Page images

observation, no less than to her devoted affection, her brother was largely indebted.


SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, a profound thinker and rich imaginative poet, enjoyed a high reputation during the latter years of his life for his colloquial eloquence and metaphysical and critical powers, of which only a few fragmentary specimens remain. His poetry also indicated more than was achieved. Visions of grace, tenderness, and majesty seem ever to have haunted him. Some of these he embodied in exquisite verse ; but he wanted concentration and steadiness of purpose to avail himself sufficiently of his intellectual riches. A happier destiny was also perhaps wanting ; for much of Coleridge's life was spent in poverty and dependence, amidst disappointment and ill-health, and in the irregularity caused by an unfortunate and excessive use of opium, which tyrannised over him for many years with unrelenting severity. Amidst daily drudgery for the periodical press, and in nightly dreams distempered and feverish, he wasted, to use his own expression, the prime and manhood of his intellect.'

The poet was native of Devonshire, born on the 20th of October 1772 at Ottery St. Mary, of which parish his father was vicar. Hc received the principal part of his education at Christ's Hospital, where he had Charles Lamb for a school-fellow. He describes himself as being, from eight to fourteen, ‘a playless day-dreamer, a hellua librorum;' and in this instance, the child was father of the man,' for such was Coleridge to the end of his life. A stranger whom he had accidentally met one day on the streets of London, and who was struck with his conversation, made him free of a circulating library, and he read through the catalogue, folios and all. At fourteen, he had, like Gibbon, a stock of erudition that might have puzzled a doctor, and a degree of ignorance of which a school-boy would have been ashamed. He had no ambition; his father was dead, and he actually thought of apprenticing himself to a shoemaker who lived near the school. The head-master, Bowyer, interfered, and prevented this additional honour to the craft of St. Crispin, made illustrious by Gifford and Bloomfield. Coleridge became deputy. Grecian, or head-scholar, and obtained an exhibition or presentation from Christ's Hospital to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he remained from 1791 to 1793. In his first year at college he gained the Brown gold medal for the Greek ode; next year he stood for the Craven scholarship, but lost it; and in 1793 he was again unsuccessful in a competition for the Greek ode on astronomy. By this time he had incurred some debts, not amounting to £100; but this so weighed on his mind and spirits, that he suddenly left college, and went to London. He had also become obnoxious to his superiors from his attachment to the principles of the French Revolution,

When France in wrath her giant-limbs upreared,

And with that oath which smote air, earth, and sea,

Stamped her strong foot, and said she would be free,
Bear witness for me,

how I hoped and feared !
With what a joy my lofty gratulation

Unawed I sang, amid a slavish band;
And when to whelm the disenchanted nation,
Like fiends embattled by a wizard's wand,

The monarchs marched in evil day,
And Britain joined the dire array ;
Though dear her shores and circling ocean,
Though many friendships, many youthful loves

Had swollen the patriot emotion,
And flung a magic light o'er all her hills and groves,
Yet still my voice, unaltered, sang defeat

To all that braved the tyrant-quelling lance,
And shame too long delayed, and vain retreat!
For ne'er, O Liberty! Ith partial aim
I dimmed thy light, or damped thy holy flame;

But blest the pæans of delivered France,
And hung my head, and wept at Britaits name.

France, an Ode. In London, Coleridge soon felt himself forlorn and destitute, and he enlisted as a soldier in the 15th, Elliott's Light Dragoons. On his arrival at the quarters of the regiment,' says his friend and biographer, Mr. Gillman, “the general of the district inspected the recruits, and looking hard at Coleridge, with a military air, inquired: * What's your name, sir?" “Comberbach.” (The name he had assumed.) “What do you come here for, sir?" as if doubting whether he had any business there. “Sir,” said Coleridge, · for what most other persons come-to be made a soldier.” think,” said the general, "you can run-a Frenchman through the body?” “I do not know,” replied Coleridge, “as I never tried; but I'll let a Frenchman run me through the body before I'll run away. “That will do," said the general, and Coleridge was turned into the ranks.' The poet made a poor dragoon, and never advanced beyond the awkward squad. He wrote letters, however, for all his comrades, and they attended to his horse and accoutrements. After four months' service-December 1793 April 1794—the history and circumstances of Coleridge became known. According to one account, he had written under his saddle on the stable-wall, Eheu! quam infortunii miserrimum est fuisse felicem, which led to inquiry on the part of the captain of his troop, who had more regard for the classics than Ensign Northerton in Tom Jones.' Another account attributes the termination of his military career to a chance recognition on the street. His family being apprised of his situation, his discharge was obtained on the 1ỏth of April 1794.*

