells us, by the works of Bowles, he was “enthusiastically delighted and inspired.” He laboured to make proselytes, in school and out. Within less than a year and a half he made more than forty transcriptions, as the best presents he could offer to those who had in any way won his regard.
Lord Byron looked upon Coleridge’s praise of Bowles as inexplicable. Poorly must his lordship have understood the Biographia Literaria, which he boasted of enjoying. Not so much the merit of Bowles’s sonnets (which, however, it is honourable for any man to rate highly), as the state of Coleridge’s mind at the time, made them interesting to the young poet. He seems to have looked on his metaphysical aspirations, at this season, as symptomatic of a diseased mind; and expresses a wish, that, having been once redeemed from their enchantment, he had “continued to pluck the flower and reap the harvest from the cultivated surface, instead of delving in the unwholesome quicksilver mines of metaphysic depths. If, in after times,” he proceeds, “I have sought a refuge from bodily pain and mismanaged sensibility in abstruse researches, which exercised the strength and subtlety of the understanding without awakening the feelings of the heart; still there was a long and blessed interval, during which my natural faculties were allowed to expand, and my original tendencies to develope themselves: my fancy, and the love of nature, and the sense of beauty in forms and sounds.”
Coleridge was susceptible of impression from the opinions of others, and the sentiment which he here expresses, we suspect, was more a reflection from that of his friends than an original feeling of his own heart. Ill they understood his genius who inspired him with such regrets; and ill advise they, who counsel a path of conduct alien from the genial direction sought and shaped out by the individual will. True, however, it was, that after having studied in the schools of Locke, Berkeley, Leibnitz, and Hartley, Coleridge failed to find an abiding place for his reason. Notwithstanding the high name given to Hartley in the “Religious Musings,” he was fain to seek, and found, a wiser.
Coleridge at this time had imbibed Unitarian principles; and we, accordingly, find that, in the opening of his “Religious Musings,” he considers the character of the Salvator Mundi, under an Unitarian aspect. But the way was already prepared for the poet’s escape from the “cold-hearted heresy” of Socinus. Coleridge recognised something Divine in the Perfect Human for which the mere Unitarian has no acknowledgement, and was already far-gone in the mystic theology of the Evangelist John.
These sentiments were, however, after all, more characteristic of the time than of Coleridge. The poetic temperament is apt to catch the inspirations of the age, as an Eolian harp those of the passing breeze. Thus, in Coleridge’s sonnets, we find lamentations for Burke’s supposed apostacy, and praises of Priestley’s supposed philosohy. Kosciusko, Fayette, and Schiller’s Robbers, were equally objects of his admiration. But all these were first impressions, which the after exercise of a developed understanding was to correct, and did correct.
Coleridge takes no notice in the Biographia of The Fall of Robespierre, a drama, which he wrote in conjunction with Southey, at Bristol, in an evening and a morning, and published on the next day.
The “Religious Musings” is, in the judgment of Mr. Bowles, the most correct, sublime, chaste, and beautiful of his poems. In this we cannot agree—nor would Coleridge. The time of life at which it was written, the tone of its opinions, the juvenility of the sentiments, and the immaturity of its style of composition, precluded it from any such station among his more finished and thoroughly thought-out productions. But though we cannot concur in Mr. Bowles’s opinion, we yet are obliged to him for our knowledge of the circumstances under which it was written” —“non inter sylvas academi, but in the tap-room at Reading. A fine subject for a painting by Wilkie.” Fine, indeed! when all the adjuncts of the tale are considered.
Mr. Bowles had the facts from the poet’s own mouth, with whom he became acquainted after the before-quoted sonnet addressed to him; he also heard them from the officer in the regiment who procured Coleridge’s discharge from the 15th, Elliot’s light dragoons, into which regiment Coleridge, after having left Jesus College, Cambridge, and being in London without resources, as already mentioned, had enlisted. The name of this officer was Nathaniel Ogle, eldest son of Dr. Newton Ogle, dean of Winchester, and brother of the late Mrs. Sheridan. He was a scholar, and leaving Merton College, he entered this regiment a cornet. Some years afterwards, being then captain of Coleridge’s troop, going into the stables at Reading, he remarked, written on the white wall, under one of the saddles, in large pencil characters, the following sentence in Latin—
“Eheu! quam infortunii miserimum est fuisse felicem!”
Being struck with the circumstance, and himself a scholar, Captain Ogle inquired of a soldier whether he knew to whom the saddle belonged. “Please your honour, to Comberback,” answered the dragoon. (When Coleridge enlisted, he was asked his name; he hesitated, but saw the name Comberback over a shop door near Westminster Bridge, and instantly said his name was Comberback.) “Comberback!” said the captain, “send him to me.” Comberback presented himself, with the inside of his hand in front of his cap. His officer mildly said, “Comberback, did you write the Latin sentence which I have just read under your saddle?” “Please your honour,” answered the soldier, “I wrote it.” “Then, my lad, you are not what you appear to be. I shall speak to the commanding officer, and you may depend on my speaking as a friend.” The commanding officer was General Churchill; and the supposed Comberback being examined, the facts of his case were elicited.
His discharge has been attributed to his democratic feelings at this time, and to his inability to ride. Neither cause is the true one. Many errors are afloat with regard to Coleridge’s early democratic opinions. Certain it is that he mistook his own opinions for democratic, but experience soon taught him that they had no harmony with such. The fortunes, or rather ill-fortunes, of his first periodical, The Watchman, made this plain to him. This unhappy production, having been delayed in its first number beyond the day announced for its publication, had the bad luck, in its second, through an essay on Fast-Days, with a most censurable application of a text from Isaiah for its motto, to lose nearly five hundred subscribers at one blow. In the two following numbers he made enemies of all his jacobin and democratic patrons; for, to use his own words, “disgusted by their infidelity, and their adoption of French morals with French psilosophy; and, perhaps, thinking that charity ought to begin nearest home, instead of abusing the government and the aristocrats chiefly or entirely, as had been expected of him, he levelled his attacks at ‘modern patriotism,’ and even ventured to declare his belief, that whatever the motives of ministers might have been for the sedition (or, as it was then the fashion to call them, the gagging) bills, yet the bills themselves would produce an effect to be desired by all true friends of freedom, as far as they should contribute to deter men from openly declaiming on subjects the principles of which they had never bottomed, and from ‘pleading to the poor and ignorant, instead of pleading for them.’ At the same time he avowed his conviction, that national education, and a concurring spread of the gospel, were the indispensable condition of any true political amelioration.” And thus, at the ninth number, the work was dropped. So much for Coleridge’s democratic principles at this period.
That he knew not how to ride is a fact; and we have heard a tale relative to it not a little characteristic. While out with his fellow dragoon, he was expatiating at large on some philosophical point, when, from inattention to his seat, he rolled from the saddle to the ground. Calmly, however, rising, and brushing off the mud or dust which his clothes had contracted, he “resumed his place upon the horse’s back,” and, taking up the theme on which he had been engaged previous to the accident, began again with—“But to proceed with the argument in which we were interrupted, it must be conceded on all hands,” &c. Not for this cause, either, was he discharged from the regiment, but in consequence of the circumstances already related.
“As a soldier,” says Mr. Bowles, “Coleridge was remarkably orderly and obedient, though he could not rub down his own horse. He was discharged from respect to his friends and his station. His friends having been informed of his situation, a chaise was soon at the door of the Bear Inn, Reading, and the officers of the 15th cordially shaking his hands, particularly the officer who had been the means of his discharge, he drove off, not without a tear in his eye, whilst his old companions of the tap-room gave him three hearty cheers as the wheels rapidly rolled away along the Bath road to London and Cambridge.”
It is impossible to peruse this incident without referring to Coleridge’s beautiful drama of Zapolya, and seeing in the poet’s adventure, the realization of the “royal Andreas,” living in disguise as a peasant among peasants. But, unlike Andreas, the secret of his birth was known to Coleridge. He was as a divine visitant, conscious of his divinity, voluntarily, or by the decree of fate, submitting to a temporary avatar in the vale of humility, for the communication of truth to inferior natures. With what wonder, and awe, and strange excitement must the rude dragoons of the 15th have listened to the strong and sweet eloquence of Coleridge’s familiar discourse!
Coleridge’s name has been already mentioned in union with Southey’s; and in the winter of 1794-5 we find him delivering a course of lectures at Bristol on the French Revolution. He was also included in the Pantisocracy scheme, which has been so much misrepresented, and which was so soon exchanged for a matrimonial one. In the autumn of 1795, Coleridge was wedded to Miss Sara Fricker.
With this period of his life his labours in The Watchman, already mentioned, are connected. Within a year after his departure from Cambridge, he was persuaded by persons whom he calls philanthropists and anti-polemists, to set on foot a periodical work, entitled The Watchman, that, as he remarks, “according to the general motto of the work, all might know the truth, and that the truth might make us free.” In order to exempt it from the stamp-tax, and likewise to contribute as little as possible to the supposed guilt of a war against freedom, it was to be published on every eighth day, thirty-two pages, large octavo, closely printed, and price only FOURPENCE. Accordingly, with a flaming prospectus,—“Knowledge is Power,” &c. to cry the state of the political atmosphere, and so forth, he set off on a tour to the north, from Bristol to Sheffield, for the purpose of procuring customers, preaching by the way in most of the great towns, as an hireless volunteer, in a blue coat and white waistcoat, that not a ray of the woman of Babylon might be seen on him. Though a zealous Unitarian, as we have mentioned, in religion, yet he informs us that he was at this period a “Trinitarian (i.e. ad norman Platonis) in philosophy.” He adds, “More accurately, I was a psilanthropist; one of those who believe our Lord to have been the real son of Joseph, and who lay the main stress on the resurrection rather than on the crucifixion. O! never can I remember those days with either shame or regret; for I was most sincere—most disinterested! My opinions were, indeed, in many and most important points, erroneous; but my heart was single. Wealth, rank, life itself, then seemed cheap to me, compared with the interests of (what I believed to be) the truth and the will of my Maker. I cannot even accuse myself of having been actuated by vanity, for in the expansion of my enthusiasm I did not think of myself at all.”
