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Coleridge as a poet.

By Edward Dowden.

IT WOULD NEED COLERIDGE the critic to discover the secrets of the genius of Coleridge the poet. To solve intellectual puzzles in verse, to condense a diffused body of doctrine, to interpret what is called a poet’s criticism of life is after all not difficult; but to find expressions in the language of thought corresponding to pure melody and imaginative loveliness is a finer exercise of wit. In one of his pieces of blank verse Coleridge has described a vision of the graceful white-armed Isabel reflected in the placid waters of a lonely stream: let but a blossom of willow-herb or a fox-glove bell be tossed upon the pool and the charm is broken1

    All that phantom-world so fair
Vanishes, and a thousand circlets spread,
And each mis-shape the other.

The description might stand for that of Coleridge’s own poetry personified, with its visionary beauty, and its harmony of exquisite colours; and what shall be said of the critic who flings his heavy stone of formula and scatters the loveliness?

There is a quality of Coleridge’s work as a poet which has obtained little attention from the critics, and yet which submits itself to criticism without injury to the beauty of the whole. The critics tell us of the romantic strangeness of his work like that of “a lady from a far countree,” its wealth of fantastic incident, its dream-like inconsequence, its cloud-like and rainbow-like splendours; and the critics have a reason for what they say. But they hardly recognise enough the fine humanity in Coleridge’s poetry. He has been admirably compared by Mr Swinburne to a footless bird of paradise. Another great poet, Mr Swinburne’s friend, Dante Rossetti, has a far different comparison, though here also to a bird, in his sonnet on Coleridge, and the lines are valuable, at least, as containing a fragment of sound criticism.

His Soul fared forth (as from the deep home grove
The father-songster plies the hour-long quest),
To feed his soul-brood hungering in the nest;
But his warm Heart, the mother-bird, above
Their callow fledgling progeny still hove
With tented roof of wings and fostering breast
Till the Soul fed the soul-brood. Richly blest
From Heaven their growth, whose food was Human Love.

“I conceive the leading point about Coleridge’s work,” wrote Dante Rossetti, “is its human love;” and yet Rossetti least of all men could be insensible to its romantic beauty, or the incantation of its verse. If we would express the whole truth about Coleridge as a poet, we must find some mode of reconciling the conception of him as the footless bird of paradise with our knowledge of his affluent and sweet humanity.

TO UNDERSTAND AND TO feel his poetry aright we must think of him, not as for ever floating on golden and emerald plumes somewhere above Mount Abora and feeding on the honey-dew, but also as nestling in that cottage at Clevedon or at Nether Stowey with a wife and child, loving the Somerset hills and coombs, rich in friendships, and deeply interested in the great public events of his own time. It was a fortunate time, if to be compelled to think, to hope, and to fear in early manhood be fortunate; a time when the great name for honour or detestation in English politics was that of William Pitt; when the French Revolution was not a thing to be studied in documents, but an enormous phenomenon in process of actual development, a neighbouring Vesuvius, glorious or terrible, in active eruption; when the chief rival political teachers of England were the doctrinaire Godwin with his haughty abstractions of reason, and Edmund Burke who inspired the historical British habit of thinking with the perfervid passion of the Celt; when Hartley’s system of physical psychology had all the force derived from its presenting a novel view of human nature apparently in harmony at once with science and with religion; when in literature the return to nature and the sentimental reaction from the dryness and formality of the earlier part of the century were represented by Cowper and Burns, and when with the return to nature there came the discovery of the supernatural and the romantic; when Macpherson’s Ossian, if discredited by scholarship, was still an influence; when the genius of Chatterton had aided in the revival of an imaginative medievalism, and when Mrs Radcliffe thrilled the nerves of our fair foremothers with her tales of the forest and mountain, the lonely lake, the ruined castle, the vault, the secret passage, the cowled monk, the torturer of the Inquisition, the high-souled chieftain of banditti, and the gliding apparitions of the dead. We smile at the stage-heroes, stage-villains, and tarnished stage-properties, but they interested a simple generation which had not learnt to sympathise with the trials, difficulties, and dangers of fervid young clergymen struggling amid the shallows of biblical criticism.

Such was the time; and the place was no less faithfully mirrored in Coleridge’s verse. The landscape poetry of England gains not a little in interest when we can recognise its truthfulness to the local character and spirit of the several districts which it depicts. We hardly do justice to Cowper’s descriptive fidelity until we have grown familiar with the low-lying country watered by the Ouse; nor to that of Crabbe, until we have become acquainted with the coast scenery of Suffolk, its sullen ocean, its sandy levels, its commons wild and bleak, its scanty herbage, and the saline vegetation of its fens. The genius of the English Lake District through all its moods, from the nestling beauty of the cottage, owning ” its own small pasture, almost its own sky,” to the visionary glory of the mountain-heights at sunrise or in wreathing mists or under the midnight stars, is expressed in the poetry of Wordsworth. But if we would find a poetical rendering of the landscape of the Quantocks, with its unambitious loveliness of coomb and cliff, the exquisite delicacy of its green dells, each possessing a murmuring and living stream, and again those fine bursts of prospect, including the Severn and the Bristol Channel, visible from its smooth green heights, we must turn to the Nether Stowey poems of Coleridge. For Coleridge the peculiar charm of the district lay in its two-fold beauty the beauty of those nooks made for silent repose or secluded meditation, and the larger and freer beauty of wide-spreading woods and pastures beheld in one and the same moment with the glory of the sea. The elevation of the Quantock hills, reaching at most twelve hundred feet, is never such as to disconnect the climber from the humanity which reposes or toils below. There are hills of snow and even hills of heather which seem to lead us to the gate of heaven; the smooth airy ridge of the Quantocks is not framed for ecstasy or awe, but it enlarges our sense of the cheerful beauty of the earth.2 In April, 1798, when England was alarmed by the report of an intended French invasion, Coleridge wrote his “Fears in Solitude”, and the opening and closing lines of the poem present us with this two-fold beauty of the Quantock district:

A green and silent spot amid the hills,
A small and silent dell! O’er stiller place
No singing skylark ever poised himself.
The hills are heathy, save that swelling slope,
Which hath a gay and gorgeous covering on,
All golden with the never-bloomless furze,
Which now blooms most profusely; but the dell,
Bathed by the mist, is fresh and delicate
As vernal cornfield, or the unripe flax,
When, through its half -transparent stalks at eve,
The level sunshine glimmers with green light.

In this silent dell among the hills the poet meditates on the great events of the time, and in truth grows over-rhetorical and over-didactic in the utterance of his fears and hopes. And when heart and brain are weary he turns homeward to wind his way by the green sheep-track up the height of Danesbarrow, when suddenly he pauses upon the brow, startled, yet pleased by the prospect below :

This burst of prospect, here the shadowy main,
Dim tinted, there the mighty majesty
Of that huge amphitheatre of rich
And elmy fields, seems like society
Conversing with the mind, and giving it
A livelier impulse and a dance of thought!

