Page images

sense, or where the same sense might have been conveyed with equal force or dignity in plainer words. Lute, harp, and lyre, muse, muses, and inspirations, Pegasus, Parnassus, and Hipocrene, were all an abomination to him. In fancy I can almost hear him now exclaiming, Harp ? Harp? Lyre? Pen and ink, boy, you mean! Nurse, boy, nurse, your nurse's daughter, you mean! Pierian spring! oh! aye! the cloister pump, I suppose!' Nay, certain introductions, similies, and examples, were placed by name on a list of interdictions. Among the similies, there was, I remember, that of the Manchineel fruit, as suiting equally well with too many subjects, in which, however, it yielded the palm at once to the example of Alexander and Clytus, which was equally good and apt, whatever might be the theme. Was it ambition ?-Alexander and Clytus ! Flattery ?-Alexander and Clytus! Anger? drunkenness! pride' friendship! ingratitude! late repentance ! still, still, Alexander and Clytus. At length, the praises of agriculture having been exemplified in the sagacious observation, that had Alexander been holding the plough he would not have run his friend Clytus through with a spear; this tried and serviceable old friend was banished by public edict in secula seculorum. I have sometimes ventured to think that a list of this kind, or an index expurgatorius of certain well known and ever returning phrases, both introductory and transitional, including the large assortment of modest egotisms, and flattering illeisms, &c. &c. might be hung up in our law courts, and both houses of parliament, with great advantage to the public, as an important saving of national time, and an incalculable relief to his majesty's ministers, but above all, as insuring the thanks of country attorneys and their clients, who have private bills to carry through the house.

“ Be this as it may,there was one custom of our master's which I cannot pass over in silence, because I think it imitable and worthy of imitation. He would often permit our theme exercises, under some pretext of want of time, to accumulate till each lad had four or five to be looked over. Then, placing the whole number abreast on his desk, he would ask the writer, why this or that sentence might not have found as appropriate a place under this or that other thesis ; and if no satisfying answer could be returned, and two faults of the same kind were found in one exercise, the irrevocable verdict followed; the exercise was torn up; and another on the same subject to be produced, in addition to the tasks of the day. The reader will, I trust, excuse this tribute of recollection to a man, whose severities, even now, not seldom furnish the dreams, by which the blind fancy would fain interpret to the mind, the painful sensations of distempered sleep; but neither lessen nor dim the deep sense of my moral and intellectual obligations. He sent us to the University excellent Latin and Greek scholars, and tolerable Hebraists; yet our classical knowledge was the least of the good gifts which we derived from his zealous and conscientious tutorage. He is now gone to his final reward, full of years, and full of honours, even of those honours which were dearest to his heart, as gratefully bestowed by that school, and still binding him to the interests of that school in which he had been himself educated; and to which, during his whole life, he was a dedicated thing." -Biog. Lit., Vol. I. pp. 7–11.

While at school he was first “married to immortal verse” by having presented to him, by his friend Dr. Middleton, Bowles's Sonnets; he gives the following account of the effect they had on his mind and studies. " I had just entered my seventeenth year when the sonnets of Mr. Bowles, twenty in number, and just then published in a quarto pamphlet, were first made known and presented to me by a school-fellow who had quitted us for the University, and who, during the whole time that he was in our first form (or, in our school language, a Grecian) had been my patron and protector. I refer to Dr. Middleton, the truly learned, and every way excellent Bishop of Calcutta. It was a double pleasure to me, and still remains a tender recollection, that I should have received from a friend so revered the first knowledge of a poet, by whose works, year after year, I was so enthusiastically delighted and inspired. My earliest acquaintances will not have forgotten the undisciplined eagerness and impetuous zeal, with which I laboured to make proselytes, not only of my companions, but of all with whom I conversed, of whatever rank, and in whatever place. As my school finances did not permit me to purchase copies, I made, within less than a year and a half, more than forty transcriptions, as the best present I could offer to those who, in any way, won my regard ; and with almost equal delight did I receive the three or four following publications of the same author.

“Though I have seen and known enough of mankind to be well aware that I shall, perhaps, stand alone in my creed, and that it will be well if I subject myself to no worse charge than that of singularity; I am not, therefore, deterred from avowing, that I regard, and ever have regarded, the obligations of intellect among the most sacred of the claims of gratitude. A valuable thought, or a particular train of thoughts, gives me additional pleasure, when I can safely refer and attribute it , to the conversation or correspondence of another. My obligations to Mr. Bowles were indeed important, and for radical good. At a very premature age, even before

my fifteenth year, I had bewildered myself in metaphysics, and theological controversy. Nothing else pleased me. History, and particular facts, lost all interest in my mind. Poetry (though for a school-boy of that age, I was above par in English versification, and had already produced two or three compositions, which, I may venture to say, without reference to my age, were somewhat above mediocrity, and which had gained me more credit than the sound, good sense of my old master was at all pleased with), poetry itself, yea novels and romances became insipid to me. In my friendless wanderings on our leave-days (for I was an orphan, and had scarce any connections in London) highly was I delighted if any passenger, especially if he were dressed in black, would enter into conversation with me, for I soon found the means of directing it to my favourite subjects.

Of providence, fore-knowledge, will, and fate,
Fix'd fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute,

And found no end in wandering mazes lost. “ This preposterous pursuit was, beyond doubt, injurious, both to my natural powers and to the progress of my education. It would, perhaps, have been destructive, had it been continued; but from this I was auspiciously withdrawn, partly indeed, by an accidental introduction to an amiable family; chiefly, however, by the genial influence of a style of poetry, so tender, and yet so manly, so natural and real, and yet so dignified and harmonious, as the sonnets, &c. of Mr. Bowles. Well were it for me, perhaps, had I never relapsed into the same mental disease ; if I had continued to pluck the flower and reap the harvest from the cultivated surface, instead of delving in the unwholesome quicksand mines of metaphysic depths. But if in after time I have sought a refuge from bodily pain and mismanaged sensibility in abstruse re

searches which exercised the strength and subtlety of the understanding, without awakening the feelings of the heart; still there was a long and blessed interval, during which my natural faculties were allowed to expand, and my original tendencies to develope themselves ; my fancy, and the love of nature, and the sense of beauty in forms and sounds."-Biog. Lit., Vol. I. pp. 13-17.

He remained at Christ's Hospital school till he was nineteen, having outstripped all his school-fellows, and become Grecian or captain of the school, which entitled him to an exhibition to the University.

On the 7th of September, 1791, he removed from London to Jesus College, Cambridge. His conduct there appears to have been irregular and unacademic. He could not submit to the discipline necessary to obtain the literary honours of the University. Yet not so much so as has been represented, as the following reminiscence by a fellow collegian will show. “ In his Freshman's year he won the gold medal for the Greek Ode; and in his second year he became a candidate for the Craven Scholarship-a university scholarship, for which undergraduates, of any standing, are entitled to become candidates. This was in the winter of 1792. Out of sixteen or eighteen competitors, a selection of four was made to contend for the prize, and these four were Dr. Butler, now the Head Master of Shrewsbury ; Dr. Keate, the late Head Master of Eton; Dr. Bethell, the present Bishop of Bangor; and Coleridge. Dr. Butler was the successful candidate. But pause a moment in Coleridge's history, and think of him at this period. Butler, Keate, Bethell, and Coleridge. How different the career of each in future life. O Coleridge, through what strange paths did the meteor of genius lead thee! Pause a moment, ye distinguished men ! and deem it not the least

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »