Sidebilder
PDF
ePub
[merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors]

Memoir of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

No writer of the age was more the theme of disciplinarian after the inane practice of English panegyric by his friends, and of censure by his grammar*school modęs, but was fond of encourenemies, than Coleridge. It has been the custom of aging genius, even in the lads he flagellated most the former to injure him by extravagant praise, and unmercifully. He taught with assiduity, and diof the latter to pour upon his head much unmerited rected the taste of youth to the beauties of the abuse. Coleridge has left so much undone which better classical authors, and to comparisons of one his talents and genius would have enabled him to with another. “ He habituated me,” says Cole effect, and has done on the whole so little, that he ridge, “to compare Lucretius, Terence, and above has given his foes apparent foundation for some all the chaste poems of Catullus, not only with the of their vituperation. His natural character, how. Roman poets of the so called silver and brazen ever, was indolent; he was far more ambitious ages, but with even those of the Augustan era; of excelling in conversation, and of pouring out and, on grounds of plain sense and universal logic, his wild philosophical theories — of discoursing

to see and assert the superiority of the former, in about

the truth and nativeness both of their thoughts and

diction. At the same time that we were studying Fix'd fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute

the Greek tragic poets, he made us read Shakthe mysteries of Kant, and the dreams of meta-speare and Milton as lessons; and they were the physical vanity, than“ in building the lofty lessons too which required most time and trouble rhyme.” His poems, however, which have been to bring up, so as to escape his censure. I learned recently collected, form several volumes ;—and the from him that poetry, even that of the loftiest, and beauty of some of his pieces so amply redeems seemingly that of the wildest odes, had a logic of the extravagance of others, that there can be but its own, as severe as that of science, and more one regret respecting him, namely, that he should difficult; because more subtle and complex, and have preferred the shortlived perishing applause dependent on more and more fugitive causes. In bestowed upon his conversation, to the lasting our English compositions (at least for the last renown attending successful poetical efforts. Not three years of our school education) he showed no but that Coleridge may lay claim to the praise due mercy to phrase, image, or metaphor, unsupported to a successful worship of the muses; for as long by a sound sense, or where the same sense might as the English language endures, his “Genevieve" have been conveyed with equal force and dignity and “ Ancient Mariner" will be read: but he has in plainer words. Lute, harp, and lyre, muse been content to do far less than his abilities clearly muses, and inspirations—Pegasus, Parnassus and demonstrate him able to effect.

Hippocrene, were all an abomination to him. In Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born at Ottery fancy, I can almost hear him now exclaimingSaint Mary, a town of Devonshire, in 1773. His · Harp! harp! lyre! pen and ink, boy, you mean! father, the Rev. John Coleridge, was vicar there, muse, boy, muse! your nurse's daughter, you having been previously a schoolmaster at South mean! Pierian spring! O ay! the cloister pump, Molton. He is said to have been a person of con- I suppose.' In his “Literary Life," Coleridge siderable learning, and to have published several has gone into the conduct of his master at great essays in fugitive publications. He assisted Dr. length; and, compared to the majority of peda Kennicot in collating his manuscripts for a gogues who ruled in grammar-schools at that time, Hebrew bible, and, among other things, wrote he seems to have been a singular and most honor. a dissertation on the “Anyos." He was also able exception among them. He sent his pupils to the author of an excellent Latin grammar. He the university excellent Greek and Latin scholars, died in 1789 at the age of sixty-two, much with some knowledge of Hebrew, and a considerregretted, leaving a considerable family, of able insight into the construction and beauties nf which nearly all the members are since de their vernacular language and its most distin. ceased.

guished writers—a rare addition to their classical Coleridge was educated at Christ's Hospital- acquirements in such foundations. school, London. The smallness of his father's It was owing to a present made to Coleridge of living and large family rendered the strictest Bowles' sonnets by a school-fellow (the late Dr economy necessary. At this excellent seminary Middleton) while a boy of 17, that he was drawn he was soon discovered to be a boy of talent, ec- away from theological controversy and wild metacentric but acute. According to his own state- physics to the charms of poetry. He transcribed ment, the master, the Rev. J. Bowyer, was a severe these sonnets no less than forty tiines in eighteen

66

[ocr errors]

months, in order to make presents of them to his composition is, that they began it at 7 o'clock one friends; and about the same period he wrote his evening, finished it the next day by 12 o'clock Ode to Chatterton. · Nothing else,” he says, noon, and the day after, it was printed and pub.