"Do you

* Miss Mitford states that the arrangement for Coleridge's discharge was made at her father's house at Reading. Captain Ogle-in whose troop the poet served-related at table one day the story of the learned recruit. when it was resolved to make exertions for his discharge. There would have been some difficulty in the case, had not one of the servants waiting at table been induced to enlist in his place. The poet, Miss Mitford says, never forgot her father's zeal in the cause.

He seems then to have set about publishing his 'Juvenile Poems' by subscription, and while at Oxford in June of the same year, he met with Southey, and an intimacy immediately sprung up between them. Coleridge was then an ardent republican and a Socinian-full of high hopes and anticipations, the golden exhalations of the dawn. In conjunction with his new friend Southey; with Robert Lovell, the son of a wealthy Quaker; George Burnett, a fellow-colle gian from Somersetshire; Robert Allen, then at Corpus Christi College; and Edmund Seward, of a Herefordshire family, also a fellowcollegian, Coleridge planned and proposed to carry out a scheme of emigration to America. They were to found in the New World a Pantisocracy, or state of society in which each was to have his portion of work, and their wives—all were to be married—were to cook and perform domestic offices, the poets cultivating literature in their hours of leisure, with neither king nor priest to mar their felicity. ‘From building castles in the air,' as Southey has said, “to framing commonwealths was an easy transition.' For some months this delusion lasted; but funds were wanting, and could not be readily raised. Southey and Coleridge gave a course of public lectures, and wrote a tragedy on the · Fall of Robespierre,' and the former soon afterwards proceeding with his uncle to Spain and Portugal, the Pantisocratic scheme was abandoned. Coleridge and Southey married two sisters - Lovell, who died in the following year, had previously been mar ried to a third sister-ladies of the name of Fricker, amiable, but wholly without a fortune.

Coleridge, still ardent, wrote two political pamphlets, concluding that truth should be spoken at all times, but more especially at those times when to speak truth is dangerous.' He established also a periodical in prose and verse, entitled “The Watchman,' with the motto, “That all might know the truth, and that the truth might make us free.' He watched in vain. Coleridge's incurable want of order and punctuality, and his philosophical theories, tired out and disgusted his readers, and the work was discontinued after the ninth number. Of the unsaleable nature of this publication, he relates an amusing illustration. Happening one day to rise at an earlier hour than usual, he observed his servant-girl putting an extravagant quantity of paper into the grate, in order to light the fire, and he mildly checked her for her wastefulness. “La, sir,' replied, Nanny: 'why, it is only “Watchmen. He went to reside in a cottage at Nether Stowey, at the foot of the Quantock Hills-a rural retreat which he has commemorated in his poetry:

And now, beloved Stowey! I behold
Thy church-tower, and, methinks, the four huge elms
Clustering, which mark the mansion of my friends;
And close behind them, hidden from my view,
Is my own lowly cottage, where my babe
And my babe's mother dwell in peace! With light
And quickened footsteps thitherward I tread.

At Stowey, Coleridge wrote some of his most beautiful poetry-his

Ode on the Departing year;' Fears in Solitude;''France, an Ode;' "Frost at Midnight;' the first part of Christabel;' the Ancient Mariner;' and his tragedy of ‘Remorse.' The luxuriant fulness and individuality of his poetry shews that he was then happy, no less than eager, in his studies. Wordsworth thus describes his appearance:

A noticeable man with large grey eyes,
And a pale face that seemed undoubtedly
As if a blooming face it ought to be ;
Heavy his low-hung lip did oft appear
Depressed by weight of musing Phantasy;

