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Title: Coleridge
Author: Bensusan, S. L. (Samuel Levy), 1872-1958
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Transcriber's Note: Every effort has been made to replicate this text
as faithfully as possible, including obsolete and variant spellings and
other inconsistencies. Text that has been changed to correct an obvious
error is noted at the end of this ebook.]



  COLERIDGE


  BY S. L. BENSUSAN


  [Illustration]


  LONDON: T. C. & E. C. JACK
  67 LONG ACRE, W. C., AND EDINBURGH
  NEW YORK: DODGE PUBLISHING CO.


[Illustration: Samuel Coleridge]


CONTENTS


  CHAP.                                  PAGE

       INTRODUCTION                         7

    I. EARLY YEARS                         13

   II. IN SEARCH OF THE IDEAL              25

  III. IN THE LAKE COUNTRY AND AT MALTA    33

   IV. TROUBLED YEARS                      41

    V. COLERIDGE AS AN OBSERVER OF NATURE  61

   VI. COLERIDGE AS POET AND CRITIC        75

       INDEX                               93



COLERIDGE



INTRODUCTION


Among the great writers whose activity is associated with the closing
years of the eighteenth and the opening of the nineteenth centuries, are
several who claim more respect than popularity. If they were poets,
their works find a place in a thousand libraries, but the dust gathers
upon covers long unopened, and only the stray enthusiast removes it.
Southey, Cowper, and Coleridge, for example, are authors of well-nigh
universal acceptance, but who, outside the ranks of professed students
of poetry, could claim an intimate acquaintance with their work? In _An
Anthology of Longer Poems_ published at Oxford two years ago and
great gifts, is not represented at all, and William Cowper is
responsible for nothing more than the familiar lines to his mother's
picture.

Dryden and Alexander Pope, Goldsmith, Gray, Crabbe, and Thomson are
little more than names to the most of the generation that has just
entered upon its inheritance. Perhaps, if the truth be told, the
present-day reading public cannot keep pace with its ever-growing task,
and satisfies its conscience by paying to the worthy dead the sacrifice
of a small expenditure. In the old time it was hard to gather a modest
library, to-day the difficulty lies in selection. The best efforts of a
thousand years clamour for a place on our shelves, the material for
reading has been multiplied, the capacity for reading remains where it
was, if indeed the wonderful growth of claims upon our attention, the
quickening of the pace of life, has not reduced our leisure time at the
expense of books. Little wonder, then, that in the struggle for a
sustained reputation many sound writers fail to hold their own. It is
only when we choose one of the poets just named for a course of steady
reading and turn to his pages with some knowledge of the life and times
which gave them birth, that the dead man becomes a living force, and we
find how far his claim to recognition lies outside the scope of a mere
convention. Even then the inequalities of thought and style will be
painfully apparent. We shall read much that would not have been
preserved had the poet written in an age when self-criticism was as
strong a force as it is to-day, but there will be no waste of labour if
the full extent of his gifts as well as his limitations can be grasped.
It is not safe to accept the "selected works" of any man of mark; a
selection can never be quite fair to an author.

Of all the men whose work was completed between the middle of the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there are few, if any, whose life is
of more interest to the psychologist, the student of transcendentalism,
and the lover of fine thought, than that of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the
subject of this brief study. He was compact of remarkable strength and
fatal weakness, of rare attainments and incomplete achievement, of
courage and cowardice, of energy and laziness, of reason and unreason,
of airy wit and solid wisdom. Look upon one side of his life and
accomplishment and you are lost in wonder and admiration, look upon the
other and there is food for little but pity and regret. Modern teaching
has revealed the narrowness of the boundary between genius and insanity,
and, in the light of this knowledge, we see that Coleridge was neither
wholly a genius nor wholly sane, though he approached either condition
very nearly at different periods of his troubled life. We would hesitate
to-day to condemn him with the severity and fluency shown by his
contemporaries--by Thomas de Quincey and William Hazlitt, for example.
Perhaps the first thought to which a study of his life and work gives
birth is the nearest to the truth, the thought that he was singularly
unfitted to cope with life as he found it, that he was essentially a man
of thought rather than of action. He was never strong enough to bear the
thousand ills that writing man is heir to. He lacked courage, method,
order; one might add that he lacked diligence, but for the knowledge
that no man can move in advance of his inspiration if he would be just
to himself. Even though his pen was idle his brain was ever active; his
failure lay in lack of will-power to do full justice to its activity.

Wordsworth, his contemporary and friend, had far better fortune; life
offered his notable virtues every assistance. An early legacy, a small
patrimony that arrived late, but not too late, appointment to one or two
posts hardly to be regarded as anything other than sinecures, a
government pension in his closing years, a splendid constitution, a
fortunate marriage, colossal strength of purpose: all these gifts
smoothed the rugged road of the greater man; to Coleridge the fates were
adverse. He had at best a great but ill-balanced mind, to which
philosophy made the first appeal. A shrewd practical man with half his
attainments could have turned them to better advantage. His health was
never really robust, and he suffered from the fatal sickness of
self-pity. He accepted the charity of friends and asked for more; though
he seems to have had few personal extravagances, the income that kept
his friends, William, Mary, and Dorothy Wordsworth, free from financial
strain, would not have been enough for his support. None of his
biographers has discovered what he did with his money on the rare
occasions when it was plentiful; there is ample reason to believe that
he would have been equally puzzled to make out a balance-sheet. But,
while his private life was beset by all manner of difficulties, while
his private letters reveal too frequently an utter absence of personal
dignity, his public utterances and the "table-talk" recorded by his
nephew stand on a very high plane. Every class of cultivated man and
woman was content to be silent when Coleridge was speaking; there was
seemingly but one matter that the keen clear brain could neither grapple
with nor control, and this was the conduct of his own life. Where he
himself was not concerned, his wisdom and insight were remarkable, his
natural gifts, splendidly cultivated in youth, had been reinforced by
prolonged study as a man. His table-talk was fuller than most men's
laboured essays, his lectures, even if delivered extempore, could charm
an audience of scholars, and his published work, whether in prose or
verse, is an enduring monument, not likely to be hard worn by the
attentions of the multitude. Had his lines been cast in more pleasant
places, had he married a woman strong enough to direct and guide him,
had he been spared his pains and the unfortunate remedy by which he
sought to lull them, there seems to be no height to which he might not
have risen, no goal to which he might not have attained. We may not
judge him save in all charity and kindness, for we know that his faults
brought their own punishment in full measure and, apart from this, the
lines he wrote a few years before he died seem to arrest the fault
finder.

    "Frail creatures are we all! To be the best,
      Is but the fewest faults to have.--
    Look Thou then to thyself, and leave the rest
      To God, thy conscience, and the grave."

Few of his contemporaries spoke or wrote harshly of Coleridge. Lamb
and Wordsworth loved him, despite occasional and regrettable
misunderstandings. He collaborated with Wordsworth in the _Lyrical
Ballads_ and with Southey in _The Fall of Robespierre_, a three-act
drama of which the last-named poet wrote the second act. There were few
who were not happy in his brief fortunes or without sympathy in the
long-drawn period of his trouble and pain, while all who came within the
charmed circle of his personality delighted in his company and sought it
eagerly. Judged by ordinary standards, his life-work would provide a
monument for any man whose attainments fall short of absolute genius,
and perhaps they have been most severe who realise how nothing more than
order and self-control kept Coleridge from the very highest rank. They
are jealous for his gifts, they feel that he hid his light under a
bushel. For the most of us it will suffice that the poet's utterances
are melodious, inspiring, and finely wrought, that he himself was a
greatly suffering man who fought desperately and at last successfully
against his own worst failings. Even as he arrests our imagination he
claims our sympathy, which we give the more gladly because he would have
welcomed it. Not only did he ask for merciful judgment while he was
alive, but appealed for it when life should have passed. Few who have
read even a tithe of what he wrote will grudge a little tribute to his
memory, while those who study Coleridge become his debtors, and realise
that he played no insignificant part in moulding some aspects of
nineteenth-century thought and faith.



CHAPTER I

EARLY YEARS


Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the youngest of the nine sons of the Rev.
John Coleridge, Vicar of Ottery St. Mary in Devonshire and
Chaplain-Priest as well as Master of King's School, a Free Grammar
School founded by King Henry VIII, who suppressed and replaced a
long-standing monastic institution in the town. The Rev. John Coleridge,
who was twice married, was the father of three daughters by his first
wife and ten children by the second. He was the son of a trader in
woollen goods who suffered serious financial losses when John was a boy,
and the lad owed his Cambridge education to the generosity of a friend
of the family. He married young, and kept a school at Southampton until
his first wife died and he had married again. Then he obtained the
living and mastership at Ottery St. Mary. Of his nine sons the youngest
was destined to be the most distinguished, but James, who was born
twelve years before Samuel Taylor, became the father of one Judge of the
High Court, the grandfather of Lord Chief Justice Coleridge, and
great-grandfather of the present Judge. The Vicar was a man of letters,
who published several long-forgotten books by subscription, and was
noted, to quote his youngest son's description, for "learning,
good-heartedness, absentness of mind, and excessive ignorance of the
world." It would not be hard to find all these qualities reproduced in
the poet himself; they are of the kind that need a country school-house
or vicarage for their home if they are not to be the cause of grave
trouble to their possessor. From the very early days Sam, as his family
called the future poet and philosopher, was a strange, precocious and
unhappy child. Perhaps our modern ideas are shocked at the thought that
he was sent to school at the age of three years. Should the
twentieth-century theories be correct, such a brain as his would have
been far healthier if the stage of happy ignorance had been extended
until he was at least twice as old. Spoiled by his parents, the share of
attentions he received from them provoked, naturally enough, the
jealousy and resentment of his brothers and sisters, while his strange
ways made him the unhappy butt of his school-fellows. Small wonder if,
when he described his early childhood in the latter days, he had but a
sorry tale to tell. Compared with his friends Charles Lamb and William
Wordsworth, Coleridge was an unhappy boy.

Nervous, self-conscious, and irritable, he took no pleasure in outdoor
games, and at the earliest possible age was busy with books. With their
aid he lived in a world of his own, a world peopled with the heroes and
heroines who dwell between book covers. By the time he was six years of
age he had read the _Arabian Nights' Entertainments_, and though it was
certainly an abridged version in a single volume, there is no doubt
that it must have provided a powerful and unhealthy stimulant to an
imagination already far too active. Happily his father found that these
books were dangerous to his youngest born, and destroyed them.

The boy entered the grammar school, where he speedily passed all the
other lads of his age. For the next three years the life at Ottery St.
Mary continued in the seemingly peaceful fashion that was in reality so
harmful. The little lad was disliked by his school-fellows and flattered
and petted by his elders. His father took him seriously enough to pave
the way, by a series of discourses, for the service of the Church. His
mother's friends delighted in exhibitions of his precocity. His temper,
sometimes sullen and perverse, showed itself disastrously on one
occasion, when he ran away from home to avoid some punishment, doubtless
well earned, and slept all night by the banks of the river that gives
its name to his home. He woke so exhausted that his rescuer was obliged
to carry him home. To this escapade he attributed the fits of ague to
which he was subject for many following years.

It is worth remarking in this place that for all the boy's undoubted
precocity, the beauty of the scenes in which the first decade of his
life was set seem to have left little or no impression. Had Coleridge
been a lover of the country for its own sake, he must have been at least
as deeply impressed by the all-pervading charm of Ottery St. Mary as his
friend Wordsworth was by Hawkshead. For Ottery has beauty and history in
plenty with which to reward the visitor or resident; its romance
travels far away into the first twilight of legendry. In later years, of
which the historical record is safe, the Manor of Ottery was granted by
King Edward the Confessor to the Cathedral Church of Rouen. The poet
might have seen as a child the royal arms of England and France on the
stone scutcheons above the church altar, with the armorial bearings of
several distinguished Devon families to bear them company. In the reign
of Edward III, the head of one of these families, John de Grandisson,
Bishop of Exeter, bought the manor and advowson of Ottery and
established there the college of Monks. This was dissolved by Henry
VIII, who made the college over to a corporation of four governors, and
established the "King's New Grammar School," a building whose irregular
roof is still a feature of the landscape. Here the Rev. John Coleridge
was master and his son pupil. At Hayes Farm, close by, Sir Walter
Raleigh was born; the family pew is to be seen in the parish church of
East Budleigh.

When Coleridge was a young man, the house of Raleigh in Ottery St. Mary
was still standing; it was burnt down in the year of Trafalgar. He does
not mention it, he does not even tell us of the wonderful orchards in
the valley of the Otter, perhaps the most outstanding feature of the
country in which his earliest years were passed. They say that these
orchards are the more remarkable because mistletoe will not grow round
the trees, the Druids having laid all Devonshire under a ban! The Valley
of the Otter is a district no country lover could forget. The river,
swift, though narrow, runs sparkling over many-coloured soil--Coleridge
recalls this single feature in his Sonnet on the Otter. It separates the
chalk flint and red marls of Ottery East Hill from the heather-clad
black earth of West Hill, and makes a clean division between the plant
growths on one side of its banks and those on the other. The high peaks
of Dartmoor can be seen from either hill. In the valleys, while summer
lasts, the red Devon kine stand amid luxuriant grasses which rise to
their dewlaps. We are told that the transceptal towers of St. Mary's
Church at Ottery inspired Bishop Quivil when he planned Exeter
Cathedral. St. Mary's dominates the little town and adds to the
perennial air of peace and seclusion that breathes over it. Coleridge
might have made Ottery St. Mary immortal, but he did little more than
write his well-remembered sonnet and a short ode inspired by the
"Pixies' Parlour," a cave in the red sandstone cliffs below the town.
The curious may still find "S.T.C. 1789" carved on the soft stones. If
the valley of the Otter was not able to impress the early years of the
poet, it is hardly surprising that neither Somersetshire nor Westmorland
should succeed where Devonshire failed. The failure adds to the clear
proof that Coleridge was at heart a philosopher, a student of life,
faith, reason, and the immortality of the soul, but withal a man who was
seldom or never on intimate terms with his immediate surroundings.

The Rev. John Coleridge passed away, beloved by his pupils and
parishioners, when his son Samuel Taylor was but nine years old, and
within a year the efforts of friends had resulted in obtaining for the
lad a presentation to Christ's Hospital.

