The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Part 4 out of 5
These were characteristic beauties, that shone forth in Coleridge, and
were deeply felt by all who were attached to him.
With regard to the charge made by Mr. De Quincey, of Coleridge's so
borrowing the property of other writers as to be guilty of 'petty
larceny'; with equal justice might we accuse the bee which flies from
flower to flower in quest of food, and which, by means of the instinct
bestowed upon it by the all-wise Creator, extracts its nourishment from
the field and the garden, but 'digests' and 'elaborates' it by its own
Coleridge 'began' the use of opium from bodily pain (rheumatism), and
for the same reason 'continued' it, till he had acquired a habit too
difficult under his own management to control. To him it was the thorn
in the flesh, which will be seen in the following notes
"I have never loved evil for its own sake: no! nor ever sought
pleasure for its own sake, but only as the means of escaping from
pains that coiled around my mental powers, as a serpent around the
body and wings of an eagle! My sole sensuality was 'not' to be in
'Note from Pocket Book, "The History of my own mind for my own
improvement," Dec. 23, 1804.'
"I wrote a few stanzas  three and twenty years ago, soon after my
eyes had been opened to the true nature of the habit into which I had
been ignorantly deluded by the seeming magic effects of opium, in the
sudden removal of a supposed rheumatic affection, attended with
swellings in my knees, and palpitations of the heart, and pains all
over me, by which I had been bed-ridden for nearly six months.
Unhappily, among my neighbour's and landlord's books were a large
parcel of medical reviews and magazines. I had always a fondness (a
common case, but most mischievous turn with reading men who are at all
dyspeptic) for dabbling in medical writings; and in one of these
reviews I met a case, which I fancied very like my own, in which a
cure had been effected by the Kendal Black Drop. In an evil hour I
procured it:--it worked miracles--the swellings disappeared, the pains
vanished; I was all alive, and all around me being as ignorant as
myself, nothing could exceed my triumph. I talked of nothing else,
prescribed the newly-discovered panacea for all complaints, and
carried a bottle about with me, not to lose any opportunity of
administering 'instant relief and speedy cure' to all complainers,
stranger or friend, gentle or simple. Need I say that my own apparent
convalescence was of no long continuance; but what then?--the remedy
was at hand and infallible. Alas! it is with a bitter smile, a laugh
of gall and bitterness, that I recall this period of unsuspecting
delusion, and how I first became aware of the Maelstrom, the fatal
whirlpool, to which I was drawing just when the current was already
beyond my strength to stem. The state of my mind is truly portrayed in
the following effusion, for God knows! that from that moment I was the
victim of pain and terror, nor had I at any time taken the flattering
poison as a stimulus, or for any craving after pleasurable sensations.
I needed none; and oh! with what unutterable sorrow did I read the
'Confessions of an Opium-eater,' in which the writer with morbid
vanity, makes a boast of what was my misfortune, for he had been
faithfully and with an agony of zeal warned of the gulf, and yet
wilfully struck into the current!--Heaven be merciful to him!"
"Oh! (will a vain imagination whisper) that in the outset of life I
could have 'felt' as well as known the consequences of sin and error
before their tyranny had commenced! Though, compared with the average
of my fellow men, not a sinful man, yet I feel enough to be assured
that few indeed are there who might not from their sins or sinful
infirmities gain a tongue of flame, wherewith to warn men of the
deadly poison of all, even the least offence. Of all divines, Luther
felt most deeply the terrors of the LAW; and for that reason, the
unutterable goodness and love of the dispensation of grace!--To be one
with God the Father--an awful thought beyond all utterance of the awe
which it inspires, but by no means wild or mystical. On the contrary,
all our experience moves in this direction. In reason, in science, who
shall set bounds to the possible progress of man, as long as he is no
longer in himself, but in the truth and power of truth. The moment
that disease reduces himself to himself, the sage who was able to
weigh the planets, and foresee their movements centuries and
millenniums to come, trembles in his ignorance of the next five
minutes, whether it shall be pain and terror, or relief and respite,
and in spirit falls on his knees and prays. Prayer is the mediation,
or rather the effort to connect the misery of self with the
blessedness of God; and its voice is--Mercy! mercy! for Christ's sake,
in whom thou hast opened out the fountain of mercy to sinful man. It
is a sore evil to be, and not in God; but it is a still more dreadful
evil and misery to will to be other than in God; and yet in every act,
in which the gratification of the sensual life is the 'ultimate end',
is the manifestation of such a will. Imagine a----, first in his
noblest hours, in the laboratory or the observatory--an unfolder and
discoverer--and then on a sick bed, from the consequences of his own
indiscretions. Place both states of the same man, that of the spirit
and that of the self-seeking self, clearly and in detail before your
mind:--if you can do this, you need no more."
'January 7, 1830'.
"There is a passage in the Samson Agonistes, in which Milton is
supposed on sufficient grounds to have referred to himself, that in
which the chorus speaks of strictly temperate man 'causelessly
suffering' the pains and penances of inordinate days. O! what would I
not give to be able to utter with truth this complaint! O! if he had
or rather if he 'could' have presented to himself truly and vividly
the aggravation of those pains, which the conscience of their having
originated in errors and weaknesses of his own. I do not say that he
would not have complained of his sufferings, for who can be in those
most trying sufferances of miserable sensations and not complain of
them, but his groans for the pain would have been blended with
thanksgivings to the sanctifying Spirit. Even under the direful yoke
of the necessity of daily poisoning by narcotics it is somewhat less
horrible, through the knowledge that it was not from any craving for
pleasurable animal excitement, but from pain, delusion, error, of the
worst ignorance, medical sciolism, and when (alas! too late the plea
of error was removed from my eyes,) from terror and utter perplexity
and infirmity;--sinful infirmity, indeed, but yet not a wilful
sinfulness that I brought my neck under it. Oh, may the God to whom I
look for mercy through Christ, show mercy on the author of the
'Confessions of an Opium Eater,' if, as I have too strong reason to
believe, his book has been the occasion of seducing others into this
withering vice through wantonness. From this aggravation I have, I
humbly trust, been free, as far as acts of my free will and intention
are concerned; even to the author of that work I pleaded with flowing
tears, and with an agony of forewarning. He utterly denied it, but I
fear that I had even then to 'deter' perhaps not to forewarn. My own
contrasted feelings soon after I saw the Maelstrom to which the
current was absorbing me, are written in one of my paper books." 
'Jan. 7, 1830'.
Having referred to the accusations of plagiarism brought against
Coleridge, it will not, I trust, be deemed inappropriate, to introduce
from the British Magazine, No. 37, the concluding part of a critique
ably written by the Rev. Julius Hare, who has selected with great
discrimination several passages from the "Friend," which must come home
to the heart of every good man, and this I feel the more impelled to do,
as it is a moral lesson to biographers--perhaps to us all:
"An inquisitiveness into the minutest circumstances and casual sayings
of eminent contemporaries is indeed quite natural: but so are all our
follies: and the more natural they are the more caution should we
exert in guarding against them. To scribble trifles, even on the
perishable glass of an inn window, is the mark of an idler: but to
engrave them on the marble monument sacred to the memory of the
departed great, is something worse than idleness. The spirit of
genuine biography is in nothing more conspicuous than in the firmness
with which it withstands the cravings of worthless curiosity, as
distinguished from the thirst after useful knowledge. For in the first
place, such anecdotes as derive their whole and sole interest from the
great name of the person concerning whom they are related, and neither
illustrate his general character nor his particular actions, would
scarcely have been noticed or remembered, except by men of weak minds.
It is not unlikely, therefore, that they were misapprehended at the
time; and it is most probable that they have been related as
incorrectly, as they were noticed injudiciously. Nor are the
consequences of such garrulous biography merely negative. For as
insignificant stories can derive no real respectability from the
eminence of the person who happens to be the subject of them, but
rather an additional deformity of disproportion, they are apt to have
their insipidity seasoned by the same bad passions that accompany the
habit of gossiping in general: and the misapprehensions of weak men,
meeting with the misinterpretations of malignant men, have not seldom
formed the ground work of the most grievous calamities. In the second
place, those trifles are subversive of the great end of biography,
which is to fix the attention and to interest the feelings of men on
those qualities and actions which have made a particular life worthy
of being recorded. It is no doubt the duty of an honest biographer to
portray the prominent imperfections as well as excellencies of his
hero. But I am at a loss to conceive how this can be deemed an excuse
for heaping together a multitude of particulars, which can prove
nothing of any man, that might not be safely taken for granted of all
men. In the present age--emphatically the age of personality--there
are more than ordinary motives for withholding all encouragement from
the mania of busying ourselves with the names of others, which is
still more alarming as a symptom, than it is troublesome as a disease.
The reader must be still less acquainted with contemporary literature
than myself, if he needs me to inform him that there are men who,
trading in the silliest anecdotes, in unprovoked abuse and senseless
eulogy, think themselves nevertheless employed both worthily and
honourably if only all this be done in good set terms, and from the
press, and of public characters,--a class which has increased so
rapidly of late, that it becomes difficult to discover what characters
are to be considered as private. Alas! if these wretched misusers of
language and the means of giving wings to thought, and of multiplying
the presence of an individual mind, had ever known how great a thing
the possession of any one simple truth is, and how mean a thing a mere
fact is, except as seen in the light of some comprehensive truth--if
they had but once experienced the unborrowed complacency, the inward
independence, the homebred strength, with which every clear conception
of the reason is accompanied,--they would shrink from their own pages
as at the remembrance of a crime.--For a crime it is (and the man who
hesitates in pronouncing it such, must be ignorant of what mankind owe
to books, what he himself owes to them in spite of his ignorance) thus
to introduce the spirit of vulgar scandal, and personal inquietude
into the closet and the library, environing with evil passions the
very sanctuaries to which we should flee for refuge from them. For to
what do these publications appeal, whether they present themselves as
biography or as anonymous criticism, but to the same feelings which
the scandal bearers, and time-killers of ordinary life seem to gratify
in themselves and their listeners; and both the authors and admirers
of such publications, in what respect are they less truants and
deserters from their own hearts, and from their appointed task of
understanding and amending them, than the most garrulous female
chronicler of the goings-on of yesterday in the families of her
neighbours and townsfolk?