Coleridge’s account of his campaign at Birmingham and Manchester is excessively amusing. At the former place, after his unsuccessful attempt to repeat the miracle of Orpheus with a Brummagem patriot, Coleridge dined with the tradesman who had introduced him, and some friends of the same. Compelled by courtesy to smoke a pipe with them, and unused to tobacco, he soon began to feel giddy. Proceeding thence to an engagement at a minister’s house, he found the walk and the fresh air had only the more confused his feelings. Scarcely finding time to inform his host of his condition and its cause, he swooned back on the sofa. On awaking he found from fifteen to twenty gentlemen assembled to spend the evening with him. By way of relieving his embarrassment, one of the gentlemen began the conversation with,—“Have you seen a paper to-day, Mr. Coleridge?” “Sir,” he replied, rubbing his eyes, “I am far from convinced that a Christian is permitted to read either newspapers or any other works of merely political and temporary interest.” Yet to establish such a work had he visited Birmingham: an involuntary and general burst of laughter therefore, followed, the delivery of a sentiment so incongruous to the occasion and the purpose in which they were met to assist him. They assisted him nevertheless, relieving him especially from the necessity for personal canvass. The same kind reception he met with at Manchester, Derby, Nottingham, Sheffield; in fact, he found friends everywhere. The result was, that he had a thousand names on the subscription list of The Watchman, and the work was accordingly announced in London by long bills in letters larger than had ever been seen before, and which, he was informed—for he did not see them himself—eclipsed the glories even of the lottery puffs. The events of the adventure we have already detailed. It only remains to be added, that the London publisher cheated him out of all the receipts; and from other places he procured but little, and after such delays as rendered that little worth nothing.
In this incident, however, we have one of those instances of providential guardianship, which appear to have hedged about the life of a man too wise to be prudent—one of those beautiful relations of friendship which it seems always to have been Coleridge’s genius to cement. For the expenses of The Watchman he would have been inevitably thrown into jail by his Bristol printer, who refused to wait even a month, for a sum between eighty and ninety pounds, if the money had not been paid for him by a man by no means affluent—“a dear friend,” he adds, “who attached himself to me from my first arrival at Bristol,—who has continued my friend with a fidelity unconquered by time or even by my own apparent neglect;—a friend from whom I never received an advice that was not wise, or a remonstrance that was not gentle and affectionate.”
We next find Coleridge retired to a cottage at Stowey, for which he was indebted to “honest Tom Poole,” who perhaps is the friend above alluded to, and providing for his scanty maintenance by providing verses for a London morning paper. “I saw plainly,” he writes, “that literature was not a profession by which I could expect to live; for I could not disguise from myself, that whatever my talents might or might not be in other respects, yet they were not of the sort that could enable me to become a popular writer; and that whatever my opinions might be in themselves, they were almost equidistant from all the three prominent parties—the Pittites, the Foxites, and the democrats. Of the unsaleable nature of my writings, I had an amusing memento one morning from our own servant girl, for, happening to rise at an earlier hour than usual, I observed her putting an extravagant quantity of paper into the grate in order to light the fire, and mildly checked her for her wastefulness. “La, sir!” replied poor Nanny, “why, it is only ‘WATCHMEN.’”
Coleridge now devoted himself to poetry, and to the study of ethics and psychology; and so profound was his admiration at this time of Hartley’s Essay on Man, that he gave his name to his first-born—that son of his who so lately sent from a provincial press a thin volume of real poetry, deservedly praised by the Quarterly Review. At length, however, the writings of Kant, the founder of the Critical Philosophy, at once invigorated and disciplined his understanding. But of this have we not already written in our aforesaid article on the philosophy of Coleridge? The further history of the sage’s mind the reader must seek in that paper.
At the time that Coleridge resided at Stowey, Wordsworth was living at All-Foxden, “a romantic old family-mansion of the St. Aubins,” as Hazlitt hath it in his delightful essay, entitled, My First Acquaintance with Poets, of which we shall make some use. “It was then in the possession of a friend of the poet, who gave him the free use of it.” To his residence at Stowey, Coleridge owed his acquaintance with Wordsworth, whose conversation, he tells us, extended to almost all subjects, except physics and politics; with the latter he never troubled himself. Politics, however, troubled themselves with both. In those jealous times, suspicion and obloquy attached themselves both to him and his friend. A “sycophantic law-mongrel,” discoursing on the politics of the day, uttered the following deep remark:—“As to Coleridge, there is not so much harm in him, for he is a whirl-brain that talks whatever comes uppermost; but that Wordsworth! he is the dark traitor. You never hear him say a syllable on the subject!” The dark guesses either of this or some other “zealous quidnunc, met with so congenial a soil in the grave alarm of a titled Dogberry of their neighbourhood, that a spy was actually sent down from the government, pour surveillance of” the two poets. Only think of such a person trying to understand the “talk” of Coleridge and Wordsworth! The autobiographer tells us of three weeks’ truly Indian perseverance on the part of the spy; but in vain. In despair he rejected Sir Dogberry’s request, that he would try a little longer. He had repeatedly hid himself, he said, for hours together behind a bank at the sea-side (their favourite seat), and overheard their conversation. At first he fancied that they were aware of their danger, for he often heard Coleridge talk of one Spy Nozy, which he was inclined to interpret of himself, and of a remarkable feature belonging to him; but he was speedily convinced that it was the name of a man who had made a book and lived long ago. Their talk ran mostly upon books, and they were perpetually desiring each other to look at this, and to listen to that; but he could not catch a word about politics. “Once,” says Coleridge, “he had joined me on the road (this occurred as I was returning home alone from my friend’s house, which was about three miles from my own cottage), and passing himself off as a traveller, he had entered into conversation with me, and talked of purpose in a democrat way, in order to draw me out. The result, it appears, not only convinced him that I was no friend to Jacobinism, but (he added) I had ‘plainly made it out to be such a silly, as well as wicked thing, that he felt ashamed, though he had only put it on.’ I distinctly remembered the occurrence, and had mentioned it immediately on my return, repeating what the traveller with his Bardolph nose had said, with my own answer; and so little did I suspect the true object of ‘my tempter ere accuser,’ that I expressed, with no small pleasure, my hope and belief, that the conversation had been of some service to the poor misled malcontent. This incident, therefore, prevented all doubt as to the truth of the report, which, through a friendly medium, came to me from the master of the village inn, who had been ordered to entertain the government gentleman in his best manner, but above all, to be silent concerning such a person being in his house.”
The great occasion of suspicion was the fact of Coleridge having been seen wandering on the hills towards the Channel, and along the shores, with books and papers in his hands, taking, as was thought, charts and maps of the country. Coleridge had considered it a defect in Cowper’s Task, that the subject which gives the title to the work was not, and indeed could not be, carried on beyond the three or four first pages, and that throughout the poem the connections are frequently awkward, and the transitions abrupt and arbitrary. “I sought,” he says, “for a subject that should give equal room and freedom for description, incident, and impassioned reflections on men, nature, and society, yet supply in itself a natural connexion to the parts, and unity to the whole. Such a subject I conceived myself to have found in a stream, traced from its source in the hills among the yellow-red moss and conical glass-shaped tufts of bent, to the first break or fall, where its drops become audible, and it begins to form a channel; thence to the peat and turf barn, itself built of the same dark squares as it sheltered; to the sheepfold; to the first cultivated plot of ground; to the lonely cottage and its bleak garden won from the heath; to the hamlets, the villages, the market town, the manufactories, and the seaport. My walks, therefore, were almost daily on the top of Quantock, and among its sloping coombs. With my pencil and memorandum book in my hand, I was making studies, as the artists call them, and often moulding my thoughts into verse, with the objects and imagery immediately before my senses. Many circumstances, evil and good, intervened to prevent the completion of the poem, which was to have been entitled, The Brook. Had I finished the work, it was my purpose, in the heat of the moment, to have dedicated it to our then committee of public safety, as containing the charts and maps with which I was to have supplied the French government in aid of their plans of invasion. And these, too, for a tract of coast, that, from Clevedon to Minehead, scarcely permits the approach of a fishing-boat.”
Would that The Brook had been written by Coleridge! The idea Wordsworth adopted in his River Duddon. Fine as that series of sonnets is, Coleridge’s poem, we can conceive, would have been much finer! Not revolving his poem, however; at the foot of Quantock, in a retired cottage, sat Coleridge, day by day, devoted to the study of “the foundations of religion and morals.” “Here,” he exclaims, “I found myself all afloat. Doubts rushed in—broke upon me from the fountains of the great deep, and fell from the windows of heaven. The fontal truths of natural religion and the books of revelation alike contributed to the flood; and it was long ere my ark touched on an Ararat, and rested.” For a long time, indeed, he says in another place, he could not reconcile the personality of God with the infinity: and his head was with Spinosa, though his whole heart remained with Paul and John. He became convinced, even before his perusal of the Critique of the Pure Reason, that religion, as both the corner-stone and the key-stone of morality, must have a moral origin; so far at least, that the evidence of its doctrines could not, like the truths of abstract science, be wholly independent of the will. It were therefore, as he concluded, to be expected, that its fundamental truth would be such as MIGHT be denied, though only by the fool, and even by the fool from the madness of the heart alone. Still he remained, “in respect of revealed religion, a zealous Unitarian;” and, as such, is said to have preached every Sunday at the Unitarian chapel at Taunton.
