« ForrigeFortsett »
Memoir of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
THERE is no writer of his time who has been disciplinarian after the inane practice of English more the theme of panegyric by his friends, and grammar-school modes, but was fond of encourof censure by his enemies, than Coleridge. It has aging genius, even in the lads he flagellated most been the custom of the former to injure him by unmercifully. He taught with assiduity, and diextravagant praise, and of the latter to pour upon rected the taste of youth to the beauties of the his head much unmerited abuse. Coleridge has better classical authors, and to comparisons of one left undone so much which his talents and genius with another. “He habituated me," says Colewould have enabled him to effect, and has done on ridge, “ to compare Lucretius, Terence, and above the whole so little, that he has given his focs ap- all the chaste poems of Catullus, not only with the parent foundation for some of their vituperation. Roman poets of the so called silver and brazen His natural character, however, is indolent; he is ages, but with even those of the Augustan era; far more ambitious of excelling in conversation, and, on grounds of plain sense and universal logic, and of pouring out his wild philosophical theories to see and assert the superiority of the former, in -of discoursing about
the truth and nativeness both of their thoughts and
diction. At the same time that we were studying Fir'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 rhyine." 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 duc 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 lyré, 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 pedaKennicot in collating his manuscripts for a Hebrew gogues who ruled in grammar-schools at that time, bible, and, among other things, wrote a dissertation he seems to have been a singular and most honoron the “ Anyos.” He was also the author of an able exception among them. He sent his pupils to ercellent Latin grammar. He died in 1782, at the the university excellent Greek and Latin scholars, age of sixty-two, much regretted, leaving a con- with some knowledge of Hebrew, and a considersiderable family, three of which, if so many, are able insight into the construction and beauties of all who now survive; and of these the poet is the their vernacular language and its most distinyoungest
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 times in eighteen 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 full 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 enthusithat he obtained or even struggled for academic astic undertaking in Robert Lovell and Robert honors. From excess of animal spirits, he was Southey, the present courtly laureate. This youthrather 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 Baotia 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 regeneration of naoff 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 Euvarious 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 imagiwonder 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 :- 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 eloquence 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 Pantisocsiderable 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 Litercome 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, Sepin 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 core 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 courteouş; talked of Milton and Glover, 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 saccess of a volume of poems, which he repub- foreigner. He spoke with indignation of the Englished, 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 in the following year his translating the 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 doịng, 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 neans 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 literary 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 yge 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 comhim 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 ger. He there attended the lectures of Blumen. upon him. Metaphysics are most unprofitable
things; as political economists say, their labors deavored to show that his own writings in the are of the most “unproductive class” in the com- Morning Post were greatly influential on the pubmunity of thinkers.
lic mind. Coleridge himself confesses 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 be effective, when their writer, who Post newspaper, and in the duties of this situation not long before addressed the people, and echoed he was engaged in the spring of 1802. No man from his compositions the principles of freedom was less fitted for a popular writer; and, in com- and the rights of the people, now wrote with mon with his early connexions, Coleridge seems scorn of “mob-sycophants," and of the “half-witted to have had no fixed political principles that the vulgar ?" It is, a consolation to know that our public could understand, though he perhaps was author himself laments 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 ad. 80 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 Ger. politics 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 around whom and altered, and the translator subsequently reit rallies, and feels it impossible to trust 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 truth, have been superficial smatterers in what they first he has written a vast deal which has passed unpromulgated, 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 their author bers of what is called the “ Lake School" have calculates the thought and labor they cost him at been more or less strongly marked with this re- full value. He concedes something, however, to prehensible change of political creed, but Coleridge this prevailing idea respecting him, when he says, 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 powsay 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 his devotion of his high mental powers to different Turbulent, with an outcry in the heart, questions. Notwithstanding this, those who will
And fears self-willid that shunn'd the eye of hope,