'As to my own attempt to record the life and character of the late Sir
Alexander Ball, I consider myself deterred from all circumstances not
pertaining to his conduct or character as a public functionary, that
involve the names of the living for good or for evil. Whatever facts
and incidents I relate of a private nature must, for the most part,
concern Sir Alexander Ball exclusively, and as an insulated
individual. But I needed not this restraint. It will be enough for me,
as I write, to recollect the form and character of Sir Alexander Ball
himself, to represent to my own feelings the inward contempt with
which he would have abstracted his mind from worthless anecdotes and
petty personalities; a contempt rising into indignation if ever an
illustrious name were used as a thread to string them upon. If this
recollection be my Socratic Demon, to warn and to check me, I shall,
on the other hand, derive encouragement from the remembrance of the
tender patience, the sweet gentleness, with which he was wont to
tolerate the tediousness of well meaning men; and the inexhaustible
attention, the unfeigned interest, with which he would listen for
hours, when the conversation appealed to reason, and like the bee,
made honey, while it murmured.'
I have transcribed this passage from the original edition of the
Friend, No. 21, and not from the reprint, where it stands in vol. ii.
pp. 303-307; because in the latter, the last paragraph, in itself a
beautiful one, and to our present purpose particularly appropriate, is
left out. For if Coleridge could imagine 'the inward contempt with
which Sir Alexander Ball would have abstracted his mind from worthless
anecdotes and petty personalities,--a contempt rising into
indignation, if ever an illustrious name was used as a thread to
string them on,' well may those who knew Coleridge conceive the grief,
the grief and pity, he would have felt, at seeing eminent powers and
knowledge employed in ministering to the wretched love of
gossip--retailing paltry anecdotes in dispraise of others,
intermingled with outflowings of self-praise--and creeping into the
secret chambers of great men's houses to filch out materials for
tattle--at seeing great powers wasting and debasing themselves in such
an ignoble task--above all, at seeing that the person who thus wasted
and debased them was a scholar, and a philosopher whose talents he
admired, with whom he had lived familiarly, and whom he had honoured
with his friendship."
There is one part of Coleridge's character not to be passed by, although
so overlaid by his genius as rarely to be noticed, namely, his love of
humour and of wit, of which be possessed so large a share. As punsters,
his dear friend Lamb and himself were inimitable. Lamb's puns had
oftener more effect, from the impediment in his speech their force
seemed to be increased by the pause of stuttering, and to shoot forth
like an arrow from a strong bow--but being never poisoned nor envenomed,
they left no pain behind. Coleridge was more humorous than witty in
making puns--and in repartee, he was, according to modern phraseology,
"smart and clever." Staying a few days with two friends at a farm-house,
they agreed to visit a race-course in the neighbourhood. The farmer
brought from his stud a horse low in stature, and still lower in
flesh--a bridle corresponding in respectability of appearance, with a
saddle equally suitable--stirrups once bright, but now deeply
discoloured by rust. All this was the contrivance of the farmer, and
prudently intended for his safety. He had heard previously of
Coleridge's want of skill in riding, and had therefore provided him with
a beast not likely to throw him. On this Rosinante the poet mounted, in
his accustomed dress, namely, a black coat, black breeches, with black
silk stockings and shoes. His friends being trusted with more active
steeds, soon outstripped him. Jogging on leisurely he was met by a
long-nosed knowing-looking man, attired in a 'sporting' dress, and an
excellent equestrian. Seeing this whimsical horseman in shoes, he
writhed, as Coleridge observed, his lithe proboscis, and thus accosted
Pray, sir, did you meet a tailor along the road?"
"A tailor?" answered Coleridge; "yes!"
"Do you see, sir! he rode just such a horse as you ride! and for all the
world was just like you!"
"Oh! oh!" answered Coleridge, "I did meet a person answering such a
description, who told me he had dropped his goose, that if I rode a
little farther I should find it; and I guess by the arch-fellow's looks,
he must have meant you."
"Caught a tartar!" replied the man, and suddenly spurring his horse,
left him to pursue his road. At length Coleridge reached the
race-course, when threading his way through the crowd, he arrived at the
spot of attraction to which all were hastening. Here he confronted a
barouche and four, filled with smart ladies and attendant gentlemen. In
it was also seated a baronet of sporting celebrity, steward of the
course, and member of the House of Commons, well known as having been
bought and sold in several parliaments. The baronet eyed the figure of
Coleridge as he slowly passed the door of the barouche, and thus
"A pretty piece of blood, sir, you have there?"
"Yes!" answered Coleridge.
"Rare paces, I have no doubt, sir!"
"Yes," said Coleridge he brought me here a matter of four miles an
He was at no loss to perceive the honourable member's drift, who wished
to shew off before the ladies: so he quietly waited the opportunity of a
"What a fore-hand he has!" continued Nimrod, "how finely he carries his
tail! Bridle and saddle well suited! and appropriately appointed!"
"Yes," said Coleridge.
"Will you sell him?" asked the sporting baronet.
"Yes!" was the answer, "if I can have my price."
"Name your price, then, putting the rider into the bargain!"
This was too pointed to be passed over by a simple answer, and Coleridge
"My price for the 'horse, sir', if I sell him, is 'one hundred'
guineas,--as to the 'rider', never having been in parliament, and never
intending to go, 'his' price is not yet fixed."
The baronet sat down more suddenly than he had risen--the ladies began
to titter--while Coleridge quietly left him to his chagrin, and them to
the enjoyment of their mirth.
We are now arrived at that period of Coleridge's life, in which it may
be said, he received his first great warning of approaching danger. But
it will be necessary to review his previous state of health. From
childhood he discovered strong symptoms of a feeble stomach. As observed
in the account of his school experience, when compelled to turn over the
shoes in the shoe closet, exhausted by the fatigue, and overpowered by
the scent, he suffered so much, that in after years the very remembrance
almost made him shudder. Then his frequent bathing in the New River was
an imprudence so injurious in its consequences, as to place him for
nearly twelve months in the sick ward in the hospital of the school,
with rheumatism connected with jaundice. These, to a youthful
constitution, were matters of so serious a nature, as to explain to
those acquainted with disease the origin and cause of his subsequent
bodily sufferings. His sensitiveness was consequent on these, and so was
his frequent incapability of continuous sedentary employment--an
employment requiring far stronger health in an individual whose
intellectual powers were ever at work. When overwhelmed at College, by
that irresistible alarm and despondency which caused him to leave it,
and to enlist as a soldier in the army, he continued in such a state of
bodily ailment as to be deprived of the power of stooping, so that
'Cumberback',--a thing unheard of before,--was compelled to depute
another to perform this part of his duty. On his voyage to Malta, he had
complained of suffering from shortness of breath; and on returning to
his residence at the Lakes, his difficulty of breathing and his
rheumatism increased to a great degree. About the year 1809, ascending
Skiddaw with his younger son, he was suddenly seized in the chest, and
so overpowered as to attract the notice of the child. After the relation
of these circumstances to some medical friend, he was advised by him not
to bathe in the sea. The love, however, which he had from a boy, for
going into the water, he retained till a late period of life. Strongly
impressed with this feeling, he seems to have written the poem, entitled
"On Revisiting the Sea Shore:"
"Dissuading spake the mild physician,
Those briny waves for thee are death,
But my soul fulfilled her mission,
And lo! I breathe untroubled breath." 
In the year 1810, he left the Lakes, in company with Mr. Basil Montagu,
whose affectionate regard for Mr. Coleridge, though manifested upon
every occasion, was more particularly shown in seasons of difficulty and
affliction. By Coleridge, Mr. Montagu's friendship was deeply felt,--and
his gentle manners and unremitted kindness had the most soothing effect
upon the sensitive and grateful mind of Coleridge. He remained for some
time at Mr. Montagu's house. He afterwards resided at Hammersmith, with
an amiable and common friend of his and Mr. Southey's,--Mr. Morgan, with
whom they had formed an intimacy in Bristol. Whilst here he delivered a
course of lectures at the London Philosophical Society. The prospectus
was as follows:
"Mr. Coleridge will commence, on Monday, November 18, 1811, a Course
of Lectures on Shakspeare and Milton, in illustration of the
principles of poetry, and their application, as grounds of criticism,
to the most popular works of later English Poets, those of the living
included. After an introductory lecture on False Criticism (especially
in poetry), and on its causes; two thirds of the remaining course will
1st, to a philosophical analysis, and explanation of all the principal
'characters' of our great dramatist, as Othello, Falstaff, Richard the
Third, Iago, Hamlet, &c.; and
2nd, to a critical 'comparison' of Shakspeare, in respect of diction,
imagery, management of the passions, judgment in the construction of
his dramas, in short, of all that belongs to him as a poet, and as a
dramatic poet, with his contemporaries or immediate successors,
Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, Ford, Massinger, &c. in the endeavour
to determine what of Shakspeare's merits and defects are common to
him, with other writers of the same age, and what remain peculiar to
his own genius.
The course will extend to fifteen lectures, which will be given on
Monday and Thursday evenings successively."
Mr. Coleridge afterwards delivered another course of lectures at the
Royal Institution. Dr. Dibdin, one of his auditors, gives the following
account of the lecturer: 
"It was during my constant and familiar intercourse with Sir T.
Bernard, while 'The Director' was going on, that I met the celebrated
Mr. Coleridge--himself a lecturer. He was not a 'constant'
lecturer--not in constant harness like others for the business of the
day. Indisposition was generally preying upon him,  and habitual
indolence would now and then frustrate the performance of his own
better wishes. I once came from Kensington in a snow-storm, to hear
him lecture upon Shakspeare. I might have sat as wisely and more
comfortably by my own fire-side--for no Coleridge appeared. And this I
think occurred more than once at the Royal Institution. I shall never
forget the effect his conversation made upon me at the first meeting.