And at this point it is that Hazlitt’s Essay (before alluded to) becomes of great importance to us. Hazlitt’s father was a dissenting minister at Wem, in Shropshire; and it was in the year 1798 that Coleridge came to Shrewsbury to succeed a Mr. Rowe in the charge of the Unitarian congregation there. For a column or two, we must let Hazlitt tell the tale for himself.
“Coleridge did not come till late on the Saturday afternoon before he was to preach; and Mr. Rowe, who himself went down to the coach in a state of anxiety and expectation, to look for the arrival of his succcssor, could find no one at all answering the description but a round-faced man in a short black coat (like a shooting-jacket), which hardly seemed to have been made for him, but who seemed to be talking at a great rate with his fellow-passengers. Mr. Rowe had scarce returned to give an account of his disappointment, when the round-faced man in black entered, and dissipated all doubts on the subject by beginning to talk. He did not cease while he stayed, nor has he since that I know of. He held the good town of Shrewsbury in delightful suspense for three weeks that he remained there, ‘fluttering the proud Salopians like an eagle in a dove-cot;’ and the Welch mountains that skirt the horizon with their tempestuous confusion, agree to have heard no such mystic sounds since the days of
‘High-born Hoel’s harp or soft Llewellyn’s lay!’
As we passed along between Wem and Shrewsbury, and I eyed their blue tops seen through the wintry branches, or the red rustling leaves of the sturdy oak-trees by the road-side, a sound was in my ears as of a siren’s song; I was stunned, startled with it as from a deep sleep; but I had no notion then that I should ever be able to express my admiration to others in motley imagery or quaint allusion, till the light of his genius shone into my soul, like the sun’s rays glittering in the puddles of the road. I was at that time dumb, inarticulate, helpless, like a worm by the way-side—crushed, bleeding, lifeless; but now, bursting from the deadly bands that ‘bound them
With Styx nine times round them,’
my ideas float on winged words, and, as they expand their plumes, catch the golden light of other years. My soul has indeed remained in its original bondage—dark, obscure, with longings infinite and unsatisfied; my heart, shut up in the prison-house of this rude clay, has never found, nor will ever find, a heart to speak to; but that my understanding also did not remain dumb and brutish, or at length found out any way to express itself, I owe to Coleridge.”
This confession is highly honourable to Hazlitt, whose writings are indeed little other than the expressions of Coleridgean ideas, misunderstood and misinterpreted—coloured and fractured by the medium of communication.
He proceeds to tell us that, according to the custom of the place, and as the aforesaid Mr. Rowe’s successor, Coleridge had agreed to come over to his father, who lived ten miles from Shrewsbury. In the mean time, however, he (young Hazlitt) had gone to hear him preach the Sunday after his arrival. A poet and a philosopher getting up into a Unitarian pulpit to preach throws Hazlitt into ecstasies of romantic feeling—and well it might. It was in the winter of the year 1798, the month of January, that, before daylight, the critic walked through the mud on this errand—a cold, raw, comfortless walk. When he got there, the organ was playing the 100th psalm;—that finished, Coleridge rose and gave out his text. “And he went up into the mountain to pray, HIMSELF ALONE.” In delivering which, “his voice ‘rose like a stream of rich distilled perfumes;’ and when he came to the two last words, which he pronounced loud, deep, and distinct, it seemed,” says the critic, “to me, who was then young, as if the sounds had echoed from the bottom of the human heart, and as if that prayer might have floated in solemn silence through the universe. The idea of St. John came into my mind, ‘of one crying in the wilderness, who had his loins girt about, and whose food was locusts and wild honey.’ The preacher then launched into his subject ike an eagle dallying with the wind.”
We dare not trust Hazlitt in his statement of the subject-matter of the discourse—it is given, of course, as connected with both pre-and-post-political possessions. It appears to have been descriptive and argumentative, with dashes and flashes of poetic imagery broad and bright.
“On the Tuesday following,” says Hazlitt, “the half-inspired speaker came. I was called down into the room where he was, and went half-hoping, half-afraid. He received me very graciously, and I listened for a long time without uttering a word. I did not suffer in his opinion by my silence. ‘For those two hours,’ he afterwards was pleased to say, ‘he was conversing with W. H.’s forehead.’ His appearance was different from what I had anticipated from seeing him before. At a distance, and in the dim light of the chapel, there was to me a strange wildness in his aspect, a dusky obscurity, and I thought him pitted with the small-pox. His complexion was at that time clear, and even bright—
‘As are the children of yon azure sheen.’
His forehead was broad and high, light as if built of ivory, with large projecting eyebrows, and his eyes rolling beneath them like a sea with darkened lustre. ‘A certain tender bloom his face o’erspread,’ a purple tinge, as we see it in the pale thoughtful complexions of the Spanish portrait-painters, Murillo and Velasquez. His mouth was gross, voluptuous, open, eloquent; his chin good-humoured and round; but his nose, the rudder of the face, the index of the will, was small, feeble, nothing”—Hazlitt adds, what we cannot join in—“like what he has done. It might seem that the genius of his face, as from a height, surveyed and projected him (with sufficient capacity and huge aspiration) into the world unknown of thought and imagination, with nothing to support or guide his veering purpose, as if Columbus had launched his adventurous course for the New World in a scallop, without oars or compass. So, at least, I comment on it after the event.” On these misstatements we shall say something in the proper place. He continues:—“Coleridge in his person was rather above the common size, inclining to the corpulent, like Lord Hamlet, ‘somewhat fat and pursy.’ His hair (now,  alas! grey) was then black and glossy as the raven’s, and fell in smooth masses over his forehead. This long pendulous hair is peculiar to enthusiasts, to those whose minds tend heavenward; and is traditionally inseparable (though of a different colour) from the pictures of Christ. It ought to belong, as a character, to all who preach Christ crucified, and Coleridge was at that time one of those.”
Hazlitt’s father seems to have been astonished at the manners and eloquence of his guest, and all the more so from the circumstance of “a poet being to him a nondescript. He could hardly have been,” says the critic, “more surprised or pleased, if our visitor had worn wings. Indeed his thoughts had wings; and as the silken sounds rustled round our little wainscoted parlour, my father threw back his spectacles over his forehead, his white hairs mixing with its sanguine hue; and a smile of delight beamed across his rugged cordial face, to think that Truth had found a new ally in Fancy.”
Into the particulars of their conversation we have no space to enter. Hazlitt, however, found reason to complain that Coleridge would not let him get on at all, for he required a definition of every the commonest word, exclaiming, “What do you mean by a sensation, sir? What do you mean by an idea?” “This,” Coleridge said, “was barricading the road to truth;—it was setting up a turnpike-gate at every step we took.”
Coleridge was less satisfied with himself all this time than Hazlitt was with him. A more thorough revolution in his philosophic principles, and a deeper insight into his own heart, he felt were yet wanting. Nevertheless, he could not subsequently doubt that the difference of his metaphysical notions from those of Unitarians in general contributed to his final reconversion to the whole truth in Christ. While his mind was thus perplexed, he adds, “by a gracious Providence, for which I can never be sufficiently thankful, the generous and munificent patronage of Mr. Josiah and Mr. Thomas Wedgewood enabled me to finish my education in Germany. Instead of troubling others with my crude notions and juvenile compositions, I was thenceforward better employed in attempting to store my own head with the wisdom of others.”
Of this important incident of Coleridge’s life, Hazlitt gives a more detailed account. The day before Coleridge was to return to Shrewsbury, when Hazlitt came down to breakfast, he found that the poet had received a letter from his friend T. Wedgewood, making him an offer of 150l. a year if he chose to waive his present pursuit, and devote himself entirely to the study of poetry and philosophy. Coleridge seemed to make up his mind to close with this proposal in the act of tying on one of his shoes; and, after inviting young Hazlitt to Nether Stowey, took leave of his host, being accompanied for six miles of the road by the incipient critic, whom, in the course of conversation, he told in confidence that he designed to have preached two sermons before he accepted the situation at Shrewsbury, one on Infant Baptism, the other on the Lord’s Supper: shewing that he could not administer either, which would have effectually disqualified him for the object in view. For this curious mode of proceeding, the solution must be sought in the acknowledged state of his opinions.
In a subsequent part of Hazlitt’s Essay, we are presented with portraits of Coleridge and Wordsworth together. The critic visited Coleridge in the spring, according to invitation, at Nether Stowey, “the country about which is beautiful, green, and hilly, and near the sea-shore.” In the afternoon Coleridge took him to All-Foxden. Wordsworth was from home, but his sister kept house, and set before them a frugal repast; and they had free access to her brother’s poems, the lyrical ballads, which were still in MS. Next morning, as soon as breakfast was over, they strolled out into the park, and seating themselves on the trunk of an old ash-tree that stretched along the ground, Coleridge read aloud, with a sonorous and musical voice, the ballad of Betty Foy. In the evening they walked back to Stowey; on which occasion, according to Hazlitt, Coleridge canvassed the merits of Wordsworth’s poetry: but Hazlitt’s account is a mere abstract of Coleridge’s written review thereon in the Biographia Literaria. The next day Wordsworth arrived from Bristol at Coleridge’s cottage; and the day following all three returned to All-Foxden, when Wordsworth read them the story of Peter Bell in the open air.
Hazlitt remarks the chant in both Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s reading, an accompaniment which acts as a spell upon the hearer and disarms his judgment. We have heard Coleridge read, and must say, that, however beautiful this mode of recitation is in itself, it is very apt to hide the meaning from the listener. We heard him read, previous to publication, his sweet lines on “Youth and Age,” but formed but an indistinct conception of them from this cause. Coleridge at this time read to Hazlitt some passages from his tragedy of The Remorse. His “Ancient Mariner” was also written and preparing for publication in the well-known Lyrical Ballads in company with similar productions by Wordsworth.
