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MEMOIR OF SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE.
reside at Keswick, in Cumberland. He had made a great addition to his stock of knowledge, and he seems to have spared no pains to store up what was either useful or speculative. He had become master of most of the early German writers, or rather of the state of early German literature. He dived deeply into the mystical stream of Teutonic philosophy. There the predilections of his earlier years no doubt came upon him in aid of his researches into a labyrinth which no human clue will ever unravel; or which, were one found capable of so doing, would reveal a mighty nothing. Long, he says, while meditating in England, had his heart been with Paul, and John, and his head with Spinoza. He then became convinced of the doctrine of St Paul, and from an antitrinitarian became a believer in the Trinity, and in Christianity as commonly received; or, to use his own word, found a re-conversion.” Yet, for all his arguments on the subject, he had better have retained his early creed, and saved the time wasted in travelling back to exactly the same point where he set out, for he finds that faith necessary at last which he had been taught in his church, was necessary at his first outset in life. His arguments, pro and con, not being of use to any of the community, and the exclusive property of their owner, he had only to look back upon his laborious trifling, as Grotius did upon his own toils, when death was upon him. Metaphysics are most unprofitable things; as political economists say, their labours are of the most - unproductive class - in the community of thinkers. The next step of our poet in a life which seems to have had no settled object, but to have been steered compassless along, was to undertake the political and literary departments of the Morning Post newspaper, and in the duties of this situation he was engaged in the spring of 1802. No man was less fitted for a popular writer; and, in common with his early connections, Coleridge seems to have had no fixed political principles that the public could understand, though he perhaps was able to reconcile in his own bosom all that others might imagine contradictory, and no doubt he did so conscientiously. His style and manner of writing, the learning and depth of his disquisitious for ever came into play, and rendered him unintelligible, or, what is equally fatal, unreadable to the mass. It was singular too, that he disclosed in his biography so strongly his unsettled political principles, which showed that he had not studied politics as he had studied poetry, Kant, and theology. The public of each party looks upon a political writer as a sort of champion around
whom it rallies, and feels it impossible to trust the changeable leader, or applaud the addresses of him who is inconsistent or wavering in principles: it will not back out any but the firm untlinching partisan. In truth, what an ill compliment do men pay to their own judgment, when they run counter to, and shift about from points they have declared in indelible ink are founded on truth and reason irrefutable and eternal . They must either have been superficial smatterers in what they first promulgated, and have appeared prematurely in print, or they must be tinctured with something like the hue of uncrimsoned apostacy. The members of what is called the « Lake School" have been more or less strongly marked with this reprehensible change of political creed, but Coleridge the least of them. In truth he got nothing by any change he ventured upon, and, what is more, he expected nothing; the world is therefore bound to say of him what cannot be said of his friends, if it be true, that it believes most cordially in his sincerity— and that his obliquity in politics was caused by his superficial knowledge of them, and his devotion of his high mental powers to different questions. Notwithstanding this, those who will not make a candid allowance for him, have expressed wonder how the author of the Consciones ad Populum, . and the “Watchman,” the friend of freedom, and one of the founders of the Pantisocracy, could afterwards regard the drivelling and chicanery of the pettifogging minister, Perceval, as glorious in British political history, and he himself as the a best and wisest" of ministers! Although Coleridge has avowed his belief that he is not calculated for a popular writer, he has endeavoured to show that his own writings in the Morning Post were greatly influential on the public mind. Coleridge himself confesses that his Morning Post essays, though written in defence or furtherance of the measures of the government, added nothing to his fortune or reputation. How should they be effective, when their writer, who not long before addressed the people, and echoed from his compositions the principles of freedom and the rights of the people, now wrote with scorn of a nob-sycophants,” and of the halfwitted vulgar?" It is a consolation to know that our author himself laments the waste of his manhood and intellect in this way. What might he not have given to the world that is enduring and admirable, in the room of these misplaced political lucubrations! Who that has read his better works will not subscribe to this truth 2 His translation of Schiller's Wallenstein may be denominated a free one, and is finely executed. It is impossible to give in the English language a more effective idea of the work of the great German dramatist. This version was made from a copy which the author himself afterwards revised and altered, and t e translator subsequently republished his version in a more correct form, with the additional passages and alterations of Schiller. This translation will long remain as the most effective which has been achieved of the works of the German dramatists in the British tongue.