His period in the junior school in Hertfordshire was brief, and
apparently quite uneventful. Before he was ten years old "the poor
friendless boy" of Elia's famous essay was "in the great city pent, mid
cloisters dim," and his apprenticeship to learning in the famous
foundation that has now been removed from Newgate Street to the
beautiful Sussex country near Horsham lasted for nine years, in the
first seven of which he seems to have seen nothing of his Devonshire
home.

One would hesitate to say, despite the hardships of boarding-school life
a century or more ago, that the poet would have been better off anywhere
else. He recognised in later years the advantages of his training.
Firmly, even brutally disciplined, his master in the upper school was
Boyer, of whose severity Lamb and others have written unsparingly.
Coleridge was thoroughly well grounded; he mastered the elementary rules
of poetic expression, his eccentricities were repressed, his departures
from law, order, and rule firmly punished. For one whose mind was
ill-governed, in whom the newest idea found an immediate and devoted
adherent, strong rule was the first essential of development. He passed
through many phases; cobbling, medicine, and metaphysics attracted him
in turn, and Boyer gladly provided an effective antidote for the virus
of each. Lamb bears generous witness to his companion's budding talent,
and we know that he made and kept friends, that there was something
about his personality that was eminently attractive and led people to
pardon in him what they would have condemned in others. A foolish
escapade on the New River resulted in nearly a year's illness, and left
him very weak, indeed throughout life he was never robust, but the
troubles that affected his body did nothing to stunt his intellectual
growth. The poet in him awoke, perhaps called to life by Mary Evans,
eldest sister of a school-fellow whom he had befriended and who
gratefully introduced him to his family. Mary Evans undoubtedly inspired
much of his earliest, and comparatively feeble, verse. The sonnets of
Bowles, who then had a following and a reputation, were another force in
the making of the Coleridge we love and admire. Reading the detailed
story of his life, we may note that, in the brief and simple relations
with Mary Evans, Coleridge acted as though he had no definite control
over his own impulses. Some of the correspondence has been preserved,
and it is hard to escape the impression that while the poet was quite
serious in his protestations, he exaggerated with true poetic licence
the depth and permanency of his regard.

In January 1791, the Almoners of Christ's Hospital appointed Coleridge
to an Exhibition at Jesus College, Cambridge, with the idea that the
school's promising pupil would pass from the University to the Church.
He left Newgate Street in the September following, and entered the
University a month later, intervening weeks being spent, in all
probability, in Devonshire.

We find him now at the parting of the ways, the wholesome bonds of
discipline relaxing, a measure of liberty before him of a kind to which
he had been a stranger hitherto, and one is inclined to think that he
was absolutely unfitted to stand alone or to be his own master, even
within the limits imposed upon the Cambridge undergraduate. His
brilliant intellect was not associated with sound common sense, the
conventions and restriction of normal life were things he would not
trouble about, his mind, daring and speculative, was never at rest, he
stood desperately in need of some steadying influence of a kind that
never came to him. The newest thought could carry him away, he cared not
whither. Like many another brilliant man, Coleridge needed direction and
discipline long after the time when the convention of the world seeks to
enforce either. We cannot see whence the force was to come, but we must
realise how greatly it was needed. Coleridge was too clever for the
ranks to which he was accredited; his gifts were of the uneasy kind that
can find no rest. Some men of similar temperament can settle down after
a brief struggle; they bridle themselves, hide their light, bow to the
world above them, and prosper. To Coleridge such a method of living
would have seemed immoral, far more immoral than his own shifting,
haphazard and unhappy career. He was always the slave of his own moral
ideas, his weaknesses were a tribute to the sick and ailing body; to his
judgment, his moral consciousness, he acted with most rigorous honesty,
even to his own detriment.

When Coleridge went to Jesus College, the month was October; he became a
pensioner in November, and matriculated in the following month. From
1792 he would have been in receipt of £40 per annum from his old school,
and between 1792-4 he held one of the Rustat scholarships belonging to
Jesus College and given only to sons of clergymen. In the year last
named he became a Foundation scholar. For the first twelve months, while
the recollection of Christ's Hospital discipline was perhaps still keen
within him, and his friend Middleton was at Pembroke College, he worked
diligently and gained his first award, the Browne Gold Medal. He
competed for the Craven Scholarship, which fell to Samuel Butler,
afterwards Bishop of Lichfield. By the following year Middleton had left
the University and Coleridge was beginning to lose his head and find his
powers. He associated himself with the most progressive and radical
spirits in his College, and the authorities looked askance at him. But
he paid little heed to such a trifle as the dissatisfaction of tutors.
The centre of a large and admiring circle that clamoured to hear his
political opinions, his latest poem, or his favourite recitation, he
seemed to realise that he could hold an audience and lead opinion. Debts
began to accumulate; he was indeed destined for the greater part of his
life to owe more than he could pay. His suit with Mary Evans was not
prospering; he tried to set himself right financially by speculating in
a lottery, and, when that failed him, left Cambridge, the first of the
long series of sudden departures from accustomed haunts that was to be a
prominent feature in his career. A fortnight later he had become Silas
Tomkyn Comberbach of the King's Light Dragoons. The new and popular
recruit, who repaid his companions for doing his share of the common
drudgery by writing their love-letters for them, soon found that under
the most favourable conditions soldiering was not to his taste. He could
not sit a horse, he could not even groom one, and it was not very long
before his identity was revealed to an officer through the medium of
some lines in Latin written in chalk on a wall. His elder brother,
Captain James Coleridge, procured his discharge in the following April,
when the Master and Fellows of Jesus readmitted him, much to the
surprise of his friends. That the authorities were ready and willing to
give him every chance is sufficient proof that his capacities and his
personality alike pleaded powerfully in his defence.

A few months later he was on a visit to Oxford, where he met Robert
Southey, his future brother-in-law, and they talked of Pantisocracy. In
his _Christian Life_, Peter Bayne speaks of the days "when Coleridge and
Southey were building, of cloud and moonbeam, their notable fabric of
Pantisocracy, the government of all by all." The idea was just suited to
the hare-brained poets. Twelve men, each armed with £125, were to leave
England in the company of twelve women, for one of the back settlements
of America, there to establish a Utopia of their own. A few hours' work
a day from each would suffice, they thought, for the needs of all.
Political and religious opinions were to be free, and the question of
the validity of the marriage contract was left open. Needless perhaps to
add that neither the industrious Southey nor his erratic friend had
£125, but the former hoped to raise the amount from the sale of _Joan of
Arc_ and other of his early work, while Coleridge proposed to publish by
subscription a volume of _Imitations from the Modern Latin Poets_. Like
so many of the volumes he intended to write, this one was never written,
though he had all the scholarship necessary to bring a venture of the
kind to a successful issue. Southey and Coleridge met a little later in
Bristol and went into Somersetshire, where they were joined by Burnett
and Thomas Poole. Of these two men the latter was to play an important
part in the life-story of Coleridge.

A little later the young poet had recovered sufficiently from his
overmastering attachment to Mary Evans to become engaged to Sarah
Fricker, Southey's sister-in-law. He collaborated with the future
laureate in a rapidly written dramatic poem, _The Fall of Robespierre_,
which he dedicated to Mr. Martin of Jesus College, without any reference
to Southey's considerable part in it. The enthusiasm for Pantisocracy
was short-lived; in a few months its originators had dropped the scheme,
though it was to be revived later. Coleridge went back to Cambridge, and
left suddenly in the December of 1794 without taking his degree. The
reasons for this step have never been revealed; some think that he left
on account of debt, others think the cause must have been some further
breach of discipline. His career at Jesus had been brief and
unsatisfactory, and he was soon dropped by the College authorities and
the Committee of Christ's Hospital. Whatever their private views of his
ability, they could no longer remain indifferent to his irregular life,
his inability to settle down and work, the dangerous results of too much
tolerance in an institution that must control its scholars or cease to
exist. On the other hand, Coleridge could not respond to order and
discipline. He was not like other men; of him it might be truly said in
the words of the Patriarch, "unstable as water, thou shalt not excel."
The period of wandering trouble and unrest had begun; it was to continue
until, the greater part of his life and life's-work accomplished, he
found a hospitable asylum at Highgate. It cannot be supposed that
Cambridge was in any degree responsible for what happened within the
walls of Jesus College or in the world beyond. The erratic disposition
was with Coleridge as a little boy. Christ's Hospital subdued but did
not eradicate it, Jesus College gave it an atmosphere of limited freedom
in which to blossom and bud until the college boundaries were no longer
wide enough to contain such an errant spirit.



CHAPTER II

IN SEARCH OF THE IDEAL


When Coleridge left the University he had entered his twenty-third year;
he had rather more than forty before him, but, as the two preceding
years had been, so were the most of those that followed. Trouble,
largely if not altogether of his own making, anxiety, comparative
poverty, ill-health, these were the shadows that darkened his days. For
him life was a problem with which he could not grapple; although he had
a giant's strength he did not know how to use it. He was master of a
rare and exquisite gift, but it did not avail him. Other men, with a
tithe of his talent and the full capacity for living a well-ordered
life, could earn a comfortable competence, acquire honour and command
respect, while Coleridge, who was in so many respects their master,
drifted across the wide waters of life, a ship without a rudder. We need
not criticise, we can better pity a man who, greatly gifted, could not
raise his head among his contemporaries. Had some stern disciplinarian
stood behind him at Cambridge he might have achieved distinction; had he
married a strong resolute woman she might have taught him regular
industry and self-respect. But in all the important actions of his life
the mood of the moment was the deciding factor, so that, despite the
number of his friends, there was none to help. Coleridge was almost a
genius, and quite a law to himself. Such happiness as came to him was
found chiefly in intercourse with kindred spirits, in grappling with
metaphysical problems, in refuting the current errors of philosophy, and
above all in the kindness and generosity of friends. Woe to the man who
accepts help from others! Once he has done this he stands for ever on a
lower plane, his life is no longer his own, he can no longer say, "I am
the Captain of my fate, I am the Master of my soul." It was the
misfortune of Coleridge to receive assistance in those critical hours
when a man must stand alone, though it be but in a garret with no more
food and clothing than will serve for the necessities of life. There are
few brilliant exceptions to the sweeping rule that forbids
self-respecting men to receive doles. Horace and Virgil are notable
among them, but the rule stands, even while we remember that both
Martial and Juvenal declared that the protection of prince or patron
offers the only chance to poetry. With Coleridge there was less excuse
than the poet may claim, for he could always command a living wage in
journalism. The trouble with him was not to get money for his work, but
to give work in return for other people's money.

From Cambridge the poet drifted to London, journalism, and the
delightful company of Charles Lamb. He wrote sonnets for the _Morning
Chronicle_, and took his glass and pipe with Elia in long-forgotten
taverns until Southey hunted him up and carried him back to Bristol and
Sarah Fricker, to Pantisocracy and lecturing and the company of Burnett,
with whom both Coleridge and Southey lived in College Street. In 1796
Cottle, the Bristol publisher, paid Coleridge thirty guineas for poems,
including the "Monody on the Death of Chatterton" and "Religious
Musings." Southey lost faith in Pantisocracy and went to live with his
mother. Coleridge lost faith in Southey, the friends quarrelled, and for
some time were not on speaking or writing terms. Cottle, who had a sure
eye for promising work, offered to buy all the verse Coleridge could
write at the price of one and a half guineas per hundred lines, and on
the strength of this, Coleridge married Sarah Fricker in October 1795,
and settled in a little cottage at Clevedon near Bristol, in company
with Burnett and another of Sarah's sisters. The men shared in the
labour of the house, but it was too far from town to serve for purposes
of work in days when the circulating library was still unknown, and,
early in their married life, Mr. and Mrs. Coleridge moved to Redcliffe
Hill. There Coleridge decided to start a paper called _The Watchman_, to
be published on every eighth day, and he has left on record an account
of his northern pilgrimage in search of subscribers. He found enough to
justify publication; the paper lived to reach its tenth number, when it
departed from life, leaving its editor-proprietor stranded, though his
_Poems on Various Subjects_, with additions by Charles Lamb, Robert
Southey, and Mr. Favell, had been published in March by Cottle, and had
been favourably received. Thomas Poole, as good a friend as ever poet
had, came to the rescue with forty pounds, and Coleridge spent a happy
fortnight at Nether Stowey; with him, as soon as a trouble was over it
could be forgotten. But something had to be done; negotiations for the
post of co-editor of the _Morning Chronicle_ were opened, and fell
through. Following this came another plan, to educate the children of a
wealthy Derbyshire lady, who changed her mind at the eleventh hour,
giving the poet £95, and his wife a welcome gift of baby linen instead.
In the meantime the prodigal son had visited Ottery St. Mary and been
reconciled to his family. Proposals to establish a school in Derby came
to nothing, and there is matter for regret here, for the poet would have
made an admirable schoolmaster. In September his responsibilities were
increased by the arrival of David Hartley Coleridge, born while the poet
was on a visit to the Lloyds. Charles Lloyd, an epilept, was anxious to
live with him, and Coleridge wished to rent a house near Nether Stowey
that he might be near his friend Poole. After much search a cottage was
found.

By this time, the poet had begun to suffer from severe neuralgia, and
had started to dose himself with laudanum for its cure. With his usual
optimism in hours of change, the future was clear to him. "My farm will
be a garden of an acre and a half," he writes to "Citizen" Thelwall, "in
which I intend to raise vegetables and corn for my wife, and feed a
couple of grunting and snouted cousins from the refuse. My evenings I
shall devote to literature, and by reviews in the _Monthly Magazine_ and
other shilling scavengering, shall probably gain £40 a year--which
economy and self-denial, gold beaters, shall hammer till it covers my
annual expenses." Well might Lamb write--"What does your worship know
about farming?" More than a hundred years have passed since Coleridge
took the little cottage of which the garden met Poole's, but successive
generations of literary men and poets have shared his strange belief
that anybody can go on the land and make it yield its fruits in due
season. That farming demands a strenuous apprenticeship and sound
judgment, if it is not to fail altogether to yield any harvest save
debt, that appreciation of country life does not carry knowledge with
it, these are truths which the majority of men of letters decline to
admit.

