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Will strike discordant on thy milder mind)
S. T. COLERIDGE.
May 26th, 1797. Nether-Stowey, Somerset.
TO THE FIRST EDITION.
COMPOSITIONS resembling those of the present volume are not unfrequently condemned for their querulous egotism. But egotism is to be condemned then only when it offends against time and place, as in a history or an epic poem. To censure it in a monody or sonnet is almost as absurd as to dislike a circle for being round. Why then write sonnets or monodies? Because they give me pleasure when perhaps nothing else could. After the more violent emotions of sorrow, the mind demands amusement, and can find it in employment alone; but full of its late sufferings, it can endure no employment not in some measure connected with them. Forcibly to turn away our attention to general subjects is a painful and most often an unavailing effort:
“ But O! how grateful to a wounded heart
Shaw. The communicativeness of our nature leads us to describe our own sorrows; in the endeavour to describe them, intellectual activity is exerted ; and from intellectual activity there results a pleasure, which is gradually associated,
and mingles as a corrective, with the painful subject of the description. “ True!” (it may be answered) “ but how are the Public interested in your sorrows, or your description ?” We are for ever attributing personal unities to imaginary aggregates.—What is the Public, but a term for a number of scattered individuals ? Of whom as many will be interested in these sorrows, as have experienced the same, or sinıilar.
Holy be the lay
If I could judge of others by myself, I should not hesitate to affirm, that the most interesting passages in our most interesting poems are those in which the author developes his own feelings. The sweet voice of Cona* never sounds so sweetly, as when it speaks of itself; and I should almost suspect that man of an unkindly heart, who could read the opening of the third book of The Paradise Lost without peculiar emotion. By a law of our nature, he, who labours under a strong feeling, is impelled to seek for sympathy; but a poet's feelings are all strong.-Quicquid amet valde amat. Akenside therefore speaks with philosophical accuracy, when he classes love and poetry, as producing the same effects :
“ Love and the wish of poet's when their tongue
Would teach to others' bosoms, what so charms
Pleasures of Imagination.
There is one species of egotism which is truly disgusting; not that which leads us to communicate our feelings. to others, but that which would reduce the feelings of others to an identity with our own. The Atheist, who exclaims, "pshaw!" when he glances his eye on the praises of Deity, is an egotist: an old man, when he speaks contemptuously of love-verses, is an egotist : and the sleek favourites of fortune are egotists, when they condemn all “ melancholy, discontented” verses. Surely, it would be candid not merely to ask whether the poem pleases ourselves, but to consider whether or no there may not be others, to whom it is well calculated to give an innocent pleasure.
I shall only add, that each of my readers will, I hope, remember, that these poems on various subjects, which he reads at one time, and under the influence of one set of feelings, were written at different times, and prompted by very different feelings ; and therefore that the supposed inferiority of one poem to another may sometimes be owing to the temper of mind, in which he happens to peruse it.
S. T. C.