And the heart of all this beauty is the cottage which shelters the beings whom he loves :

And now beloved Stowey! I behold
Thy church-tower, and methinks, the four huge elms
Clustering, which mark the mansion of my friend:
And close behind them, hidden from my view,
Is my own lowly cottage, where my babe,
And my babe’s mother dwell in peace.

It is the same contrast, characteristic of the Quantock scenery, between the coomb or dell and the landscape as seen from the heights, which reappears in that poem, the title of which is itself a poem, The Lime-tree Bower my Prison. A delightful prison for the limbs, but none for the thoughts and wishes which follow his friends to that spot now known as Wordsworth’s Glen, then called “The Mare’s Pool”, about a quarter of a mile from Alfoxden:

The roaring dell, o’erwooded, narrow, deep,
And only speckled by the midday sun;
Where its slim trunk the ash from rock to rock
Flings arching like a bridge;

and where within the breathing of the little waterfall the hart’s-tongue ferns

Still nod and drip beneath the dripping edge
Of the blue slate-stone.

But presently the wanderers, as he imagines them, are on the hill-top edge, and view

The many-steepled tract magnificent
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea,
With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up
The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two isles
Of purple shadow !

Assuredly the writer of these lines, who was a traveller at times through cloudland, and who could create from his imagination such visions as those of Kubla Khan, had also his foot on English grass and heather, and writing, to use Wordsworth’s phrase, with his eye upon the object, was able to add a page of rare fidelity to the descriptive poetry of our country.

Old Parkinson, in recounting the virtues of the hart’s-tongue fern, tells us that divers commend the distilled water thereof to be taken against the passions of the heart; but the ferns of Wordsworth’s Glen – and the fact has not been noticed – exerted a malign influence over Coleridge. My readers will remember the unhappy “Drip, drip, drip, drip,” in the cavern scene of Osorio, and the sorry jest of Sheridan, to whom Coleridge had sent his manuscript. “In short,” said he, “it was all dripping:”

    A jutting clay-stone

Drips on the long lank weed that grows beneath :
And the weed nods and drips.

The cavern in which Osorio murders Ferdinand is in Granada, among the Alpuj arras; but we have only to glance at The Lime-tree Bower my Prison, to make sure that the ferns are those of Somerset, for here too we find “the dark green file of long lank weeds” that “nod and drip beneath the dripping edge of the blue clay-stone.” Dioscorides, who saith that the hart’s-tongue water is a preservative against the stings of serpents, as regards this instance at least did vainly teach.

THE CHARACTER OF THE Quantock landscape is interpreted in Coleridge’s poetry, but what of the inhabitants of the district – cottagers of Stowey, toilers in the fields and shepherds of the hills? Where are they? No-where in any of his poems. He lived with his own thoughts and fancies in dell or on upland, his affections twined themselves around the beloved inmates of his cottage and certain cherished friends; he was deeply interested in great national questions of the day, but neither now nor at any other time did he exercise his imagination with the joys and sorrows of the humble men and women among whom his lot was cast. We must turn to Wordsworth’s poems of this period if we would find any imaginative record of the life of the inhabitants of the district; it is there we read of the Holford peasant mourning for the last of his dwindled flock, of the wronged and distracted mother bearing her infant on her breast, of the old huntsman Simon Lee and his pathetic gratitude, of Martha Ray and the mvsterious hillock of moss beside the solitary thorn-tree, of the idiot boy and his moonlight adventures.

The cottage at Clevedon.

Coleridge’s domestic life was not fortunate or wisely managed, but at Clevedon, for some time after his early marriage, he was as happy as a lover. Every one who knows his early verse remembers the frequent references to the beloved Sara, which are provoking in their lack of real characterisation. With the most exquisite feeling for womanhood in its general features, he seems to have been incapable of drawing strongly the features of any individual woman. His nearest approach to the creation of a heroine is perhaps in his Illyrian queen, Zapolya. Even Christabel is a figure somewhat too faintly drawn, a figure expressing indeed the beauty, innocence, and gentleness of maidenhood, but without any of the traits of a distinctive personality. All his other imaginings of women are exquisite abstractions, framed of purely feminine elements, but representing Woman rather than being themselves veritable women. His comment on Pope’s line, “Most women have no characters at all,” is an unconscious apology for his own practice. Shakespeare, he says, who knew man and woman much better than Pope, saw that it was the perfection of woman to be characterless. This, which is conspicuously untrue of the creator of the two Portias, Rosalind, Viola, Isabel, Hermione, Juliet, Imogen, is absolutely true of Coleridge himself, and of what he saw or thought he saw in woman. He can no more paint a variety of female portraits than can Stothard. The delicacy of design and occasionally the exquisite execution almost, but not quite, prevent us from feeling a certain monotony in Stothard’s charming pictures of maidenhood, in which no line is ever introduced which is not purely feminine, but in which also a type is presented rather than a person ; and so it is with the poet who has justly praised the art of Stothard. We can collect no portrait of Sara Coleridge from her husband’s verse, but we get a delightful picture of the happiness of early wedded life from such a poem as that which describes husband and wife seated together in the twilight beside their jasmine-covered cottage at Clevedon, while they watch the darkening clouds and the evening star as it shines forth :

     How exquisite the scents
Snatch’d from yon bean-field ! and the world so hush’d!
The stilly murmur of the distant sea
Tells us of silence.

We seem to know the baby Hartley through his father’s poetry better than we know his “pensive Sara.” Coleridge indeed has said nothing of his son in verse so admirable as what he said in a letter which describes Hartley as “a strange, strange boy, exquisitely wild, an utter visionary, like the moon among thin clouds he moves in a circle of his own making. He alone is a light of his own. Of all human beings I never saw one so utterly naked of self.” Nor has he written of Hartley in verse anything so happy in characterisation or so pathetic in its power of prophecy as Wordsworth’s lines addressed to the fairy-like boy at the age of six. But his father has recorded in a sonnet his hopes and fears while hastening to his wife from a distance on hearing of the infant’s birth; and in another well-known sonnet has told of the momentary sadness that seized him when he first gazed into the face of his child, a sadness that passed away in the rapture of a father’s and a husband’s love. Nor will any reader of Coleridge forget his midnight companionship with the cradled and sleeping infant as related in Frost at Midnight, all tenderest paternal hopes and wishes hovering over the cot and mingling with the gentle breathings of the sleeper. We are told that the pensive Sara had a just ground of complaint against Samuel for the late hours that he kept, the Bard pacing up and down the room composing poetry when he and she ought to be sleeping the sleep of the just.3 Wordsworth looking back upon his past life thought with remorse of the many occasions on which in consequence of yielding to his immoderate passion for walking, he had kept the family dinner waiting. But as we can forgive Wordsworth his domestic crime for the sake of a Leech Gatherer or a Michael, so Frost at Midnight may atone for many a darkling reverie of Coleridge in that Stowey cottage where solitude and silence were not always to be had in the workaday hours. In another of the Nether Stowey poems, while Coleridge recalls the “skirmish and capricious passagings” of the nightingales, his fatherly thoughts turn to his boy, just now beginning to “mar all things with his imitative lisp,” and he imagines how the little one would hearken to the nightingale’s song with baby hand held up:

      And I deem it wise
To make him Nature’s playmate. He knows well
The evening star ; and once, when he awoke
In most distressful mood (some inward pain
Had made up that strange thing, an infant’s dream)
I hurried with him to our orchard-plot,
And he beheld the moon, and, hush’d at once,
Suspends his sobs, and laughs most silently,
While his fair eyes, that swam with undropped tears,
Did glitter in the yellow moon-beam!