A second edition of his poems, with additions by Charles Lloyd as well
as Lamb, produced twenty guineas from Cottle, and the poet settled to
learn the rudiments of agriculture from Thomas Poole, and to train
Charles Lloyd in the way he should go. Then he went on a visit to the
Wordsworths, who were first at Racedown and later at Alfoxden House. An
offer from Sheridan to consider a play for Drury Lane led to the writing
of _Osorio_. Charles Lamb came to Nether Stowey, and so too did William
and Dorothy Wordsworth and "Citizen" John Thelwall, with whom Coleridge
kept up such a lively correspondence. This visit brought about the
Wordsworths' departure from Alfoxden House, for the "Citizen," rather an
undesirable person at best, was a political suspect, and a nervous
government sent a spy down to Nether Stowey to find what company he
kept. But in spite of "those gold beaters, economy and self-denial," the
poet's poor exchequer was by no means equal to the demands made upon it
by his unsettled mode of living. He received a fresh subscription from
friends, urged to contribute by Thomas Poole, and declared that this
would be the last subsidy he would be free to accept. Doubtless he
thought so; at no period of his life had Coleridge the slightest idea of
the value of money, the expense of living, or the probable fate of his
own best intentions. One traces in him a faint likeness to Wilkins
Micawber. With the later months of 1797, he visited Bowles, whose
sonnets had appealed so greatly to him, and learned that Sheridan had
rejected _Osorio_. Relations with Charles Lloyd no longer remained as
they had been, and it may be that his contribution to the family
exchequer at Nether Stowey was not maintained. But for all the troubles
and trials of the year it is a notable one in the annals of British
poetry, for on November 13 Coleridge set out with William and Dorothy
Wordsworth on a walking tour of which the expense was to be defrayed by
a joint composition. Wordsworth for once was not equal to the task, and
Coleridge began the poem by which he is best known, "The Rime of the
Ancient Mariner." His own description of it as "inimitable" does not
seem extravagant. Begun in the course of the memorable walk, it was
finished in the following March, though there were further alterations
as subsequent editions of collected poems appeared. The beginning of
"Christabel" belongs apparently to 1797.

The opening of 1798 brought some good fortune in its train. Coleridge
had been about to accept a call to the Unitarian Chapel at Shrewsbury,
and had already given a taste of his quality in the pulpit, when Josiah
and Thomas Wedgwood, sons of the famous potter, sought to keep him from
burying his gifts. They understood that the need of cash rather than
the claims of faith were responsible for his new departure. A present
for his immediate needs the poet returned, and then came a remarkable
letter from Josiah Wedgwood offering in his own and his brother's name
to pay Coleridge £150 a year, the amount of his promised stipend from
the Chapel, if he would turn from the work of the preacher and devote
himself to poetry and philosophy. No further conditions were attached to
this munificent offer, which was to last for life and to be independent
of everything but the wreck of the brothers' fortunes. Coleridge was
staying with William Hazlitt, at the house of the latter's father near
Shrewsbury, when the letter from Josiah Wedgwood was received, and the
essayist has set down the story in one of his papers. The poet accepted
the offer, a very fortunate one, considering the ever-changing nature of
his faith, and Unitarianism found some other advocate. About the same
time came an invitation from the _Morning Post_, which would have
brought in another fifty pounds a year, so that, had Coleridge been able
to take the fullest advantage of his opportunities, financial anxieties
might have come to an end. Doubtless his good fortune inspired him to
some fine efforts in 1798, but he was nervous and hyper-sensitive, his
quarrel with Charles Lloyd had affected his spirits, he retired to a
Devonshire farm-house to indulge in seclusion and opium and write the
fragmentary "Kubla Khan." Through Charles Lloyd came a misunderstanding,
happily brief, with Charles Lamb. Other happenings in 1798 were the
birth of a second son, the short-lived Berkeley Coleridge; the
publication, anonymously, of _Lyrical Ballads with a few other Poems_,
joint effort of Wordsworth and Coleridge; and the trip with William and
Mary Wordsworth and a friend from Stowey (John Chester by name) to
Germany, a journey described in part by Coleridge in _Satyrane's
Letters_.

Coleridge left the Wordsworths after a brief stay, and went to Ratzburg
with Chester, while the brother and sister went to Goslar. From
Ratzburg, Coleridge went to Göttingen, where he matriculated and
collected material for a _Life of Lessing_. He seems to have worked hard
in Germany, where his taste for abstruse metaphysical speculation was
greatly strengthened.

Before he left Göttingen for London, he had learned the sad news of the
death of his youngest child, and with the return to the metropolis, we
come to another chapter in the poet's life. It will be seen that the
generosity of the brothers Wedgwood had stimulated him to an increased
effort, though at the moment when he might have pulled himself together
and was honestly trying to do so, the opium habit began to hold him. The
current of his life could not run smoothly; he at least was "born to
trouble, as the sparks fly upward." The best that can be said is that
the visit to Germany, and the brief period of honest study, did much to
develop the poet's mind, opening to it unknown fields of German thought,
and filling him with dreams of great works that were to unite German and
British philosophers. Needless to say that, though mountains were
expected to arise, little more than a molehill was forthcoming.



CHAPTER III

IN THE LAKE COUNTRY AND AT MALTA


A reconciliation between Southey and Coleridge marked the return of the
latter to Stowey, where Mr. and Mrs. Southey came on a visit of some
weeks. Following this Coleridge took his wife to Ottery St. Mary and
joined the family circle for a month. In October he stayed with the
Wordsworths at Sockburn-on-Tees, in the house of Mrs. Wordsworth's
parents, and was with John and William Wordsworth when they lighted on
the old inn that was to become Dove Cottage, the home of William
Wordsworth during the period of his most fruitful labours, and in these
latter days a centre of pilgrimage. By the end of the year Coleridge was
in London again, living at 21 Buckingham Street in the Strand, and
writing for the _Morning Post_. The association was a lengthy one, but
it was not always pleasant, and it gave rise to controversy during the
poet's life and when he was dead. Coleridge said in after years that
Stuart had offered him a partnership and that he had declined it on the
ground that any income in excess of five pounds a week was an evil.
Coleridge may have said this, and doubtless believed what he said; we
have seen that he was quite unable to deal authoritatively with
financial matters. It is fair to say that the poet had few if any of
the qualities that are demanded for daily journalism, in which a man
must be safe and reliable. If he be brilliant, so much the better for
those who employ him, but brilliance is not to be compared with
punctuality in a newspaper office. Coleridge declared that he "wasted
the prime and manhood of his intellect" on the _Morning Post_ and the
_Courier_; but latter-day judgment, while acknowledging the high quality
of some of his journalistic work, cannot accept the statement, which is
yet another example of poetic licence. Modern Fleet Street does not
treat erratic contributors as patiently or liberally as Stuart treated
Coleridge; the rapid march of events and the stress of competition alike
forbid.

When he gave up his regular work on the papers he stayed for some weeks
with Lamb at Pentonville, then went to Stowey, and from there to Dove
Cottage. The translation from Schiller, on which he had been engaged,
was now finished. From Dove Cottage he moved to Greta Hall, near
Keswick, a semi-detached house some twelve miles or so from the
Wordsworths. His landlord, who lived next door, was the possessor of a
good library. Neighbours called upon the new-comer and offered
hospitality, for his work had already attracted some attention.
"Christabel" was finished, but when the two volumes of _Lyrical Ballads_
were published in January 1801, Coleridge had not fulfilled his promise
in regard to them. He was busy promising volumes, still unwritten, to
publishers, he was anticipating his allowance from the Wedgwoods, and
nursing an attack of rheumatic fever. With the road clear before him,
with a certain market for his work, he was paying tribute to "the thief
of time." If at length he wrote, his writing took the form of long and
brilliant letters to private friends. For relief from physical pain he
was indulging in opium. The year 1801 is full of complaints and of
direct or indirect appeals for money. In April 1802 came the famous "Ode
to Dejection"; if space permitted it should be quoted here, for, in a
couple of hundred lines, Coleridge has penned a picture of his own
mental state that none can pass by with indifference, or without
compassion. Not only were there monetary worries and the trouble of a
mind diseased at this early period of the poet's uneasy life; there was
also domestic unhappiness. The breach between the poet and his wife,
already of long standing, was now serious, and he sought solace from his
troubles not at Greta Hall but at Grasmere; his harmless devotion to
Dorothy Wordsworth giving offence, not unnaturally, to his wife. The
following year was uneventful. Coleridge was intensely unhappy at
Keswick, though he had the pleasure of a visit from Charles and Mary
Lamb in August. Later, he went on a tour with his patrons, the
Wedgwoods, and stayed with them for a time in their country house,
sending a few papers to the patient Stuart the while. Thomas Wedgwood
was inclined to trifle with drugs, so he was at best a dangerous
companion for Coleridge.

In 1803, when bad health was the chief source of trouble, a volume of
the earlier poems was reprinted with the editorial aid of Lamb. In 1804,
Coleridge joined William and Mary Wordsworth on their Scottish tour,
but did not remain with them for long. He left them for a solitary
walking tour in the Highlands, apparently seeking in vain to tire
himself so completely that drugs should cease to be a necessity. There
is unfortunately no reason to believe that the device was successful. By
mid-September he was back at Greta Hall, where Robert Southey and his
wife were now installed. Southey, methodical, hard-working and
temperate, was not likely to side with his brother of the pen in the
controversies that made the household unhappy. Further residence in that
house, the home that had so many outside attractions, was becoming
impossible, and Coleridge started for the south, only to fall ill at
Dove Cottage, where he stopped on the way. Recovered, he went for a
while to London, thence to the Beaumonts' place at Dunmow in Essex. In
town again, he sat for his portrait to Northcote, one that seems to
present an accurate picture enough of his strength and weakness, "the
heaven-eyes and flabby irresoluteness of mien." In April left England
for Malta armed with letters to the Civil Commissioner, Vice-Admiral
Ball, and, _mirabile dictu_, a pocket full of money. He had £100 lent by
his patient and admiring friend William Wordsworth, whose position had
improved by the return of the money borrowed from his father, in years
long past, by the head of the Lonsdale family, and he had prevailed upon
his conscience to accept a gift of £100 from Sir George Beaumont. His
fellow-passengers on board the _Speedwell_ were but two, one of them the
"unconscionably fat woman who would have wanted elbow-room on Salisbury
Plain." Mrs. Coleridge remained at Greta Hall in the company of her
sister and brother-in-law, dependent for her support upon the continued
charity of the Wedgwoods, but it may be noticed that her husband
corresponded with her while he was abroad. When the ill-matched pair
were not under the same roof they could be good friends.

The years so briefly summarised here show Coleridge at his best as a
poet and at his worst as a man, sometimes kindled by the fire of genius,
sometimes so degraded that he is dangerously near the ranks of the
begging-letter writer. He is only saved from the contempt of his critics
because he was at least sincere in his belief that the lack of pence
alone stood between him and the mental tranquillity that would enable
him to enrich the world with a masterpiece.

There is a passage in Lucretius, in which the poet speaks of the wealthy
senator, no longer able to endure the turmoil of the capital, galloping
away as hard as his chariot can carry him to his country villa, only to
find that change cannot cure his unrest, and to come thundering back to
Rome. It is of himself that he is tired, and from himself there is no
escape. So it has been with men of uneven mind for all time, so it was
with Coleridge, so it will ever be with those to whom the secret of
rational living is "a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed."

For rather more than two years he left England behind him, but his
letters, or those that remain to us, would suggest that he was no
happier out of England than he was at home. At first the change
stimulated his sick mind, he enjoyed his stay in Gibraltar, even while
he complained that the lack of exercise on board affected his health and
spirits. At Valetta, he became first the guest and then the private
secretary of the Civil Commissioner, in whose service he describes
himself rather complacently as "a sort of diplomatic understrapper." In
August he left Malta for Sicily, to draw up a report of the island's
possibilities. Sir Alexander Ball had a firm belief that Sicily should
be taken over by Great Britain to keep it from falling into Napoleon's
hands. Nothing came of the proposal, and by the beginning of the winter
Coleridge was back in Malta, to find himself formally installed as the
Commissioner's private secretary. The Public Secretary of Malta died
soon afterward, and, while his successor was absent from the island,
Coleridge was appointed to the temporary charge of the department at a
salary of £600, no bad allowance for the man who could assure his
friends that he had refused to accept a share in the _Morning Post_
because he thought that £250 per annum was enough for anybody, the man
whose wife and children were being supported in his absence from England
by the charity of friends. But the work at Malta was regular, and
demanded constant attention; there was no leisure for dreaming of what
was to be accomplished some day, so the position was bound to prove
irksome to Coleridge, who was soon full of bitter complaints. The
official salary attaching to the post was £1200 per annum; Coleridge, as
a temporary substitute for the gentleman appointed, a Mr. Chapman, was
paid half, and this inequality of reward provided ground for a
considerable grievance. But the real trouble lay more in the work than
in the pay, for at the end of April we find him greatly distressed by
the news that Mr. Chapman could not arrive before July. Even that month
brought no Secretary; he did not reach Malta until September, and then
Coleridge went in company with a friend to Rome and Naples. Of his stay
in Italy his own accounts are vague and unsatisfactory, but he claims to
have obtained a better knowledge of the Fine Arts in three months spent
at Rome than he could have gained in his own country in twenty years.
Doubtless his health was bad; the Roman winter in 1805-6 was not as
healthy as it is to-day; it may be, too, that the poet was particularly
susceptible to low fever and ague, and that he cured his attacks, or
sought to cure them, with the aid of drugs. He reached London in the
middle of August 1806, and described his forlorn state in a letter
written long after to Josiah Wedgwood, whose brother Thomas had died in
the previous year. He said he had reached England, "ill, penniless, and
worse than homeless." That he was ill is undoubted; that he was homeless
is a figure of speech that will pass, though it should be remembered
that Greta Hall was still open to him; but inasmuch as he had been the
Civil Commissioner's private secretary, had earned over four hundred
pounds as Public Secretary, and had gone to Italy at the expense of his
travelling companion, the financial straits are more than ever
inexplicable and unsatisfactory. Stuart was still willing and anxious
to publish and pay for his erratic contributor's work; travel had
increased its value. There can be no doubt but that Coleridge's
will-power and self-respect were both at the lowest ebb at this period,
all had gone save the love of friends and the admiration of those with
whom he came in contact. He could still hold an audience silent, still
prove to his immediate circle that his intellect was of the keenest and
highest order. But the world, which demands from all poor men a definite
expression of their rights to live, was far too strong for him, nor
could any of the chances that came his way, and they were many, give to
his strange character the strength it needed. He seemed to have
inherited the curse of Cain--"a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be on
the earth." So with a sick mind and an ailing body he cast about once
more for the means to live in some position which should meet his own
undefined requirements.