It struck me as something not only quite out of the ordinary course of
things, but as an intellectual exhibition altogether matchless. The
viands were unusually costly, and the banquet was at once rich and
varied; but there seemed to be no dish like Coleridge's conversation
to feed upon--and no information so varied and so instructive as his
own. The orator rolled himself up, as it were, in his chair, and gave
the most unrestrained indulgence to his speech, and how fraught with
acuteness and originality was that speech, and in what copious and
eloquent periods did it flow! The auditors seemed to be rapt in wonder
and delight, as one conversation, more profound or clothed in more
forcible language than another, fell from his tongue. A great part of
the subject discussed at the first time of my meeting Mr. Coleridge,
was the connexion between Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton. The speaker
had been secretary to Sir Alexander Ball, governor of Malta--and a
copious field was here afforded for the exercise of his colloquial
eloquence. For nearly two hours he spoke with unhesitating and
uninterrupted fluency. As I retired homewards (to Kensington), I
thought a second Johnson had visited the earth, to make wise the sons
of men; and regretted that I could not exercise the powers of a second
Boswell, to record the wisdom and the eloquence which had that evening
flowed from the orator's lips. It haunted me as I retired to rest. It
drove away slumber: or if I lapsed into sleep, there was
Coleridge--his snuffbox, and his 'kerchief before my eyes!--his mildly
beaming looks--his occasionally deep tone of voice--and the excited
features of his physiognomy.--The manner of Coleridge was rather
emphatic than dogmatic, and thus he was generally and satisfactorily
listened to. It might be said of Coleridge, as Cowper has so happily
said of Sir Philip Sidney, that he was 'the warbler of poetic prose.'
There was always 'this' characteristic feature in his multifarious
conversation--it was delicate, reverend, and courteous. The chastest
ear could drink in no startling sound; the most serious believer never
had his bosom ruffled by one sceptical or reckless assertion.
Coleridge was eminently simple in his manner. Thinking and speaking
were his delight; and he would sometimes seem, during the more fervid
movements of discourse, to be abstracted from all and every thing
around and about him, and to be basking in the sunny warmth of his own
The manuscript of 'The Remorse' was sent to Mr. Sheridan, who did not
even acknowledge the receipt of the letter which accompanied the drama;
he however observed to a friend, that he had received a play from
Coleridge, but that there was one extraordinary line in the Cave Scene,
'drip, drip'--which he could not understand: "in short," said he, "it is
all dripping." This was the only notice he took of the play; but the
comment was at length repeated to the author, through the medium of a
third party. The theatre falling afterwards into the hands of Lord Byron
and Mr. Whitbread, his Lordship sent for Coleridge, was very kind to his
brother poet, and requested that the play might be represented: this
desire was complied with, and it received his support. Although Mr.
Whitbread  did not give it the advantage of a single new scene, yet
the popularity of the play was such, that the principal actor, who had
performed in it with great success, made choice of it for his
benefit-night, and it brought an overflowing house. 
In consequence of the interest Lord Byron took in the success of this
tragedy, Coleridge was frequently in his company, and on one occasion,
in my presence, his Lordship said, "Coleridge, there is one passage in
your poems, I have parodied fifty times, and I hope to live long enough
to parody it five hundred." That passage I do not remember; but it may
strike some reader.
In a letter of Coleridge's to a friend, written April 10th, 1816, he
thus speaks of Byron:
"If you had seen Lord Byron, you could scarcely disbelieve him--so
beautiful a countenance I scarcely ever saw--his teeth so many
stationary smiles--his eyes the open portals of the sun--things of
light, and for light--and his forehead so ample, and yet so flexible,
passing from marble smoothness into a hundred wreathes and lines and
dimples correspondent to the feelings and sentiments he is uttering."
Coleridge, in the preface to 'The Remorse', states that the
"tragedy was written in the summer and autumn of the year 1797, at
Nether Stowey, in the county of Somerset. By whose recommendation, and
of the manner in which both the play and the author were treated by
the recommender, let me be permitted to relate: that I knew of its
having been received only from a third person; that I could procure
neither answer nor the manuscript; and that but for an accident, I
should have had no copy of the work itself. That such treatment would
damp a young man's exertions may be easily conceived: there was no
need of after-misrepresentation and calumny, as an additional
Coleridge contributed many pieces to Southey's 'Omniana', (all marked
with an asterisk,) and was engaged in other literary pursuits; he had
notwithstanding much bodily suffering. The 'cause' of this was the
organic change slowly and gradually taking place in the structure of the
heart itself. But it was so masked by other sufferings, though at times
creating despondency, and was so generally overpowered by the excitement
of animated conversation, as to leave its real cause undiscovered. 
Notwithstanding this sad state, he rolled forth volumes from a mind ever
active--at times intensely so,--still he required the support of those
sympathies which "free the hollow heart from paining."
Soon after the performance of 'The Remorse', he retired with his kind
friend, Mr. Morgan, to the village of Calne, partly to be near the Rev.
W.L. Bowles, whose sonnets so much attracted his attention in early
life. While residing here, he opened a communication with Mr. Gutch, a
bookseller, at Bristol, and in consequence, he collected the poems
published by the title of 'The Sibylline Leaves', and also composed the
greater part of the 'Biographia Literaria'. Here he likewise dictated to
his friend, Mr. Morgan, the 'Zapolya', which was submitted to Mr.
Douglas Kinnaird, who was then the critic for Drury Lane.--Mr. Kinnaird
rejected the play, assigning some ludicrous objections to the
metaphysics. The subject is alluded to by Coleridge at the end of the
Biographia Literaria, and with that allusion I close the present chapter:
O we are querulous creatures! Little less
Than all things can suffice to make us happy:
And little more than nothing is enough
To make us wretched.
Alas! for myself at least I know and feel, that wherever there is a
wrong not to be forgiven, there is a grief that admits neither of cure
'Private Record, 1806.']
[Footnote 2: It appears that Mr. Alexander Macauley, the secretary, an
honest and amiable man, died suddenly, without "moan or motion," and
Coleridge filled his situation till the arrival of a new secretary,
appointed and confirmed by the ministers in England.]
[Footnote 3: 1805.
"For months past so incessantly employed in official tasks,
subscribing, examining, administering oaths, auditing," &c.]
[Footnote 4: April 22, 1804.
"I was reading when I was taken ill, and felt an oppression of my
breathing, and convulsive snatching in my stomach and limbs. Mrs.
Ireland noticed this laborious breathing."]
[Footnote 5: I would fain request the reader to peruse the poem,
entitled "A Tombless Epitaph," to be found in Coleridge's 'Poetical
Works', 1834, page 200.]
[Footnote 6: Coleridge when asked what was the difference between fame
and reputation, would familiarly reply, "Fame is the fiat of the good
and wise," and then with energy would quote the following beautiful
lines from Milton:--
Fame is no plant that grows on mortal soil,
Nor in the glistering foil
Set off to the world, nor in broad rumour lies:
But lives and spreads aloft by those pure eyes,
And perfect witness of all-judging Jove;
As he pronounces lastly on each deed,
Of so much fame in Heaven expect thy meed.
[Footnote 7: "The following memoranda written in pencil, and apparently
as he journeyed along, but now scarcely legible, may perhaps have an
interest for some readers:--
"Sunday, December 15th, 1805.
"Naples, view of Vesuvius, the Hail-mist--Torre del Greco--bright amid
darkness--the mountains above it flashing here and there from their
snows; but Vesuvius, it had not thinned as I have seen at Keswick, but
the air so consolidated with the massy cloud curtain, that it appeared
like a mountain in basso relievo, in an interminable wall of some
[Footnote 8: The order for Coleridge's arrest had already been sent
from Paris, but his escape was so contrived by the good old Pope, as to
defeat the intended indulgence of the Tyrant's vindictive appetite,
which would have preyed equally on a Duc D'Enghien, and a contributor to
a public journal. In consequence of Mr. Fox having asserted in the House
of Commons, that the rupture of the Truce of Amiens had its origin in
certain essays written in the Morning Post, which were soon known to
have been Coleridge's, and that he was at Rome within reach, the ire of
Buonaparte was immediately excited.]
[Footnote 9: Though his Note Books are full of memoranda, not an entry
or date of his arrival at Rome is to be found. To Rome itself and its
magnificence, he would often refer in conversation. Unfortunately there
is not a single document to recall the beautiful images he would place
before your mind in perspective, when inspired by the remembrance of its
wonder-striking and splendid objects. He however preserved some short
essays, which he wrote when in Malta, Observations on Sicily, Cairo, &c.
&c. political and statistical, which will probably form part of the
literary remains in train of publication.
Malta, on a first view of the subject, seemed to present a situation so
well fitted for a landing place, that it was intended to have adopted
this mode, as in 'The Friend', of dividing the present memoir; but
this loss of MS. and the breaches of continuity, render it
[Footnote 10: At this time all his writings were strongly tinctured with
[Footnote 11: Each party claimed him as their own; for party without
principles must ever be shifting, and therefore they found his opinions
sometimes in accordance with their own, and sometimes at variance. But
he was of no party--his views were purely philosophical.]
[Footnote 12: The character of Buonaparte was announced in the same
[Footnote 13: Those who spoke after Pitt were Wilberforce, Tierney,
[Footnote 14: This speech of Mr. Pitt's is extracted from the 'Morning
Post', February 18th, 1800.]
[Footnote 15: The following exquisite image on Leighton was found in one
of Coleridge's note books, and is also inserted in his Literary
"Next to the inspired Scriptures, yea, and as the vibration of that
once struck hour remaining on the air, stands Archbishop Leighton's
commentary on the first epistle of Peter."]
[Footnote 16: In his later days, Mr. Coleridge would have renounced the
opinions and the incorrect reasoning of this letter].
[Footnote 17: Article ii.
The Son which is the word of the Father, 'begotten' from
Everlasting of the Father, &c.
The Holy Ghost 'proceeding' from the Father and the Son, &c.]
[Footnote 18: It was a favourite citation with Mr. Coleridge,
"I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one."
Vide St. John, xvii. 2.]
[Footnote 19: At Mr. Poole's house, Mr. De Quincey remained two days. Of
his visit he gives a full account; at the same time charging Coleridge
with the meanness of plagiarism, but which charges since their
publication have been ably refuted in an article in the British
Magazine, signed J.C.H. Vide No. 37, page 15.]