“Well,” adds the poet apologetically, “it is a father’s tale.” Let us not mar the tale by cynical conjecture as to how the mother, his serious Sara, may have regarded this mode of treating an infant’s ” inward pain.” Let us rather think of what Rossetti dwells on, the human love in Coleridge’s poetry, and think also of the pathos of these paternal cares and fears and hopes when viewed in connection with Hartley’s gentle yet not blameless future life.

ALTHOUGH IN HIS POETRY Coleridge never deals, as Wordsworth does, with the characters and lives of the men and women among whom he dwelt, his verse no less than his prose informs us how deeply moved he was by the general concerns of the nation and by the public events of his time. His earliest volume of poems had given utterance, sometimes in turbid rhetoric, to his democratic ardour and that desire to simplify life which was one of the better characteristics of the revolutionary temper. The young ass which he hails as “Brother ” (with all the emphasis of capital letters), if transported to the dell of peace and mild equality on the banks of the Susquehanna, would frisk as gleesome as a kitten, and his Bray of Joy would be more musically sweet to his poet than warbled melodies

    That soothe to rest
The tumult of some Scoundrel Monarch’s breast!4

Earl Stanhope, the “Friend of the Human Race,” is great and glorious because he has redeemed himself from ” that leprous stain Nobility,” and refuses to sit with the rest complotting against Gallic Liberty –

Who from the Almighty’s bosom leapt
With whirlwind arm, fierce Minister of Love.

The sainted form of Freedom mourns over the errors of Burke (styled elsewhere by Coleridge the Hercules Furens of politics) whose crime it was, not indeed to be corrupted by the bribes of tyranny, but to be bewildered by the disturbance of his own nobler faculties, by “stormy pity ” and “proud precipitance of soul.” The name of Iscariot, a convenient term of reproach then as now, is reserved for the statesman whose name was formed by letters four, him who kissed his country with the apostate’s lips “staining most foul a godlike father’s name.”

Yet his abhorrence of Pitt’s policy could not wholly  alienate Coleridge’s affections from the land of his birth. The declaration of war against France put a strain upon his loyalty, and he felt as Tom Poole and many other excellent men felt, that he could not wish for success in arms to the Powers leagued against what seemed to be the hope of the whole human race. But even when he opposed or stood aloof from the action of the English nation, he did this, as he believed, out of a care for the highest interests of the country. In the ode which apostrophises Albion as ” doomed to fall, enslaved and vile ” (to be significantly altered in a later text to “not yet enslaved, not wholly vile “), occurs that exquisite address to his sea-encircled native land the Somerset landscape appearing once again, but now in the ideal light of imaginative vision of which the last lines haunt the memories of all lovers of poetry who are lovers of England, almost with the charm of some of Shakespeare’s patriotic words :

And Ocean mid his uproar wild
Speaks safety to his island-child.

In the Fears in Solitude, while Coleridge still declaims against the sins of England, and protests against the mad idolatry of national wrong-doing, which in claiming the appellation of patriotism insults that great name, he yet utters himself before the close with all the filial loyalty of a true son of England, and he declares in a noble strain of eloquence how the foundations of his patriotism have been laid in the domestic affections, in friendship, in the strength of natural love, in the spiritual influences derived from the beauty of external nature, and in whatever other ground there may be for joys and hopes that ennoble the heart.

There lives nor form nor feeling in my Soul
Unborrow’d from my country ! divine
And beauteous island ! thou hast been my sole
And most magnificent temple, in the which
I walk with awe.

Such patriotism as this can only be uprooted together with the very foundations of our moral being.

NOW IN THESE TWO things first, his alienation from the policy of England and attachment to principles of broader import than the traditional; and secondly, his loyalty to England founded on deep and abiding affections lay much of Coleridge’s future way of thinking and feeling. He broke with tradition in the vulgar sense of the word; he broke with tradition in theology, philosophy, politics; yet he did so in a spirit more truly loyal to the past than was the common orthodoxy in theology or philosophy, or the common Toryism in politics. One of the chief moral and intellectual effects of the French Revolution was that it threw ardent young minds abroad upon a search for first principles. “In tranquil moods and peaceable times,” Coleridge writes, ” we are quite practical. Facts only and cool common sense are then in fashion. But let the winds of passion swell, and straightway men begin to generalise ; to connect by remotest analogies ; to express the most universal positions of reason in the most glowing figures of fancy ; in short, to feel particular truths and mere facts as po0r, cold, narrow, and incommensurate with their feelings.”5 The passion for truth-seeking and the desire to find rest in primary principles were, through all his changes of opinion, characteristic of Coleridge from first to last, and if these had not their origin in, they derived a confirming impulse from, his early revolutionary excitement. As a critic of literature he lights up the subjects of which he treats, because he is not willing to pronounce dogmatic judgments as if from a magisterial chair, but rather seeks after and finds the inner springs of life in each work of art, and so puts us on the track which the artist followed in the act of creation. As a thinker on politics he begins by comparing the several systems of political justice and tracing the origin of government to what he holds to be its true foundation in expediency and prudence. When he would write of the National Church he must first ascertain the “idea” of the Church as the clerisy of the nation, comprehending not the ministers of religion alone, but also the learned of all denominations. His writings on theology have been pointed to as aiding at once the development of the High-Church school of thought and the rationalistic movement ; for in fact he could not think on behalf of a mere party. “Even with regard to Christianity itself,” he says, “like certain plants, I creep towards the light, even though it draw me away from the more nourishing warmth. Yea, I should do so, even if the light had made its way through a rent in the wall of the Temple.” If anything imparts unity to his married life, now soaring high or diving deep, now trailing in the dust with broken wing, it is this, that alike in the glory of his youth and the dawn of his genius, in the infirmity and conscious self-degradation of his manhood, and amid the lassitude and languor of his latest days, he was always one who loved the light and grew towards it.