Profound his forehead was, but not severe. The two or three years spent at Stowey seem to have been at once the most felicitous and the most illustrious of Coleridge's literary life. He had established his name for ever, though it was long in struggling to distinction. During his residence at Stowey, the poet officiated as Unitarian preacher at Taunton, and afterwards at Shrewsbury.* In 1798, the 'generous and munificent patronage of Messrs. Josiah and Thomas Wedgwood, Staffordshire, enabled the poet to proceed to Germany to complete his education, and he resided there fourteen months. At Ratzeburg and Göttingen he acquired a well-grounded knowledge of the German language and literature, and was confirmed in his bias towards philosophical and metaphysical studies. On his return in 1800, he found Southey established at. Keswick, and Wordsworth at Grasmere. He went to live with the former, and there his opinions underwent a total change. The Jacobin became a royalist, and the Unitarian a warm and devoted believer in the Trinity. In the same year he published his translation of Schiller's 'Wallenstein,' into which he had thrown some of the finest graces of his own fancy. The following passage may be con

* Hazlitt walked ten miles in a winter day to hear Coleridge preach. When I got there.' he says, 'the organ was playing the 100th Psalm, and when it was done. Mr. Coleridge rose and gave out his text: He departed again into a mountain himself alone." As he gave out this text. his voice rose like a stream of rich distilled perfumes; and when he came to the last two words, which he pronounced loud, deep, and distinct, it seemed to me, who was then young, as if the sounds had echoed from the bottom of the human heart, and as if that prayer might have floated in solemn silence through the uni. verse. The idea of St. John came into

my mind, of one crying in the wilderness, who had his loins girt about, and whose food was locusts and wild honey. The preacher then launched into his subject like an eagle dallying with the wind. The sermon was upon peace and war-upon church and state-not their alliance, but their separation on the spirit of the world and the spirit of Christianity, not as the same, but as opposed to one another. He talked of those who had inscribed the cross of Christ on banners dripping with

human gore! He made a poetical and pastoral excursion-and to shew the fatal effects of war, drew a striking contrast between the simple shepherd-boy, driving his team a field, or sitting under the hawthorn, piping to his fock, as though he should never be old, and the same poor country lad, crimped, kidnapped. brought into town, made drunk at an alehouse, turned into a wretched drummer-boy, with his hair sticking on end with powder and pomatum, a long cue at his back, and tricked out in the finery of the profession of blood;

"Such were the notes our once loved poet sung:'' and, for myself, I could not have been more delighted if I had heard the music of the spheres.'

sidered a revelation of Coleridge's poetical faith and belief, conveyed in language picturesque and musical :

Oh! never rudely will I blame his faith
In the might of stars and angels ! 'Tis not merely
The human being's pride that peoples space
With life and mystical predominance;
Since likewise for the stricken heart of love
This visible nature, and this common world,
Is all too narrow: yea, a deeper import
Lurks in the legend told my infant years,
Than lies upon th

we live to learn.
For fable is Love's world, his house, his birthplace;
Delightedly dwells he 'mong fays, and talismans,
And spirits; and delightedly believes
Divinities; being himself divine.
The intelligible forms of ancient poets,
The fair humanities of old religion,
The power, the beauty, and the majesty,
That had their haunts in dale, or piny mountain,
Or forest, by slow stream, or pebbly spring,
Or chasms and watery depths ; ali these have vanished.
They live no longer in the faith of reason!
But still the heart doth need a language; still
Doth the old instinct bring back the old names ;
And to yon starry world they now are gone.
Spirits or gods, that used to share this earth
With man as with their friend; and to the lover,
Yonder they move, from yonder visible sky
Shoot influence down; and even at this day
'Tis Jupiter who brings whate'er is great,

And Venus who brings everything that's fair. The lines which we have printed in Italics are an expansion of two of Schiller's, which Mr. Hayward-another German poetical translator—thus literally renders:

The old fable existences are no more;

The fascinating race has emigrated (wandered out or away). As a means of subsistence, Coleridge reluctantly consented to undertake the literary and political department of the Morning Post,' in which he supported the measures of government. In 1804, we find him in Malta, secretary to the governor, Sir Alexander Ball. He held this office only nine months, and, after a tour in Italy, returned to England to resume his precarious labours as an author and lecturer. The desultory, irregular habits of the poet, caused partly by his addiction to opium, and the dreamy indolence and procrastination which marked him throughout life, seem to have frustrated every chance and opportunity of self-advancement. Living again at Grasmere, he issued a second periodical, “The Friend,' which extended to twenty-seven numbers. The essays were sometimes acute and eloquent, but as often rhapsodical, imperfect, and full of German mysticism

In 1816, chiefly at the recommendation of Lord Byron, the 'wild and wondrous tale of Christabel' was published. The first part, ad

« PreviousContinue »