We have already dwelt on the influence which Bowles’s poetry had on Coleridge’s mind. Pope and Darwin were never among his favourites; he preferred lines running into each other to those which closed at each couplet, and natural language to artificial diction. Of Cowper he always expresses a high opinion, and as a poet to whom he was as much indebted for the sustained and elevated style which marks his poems, as he was to the Percy Reliques for the popular and ballad form of poetic composition. At first adopting a laborious and florid diction, Coleridge, by his twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth year, acquired a chaster manner of writing, of which he instances his tragedy of The Remorse as an example.
“There is no profession on earth,” says our poet, “which requires an attention so early, so long, or so unintermitting, as that of poetry; and, indeed, as that of literary composition in general, if it be such as at all satisfies the demands both of taste and sound logic.” It is from the clear perception of this truth that the excellence of Coleridge’s poetry has originated, in common with that of Southey and Wordsworth. Byron’s poetry was a passion; Shelley’s an enthusiasm; with the poets of the so-called Lake School, it has been an art—an art which with them has been a second nature. For their art was not the opposite of nature, so much as it was the nature within and without them shaped and modified by the agency of a wise and understanding spirit. How exquisitely do we recognise its influence in the “Ode to the Departing Year” (1796), which opens the Sibylline Leaves. Genius is there, passion, enthusiasm; but, in addition to all these, a controlling will, preserving the lyric inspiration within the bounds of harmonious propriety. The fine musician scatters not his sounds at random from his instrument, but with aim and purpose blends them into intelligent totality. Yet had Coleridge at this time not attained that perfect mastery over its chords which he subsequently exhibited. Two months afterwards he produced France, an Ode, than which a more philosophical lyric exists not in the English language. How well it expresses the hopes of good and instructed men—and their disappointment. The initiatory appeal to the clouds, the ocean-waves, the woods, the sun and the sky, in behalf of liberty, is magnificent—fearful the revulsion, when, having implored pardon of Freedom’s spirit, the conviction is forced upon him, that
“The sensual and the dark rebel in vain,
Slaves by their own compulsion. In mad game,
They burst their manacles, and wear the name
Of Freedom, graven on a heavier chain!”
This ode, notwithstanding, has faults—turgidity, double epithets, and abstruse conceptions. In the Fears in Solitude, however, written in April 1798, during the alarm of an invasion, we look for them in vain. All is good mother-English, and plain patriotic feeling. The celebrated war eclogue, with the apologetic preface, closes the political portion of the Sibylline Leaves.
The love poems are yet in better tone. What can excel the “Legend of Genevieve” in pathos and grace? It is indeed a thing of beauty that shall be a joy for ever. Deliciously delicate, also, is the “Circassian Love-Chant;” nor do we know a prettier pastoral than “The Picture; or, the Lover’s Resolution.” A dramatic fragment, called the “Night Scene,” concludes with the following majestic simile:
“O Henry! always striv’st thou to be great
By thine own act, yet art thou never great
But by the inspiration of great passion.
The whirl-blast comes, the desert-sands rise up
And shape themselves: from earth to heaven they stand,
As though they were the pillars of a temple,
Built by Omnipotence in its own honour!
But the blast pauses, and their shaping spirit
Is fled: the mighty columns were but sand,
And lazy snakes trail o’er the level ruins.”
The “Myrtle Leaf” is one of the most exquisite little parables ever written. But we must pass on to the “Meditative” poems—to the grand “Hymn before Sunrise in the Vale of Chamouni”—to the lines on the “Brocken”—the “Eolian Harp”—and the splendid verses to Mr. Wordsworth. A conversation poem concerning the “Nightingale” has necessarily given rise to some remarks, as disputing the melancholy character attributed to it by Milton.
With “The Three Graves” commences that series of ballad poetry on which so much controversy has arisen. We must refer our readers to our articles on Burger, and on Wordsworth, for information as to the influence exercised on both German and English poetry by the ballads of Bishop Percy. These ballads of Coleridge are products of the same influence, and the one just mentioned, in particular, is in the colloquial style, against which so much opposition was ignorantly made. It is to the critical remarks, rather than to the poems themselves, which Wordsworth prefixed to the Lyrical Ballads, that Coleridge attributes the occasion of so much enmity. The humbler passages, says he, were dwelt on and cited to justify the rejection of the theory. “What,” he continues, “in and for themselves would have been either forgotten or forgiven as imperfections, or at least comparative failures, provoked direct hostility when announced as intentional, as the result of choice after full deliberation. Thus the poems admitted by all as excellent, joined with those which had pleased the far greater number, though they formed two-thirds of the whole work, instead of being deemed (as in all right they should have been, even if we take for granted that the reader judged aright) an atonement for the few exceptions, gave wind and fuel to the animosity against both the poems and the poet. In all perplexity there is a portion of fear, which predisposes the mind to anger. Not able to deny that the author possessed both genius and a powerful intellect, they felt very positive, but were not quite certain that he might not be in the right, and they themselves in the wrong—an unquiet state of mind, which seeks alleviation by quarrelling with the occasion of it.” Of Coleridge’s ballad of “The Three Graves,” the language was intended to be dramatic—that is, suited to the narrator, and the metre to correspond with the homeliness of the diction. The poet was led to choose this story from finding in it a striking proof of the possible effect on the imagination through an idea violently and suddenly impressed on it. The tale is supposed to be narrated by an old sexton. It is, however, only a fragment, composed of the third and fourth parts of a ballad, but of acknowledged beauty, though unsusceptible of criticism. The dramatic propriety alluded to will be found interestingly preserved in the opening stanza of each part, e.g.:
“The grapes upon the vicar’s wall
Were ripe as ripe could be;
And yellow leaves in sun and wind
Were falling from the tree.”
“To see a man tread over graves,
I hold it no good mark;
’Tis wicked in the sun and moon,
And bad luck in the dark.”
The following is also characteristic:
“And now Ash-Wednesday came—that day
But few to church repair;
For on that day, you know, we read
The Commination prayer.
Our late old vicar, a kind man,
Once, sir, he said to me,
He wished that service was clean out
Of our good liturgy.”
The “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” is the next specimen in these volumes of the ballad style—that supernatural romance inspired with human interest, which eclipses all other attempts. Here both Southey and Wordsworth wane and fade from the presence of a more ascendant star. We are resolute in the opinion that this ballad, in its way, is not to be exceeded. Coleridge, however, says, that in the “Christabel,” he should have more nearly realised his ideal than he had done in the “Ancient Mariner.” This might be so; but the “Christabel” is yet unfinished, and, powerful as it is, we doubt of its finally transcending the former effort. Of course it would be a whole, as it is as a part, more elaborate, more epic. But there is an intensity, “a still horror,” in “the Rime,” in comparison with which all in the “Christabel” sinks into melodrama.
At the end of the first volume of the Biographia Literaria, Mr. Coleridge tells us, “Whatever more than this, I shall think it fit to declare concerning the powers and privileges of the imagination in the present work, will be found in the critical essay on the uses of the supernatural in poetry, and the principles that regulate its introduction, which the reader will find prefixed to the poem of ‘The Ancient Mariner.’” Prefixed to this poem such declaration is not—never was. This omission to fulfil his promises is characteristic of Mr. Coleridge; they are mostly all taken to the credit of his Logosophia, a work in which he remained till death indebted to the learned reader. We must accordingly take the “Ancient Mariner” without its preface.
In the “Ancient Mariner” we find something better than any metaphysical introduction concerning the supernatural in poetry; we have the illustration. Poetry is essentially ideal—the ideal and the supernatural are essentially one. Whatever shall be idealised, and partake of supernatural attributes, shall be generally acknowledged poetic. Those who will doubt of Wordsworth’s Idiot Boy being justly to be so characterised will give ready suffrage to the claims of the “Ancient Mariner.” It is on account of its supernatural attributes, which announce at once the presence of the ideal. In Wordsworth’s poem, in which the common is the most apparent element, the ideal has to be sought for. It is there; but it is hidden—hidden in the dark chambers of an idiot’s mind—of all minds the most mysterious. There is a miracle there, if you have but eyes to perceive it, and one unconnected with superstition.
Superstition is the basis of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. He has shot an albatross, and vengeance, in consequence, overtakes the ship’s crew, and he is condemned to penance, in order that he may learn to love and reverence all things that God made and loveth. The great charm of the ballad is, however, the sweetness of the diction and versification, with the splendid imagery every here and there introduced. There is, besides, a substance of thought in it which gives weight and value to its representations. It is now late in the day to give instances of these excellences, and little more than reference can be made to them. Yet the criticism would be incomplete that omitted mention of the “hot and copper sky”—the “rotting deep”—the “slimy things that did crawl with legs upon the slimy sea”—and “the night-mare Life-in-Death” who dices with Death himself for the ship’s crew, and wins the ancient mariner.
“‘The game is done! I’ve won! I’ve won!’
Quoth she, and whistles thrice.
The sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out;
At one stride comes the dark;
With far-heard whisper, o’er the sea,
Off shot the spectre-bark.
We listened and looked sideways up!
Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip!
The stars were dim, and thick the night,
The steersman’s face by his lamp gleamed white;
From the sails the dew did drip—
Till clomb above the eastern bar
The horned moon, with one bright star
Within the nether tip.”
His blessing the water-snakes and other creatures of the great calm, and the relaxation of the spell in consequence, is conceived in a beautiful spirit. The refreshing rain—the inspiration of the bodies of the crew—with the consequent sounds of singing, as of the skylark and other birds, and of sweet instruments; and when it ceases,
“the sails made on
A pleasant noise ’till noon,
A noise like of a hidden brook
In the leafy month of June,
That to the sleeping woods all night
Singeth a quiet tune.”