But he grew towards the light with his affections as well as with his intellect. A movement merely critical and destructive could not satisfy his spirit. Even in his most ardent revolutionary days he expected his Utopia not from the downfall of thrones and churches, but from a reformation of life, a reformation for which in its commencement he supposed a little group of chosen individuals, placed under advantageous circumstances in the New World, was competent, a reformation social and religious, which should not rend but draw closer all the bonds of natural love. The Pantisocratic scheme was religious, founded on the worship of God ; it was also founded on the fidelity of wedded love and the idea of the family. It abolished private property in the little community, but in every country where property prevails, property, Coleridge held, must be the grand basis of the government. “To the intense interest and impassioned zeal,” wrote Coleridge in later life, ” which called forth and strained every faculty of my intellect for the organisation and defence of this scheme, I owe much of whatever I at present possess, my clearest insight into the nature of individual man, and my most comprehensive views of his social relations.” For young men whom the excitement connected with the French Revolution had interested deeply in the first principles of social order there was a philosophy ready-made, immense in its pretensions, seeming at a first view most elevated in its moral purpose, and apparently as precise and well-assured as the demonstrations of geometry. It was that which afterwards spell-bound the intellect of Shelley, and which is largely responsible for the errors of his life the philosophy set out in full in the volumes of Godwin’s “Political Justice.” It spoke much of reason and universal benevolence, while cutting at the roots of all the humbler natural affections. Even patriotism was for it a prejudice; the ties of kindred, of gratitude, of wedded union, were the shackles of the slave. Coleridge was already prepared to accept some of Godwin’s opinions, for his honoured teacher Hartley had convinced him of the truth of the doctrine of necessity, a corner stone of Godwin’s philosophy. Like Godwin, he had dreamed of the perfectibility of man and the omnipotence of truth. Like Godwin, he was filled with ardent hopes for society, hopes inspired by the sudden uprising of the spirit of liberty in France. Yet in the addresses which he delivered in Bristol in February 7, 1795, when he was little more than twenty-two years of age, he bids his hearers beware of “that proud philosophy which affects to inculcate philanthropy while it denounces every home- born feeling by which it is produced and nurtured.” And a year later, replying to a certain Caius Gracchus, who had rebuked The Watchman in the pages of the Bristol Gazette, Coleridge writes : “I do consider Mr Godwin’s principles as vicious, and his book as a pandar to sensuality. Once I thought otherwise ; nay, even addressed a complimentary sonnet to the author in the Morning Chronicle, of which I confess, with much moral and poetical contrition, that the lines and the subject were equally bad.”6 In The Friend, no passages, perhaps, are more valuable than those in which the writer analyses the essential character of Jacobinism in politics, a system which denies all rightful origin to government, except so far as it is derivable from principles contained in the reason of man, and at the same time denies all truth and distinct meaning to the words right and duty, by affirming that the human mind consists of nothing but manifold modifications of passive sensation. Coleridge could with truth declare that at no period of his life had he been a convert to the Jacobinical system. In the spring of 1798 appeared in The Morning Post the noble poem in which Coleridge renounces his sympathy with revolutionary France, known to us now as France, an Ode, but which originally was entitled The Recantation. This ode, which Shelley thought the finest in the English language, is remarkable not only as an expression of its author’s political feeling, but on account of the logic of passion and imagination with which the theme is evolved. In Coleridge’s first volume of verse he had styled a considerable number of the pieces “Effusions,” in defiance of Churchill’s line

Effusion on effusion pour away.

THESE SO-CALLED EFFUSIONS include even a number of sonnets, for he felt that his poems in that form seldom possessed the unity of thought which is indispensable in a true sonnet. Before the second edition appeared Charles Lamb implored him for heaven’s sake to call them sonnets and not effusions, and from that edition the word of offence is banished. But it really served to describe not unaptly some of Coleridge’s early pieces in blank verse, written apparently without that previous conception of the whole and that strict evolution which we should expect in a work of art. The poet, in these effusions, places himself in some environment of beauty, submits his mind to the suggestions of the time and place, falls as it were of free will into a reverie, in which the thoughts and images meander stream-like at their own pleasure, or rather as if the power of volition were suspended and the current must needs follow the line of least resistance ; then, as if by good luck, conies the culmination or some soft subsidence, and the poem ceases. In the earlier odes – that on the Departing Tear and the Monody on the Death of Chatterton – there is indeed an evolution, but it proceeds sometimes by those fits and starts which were supposed to prove in writers of the ode a kind of Pindaric excitement. The poet is less of the artist here than the enthusiast. “Enthusiast” – it was a name rejected by the youthful Coleridge as a thinker on politics and applied by him as a term of reproach to the disciples of Godwin, but it describes well enough his conception of the poet. And it clearly enough marks the distance that had been traversed from the Restoration days, when a poet desired before all else to be a “wit,” and from the age of Anne, when the poet was both a “wit” and a “man of sense.” When Coleridge pictures the youthful Chatterton roaming the woods near the Severn with wild unequal steps,

          In Inspiration’s eager hour,
When most the big soul feels the maddening power,

he conceives him not as the artist or the wit but as the enthusiast, and this is the conception generally present in Coleridge’s earlier verse. The sequences of thought and feeling in these earlier poems are often either of the meditative-meandering or the spasmodic-passionate kind. Now, however, in his France he produced a poem strongly concatenated in thought and emotion, and from the first line to the last faultless in its evolution. Here freedom in artistic handling is at one with obedience to artistic law. Mr Theodore Watts, in his article on Poetry in the “Encyclopaedia Britannica,” has called attention to what he describes as its fluidity of metrical movement. “The more billowy the metrical waves,” he says, “the better suited they are to render the emotions expressed by the ode;” and he points out how in the opening stanza of the France the first metrical wave, after it has gently fallen at the end of the first quatrain,” leaps up again on the double rhymes and goes bounding on, billow after billow, to the end of the stanza.” The mastery of a prolonged period in lyrical poetry is rare even with great writers; we find it in Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind; we find it in Coleridge’s France; and the sense of power which accompanies it lifts these poems into quite another class than that which includes the tesselated odes of Gray. The idea of liberty presented in Coleridge’s France is one which he sorrowfully admits cannot be found in any human society, which indeed cannot possibly be realised under any form of human government. Yet it is true, he maintains, for the individual man so far as he is pure and inflamed with the love and adoration of God in nature. The close of the poem in its recoil from society to the individual soul resembles the close of his earlier ode on the Departing Year. It seems not improbable that when Shelley wrote his great Ode to Liberty, a song inspired by the highest hopes for society, he had before his mind Coleridge’s words of despair, for freedom as conceived by Shelley – and it is freedom for a people, not merely for an individual, of which he sings comes not alone but accompanied by justice and love and wisdom, the memory of what has been and the hope for what will be.