CHAPTER IV

TROUBLED YEARS


For a while Coleridge stayed with the Lambs, to whom his company was
ever welcome, and then took up work in the office of the _Courier_,
where he found a room. By the end of September he was at Greta Hall,
where his relations with his wife, doubtless made more difficult by the
undiplomatic but strenuous and honest Southey, must have gone from bad
to worse, for by December the two had decided to separate, Coleridge
being allowed to take the boys, Hartley and Derwent, on the
understanding that they spent their holidays with their mother. He
passed Christmas at Coleorton, lent by Sir George Beaumont to the
Wordsworths, and it may be that the relief of the proposed separation
accounted for better spirits, better health, and inclination to work. He
was still far from well, no day seems to have passed without bringing
some hours of pain and unrest, but there was some change, and it was for
the better. Wordsworth's dedication of _The Prelude_ may have given him
a much-needed stimulus. In the early summer of 1807, Coleridge joined
his wife for a time at Nether Stowey, where kindly Thomas Poole managed
to patch up the differences between husband and wife, and brought
Coleridge and Josiah Wedgwood together again. The poet had refused to
answer his patron's letters or to supply promised material for a life of
Thomas Wedgwood. In his letter to Josiah Wedgwood he declared that the
contribution to the story of Thomas Wedgwood's life had been detained at
Malta together with "many important papers," and that he had several
works on the eve of publication. The measure of foundation upon which
these statements stood was hardly sufficient to support them even in the
pages of a letter to a fairly credulous patron. Soon the "penniless and
friendless" man was to find another supporter, Thomas de Quincey, who,
after meeting the poet and spending one evening in his company, supplied
him anonymously, through Cottle the publisher, with a loan of three
hundred pounds, without any conditions, in order that his financial
troubles might be ended.

Here we have another proof of the extraordinary personal magnetism of
Coleridge. However badly he might behave, his friends forgave him and
continued to love him, strangers helped to smooth the rough road over
which his follies drew him--all in vain. Coleridge accepted the gift
from an unknown sympathiser without compunction--he was quite reconciled
to doles--merely remarking that he hoped in twelve months to ask the
name of his benefactor in order to show him the results of his gift.
Towards the end of an unsatisfactory year, Coleridge returned to his
room and his work in the office of the _Courier_, and set himself to
prepare some long-promised lectures to be delivered at the Royal
Institution. The first were heard in February 1808, and others followed
in the spring; they seem to have attracted considerable attention and to
have been representative of the lecturer's considerable gifts. This work
over, he went to stay at Bury St. Edmunds with his friend Mrs. Clarkson,
whose influence was wholly good, and helped in no small measure to
restore his health and peace of mind. From there he went to visit the
Wordsworths at Allan Bank, and the improvement in health was maintained.
He was now separated from Mrs. Coleridge; they met as friends, united to
some extent by a genuine interest in their children's welfare. The year
1809 saw the birth of a paper called _The Friend_, described as "a
Literary, Moral, and Political Weekly Paper, excluding Personal and
Party Politics and Events of the Day. Conducted by S. T. Coleridge of
Grasmere, Westmorland." This was another ill-planned venture, foredoomed
to failure from the start. It contrived to appear at regular intervals
on twenty-seven occasions, and considering the enormous difficulties
associated with its production, this was a remarkable achievement
enough. Needless to say helpers came forward with hard work and advances
of money. Wordsworth wrote much for the columns of his friend's venture,
but success and Coleridge never could run in double harness.

By March 1810, after involving in endless trouble all who helped the
editor, _The Friend_ was numbered among the things that had been, and
until October the poet lingered on in the Lake Country, apparently at
his wits' ends once more. He took his latest failure very much to
heart.

In October Coleridge accepted at short notice an invitation from Basil
Montague, who was passing to London through Keswick, to stay with him in
Soho, and this unfortunate journey led to a break in the very amicable
relations that had existed so long between Coleridge and Wordsworth, and
had been a source of great comfort to the less fortunate man. The author
of _The Prelude_ warned Montague that his friend's habits were not
satisfactory, and that he had but little hope of their permanent
improvement, and Montague, translating Wordsworth's tempered note of
advice into harshest terms, gave Coleridge his own crude version of it.
The breach was not mended for two years, and even then the marks of it
made the old happy relations between two great poets, who were
intellectually brothers, though morally as far as the poles asunder,
impossible. Stricken to the heart, Coleridge left Frith Street at once
and went to Hammersmith on what was practically a six years' visit to
some Bristol friends, the Morgans, who had settled in the western
suburb. He had the Lambs to turn to as well, and in their company met
Henry Crabb Robinson, to whose voluminous diary students of the poet are
so deeply indebted. He completely ignored his relatives and friends in
the Lake Country, though their anxiety about him was unfeigned. In 1811
he worked on the _Courier_ until the autumn, when he turned again to the
lecture platform, which he could always adorn, for it was possible for
Coleridge to speak without notes on almost any subject and to treat it
luminously. These lectures, delivered in the rooms of the London
Philosophical Society in Crane Court, Fetter Lane, were eminently
successful, taking into consideration the conditions of their delivery.
They were devoted to examination and criticism of the work of
Shakespeare, Milton, and living poets, a study that Coleridge had made
his own. The spring of 1812 was at hand before the series was completed,
and at its conclusion the poet, who had delighted some of the sanest
critics in London, set out for Greta Hall. While he was there--it was
destined to be his last visit to the Lake Country--he was on the best of
terms with his wife, but kept away from the Wordsworths because William
had refused to apologise. It required the persistent efforts of Crabb
Robinson to bring the two men together in May of 1812. One Brown,
printer of _The Friend_, had left Penrith owing Coleridge money, so the
poet went to his office to investigate the matter, and remained in
Penrith for a month, without communicating with any of his anxious
friends! Then he returned to the Morgans, who had left Hammersmith for
the neighbourhood of Oxford Street, and issued a prospectus for a series
of lectures designed to deal with the drama. He delivered about half a
dozen, and arranged for a winter series to be given at the Surrey
Institution. It was a period of renewed literary activity; he had
re-written his play _Osorio_, now called _Remorse_, and it had been
accepted for Drury Lane; he was working again for Stuart. The winter
lectures opened badly and closed brilliantly; the poet was happy in
having sympathetic audiences. Then came rehearsals of _Remorse_, which
proved remarkably tedious to the gifted author, who for once in his
life found a substantial reward for his work. _Remorse_ appealed
sufficiently to the patrons of Drury Lane to yield over four hundred
pounds to Coleridge in acting and publishing rights. The money came at
an opportune moment, for Josiah Wedgwood had reduced his pension to the
poet by one half. He has been very freely blamed for this, but who can
say that Coleridge had kept to his promise to devote himself to poetry
and philosophy or that he had justified to any reasonable extent the
hopes that prompted the generous gift? Naturally, he resented the
reduction of his allowance, but it did not stir him to any further
effort. On the proceeds of his play he would seem to have lived in
comparative idleness until the autumn of the year, when, finding the
financial strain no longer bearable, he set out in October for Bristol,
to deliver an extended series of lectures. The summer had been spent in
formulating good resolutions and talking of the books he proposed to
write as soon as his mind was sufficiently tranquil and he had no more
worries. On the whole, the Bristol lectures were a great success. It may
be said with all respect that Coleridge was always lecturing; even in
private life, he had succeeded in keeping the brilliant Madame de Stäel
a contented listener by the hour, and it was quite an easy matter for
him to stand on a platform and discuss any matter in which he was
interested, in a fashion safe to hold an educated audience. There is
evidence that while Coleridge was at Bristol doing good work in a
desultory fashion he was indulging immoderately in opium. Cottle, his
old publisher, remonstrated with him, and some effort was made to raise
the money to put him in a doctor's home; but Southey, who was
approached, opposed the suggestion firmly and, with a certain brutal
frankness that is not hard to condone, declared that nothing but a
return to Greta Hall and hard, regular work, would minister effectively
to his brother-in-law's complaint. This of course availed to keep
Coleridge from the Lake Country, and still further to embitter his
relations with the family at Keswick.

In September 1814 he joined the Morgans in a cottage at Ashley, on the
Bath Road, and planned the creation of some literary monuments, that
when they came to be completed were of comparatively small account. He
wrote some papers for the _Courier_, and towards the end of the year
went with the Morgans to Calne in Wiltshire. There he wrote
begging-letters, visited the leading representatives of the county and
enjoyed the entertainment he received, ignored letters from his family,
and wasted his great gifts by devoting them to consideration of local
questions of small importance. By the kindness of friends, Hartley had
been sent to Oxford, so doubtless his father thought he had done well
for one of his family.

The year 1815 passed, finding him more concerned with promises than with
the performance of work, but in March 1816 he returned to town with the
MS. of a new play--_Zapolya_. He stayed for a while with his faithful
friends, Charles and Mary Lamb, and then took the strongest and wisest
decision of his life by putting himself in the hands of Mr. Gillman of
Highgate, with whom his life was so closely associated down to the end.
He took this step, after much self-searching, and on the advice of a
physician, Dr. Adams of Hatton Garden, to whom he told frankly and fully
the story of his case. A few days after his arrival at Highgate the
"Christabel," "Kubla Khan," and "Pains of Sleep" were published by John
Murray, to whom Coleridge appears to have been introduced by Lord Byron.
Murray also accepted _Zapolya_, but parted with it to another publisher.

In the summer of 1816, Coleridge took a holiday at Muddiford, near
Christchurch in Hampshire. Back in Highgate, he projected more work, and
being in better health, carried on brisk quarrels with publishers. Under
Gillman's care he was becoming more temperate, but his system was
suffering from lack of its accustomed stimulant. By the spring of 1817,
the _Metropolitan Encyclopædia_ was projected, and Coleridge was to be a
liberal contributor as well as assistant editor in return for £500 a
year, but he wanted so much down on account that the publishers, who
probably knew their man, broke off negotiations, and Coleridge wrote
nothing but his well-known paper, "Preliminary Treatise on Method," for
which he received sixty guineas. In March 1817, the publication of the
_Biographia Literaria_, a glorified scrap-book, full of profound
thoughts that dazzled many a thinking man, led to bitter criticism in
the _Edinburgh_ and _Blackwood's_. The philosophical prose of Coleridge
is of importance, but no attempt will be made to deal with it here, in a
sketch that has no other aim than to present a great figure in our
literary history to those who need such an introduction. The
_Biographia Literaria_ and the _Æsthetical Essays_ have been published
as recently as 1907 by the Oxford University Press. They supply a
complete reprint of the 1817 edition, and have been edited with a
masterly introduction by Mr. J. Shawcross.

In this year (1817) Coleridge renewed his work in the _Courier_ and
upheld Southey's reputation in connection with the pirated publication
of that poet's twenty-five-year-old indiscretion, "Wat Tyler." This was
generous vindication of a severe critic. In the same year he started his
stimulating friendship with Joseph Henry Green, philosopher and surgeon.
In the autumn he again sought the sea, going this time to Littlehampton
in Sussex, where he met the Rev. H. F. Cary, translator of _Dante_, and
Charles Augustus Tulk, afterwards member for Sudbury. It is to the
efforts of Coleridge that Mr. Cary owed the first acceptance of his
remarkable work. _Zapolya_ sold well towards the close of this year, and
the sale helped to stimulate the author. It would seem that residence at
Highgate was doing something at last to build up the poet's shattered
nervous system, that the bonds of opium were being loosened, that
self-respect was coming, however late, into his life. Lectures on
Shakespeare and Poetical Literature delivered at Flower-de-Luce Court in
Fetter Lane occupied the opening months of the new year, and while
engaged on these addresses, Coleridge made a new and valued friend,
Thomas Allsop, with whom he maintained for several years an important
correspondence. A further course of lectures was delivered in the last
weeks of 1818 and for some months in the following year, but although
they were doubtless remarkably good, there was no money in them. The
year 1819 was a disastrous one financially. Not only was little profit
forthcoming from work, but, to make matters worse, Fenner, the poet's
publisher, became bankrupt, and the unfortunate Coleridge was compelled
to buy back his own books and copyrights, at least he wrote to that
effect to Allsop, though one cannot take all these statements _au pied
de la lettre_. In 1820, fortune had still more blows in store. Hartley
Coleridge, who to his father's great delight had gained a Fellowship at
Oriel, was deprived of it on account of his intemperance, nor could all
the influence of friends or of the sorely stricken parent avail to move
the Provost of Oriel to reconsider his judgment, though a sum of £300
was paid to Hartley by way of compensation later in the year. The career
of Hartley Coleridge, the "little Hartley," beloved of the Lakemen, who,
it will be remembered, preferred both his verse and his company to those
of the self-centred Wordsworth, is no less sad than that of his father,
and was far less brilliant. He inherited all the curses that made the
career of Samuel Taylor Coleridge so disastrous, he was constitutionally
unable to settle down to hard work, he was weak, and prone to give way
to temptation on the least provocation. A great part of his life was
passed in the Lake Country, where William and Mary and Dorothy
Wordsworth were his staunch friends, loving him perhaps as much for his
father's sake as for his own. He died shortly before William
Wordsworth, and the graves of the two men, so remote from each other in
all things save affection, may be seen side by side in Keswick
churchyard. Coleridge was soon reconciled to his erring son, but the
blow was the more severe because he could see that he was the father of
the lad's faults and failings.

In 1821 we find him turning to Allsop for pecuniary aid; self-respect
must be laid aside in the face of financial straits. The excuse is the
old one that age cannot wither nor custom stale. He is in sore distress,
reduced to writing for Blackwood (who had been to Highgate bearing the
olive branch, nearly two years before). He is even writing sermons for
illiterate clergymen, he has four books well-nigh ready for press, he
wishes to bring about a revolution in the world of French and English
metaphysics through the medium of a work of far-reaching importance,
still, of course, to be written. What remains, then, at a time when he
is being pressed for money for the necessities of life, but an appeal to
a few admirers who "think respectfully" of his gifts to subscribe an
annuity of about £200 a year for three or four years? Nearly £100 has
been promised by young friends whom he is engaged in teaching. Perhaps
Allsop will suggest how, without loss of dignity, the appeal may be
circulated in the proper quarters. Those of us who admire the work with
which Coleridge has enriched his country may be pardoned if they regret
the fact that this appeal ever saw the light. It had not even the
negative virtue of success. The much-maligned Blackwood came to the
rescue with an advance on account of work, and with the amount prepaid
Coleridge went to Ramsgate for two months with the Gillmans, where he
met Cowden Clarke, and derived benefit from the sea air and ample
exercise.