The censure which has been cast upon our poet for not writing more which is worthy of his reputation, has been met by his enumeration of what he has done in all ways and times; and, in truth, he has written a vast deal which has passed unnoticed, upon fleeting politics, and in newspaper columns, literary as well as political. To the world these last go for nothing, though their author calculates the thought and labour they cost him at full value. He concedes something, however, to this prevailing idea respecting him, when he says, - Ou my own account, I may perhaps have had sufficient reason to lament my deficiency in self-control, and the neglect of concentrating my powers to the realization of some permanent work. But to verse, rather than to prose, if to either, belongs ‘the voice of mourning, for
Keen pangs of love awakening as a babe
In another part of his works, Coleridge says, speaking of what in poetry he had written, as to myself, I have published so little, and that little of so little importance, as to make it almost ludicrous to mention my name at all.” It is evident, therefore, that a sense of what he might have done for fame, and of the little he has done, is felt by the poet; and yet, the little he has produced has aumong it genus of the purest lustre, the brilliancy
of which time will not deaden until the universal voice of nature be heard no longer, and poetry
perish beneath the dull load of life's hacknied realities. The poem of . Christabel," Coleridge says, was composed in consequence of an agreement with Mr Wordsworth, that they should mutualiv produce specimens of poetry which should contain - the power of exciting the sympa
thy of the reader, by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination. The sudden charm, which accidents of light and shade, which moon-light or sun-set diffused over a known and familiar landscape, appeared to represent the practicability of coinbining both." Further he observes on this thought, - that a series of poems might be composed of two sorts. In the one, the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the excellence to be 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, etc. For the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life.” Thus, it appears, originated the poems of the - Ancient Mariner," and a Christabel,” by Coleridge, and the « Lyrical Balladsof Wordsworth. - Perhaps there is no Fnglish writer living who understood better than Coleridge the elements of poetry, and the way in which they may be best combined to produce certain impressions. His definitions of the merits and differences in style and poetic genius, between the earliest and latest writers of his country, are superior to those which any one else has it in his power to make; for, in truth, he long and deeply meditated upon then, and no one can be dissatisfied by the reasons he gives, and the examples he furnishes to bear out his theories and opinions. These things he does as well or better in conversation than in writing. His conversational powers are indeed unrivalled, and it is to be feared that, to excel in these, he has sacrificed what are more durable; and that he has resigned, for the pleasure of gratifying an attentive listening circle, and pleasing thereby his self-love by its applause, much that would have delighted the world. His flow of words, delivery, and variety of information are so great, and he finds it so captivating to enchain his auditors to the car of his triumphant eloquence, that he has sacrificed to this gratification what might have sufficed to confer upon him a celebrity a thousand times more to be coveted by a spirit akin to his own. It is equally creditable to the taste and judgment of Coleridge, that he was one of the first to point out, with temper and sound reasoning, the fallacy of a great portion of Wordsworth's poetic theory, namely, that which relates to low life. Wordsworth contends that a proper poetic diction is a language taken from the mouths of men: in general, in their natural conversation under, the influence of natural feelings. Coleridge wisely asserts, that philosophers are the authors of the best
parts of language, not clowns; and that Milton's language is more that of real life than the language of a cottager. This subject he has most ably treated in chapter 17 of his Biographia Literaria. Two years after he had abandoned the Morning Post, he set off for Malta, where he most unexpectedly arrived on a visit to his friend Dr Stodart, then king's advocate in that island, and was introduced by him to the Governor, Sir Alexander Ball, who appointed him his secretary. He remained in the island fulfilling the duties of his situation, for which he seems to have been but indifferently qualified, a very short period. One advantage, however, he derived from his official employ: that of the pension granted by Government to those who have served in similar situations. On his way home he visited Italy; entered Rome, and examined its host of ancient and modern curiosities, and added fresh matter for thought to his rapidly accumulating store of ideas. Of this visit he gives