The ode France is dated February, 1798. The spring and early summer of that year were a season of radiant beauty. Coleridge had been relieved from anxiety about his worldly ways and means by the generosity of the Wedgwoods. Young Hazlitt eagerly accepted his invitation to Nether Stowey, and on the afternoon of his arrival Coleridge took him over to Alfoxden. Wordsworth was not at home, but his sister Dorothy received Coleridge and his friend for the night, and gave them free access to her brother’s manuscripts.7 Next morning, seated on the trunk of an old ash-tree in Alfoxden Park, Coleridge read aloud in his musical voice some of Wordsworth’s Somerset poems, and on his walk homewards he lamented, says Hazlitt, that his fellow poet was not prone enough to believe in the traditional superstitions of the place, and that in some of his poems there was a something corporeal, a matter-of-factness, a clinging to the palpable. Hazlitt remained three weeks at Nether Stowey, often spending his afternoons in discourse with Coleridge in the arbour of bark built by Tom Poole; and before they parted he accompanied Coleridge on an excursion to Lynton and the Valley of Rocks. A like excursion to the north coast of Devon had been made in the late autumn by Coleridge in company with Wordsworth and his sister, which earlier visit to Lynton is connected with a memorable event in the history of English poetry.

The Valley of Rocks.

IT WAS ON A November afternoon of 1797 that this earlier tramp began.8  “The evening dark and cloudy,” writes Miss Wordsworth; ” we went eight miles, William and Coleridge employing themselves in laying the plan of a ballad, to be published with some pieces of William’s.” This ballad was the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, with which originated the conjoint volume published in the autumn of the following year. Two classes of poems, it will be remembered, were to appear in this volume of  “Lyrical Ballads,” ” in the one the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural, and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real. . . For the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life,” and these were to be interpreted and illuminated by a meditative and feeling mind, and by the light of imagination. Such is Coleridge’s well-known account of the origin of the “Lyrical Ballads;” and it indicates exactly wherein lies the importance of the publication of that little volume in the history of our literature. A few words will serve to make this clear.

In the literature of the time there were two powerful tendencies, each of which was liable to excess when it operated alone, each of which needed to work in harmony with the other, and to take something into itself from the other. A little before the death of Johnson English poetry had almost reached the lowest ebb. It  has often been said that its revival was due to the excitement and enthusiasm caused by the Revolution in France; but this is certainly untrue. In 1785 appeared Cowper’s poem, The Task. Two years previously the most remarkable of Crabbe’s earlier group of poems, The Village, had been published. In 1786 the Kilmarnock edition of the poems of Burns was issued. Thus our poetry had sprung into sudden and splendid life before that memorable year the centenary of which has recently been celebrated in Paris. And by what means did English poetry renew its life and regain its vigour? By a return to nature. Burns sang direct out of his own warm heart and out of the joys and sorrows of his fellows. The daisy in the furrow, the mouse in the stubble-field, the dying ewe in the ditch, the rustic patriarch among his children and servants, the humours of Scotch drink, the humours of Scotch ecclesiastical parties, and the passions of his own wayward heart supplied him with the themes of his song. Cowper turned from the wire-drawn abstractions in verse which had done duty as poetry and looked around him in his walks about Olney, or filled his senses and spirit with the domestic pleasures of Mary Unwin’s home, and uttered in verse the feelings aroused in him by his garden, his walk in the crisp December morning, his evening fireside, his newspaper and easy chair. And Crabbe resolved to set down for once the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the life of the peasant or the rough fisher on our eastern coasts. He was sick of the ideality of Sweet Auburns and of Cory dons complaining of their amorous pains, ” the only pains, alas, they never feel.” He aimed at being what in our present critical phraseology we term a realist or naturalist.

I praise the cot,
As truth will paint it and as bards will not.

He was unable to select from a crowd of details, for everything should be recorded. But with this tendency there coexisted another which was also strong. It was the tendency towards romance, which gave their popularity to the Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, which appears in the modern-antiques of Chatterton, and in connection with a sentiment supposed to be that of primitive poetry in Macpherson’s Ossian. The Gothic revival which in our own century became learned and antiquarian was then sentimental and imaginative. As Crabbe may serve to represent the extreme of naturalism in art, so ” Monk ” Lewis may serve to represent the other extreme, the extravagance of the romantic tendency. His Castle Spectre, a play brimful of super- natural horrors, was produced in the year in which Coleridge and Wordsworth met at Nether Stowey, and it had a run of sixty nights. The “Tales of Wonder” were published three years after the “Lyrical Ballads.” In “The Monk,” published in 1796, Ambrosio, tempted by an evil spirit, and guilty of monstrous crimes, is tried and tortured by the Inquisition, and is at length dashed headlong from an airy height by Lucifer. Raymond is haunted at night by the spectre of the bleeding nun: ” She lifted up her veil slowly. What a sight presented itself to my startled eyes! I beheld before me an animated corse.” The gross marvel and mystery amassed in ” The Monk ” would suffice for a library of our modern tales of horror.

HERE THEN WERE TWO movements in our literature, each operating apart from the other and each prone to excess naturalism, tending to a hard, dry, literal manner, unilluminated by the light of imagination; romance, tending to become a coarse revel in material horrors. English poetry needed first that romance should be saved and ennobled by the presence and the power of truth, and, secondly, that naturalism, without losing any of its fidelity to fact, should be saved and ennobled by the presence and the power of imagination. And this was precisely what Coleridge and Wordsworth contributed to English poetry in their joint volume of ” Lyrical Ballads,” which in consequence may justly be described as marking if not making an epoch in the history of our literature.

Relying largely, as he did in his poems which deal with the supernatural, on the effect produced by their psychological truth, Coleridge could afford to subdue the supernatural, and refine it to the utmost. His regard for truth even in the description of minute physical phenomena, though in the midst of a world of wonders, is illustrated by the alteration of the line in the Ancient Mariner, “The furrow followed free” to “The furrow streamed off free,” because when on board a ship he perceived that as seen from the deck, though not from the shore, the wake appears like a brook flowing off from the stern. More important than truth physical he felt truth psychological to be. And attaining this, he did not need, as Monk Lewis did, to drag into his verse all the horrors of the churchyard and the nether pit of Hell. None of us can tell what was that sight of shame or anguish revealed to Christabel when the Lady Geraldine unbound her girdle and dropped the robe to her feet. We can imagine how exact in his description of the dreadful object Lewis would have been. And it seems certain that in the manuscript a line existed in this passage of Christabel which never was permitted to appear in the published text: –

Behold her bosom and half her side,
Hideous, deformed, and pale of hue,
A sight to dream of, not to tell.

