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Memoir of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
No writer of the age was more the theme of disciplinarian after the inane practice of Englisn panegyric by his friends, and of censure by his grammar-school modes, but was fond of encour. enemies, 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 beautics 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 focs 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 the truth and nativeness both of their thoughts and
to see and assert the superiority of the former, in about
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 tiine 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 lofticst, and beauty of some of his picces 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 die regret respecting him, namely, that he should difficult; because more subtle and complex, and bave pre erred 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 nobut 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! Sther, the Rev. John Coleridge, was vicar there, muse, boy, muse! your nurse's daughter, you haring 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 Lile,” Coleridge siderable learning, and to have published several has gone into the conduct of his master at great sweays in fugitive publications. He assisted Dr. length; and, compared to the majority of peda Kennico: 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. 1 dissertation on the “ Aoyos.” He was also able exception among them. He sent his pupils to he author of an excellent Latin grammar. He the university excellent Greek and Latin scholars, died in 1782, 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 of Ebich 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 bring 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 tent, 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 ole 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 versifiedsipid; 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, a 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 cighteen 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 Robes 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 com. and 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, wbich 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, ir 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
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 present and curiosity to his officers. While engaged in ed themselves before the triad of philosophicaj 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 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 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 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 poct 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 nun- 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 cure subscribers among the friends of the doc. stood about a quarter of a mile froin 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 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 success of a volume of poems, which he repub- foreigner. He spoke with indignation of the EngEished, 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 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. rcside at Keswick, in Cumberland. He had made In 1797, he resided at Nether Stowcy, a village a great addition to his stock of knowledge, and le Dear Bridgewater, in Somersetshire, and wrote seems to have sparcd no pains to store up what there in the spring, at the desire of Sheridan, a was either useful or speculative. Ile 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 carly German literature. He bore was Osorio. There were some circumstances dived deeply into the mystical strcam 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 nicditating 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, ana in ChrisBrook," a poem that he planned about this period, tianity as commonly received; or, to nse his own was never completed.
word, found a "re-conversion." Yct, for all his Coleridge had married before he possessed the arguments on the subject, he had better have Ticales 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 bat 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 hun 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 lahorious trifling, language at Ratzeburg, and then went to Gotlin- as Grotius did upon his own toils, when death was gen. 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 “unproductie class" in the com- Morning Post were greatly influential on the pubmunity of thinkers.
lic mind. Coleridge himself confessed that hie 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 righis 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 ad. 60 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, toy, 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 round whom and altered, and the translator subsequently reit rallies, and feeis 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 thc 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 cternal! They must either he has done in all ways and times; and, in have been superficial sınatterers in what they first truth, he wrote a vast deal which 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 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 self expected 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 crs 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-willid that shunnid 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,
And all which patient toil had rear'd, and all of freedom, and one of the founders of the Pantis.
Commune with thee had opend out-but flowers ocracy, could afterwards regard the drivelling and
Strew'd on my corpze, and borne upon my bier, chicanery of the pettifogging minister, Perceval, In the same coffin, for the self-same grave! is glorious in British political history, and he nunself is 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 wrillen, “as to wis not calculated for a popular writer, he en- myself, I have published so little, anu that little
S. T. C."
of so little importance, as to make it almost ludi. It is equally creditable to the taste and judgment crous to mention my name at all.” It is evident, of Coleridge, that he was one of the first to point therefore, that a sense of what he might have done out, with temper and sound reasoning, the fallacy for fame, and of the little he had done, was felt of a great portion of Wordsworth's poetic theory by the poet; and yet, the little he did produce has namely, that which relates to low life. Wordsamong it gems of the purest lustre, the brilliancy worth contended that a proper poetic diction is a of which time will not deaden until the universal language taken from the mouths of men in gene. voice of nature be heard no longer, and poetry ral, in their natural conversation under thc influ. perish beneath the dull load of life's hackneyed cnce of natural feelings. Coleridge wisely asserted, 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 specimens of poetry which should contain treated in chapter 17 of his Biographia Literaria. " the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader, Two years after he had abandoned the Morning by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and Post, he set off for Malta, where he most unex. the 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 in. charm, which accidents of light and shade, which troduced by him to the Governor, Sir Alexander moon-light or sun-set diffused over a known and Ball, who appointed him his secretary. He re. familiar 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 composed 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 in 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 Fere 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, in the " Lyrical Ballads” of Wordsworth.
tended to elucidate the character of Frenchmen Perhaps there is no English writer living who Coleridge was 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 poctical 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 possi. writers of his country, are superior to those which bility can list itself up to religion or poetry.” A any one else has it in his power to make; for, in foolishi 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 did the Elbe remarked that, the first things they would 23 well or better in conversation than in writing. notice would be the “horns and beard" (upon which His conversational powers were indeed unrivalled, the Prussian and Coleridge had just been rearing and it is to be feared that to excel in these, he theories and quoting history), and that the associ. sacrificed what was more durable; and that he 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. llis flow of words, delivery, and va- Hence, by inference, would the poet have liis riety of information were so great, and he found readers deduce the character of a people, whose * to captivating to enchain his auditors to the car literature, science, and civilization are perhaps of his triumphant eloquence, that he sacrificed to only not the very first in the world. this gratification what might have sufficed to Another instance of his fixed and absurd dislike transer upon him a celebrity a thousand times of every thing French, occurred during the de. Dore lo he coveted by a spirit akin to his own. |livery of a course of Lectures on Poctry, at the