[Footnote 20: Vide 'Tait's Magazine', No. 8.]
[Footnote 21: These have not been found.]
[Footnote 22: This little Paper Book has not yet been found.]
[Footnote 23: In the 'Quarterly Review' for July, 1837, will be
found an able article on the 'Literary Remains of S.T. Coleridge,'
and on "Mr. Cottle's Early Recollections," in which are extracted these
very paragraphs from the "Friend," but which had been sent to the press
before this number appeared.]
[Footnote 24: This poem is supposed to have been written in 1813, when
on a visit to some friends at Bexhill, Sussex.]
[Footnote 25: 'Reminiscences of a Literary Life', Vol. i. p. 253.]
[Footnote 26: If "indisposition were generally preying upon him," as at
this time was indeed the fact, could this occasional failure in the
delivery of a lecture (though naturally very disappointing to his
audience,) be fairly attributed to indolence?]
[Footnote 27: About this time, when party spirit was running high,
Coleridge was known to be the author of the following Jeu d'Esprit,
"Dregs half way up and froth half way down, form Whitbread's Entire."]
[Footnote 28: It was Mr. Rae who took it for his benefit, some time
after Mr. Coleridge's residence at Highgate.]
"'My heart', or 'some part' about it, seems breaking, as if
a weight were suspended from it that stretches it, such is the
'bodily feeling', as far as I can express it by words."
Letter addressed to Mr. Morgan.]
COLERIDGE'S ARRIVAL AT HIGHGATE--PUBLICATION OF CHRISTABEL--BIOGRAPHIA
I now approach one of the most eventful epochs in the Life of Coleridge,
and, I may well add, of my own.
In the year 1816, the following letter was addressed to me by a
Hatton Garden, 9th April, 1816.
A very learned, but in one respect an unfortunate gentleman, has
applied to me on a singular occasion. He has for several years been in
the habit of taking large quantities of opium. For some time past, he
has been in vain endeavouring to break himself off it. It is
apprehended his friends are not firm enough, from a dread, lest he
should suffer by suddenly leaving it off, though he is conscious of
the contrary; and has proposed to me to submit himself to any regimen,
however severe. With this view, he wishes to fix himself in the house
of some medical gentleman, who will have courage to refuse him any
laudanum, and under whose assistance, should he be the worse for it,
he may be relieved. As he is desirous of retirement, and a garden, I
could think of no one so readily as yourself. Be so good as to inform
me, whether such a proposal is absolutely inconsistent with your
family arrangements. I should not have proposed it, but on account of
the great importance of the character, as a literary man. His
communicative temper will make his society very interesting, as well
as useful. Have the goodness to favour me with an immediate answer;
and believe me, dear sir, your faithful humble servant,
I had seen the writer of this letter but twice in my life, and had no
intention of receiving an inmate into my house. I however determined on
seeing Dr. Adams, for whether the person referred to had taken opium
from choice or necessity, to me he was equally an object of
commiseration and interest. Dr. Adams informed me that the patient had
been warned of the danger of discontinuing opium by several eminent
medical men, who, at the same time, represented the frightful
consequences that would most probably ensue. I had heard of the failure
of Mr. Wilberforce's case, under an eminent physician at Bath, in
addition to which, the doctor gave me an account of several others
within his own knowledge. After some further conversation it was agreed
that Dr. Adams should drive Coleridge to Highgate the following evening.
On the following evening came Coleridge 'himself' and alone. An old
gentleman, of more than ordinary acquirements, was sitting by the
fireside when he entered.--We met, indeed, for the first time, but as
friends long since parted, and who had now the happiness to see each
other again. Coleridge took his seat--his manner, his appearance, and
above all, his conversation were captivating. We listened with delight,
and upon the first pause, when courtesy permitted, my visitor withdrew,
saying in a low voice, "I see by your manners, an old friend has
arrived, and I shall therefore retire." Coleridge proposed to come the
following evening, but he 'first' informed me of the painful
opinion which he had received concerning his case, especially from one
medical man of celebrity. The tale was sad, and the opinion given
unprofessional and cruel--sufficient to have deterred most men so
afflicted from making the attempt Coleridge was contemplating, and in
which his whole soul was so deeply and so earnestly engaged. In the
course of our conversation, he repeated some exquisite but desponding
lines of his own. It was an evening of painful and pleasurable feeling,
which I can never forget. We parted with each other, understanding in a
few minutes what perhaps under different circumstances, would have cost
many hours to arrange; and I looked with impatience for the morrow,
still wondering at the apparent chance that had brought him under my
roof. I felt indeed almost spell-bound, without the desire of release.
My situation was new, and there was something affecting in the thought,
that one of such amiable manners, and at the same time so highly gifted,
should seek comfort and medical aid in our quiet home. Deeply
interested, I began to reflect seriously on the duties imposed upon me,
and with anxiety to expect the approaching day. It brought me the
42, Norfolk Street, Strand, Saturday Noon.
[April 13, 1816.]
"MY DEAR SIR,
The first half hour I was with you convinced me that I should owe my
reception into your family exclusively to motives not less flattering
to me than honourable to yourself. I trust we shall ever in matters of
intellect be reciprocally serviceable to each other. Men of sense
generally come to the same conclusions; but they are likely to
contribute to each other's enlargement of view, in proportion to the
distance or even opposition of the points from which they set out.
Travel and the strange variety of situations and employments on which
chance has thrown me, in the course of my life, might have made me a
mere man of 'observation', if pain and sorrow and
self-miscomplacence had not forced my mind in on itself, and so formed
habits of 'meditation'. It is now as much my nature to evolve the
fact from the law, as that of a practical man to deduce the law from
With respect to pecuniary remuneration, allow me to say, I must not at
least be suffered to make any addition to your family expences--
though I cannot offer any thing that would be in any way adequate to
my sense of the service; for that indeed there could not be a
compensation, as it must be returned in kind, by esteem and grateful
And now of myself. My ever wakeful reason, and the keenness of my
moral feelings, will secure you from all unpleasant circumstances
connected with me save only one, viz. the evasion of a specific
madness. You will never 'hear' any thing but truth from
me:--prior habits render it out of my power to tell an untruth, but
unless carefully observed, I dare not promise that I should not, with
regard to this detested poison, be capable of acting one. No sixty
hours have yet passed without my having taken laudanum, though for the
last week comparatively trifling doses. I have full belief that your
anxiety need not be extended beyond the first week, and for the first
week, I shall not, I must not be permitted to leave your house, unless
with you. Delicately or indelicately, this must be done, and both the
servants and the assistant must receive absolute commands from you.
The stimulus of conversation suspends the terror that haunts my mind;
but when I am alone, the horrors I have suffered from laudanum, the
degradation, the blighted utility, almost overwhelm me. If (as I feel
for the 'first time' a soothing confidence it will prove) I
should leave you restored to my moral and bodily health, it is not
myself only that will love and honour you; every friend I have, (and
thank God! in spite of this wretched vice  I have many and warm
ones, who were friends of my youth, and have never deserted me,) will
thank you with reverence. I have taken no notice of your kind
apologies. If I could not be comfortable in your house, and with your
family, I should deserve to be miserable. If you could make it
convenient, I should wish to be with you by Monday evening, as it
would prevent the necessity of taking fresh lodgings in town.
With respectful compliments to Mrs. Gillman and her sister, I remain,
Your much obliged,
On the evening appointed, Coleridge came, bringing in his hand the proof
sheets of 'Christabel', which was now for the first time printed. The
fragment in manuscript was already known to many, for to many had
Coleridge read it, who had listened to it with delight--a delight so
marked that its success seemed certain. But the approbation of those
whom, in the worldly acceptation of the term, we call 'friends', is not
always to be relied upon. Among the most plausible connexions, there is
often a rivalship, both political and literary, which constrains the
sacrifice of sincerity, and substitutes secret for open censure. Of this
melancholy fact Coleridge had seen proof. The Fragment had not long been
published before he was informed, that an individual had been selected
(who was in truth a great admirer of his writings; and whose very life
had been saved through the exertions of Coleridge and Mr. Southey,) to
"'cut up'" Christabel in the Edinburgh Review. The subject being
afterwards mentioned in conversation, the reviewer confessed that he was
the writer of the article, but observed, that as he wrote for the
Edinburgh Review, he was compelled to write in accordance with the
character and tone of that periodical. This confession took place after
he had been extolling the Christabel as the finest poem of its kind in
the language, and ridiculing the public for their want of taste and
discrimination in not admiring it.--Truly has it been said,
"Critics upon all writers there are many,
Planters of truth or knowledge scarcely any."
Sir Walter Scott always spoke in high praise of the Christabel, and more
than once of his obligations to Coleridge; of this we have proof in his
Ivanhoe, in which the lines by Coleridge, entitled "The Knight's Tomb,"
were quoted by Scott before they were published, from which
circumstance, Coleridge was convinced that Sir Walter was the author of
the Waverly Novels. The lines were composed as an experiment for a
metre, and repeated by him to a mutual friend--this gentleman the
following day dined in company with Sir Walter Scott, and spoke of his
visit to Highgate, repeating Coleridge's lines to Scott, and observing
at the same time, that they might be acceptable to the author of
THE KNIGHT'S TOMB.
Where is the grave of Sir Arthur O'Kellyn?
Where may the grave of that good man be?--
By the side of a spring, on the breast of Helvellyn,
Under the twigs of a young birch tree!
The Oak that in summer was sweet to hear,
And rustled its leaves in the fall of the year;
And whistled and roar'd in the winter alone,
Is gone,--and the birch in its stead is grown.--
The Knight's bones are dust,
And his good sword rust;--
His soul is with the saints, I trust.
'Poetical Works', Vol. ii. p. 64.