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 thec 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 gravel as glorious in British political history, and he
S. T. C." himself as the “best and wisest" of ministers! In another part of his works, Coleridge sa's, Although Coleridge has avowed his belief that he speaking of what in poetry he had written, “ as to is not calculated for a popular writer, he has en- myself, I have published so little, and that litle
of so little importance, as to make it almost ludi. It is equally creditable to the taste and judgment cras to mention my name at all.” It is evident, of Coleridge, that he was one of the first to point the efore, that a sense of what he might have done out, with temper and sound reasoning, the fallacy for ame, and of the little he has done, is felt by of a great portion of Wordsworth's poetic theory, the pet; and yet, the little he has produced has namely, that which relates to low life. Wordsamong it gems of the purest lustre, the brilliancy worth contends that a proper poetic diction is a of which time will not deaden until the universal language taken from the mouths of men in genevoice of nature be heard no longer, and poetry ral, in their natural conversation under the influ. perish reneath the dull load of life's hackneyed ence of natural feelings. Coleridge wisely asserts, realities
that philosophers are the authors of the best parts The poem of “Christabel,” Coleridge says, was of language, not clowns; and that Milton's lancomposed in consequence of an agreement with guage is more that of real life than the language Mr. Wordsworth, that they should mutually pro- of a cottager. This subject he has most ably duce specmens of poetry which should contain treated in chapter 17 of his Biographia Literaria. " the powesof exciting the sympathy of the reader, Two years after he had abandoned the Morning by a faithfu adherence to the truth of nature, and Post, he set off for Malta, where he most unexthe power of giving the interest of novelty by pectedly arrived on a visit to his friend Dr. Stodart, the modifying colors of imagination. The sudden then king's advocate in that island, and was incharm, which accidents of light and shade, which troduced by him to the Governor, Sir Alexander moon-light oi sun-set diffused over a known and Ball, who appointed him his secretary. He refamiliar landscape, appeared to represent the prac- mained in the island fulfilling the duties of his ticability of combining both.” Further he ob- situation, for which he seems to have been but serves on this thought, " that a series of poems indifferently qualified, a very short period. One might be compsed of two sorts. In the one, the advantage, however, he derived from his official incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, employ: that of the pension granted by Govern. supernatural; and the excellence to be aimed at ment to those who have served in similar situawas to consist ir the interesting of the affections tions. On his way home he visited Italy; entered by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would Rome, and examined its host of ancient and mod. naturally accompany such situations, supposing ern curiosities, and added fresh matter for thought them real, etc. For the second class, subjects to his rapidly accumulating store of ideas. Of were to be chosen from ordinary life.” Thus, it this visit he gives several anecdotes; among them appears, originated the poems of the “Ancient one respecting the horns of Moses on Michael Mariner,” and “Christabel," by Coleridge, and Angelo's celebrated statue of that lawgiver, intendthe “ Lyrical Ballads” of Wordsworth.
ed to elucidate the character of Frenchmen. ColePerhaps there is no English writer living who ridge has been all his life a hater of France and understood better than Coleridge the elements of Frenchmen, arising from his belief in their being poetry, and the way in which they may be best completely destitute of moral or poetical feeling. combined to produce certain impressions. His A Prussian, who was with him while looking upon definitions of the merits and differences in style the statue, observed that a Frenchman was the only and poetic genius, between the earliest and latest animal, “ in the human shape, that by no possiwriters of his country, are superior to those which bility can lift itself up to religion or poetry.” A any one else has it in his power to make; for, in foolish and untrue remark on the countrymen of truth, he long and deeply meditated upon them, Fenelon and Pascal, of Massillon and Corneille. and no one can be dissatisfied by the reasons he Just then, however, two French officers of rank gives, and the examples he furnishes, to bear out happened to enter the church, and the Goth from his theories and opinions. These things he does the Elbe remarked that, the first things they would as well or better in conversation than in writing. notice would be the “horns and beard" (upon which His conversational powers are indeed unrivalled, the Prussian and Coleridge had just been rearing and it is to be feared that, to excel in these, he has theories and quoting history), and that the associsacrificed what are more durable; and that he has ations the Frenchmen would connect with them resigned, for the pleasure of gratifying an attentive" would be those of a he-goat and a cuckold.” It listening circle, and pleasing thereby his self-love happened that the Prus-Goth was right: the offi. by its applause, much that would have delighted cers did pass some such joke upon the figure. the world. His flow of words, delivery, and va. Hence, by inference, would the poet have his riety of information, are so great, and he finds it readers deduce the character of a people, whose so captivating to enchain his auditors to the car literature, science, and civilization are perhaps of his triumphant eloquence, that he has sacrificed only not the very first in the world. to this gratification what might have sufficed to Another instance of his fixed and absurd dislike confer upon him a celebrity a thousand times more of every thing French, occurred during the de. to be coveted by a spirit akin to his own. | livery of a course of Lectures on Poetry, at the