several anecdotes; among them one respecting the horns of Moses on Michael Angelo's celebrated statue of that laws;iver, intended to elucidate the character of Frenchmen. Coleridge has been all his life a hater of France and Frenchmen, arising from his b lief in their being completely destitute of moral or poetical feeling. A Prussian, who was with him while looking upon the statue, observed that a Frenchman was the only animal, a in the human shape, that by no possibility can lift itself up to religion or poetry.” A foolish and untrue remark on the countrymen of Fenelon and Pascal, of Massillon and Corneille. Just then, however, two French officers of rank happened to enter the church, and the Goth from the Elbe remarked that, the first things they would notice would be the horns and beard" (upon which the Prussian and Coleridge had just been rearing theories and quoting his– tory), and that the associations the Frenchmen would connect with them a would be those of a he-goat and a cuckold." It happened that the Prus-Goth was right: the officers did pass some such joke upon the figure. Hence, by inference, would the poet have his readers deduce the character of a people, whose literature, science, and civilization are perhaps only not the very first in the world Another instance of his fixed and absurd dislike of every thing French, occurred during the delivery of a course of Lectures on Poetry, at the Royal Institution, in the spring of 1808 ; in one of which he astonished his auditory by thanking his Maker, in the most serious manner, for so ordering events, that he was totally ignorant of a single word of . that frightful jargon, the French language!” And yet, notwithstand
ing this public avowal of his entire ignorance of the language, Mr C. is said to have been in the halit, while conversing with his friends, of expressing the utmost contempt for the literature of that country : Whelmed in the wild mazes of metaphysics, and for ever mingling its speculations with all he does or says, Coleridge has of late produced nothing equal to the power of his pen. A few verses in an annual, or a sonnet in a magazine, are the utmost of his efforts. He resides at Hampstead, in the house of a friend having a good garden, where he walks for hours together enwrapped in visions of new theories of theology, or upon the most abstruse of meditations. He goes into the world at times, to the social dinnerparty, where he gratifies his self-love by pouring out the stores of his mind in conversation to admiring listeners. Were he not apt to be too profound, he would make an excellent talker, or rather wn grand causeur for a second Madaine de Sévigne, if such an accomplished female is to be found in the nineteenth century, either in England or France. The fluency of Coleridge's language, the light he throws upon his subjects, and the pleasure he feels in communicating his ideas, and his knowledge, inuate or acquired, are equally remarkable to the stranger. He has been accused of indolence, not perhaps with reason: the misdirection of his distinguished talents would be a better explanation of that for which he has been blameable. He attempts to justify himself on the score of quantity, by asserting that some of his best things were published in newspapers. The world differs with him upon this question, and always will do so, when it is recollected what he has had the power to effect. It will not forgive him for writing upon party, and in support of principles that even now are pretty nearly exploded, - what was meant for mankind." Coleridge mistook his walk when he set up for a politician, and it is to be feared the public have a great deal to regret on account of it. He will not be known hereafter by his Morning Post articles, but by his verses. Whatever pains his political papers may have cost him, and from his own account they were laboriously composed, they will avail him nothing with posterity. The verses of Coleridge give him his claim to lasting celebrity, and it is in vain that he would have the world think otherwise Ile says, a Would that the criterion of a scholar's utility were the number and moral value of the truths which he has been the means of throwing into the general circulation, or the number and value of the minds whom, by his conversation or letters, he has excited into activity, and supplied with the germs of their after-growth. A distinguished rank might not indeed then be awarded to my exertions, but I should dare look forward to an honourable acquittal." In temper and disposition Coleridge is kind and amiable. His person is bulky and his physiognomy is heavy, but his eye is remarkably fine; and neither envy nor uncharitableness have made any successful impression in attacking
his moral character. His family have long resided with Mr Southey's in the north of England; the narrow pecuniary circumstances of our poet are assigned as the reason. It is arduously desired by all lovers of the Muses, that the author of the - Ancient Mariner,” and of . Geneviève, may see life protracted to a green old age, and yet produce works which may rival those of his departed years.