Verily there is a strange spell, “a strange power of speech,” in the Ancient Mariner which compels hearing. The moral of it is the same as of Burger’s Wild Hunter and Wordsworth’s Hart-Leap-Well.
Why, many have doubtless asked, is not the Christabel finished, that we might form an opinion of it as a ballad-epic—that we might declare it to be as perfect in construction as it is beautiful as a fragment? Its interest is altogether of a tenderer kind than that of the Mariner’s Rime. Who is the Lady Geraldine? What is the “mark of her shame?” and what mystery is there in her “shrunken serpent eyes?” We once heard the poet say that he had the story complete in his mind, and could put it into metre, with all the requisites of fancy, in a week at any time. “I spend,” said he, “more fancy in the way of ordinary conversation any day of my life than would go to the manufacturing a score of poems.” And the statement was true. One thing he meant to do, to give much local description of scenery in the journey to be taken by Bracey the Bard, “over the mountains,” and “on the valley road,” “up Knorren Moor, through Halegarth Wood,” as also,
“that castle good
Which stands and threatens Scotland’s wastes.”
But, all this while, our readers are ignorant that a conclusion of Christobell actually exists—of Christobell, we say, and not Christabel (and as Christobell, and not Christabel, is the poem announced in the Biographia Lit., vol. ii., p. 3.) exists and in print, and published before, not after, the fragment of Christabel. In number LXVII. of the European Magazine, dated April, 1815, this literary curiosity exists, and must have been written either by Coleridge himself, or by somebody who heard him recite it, as it contains lines, and references to lines, that occur in the first part, and offers a key for the solution of its enigmas. One objection lies against its authenticity, “Geraldine,” in the conclusion, is rhymed to “mien,” and “seen;”—in the first two parts, to “recline” and “divine.” The versification is, however, the same, even to the variations from the general structure. We refer our readers to the magazine itself for its perusal.
A friend of ours, in company with another gentleman, paid a visit to Coleridge to get at the fact relative to this conclusion. “By-the-bye,” answered Coleridge, “that is a curious circumstance,—I’ll tell you all about it,” and then digressed into some other topic, upon which he discoursed so fascinatingly that both himself and his questioners forgot the purport of their visit, and came away without the solution which they went to get. This is a type of Coleridge’s conversation, and shews its singular power. We suspect that the conclusion is his, but that he was dissatisfied with it—not without reason, for though pretty there is a nameless grace wanting, and though the best key we yet have to the mystery of that tale, it is not complete. Why was Merlin in Langdale Hall disguised as Bracy the Bard? What reason had the Witch of the Lake (Geraldine) for her enmity towards Christabel or her family? A better solution was in the mind of the poet, and therefore, though he took care that this should be preserved in case the better one was not produced, he was desirous of its being so published that it might be easily suppressed, whenever the new dénouement should come forth to supply its place.
The versification of Christabel is exquisite; the lines are constructed of accents not of syllables. The former are four, the latter vary from seven to eleven: an excellent contrivance to reserve both uniformity with variety. Some new form of verse seems wanting to modern poetry, and this of Coleridge’s invention might have been more generally adopted with advantage. Previous to Mat. Lewis’ Alonzo and Imogen the measures of English poets were not, as our poet observes, indebted for their variety to the introduction of new metres; our elder bards, both of Italy and England, produced a far greater as well as more charming variety, by countless modifications and subtle balances of sound in the common metres of their country. “A lasting and enviable reputation,” he continues, “awaits that man of genius, who should attempt and realise a union—who should recall the high finish—the appropriateness—the facility—the delicate proportion;—and, above all, the profusion of omnipresent grace, which have preserved, as in a shrine of precious amber, the Sparrow of Catullus, the Swallow, the Grasshopper, and all the other little loves of Anacreon; and which, with bright, though diminished glories, revisited the youth and early manhood of Christian Europe, in the vales of Arno, and the groves of Isis and of Cam; and who with these should combine the keener interest, deeper pathos, manlier reflection, and the fresher and more various imagery, which give a value and a name that will not pass away, to the poets who have done honour to our own times, and to those of our immediate predecessors.”
At the period of which we have been writing, Coleridge was a dramatist, and is entitled to consideration as such, though The Remorse, originally written at the request of Sheridan, was not performed for several years after. It has held no possession of the stage, and of late has been little read. It is, however, a glorious poem, though a most faulty and improbable play. Its purpose is to shew, that “Remorse is as the heart in which it grows;” and this moral is set forth in the person of Ordonio, who is suffering under that passion from the supposed assassination of his elder brother (Alvar), procured by his means. That brother returns in diguise, and by his interference prevents the marriage between his own betrothed lady, the Doña Teresa, and the same Ordonio. The scene is placed in Granada, and the action is made to connect itself with the persecution which raged against the Moors in the reign of Philip II. so hotly, that the wearing of Moresco apparel was forbidden under pain of death.
Doña Teresa is an orphan heiress; she is faithful to the memory of Alvar, and effectually resists his brother’s importunities to a marriage. At the same time, she has an impression that her lover yet lives, and expresses her confidence of that faith in exceedingly beautiful verses.
Ordonio is brought, by circumstances, into contact again with Isidore, an apostate Moor, whom he had employed to assassinate Alvar. Isidore has been seized by the officers of the inquisition, on suspicion of relapsing into his old belief, and has referred them to Ordonio, “as surety for the soundness of his faith.” On this occasion Ordonio shews great disturbance of mind, but is compelled by Alhadra, the wife of Isidore, to the recognition of her husband’s claims on his protection. Alhadra is a character all fire—all energy—and one that has tasked the poet’s powers in its developement. She has once herself been an inmate of the inquisition, for no other crime than that of being a Moresco. She was a young and nursing mother, and describes the misery of seeing, by the prison lamp, her infant quarrelling with the coarse hard bread brought daily—
“for the little wretch was sickly—
My rage had dried away its natural food.”
Disguised as a Moresco, and as a stranger, Alvar has an interview with Doña Teresa. To her he tells his story. He had had a mistress and a friend, but murderers were suborned against his life; his looks and words melted them, and they spared him on certain conditions. Then comes the spirit of the tale:—
“On a rude rock,
A rock, methought, fast by a grove of firs,
Whose thready leaves to the low-breathing gale
Made a soft sound most like the distant ocean.
I stay’d, as though the hour of death were passed,
And I were sitting in the world of spirits . . .
For all things seemed unreal! there I sate . . .
The dews fell clammy, and the night descended
Black, sultry, close! and ere the midnight hour
A storm came on, mingling all sounds of fear,
That woods, and sky, and mountains, seemed one havock.
The second flash of lightning shewed a tree,
Hard by me, newly scathed. I rose tumultuous;
My soul worked high; I bared my head to the storm,
And with loud voice and clamorous agony,
Kneeling, I prayed to the great Spirit that made me—
Prayed, that Remorse might fasten on their hearts,
And cling with poisomous tooth, inextricable
As the gored lion’s bite.”
From this point, all the characters are at cross purposes; and the play becomes a tragedy “of errors,” producing a perplexing effect on the mind of the reader exceedingly unpleasant, and only redeemed and made endurable by the splendid poetry which animates and sustains the production throughout. One great object with Ordonio, is to prove to Doña Teresa the death of Alvar; and he therefore proposes to Isidore to work upon her enthusiastic spirit, by means of some sorcery mummery, to be accompanied with strange music and fumes of frankincense, and to be followed by the leaving, as a sure token of her lover’s death, that portrait which Ordonio had bidden Isidore to take from Alvar’s neck, after his murder, as the trophy of his conquest. That portrait had Doña Teresa given to Alvar, with a pledge of silence, and therefore deemed its existence known only to themselves; but Ordonio had been a concealed witness of the contract. Isidore declines the undertaking, but refers him to the disguised Alvar, whom he mistakes for a wizard, as a man likely to suit his purpose. Accordingly, Ordonio visits the supposed wizard. The scene between the two brothers, and the remorse of the former is powerful. In the course of it, Alvar learns that Doña Teresa has not wedded him, and closes with his offer, having received back the portrait, the knowledge of which by Isidore when attempting his assassination, it should have been before mentioned, led him to suspect Teresa. He now knows the whole truth, and has clearly the advantage of his brother, who yet deceives himself with the supposition of his death.
Alvar is an artist; he has painted a picture of his own assassination. This picture he presents illuminated instead of the portrait, at the magic ceremony intended for Doña Teresa’s deception, and consumes it in flames on the spot. At this moment the inquisitors enter to seize the performers of sorcery, and Alvar is led away. With the keys of his dungeon Ordonio is intrusted; his remorse, nevertheless, rises to a climax of madness. The picture of the assassination inspires in him a suspicion of Isidore’s double-dealing; he procures a meeting with him in a cavern,—contrives to raise a quarrel with him, and plunges him down a chasm. Alhadra had followed Isidore to the rendezvous, and, seeing Ordonio return from the cavern alone, entered it, and was led, by her husband’s groan, to the very chasm alluded to. Having thus discovered his treacherous murder, she raises up the Moors, her companions, to vengeance.
Teresa continues to visit Alvar in his dungeon; he discovers himself to her. On her withdrawal enters Ordonio, with a goblet in his hand. By the “frightful glitter in his eye,” Alvar perceives him to be an “inly-tortured man plunged in the revelry of a drunken anguish, which fain would scoff away the pangs of guilt and quell each human feeling.” Ordonio proffers the cup to Alvar:—
“Come, take the beverage; this chill place demands it.”
To which Alvar replies:—
“Yon insect on the wall,
Which moves this way and that its hundred limbs—
Were it a toy of mere mechanic craft,
It were an infinitely curious thing!
But it has life, Ordonio! life—enjoyment!