The next plan that came to the fertile brain was an extension of the
informal class in philosophy that he held at Gillman's, and something,
but not much, was done in this direction. A long visit from Mrs.
Coleridge and their daughter Sara marked the comparatively cheerful
close of the year 1822. Henry Nelson Coleridge, the poet's nephew, son
of Colonel James Coleridge and afterwards Sara's husband, was of the
party; his _Table Talk_, in which Coleridge shows something of his
conversational quality, may still be read with interest. These visits
and the poet's fast-widening social sphere suggest that the opium habit
was being conquered at last, that the closing years of a strangely
troubled life were bringing with them some measure of tranquillity.
There is yet another indication of improvement; the fire of poetic
inspiration flared up for a little while in the fall of 1823, and "Youth
and Age," was the result. _Aids to Reflection_ was in the making in
these days too, though it was not given to the world until the early
summer of 1825, and then in a very slovenly form, which did little or
nothing to diminish its value to thinking men and women. While the
reception was a mixed one, there was a fairly substantial reward. The
Royal Society of Literature gave him an Associateship carrying with it
the welcome annuity of 100 guineas; there was balm in Gilead at last. In
return for the honour, the poet read a paper on the "Prometheus of
Æschylus" before the R.S.L. (May 1825). In addition to some definite
relief from financial stress, Coleridge was entering upon a mental phase
of infinite comfort to his remaining years. The transcendentalist became
suddenly convinced of the efficacy of prayer, of the existence of a
personal God, and of other tenets peculiar to Christianity. We cannot
indicate the gradual processes by which the brilliant mind reached
harbour in the last days. It may be that the futility of his own
struggles was becoming apparent, that his reasoning faculties,
strengthened by relief from drugs, reverted to the faith of earlier
times at Ottery St. Mary when, a little boy with the page of his life
fair and unstained, he listened to the teachings of his father, a man of
godly ways and simple belief. It may have been the final sense of defeat
in the long struggle to realise ambitions, to justify the hopes of
friends, and to silence those whose doubts were openly expressed.
Whatever the cause, the result was eminently satisfactory; the last
years saw the poet baffled and beaten by the world, but for once strong
in failure, full of a conviction that there lay beyond the grave that
which should atone for unsuccess. There is more dignity and less
querulousness in the years that followed publication of _Aids to
Reflection_ than in almost any of those that had passed since Coleridge
left Cambridge; and for this spell of comparative tranquillity his
latter-day admirers must needs be grateful.

There would be interesting matter for speculation, if we had any data to
assist us, how far the late-found faith of Coleridge enabled him to
atone to his conscience for what seem to us the least reputable
incidents of his career, and many remain to be explained away. He was
too shrewd a critic, too sound a judge of life and character, to have
overlooked his own failings, above all he must have been haunted by fear
of his son Hartley's future and known that his own lack of
self-discipline had, in all human probability, set yet another soul
wandering along the paths of trouble. Perhaps we should be careful to
remember, in considering the life of Coleridge, that all his faults were
open to the eye. His friends discussed them with the greatest freedom
and even set them down in cold print. History has turned a far more
careful eye to the blemishes in a strange character than to the virtues
that must have been present by their side. The worst foes of Coleridge
have never denied the extraordinary influence he spread around him, or
doubted that it was for good. They bear witness to the intense
theoretical devotion to unattainable ideals, the respect for virtue,
even in hours of backsliding, the belief in his own ability ultimately
to overcome the faults that beset him and to rebuild the shattered
fabric of personal honour. He was ever fighting against his own little
company of devils, for ever being worsted, and yet it would be wrong to
say that he abandoned the struggle for long. Doubtless, when he looked
closely into his own past, he was less conscious of his faults than were
his biographers; by him they were regarded as the outcome of forces he
could not control. Had he pleaded his own case at the bar of public
opinion, and some of his utterances come very near to constitute a plea,
he could doubtless have done so with sincerity and conviction. He was at
least nearer to the springs of action than were those who judged him by
normal standards, forgetting that whether for good or for evil the man
of genius is a law to himself, and that genius is at once a disease and
a misfortune, which no sane man need covet. Certainly if Coleridge could
forgive himself, we of another generation, who have had nothing but the
fine fruits of his intellect for our portion, who bear no share of the
burden of his weakness, are not called upon to judge him harshly, and
only the fact that his life is one long record of faults and failings
excuses any reference to them in a brief biography.

The tragedy of the life we have watched for a moment at Highgate now
loses something of its intensity. It gains a tranquillity we have
learned to associate with evening twilight. The sudden recovery of faith
calls for more than a passing word; it must have gladdened the heart not
only of Coleridge, but of many of the devout admirers who have succeeded
him. The thoughtful readers of our own generation can hardly turn to the
life or works of Coleridge to-day without feelings of infinite pity for
a man in whom the body and the spirit waged such long and uneven combat.
We may remember, too, that his own generation had no perspective by
which to judge him; it was unaware of his greatness, and ignored or
misjudged him as it ignored Wordsworth and Elia until they had passed
beyond the reach of praise or censure. Had it recognised the presence
of a great force there might have been more happiness for the author of
_Aids to Reflection_. But we can see, or think we see, that though help
came to him in no small measure, there was little understanding save by
the few, and in the long run the assistance he received was futile. Like
every man born of woman, Coleridge had to seek and find his own
salvation; it was his own effort that triumphed in the end.

To the life-long list of disappointments another was added in 1827, when
the post of Paymaster of the Gentlemen Pensioners, a sinecure long since
abolished, became vacant by the death of William Gifford. A big effort
was made by Hookham Frere to obtain this office for Coleridge, but it
was not to be. The industrious, steady, resolute Wordsworth had his
sinecure, and it seems a little hard, if such things were to exist, that
poor Coleridge, whose necessities were not inconsiderable and whose
means of satisfying them were so scanty, should have failed to gain one.
Happily he still had his pension of one hundred guineas from the Royal
Society of Literature, and in 1828 an edition of three hundred copies of
his poems was published in three volumes and sold out. William Pickering
of London was the publisher, and the preface, with a few unimportant
alterations, is a reprint of the one attached to the edition of 1803,
published by Longman and Rees, which in its turn was taken from the
edition of 1797. Another edition with some added verses was published in
1829. When the volumes of the 1828 edition had been passed for press,
Coleridge joined William Wordsworth and his favourite child, Dora, who
married Mr. Quillinan and predeceased her father, and the three went to
Belgium and Germany. The journey lasted six weeks, and at Bonn the
travellers met some of the leading writers of Germany, including
Schlegel and Niebuhr. The German visit is recorded by Thomas Colley
Grattan, the author of _Beaten Paths_, and by Julian Young, son of
Charles Mayne Young, the actor. Although the warmth of attachment
between Wordsworth and Coleridge had undoubtedly suffered since the days
when the former wrote his ill-advised letter to Basil Montague, nearly
twenty years before, the admiration of the one poet for the other was
quite unfeigned. Wordsworth's delight in a great intellect had never
faltered; he could always distinguish between a man's gifts and
weaknesses, admiring the one while he condemned or regretted the other.
The journey refreshed Coleridge in body and mind. He was in high
spirits, and the point of his pen was still very keen; witness his lines
to Cologne, written when he and his fellow-travellers had passed through
that malodorous city in July:

    "In Koln, a town of monks and bones
    And pavements fang'd with murderous stones,
    And rags, and hags, and hideous wenches;
    I counted two and seventy stenches,
    All well defined, and several stinks!
    Ye Nymphs that reign o'er sewers and sinks,
    The river Rhine, it is well known
    Doth wash your city of Cologne;
    But tell me, Nymphs! what power divine
    Shall henceforth wash the river Rhine?"

These lines are worth quoting merely as a definite indication of the
change in spirits that had come over the poet. Doubtless, for all the
angry de Quincey has written to the contrary, Coleridge was in a
comparatively healthy condition both mentally and physically in these
closing years, nor could he have made the favourable impression upon the
_illuminati_ of Bonn had he been still addicted to excess of opium. An
easier mind prompted him to take further holiday during the year, for we
have a record of a week with Charles and Mary Lamb, who were then at
Enfield Chase, and a month at Ramsgate towards the beginning of the
winter. In the following year his well-beloved daughter Sara married her
cousin Henry Nelson Coleridge, who, in the spring of 1830, resumed the
_Table Talk_ records that do so much to show us the extent, variety, and
penetration of the poet's comments upon men and things. In this year
Coleridge published, through the London firm of Hurst, Chance & Co., his
remarkable essay "On the Constitution of the Church and State, according
to the idea of each," a publication said to have been the foundation of
the famous Oxford Movement.

This year saw the death of George IV, and of the pensions of the
Associates of the Royal Literary Society. King William IV pleaded that
his very reduced income made it impossible for him to continue the
grants of his predecessor, but a strong private representation to Lord
Brougham led to the offer of a private grant of £200 to Coleridge, who
declined to receive it. Hookham Frere undertook to pay the pension
annually as long as Coleridge lived, and the Treasury compounded with
King William's conscience by paying a sum of £300 in settlement of
further liabilities.

It is well that there were friends at hand in these latter days, for the
star of Coleridge had set; he was to publish nothing more. His mind
retained its pristine vigour, but his body was failing fast. Wordsworth,
Lamb, Crabb Robinson, Walter Savage Landor, Harriet Martineau, Emerson
and Poole were among the visitors to Highgate, where the poet, now
seldom able to leave the house, waited with patience and resignation for
the hour to come when "the dust returns to earth as it was, and the
spirit unto God who gave it." He rallied sufficiently to attend the
baptism of his granddaughter Edith, and in 1833 he went to the meeting
of the British Association at Cambridge, the return to his old haunts
being the occasion of great emotion. Too weak to rise betimes, he
received old friend and new in his bedchamber. Then he returned to
Highgate, never again to leave the Gillmans' hospitable house. In May
1834 his old and faithful comrade Thomas Poole, the man our memory loves
to dwell upon, visited him, and Coleridge remarked that all the
incidents of his life were now seen by him in a clear light "reconciled
and harmonised." A bad attack of weakness in the last days of July was
the signal of the end. In his last hours he communicated to his pupil J.
H. Green a statement of his religious philosophy, and tired by the
supreme effort passed peacefully from the lesser to the greater sleep.
He was buried on August 2, in the Churchyard at Highgate. He had
written his own epitaph not a year before he died, and no excuse is
needed for its quotation here. There are several versions, differing but
slightly from each other:

    "Stop, Christian Passer-by! Stop, Child of God!
    And read with gentle heart. Beneath this sod
    There lies a Poet: or what once was He,
    O lift thy soul in prayer for S. T. C.
    That He who many a year with toil of breath
    Found death in life, may here find life in death.
    Mercy for praise, to be forgiven for fame
    He ask'd, and hoped thro' Christ. Do thou the same."



CHAPTER V

COLERIDGE AS AN OBSERVER OF NATURE


The author of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," in which the
observation of natural phenomena is extraordinary, was never the child
of his environment in the same degree as his friends William Wordsworth
and Charles Lamb, though a great part of his life was passed in the
surroundings they knew best. Wordsworth is the true offspring of the
Lake Country; he carried to Racedown Lodge and Alfoxton House rich
memories of the sterner north, and his genius matured at Dove Cottage.
Lamb was a Londoner all the days of his life; the nearer to the
metropolis, the higher were his spirits, the more brilliant his pen.
Take London from Lamb and the Lakeside from Wordsworth and it is
difficult to say what would remain. Coleridge, on the other hand, must
have expressed himself anywhere, nor does it seem likely that the
quality of his utterances would have suffered from their place of birth.
While he was young and vigorous he found it hard to stay for any length
of time in one district, but wherever he went he seems to have felt at
home. Such complaints as Wordsworth could utter at Goslar, or Lamb at
Enfield, find no place that I can trace in the poems, essays, or
correspondence of Coleridge. He took no overwhelming delight in
populous cities or in the open spaces of the country. If he sojourned at
Keswick, it was to be near Wordsworth, and the only noticeable influence
his work owes to the Lake Country is to be found in "Christabel." If he
came to London it was to be within touch of work that was immediately
remunerative. The one remaining force that could decide the question of
a district's quality was proximity to a good library. His imagination,
when the spirit moved him, annihilated distance and ignored immediate
surroundings, his muse in its rare working hours knew no fetters of time
or place. Friends were more necessary to him than either to Wordsworth
or to Lamb, for these had a beloved sister for constant companion, and
while Lamb, the most hospitable of men, could console himself for the
absence of his friends with the aid of his folios, and a generous
measure of beer, Wordsworth had the additional gift of loving wife and
children. Then again Lamb worked for a great part of his life in the
office of the East India Company, while Wordsworth was supremely
conscious of the call of duty, and was anxious to read the lesson of the
simple life to a generation given over to the unavailing pursuit of
happiness. Of the three, only Coleridge was condemned to live in a
condition of perennial anxiety for the future, an anxiety not a little
due to his lack of capacity for steady work, the curse of a vagrant
disposition, and a fatal surrender to self-indulgence of a peculiarly
dangerous kind. The moods in which Coleridge could turn for relief to
Nature and scenes of natural beauty were rare, and consequently the
utterances thus directly inspired are few and far between. He had but a
passing regard for flowers and birds, no marked preference for mountain,
river, or plain, no very ready response to changing seasons. In a
collected edition of his poetical works, the student will find less than
thirty poems that seem to be suggested by Nature.

He knew the north, the west, and the south of England, but there is
nothing in his work to indicate that one was more to him than the other.
His genius was subjective rather than objective, and though he was a
great poet he was a still greater scholar and philosopher, with more of
the fruits of deep reading in his capacious brain than Wordsworth and
Lamb (each a scholar) could boast between them. To the full extent that
his infirmities and overmastering vice permitted, he was a man of the
world, at home in any company, able to discourse _de omnibus rebus et
quibusdam aliis_, and so overflowing with ideas that he could carry on a
monologue in the company of the most brilliant conversationalists and
leave them well content for once to be silent. It will be seen, then,
that in the case of Samuel Taylor Coleridge the question of residence,
although of admitted interest, is of relatively small importance, since
each might have been altered without affecting the volume, trend, or
quality of his output.

