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Stop, Christian passer-by! - Stop, child of God, 
And read ivith gentle breast. Beneath this sod 
A poet lies, or that -which once seemd he. — 
0, lift one thought in prayer for S. T.C.; 
That he ivho many a year ivith toil of breath 
Found death in life, may here find life in death! 
Mercy for praise — to be forgiven for fame 
He ask'd, and hoped, through Christ. 
Do thou the same! 






L. C. CATALOG CARD NO: 66-15429 

■ %.^ 















I 12 





samuel coleridge from a painting by 
Peter Vandyke, 1795 

coleridge from a pastel, 1798 

William Wordsworth from a painting 
by Benjamin Robert Haydon 

samuel coleridge from a painting by 
Washington Allston, a.r.a., i 8 14 





As in other studies I have tried here to explain a poet's 
achievement in terms of his personality and against 
a background of his life, and my main concern has been 
neither to justify nor condemn, but to understand. In so 
far as either a moral or medical interpretation has insinu- 
ated itself, it is because both aspects presented themselves 
to Coleridge himself, and because they do, I think, con- 
tribute to an understanding of the man and of his frus- 
trated genius. 

Wherever possible I have drawn on original and con- 
temporary sources, and particularly on Coleridge's own 
letters and note-books. But I am also greatly and grate- 
fully indebted to Mr. Dykes Campbell's edition of the 
Poems and Biographical Memoir, and to Mrs. Sandford's 
Thomas Poole and His Friends, 

h. i 'a. f. 

Woe to the man with projecting unfathomable discords in 
his being. Parts of his nature outstrip others, and there is 
war within himself. 





t was a matter of singular importance to the small boy 
who loitered in the parlour of the Vicarage of Ottery 
St. Mary in Devonshire that its windows failed to catch 
the early rays of the morning sun. The reason was curi- 
ously connected with a much-thumbed copy of the Ara- 
bian Nights' Entertainments, which lay in a corner of the 
window-sill and seemed, judging by the frequency with 
which he turned his large eyes in its direction, to exercise 
over him a fascination not unmixed with dread. The fadt. 
was that those loose Arabian tales, which, as a poet of our 
day has written, 'were but profane ninnery and doting 
fantasy to the Nomad's stern natural judgment, ' had 
affected very differently this child of six whose sensibility 
even the unobservant would have marked as peculiar : so 
differently that after reading them in the evening, as he 
regularly did seated on his stool by his mother's side, he 
was haunted by spectres whenever he was in the dark. 
And yet his appetite equalled his terror and only needed 
the cheerful confirmation of the sun to triumph over it. 
No sooner had the moment arrived for which he waited, 
when the morning sun reached and nearly covered the 
book, than he seized and hurried off with it to a retired 
corner of the playground. 

For his home was not only a vicarage but a school. 
His father, the Reverend John Coleridge, whose ninth 
son and youngest child he was, combined the duties of a 
parish priest with the mastership of a Free Grammar 
School. He combined, too, considerable learning as a 
linguist, mathematician, and antiquarian, with a native 
eccentricity as lovable for the simple unworldliness to 
which it testified as it was laughable in some of its mani- 
festations. Among other ingenious works he was the 


i 4 SzAmVSL TAYLOR COL£%IT>ge §i 

author of a Critical Latin Grammar in which he proposed 
for students* better understanding and easier recollection 
of the cases to re-name them 'prior, possessive, attributive, 
posterior, interjective, and quale-quare-quidditive' — a 
proposal which, if never adopted, has at least passed into 
humorous history, as has the story of his being tricked 
by short-sightedness at a dinner party into stuffing a con- 
siderable portion of a lady's white gown into his waist- 
coat's orifice under the delusion that it was his own 
errant shirt front. 

To the child of his middle-age, born on the 21st of 
October, 1772, and christened Samuel Taylor, he had 
transmitted in no slight measure his dominant characteris- 
tics, chief among them his generosity of heart, his unprac- 
tical naivete, his guileless piety, and a more than physical 
short-sightedness. Nor would it be altogether fanciful to 
see in the long and sententious school prospectus, which 
the amiable Vicar appended to his Miscellaneous Disserta- 
tions, the original of many similar announcements which 
were eventually to issue from the fertile imagination of 
his son. 

The most noticeable quality in the child, however, as 
the rite already described will suggest, was an excessive 
sensibility, a quality at once fascinating and exasperating 
in its consequences, which doubtless his practical mother 
regarded with the same mixed feelings as the friends and 
benefactors of a later day. Unfortunately, as the mother 
of a large family, she was in no position to give her young- 
est child careful attention, and no circumstance could have 
been more calculated to render morbid an imagination 
born precocious than to be in turn the pet and the butt of 
a crowded household. 