The late Mr. Sotheby informed me, that, at his house in a large party,
Sir Walter made the following remark:
"I am indebted to Coleridge for the mode of telling a tale by question
and answer. This was a new light to me, and I was greatly struck by
Yet when Sir Walter said this, he must surely have forgotten many of our
ancient and most beautiful ballads, in which the questions are so
significant, and are made to develope the progress of the fable more
clearly than could be affected by the ordinary course of narration. In
fact every lover of our old poetry will recollect a hundred pieces in
which the same form of evolution is observed. Thus in 'Johnie of Breadis
"What news, what news, ye grey-headed carle,
What news bring ye to me?"
And in 'Halbert the Grim':
"There is pity in many,--
Is there any in him?
No! ruth is a strange guest
To Halbert the Grim."
Scott particularly admired Coleridge's management of the supernatural.
The "flesh and blood reality," given to Geraldine, the life, the power
of appearing and disappearing equally by day as by night, constitutes
the peculiar merit of the Christabel: and those poets who admire, and
have reflected much on the supernatural, have ever considered it one of
the greatest efforts of genius. But the effect has ever been degraded by
unnatural combinations. Thus on the stage, where such creations are the
most frequent, it has been the custom for stage-managers to choose
'male' actors for the female parts. In 'Macbeth', men are called on to
stir the caldron and other witcheries requiring muscular power. Again,
when Macbeth listens to those extraordinary beings, who, with muttering
spells, with charms, foreknowledge and incantations imperfectly
announced to him his fate; he, with an air of command, says, "Speak!"
&c. They shew their power, and give their best answer by disappearing.
The manner of representing this is unnatural, as exhibited by our
managers. Coleridge observed, that it would be better to withdraw the
light from the stage, than to exhibit these miserable attempts at
vanishing,  though could the thought have been well executed, he
considered it a master-stroke of Shakspeare's. Yet it should be noticed,
that Coleridge's opinion was, that some of the plays of our
"myriad-minded" bard ought never to be acted, but looked on as poems to
be read, and contemplated; and so fully was he impressed with this
feeling, that in his gayer moments he would often say, "There should be
an Act of Parliament to prohibit their representation."  Here 'he'
excelled: he has no incongruities, no gross illusions. In the management
of the supernatural, the only successful poets among our own countrymen
have been Shakspeare and Coleridge. Scott has treated it well in the
Bride of Lammermoor, and in one or two other works.
Of the Christabel, as now published, Coleridge says, "The first part was
composed in 1797." This was the Annus Mirabilis of this great man; in it
he was in his best and strongest health. He returned from Germany in
1799, and in the year following wrote the 'second' part, in the preface
to which he observes, "Till very lately my poetic powers have been in a
state of suspended animation." The subject indeed remained present to
his mind, though from bad health and other causes, it was left as a mere
fragment of his poetic power. When in health he sometimes said, "This
poem comes upon me with all the loveliness of a vision;" and he
declared, that though contrary to the advice of his friends, he should
finish it: At other times when his bodily powers failed him, he would
then say, "I am reserved for other works than making verse."
In the preface to the Christabel, he makes the following observation:
"It is probable," he says, "that if the poem had been finished at
either of the former periods, 'i.e'. 1797 and 1800, or if even the
first and second part of this fragment had been published in the year
1800, the impression of its originality would have been much greater
than I dare at present expect. But for this, I have only my own
indolence to blame. The dates are mentioned for the exclusive purpose
of precluding charges of plagiarism or servile imitation from myself.
For there is among us a set of critics who seem to hold, that every
possible thought and image is traditional; who have no notion that
there are such things as fountains in the world, small as well as
great; and who would therefore charitably derive every rill, they
behold flowing, from a perforation made in some other man's tank. I am
confident, however, that as far as the present poem is concerned, the
celebrated poets whose writings I might be suspected of having
imitated, either in particular passages, or in the tone and the spirit
of the whole, would be among the first to vindicate me from the
charge, and who, on any striking coincidence, would permit me to
address them in this dogged version of two monkish Latin hexameters:
'Tis mine and it is likewise your's,
But an if this will not do;
Let it be mine, good friend! for I
Am the poorer of the two."
I have only to add, that the metre of the Christabel is not, properly
speaking, irregular, though it may seem so from its being founded on a
new principle; namely, that of counting in each line the accents, not
the syllables. Though the latter may vary from seven to twelve, yet in
each line the accents will be found to be only four. Nevertheless,
this occasional variation in the number of syllables is not introduced
wantonly, or for the mere ends of convenience, but in correspondence
with some transition in the nature of the imagery or passion."
In conversation many of his brother poets would, like the reviewer, echo
his praises, while in secret, they were trying to deprive him of his
It has been said, that "Coleridge never explained the story of
Christabel." To his friends he did explain it; and in the Biographia
Literaria, he has given an account of its origin. 
The story of the Christabel is partly founded on the notion, that the
virtuous of this world save the wicked. The pious and good Christabel
suffers and prays for
"The weal of her lover that is far away,"
exposed to various temptations in a foreign land; and she thus defeats
the power of evil represented in the person of Geraldine. This is one
main object of the tale.
At the opening of the poem all nature is laid under a spell:
'Tis the middle of night by the castle clock,
And the owls have awak'ned the crowing cock;
And hark, again! The crowing cock,
How drowsily it crew--
Sir Leoline, the Baron rich,
Hath a toothless mastiff-bitch,
From her kennel beneath the rock
Maketh answer to the clock,
Four for the quarters, and twelve for the hour;
Ever and aye, by shine and shower,
Sixteen short howls, not over loud;
Some say, she sees my lady's shroud.
Is the night chilly and dark?
The night is chilly, but not dark.
The thin gray cloud is spread on high,
It covers but not hides the sky.
The moon is behind, and at the full;
And yet she looks both small and dull.
The night is chill, the cloud is gray:
'Tis a month before the month of May,
And the Spring comes slowly up this way.
The spell is laid by an evil being, not of this world, with whom
Christabel, the heroine, is about to become connected; and who in the
darkness of the forest is meditating the wreck of all her hopes
The lovely lady, Christabel,
Whom her father loves so well,
What makes her in the wood so late,
A furlong from the castle gate?
She had dreams all yesternight
Of her own betrothed knight;
And she in the midnight wood will pray
For the weal of her lover that's far away.
She stole along, she nothing spoke,
The sighs she heaved were soft and low,
And naught was green upon the oak,
But moss and rarest misletoe:
She kneels beneath the huge oak tree,
And in silence prayeth she.
There are persons who have considered the description of Christabel in
the act of praying, so far from the baron's castle, too great a poetical
license. He was fully aware that all baronial castles had their chapels
and oratories attached to them,--and that in these lawless times, for
such were the middle ages, the young lady who ventured unattended beyond
the precincts of the castle, would have endangered her reputation. But
to such an imaginative mind, it would have been scarcely possible to
pass by the interesting image of Christabel, presenting itself before
him, praying by moonlight at the old oak tree. But to proceed:
The lady sprang up suddenly,
The lovely lady Christabel!
It moaned as near, as near can be,
But what it is, she cannot tell.--
On the other side it seems to be,
Of the huge, broad-breasted, old oak tree.
The night is chill; the forest bare;
Is it the wind that moaneth bleak?
There is not wind enough in the air
To move away the ringlet curl
From the lovely lady's cheek--
There is not wind enough to twirl
The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,
Hanging so light, and hanging so high,
On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.
Hush, beating heart of Christabel!
Jesu, Maria, shield her well!
She folded her arms beneath her cloak,
And stole to the other side of the oak.
What sees she there?
There she sees a damsel bright,
Drest in a silken robe of white,
That shadowy in the moonlight shone:
The neck that made that white robe wan,
Her stately neck and arms were bare;
Her blue-veined feet unsandal'd were.
And wildly glittered here and there
The gems entangled in her hair.
I guess, 'twas frightful there to see
A lady so richly clad as she--
This description is exquisite. Now for the mystic demon's tale of art:
Mary mother, save me now!
(Said Christabel,) And who art thou?
The lady strange made answer meet,
And her voice was faint and sweet:--
Have pity on my sore distress,
I scarce can speak for weariness:
Stretch forth thy hand, and have no fear!
Said Christabel, How camest thou here?
And the lady, whose voice was faint and sweet,
Did thus pursue her answer meet:--
My sire is of a noble line,
And my name is Geraldine:
Five warriors seized me yestermorn,
Me, even me, a maid forlorn:
They chok'd my cries with force and fright,
And tied me on a palfrey white.
The palfrey was as fleet as wind,
And they rode furiously behind.
They spurred amain, their steeds were white:
And once we crossed the shade of night.
As sure as Heaven shall rescue me,
I have no thought what men they be;
Nor do I know how long it is
(For I have lain entranced I wis)
Since one, the tallest of the five,
Took me from the palfrey's back,
A weary woman, scarce alive.
Some muttered words his comrades spoke
He placed me underneath this oak,
He swore they would return with haste;
Whither they went I cannot tell--
I thought I heard, some minutes past,
Sounds as of a castle bell.
Stretch forth thy hand (thus ended she)
And help a wretched maid to flee.
Then Christabel stretched forth her hand
And comforted fair Geraldine:
O well, bright dame! may you command
The service of Sir Leoline;
And gladly our stout chivalry
Will he send forth and friends withal,
To guide and guard you safe and free
Home to your noble father's hall.
She rose: and forth with steps they passed
That strove to be, and were not, fast.
Her gracious stars the lady blest
And thus spake on sweet Christabel:
All our household are at rest,
The hall as silent as the cell;
Sir Leoline is weak in health,
And may not well awakened be,
But we will move as if in stealth,
And I beseech your courtesy,
This night, to share your couch with me.
They crossed the moat, and Christabel
Took the key that fitted well;
A little door she opened straight,
All in the middle of the gate;
The gate that was ironed within and without,
Where an army in battle array had marched out.
The lady sank, belike through pain,
And Christabel with might and main
Lifted her up, a weary weight,
Over the threshold of the gate:
Then the lady rose again,
And moved, as she were not in pain.
So free from danger, free from fear,
They crossed the court: right glad they were.
Following the popular superstition that dogs are supposed to see ghosts,
and therefore see the supernatural, the mastiff yells, when Geraldine
Outside her kennell, the mastiff old
Lay fast asleep, in moonshine cold.
The mastiff old did not awake,
Yet she an angry moan did make!