pleased me; history and particular facts lost all lished. The language is vigorous, and the speeches interest in my mind.” Poetry had become in. are well put together and correctly versified.sipid; all his ideas were directed to his favorite Coleridge also, in the winter of that year, delivered theological subjects and mysticisms, until Bowles' a course of lectures on the French revolution, at sonnets, and an acquaintance with a very agreeable Bristol. family, recalled him to more pleasant paths, com- On leaving the University, Coleridge was fu. bined with perhaps far more of rational pursuits. of enthusiasm in the cause of freedom, and occu

When eighteen years of age, Coleridge removed pied with the idea of the regeneration of mankind to Jesus College, Cambridge. It does not appear He found ardent coadjutors in the same enthusi that he obtained or even struggled for academic astic undertaking in Robert Lovell and Rober honors. From excess of animal spirits, he was Southey, the present courtly laureate. This youth rather a noisy youth, whose general conduct was ful triumvirate proposed schemes for regenerating better than that of many of his fellow-collegians, the world, even before their educations were comand as good as most: his follies were more remark- pleted; and dreamed of happy lives in aboriginal able only as being those of a more remarkable forests, republics on the Mississippi, and a newly. personage; and if he could be accused of a vice, it dreamed philanthropy. In order to carry their must be sought for in the little attention he was ideas into effect they began operations at Bristol. inclined to pay to the dictates of sobriety. It is and were received with considerable applause by known that he assisted a friend in composing an several inhabitants of that commercial city, which. essay on English poetry while at that University ; however remarkable for traffic, has been frequently that he was not unmindful of the muses himself styled the Bæotia of the west of England. Here while there ; and that he regretted the loss of the in 1795, Coleridge published two pamphlets, one leisure and quiet he had found within its precincts. called “Consciones ad Populum, or addresses to

In the month of November, 1793, while laboring the people;" the other, “ A protest against certain under a paroxysm of despair, brought on by the bills (then pending) for suppressing seditious combined effects of pecuniary difficulties and love meetings." of a young lady, sister of a school-fellow, he set The charm of the political regeneratio:1 of na off for London with a party of collegians, and tions, though thus warped for a moment, was not passed a short time there in joyous conviviality. broken. Coleridge, Lovell and Southey, finding On his return to Cambridge, he remained but a the old world would not be reformed after their few days, and then abandoned it for ever. He mode, determined to try and found a new one, in again directed his steps towards the metropolis, which all was to be liberty and happiness. The and there, after indulging somewhat freely in the deep woods of America were to be the site of this pleasures of the bottle, and wandering about the new golden region. There all the evils of Eu. various streets and squares in a state of mind ropean society were to be remedied, property was nearly approaching to frenzy, he finished by enlist- to be in common, and every man a legislator. The ing in the 15th dragoons, under the name of Clum- name of “ Pantisocracy" was bestowed upon the berbacht. Here he continued some time, the favored scheme, while yet it existed only in imagi. wonder of his comrades, and a subject of mystery nation. Unborn ages of human happiness presentand curiosity to his officers. While engaged in ed themselves before the triad of philosophical watching a sick comrade, which he did night and founders of Utopian empires, while they were day, he is said to have got involved in a dispute dreaming of human perfectibility:

:-a harmless with the regimental surgeon; but the disciple of dream at least, and an aspiration after better things Esculapius had no chance with the follower of than life's realities, which is the best that can be the muses; he was astounded and put to flight by said for it. In the midst of these plans of vast the profound erudition and astonishing cloquence import, the three philosophers fell in love with of his antagonist. His friends at length found three sisters of Bristol, named Fricker (one of him out, and procured his discharge.

them, afterwards Mrs. Lovell, an actress of the In 1794, Coleridge published a small volume of Bristol theatre, another a mantua-maker, and the poems, which were much praised by the critics of third kept a day-school), and all their visions of the time, though it appears they abounded in ob- immortal freedom faded into thin air. They mar scurities and epithets too common with young ried, and occupied themselves with the increase writers. He also published, in the same year, of the corrupt race of the old world, instead of while residing at Bristol, “ The Fall of Robes- peopling the new. Thus, unhappily for America pierre, an Historic Drama," which displayed con- and mankind, failed the scheme of the Pantisoc. siderable talent. It was written in conjunction racy, on which at one time so much of human with Southey; and what is remarkable in this happiness and political regeneration was by its founders believed to depend. None have revived bach on natural history and physiology, and the the phantasy since; but Coleridge has lived to lectures of Eichhorn on the New Testament; and sober down his early extravagant views of political from professor Tychven he learned the Gothic freedom into something like a disavowal of having grammar. He read the Minnesinger and the held them; but he has never changed into a foe verses of Hans Sachs, the Nuremberg cobbler, but of the generous principles of human freedom, his time was principally devoted to literature and which he ever espoused; while Southey has be- philosophy. At the end of his " Biographia Liter come the enemy of political and religious freedom, aria," Coleridge has published some letters, which the supporter and advocate of arbitrary measures relate to his sojourn in Germany. He sailed, Sep. in church and state, and the vituperator of all who tember 16th, 1798, and on the 19th landed at Hamsupport the recorded principles of his early years. burgh. It was on the 20th of the same month