And by the powers of its miraculous will,
Wields all the complex movements of its frame,
Unerringly, to pleasurable ends!
Saw I that insect on this goblet’s brim,
I would remove it with an anxious pity!
Ord. What meanest thou?
Alv. There’s poison in the wine.
Ord. Thou hast guessed right; there’s poison in the wine—
There’s poison in it—which of us two shall drink it?
For one of us must die!
Alv. Whom dost thou think me?
Ord. The accomplice and sworn friend of Isidore.”
This last line expresses the feeling by which Ordonio has been actuated to this extraordinary conduct. Alvar ultimately declares himself. Failing first in his attempt to kill Alvar, Ordonio endeavours to throw himself upon his own sword, but is prevented by Alvar and Teresa, who at the critical juncture had rushed in between the fraternal combatants. And now the remorse of Ordonio commences for the murder of Isidore; and upon Alhadra entering the dungeon with a band of Morescoes, he all but casts himself upon her dagger, and is stabbed to the heart by the avenging wife. With this, and the meeting of Alvar with his father, the tragedy concludes.
By this ultimate arrangement of events, the continuity of feeling is much injured. The object of Ordonio’s remorse is changed. To say nothing of the extravagant way in which the murder of Isidore is brought about, we are not prepared for a change of the crime as the object of the passion. Ordonio’s only guilt should have been the conspiracy of his brother’s death. His compunction on this account should have been wrought up to the utmost pitch of sublimity, ending in the climax of his own death. The Remorse of Coleridge would then have been a tragedy; as it is, it is but a melo-drama, though, sui generis, being exquisitely poetical.
Albeit, of less ambitious aim, the Christmas Tale of Zapolya, is a much more perfect composition. It is confessedly in imitation of Shakspeare’s Winter’s Tale, and, in many respects, will bear comparison with it. As there is an interval of twenty years between the first and second act, the poet has named the first act a prelude, and given the remainder as a drama in four acts.
Zapolya, the queen of Illyria, is driven from her palace and throne, with her infant son, by Emerick, the usurping king. Her escape is contrived by Chef Ragozzi, or military commander; as is also that of Raab Kiuprili, a chieftain, who had been left her guardian with Emerick, by the just-deceased king, and who refuses to assist Emerick in his usurpation. This is the subject of the prelude, which contains some political passages, mistaken for metaphysical by theatrical managers, and for that reason excluded from the stage.
In the sequel we are presented with old Bathory, a mountaineer, with the young prince Andreas, as his supposed son, by the name of Bethlin. Through his disguise, however, touches of royalty ever and anon break out. Hence, when Glycine, the orphan daughter of Ragozzi, now in the service of the Lady Sarolta, wife to Count Casamir, his son, informs him that he had offended by “rash words, ’tis said, and treasonous of the king,”—he is represented as muttering to himself; on which Glycine exclaims—
“So looks the statue, in our hall o’ the god,
The shaft just flown that killed the serpent!”
This is a hint—and a fine one—which a good actor would be wise to make much of. Another striking thing of the kind occurs during a scene between Lady Sarolta and Glycine. The lady has discovered that Bethlin is not the “old man’s son,” adding—
“A destiny, not unlike thine own, is his,
For all I know of thee is, that thou art
A soldier’s orphan; left when rage intestine
Shook and engulfed the pillars of Illyria.
This other fragment, thrown back by that same earthquake,
This, so mysteriously inscribed by nature,
Perchance may piece out and interpret them.
Command thyself! Be secret! his true father—
Glycine. O tell——
Bet. (rushing out from his place of concealment)
Yes, tell me, shape from heaven,
Who is my father?
Sar. (going with surprise) Thine? Thy father? Rise!
Gly. Alas! he hath alarmed you, my dear lady!
Sar. His countenance, not his act!”
The scene which succeeds this outburst is very and powerfully dramatic. Emerick, taking advantage of her husband’s presence at the court, goes hunting towards the place of Lady Sarolta’s retirement; and, unmindful of the services of the man who had preferred his fortunes to a father’s blessing, seeks to seduce his wife.
Having been informed that old Bathory had taken him when an infant from his dying mother in the depths of the forest, but on returning had missed the wounded lady, who seemed to have been taken away, Bethlin seeks out the spot, and finds a mantle and signet, which the old man had buried there beneath an oak. In a convent hard by Zapolya and Kiuprili are even now lodged; and, at the close of the act, disclose themselves to the seeking son. Glycine, who had followed him into the wood, is present at their embraces.
The prince, having consented to bring to Kiuprili, from the oratory in Lady Sarolta’s castle, his helm, breastplate, and sword, happens, in consequence, to be within hearing just as Emerick, who has furtively entered the lady’s chamber, is about to make an assault upon her virtue. He enters and beards the Tarquin; Lord Casimir, with others, subsequently rush in. The lady’s honour is saved; but the gallant youth is ordered to a dungeon.
Only for a while he loses his liberty: the husband contrives a deception for the faithless tyrant in the disappearance of the lady and the flight of Bethlin, which the king affects to receive as evidence of their mutual guilt. In a hunting, contrived by the king for Casimir’s assassination, he himself falls beneath the sword of his injured adherent, and the rightful Andreas is proclaimed monarch, and is wedded to Glycine, who in this last scene has acted like an heroine, having saved her lover’s life by directing an arrow into the heart of Lasca (a clownish character, rival with Andreas for Glycine’s love), who was attempting to stab him in the back.
As a dramatist, however, Coleridge shews best in his translation of Wallenstein; but, of course, the merit of the invention and construction must be awarded to Schiller: the style and execution, nevertheless, are not a little indebted to Coleridge. This version was rendered from Schiller’s MS., and in no few instances Coleridge made the poetry he failed to find;—and Schiller, in turn, translated from the translation. In regard to his own dramatic pieces, they are rather promises of what the poet might live to do, had he continued to apply his genius to such productions, than works on which we would willingly stake our good opinion of his marvellous talents. There is too much of Ford in them, and too little of Shakspeare. With quite enough, too, of the poet and metaphysician, there is too little of the play-wright. What he might have done, it is not for us to conjecture—there were dramatic elements in the man, with others which in their combination might, had the theatre been so conducted as to make it worth the while of a man of genius to write for it, have been wrought out to glorious issues.
We are indebted for the Wallenstein to Coleridge’s visit to Germany, and for his visit, as aforesaid, to the Wedgewoods. It was on Sunday morning, Sept. 16, 1798, that the Hamburgh packet set sail from Yarmouth, and that, for the first time in his life, our poet beheld his native land retiring from him. The account of his voyage, given under the title of “Satyrane’s Letters,” is excessively amusing. His description of the passengers on board is graphic and dramatic—in a word, life-like. The two Danes—the Hanoverian—tall Swede and the Prussian—the German tailor and his little wife—the black-eyed mulatto—move before us as they did before him. Touches of description also occur, not to be surpassed for propriety and beauty. E.g.—“I wrapped myself up in my great-coat, and looked at the water. A beautiful white cloud of foam at momentary intervals coursed by the side of the vessel with a roar, and little stars of flame danced and sparkled and went out in it: and every now and then light detachments of this white cloud-like foam darted off from the vessel’s side, each with its own small constellation, over the sea, and scoured out of sight, like a Tartar troop over a wilderness.”—“At four o’clock I observed a wild duck swimming on the waves—a single, solitary, wild duck. It is not easy to conceive how interesting a thing it looked in that round objectless desert of waters. I had associated such a feeling of immensity with the ocean, that I felt exceedingly disappointed when I was out of sight of all land, at the narrowness and nearness, as it were, of the circle of the horizon. So little are images capable of satisfying the obscure feelings connected with words.”—“Over what place, thought I, does the moon hang to your eye, my dearest friend? To me it hung over the left bank of the Elbe. Close above the moon was a huge volume of deep black cloud, while a very thin fillet crossed the middle of the orb, as narrow and thin, and black as a ribbon of crape. The long trembling road of moonlight, which lay on the water and reached to the stern of our vessel, glimmered dimly and obscurely.” Such are a few of the passages commended; but the letters themselves are a storehouse of such: these let the student who would become a poet “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.”
Coleridge made the best use of his time in Germany. After acquiring a tolerable sufficiency of the German language at Ratzeburg, he proceeded through Hanover to Göttingen. Here he regularly attended the lectures on physiology in the morning, and on natural history in the evening, under the celebrated Blumenbach. Eichham’s lectures on the New Testament were repeated to him from notes by a student from Ratzeburg. From Professor Tychsen he received so many lessons in the Gothic of Ulphilas as sufficed to make him acquainted with its grammar, and the radical words of most frequent occurrence; and commencing with Ottfried, he contrived to peruse the entire circle of the literature of the country.
In the acquisition of the language he derived incalculable advantage from learning all the words, that could possibly be so learnt, with the objects before him, and without the intermediation of the English terms. It was a regular part of his morning studies for the first six weeks of his residence at Ratzeburg, to accompany the good and kind old pastor, with whom he lived, from the cellar to the roof, through gardens, farm-yard, &c. &c., to call every the minutest thing by its German name—advertisements, farces, jest-books, and the conversation of children when he was at play with them, contributed their share to a more home-like acquaintance with the language than he could have acquired from works of polite literature, or even from polite society.
On the 28th of September, 1798, Satyrane Coleridge was introduced to Mr. Klopstock, the brother of the poet, who again introduced him to Professor Ebeling, and thence took him to his own house, where our traveller saw a fine bust of the poet. There was a solemn and heavy greatness in the countenance, which corresponded to his preconceptions of the style and genius of the bard of the Messiah, but the bust corresponded not with the man when afterwards seen. From a portrait of Lessing, Coleridge wrote down (without any knowledge of Lessing’s works) a character so exact, as almost to gain credence for physiognomy. “His eyes,” he writes, “were uncommonly like mine, or, if any thing, rather larger, and nose prominent. But the lower part of his face and his nose—O, what an exquisite expression of elegance and sensibility! There appeared no depth, weight, or comprehensiveness in the forehead. The whole face seemed to say, that Lessing was a man of quick and voluptuous feelings; of an active but light fancy; acute; yet acute not in the observation of active life, but in the arrangements and managements of the ideal world,—i.e. in taste and in metaphysics.”