Genius is a stranger in every household, but it is seldom 
made conscious at so early an age of its abnormality. 
Among his handsome elder brothers and sisters the young 


Coleridge soon became a diminutive Joseph, with his 
brother George acting the part of the tolerant Reuben. 
Neither physically nor mentally could he share in their 
concerns, and his inability to do so intensified his sense 
of difference and his absorption in himself. To them he 
was either an annoying oddity or a nuisance, sufficiently 
spoilt by their father, who cherished for a son so true to 
type an especial fondness, and sufficiently egotistic in him- 
self to discourage any very sympathetic attention. We 
hear for example of his brother Frank's violent love of 
beating him, tempered by an affectionate curiosity at his 
quaint ways. 

To expose the weak, particularly if they are possessed 
of genius, to the kindly meant barbarities of the strong, is 
generally to distort and always to exaggerate their ten- 
dencies. For if genius is often weak where the normal are 
strong, it is yet, even in childhood, dimly and rebelliously 
aware of a strength transcending theirs. 

Being therefore 'huffed away from the enjoyments of 
muscular activity,' the child took refuge in books and the 
talk of his elders. The dame's school to which he was sent 
at the age of three only increased the number of tormen- 
tors from whom such a refuge was necessary, while his 
precocity in reading at once fed the isolation which it 

'As I could not play at anything,' he wrote in later life, 
'and was slothful, I was despised and hated by the boys; 
and because I could read and spell, and had, I may truly 
say, a memory and understanding forced into almost un- 
natural ripeness, I was flattered and wondered at by all the 
old women. And so I became very vain, and despised 
most of the boys that were at all near my own age, and 
before I was eight years old I was a character. Sensibility, 
imagination, vanity, sloth, and understanding, were even 
then prominent and manifest.' All of which were but 


symptoms of a sensibility over-indulged, of a self-cultiva- 
tion uncorrected by positive activity. And while the prig- 
gishness could be outgrown, the habit of escaping from 
the actual into the imaginary was to prove the one abso- 
lutely consistent, if pathological impulse in a vacillating 
career. He was driven, to quote his own words again, 
from life in motion to life in thought and sensation. He 
never played except by himself, and then only acted 
over what he had been reading or fancying, or half one 
and half the other. 

Into this twilight playground of the mind and memory 
all his childish energies were turned. He read incessantly, 
and quickly outgrowing the innocent curiosity which fed 
on nursery tales, he drank deep of the Arabian Nights, 
The effect on his mind was comparable to that which a 
narcotic or alcohol would have had upon his body. He 
would lie and mope, his brain crowded with alluring or 
sinister phantoms, his body tingling with sensations which 
cried out for physical expression, and then as the fantastic 
fever burned too fiercely for him to bear, his spirits would 
come upon him suddenly and in a flood and he would run 
up and down, cutting at weeds and nettles in a desperate 
striving after self-escape. 

His senses thus being constantly exposed to literary 
rather than to natural stimuli ceased to react normally to 
the external world. He lived in a sort of vacancy peopled 
by spectres, and lost at six years his ability to distinguish 
between the miraculous and the normal, and with it his 
capacity for surprise or incredulity. Even the contrasts 
between night and day, sleeping and waking, ceased to be 
clearly defined. Already the present was like a somnambu- 
list's dream, and a dream equally at noon and midnight, 
although it was doubtless in the dark hours when the 
heated fancy could not be relieved by sudden bodily 
activity that he suffered the worst terrors, and yet con- 


tinued with a morbid appetite to indulge in the reading 
which begot them. 

Later in life he attributed with some complacence to his 
early reading of fairy tales and about genii and the like the 
facl: that his mind was 'habituated to the vast,' and that he 
never regarded his senses in any way as the criteria of his 
belief, but regulated all his creeds by his conceptions, not 
by sight, even at that age. And he proceeded to argue that 
children ought to be permitted to read romances and 
stories of giants, magicians and genii, on the ground that 
only so does the mind learn a love of the Great and the 

Under normal circumstances his view is defensible. A 
purely rational education must tend to produce men who 
cannot see the wood for the trees. But Coleridge was 
never in danger of losing that sense of the Universal, 
which he rightly claims himself to have possessed to an 
unique degree. And though 'Infancy,' as he wrote else- 
where, 'presents body and spirit in unity: the body is all 
animated,' his own organic unity must have been from the 
beginning precariously balanced; so precariously that a 
prolonged course of giants and genii permanently upset 
its equilibrium. And since, on his own confession, 'in 
poetry as well as metaphysics that which we first meet 
with in the dawn of our mind becomes ever after fetish^ 
we may reasonably attribute to his early absorption in the 
fantastic both his habit in later life of pursuing and argu- 
ing about a Whole which had little reality, a phantom 
meshed in logic, and that failure to relate his imagina- 
tion to actuality which was his tragedy as a poet and a 