About this time, and with the same object, that he says he was introduced to the brother of namely, to spread the principles of true liberty, the great poet Klopstock, to professor Ebeling, Coleridge began a weekly paper called “The and ultimately to the poet himself. He had an Watchman,” which only reached its ninth num-impression of awe on his spirits when he set out ber, though the editor set out on his travels to pro- to visit the German Milton, whose humble house curc subscribers among the friends of the doc- stood about a quarter of a mile from the city gate. trines he espoused, and visited Birmingham, He was much disappointed in the countenance of Manchester, Derby, Nottingham, and Sheffield, Klopstock, which was inexpressive, and without for the purpose. The failure of this paper was a peculiarity in any of the features. Klopstock was severe mortification to the projector. No ground lively and courteous; talked of Milton and Glóver, was gained on the score of liberty, though about and preferred the verse of the latter to the former, the same time his self-love was flattered by the -a very curious mistake, but natural enough in a success of a volume of poems, which he repub- foreigner. He spoke with indignation of the Eng(ished, with some communications from his friends lish translations of his Messiah. He said his first Lamb and Lloyd.

ode was fifty years older than his last, and hoped Coleridge married Miss Sarah Fricker in the Coleridge would revenge him on Englishmen by autumn of 1795, and the following year his translating his Messiah. eldest son, Hartley, was born. Two more sons, On his return from Germany, Coleridge went to Berkley and Derwent, were the fruits of this union. reside at Keswick, in Cumberland. He had made In 1797, he resided at Nether Stowey, a village a great addition to his stock of knowledge, and he near Bridgewater, in Somersetshire, and wrote seems to have spared no pains to store up what there in the spring, at the desire of Sheridan, a was either useful or speculative. He had become tragedy, which was, in 1813, brought out under master of most of the early German writers, or the title of “Remorse :” the name it originally rather of the state of early German literature. He bore was Osorio. There were some circumstances dived deeply into the mystical stream of Teutonic in this business that led to a suspicion of Sheridan's philosophy. There the predilections of his earlier not having acted with any great regard to truth years no doubt came upon him in aid of his or feeling. During his residence here, Coleridge researches into a labyrinth which no human clue was in the habit of preaching every Sunday at the will ever unravel; or which were one found caUnitarian Chapel in Taunton, and was greatly pable of so doing, would reveal a mighty nothing. respected by the better class of his neighbors. He Long, he says, while meditating in England, had enjoyed the friendship of Wordsworth, who lived his heart been with Paul and John, and his head at Allfoxden, about two miles from Stowey, and with Spinoza. He then became convinced of the was occasionally visited by Charles Lamb, John doctrine of St. Paul, and from an anti trinitarian Thelwall, and other congenial spirits. “The became a believer in the Trinity, and in ChrisBrook," a poem that he planned about this period, tianity as commonly received; or, to use his own was never completed.

word, found a “re-conversion." Yet, for all his Coleridge had married before he possessed the arguments on the subject, he had better have means of supporting a family, and he depended retained his early creed, and saved the time wasted principally for subsistence, at Stowey, upon his in travelling back to exactly the same point where uterary labors, the remuneration for which could he set out, for he finds that faith necessary at last be but scanty. At length, in 1798, the kind patron- which he had been taught, in his church, was age of the late Thomas Wedgwood, Esq., who necessary at his first outset in life. His arguments, granted him a pension of 1001. a-year, enabled pro and con, not being of use to any of the com him to plan a visit to Germany; to which country munity, and the exclusive property of their owner, he proceeded with Wordsworth, and studied the he had only to look back upon his laborious trifling, language at Ratzeburg, and then went to Gottin. as Grotius did upon his own toils, when death was gen. He there attended the lectures of Blumen-, upon him. Metaphysics are most unprofitable