Coleridge’s visit to Klopstock is remarkably interesting. He walked with an impression of awe, as Wordsworth and himself approached the poet’s house, guided by his brother. It was about a quarter of a mile from the city-gate of Hamburgh—one of a row of little common-place summer-houses (for so they looked), with four or five rows of young meagre elm-trees before the windows, beyond which is a green, and then a dead flat intersected with several rows. With the poet’s appearance he expresses himself dissatisfied; with parts of his conversation he was pleased. What he gives of it, however, shews him to have known less not only of English but of German literature than Coleridge did. One extraordinary circumstance at this interview deserves remark—Coleridge was the listener, not the talker. For this he gives a reason—he wished to hear Klopstock’s opinions, not to correct them. Klopstock, however, stood in the presence of a mind superior to his own—though he knew it not—and is dwarfed in the comparison.
On his return from Germany, Coleridge resided for awhile at Keswick, and soon after was solicited to undertake the literary and political department in the Morning Post. Its circulation increased under his management, which was conducted on principles highly honourable to himself, but added nothing, as he himself confesses, either to his fortune or his reputation. “Yet,” says he, “the retrospect is far from painful or matter of regret. I am not indeed silly enough to take, as anything more than a violent hyperbole of party debate, Mr. Fox’s assertion that the late war (I trust that the epithet is not prematurely applied was a war produced by the MORNING POST, or I should be proud to have the words inscribed on my tomb. As little do I regard the circumstance, that I was a specified object of Buonaparte’s resentment during my residence in Italy, in consequence of those essays in the Morning Post during the peace of Amiens. (Of this I was warned, directly, by BARON VON HUMBOLDT, the Prussian plenipotentiary, who at that time was the minister of the Prussian court at Rome; and indirectly, through his secretary, by Cardinal Fesch himself.) Nor do I lay any weight on the confirming fact, that an order for my arrest was sent from Paris, from which danger I was rescued by the kindness of a noble Benedictine, and the gracious connivance of that good old man the present Pope. For the late tyrant’s vindictive appetite was omniverous, and preyed equally on a Duc d’Enghien and the writer of a newspaper paragraph. Like a true vulture, Napoleon, with an eye not less telescopic, and with a taste equally coarse in ravin, could descend from the most dazzling height to pounce on the leveret in the brake, or even on the field-mouse amid the grass. But I derive a justification from the knowledge that my essays contributed to introduce the practice of placing the questions and events of the day in a moral point of view; in giving a dignity to particular measures by tracing their policy or impolicy to permanent principles, and an interest to principles by the application of them to individual measures.”
The most memorable and instructive period of Coleridge’s life, according to his own opinion, which there is no reason to dispute, was the fifteen months from May 1804, to Oct. 1805, while acting in the capacity of secretary to Sir Alexander Ball at Malta. The biographical account given of this great man by Coleridge is a master-piece of prose composition. It was written as a funeral eulogy on his patron and friend,—whom he praises for estimating the advantages of education to the common people in general, and to the common sailor in particular;—for industriously availing himself of a period of ill health to the acquirement of substantial knowledge from books, whereof he preferred, indeed he almost confined himself to, history, and latterly agricultural works, in short to such books as contain specific facts, or practical principles capable of specific application,—honouring, however, professors of pure speculation and abstract science—to novels, plays, and poems, being indifferent; so that one poem only pleased him, namely, Wordsworth’s Peter Bell;—for his strict but wise discipline of the men under his command;—and for his kind and affectionate conduct to all. An affair between Captain Ball and Lord Nelson rises into sublimity under the magic pen of the poetical narrator. Nelson and Ball were both in the town of Nantz at the same time. “In consequence of some punctilio, as to whose business it was to pay the compliment of the first call, they never met, and this trifling affair occasioned a coldness between the two naval commanders, or in truth a mutual prejudice against each other. Some years after, both their ships being together close off Minorca and near Port Mahon, a violent storm nearly disabled Lord Nelson’s vessel, and, in addition to the fury of the wind, it was night-time and the thickest darkness. Captain Ball, however, brought his vessel at length to Nelson’s assistance, took his ship in tow and his own vessel into Port Mahon. The difficulties and the danger increased. Nelson considered the case of his own ship as desperate, and that unless she was immediately left to her own fate both vessels would inevitably be lost. He, therefore, with the generosity natural to him, repeatedly requested Captain Ball to let him loose, and on Captain Ball’s refusal he became impetuous, and enforced his demand with passionate threats. Captain Ball then himself took the speaking-trumpet, which the fury of the winds and waves rendered necessary, and with great solemnity, and without the least disturbance of temper, called out in reply, ‘I feel confident that I can bring you in safe, I therefore must not, and by the help of Almighty God, I will not leave you!’ What he promised he performed, and after they were safely anchored Nelson came on board of Ball’s ship, and embracing him with all the ardour of acknowledgement, exclaimed, ‘A friend in need is a friend indeed!’ At this time, and on this occasion, commenced that firm and perfect friendship between these two great men which was interrupted only by the death of the former.”
Verily, this narrative of Sir Alexander Ball is worth a thousand Don Juanish shipwrecks! Only want of space compels us to omit the grand incident at the battle of the Nile, and the twenty minutes’ sleep.
It is in The Friend that this beautifully-simple piece of biography occurs, in part payment of the author’s promise to vary his essays with some account of “Characters met with in real Life;” it is in fact the concluding and crowning essay of the miraculous volumes so entitled.
The publication of the work, however, in the first instance was a great loss to Coleridge in a pecuniary view. It was published by subscription as a periodical, but the persons who had put down their names for the most part failed to make good their engagements.
“One gentleman,” says Coleridge, “procured me nearly a hundred names for the Friend, and not only took frequent opportunity to remind me of his success in the canvass, but laboured to impress my mind with the sense of the obligation I was under to the subscribers, for (as he very pertinently admonished me) ‘fifty-two shillings a-year was a large sum to be bestowed on one individual, where there were so many objects of charity with strong claims to the assistance of the benevolent,’ Of these hundred patrons ninety threw up the publication before the fourth number without any notice, though it was well known to them that, in consequence of the distance, and the slowness and irregularity of the conveyance, I was compelled to lay in a stock of stamped paper for at least eight weeks before—and, each sheet of which stood me in five pence previous to its arrival at my printers, though the subscription-money was not to be received till the twenty-first week after the commencement of the work; and, lastly, though it was in nine cases out of ten impracticable for me to receive the money for two or three numbers without paying an equal sum for the postage.” Such was the poor fortune that awaited Coleridge in this speculation. An Earl of Cork, who was one of his pseudo subscribers, he has held up to deserved contempt and ridicule for his paltry conduct. Coleridge found out too late that he had committed an error in publishing otherwise than through the medium of the trade.
Such being the ill success—nay, the loss, attending on publication, Coleridge seems to have turned his attention to the oral utterance of the truths with which he was teeming. It is to this, and not to any indolence of character, or any indifference to his own or others’ good, that we are to attribute his at last giving in to a mode of communication, for which, moreover, he was singularly fitted by nature. Indolence and indifference! See what the man has done up to this time! look at his recompense! and say, what could he do more? And what if, after all, he did write as well as converse? Why not print? Because the public would not pay for it, and he could not. Let us hear no more of these ridiculous charges. Let justice be done to the memory of a great man. Let the world bear the blame, if blame there be; and if the works of Coleridge be of the merit and importance that we believe, then suffered Coleridge,not for his own sins, but those of others. For an ungrateful world, that had no ear for the truths he taught, was he crucified daily.
Well might Coleridge exclaim—“Would that the criterion of a scholar’s utility were the number and moral value of the truths which he has been the means of throwing into the general circulation, or the number and value of the minds, whom, by his conversation or letters, he has excited into activity, and supplied with the germs of their after-growth! A distinguished rank might not, indeed, even then, be awarded to my exertions, but I should dare look forward with confidence to an honourable acquittal. I should dare appeal to the numerous and respectable audiences which at different times, and in different places, honoured my lecture-rooms with their attendance, whether the points of view from which the subjects treated of were surveyed, whether the grounds of my reasoning were such as they had heard or read elsewhere, or have since found in previous publications. I can conscientiously declare, that the complete success of The Remorse, on the first night of its representation, did not give me as great or as heartfelt pleasure, as the observation that the pit and boxes were crowded with faces familiar to me, though of individuals whose names I did not know, and of whom I knew nothing but that they had attended one or other of my courses of lectures.”
It is about eighteen years ago that Coleridge went to stay for a week with his medical friend, Mr. Gillman, at Highgate. In what state of mind or circumstances he went we are not quite aware; such, however, was the attachment felt towards him by the family, that his stay, first merely as temporary, became permanent. Gillman’s house henceforth became Coleridge’s home; and to him and his amiable and excellent lady, Coleridge dedicated, in 1818, the rifacimento of The Friend in terms of gratitude and esteem.
Two years previous to this reprint appeared his Lay Sermons, productions of the most extraordinary character, profound, excursive, elevated, eloquent, full of thought and imagery and feeling. No second edition, however, was called for, either of these Lay Sermons, or of the Friend-ly Essays. Why listened not the world? Because that inward light which is required in all the works of Coleridge is set at nought by it in favour of historical evidence of all kinds; and wanting that “vision and faculty divine,” to it the works of Coleridge, like those of the scriptures, “though in the purest and plainest English,” were written, and continued to be as if written, in “a dead language; a sun-dial by moonlight.”
