Imatges de pÓgina

enabled and pledged to begin some one work of those above mentioned, and for two thirds of my whole time to devote myself to this exclusively till finished, to take the chance of its success by the best mode of publication that would involve me in no risk, then to proceed with the next, and so on till the works above mentioned, as already in full material existence, should be reduced into formal and actual being; while in the remaining third of my time I might go on maiuring and completing my great work, (for if but easy in mind, I have no doubt either of the reawakening power or of the kindling inclination.) and my Christabel, and what else the happier hour might inspire.

. . Now Mr. Green has offered to contribute from thirty to forty pounds yearly, for three or four years; my young friend and pupil, the son of one of my dearest old friends, fifty pounds, and I think that from ten to twenty pounds I could rely upon for another.

The sum required would be about two hundred pounds, to be repaid, of course, should the disposal and sale of my writings produce the means."

The character which is shown, and the facts which

appear in these extracts, might be still further illustrated by passages from other letters and writings belonging to this period. But let us rather draw a veil over a picture so melancholy.


The first edition of the Aids to Reflection was published in 1825; a work which from its desultory plan was suited to Coleridge's genius, and in which consequently the characteristics of his style of thought and composition are displayed to their best advantage.

But the principal intellectual occupation of Coleridge's later years consisted in conversation. From the time of his college life he had been distinguished for the power and beauty of his oral discourse. To his friends he would talk for hour after hour, allowing them small chances to reply. He one day said to Lamb,“ Charles, did you ever hear me preach ?” I never heard



any thing else,” replied Lamb. But another saying of this true, genial, friend was, “ Only now listen to his talk : it's as fine as an angel's.” Many visitors used to go to Highgate to listen to it. On Thursday evenings there was often a gathering of disciples and friends to hear the genius of the place discourse. A certain peculiar prestige soon attached itself to these meetings. Coleridge was · the high-priest of mysteries from which the vulgar world was excluded. The Gillmans were the acolytes of the temple, and there were always to be found enough burners of incense. At this time a certain hazy grandeur of reputation invested the retreat of the so esteemed sage, the outlines and foundation of which no one of his disciples undertook to define or exhibit. Nor was it strange that

it should be so. The versatility of his mind, its very irregularity with deeps and shallows, the variety of his attainments, and the unusual nature of some of them, the occasional displays of extraordinary brilliancy produced by unnatural stimulants, the peculiarity of his position, the known sadness and strangeness of his past experiences, his exhibition of strong religious feeling, his assumption of intellectual superiority not only over those with whom he was brought into association, but also over the leading men of the time, the very obscurity in which he often bewildered his hearers, the sweetness of his disposition and the benignity of his manner,—all united to give a false value in the eyes of his admirers to the philosophy which he delivered to them in oracular monologues. His talk was not of a kind to be well retained even by the firmest and most practised memory, and few reports of it have been preserved. After his uncle's death Mr. Henry Nelson Coleridge, the husband of his only daughter, published, under the title of Table Talk, such scraps of it as he had been able to note down. In these fragments there are the greatest inequalities. Now and then occur fine thoughts finely expressed, and now passages equally striking for their ignorance and arrogance. But such passages can give no idea of the style of his conversation, as it continued, in an unbroken strain, for hour after hour. In the Gentleman's Magazine for December, 1846,


is a curious report somewhat in full, of an evening's talk. It begins as follows :

“G- took me to see and hear Coleridge. I was sadly disappointed in his appearance. I looked for the light of genius which had exercised such influence on his age, but I could not find it. G- attacked him on his having said that the interview of Hector and Andromache, in the 6th Iliad, was a modern interpolation, and supported his argument for its authenticity very well. ..... But Coleridge never listened in the least to more than the first words, and seemed restless till Ghad done, and he could speak himself, to tell us that we did not understand him, that in fact nobody ever did understand him, but that he would some time or other publish something which would explain every thing. •The chief difficulty of understanding what I said about Hector and Andromache arises from the want of training in the rising generation, a want as well bodily, I may say, as mental.

In the Life of John Sterling, by Archdeacon Hare, are preserved the notes that Sterling took of his first interview with Coleridge. They are interesting, not only as showing the commencement of an intercourse which was to colour much of Sterling's unsettled life, but as exhibiting very clearly some of the marked characteristics of Coleridge's style of talk. “Mr. Coleridge,” says

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Sterling, “ happened to lay his hand on a little old engraving of Luther with four German verses above it;" and from this the talk took its beginning. From the portraits of Luther Coleridge turned to speak of Luther himself, and then of Calvin, and then of landscape-gardening," and then he went into a long exposition of the evils of commerce and manufactures.” From this he took up over-population and the division of labor, then spoke of the want of churches, the influence of Christianity, the harm done by Captain Cook's voyages, the religious ideas of savages and of the ancient world. Then he talked of Dr. Chalmers's preaching, and of Irving's notions about the second coming of our Lord. “I was in his company,” says Sterling, “ about three hours; and of that time he spoke during two and three quarters. It would have been delightful to listen as attentively, and certainly easy for him to speak just as well, for the next forty-eight hours. On the whole his conversation, or rather monologue, is by far the most interesting I ever heard or heard of.”

“ He speaks rather slowly, but never stops, and seldom even hesitates.”

After this first interview Sterling had many others with Coleridge, but of none of them has he left an account. By far the best description, however, of Coleridge during the later years of his life, is that by Carlyle, in his biography of Sterling. In spite of many characteristic defects


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