And what can ail the mastiff bitch?
Never till now she uttered yell,
Beneath the eye of Christabel.
Geraldine had already worked upon the kindness of Christabel, so that
she had lifted her over the threshold of the gate, which Geraldine's
fallen power had prevented her passing of herself, the place being holy
and under the influence of the Virgin.
"Praise we the Virgin all divine,
Who hath rescued thee from thy distress,
Alas! Alas! said Geraldine,
I cannot speak for weariness.
They pass the hall that echoes still,
Pass as lightly as you will!
The brands were flat, the brands were dying,
Amid their own white ashes lying;
But when the lady passed there came
A tongue of light, a fit of flame;
And Christabel saw the lady's eye,
And nothing else saw she thereby
Save the boss of the shield of Sir Leoline tall,
Which hung in a murky old nitch in the wall.
O! softly tread, said Christabel,
My father seldom sleepeth well."
Geraldine, who affects to be weary, arrives at the chamber of
Christabel--this room is beautifully ornamented,
"Carved with figures strange and sweet,
All made out of the carver's brain,
For a lady's chamber meet
The lamp with twofold silver chain
Is fasten'd to an angel's feet."
Such is the mysterious movement of this supernatural lady, that all this
is visible, and when she passed the dying brands, there came a fit of
flame, and Christabel saw the lady's eye.
The silver lamp burns dead and dim;
But Christabel the lamp will trim.
She trimm'd the lamp and made it bright,
And left it swinging to and fro,
While Geraldine, in wretched plight,
Sank down upon the floor below.
O weary lady Geraldine,
I pray you drink this cordial wine,
It is a wine of virtuous powers;
My mother made it of wild flowers.
And will your mother pity me,
Who am a maiden most forlorn?
Christabel answer'd--Woe is me!
She died the hour that I was born,
I have heard the grey-hair'd friar tell,
How on her death-bed she did say,
That she should hear the castle bell
Strike twelve upon my wedding-day.
O mother dear! that thou wert here!
I would, said Geraldine, she were!
The poet now introduces the real object of the supernatural
transformation: the spirit of evil struggles with the deceased and
sainted mother of Christabel for the possession of the lady. To render
the scene more impressive, the mother instantly appears, though she is
invisible to her daughter. Geraldine exclaims in a commanding voice
"Off, wandering mother! Peak and pine!
I have power to bid thee flee?"
Alas! what ails poor Geraldine?
Why stares she with unsettled eye
Can she the bodiless dead espy?
And why with hollow voice cries she,
"Off, woman, off! this hour is mine--
Though thou her guardian spirit be,
"Off, woman, off! 'tis given to me."
Here, Geraldine seems to be struggling with the spirit of Christabel's
mother, over which for a time she obtains the mastery.
Then Christabel knelt by the lady's side,
And rais'd to heaven her eyes so blue--
Alas! said she, this ghastly ride--
Dear lady! it hath wilder'd you!
The lady wiped her moist cold brow,
And faintly said, "'Tis over now!"
Again the wild-flower wine she drank,
Her fair large eyes 'gan glitter bright,
And from the floor whereon she sank,
The lofty lady stood upright
She was most beautiful to see,
Like a lady of a far countree.
And thus the lofty lady spake--
All they who live in the upper sky,
Do love you, holy Christabel!
And you love them, and for their sake
And for the good which me befell,
Even I in my degree will try,
Fair maiden to requite you well.
But now unrobe yourself: for I
Must pray, ere yet in bed I lie.
Quoth Christabel, so let it be!
And as the lady bade, did she.
Her gentle limbs did she undress,
And lay down in her loveliness.
But all this had given rise to so many different thoughts and feelings,
that she could not compose herself for sleep, so she sits up in her bed
to look at Geraldine who drew in her breath aloud, and unbound her
cincture. Her silken robe and inner vest then drop to her feet, and she
discovers her hideous form:
A sight to dream of, not to tell!
O shield her, shield sweet Christabel!
Yet Geraldine nor speaks--nor stirs;
Ah! what a stricken look was hers!
She then lies down by the side of Christabel, and takes her to her arms,
saying in a low voice these words:
In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell,
Which is lord of thy utterance, Christabel!
Thou knowest to-night, and wilt know to-morrow,
This mark of my shame, this seal of my sorrow;
But vainly thou warrest,
For this is alone in
Thy power to declare,
That in the dim forest
Thou heardst a low moaning,
And found'st a bright lady, surpassingly fair
And didst bring her home with thee in love and in charity,
To shield her and shelter her from the damp air.
The conclusion to part the first is a beautiful and well drawn picture,
slightly recapitulating some of the circumstances of the opening of the
THE CONCLUSION TO PART THE FIRST.
It was a lovely sight to see,
The lady Christabel, when she
Was praying at the old oak tree.
Amid the jagged shadows
Of mossy leafless boughs,
Kneeling in the moonlight,
To make her gentle vows;
Her slender palms together prest,
Heaving sometimes on her breast;
Her face resigned to bliss or bale--
Her face, oh call it fair, not pale,
And both blue eyes more bright than clear,
Each about to have a tear.
With open eyes (ah woe is me!)
Asleep and dreaming fearfully,
Fearfully dreaming, yet I wis,
Dreaming that alone which is--
O sorrow and shame! Can this be she,
The lady who knelt at the old oak tree?
And lo! the worker of these harms,
That holds the maiden in her arms,
Seems to slumber still and mild
As a mother with her child.
A star hath set, a star hath risen,
O Geraldine! since arms of thine
Have been the lovely lady's prison.
O Geraldine! one hour was thine--
Thou'st had thy will! By tairn and rill,
The night-birds all that hour were still.
At the ceasing of the spell, the joyousness of the birds is described,
and also the awakening of Christabel as from a trance.--During this rest
(her mother) the guardian angel is supposed to have been watching over
her. But these passages could not escape coarse minded critics, who put
a construction on them which never entered the mind of the author of
Christabel, whose poems are marked by delicacy.
The effects of the apparition of her mother, supposed to be seen by
Christabel in a vision, are thus described:
What if her guardian spirit 'twere,
What if she knew her mother near?
But this she knows, in joys and woes,
That saints will aid if men will call:
For the blue sky bends over all!
Here terminates the first canto.
The passage from this sleep and the reappearance by day-light of
Geraldine, has always been considered a master-piece.
The second part begins with a moral reflection, and introduces Sir
Leoline, the father of Christabel, with the following observation, on
his rising in the morning:
Each matin bell, the Baron saith!
Knells us back to a world of death.
These words Sir Leoline first said
When he rose and found his lady dead.
These words Sir Leoline will say
Many a morn to his dying day.
After a popular custom of the country, the old bard Bracy is introduced.
Geraldine rises, puts on her silken vestments--tricks her hair, and not
doubting her spell, she awakens Christabel,
"Sleep you, sweet lady Christabel?
I trust that you have rested well."
And Christabel awoke and spied
The same who lay down by her side--
O rather say, the same whom she
Rais'd up beneath the old oak tree!
Nay fairer yet, and yet more fair!
For she belike hath drunken deep
Of all the blessedness of sleep!
And while she spake, her looks, her air
Such gentle thankfulness declare;
That (so it seem'd) her girded vests
Grew tight beneath her heaving breasts.
"Sure I have sinn'd!" said Christabel,
"Now heaven be prais'd if all be well!"
And in low faultering tones, yet sweet,
Did she the lofty lady greet;
With such perplexity of mind
As dreams too lively leave behind.
Christabel then leaves her couch, and having offered up her prayers, she
leads fair Geraldine to meet the Baron.--They enter his presence room,
when her father rises, and while pressing his daughter to his breast, he
espies the lady Geraldine, to whom he gives such welcome as
"Might beseem so bright a dame!"
But when the Baron hears her tale, and her father's name, the poet
Why wax'd Sir Leoline so pale,
Murmuring o'er the name again,
Lord Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine?
Alas! they had been friends in youth;
But whispering tongues can poison truth;
And constancy lives in realms above;
And life is thorny; and youth is vain;
And to be wroth with one we love,
Doth work like madness in the brain.
And thus it chanc'd, as I divine,
With Roland and Sir Leoline.
Each spake words of high disdain
And insult to his heart's best brother:
They parted--never to meet again!
But never either found another
To free the hollow heart from paining--
They stood aloof, the scars remaining,
Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;
A dreary sea now flows between;--
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,
Shall wholly do away, I ween,
The marks of that which once hath been.
Sir Leoline gazed for a moment on the face of Geraldine, and the
youthful Lord of Tryermaine again came back upon his heart. He is then
described as forgetting his age, and his noble heart swells with
He then affectionately takes Geraldine in his arms, who meets the
"Prolonging it with joyous look,
Which when she viewed, a vision fell
Upon the soul of Christabel,
The vision of fear, the touch and pain!
She shrunk and shudder'd and saw again
(Ah woe is me! Was it for thee,
Thou gentle maid! such sights to see?)
Geraldine then appears to her in her real character, ('half' human
only,) the sight of which alarms Christabel. The Baron mistakes for
jealousy this alarm in his daughter, which was induced by fear of
Geraldine, and had been the sole cause of her unconsciously imitating
the "hissing sound:"
Whereat the Knight turn'd wildly round,
And nothing saw, but his own sweet maid
With eyes uprais'd, as one that pray'd.
This touch, this sight passed away, and left in its stead the vision of
her guardian angel (her mother) which had comforted her after rest, and
having sought consolation in prayer, her countenance resumes its natural
serenity and sweetness. The Baron surprised at these sudden transitions,
"What ails then my beloved child?"
Christabel makes answer:
"All will yet be well!"
I ween, she had no power to tell
Aught else: so mighty was the spell.
Yet the Baron seemed so captivated by Geraldine, as to "deem her a thing
divine." She pretended much sorrow, and feared she might have offended
Christabel, praying with humility to be sent home immediately.
Nay--by my soul!" said Leoline.
"Ho!--Bracy, the bard, the charge be thine!
Go thou with music sweet and loud
And take two steeds with trappings proud;
And take the youth whom thou lov'st best
To bear thy harp and learn thy song,
And clothe you both in solemn vest
And over the mountains haste along.