Ottery St. Mary has already been described at sufficient length for the
purposes of this brief essay. For all the beauty that belongs of right
to Devonshire it left no lasting impression upon his mind, and though
he quitted the home of his family at a tender age, we might have looked
for some definite utterances, because the early years of a poet are
frequently associated with very lasting impressions. Wordsworth
remembered his schooldays and Dame Tyson's cottage even in old age.
Christ's Hospital--by the way, does not de Quincey tell us that it
should be called Christ Hospital?--was the scene of Coleridge's earliest
poetic effort, and a sonnet to the autumnal moon is dated 1788, at a
time when, it is generally understood, he had not returned to his
mother's house. There is no direct inspiration from Nature here. He
compares the appearance of the moon coming from a cloud to Hope, now
brightening the eye, now hidden behind "dragon-winged Despair," and
finally shining like a meteor over the "sorrow-clouded breast of Care."
The lines are fluent but superficial. It may be that owing to long
residence in Newgate Street with the terror of Boyer's discipline upon
him the young "Grecian" had little chance to respond to such glimpses of
Nature as his brief holiday rambles afforded. A year later, in some
verses called "Life" he makes a passing reference to Otter's "scanty
stream," and in 1790 writes some weak verses condemning the bad
Devonshire roads. His "Absence," a farewell ode on quitting school for
Cambridge, and "The Raven," belonging to the same year, show no
influence of Nature, but in 1793, in the brave year when he was
twenty-one, there are verses that show at last an awakening
appreciation. The "Songs of the Pixies," the Sonnet to the River Otter,
the lines "To a Beautiful Spring in a Village," and "On an Autumnal
Evening" exhibit the mood of a young man to whom Nature is beginning to
reveal some of the secrets of her immortal charm, but there are none of
the distinctive thoughts that a Keats or a Wordsworth would have given
us under the stress of similar emotion, so we may presume that neither
half-remembered Ottery St. Mary, nor Christ's Hospital, nor even Jesus
College, Cambridge, had served to string the poet's lyre. Out of the
superabundant gift of expression and the long course of varied reading,
certain emotions had proceeded, but they are never the emotions of a
poet of Nature. The early verses that Coleridge contributed to the
_Morning Post_ include adaptations from the classics. The "Lines to a
Nightingale" (1795) are inspired by Sarah Fricker, and she too comes
into the far better compositions of the same year, "Lines composed while
climbing the left ascent of Brackley Coomb, Somersetshire," written when
Coleridge was dallying with Pantisocracy in company with Burnett and
Southey. The maythorn, yew, and elm are the only trees he notices, and
cuckoo the only bird. The "Æolian Harp," written in the same year, is
inspired too by Sarah Fricker, and it must be remembered that Coleridge
was then twenty-three, when the best and worst men are guilty of writing
verse in which the inspiration felt is quite out of proportion to the
thought expressed. Perhaps "Reflection on having left a Place of
Retirement" strikes the pastoral and rural note most clearly. The "place
of retirement" was the little cottage at Clevedon he found after
marriage. The lines seem to be a record of the honeymoon. They are
happy and speak of a certain resolution that had yet to be undermined:

      "Ah! quiet dell! dear cot, and mount sublime!
    I was constrained to quit you. Was it right
      While my unnumbered brethren toiled and bled,
    That I should dream away the entrusted hours
      On rose-leaf beds, pampering the coward heart
    With feelings all too delicate for use?

      I therefore go, and join head, heart, and hand
    Active and firm, to fight the bloodless fight
      Of science, freedom, and the truth in Christ."

The lines, of which the above are a part, are important in so far as
they show that even on his honeymoon and in the most delightful country
Coleridge was not yet on intimate terms with natural objects. He writes
of rose and myrtle and jasmine and "the bare bleak mountain speckled
thin with sheep." He knew neither the small nor the great on terms of
intimacy, and here again we have further proof that there is nothing
local about his genius, and that his homes and haunts did little more
than influence his health upon occasions; they never stirred his pen or
turned him to seek nature knowledge. Doubtless, had he been left to
spend his boyhood by the Otter's banks, he would have gathered some
small lore of tree, and bird, and plant, but London, though it did much
for him, left him quite ill-equipped. The Clevedon cottage where he
spent his honeymoon is still to be seen by the tourist and lover of the
poet, who may well pause to wonder how Wordsworth would have sung such a
peaceful and yet stimulating spot. In the February of 1796 come lines
"On observing a blossom on the first of February," and this will make
the most modest botanist smile, for by the first of February the winter
jasmine, the Christmas rose, and the winter aconite, to name but three
flowers at random, have been blossoming for some time, and so, too, has
many a pleasant weed. Later in the same year the first primrose of the
season tempted him to some charming lines, of which four may be quoted:

    "But, tender blossom, why so pale,
    Dost hear stern winter in the gale?
    And didst thou tempt the ungentle sky
    To catch one vernal glance and die?"

This is very pretty and naïve, but quite childish, and the lines are
prefaced by a quotation from Ovid. In June 1797, at Nether Stowey,
Coleridge wrote the exquisite poem, "This Lime Tree Bower my Prison." It
was addressed to Charles Lamb, and on a copy of this poem, thirty-seven
years later, he wrote his last words, "Charles and Mary Lamb, dear to my
heart, yea, as it were, my heart." Here for once the spirit of Nature
descends for a moment upon him. He sees his surroundings with what Sir
Joshua would have called "a dilated eye." There are lines in it with
which memory loves to dwell; they bring Coleridge nearer to some of us
than many of the poems upon which his reputation stands secure:

                          "....In this bower,
    This little lime tree bower, have I not marked
    Much that has soothed me? Pale beneath the blaze
    Hung the transparent foliage, and I watched
    Some broad and sunny leaf and stem above
    Dappling its sunshine! And that walnut tree
    Was richly tinged, and a deep radiance lay
    Full on the ancient ivy, which usurps
    Those fronting elms, and now, with blackest mass
    Makes their dark branches gleam a lighter hue
    Through the late twilight, and though now the bat
    Wheels silent by, and not a swallow twitters,
    Yet still the solitary humble bee
    Sings in the bean flower!"

The recurrence of the word "and" in four consecutive lines is perhaps
the most noticeable blemish here.

It is at Nether Stowey when Coleridge was five-and-twenty years old that
we find the first utterance which seems to treat Nature as the theme and
not merely as a subsidiary aid to the expression of certain thoughts.
"Frost at Midnight," belonging to 1798, has some fine lines addressed to
little Hartley:

    "Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee
    Whether the summer clothe the general earth
    With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
    Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
    Of mossy apple tree, while the nigh thatch
    Smokes in the sun thaw, whether the eave-drops fall
    Heard only in the trances of the blast,
    Or if the secret ministry of frost
    Shall hang them up in silent icicles
    Quietly shining to the quiet Moon."

This is full of promise, and so too is the "Conversation Poem" called
"The Nightingale," written in April of that year, in which Coleridge
shows the true instinct by rejecting the suggestion that the bird's
notes are sad:

            "....'Tis the merry Nightingale
    That crowds, and hurries, and precipitates
    With fast thick warble his delicious notes
    As he were fearful that an April night
    Would be too short for him to utter forth
    His love-chant, and disburthen his full soul
    Of all its music."

If the presence of Lamb inspired the "Lime Tree Bower" music, it is
undoubtedly to the happy association at Alfoxden with the Wordsworths
that we owe the "Nightingale" song, though the image of his child,
presumably little Berkeley, the short-lived second-born, runs sparkling
through the closing lines.

Some years pass now before Coleridge responds again to Nature, this time
in his magnificent "Hymn before Sunrise in the Vale of Chamouni." This
is as stately an invocation as ever the poet penned, and to the same
year belongs the well-known "Inscription for a Fountain on a Heath."
After this date one will look in vain to Coleridge for a direct response
to Nature or for any prolonged utterance founded upon the beauty of
earth, sea, or sky. The year 1802, in which this side of the poet's work
seems to fail, is the date of the "Ode to Dejection," a twelvemonth
before the visit to Scotland and two years before the visit to Malta and
Italy. Is it unreasonable, then, to suggest that the Nature love and
study that the poems of Coleridge reveal are associated only with the
early years of courtship and marriage, and the first long association
with the Wordsworths in and around Nether Stowey and Alfoxden? We know
that by the time "Kubla Khan" was written (1798) Coleridge was already
beginning to surrender himself to opium, and a very few years of close
devotion to this drug would have served to deprive him, not only of the
spring joy of life, but of response to Nature. He was not a Nature lover
at heart, and consequently there was little to be rooted out. Courtship
and the birth of children kindled some light that the drug was to quench
effectually, and after 1802, Coleridge turned but seldom to Nature even
for pictorial imagery. His mind wandered farther and farther into fields
of abstruse and difficult speculation, the poet in him mingled with the
scholar, and in the later years his essays were, from the standpoint of
fine thought, expressed in terse, vigorous English that lacked neither
wit nor humour upon occasion, far more important than his poetry. Lamb's
essays breathe the spirit of a poet; much of Coleridge's later work,
whether dramatic or lyrical, is in the first place the effort of an
accomplished man of letters and philosopher. This brings me back to the
first statement of the chapter; Coleridge was not influenced by
residence, but by the circumstances of his life, by his failure to earn
sufficient money, a failure due in its turn to his besetting weakness.
We cannot name any place of the poet's uneasy sojourn and say the
district exercised an abiding influence upon his poetry.

Here we have material for a very painful reflection. We know how largely
some of the saddest lives in literature have been soothed or brightened
by close communion with what we call common things, because they are
within reach of all. Had Coleridge been able to take comfort in them,
had he possessed, with William and Dorothy Wordsworth, the "inward eye
that is the bliss of solitude," his life would have been immeasurably
happier, long periods of keen distress would have been spared him. No
man stands so much alone as he who, having no home-life to which he can
turn for comfort, is unable to find any abiding happiness in
contemplation of the life the seasons show. To make matters worse, we
can see Coleridge was profoundly conscious that such a healing power
existed. Surely nobody who was in Wordsworth's company, or even in
Robert Southey's, could have failed to realise this. Coleridge and
Southey lived together, and Southey, though he walked book in hand,
tells us of the sights that delighted him on his rambles, and how on
winter mornings he would take his little ones to the hill-tops "for the
sake of getting the first sunshine on the mountains." But Coleridge
could not grasp this gift, so keenly appreciated by the two future Poets
Laureate, any more than he could grasp the opportunities extended to him
on every side by men who realised at once the extent of his troubles and
his gifts. To him the sources of most human consolations "were barr'd
and bann'd, forbidden fare." If only for this, his harshest critic who
can see his life in true perspective must respond to the appeal of the
epitaph the poet wrote for himself when he saw the end of a weary
pilgrimage in sight. Never did man so richly blessed with friends and
well-wishers travel along a more lonely road, and when we consider the
conditions under which the most of his work was written, the
comparatively few hours in which he was the master of his own soul, we
are left with a feeling of surprise at the quantity and quality of his
accomplishment. Coleridge will receive from most kindly human judges the
mercy and forgiveness for which he pleads, but at the same time the fame
remains, nor can the praise be withheld.

But by reason of his close association with Wordsworth, and his
considerable sojourn by the Lakes and in Somersetshire, Coleridge is
often considered in his relations to Nature, and a few selected poems
from which free quotation has been made here, are brought forward to
suggest that he too was in his turn a Nature poet. It has been shown
that such an opinion is hard to justify; it would be more fair to say
that as far as the introduction of the imagery of nature is concerned,
Coleridge bears the same relation to Wordsworth that Horace bears to
Virgil. Horace used nature to illustrate his philosophy, to clothe or
adorn his imagery dealing with matters outside the countryside;
Coleridge did the same, but not so well, for he lacked the Horatian
humour. The second epode of Horace explodes for all time in its closing
lines the theory that Horace has the country man's love for the country.
It suggests that the Augustan age had its cry of "back to the land," and
that the cry was insincere. Horace turned it to good account, though
doubtless the little estate among the Sabine hills near Roccagiavone and
the Licenza valley that he owed to the kindness of Mæcenas was a source
of infinite delight to him. But the pleasure came from the opportunity
it afforded of quiet and uninterrupted work when Rome was too hot to be
pleasant and all the interesting people had left the city. One can
imagine that Coleridge would have looked with much the same regard upon
a country-house that cost him nothing and gave complete assurance of
privacy. With Virgil, as with Wordsworth, the case was different. The
Mantuan loved the country as Wordsworth loved it, and, for his time,
with a much more studied appreciation. Virgil and Wordsworth hold the
ear and stimulate the mind when they write of rural life and scenery.
Horace and Coleridge, for all their exquisite facility, fail to utter
the litany to which the heart of the country lover responds. The
comparison between the Mantuan peasant and the son of a slave on the one
hand, and two eighteenth-century poets who had their education rounded
off by the University on the other, may seem at first a little strained,
but if it were possible to pursue it here we might find many points
that, _mutatis mutandis_, connect Coleridge with Horace and Wordsworth
with Virgil in the relation of the poets to the country and the country
life. Moreover, each of the latter-day poets was indebted to patrons, as
were their great prototypes, if such a word be permissible. There is
something in the Bucolics and Georgics which connects Virgil with the
best period of Wordsworth, if we will remember that the men saw life in
a different age, under different skies, and in the light of different
faiths. Even those who will not admit as much will acknowledge that
Virgil and Wordsworth ring true to the country man, while neither
Horace nor Coleridge, though they call the country to their aid for an
illustration, or a moral or philosophical lesson, could have written:

     "O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint Agricolas!"

But it is time to turn from a general survey of Coleridge's work to a
more detailed consideration of certain examples.