The words ” hideous, deformed, and pale of hue ” are known to us through a quotation made from memory in the pages of Hunt’s Examiner, and Coleridge preferred to leave a line without its rhyme rather than retain words which define a horror better shadowed in mystery. Again, in the Ancient Mariner where the spectre-bark approaches the doomed ship, and the forms of Death and Life-in-Death are visible playing at dice for the mariner and his companions, a verse full of charnel abominations occurs in the original text which was afterwards judiciously omitted. Coleridge felt that these hideous incidents of the grave only detracted from the finer horror of the voluptuous beauty of his White Devil, the night-mare Life-in-Death :

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold,
Her skin was as white as leprosy.

She it was, this Life-in-Death, who with her numbing spell haunted Coleridge himself in after days.

IT IS REMARKABLE THAT a poem which impresses us so much as an imaginative unity, the work of one who had a genius for the finer kind of supernatural invention, should in great part have been a compilation from several brains and books. Young Cruikshank, a neighbour of Coleridge at Nether Stowey, had dreamed of a skeleton ship worked by a skeleton crew, and this was the starting-point of the whole. It has been suggested that the blessed spirits who bring the ship to harbour came from one of the epistles of St Paulinus of Nola, the friend of St Ambrose. The crime of the Old Navigator (as Coleridge loved to call him) was Wordsworth’s suggestion derived from Shelvocke’s “Voyage round the World.” Shelvocke describes the insupportable cold of the South Atlantic Ocean, and the perpetual squalls of sleet and snow. They had not seen since they passed the straits of Le Maire a single living creature save one disconsolate black albatross, which accompanied them for several days, as if it had lost itself, till the second captain in one of his melancholy fits shot the bird, imagining from its colour that it was of evil omen, and not doubting that they would have a fair wind if it were destroyed. Wordsworth can hardly have omitted to mention the ominous colour of the albatross, but in Coleridge’s poem it becomes the friend and companion of the mariners, and we must imagine it a white-plumed majestic creature. The device of animating the bodies of the dead crew with a troop of seraphs, whether the suggestion is due to St Paul inns or to Wordsworth, is so conceived and executed as to illustrate admirably Coleridge’s power of evoking beauty out of horror. Nor are his strange creatures of the sea those hideous worms which a vulgar dealer in the supernatural might have invented. Seen in a great calm by the light of the moon these creatures of God are beautiful in the joy of their life :–

Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,
They coil’d and swam; and every track
Was a flash of golden fire.

And it is through a sudden welling-forth of sympathy with their happiness, and a sudden sense of their beauty, that the spell which binds the afflicted mariner is snapped. That one self-centred in crude egoism should be purified and converted through a new sympathy with suffering and sorrow is a common piece of morality; this purification through sympathy with joy is a piece of finer and higher doctrine.

Mrs Barbauld once told Coleridge that she admired the Ancient Mariner very much, but that there were two faults in it it was improbable and it had no moral. As for the probability, said Coleridge (and the good Mrs Barbauld might perhaps have observed a twinkle in the noticeable man’s large grey eyes), that might admit some question; but as to the want of moral, he told her that in his judgment the poem had too much; the only or chief fault, if he might say so, was the obtrusion of the moral sentiment so openly on the reader as a principle or cause of action in a work of such pure imagination. The mariner is punished for shooting an albatross; the curse passes away when he blesses the watersnakes. Coleridge might have called his critic’s attention to the fact that the professed moral is serviceable at least as an artistic device. The beautiful stanza beginning,

He prayeth best who loveth best
All things both great and small,

sets forth this professed moral. Its real effect is admirably described by Mrs Oliphant, when she says that the soothing words “bring our feet back to the common soil with a bewildered sweetness of relief and soft quiet” after the imaginative strain with which we follow the tale of the voyage through strange seas. If any reader require a moral he can find it elsewhere; he can find it in that passage which tells how a sense of the incomparable beauty and the rapturous life of the world quickens and redeems the withered soul of the mariner. “ow do you know,” asks William Blake, ” but every bird that cuts the airy way is an immense world of delight closed by your senses five?” It is the opening of our senses and our hearts to the miracle of beauty and of life everywhere surrounding us that (if we must have a moral) is the highest spiritual effect wrought by the poem.

WE SHALL NOT DISPUTE with the excellent Mrs Barbauld as to the improbability of the narrative. Have we not submitted to the spell of the mariner’s eye, which compels us to listen like a child and suspends our in- credulity? The bride, red as a rose, and the nodding minstrelsy pass before us, but the gaiety of the village festival makes us only the more sensible of the solitude of the narrator “alone on the wide, wide sea,” and of that subsequent solitude, and yet at the same time need of sympathy, created in him by an intense and unique experience, which even here and now isolates him, yet mysteriously connects him with his fellows. The majesty and beauty with which some of the old and common facts of nature are described, as only an eye-witness could describe them, vouch for the truth of the stranger incidents. In regions far from the stir of human life there is yet a constant action going on, and the actors are not alone the Polar Spirit and the spectres of the skeleton hulk, and the troop of blessed angels, but the sea and the sun and the moon and the stars of heaven. How majestically the sunrise at sea is expressed :

Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head
The glorious sun uprist.

It is like the solemn apparition of one of the chief actors in this strange drama of crime, and agony, and expiation, and in the new sense of wonder with which we witness that oldest spectacle of the heavens we can well believe in other miracles. How exquisite is the description of the journeying moon, what magic in the simplest words :

The moving moon went up the sky,
And nowhere did abide;
Softly she was going up
With a star or two beside

These regents of the upper air are not dead balls of matter, but living powers, and “everywhere,” says Coleridge in the gloss which he added to his poem, “the blue sky belongs to them, and is their appointed rest, and their native country, and their own natural homes, which they enter unannounced, as lords that are certainly expected, and yet there is a silent joy at their arrival.

IN CHRISTABEL THE HUMAN and the supernatural elements interpenetrate each other more completely and more subtly than in the Ancient Mariner. The pre- sence of higher than mortal powers for evil and for good is everywhere felt, yet nowhere is it thrust forward. We can reconstruct a story almost the same in which the incidents shall proceed in accordance with the acknowledged laws of the world; we can imagine an innocent girl coming under the influence of a woman older than herself, of beautiful person and powerful intellect, but of depraved character, who shall disclose to her some bosom-sin under conditions which render indispensable for a time an inviolable secrecy ; to shield the maiden from harm she shall possess, besides her own purity of heart, the pious memory of her dead mother. Thus by merely lowering the key all the action of the poem might be transposed from the supernatural to the natural. Even the malign influence of Geraldine’s look askance could readily be translated into its moral significance – the fascinating power of evil over a virginal soul, the mere knowledge of vice seeming to imply a horrible community with it during, at least, one dreadful moment before the instinctive recoil from sin has had time and force to come into operation. Coleridge’s story is far other than this; but thus we may interpret the moral and psychological truth on which Coleridge’s story is founded. The poem is not a piece of didactic morality, nor such a spiritual allegory as one of its critics, Mr Cotterill, has fancied; it is an imaginative romance pervaded throughout by the supernatural ; and yet it is founded in spiritual truth, and, as Christopher North has said, while we read it, we are all the while in our own real and living world, and in the heart of its best and most delightful affections.