He is desired to continue his way to the castle of Tryermaine. Bracy is
thus made to act in a double capacity, as bard and herald: in the first,
he is to announce to Lord Roland the safety of his daughter in Langdale
Hall; in the second as herald to the Baron, he is to convey an apology
according to the custom of that day,
"He bids thee come without delay,
With all thy numerous array;
And take thy lovely daughter home,
And he will meet thee on the way,
With all his numerous array;
White with their panting palfrey's foam,
And by mine honour! I will say,
That I repent me of the day;
When I spake words of fierce disdain,
To Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine!--
For since that evil hour hath flown,
Many a summer's sun hath shone;
Yet ne'er found I a friend again
Like Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine."
The lady fell, and clasped his knees,
Her face upraised, her eyes o'erflowing,
And Bracy replied, with faltering voice,
His gracious hail on all bestowing:--
Thy words, thou sire of Christabel,
Are sweeter than my harp can tell.
Yet might I gain a boon of thee,
This day my journey should not be,
So strange a dream hath come to me:
That I had vow'd with music loud
To clear yon wood from thing unblest,
Warn'd by a vision in my rest!
The dream is then related by Bracy; it is an outline of the past, and a
prophecy of the future.--The Baron listens with a smile, turns round,
and looks at Geraldine,
"His eyes made up of wonder and love;
And said in courtly accents fine,
Sweet maid, Lord Roland's beauteous dove,
With arms more strong than harp or song,
Thy sire and I will crush the snake!"
He kissed her forehead as he spake,
And Geraldine in maiden wise,
Casting down her large bright eyes;
With blushing cheek and courtesy fine,
She turn'd her from Sir Leoline;
Softly gathering up her train,
That o'er her right arm fell again;
And folded her arms across her chest,
And couch'd her head upon her breast.
And look'd askance at Christabel--
Jesu, Maria, shield her well!
Then takes place that extraordinary change which, being read in a party
at Lord Byron's, is said to have caused Shelley to faint:
A snake's small eye blinks dull and shy,
And the lady's eyes, they shrunk in her head,
Each shrunk up to a serpent's eye,
And with somewhat of malice, and more of dread
At Christabel she looked askance!--
One moment,--and the sight was fled!
But Christabel in dizzy trance,
Stumbling on the unsteady ground--
Shudder'd aloud, with a hissing sound;
And Geraldine again turn'd round,
And like a thing, that sought relief,
Full of wonder and full of grief;
She roll'd her large bright eyes divine,
Wildly on Sir Leoline.
The maid, alas! her thoughts are gone,
She nothing sees--no sight but one!
The look, those shrunken serpent eyes, had made such a deep impression
That all her features were resign'd
To the sole image in her mind:
And passively did imitate
That look of dull and treacherous hate.
And thus she stood in dizzy trance,
Still picturing that look askance.
But when the trance was o'er, the maid
Paus'd awhile and inly pray'd,
"By my mother's soul do I entreat
That thou this woman send away!"
She said, and more she could not say,
For what she knew she could not tell
O'er master'd by the mighty spell.
The poet now describes the Baron as suffering under the confused
emotions of love for Christabel, and anger at her apparent jealousy, and
the insult offered to the daughter of his friend, which so wrought upon
He roll'd his eye with stern regard
Upon the gentle minstrel bard,
And said in tones abrupt, austere--
"Why, Bracy? dost thou loiter here?
"I bade thee hence!" The bard obey'd,
And turning from his own sweet maid,
The aged knight, Sir Leoline
Led forth the lady Geraldine!
Here ends the second canto.
In the conclusion to the second canto, he speaks of a child and its
father's fondness, so often expressed by "you little rogue," " you
little rascal," with an endearing kiss, says:
A little child, a limber elf,
Singing, dancing to itself;
A fairy thing with red round cheeks,
That always finds and never seeks;
Makes such a vision to the sight,
As fills a father's eyes with light;
And pleasures flow in so thick and fast
Upon his heart, that he at last
Must needs express his love's excess,
With words of unmeant bitterness.
The following relation was to have occupied a third and fourth canto,
and to have closed the tale.
Over the mountains, the Bard, as directed by Sir Leoline, "hastes" with
his disciple; but in consequence of one of those inundations supposed to
be common to this country, the spot only where the castle once stood is
discovered,--the edifice itself being washed away. He determines to
return. Geraldine being acquainted with all that is passing, like the
Weird Sisters in Macbeth, vanishes. Re-appearing, however, she waits the
return of the Bard, exciting in the mean time, by her wily arts, all the
anger she could rouse in the Baron's breast, as well as that jealousy of
which he is described to have been susceptible. The old Bard and the
youth at length arrive, and therefore she can no longer personate the
character of Geraldine, the daughter of Lord Roland de Vaux, but changes
her appearance to that of the accepted though absent lover of
Christabel. Next ensues a courtship most distressing to Christabel, who
feels--she knows not why--great disgust for her once favoured knight.
This coldness is very painful to the Baron, who has no more conception
than herself of the supernatural transformation. She at last yields to
her father's entreaties, and consents to approach the altar with this
hated suitor. The real lover returning, enters at this moment, and
produces the ring which she had once given him in sign of her
betrothment. Thus defeated, the supernatural being Geraldine disappears.
As predicted, the castle bell tolls, the mother's voice is heard, and to
the exceeding great joy of the parties, the rightful marriage takes
place, after which follows a reconciliation and explanation between the
father and daughter.
Lamb, who visited us soon after Coleridge's death, and not long before
his own, talking of the Christabel, observed, "I was very angry with
Coleridge, when I first heard that he had written a second canto, and
that he intended to finish it; but when I read the beautiful apostrophe
to the two friends, it calmed me." He was one of those who strongly
recommended Coleridge to leave as a fragment what he had so beautifully
begun. With the first edition of the Christabel was given Kubla Khan,
the dream within a dream, written in harmonious and fluent rhythm.
'The Pains of Sleep' was also added. This is a poem communicating a
portion of his personal sufferings.  All these were published in
In the introduction to 'The Lay of the last Minstrel', 1830, Sir
"Were I ever to take the unbecoming freedom of censuring a man of Mr.
Coleridge's extraordinary talents, it would be on account of the
caprice and indolence with which he has thrown from him, as in mere
wantonness, those unfinished scraps of poetry, which, like the Tasso
of antiquity, defied the skill of his poetical brethren to complete
them. The charming fragments which the author abandons to their fate,
are surely too valuable to be treated like the proofs of careless
engravers, the sweepings of whose studies often make the fortune of
some pains-taking collector. And in a note to the Abbot, alluding to
Coleridge's beautiful and tantalizing fragment of Christabel, he adds,
Has not our own imaginative poet cause to fear that future ages will
desire to summon him from his place of rest, as Milton longed
'To call up him who left half told
The story of Cambuscam bold.'"
Since writing the preceding pages, I have met with a critique on the
Christabel, written immediately after it was published, from which I
select a few passages, in the hope that they may further interest the
admirers of this poem:
'The publication of Christabel cannot be an indifferent circumstance
to any true lover of poetry--it is a singular monument of genius, and
we doubt whether the fragmental beauty that it now possesses can be
advantageously exchanged for the wholeness of a finished narrative. In
its present form it lays irresistible hold of the imagination. It
interests even by what it leaves untold.--The story is like a dream of
lovely forms, mixed with strange and indescribable terrors. The scene,
the personages, are those of old romantic superstition; but we feel
intimate with them, as if they were of our own day, and of our own
neighbourhood. It is impossible not to suppose that we have known
"sweet Christabel," from the time when she was "a fairy thing, with
red round cheeks," till she had grown up, through all the engaging
prettinesses of childhood, and the increasing charms of youth, to be
the pure and dignified creature, which we find her at the opening of
the poem. The scene is laid at midnight, in the yet leafless wood, a
furlong from the castle-gate of the rich Baron Sir Leoline, whose
daughter, "the lovely Lady Christabel," has come, in consequence of a
vow, to pray at the old oak tree, "for the weal of her lover that's
far away." In the midst of her orisons she is suddenly alarmed by a
moaning near her, which turns out to be the complaint of the Lady
Geraldine, who relates, that she had been carried off by warriors, and
brought to this wild wood, where they had left her with intent quickly
to return. This story of Geraldine's easily obtains credence from the
unsuspecting Christabel, who conducts her secretly to a chamber in the
castle. There the mild and beautiful Geraldine seems transformed in
language and appearance to a sorceress, contending with the spirit of
Christabel's deceased mother for the mastery over her daughter; but
Christabel's lips are sealed by a spell. What she knows she cannot
utter; and scarcely can she herself believe that she knows it.
On the return of morning, Geraldine, in all her pristine beauty,
accompanies the innocent but perplexed Christabel to the presence of
the Baron, who is delighted when he learns that she is the daughter of
his once loved friend, Sir Roland de Vaux, of Tryermaine.--We shall
not pursue the distress of Christabel, the mysterious warnings of
Bracy the Bard, the assumed sorrow of Geraldine, or the indignation of
Sir Leoline, at his daughter's seemingly causeless jealousy--what we
have principally to remark with respect to the tale is, that, wild and
romantic and visionary as it is, it has a truth of its own, which
seizes on and masters the imagination from the beginning to the end.
The poet unveils with exquisite skill the finer ties of imagination
and feeling by which they are linked to the human heart.
The elements of our sensibility, to all that concerns fair
Christabel, are of the purest texture; they are not formally announced
in a set description, but they accompany and mark her every movement
throughout the piece--Incessu patuit Dea.--She is the support of her
noble father's declining age--sanctified by the blessing of her
departed mother--the beloved of a valorous and absent knight--the
delight and admiration of an inspired bard--she is a being made up of
tenderness, affection, sweetness, piety! There is a fine
discrimination in the descriptions of Christabel and Geraldine,
between the lovely and the merely beautiful. There is a moral
sensitiveness about Christabel, which none but a true poet could
seize. It would be difficult to find a more delicate touch of this
kind in any writer, than her anxious exclamation when, in passing the
hall with Geraldine, a gleam bursts from the dying embers.
