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Severn estuary known as the Bristol Channel. I think the mud along that coast is something perfectly unnatural. If you go down to one of the watering-places beloved by Bristol people—Clevedon or Weston, to wit—with the expectation of a Brighton or Scarborough seascape, how I admire your inevitable disappointment ! Instead of seeing
the wild white horses play,
Champ and chafe and toss in the spray,' while a merry wind that has travelled over leagues of foam plays tricks with your apparel, you are face to face (at low water) with countless acres of mud, through which travels a thread of water looking like the Fleet Ditch, all that remains of the famous river Severn. When living down in this dull vicinage ——really dull, for though the scenery is often rich, it is void of variety-Coleridge made up his mind to be a Unitarian minister. There is perhaps a recondite connection between flat scenery and Unitarianism. Any way, the pulpit of the disciples of Socinus was at that time the poet's great ambition; and in search of a cure of souls he made his way to Shrewsbury to preach. Here is that same river Severn, many a mile nearer its source, a clear and beautiful and rapid stream, undreaming of the mud in which its glory is doomed to expire. A quaint old town is Shrewsbury, and they show you Glendower's Oak to this day; it is an ancient tree, which grows green every spring, though its trunk is completely hollow. To the summit of this oak, says the legend, Owen Glendower climbed when the famons battle of Shrewsbury had begun, that very battle wherein Jack Falstaff fought a long hour by Shrewsbury clock. The tradition is, that Glendower ascended the tree in order to judge how the battle was likely to go before he decided whether or not to join his allies. His inspection was unfavourable, and the Welshman discreetly drew off his forces.
A curious glimpse of Coleridge in his early days is afforded by Hazlitt, who made his acquaintance at Shrewsbury. Hazlitt's father was a Unitarian minister living at Wem, ten miles from the capital of Salop. Young Hazlitt, in his twentieth year, was naturally attracted by the fame of this marvellous young preacher, who uttered with magical eloquence things unintelligible; so, on a Sunday morning in January 1798, he rose before daybreak, and walked ten muddy miles to hear Coleridge preach. “Did you ever hear me preach ?' asked Coleridge of Lamb many a year later. I never heard you do anything else,' was the reply. This particular sermon intoxicated Hazlitt, who at once became Coleridge's admirer. His description of the great poet, as he seemed in his youth, is worth quotation. His forehead was broad and high, light as if built of ivory, with large projecting eyebrows, and his eyes rolling beneath them like a sea with darkened lustre. “ A certain tender bloom his
face o'erspread"-a purple tinge as we see it in the pale thoughtful complexions of the Spanish portrait-painters, Murillo and Velasquez. His mouth was gross, voluptuous, open, eloquent; his chin goodhumoured and round; but his nosethe rudder of the face, the index of the will—was small, feeble, nothing ; like what he has done.' I may here remark, that the tendency to represent Coleridge as having done nothing is a symptom of that serene and supercilious ignorance which is often observable in second-class men who have to estimate their superiors. Mr. Carlyle has made the same marvellous blunder. It is as if a turnip-field were to brag over its superiority to a rose of Provence. What says Ben Jonson ?
• It is not growing like a tree
In bulk doth make men better be;
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
It was the plant and flower of light.'. Coleridge did nothing, forsooth! as Mr. Gladstone might say. Why, he wrote Christabel; but for which we should never have had the two series of poems which begin with Scott's Minstrel and Byron's Giaour. As to his philosophy, But I will not deal with these vexed questions. Let me forgive Hazlitt his splenetic attack upon his mightier friend, and walk with him from Shrewsbury to Nether Stowey in Somerset.
For Somerset was then Coleridge's country; and he invited his young admirer to come and see him there, offering to walk half-way to meet him. You see there were no railways in 1798 ; nor do I expect that the mail-coach service was quite as perfect as I remember it in my school-days. Was the old-fashioned stage-wagon extinct ? Mr. Timbs or Mr. Thornbury would know. However, young men could walk-young poets and essayists especially; and William Hazlitt thought nothing of walking from Shropshire to Somersetshire, considerably more than a hundred miles as the crow flies; and he would have to fly across the Bristol Channel, just above the Steep and Flat Holmes. Hazlitt made his way first to Worcester -pleasant city in a pleasant vicinage—thence to Upton-on-Severn, where he thought of Tom Jones and the adventure of the muff; thence to Tewkesbury, where he took his ease at his inn, sitting up all night to read Paul and Virginia. On this silly sentimental story he records a remark of Coleridge's—that nothing could show the gross indelicacy of French manners and the entire corruption of their imagination more strongly than the behaviour of the heroine in the last fatal scene, when she turns away from a man on board the sinking vessel, who offers to swim ashore with her, because he has stripped himself to swim. St. Pierre, if I remember arightit is quite thirty years since I read Paul and Virginia—praises the little fool's modesty. Well said Swift that a nice man is a man of nasty ideas.
Hazlitt's farther account of his journey is meagre; but we can follow him in imagination, swinging gaily along the roads, with happy expectation of sojourn with a poet at the end of his travel. He passed through Gloucester ; stopped perchance at Mr. Phillpotts’ excellent inn; may have seen the late Bishop of Exeter (last hope of the Church, my orthodox journals tell me) playing marbles with some other little schoolboy of Gloucester, also in his first decade. The wayfarer was eager to reach his bourne, for he found himself two days before his time, and passed them in the unhappy little town of Bridgwater (properly Burgh Walter), since famous for having tempted a great historian to authorise bribery.