CHAPTER VI

COLERIDGE AS POET AND CRITIC


Before entering upon any attempt, however brief and inadequate it be, to
estimate the multiform genius of Coleridge, it is well to remember that
its permanent expression was, at least, three-sided. To-day he is
regarded chiefly as a poet; for a dozen who know something of his
poetry, there is hardly one who troubles to read his prose. The
_Biographia Literaria_, for example, attracts few students; the _Table
Talk_ recorded by his nephew, and Thomas Allsop's _Letters,
Conversations, and Recollections of S. T. Coleridge_, passed out of
fashion about the middle of the Victorian Era. His _Aids to Reflection_
is only now returning to public notice after long neglect. The book
enjoyed about twenty years' popularity in England and America, and then
seemed to pass from the service of readers. But it is clear that quite
apart from his poetry and prose, Coleridge's gifts found complete
expression not only in lectures and letters, but in those casual
discourses which held complete strangers entranced. He has been
described as the finest conversationalist since Samuel Johnson. The
printed work that bears his name falls far short of doing him justice.
It suffers on the prose side from the modern lack of interest in his
precise attitude towards the metaphysical speculations that meant so
much to him and his times. On the side of poetry it suffers from the
widening of the boundaries that then marked the confines of legitimate
poetic expression, and from the unfortunate truth that the poet in him
died young. Coleridge the poet employed a very limited palette, not
because he had no more colours, but because their use was
discountenanced by his own early training and by the canons of
contemporary criticism. To estimate the tradition that went to the
making of the poet, and the long road he had to follow before he could
find himself, turn to his Sonnet to the Evening Star, written when he
was eighteen. It opens:

    "O meek attendant of Sol's setting blaze
    I hail, sweet star, thy chaste efulgent glow."

And it closes:

    "Her spirit in thy kindred orb, O star benign."

Though it is generally unfair to divorce lines from their context, it is
permissible here, just to show what passed current as legitimate poetic
expression, and we have to remember that within ten years of the writing
of the sonnet, the poet in Coleridge had given place to the critic,
after enriching poetry with many immortal lines. Clearly one may not
hope, save in certain inspired moments, for much in the way of beauty of
untrammelled form; the thought must be sought beneath the cumbrous
wrapping, and modern readers have less leisure for this than was
granted to Coleridge's contemporaries. The "Lines on an Autumnal
Evening," written perhaps three years later than the sonnet, show a
marked improvement: the poet is beginning to prove stronger than the
formal limitations that beset him, but the spirit of the time is
displayed through a curious incident. The poem was first printed in the
little volume offered to the public in 1796, and is accompanied by an
apology for printing such "intolerable stuff" as lines 57-70. At the
same time he declares that he has not imitated Rogers' "Pleasure of
Memory" in certain other lines (27-36), and suggests that Rogers himself
had borrowed his story from "Lochleven," a poem by Michael Bruce. In a
second edition Coleridge gives reasons for "reprieving his own poem from
immediate oblivion," and proceeds to apologise to Rogers in terms of
which the following are part: "No one can see more clearly the
_littleness_ and futility of imagining plagiarisms in the works of men
of genius; but _nemo omnibus horis sapit_; and my mind at the time of
writing that note was sick and sore with anxiety and weakened through
much suffering. I have not the most distant knowledge of Mr. Rogers save
as a correct and elegant poet. If any of my readers should know him
personally, they would oblige me by informing him that I have expiated a
sentence of unfounded detraction by an unsolicited and self-originating
apology."

One can hardly resist the temptation of applying to the youthful writer
of such stuff as this his own opening line of the address "To a Young
Ass," written one year after the lines to the Autumnal Evening, and
three years earlier than the above apology:

    "Poor little foal of an oppressed race."

It is in his "Ode on the Departing Year" (1796) that Coleridge seems for
the first time to discover his own full power, but the classical
top-hamper accompanying it shows that the limitations upon freedom of
expression are still there. The poem is preceded by a quotation from the
"Agamemnon" of Æschylus, and when published in a small quarto pamphlet
held dedicatory letter to Tom Poole, into which a long quotation from
Statius forces unwelcome way. Capital letters, quotations, italics,
notes of exclamation were ever to the fore in the early days of the
nineteenth century. But 1797-8 brought some of the finest lines the poet
has given us. "The Three Graves" has much that one is pleased to
remember, and the lines addressed to Charles Lamb--"This Lime Tree Bower
my Prison," and referred to with a quotation in a previous chapter, show
keen appreciation of Nature and natural beauty. Reference has been made
elsewhere in this little paper to the limited response that Coleridge
shows to his surroundings, but this poem shows that he was not quite
oblivious of them. One cannot help feeling that the inspiration came
suddenly and unexpectedly, born of compulsory solitude and the fine June
evening; the limited appeal of Nature to the poet is shown by the fact
that the poem was omitted from the 1803 edition of his work, and that,
in the lines near the end, "My Sarah and my friends" was substituted
for "My gentle-hearted Charles," rather to Elia's annoyance.

Of the famous "Kubla Khan" fragment, written in a lonely farm-house
between Porlock and Linton, on the Exmoor confines of Somerset and
Devonshire, it has been pointed out that opium was in all probability
the source of inspiration. The poet had been reading a passage from
_Purchas his Pilgrimage_--it runs as follows:

     "In Xamdu did Cublai Can build a stately Palace, encompassing
     sixteene miles of plaine ground within a wall wherein are fertile
     Meadowes, pleasant Springs, delightfull Streames, and all sorts of
     beasts of chase and game, and in the middle thereof a sumptuous
     house of pleasure."

Coleridge used to recite his strange fragment to Lamb, who told
Wordsworth that it brought Heaven and Elysian bowers into his parlour,
but added in the same letter his fear lest in the light of cold print it
should appear "no better than nonsense."

There is a clear suggestion of transient force behind the lines. For
example, we read in the beginning (lines 3-5):

    "Where Alph the sacred river ran
    Through caverns measureless to man
        Down to a sunless sea."

And in line 18:

    "A mighty fountain momently was forced."

Then in line 27 the poet harks back to an earlier image:

    "Then reached the caverns measureless to man";

while earlier in line 24 he reverts to the ill-conditioned adverb of his
18th line:

    "It flung up momently the sacred river."

But, as was suggested earlier, the explanation of "Kubla Khan" may be
found in its last two lines:

    "For he on honey dew hath fed
    And drunk the milk of Paradise."

Next in order of composition comes "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,"
the poem which is the most widely read of any that Coleridge wrote,
though it may be doubted whether the full extent of the poet's
achievement is grasped by more than a minority of those who know it. The
"Ancient Mariner" has many merits; it is one of the greatest ballads in
English poetry. The sheer music of the lines, the romance they enshrine,
the sense they convey of a vivid description of things actually seen,
have given an abridged version of the poem a place in schoolbooks
without number, and will probably continue to do so for generations to
come, so that "The Mariner" is the first figure of his kind to touch the
youthful imagination. Wordsworth has told us how the poem came to be
written, when he, his sister Dorothy, and Coleridge had left Stowey to
visit the Valley of Rocks, near Linton, on a November day in 1797. They
had planned an excursion, and proposed to pay for it out of the proceeds
of some poetry then to be written. In the course of the walk Coleridge
discussed the poem with his two friends; he was founding it upon the
dream of Mr. Cruickshank, a friend of his. Wordsworth, who had been
reading a book of travels dealing with a journey round Cape Horn
(Shelvocke's _Voyage Round the World_), suggested the incident of the
albatross and the navigation of the ship by dead men. On the same
evening the work started, Wordsworth contributing a few lines--less than
a dozen at most. A great deal has been written about the Wordsworth
contribution, which, upon his own showing, was quite slight in
substance, though it was valuable in suggestion. Shelvocke's story of
the doubling of Cape Horn and the meeting with albatrosses prompted
Wordsworth, and Coleridge may have derived some of his details from a
book by Captain Thomas James, published in 1633, and dealing with the
"intended discovery of a North-West Passage in to the South Sea." But we
are less concerned with this than with the implicit logic that Coleridge
has packed into his poem. His vivid imagination traced the whole course
of the Ancient Mariner's journey in fashion that demands and will repay
the closest observation.

For example, turn to the sixth stanza:

    "Below the kirk, below the hill,
    Below the lighthouse top";

and it will be realised that here we have the natural order of the
disappearance of objects seen by a vessel leaving the shore. The
position stands reversed in the passage describing the Mariner's return.
In the opening line of Part II we read:

    "The sun now rose upon the right."

This is, because they have doubled Cape Horn.

These instances of close observation of natural phenomena could be
multiplied did space permit, the poem is full of them, only in the line
"the furrow followed free" may he be held to have fallen into error. Yet
this excellence has, after all, but a small concern with the poetic
worth of the work, and it is astonishing to find that its music rang
harshly in the ears of contemporary criticism, though its awesome and
fantastic beauty moves the English-speaking world to this day. One lady
(Mrs. Barbauld) told Coleridge that, while she liked the "Ancient
Mariner," she had to find two faults. In the first place, the story was
improbable, and secondly, it had no moral! Wordsworth himself had his
doubts about it, and Southey somewhat obscurely called it "a Dutch
attempt at German sublimity," for which quintessential criticism Charles
Lamb took him to task.

Looking back upon the life and work of Coleridge, we know that his
"Ancient Mariner" reaches the high-water mark of his poetic achievement
in narrative verse, and that it will endure when the greater part of his
writing, whether in verse or prose, has been forgotten--remembered not
only on account of its beauty as a complete work of art, but on account
of the irresistible music of many of the stanzas. It stands for the
fruit of the supremely inspired hours of a greatly gifted man.

"Christabel," another poem that has gained Coleridge a host of admirers,
is, unfortunately, incomplete. In the ponderous preface to the first
edition (John Murray, 1816), Coleridge explains that he wrote the first
part at Nether Stowey in 1797, and the second part at Keswick three
years later. "Since then his powers have been in a state of suspended
animation, but he hopes to embody in verse the three parts yet to come
in the course of the present year." Twelve or thirteen years later,
Coleridge was still full of the thought of completion, but he omits the
pious hope from the preface to the 1834 edition--he knew by then that
inspiration had long been dead. Yet the failure to complete galled him
through many years after the poem was laid aside. We find him writing to
Allsop in 1821: "Of my poetic works, I would fain finish 'Christabel.'"
In later years, when he was living with Gillman, he described the story
as it was to have been told in verse, but Wordsworth told the late Lord
Chief Justice Coleridge that he did not know anything about the plan of
completion, and does not think Coleridge had one. In his _Table Talk_
Coleridge himself remarks that the presence of worries and the absence
of good music kept him from completing "Christabel," which was received
with marked favour by the limited public of its day, three editions
being called for in one year. He did not realise, when he spoke to his
nephew, that his gifts had passed from one form of expression to
another.

Hazlitt is suspect, on insufficient evidence, of having reviewed
"Christabel" harshly in the _Edinburgh Review_ and the _Examiner_; but
the _Quarterly Review_ found that its success in dealing with "witchery
by daylight" is complete. It is a matter for regret that the interest
taken in the "Ancient Mariner" and in fragments like "Kubla Khan" and
"Christabel" has been at the expense of poems like the "Ode to
Dejection" and smaller pieces, gems of poetic thought, finely expressed.
As time wore on, the realities of life divorced the poet's muse, now
quite a minor quantity, from its union with classicism, to the great
advantage of his work, and though he cannot be said to have fulfilled
the promise of his best years, he wrote much that his admirers will not
willingly let die. One would perhaps hesitate to call it poetry--the
work he wrote between his twenty-third and twenty-seventh years was
poetry in the fullest sense of the term--it is rather philosophy
expressed in set forms with a measure of charm that can never be absent
long from any utterance of Coleridge.

It may perhaps be suggested that the poetic genius in Coleridge needed
nursing, and failed to get what it required; to a certain extent such a
theory is permissible. We have to remember, in the first place, that his
health was bad from youth. He was very susceptible to rheumatism; before
middle age he was a martyr to gout; he could not endure extreme cold;
and yet he elected to go and live at Greta Hall, in the Vale of
Derwentwater, where the rain it raineth nearly every day, and strong
harsh winds are the rule rather than the exception. These surroundings
confirmed and strengthened the opium habit. To make matters worse, his
home life was not of the kind that makes for poetry. Mrs. Coleridge was
in many respects a deserving and worthy lady, but she had grave
limitations. With things of the intellect she was not on any terms,
however remote, and she had a weakness that is said to extend to others
of her sex--she worried incessantly about trifles. Reading closely the
history of the unhappy married life that involved husband and wife in so
much trouble, the mistake of marrying the wrong woman may be condoned.
To the overstrung "philosopher in a mist," as he describes himself in
one of his earliest letters from Greta Hall, a querulous wife who found
small grievances everywhere, who judged her husband's talent from the
standpoint of what it brought in from the publishers, must have been a
sore trial. In the same way, for the sake of justice, let us admit that
the man who was always ready to undertake work that he could never be
prevailed upon to begin, who was erratic, intemperate, and wholly
unreliable, must have been a sore trouble to any woman who could not
appreciate his gifts, and could discern nothing in the future save an
increasing family and a diminishing income. But whatever the proper
apportionment of praise or blame, one fact remains. At Greta Hall the
fine flame of poetic inspiration burned low, and never afterwards
recovered its pristine radiance. Professor Alois Brandl does not go too
far when he says that at the age of thirty, that is by the year 1802,
Coleridge was a broken man; and it was this failure of his health, this
prolonged suffering from rheumatism and gout, which he sought so
foolishly and so vainly to cure by the aid of opium, that turned him
from poetry to the study of philosophy in order to find relief. He
sought, as he says in that fine but mournful "Ode to Dejection,"

              "By abstruse research to steal
    From my own nature all the natural man."

And at this point of his life, we find him turning away from the muse,
to which nearly all his lasting contribution has long been made, and
venturing into a field wherein he was destined to achieve considerable
success. Criticism and metaphysics occupied him in turn. The period of
study was a very long one; he was forty-four years of age when his _Lay
Sermons_ was published, in the wake of much journalism and some
desultory and miscellaneous work. Needless to say, he had many brilliant
intentions that were never carried out. One of them, a book to supersede
all dogmatic philosophy, was designed to fill six hundred pages with "A
collection of all possible modes of true, probable, and false
reasonings, with a strict analysis of their origin and operation."

But if he did not write the books--and he once declared that the mere
titles of those he had projected would fill a volume--Coleridge
accomplished a very considerable amount of work. Much of it must be
lost. He was an omnivorous reader, and his clear mind could detect flaws
in any reasoning that was not sound. He studied Berkeley, Fichte,
Hartley, Hegel, Herder, Hume, Kant, Lessing, Maass, Schelling, and
Spinoza, studied them with complete understanding, and luminous
criticism, and could discourse upon them brilliantly. It needed a
well-equipped intelligence to follow him; few could, and the majority
thought he talked brilliantly but irrelevantly. We know that this was
not the case, the truth being that he was too big for the most of his
audience.