1

things; as political economists say, their labors deavored to show that his own writings in the are of the most“ unproducti'e class” in the com- Morning Post were greatly influential on the pubmunity of thinkers.

lic mind. Coleridge himself confessed that his The next step of our poet in a life which seems Morning Post essays, though written in defence to have had no settled object, but to have been or furtherance of the measures of the government, steered compassless along, was to undertake the added nothing to his fortune or reputation. How political and literary departments of the Morning should they have been effective, when their writer, Post newspaper, and in the duties of this situation who not long before addressed the people, and he was engaged in the spring of 1802. No man echoed from his compositions the principles of free. was less fitted for a popular writer; and, in com- dom and the rights of the people, now wrote with mon with his early connexions, Coleridge seems scorn of " mob-sycophants,” and of the “half-witto have had no fixed political principles that the ted vulgar ?" It is a consolation to know that our public could understand, though he perhaps was author himself lamented the waste of his manhood able to reconcile in his own bosom all that others and intellect in this way. What might he not might imagine contradictory, and no doubt he did have given to the world that is enduring and adso conscientiously. His style and manner of mirable, in the room of these misplaced political writing, the learning and depth of his disquisitions lucubrations! Who that has read his better works for ever came into play, and rendered him unin- will not subscribe to this truth ? telligible, or, what is equally fatal, unreadable to His translation of Schiller's Wallenstein may be the mass. It was singular, too, that he disclosed denominated a free one, and is finely executed in his biography so strongly his unsettled political It is impossible to give in the English language a principles, which showed that he had not studied more effective idea of the work of the great Gerpolitics as he had studied poetry, Kant, and the man dramatist. This version was made from a ology The public of each party looks upon a copy which the author himself afterwards revised political writer as a sort of champion round whom and altered, and the translator subsequently reit rallies, and feels it impossible to follow the published his version in a more correct form, with changeable leader, or applaud the addresses of him the additional passages and alterations of Schiller. who is inconsistent or wavering in principles: it This translation will long remain as the most will not back out any but the firm unflinching effective which has been achieved of the works partisan. In truth, what an ill compliment do of the German dramatists in the British tongue. men pay to their own judgment, when they run The censure which has been cast upon our poet counter to, and shift about from points they have for not writing more which is worthy of his repudeclared in indelible ink are founded on truth and tation, has been met by his enumeration of what reason irrefutable and eternal! They must either he has done in all ways and times; and, in have been superficial smatterers in what they first truth, he wrote a vast deal which passed un. promulgated, and have appeared prematurely in noticed, upon fleeting politics, and in newspaper print, or they must be tinctured with something columns, literary as well as political. To the like the hue of uncrimsoned apostasy. The mem- world these last go for nothing, though the author bers of what is called the “ Lake School" have calculated the thought and labor they cost him at been more or less strongly marked with this re. full value. He conceded something, however, to prehensible change of political creed, but Coleridge the prevailing idea respecting him, when he said, the least of them. In truth he got nothing by any “On my own account, I may perhaps have had change he ventured upon, and, what is more, he sufficient reason to lament my deficiency in selfexpected nothing; the world is therefore bound to control, and the neglect of concentrating my pow. say of him what cannot be said of his friends, if it ers to the realization of some permanent work. But be true, that it believes most cordially in his sin- to verse, rather than to prose, if to either, belongs cerity—and that his obliquity in politics was the voice of mourning,' for caused by his superficial knowledge of them, and Keen pangs of love awakening as a babe nis devotion of his high mental powers to different Turbulent, with an outcry in the heart,

And fears self-will'd that shunn'd the eye of hope, questions. Notwithstanding this, those who will

And hope that scarce could know itself from fear; not make a candid allowance for him, have ex

Sense of past youth, and manhood come in vain, pressed wonder how the author of the “ Consciones And genius given and knowledge won in vain, ad Populum," and the “Watchman,” the friend And all which I had cull'd in wood-walks wild, of freedom, and one of the founders of the Pantis

And all which patient toil had rear'd, and all

Commune with thee had open'd out--but flowers ocracy, could afterwards regard the drivelling and

Strew'd on my corpse, and borne upon my bier, chicanery of the pettifogging minister, Perceval, In the same coffin, for the self-same grave! as glorious in British political history, and he nimself as the “best and wisest” of ministers! In another part of his works, Coleridge says Although Coleridge avowed his belief that he speaking of what in poetry he had written, “ as to was not calculated for a popular writer, he en- myself

, I have published so little, and that little

S. T. C."

« ForrigeFortsett »