The first part of Christabel was written at Nether Stowey ; and it is perhaps worth remarking that in Dorothy Wordsworth’s diary, in which we can trace the origin of some of her brother’s poems, we also find touches which are manifestly connected with this romance of her friend. In her frequent walks with Coleridge in the neighbourhood of Alfoxden observations of nature were made, and little incidents were noticed and talked of, which became a common possession for the memories and imaginations of both.

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.

That impish leaf of the oak against which the witch lady leaned was seen near Nether Stowey on March 7, 1798. “One only leaf upon the top of a tree,” writes Dorothy Wordsworth, ” the sole remaining leaf, danced round and round like a rag blown by the wind.”

The thin grey 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.

So the poem. And Dorothy Wordsworth, noticing also the apparent diminution of the moon behind a fleecy cloud : ” When we left home the moon, immensely large, the sky scattered over with clouds. These soon closed in, contracting the dimensions of the moon without concealing her.” And it may be that the baron’s mastiff which howls at intervals in answer to the clock was ennobled by Coleridge from ” the manufacturer’s dog ” near Alfoxden, that “makes a strange, uncouth howl, which it continues many minutes after there is no noise near it but that of the brook. It howls at the murmur of the village stream.”

Although in Christabel we are aware of the ghostly presence of the maiden’s mother, we never see the phantom; we only know that the witch lady tries to wave her off, and that she comforts her daughter with sweet visions as she lies dreaming in the arms of her foe. But Coleridge has elsewhere created a visible ghost, a ghost which appears under the strangest circumstances, a ghost itself so strange that Coleridge may be said to have invented a new spiritual fear. It is indeed the first of the many ghosts that have appeared upon our earth, much more ancient than the old man of Endor, for it is the spirit of the first human being who left the mystery of life on our globe for the mystery of death. Here again in The Wanderings of Cain loveliness and terror are allied. The boy Enos, son of the first murderer, beautiful in his innocence and encinctured with leaves for his only garments, plucks by moonlight the fruits not of the happy garden but of the wilderness. There is a majesty in the mighty limbs of Cain and in the intolerable grief which wastes his frame like fire. Behind the pair lie the cavern-like recesses of the forest; before them, the desert sands, white in the moonshine, with one rock casting its shadow on the sands. And here in the shadow of the rock lurks the piteous ghost of Abel, the shape as of a young man, apparelled in unclean garments, his skin as white as the moonlit sands, and his voice sweet but thin and querulous, ” like that of a feeble slave in misery who weeps and laments.” And why should not he weep, who having served during his life the God of the living has now become the sad servant of that other and strange God, the God of the dead? Moonlight – the wilderness – the solitary rock with its shadow and these three figures of the innocent boy, the first fratricide, and this forlorn ghost with his sweet querulous voice and his dreadful secret – what a strange, and, Mrs’ Barbauld might add, improbable invention! Unquestionably, if we might have our choice of a ghost to haunt us, we should say give us one of those comfortable domestic larvae who rattle chains and draw the midnight curtain, and save us from the sight of such a ghost as this lamentable youth of the moon-illumined desert and from the cadence of his sweet and plaintive voice.

The cottage at Nether Stowey.

THE POEMS OF THE Nether Stowey period are in the main Coleridge’s poems of joy; those written after his thirtieth year are, with few exceptions, poems born of sorrow. Two visionary figures seem to mediate between the earlier and later groups, two visionary figures that are seldom absent for a long time from his verse those of Love and Hope. But the imagery changes mournfully as the years go by. In an early poem he recalls the cloudless day of boyhood–

When by my native brook I wont to rove,
While Hope with kisses nursed the Infant Love.

In a poem of his elder years he pictures the same pair, but how differently !

Hope keeping Love, Love Hope alive,
Like babes bewildered in the snow,
That cling and huddle from the cold
In hollow tree or ruined fold.

And yet more sadly in another poem :

          Thee, genial Hope,
Love’s elder sister ! thee did I behold, ‘
Drest as a bridesmaid, but all pale and cold,
With roseless cheek, all pale and cold and dim
Lie lifeless at my feet,

and when Love enters and would revive her pale sister with a kiss,

Alas! ’twas but a chilling breath
Woke just enough of life in death
To make Hope die anew.

Mr Traill, in his biography of Coleridge, speaks of the years from 1800 to 1804 as the turning-point, moral and physical, of his career. According to his own statement the habit of drinking laudanum, taken at first to sop the Cerberus of physical pain, had become fixed about 1803. But we know that the dream-poem of Kubla Khan came into being while Coleridge was under the influence of an anodyne, and the date of its creation is the summer of 1797. As De Quincey records in succession the pleasures and the pains of opium, so Coleridge places side by side this Eastern vision of imaginative delight and The Pains of Sleep, in which the night-mare terrors of disease are so powerfully expressed. Both poems have in a high degree the special dream quality – a suspension of all power of volition; but in the one the will is charmed into passivity by images of beauty, in the other it is overwhelmed and prostrated after a desperate struggle with visions of horror and of shame.

THE SENSE THAT HIS higher powers were suffering ominous eclipse, the consciousness of duties neglected, the knowledge that friends were falling away in consequence of his inability to respond to their love, the blank of domestic happiness, even his deep regard for Sara Hutchinson, which made him more painfully aware of all that his life had missed, united to produce those moods and long seasons of depression under which he lay inactive. No one had felt more exquisitely than he the visitations of joy, as of a swift light breeze blowing from some Elysian meadow:–

         A new joy,
Lovely as light, sudden as summer gust,
And gladsome as the first-born of the spring,
Beckons me on, or follows from behind,
Playmate, or guide!

Now such visitations were rare indeed ; and in their place Coleridge had grown acquainted with the dull, un- changing cloud of depression which hung upon him for long periods like a pall. All the dull misery of such a hopeless mood is exposed to view in the great ode Dejection. Other poems of other authors express a passion of grief, which this does not; when sorrow has us in its grip we are conscious at least of the life within us by virtue of the very pain which we endure. No other poem so truthfully renders the leaden mood of helpless and hopeless prostration, too dull to be named despair:

A grief without a pang, void, dark and drear,
A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief,
Which finds no natural outlet, no relief,
In word, or sigh, or tear.

WHATEVER COMFORT HE WAS capable of in such forlorn weakness came to Coleridge through human love. The ode, addressed in its later text to a “Lady,” who, we are assured by Professor Knight, was Wordsworth’s sister-in-law, Sara Hutchinson, had been originally addressed to Wordsworth himself. And it is the generous thought that his friend at least had been true to the duties and the glories of his high calling as poet, that brings some lightening of the cloud of misery.