He passed through a very considerable number of religious phases. His
earlier Pantheism gave way to Rationalism and Unitarianism, and he
arrived by way of the German transcendental philosophers to his ultimate
reconciliation with the doctrines of Christianity. In the years in which
he lived this ultimate orthodoxy was good alike for his reputation and
his circulation. His influence affected profoundly great thinkers like
F. D. Maurice and John Sterling, and it may be doubted whether cheap
reprints of certain of his prose writings would not find a considerable
measure of success to-day, for it is impossible to deny his gift of
style, his capacity to reason closely and clearly, or the intense
earnestness and conviction that vitalise his message. It is unfortunate,
perhaps, that his most popular work as a poet has kept him from
receiving due recognition first as a critic and then as a philosopher,
and that his work as a philosopher has been clouded by his unfortunate
inability to rule his own life on philosophic lines.

In the order of publication, his prose works are the _Lay Sermons_, to
which reference has been made; the _Sibylline Leaves_ (a revised edition
of his poems); the _Biographia Literaria_ (full of valuable criticism
badly arranged); the _Aids to Reflection_ (1824); _Church and State_
(1830); and two posthumous works, the _Confessions of an Enquiring
Mind_ (1840), and _Literary Remains_. The _Satyrane's Letters_ was
republished in the _Biographia Literaria_.

It is due probably to his troubled health, that he frequently
incorporated the reflections of other men among his own, and accusations
of plagiarism were not lacking. Among those who attacked him on this
ground were Thomas de Quincey, who led the assault in _Tait's Magazine_,
three months after his sometime friend was dead; Professor Ferrier, some
years later; and Sir William Hamilton, this last a singularly bitter
critic of little judgment. The charge against Coleridge is one that
should not have been made, even though it may be sustained to the
complete satisfaction of those who like to belittle great minds.

"I regard truth as a Divine ventriloquist, and care not from whose mouth
the sounds are supposed to proceed, if only the words be audible and
intelligible." In this passage Coleridge summed up an attitude that will
satisfy all who can take a sane and dispassionate view of his life, and
weigh its accomplishments and vicissitudes. Certain thoughts are the
children of every era, and will reach more than one thinker at a time;
they belong to the man who can make noblest use of them.

It is impossible to deny that for all his shortcomings Coleridge did
more for his countrymen than his countrymen did for him, and harsh
criticism is unbecoming the present generation, which enjoys the full
benefit of his work, and has not suffered any of the disappointments
that he inflicted upon his contemporaries. Let us remember, too, that
he was a simple and modest man, and nowhere claims to be a distinguished
poet or a great philosopher. He knew that he had more than the average
mental gift, but instead of pride in his possession we find him
regretting deeply his inability to justify it. Indeed, he goes further
than this, for he says in one of his letters that Wordsworth taught him
to recognise some of his limitations. The letter is written to Godwin
when Coleridge was in his thirty-first year, and in it he says that
Wordsworth, by showing him what true poetry was, made him know that he
himself was no poet.

Coleridge had a very highly developed critical faculty, and exercised it
brilliantly in his writings on Shakespeare. His criticisms sparkle with
intelligence; terse and virile, they leave the reader regretting that
they were not extended. He speaks of Polonius, "a statesman somewhat
past his faculties"; of Lear as "the ample and open playground of
Nature's passions."

Whether as poet, critic, or metaphysician, Coleridge was a progressive
thinker, and broke away slowly but deliberately from the fetters of form
that cripple his earliest utterances; nor were the flights of his
thought less remarkable than his experiments in method.

Whatever his acts, his intentions were of the highest. He sought to do
good, and he placed at the service of his countrymen the best that he
had to offer. One can only speculate upon the extent of the loss that
his chronic ill-health inflicted upon his own and succeeding
generations. His were the instincts of the schoolmaster, but of the
schoolmaster who takes all his fellow-countrymen for pupils. His
discourses on poetry, founded so largely upon prolonged and intimate
study of Wordsworth, stand to-day one of the finest examinations of the
range and proper limitation of poetic expression.

Coleridge was destined to be overshadowed in his own time, and in the
critical years immediately following his death, by more powerful
personalities--men whose appeal to the public was more immediate and
better sustained; but much that he wrote a hundred years ago is of
importance to us to-day, and modern criticism, detached, impersonal, and
with a true perspective, can hardly fail to do him justice in any of the
departments of his life-work.

How did he appeal to his contemporaries? Criticism was generally
undiscerning and hostile, but those who came within the charmed circle
were, with rare exception, delighted. The secret of his appeal passed
with him; there are still some who wonder how it has come about that,
the limits of ordered achievement being so marked, Coleridge stands
where he does. Poet, critic, and metaphysician, in each capacity he had
attracted the interest and retained the regard of a great majority of
his most notable contemporaries. His inspiration came by fits and
starts, but, when it did come, would find expression in felicitous
phrases revealing some aspects of truth that captured the imagination.
At the end of a long unhappy and often ill-spent life, he could command
the unstinted admiration of such a sour-tongued old critic as Thomas
Carlyle. Hear him in his _Life of Sterling_:

     "Coleridge sat on the brow of Highgate Hill in those years looking
     down on London and its smoke tumult like a sage escaped from the
     inanity of life's battle, attracting towards him the thoughts of
     innumerable brave souls still engaged there.... A sublime man, who
     alone in those dark days had saved his crown of spiritual manhood,
     escaping from the black materialism and revolutionary deluges with
     'God, Freedom, Immortality' still his; a king of men."

And later he describes him with the true Carlyle touch as that "heavy
laden, high aspiring, and surely much suffering man." Wordsworth said
that Coleridge was the only wonderful man he had ever met; Nelson
Coleridge said that a day spent with Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a
"sabbath past expression, deep, tranquil, and serene."

Find him at the right time and in happy mood, he was capable of great
feats. For example, he was invited one morning to lecture before the
London Philosophical Society. He went with Gillman to the secretary to
inquire the subject chosen, but the secretary was out. In the evening
Coleridge and Gillman went to the Society's rooms, and heard the
announcement made that Mr. Coleridge would deliver an address on "The
Growth of the Individual Mind." He spoke extempore for over an hour and
a half, holding a critical audience enthralled.

Joseph Henry Green, whose two posthumous volumes entitled _Spiritual
Philosophy_, founded upon the teaching of the late Samuel Taylor
Coleridge, were published in 1865, was sufficiently under the spell to
devote a whole life-work to his master's teaching.

With Coleridge, the metaphysician, it is impossible to deal here. Dr.
Traill summed up his teaching very concisely in the following sentences:

     "There is indeed no moral theory of life, there are no maxims of
     conduct, such as youth above all things craves for, in Coleridge's
     teaching. Apart from the intrinsic difficulties of the task to
     which he invites his disciples, it labours under a primary and
     essential disadvantage of postponing moral to intellectual
     liberation. Contrive somehow or other to attain to just ideas as to
     the capacities and limitations of the human consciousness,
     considered especially in relation to its two important and
     eternally distinct functions, the Reason and the Understanding: and
     peace of mind shall in due time be added unto you. That is in
     effect Coleridge's answer to the inquirer who consults him; and if
     the distinction between the Reason and the Understanding were as
     obvious as it is obscure to the average unmetaphysical mind, and of
     a value as assured for the purpose to which Coleridge applies it as
     it is uncertain, the answer would nevertheless send many a would-be
     disciple sorrowful away."

It is not necessary to pursue the subject. Between the reader and the
metaphysician stands the poet and the critic, and for the greater part
of the present and future generations these will suffice.



INDEX


  "Absence," 64
  "Æolian Harp," 65
  _Æsthetical Essays_, 49
  _Aids to Reflection_, 52, 53, 75, 87
  Allsop, Thomas, 49, 50, 51, 75, 83


  Beaumont, Sir George, 36, 41
  _Biographia Literaria_, 48, 49, 75
  Blackwoods, the, 51
  Boyer, Rev. James, 18, 64
  Burnett, 23, 26, 65


  Carlyle, on Coleridge, 91
  Cary, Rev. H. F., 49
  "Christabel," 30, 34, 48, 62, 82
  Christ's Hospital, 18, 64
  "Church and State," 58, 87
  Clarke, Cowden, 52
  Clarkson, Mrs., 43
  Coleridge, Berkeley, 31
  Coleridge, David Hartley, 28, 47, 50
  Coleridge, Henry Nelson, 52, 58, 91
  Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, early life and education, 13;
    at Christ's Hospital, 18, 64;
    ill-health, 19, 25, 35, 39, 41, 84;
    attachment to Mary Evans, 19;
    at Jesus College, Cambridge, 19, 20, 23;
    pecuniary difficulties and debts, 21, 23, 29, 39, 50, 51, 52;
    erratic disposition, 20, 24, 40, 62;
    joins the army, 21, 22;
    Pantisocracy scheme, 22, 26;
    relations with Southey, 22, 26, 27, 33, 36, 41, 47, 49, 71, 82;
    engagement to Sarah Flicker, 23;
    relations with Charles Lamb, 26, 27, 31, 34, 44, 47, 58, 59, 62,
      78, 79;
    marriage, 27;
    opium habit, 28, 31, 32, 35, 47, 49, 52, 70, 84;
    life at Nether Stowey with Charles Lloyd, 29;
    relations with the Wordsworths, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 43, 44, 50,
      57, 62, 73, 80, 82, 83, 89, 91;
    the Wedgwoods' generosity, 30, 31, 32, 34, 35, 41, 46;
    visit to Germany, 32;
    literary life in London, 33;
    in the Lake District, 34;
    in Malta, 36, 37;
    in Italy, 39;
    troubled years, 41;
    lectures, 42, 44, 46, 49, 91;
    _Table Talk_, 52, 58, 63, 74, 83;
    pension from Royal Society of Literature, 52, 56;
    later and more tranquil years, 53, 55;
    successful re-issue of poems, 56;
    second visit to Germany, 57;
    Government grant, 58, 59;
    last days and death at Highgate, 59;
    epitaph, 60, 71;
    as observer of Nature, 61, 64, 65, 78;
    philosophic bent, 63, 86;
    essays and prose writings, 70, 75, 91;
    as poet and critic, 75 _et seq._;
    religious phases, 87;
    place in literature, 88, 89
  Coleridge, Sara, his daughter, 52, 58
  Cologne, lines on, 57
  _Confessions of an Enquiring Mind_, 88
  Cottle, the publisher, 27, 47
  _Courier, The_, 34, 41, 47, 49

  De Quincey, 42, 88
  Dove Cottage, 33, 34

  Evans, Mary, 19, 21
  Evening Star, Sonnet to, 26

  _Fall of Robespierre_, 11, 23
  Favell, Mr., 27
  Ferrier, Professor, 88
  Fricker, Sarah, afterwards Mrs. Coleridge, 23, 26, 43, 65, 84, 85
  _Friend, The_, 43, 45
  "Frost at Midnight," 68

  Gillman, Dr., 47, 48, 52, 91
  Grattan, Thomas Colley, 57
  Green, Joseph Henry, 49, 59, 91
  Greta Hall, 34, 84

  Hamilton, Sir William, 88
  Hazlitt, William, 31, 83
  Horace, 72, 73
  "Hymn before Sunrise," 69

  "Inscription for a Fountain," 69

  Jesus College, 19
  _Joan of Arc_, by Southey, 23

  "Kubla Khan," 31, 48, 79, 84

  Lake Country, the, 33, 61
  Lamb, Charles, 11, 18, 26, 27, 31, 34, 44, 47, 58, 59, 62, 78, 79
  _Lay Sermons_, 86, 87
  "Life," 64
  _Literary Remains_, 88
  Lloyd, Charles, 28, 29, 30, 31
  _Lyrical Ballads_, 32, 34

  _Metropolitan Encyclopædia_, 48
  "Monody on the Death of Chatterton," 27
  Montague, Basil, 44, 57
  Morgans, the, 44, 45, 47
  _Morning Chronicle, The_, 26, 28
  _Morning Post_, 31, 34, 38, 65
  Murray, John, publisher, 48

  Nether Stowey, 28, 29
  "Nightingale," the, 69

  "Ode on the Departing Year," 78
  "Ode to Dejection," 69, 84, 86
  "On an Autumnal Evening," 65, 77
  _Osorio_, 29, 30
  Ottery St. Mary, 15, 16, 63

  "Pains of Sleep," the, 48
  Pantisocracy scheme, the, 22, 27
  Pickering, William, publisher, 56
  _Poems on Various Subjects_, 27
  Poole, Thomas, 23, 27, 28, 41, 59
  "Preliminary Treatise on Method," 48
  "Prometheus of Æschylus," 53

  "Raven, the," 64
  "Reflection on having left a place of Retirement," 65
  "Religious Musings," 27
  _Remorse_, 45
  "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," 30, 61, 80
  Robinson, Henry Crabb, 44, 45, 59
  Rogers, Samuel, 77

  "Satyrane's Letters," 32
  _Sibylline Leaves_, 87
  "Songs of the Pixies," 64
  "Sonnet to the River Otter," 64
  Southey, Robert, 11, 22, 26, 27, 33, 36, 41, 49, 71, 82

  _Table Talk_, 10, 11, 52, 58, 63, 74, 83
  Thelwall, "Citizen" John, 28, 29
  "This Lime Tree Bower my Prison," 67, 78
  "Three Graves," 78
  "To a Beautiful Spring in a Village," 64
  "To a Young Ass," 77
  Traill, Dr., quoted, 92
  Tulk, Charles Augustus, 49

  Virgil, 73

  _Watchman, The_, 27
  Wedgwoods, the, 30, 31, 34, 35, 41, 46
  Wordsworth family, the, 11, 29, 30, 32, 33, 36, 43, 44, 50, 57, 62,
    73, 80, 82, 83, 89, 91

  "Youth and Age," 52

  _Zapolya_, 47, 48, 49


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[Transcriber's Notes:

The transcriber made these changes to the text to correct obvious
errors:

  1. p. 75  stangers --> strangers
  2. p. 81  reserved --> reversed
  3. p. 92  suffiee --> suffice

End of Transcriber's Notes]





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