Next in point of merit to the power which Mr. Coleridge has displayed,
in interesting us by the moral beauty of his heroine, comes the skill
with which he has wrought the feelings and fictions of superstition
into shape. The witchlike Geraldine lying down by the side of
Christabel, and uttering the spell over her, makes the reader thrill
with indefinable horror.
We find another striking excellence of this poem, and which powerfully
affects every reader, by placing, as it were before his eyes, a
distinct picture of the events narrated, with all their appendages of
sight and sound--the dim forest--the massive castle-gate--the angry
moan of the sleeping mastiff--the sudden flash of the dying
embers--the echoing hall--the carved chamber, with its curious
lamp--in short, all that enriches and adorns this tale, with a
luxuriance of imagination seldom equalled.' 
Whilst in the full enjoyment of his creative powers, Coleridge wrote in
a letter to a friend the following critique on "the Hymn before Sunrise
in the Vale of Chamouni," which is supposed to have been composed about
the time of the Christabel, though not published till 1816, in the
Sibylline Leaves. It will serve to shew how freely he assented to the
opinions of his friends, and with what candour he criticised his own
poems, recording his opinions whether of censure or of praise:--
"In a copy of verses, entitled 'a Hymn before Sunrise in the Vale of
Chamouni,' I describe myself under the influence of strong devotional
feelings, gazing on the mountain, till as if it had been a shape
emanating from and sensibly representing her own essence, my soul had
become diffused through the mighty vision and there,
'As in her natural form, swell'd vast to Heaven.'
Mr. Wordsworth, I remember, censured the passage as strained and
unnatural, and condemned the hymn in toto, (which, nevertheless, I
ventured to publish in my 'Sibylline Leaves,') as a specimen of the
mock sublime. It may be so for others, but it is impossible that I
should myself find it unnatural, being conscious that it was the image
and utterance of thoughts and emotions in which there was no mockery.
Yet, on the other hand, I could readily believe that the mood and
habit of mind out of which the hymn rose, that differs from Milton's
and Thomson's and from the psalms, the source of all three, in the
author's addressing himself to 'individual' objects actually present
to his senses, while his great predecessors apostrophize 'classes' of
things presented by the memory, and generalized by the understanding;
--I can readily believe, I say, that in this there may be too much of
what our learned 'med'ciners' call the 'idiosyncratic' for true
poetry.--For, from my very childhood, I have been accustomed to
'abstract', and as it were, unrealize whatever of more than common
interest my eyes dwelt on, and then by a sort of transfusion and
transmission of my consciousness to identify myself with the object;
and I have often thought within the last five or six years, that if
ever I should feel once again the genial warmth and stir of the poetic
impulse, and refer to my own experiences, I should venture on a yet
stranger and wilder allegory than of yore--that I would allegorize
myself as a rock, with its summit just raised above the surface of
some bay or strait in the Arctic Sea, 'while yet the stern and
solitary night brooked no alternate sway'--all around me fixed and
firm, methought, as my own substance, and near me lofty masses, that
might have seemed to 'hold the moon and stars in fee,' and often in
such wild play with meteoric lights, or with the quiet shine from
above, which they made rebound in sparkles, or dispand in off-shoot,
and splinters, and iridiscent needle shafts of keenest glitter, that
it was a pride and a place of healing to lie, as in an apostle's
shadow, within the eclipse and deep substance-seeming gloom of 'these
dread ambassadors from earth to heaven, great hierarchs!' And though
obscured, yet to think myself obscured by consubstantial forms, based
in the same foundation as my own. I grieved not to serve them--yea,
lovingly and with gladsomeness I abased myself in their presence: for
they are my brothers, I said, and the mastery is theirs by right of
older birth, and by right of the mightier strivings of the hidden fire
that uplifted them above me."
This poem has excited much discussion, and many individuals have
expressed different opinions as to its origin. Some assert that it is
borrowed from our own great poets; whilst German readers say, that it is
little more than a free translation from a poem of Frederica Brun. That
it is founded on Frederica Brun's poem cannot be doubted; but those who
compare the two poems must at once feel, that to call Coleridge's a
translation, containing as it does new thoughts, exciting different
feelings, and being in fact a new birth, a glorification of the
original, would be a misuse of words. I insert the following note of
Coleridge's, which appears applicable to the subject:
"In looking at objects of nature, while I am thinking, as at yonder
moon dim-glimmering through the dewy window-pane, I seem rather to be
seeking, as it were 'asking', a symbolical language for something
within me that already and for ever exists, than observing any thing
new. Even when that latter is the case, yet still I have always an
obscure feeling, as if that new phoenomenon were the dim awaking of a
forgotten or hidden truth of my inner nature.--It is still interesting
as a word, a symbol! It is the [Greek: logos], the Creator! and the
Evolver! What is the right, the virtuous feeling and consequent
action, when a man having long meditated and perceived a certain truth
finds another, a foreign writer, who has handled the same with an
approximation to the truth, as he had previously conceived it? Joy!
Let truth make her voice audible! While I was preparing the pen to
write this remark I lost the train of thought which had led me to it.
I meant to have asked something else, now forgotten for the above
answers itself--it needed no new answer, I trust, in my heart."
'15th April, 1805'.
Coleridge, who was an honest man, was equally honest in literature; and
had he thought himself indebted to any other author, he would have
acknowledged the same.
Born a poet, and a philosopher, by reflection, the mysterious depths of
nature and the enquiry into these depths were among his chief delights.
And from boyhood he had felt that it was the business of this life, to
prepare for that which is to come. His schoolfellow, Lamb, also
observed, that from his youth upward, "he hungered for eternity,"
sincerely and fervently praying to be so enlightened as to attain it.
Though usually described "as doing nothing,"--"an idler," "a dreamer,"
and by many such epithets--he sent forth works which, though they had
cost him years of thought, never brought him any suitable return. In a
note written in 1825, speaking of himself, he says,
"A man of letters, friendless, because of no faction: repeatedly, and
in strong language inculpated of hiding his light under a bushel, yet
destined to see publication after publication abused by the Edinburgh
Review, as the representative of one party, and not even noticed by
the Quarterly Review, as the representative of the other--and to
receive as the meed of his labours for the cause of freedom against
despotism and jacobinism, of the church against infidelity and schism;
and of principle against fashion and sciolism, slander, loss, and
If, however, we were to collect the epithets applied to Milton in his
time, they would now appear incredible;--so when the misconceptions
arising from slander shall have ceased, the name of Coleridge will be
enrolled among those of our most illustrious men. The poet has said of
Gay, "in wit, a 'man'; simplicity, a 'child'."
But such was the extent and grasp of Coleridge's intellectual powers,
that of him it may be said, "In wit, a giant; in simplicity, a very
child." Though conscious of his own powers, with other men, he walked
most humbly, and whatever their station or acquirements, he would talk
to them as equals. He seemed but slightly connected with the things of
the world, for which, save the love of those dear to him, he cared but
little, living in this affection for his friends, and always feeling and
acting in the spirit of that humility he has so beautifully described.
"That humility which is the mother of charity," and which was in-woven
in his being, revealing itself in all his intercourse throughout the
day--for he looked on man as God's creature. All that he thought and
taught was put forth in the same spirit and with the strongest sense of
duty, so that they might learn of him with pleasure. Whatever be
considered the faulty part of his own character, he freely acknowledged
to others, with an admonition to avoid the like. His sensitive nature
induced a too great proneness to a self-accusing spirit; yet in this was
there no affected humility, though it might unfortunately dispose some
to think evil of him where little or none existed, or form an excuse to
others for their neglect of him. With respect to other men, however, all
his feelings and judgments ever gave proof of the very reverse. The
natural piety of his mind, led him most frequently to dwell on the
thought of time and eternity, and was the cause of his discussions
'ending' generally with theology.
During the first week of his residence at Highgate, he conversed
frequently on the Trinity and on Unitarianism, and in one of these
conversations, his eye being attracted by a large cowry, very handsomely
"Observe," said he, "this shell, and the beauty of its exterior here
pourtrayed. Reverse it and place it to your ear, you will find it
empty, and a hollow murmuring sound issuing from the cavity in which
the animal once resided. This shell, with all its beautiful spots, was
secreted by the creature when living within it, but being plucked out,
nothing remains save the hollow sound for the ear. Such is
Unitarianism; it owes any beauty it may have left to the Christianity
from which it separated itself. The teachers of Unitarianism have
severed from 'their' Christianity its 'Life',  by removing the
doctrine of St. John; and thus mutilated, 'they' call the residue the
religion of Christ, implying the whole of the system, but omitting in
their teaching the doctrine of redemption."
This illustration reminds me of what took place between two men well
known in the literary world, who were at a dinner party together, both
dissenters,--one a Unitarian. In the evening, tea was brought on a large
silver waiter. They were popular writers of the day. One of them
observing the salver facetiously cried out, "See how we authors swim."
"Read the inscription on it," said the kindhearted Unitarian: his friend
did so, and seeing that it had been presented in token of satisfaction
for his friend's labours in the "Improved Version of the New Testament,"
emphatically exclaimed, "Take it away! I am a Unitarian, because I am a
Trinitarian; you have hitherto at least adopted a misnomer." Twenty-five
years since the Unitarians were of two creeds; one class materialists,
the other immaterialists, but both agreeing that Christ was only an
inspired 'man'. If I am rightly informed, they are not more orthodox at
the present day.
When Coleridge was among the Unitarians, his deeper course of reasoning
had not yet commenced. During his school education he became a Socinian;
the personality of the Trinity had staggered him, and he in consequence
preached for a short time at different Unitarian meetings; but in the
course of examination, he found that the doctrines he had to deliver
were mere moral truths, while he was "craving for a 'faith'," his heart
being with Paul and John, though his head was with Spinoza. In after
life, speaking of his conversion to Christianity, he often repeated--He
did not believe in the Trinity, because to him at that time, the belief
seemed contradictory to reason and scripture. "What care I," said he,
"for Rabbi Paul, or Rabbi John, if they be opposed to moral sense." This
was going a step beyond the Socinians, but this step was the means of
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