William, friend of my devoutest choice,
raised from anxious dread and busy care
By the immenseness of the good and fair
Which thou seest everywhere,
Joy lifts thy spirit, joy attunes thy voice.9

When Wordsworth and his family, escaping from Dove Cottage, Grasmere, which had grown too small for their needs, were settled through Sir George Beaumont’s kindness in the farm-house at Coleorton in the winter of 1806-7, Coleridge with his son Hartley visited them. It was one of the saddest periods in Coleridge’s homeless life; but among these faithful friends he received all the tender ministering of love. One evening Wordsworth read aloud for him a portion of The Prelude and Coleridge, roused by the ennobling excitement, composed on that night the loftiest and the most pathetic of his poems in blank verse. The lines which compare the pain of life and love awakening in his heart after its long syncope to the suffering experienced by the drowned when they begin to breathe again, must be in the memory of every reader of Coleridge. But certain lines which precede these as the poem was originally written remained for long unknown ; they were for the first time printed from the manuscript by Professor Knight, and they tell much of the strength and the weakness of the writer’s heart. Dear shall be the “Orphic song” to which he had listened, exclaims Coleridge:–

Dear shall it be to every human heart,
To me how more than dearest ! me on whom
Comfort from thee and utterance of thy love
Came with such heights and depths of harmony,
Such sense of wings uplifting, that its might
Scatter’d and quelled me, till my thoughts became
A bodily tumult ; and thy faithful hopes
Thy hopes of me, dear friend! by me unfelt!
Were troublous to me, almost as a voice
Familiar once, and more than musical ;
As a dear woman’s voice to one cast forth,
A wanderer with a worn-out heart forlorn,
‘Mid strangers pining with untended wounds.

Among the sorrows which resulted from his neglect of duties, not the least was the loss of love. ” To be beloved,” he says, ” is all I need,” and it is true that he more than men of hardier and more self-sufficing nature found repose in affection.

O for some dear-abiding place of Love,
O’er which my spirit, like the mother dove,
Might brood with warming wings.

So he writes in a poem of leave-taking, and the lines may have suggested to Rossetti the thought of his sonnet to Coleridge quoted in the opening of this article. It was not easy for Coleridge’s friends to continue to love a man who met all their solicitude and tenderness with silence and seeming indifference. Yet part of his misery arose from the fact that while unable to give evidence of his affection, as he lay inactive, “deeper than ever plummet sounded,” he had nevertheless a constant craving for sympathy. He was sensible that his friends, though deeply concerned on his behalf, could not give him the love that he required, and such kindness as theirs counterfeiting absent love is described by him in one of his poems as “the pang more sharp than all.”

YET TO THE LAST there were occasional beamings forth of the spirit of delight and poetry even in those elder days when his body did him grievous wrong, and when his mind, though it had recovered much of its intellectual power, had not recovered its early illumination of hope and joy. One of these out-wellings of poetry, among the latest and loveliest, is to be found in the lines which accompany the delicate engraving of the garden of Boccaccio, after Stothard, in The Keepsake for 1829. “The love, the joyance, and the gallantry ” of the Florentine pleasance as seen in Stothard’s design conquer the numbness of his dreary mood, and bring back for an hour all his lost youth, all the glory of his early manhood.

Coleridge wrote for his own epitaph those lines in which he speaks of himself as one who

     Many a year with toilful breath
Found death in life.

I like better to remember him in connection with that memorial poem adapted from the Italian of Chiabrera, where Coleridge names himself Satyrane the idoloclast – idoloclast, because he hated the objects of vain worship of his own day; Satyrane, because, like the sylvan protector of Spenser’s Una, he had a “wild-wood fancy and impetuous zeal.” In this Tombless Epitaph he tells of his years of weary days, and of the sickness that besieged him “even to the gates and inlets of his life.” Yet he declares that he maintained the citadel unconquered, that he was “strong to follow the delightful Muse:–

          Not a rill
There issues from the fount of Hippocrene
But he had traced it upward to its source,
Through open glade, dark glen, and secret dell,
Knew the gay wild flowers on its banks, and culled
Its med’cinable herbs. Yea, oft alone,
Piercing the long-neglected holy cave,
The haunt obscure of old Philosophy,
He bade with lifted torch its starry walls
Sparkle, as erst they sparkled to the flame
Of odorous lamps tended by Saint and Sage.
O framed for calmer times and nobler heart!
O studious Poet, eloquent for truth!
Philosopher, contemning wealth and death,
Yet docile, childlike, full of Life and Love.

Not merely then a “footless bird of Paradise,” but “childlike, full of life and love.” With this word I may fitly close.


Edward Dowden was an Irish critic and poet. This essay originally appeared in the Fortnightly Review, September, 1889 [XLVI N.S.], 342–66.

Also in The Fortnightly: On the Road to Pantisocracy by Andrew Mitchell and The Case of Edmund Rack by Tom Lowesnstein.

  1. I may refer the reader to an interesting little volume, “The Quantocks and their Associations,” by the Rev. W. L. Nichols (Bath: printed for private circulation, 1873), to which I owe the identification of some of the localities described by Coleridge.
  2. I may refer the reader to an interesting little volume, “The Quantocks and Their Associations,” by the Rev. W.L. Nichols (Bath: printed for private circulation, 1873),to which I owe some of the identification of localities described by Coleridge.
  3. Mrs Sandford’s “Thomas Poole and his Friends,” i. 239.
  4. Altered in the edition of 1797 to “The aching of pale Fashion’s vacant breast.”
  5. Coleridge’s ” Lay Sermons,” p. 16, third edition.
  6. It was probably while his mind was at work on the Bristol addresses that his opinion of Godwin underwent a change, for the sonnet appeared in January, 1795, the addresses were delivered in February.
  7. Some readers of Coleridge’s words describing Dorothy – “In every motion her innocent soul outbeams so brightly, that who saw her would say, ‘Guilt was a thing impossible with her'” – may have been puzzled by the last words. He is here quoting from his own description of Teresa in Remorse, and this passage seems to prove that the first scene o Remorse, which does not appear in Osorio, must nevertheless have been written in 1797.
  8. In Wordsworth’s Fenwick note to We are Seven, as printed by Professor Knight and elsewhere, the tour is dated “in the spring of the year 1798.” In the “Memoirs of Wordsworth,” by Christopher Wordsworth, vol. i. p. 107, the same note is printed, and the words are “in the autumn of 1797.” There seems to be no doubt that the tour actually took place in November, 1797.
  9. In the earliest printed text “Edmund” appears instead of ” William,” and from later texts of the poem these lines are omitted.
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