In the paper to which we made allusion at the beginning of this article, we have considered at length the philosophy contained in these books, and in the Aids to Reflection, a work which first appeared in 1825. It has undergone two other editions since, and was only the other day reprinted in America. We (that is, the writer of this article) exerted ourselves in every way to make the public aware of the merits of the book, and attribute a great deal to our paper in 1832, previous to which no courageous statement had been made of Coleridge’s philosophy. His book on The Constitution of the Church and State, according to the Idea of each,” was written on occasion of the Catholic Relief Bill. This has also reached a second edition—tokens these, that a generation was advancing that should recognise the prophet whom their fathers had neglected. A prophet! Some of the political essays in the Morning Post are wonderful for the foresight which they display. We hope that many of those may be included in the posthumous works that are intended for publication. His conversations, also, should be collected from such diaries as contain portions, as well as his notes written in the margin and at the foot of books, whether his own, or lent to him for perusal. What is completed of his Essay on Logic, likewise should be given, and whatever materials may remain for his great work on religion, considered in the threefold aspects in which it is manifested and revealed.
Of his Colloquies on Thursday Evenings, certain extracts have got abroad; and we are in possession of some specimens, but our limits will not permit us to enlarge. The presence of Coleridge made the house of Gillman a temple; there was the voice of truth heard in a kind of sibylline utterance, which was all but, nay was, inspired—an utterance “far above singing,” beautiful as music, awakening the soul from its depths, and filling it with sounds and shapes, and ideas that would not be shaped, with a power certainly marvellous, possibly miraculous.
Coleridge had long been separated from his family, having allowed his wife the Wedgewood annuity by way of maintenance, that she might be relieved from her useless attendance on a man whose constitution was broken by the early habit of taking opium, which, however, he discontinued when the ill consequences of it were understood by him. For himself, he depended on providence. That providence had marked him for its own. There have been minds who have seen, in the connexion between Coleridge and Gillman, only what degraded the former. God help their Malthusian, their Martineau souls! Others have perceived in it a beautiful relation. It was beautiful. The poet and philosopher rejected by the world, found in it refuge and encouragement, the means of communicating opinion, and of nourishing the elements of meditation. Honourable was the relation to both—honourable it remains to the survivor.
As an associate of the Royal Society of Literature, Coleridge received for a while one hundred pounds a year from the bounty of George the Fourth. At the accession of the present monarch to the throne, this pittance was withdrawn. Representations were made in the proper quarter of the injustice of this abstraction. To the credit of Lord Brougham it should be mentioned that he wrote a letter to the sage and bard, containing the information, that there were unappropriated at the Treasury 300l. that might be made over to his use. What did Coleridge? What became him! He replied in a beautiful, an eloquent letter, shewing the difference between receiving a bounty from the monarch and from the minister of the day, and on the ground of this difference declining the proffered favour.
Need we, after this statement of facts, dilate in conclusion on the character and genius of Coleridge? Need we add speculations, when the practical nature of both has been so fully displayed? The death-bed of Coleridge had no remorse; HIS TIME, let his detractors say what they please, HAD BEEN WELL SPENT! His mind refused to sink beneath the pressure of his final illness; though his bodily anguish had kept him walking up and down his chamber for seventeen hours each day. It was on the morning of Friday, July 25th, in his sixty-second year, that he breathed his last. His faculties were clear to the end—his mind was active. The noble and fashionable called in carriages during his illness, and made inquiries at the portal and the gate. Every thing that announced the departure of a celebrated man was carefully observed; it may be that to him to whom they denied, as far as they were concerned, bread, a stone may yet be granted. A monument or statue may be erected to his memory. But, at any rate, his friends did well in refusing an ostentatious funeral. His remains were attended only by a few, when, on Saturday the 2d of August, they were interred in the vaults of Highgate church. The sermon that was preached on the following Sunday did credit to the preacher;—it could not do honour to the dead. The last letter which he wrote was read from the pulpit;—it was dated, as will be seen, twelve days before his death. It was to his godson, “Adam Steinmetz Kinnaird,” but has been already published.
Coleridge was a Christian. All his aims were Christian—they were unworldly. His motives were pure and disinterested—they were unworldly. He read his Bible, in the spirit rather than in the letter; so did he the great book, likewise a revelation, of the servant of God—Nature. In his apprehension,—“that in its obvious sense and literal interpretation it declares the being and attributes of the Almighty Father, none but the fool in heart has ever dared gainsay. But it has been the music of gentle and pious minds in all ages; it is the poetry of all human nature, to read it likewise in a figurative sense, and to find therein correspondences and symbols of the spiritual world.”
Thus to him the Bible was the sublimest of poems; and the great universe, “a mythos composed by hand divine—creator pure.” It was this perception which made him so mighty both as a poet and a philosopher; it was this which gave thought to his poetry, feeling to his philosophy, and life to both. These symbols he found also in all the institutions of society—in all the establishments of church and state, and was therefore careful to preserve them, even when soaring into the highest abstractions; and, in chief, the aristocratic, as enshrining the wisest and the best. These sentiments made him intolerant of French frivolity. In his lectures of 1808 he denied to France either any genius or taste in the arts, or any capacity for truth or devotion. And well he might! for he witnessed with indignation an instance of want of poetic and religious feeling in the French character, while at Rome, on his return from Malta, in regard to Michael Angelo’s celebrated statue of Moses, the horns and beard of which two true Gallican officers could associate with nothing worthier than a he-goat and a cuckold. To Coleridge, rightly, they were emblems of Majesty and Power. His mind was not mechanical, but dynamic; and so are his works. A power is in them which shall survive the occasion of their production, and secure their immortality. While they exist, it may never be said that Coleridge was merely a type of the age in which he lived—beginning in high promises, and ending in small performance. The revolutions of the times have not yet worked themselves out—those of Coleridge’s mind were fulfilled. He has achieved his destiny. What he has already published includes a whole—a perfect science—for those to whom that science is of any use. This mainly, it is probable, made him careless of publication in his latter days. He knew his work was done! It only remained to analyse and re-arrange it, that inferior minds might take in some portion of its greatness—the whole they could not. Desirous he was to give this popular form to the high argument of his discourse; but, in his state of health and fortune, it was of little moment. Besides, it might be done by others; and the great Taskmaster had decreed, that to no drudgery should the noble and magnanimous mind of Coleridge be condemned. To him a seraph’s privilege was awarded—the ecstatic vision and ardent beatitude of love.
- Vol. v. p. 585-597. ↩
- This and the following incidents were related in a letter addressed by the Rev. W. L. Bowles to the Editor of the Times, and inserted on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 1834. ↩
- Hazlitt adds to this account in his essay, My First Acquaintance with Poets. Speaking of Coleridge’s powers of conversation, he writes: “I never met with any thing at all like them, either before or since. I could easily credit the accounts which were circulated of his holding forth to a large party of ladies and gentlemen, an evening or two before, on the Berkeleian Theory, when he made the whole material universe look like a transparency of fine words; and another story (which I believe he has somewhere told himself) of his being asked to a party at Birmingham,—of his smoking tobacco, and going to sleep after dinner on a sofa, where the company found him, to their no small surprise, which was increased to wonder when he started up of a sudden, and rubbing his eyes, looked about him, and launched into a three hours’ description of the third heaven, of which he had a dream. ↩
- Poems by Hartley Coleridge, vol. i. Leeds: Bingley, Corn Exchange; and Baldwin and Cradock, London, 1833. ↩
- He had a similar kind of intonation in speaking. A critic in the last Quarterly, who is evidently very desirous of making a kind of between wind-and-water hit, by way of appeal to popular taste in favour of Coleridge’s genius, brings, in proof of a certain peculiarity in Coleridge’s conversation, which he calls “unexpectedness,” the fact of a very experienced short-hand writer, who was employed to take down Mr. Coleridge’s lectures on Shakspeare, producing an almost unintelligible manuscript. “Yet,” proceeds the critic, “the lecturer was, as he always is, slow and measured. The writer—we have some notion that it was no worse an artist than Mr. Gurney himself—gave this account of the difficulty:—That with regard to every other speaker whom he had ever heard, however rapid or involved, he could almost always, by long experience in his art, guess the form of the latter part, or apodosis, of the sentence by the form of the beginning; but that the conclusion of every one of Coleridge’s sentences was a surprise upon him. He was obliged to listen to the last word.” Now this illustration, we beg to say, proves nothing—but Mr. Gurney’s incompetency. Short-hand writers were a very different race when Mr. Gurney began the business than they are at the present day. Literal accuracy was not then required, and is never aimed at even now by Mr. Gurney; nor can he take down a speech of any elaboration and learning verbatim. We say not this to damage that “artist’s” fame—for the fact is well known—but to rescue Coleridge’s. We hate the patronising air with which this great man is sometimes written about, and repudiate every thing that sounds like a reason for the unpopularity with which his works have been received by the public. There was never any reason for it but the defects of taste and knowledge in the herd of readers—and writers. On such a man what the world wants is a bold out-spoken article. ↩
- Vol. v. p. 281-288. ↩
- Vol. vi. p. 611. ↩
- In Coleridge’s critique on Wordsworth, contained in the Biographia Literaria, the reader is struck with the superiority of mind which he manifests as a critic, over his poet. Here, and only here—only in this instance—the critic is a match for the poet—nay, wiser. In his remarks on Maturin’s Bertram, also, he completely dwarfs the dramatist, and leaves him a tiny existence, merely by way of contrast, and in nowise independent. Such were the powers of Coleridge as a critic. ↩
- Biog. Lit. vol. i. p. 75. ↩
- The date of publication is 1817. ↩