Somerset is not a picturesque county until you get upon Exmoor; but Nether Stowey is one of its pleasantest villages. A few miles away Wordsworth was staying at Alfoxton House, and the two poets were doing some of the most important work they ever did. Coleridge was writing the Ancient Mariner, and Wordsworth Peter Bell. The latter poet had in those days a touch of humour, grim and grotesque, somewhat in Callot's manner. Why, 0 why did his friends advise him to expunge from Peter Bell that immortal stanza, superior to almost anything in Dante, which described
' a party in a parlour,
All silent, and all damned'? Although Hunter's Combe and the Seven Wells are valleys worthy of Devon, yet Coleridge carried his young friend away across the border into his own county. There the coast grows wilder, and the air brighter and more stimulant, and the Channel sea of a purer blue. After a long day's march,—their feet keeping time to the rhythm of Coleridge's talk,—they reached Lynton at midnight. But even at midnight the hospitality of Devon was not wanting; and they got an excellent supply of bacon and eggs. What they drank therewith is not noted : I hope it was sound Devonshire cider. still cider of Devon, liqueured and bottled, would beat Clicquot and Roederer out of the field. Hazlitt saw the Valley of Rocks, and apparently did not think much of it. In fact, his recollections are seldom of the true poetic form. He remembers the excellent tea and toast, eggs and honey, which he got for breakfast at the Lynton inn; and these are excellent things to remember. would think the Valley of Rocks—a scene which looks as if the very skeleton of the world were at that point revealed—would have struck the slowest imagination. However, Hazlitt was born to be a critic,
and we must therefore forgive him. The critic is the eunuch of literature.
I pass from the country of Coleridge's youth to that country whereof he was the poetic conqueror. He revealed Lakeland to the modern world. It was not unknown to the ancients : maidens of the mere were the darlings of old romance; and when I dwelt by Eden, I learnt of a surety that it was the very river which Arthur's father had vainly attempted to turn from its course.
"Let Uther Pendragon do what he can,
Eden shall run where Eden ran.' Although Wordsworth and Southey both dwelt amid the Lakes, and the former did much to make that region his own, it is with Coleridge, above all poets, that we connect their beauty. Certainly Professor Wilson celebrated Windermere in wondrous periods of perfect yet perishable prose; but the Professor, though he loved the Lakes with an infinite love, was not quite a poet.
All that he has written of his beloved vicinage does not equal Coleridge's :
'In Langdale Pike and Witch's Lair,
With a merry peal from Borrowdale.' It was in the year 1848 that I first made acquaintance with Coleridge's country. Fourteen years had the great poet been dead. But I met Wordsworth— Virgilium tantum ridi. Henry Crabb Robinson was with him at the time. Less than two years had passed when the great poet died; and the recollection of those brief hours in his presence will never pass from me so long as my memory endures. I remember the sacred splendour, the lambent light of his eyes beneath overhanging brows; I remember the boyish delight wherewith, in his sixteenth lustrum, the old poet welcomed a boyish admirer ; I remember his showing me his favourite views, his favourite laurel-trees, all planted from slips taken by his own hand from those which Petrarch set around Virgil's tomb; I remember how sorrowful he seemed at the thought that after his death Rydal Mount might be occupied by those who would not recognise the name of Wordsworth. Lighter things I remember. Among them, that I myself should have some difficulty in obtaining poetic repute, seeing that my name had been made illustrious by the author of certain odes which are among the most beautiful in the language. Also the great poet's critical judgments on Southey and Macaulay. Southey, he thought, had written one tolerable poem, that on th: holly-tree; and even in that there was a blemish in the very first line. Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome should have been called Lays of Modern Athens; they were utterly untrue, both in character and costume; they were Scotch, not Roman.
Ah, full well do I love Coleridge's country, the region of the Lakes! Nowhere in the world, I think, is such perfection of beauty enclosed within such narrow limits. Marvellous are its varieties. The right way to enter it in the old coaching days was to cross the sands of Morecambe Bay at low water, and take a conveyance from Ulverstone to Newby Bridge, whence a gay little lake steamer would take you up Windermere. But now there is a railway across those sands; and the traveller no longer sees the moving groups of pilgrims walking briskly over the almost level space which the sea will soon reclaim, and obliged to wade where some river or stream makes a channel in the roadway. Where the Kent and the Leven made their way over the sands the buxom peasant-girls were wont to wade, highkilted, and innocently unconscious. All that the railway has destroyed, no doubt. The journey had in those days the piquancy of peril ; for the incoming tide rushes up those slightly sloping sands faster than a horse can gallop, and many a luckless traveller has been caught by the wave ; but now you are only too safe. Mr. Bright says a man is safer in a first-class railway carriage than anywhere else in the world -safer than in the House of Commons, or even at church. So some of the temptations to take the Ulverstone route to Windermere have passed away. Between
Winding Winandermere, the river-lake,' and the Red Tarn on Helvellyn, how wide the difference! The sinuous stream, twelve miles long, alive from south to north with yachts and steamers, with many beautiful islands resting on its waters, with superb mansions on its marge, and a ferry crossing it just before you reach Bowness, is in strange contrast with the lonely Red Tarn, more than 2000 feet high on the giant shoulder of Helvellyn, mysterious beneath a sombre precipice : and between the two extremes there are infinite gradations. I cannot go through the gamut of meres. Sometimes the memory of wild and stormy Wastwater haunts me; sometimes a thought of placid Grasmere, round which I have walked, listening to Wordsworth’s pregnant converse, in days ere I deigned to write mere prose. Ah, that was a magical time !—but I was unconscious of its delight. Wordsworth sleeps in the shadow of Grasmere church ; and I no longer can sing, as I sang in happy youth :
* Dream, dream, heart of my own love!
Sweet is the breath of the odorous South ;
Sweet is a kiss of thy ruddy young mouth.'