And now, as then, 'the soothing things' he dreamt, not 
only 'lulled him to sleep' but kept him feverishly awake. 
He paid in the subtler agonies of hallucination for the 
material crudities from which he fled, and 'the dangerous 


putrid fever* which he had in his fifth year and in which 
he would see 'half-awake and half-asleep . . . armies of 
ugly things bursting upon him* and the Four Good 
Angels of his evening prayer 'keeping them off' was 
doubtless only the crisis of a continuous distemper. For 
pitifully enough it was the very innocence and credulity of 
childhood which made him the victim of the miraculous. 
'Alas!' to quote his own words, he 'had all the simplicity, 
all the docility of the little child, but none of the child's 

And circumstances drove him to extravagant courses 
in the world of fadl as well as of fancy. Once, in his eighth 
year, tormented by his brother Frank, he ran away to a 
little hill that sloped down to the River Otter. And here, 
fortified by obstinacy, a prayer-book, and the glowing 
satisfaction of thinking how miserable his mother must 
be, he stayed until it grew dark and he fell asleep. The 
autumn night was stormy: he 'felt the cold in his sleep 
and dreamed that he was pulling the blanket over him,' 
but in attempting to do so rolled from the top of the hill 
to within three yards of the unfenced river. Half-awake 
and half-asleep he knew that he was wet and stiff; a calf 
was lowing across the river; the sound impressed itself on 
his memory so vividly that he remembered it half a cen- 
tury afterwards. Waking about four in the morning he 
found himself unable to rise and walk. Meanwhile his 
distracted parents had organized search parties and the 
Ottery crier had announced a reward. Eventually his 
faint crying attracted a searcher, who carried him home, to 
the 'outrageous joy* of his mother and the confound- 
ing of the young lady, who hoped that she would whip 

The physical consequences of this exposure, as of a 
similar event in his later boyhood, are necessarily quite 
uncertain. There may of course have been no connection 


between it and the mysterious form of rheumatism from 
which he was later to seek relief in laudanum. 

But from brain-storms, as well as from exasperating 
brothers, Nature could and did provide a salutary refuge. 
As he grew older he could escape to her as well as to books 
from the barbed trivialities of domestic life. The happiest, 
the most vivid moments in his life were born of this com- 

The broken Devonshire countryside, so rich in vegeta- 
tion, so indolent and various, proved a narcotic for the 
dreamy boy which exacted no toll in nightmares. Its lush 
meadows and deep hedgerows, the 'scattered cots' that 
sank into the landscape, the flickering sunlight on the cool 
foliage, the warm winds that waved the reeds — all soothed, 
like an opiate, his troubled nerves; while the church bells, 
'the poor man's only music,' added an element of mourn- 
ful sanctity, peculiarly in harmony with his spirit. 

But it was from the element of water that this child, so 
fluid in himself, so little attached to solid earth and so over- 
heated, derived his purest pleasure, whether it was the 
River Otter, that 'wild streamlet of the West,' along which 
he 'skimmed the smooth thin stone,' with its marge of 
'willows grey' and bedded sand that 

'Vein'd with various dyes, 
Gleam'd through thy bright transparence,' 

or the pebbled village spring with 'milky waters cold and 
clear,' upon which, like Shelley, he launched his paper 
navies or was soothed by its murmur like 'the sad wood- 
nymph, Solitude.' Water that is so wild and whimsical, 
so transitory, gay and mysterious, reflected intimately a 
temperament in which 

'Life's current then ran sparkling to the noon, 
Or, silvery, stole beneath the pensive Moon.' 

2o SzAmUSL TzAYLOR QOLe%[T>ge §i 

For his trembling sensibility brought him excess of rap- 
ture as of pain, and while in his reading he had sought the 
mysterious with as much terror as delight, in the hush of 
Nature the phantasmal was kindly. There was nothing 
malignant in her soft liquescence, only a delicious, tan- 
talizing intangibility, which led him already obscurely to 

'The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible 
Of that eternal language* 

which he was later to read into the universe. 

To him Nature was never, as she is to the normal boy, 
a country into which a young pioneer adventured intent 
on practical discoveries. She was a feast of colour and 
sound and movement upon which he fed with a voluptu- 
ousness half-spiritual — a picture that continually dis- 
solved as he tried to fix it in abiding forms. 

Yet necessarily he became more active as he advanced 
from childhood to boyhood, and consequently more ex- 
pansive in his abandonment to sensation. And this pro- 
cess was perhaps accelerated by events which without 
warning hurried him from the Ottery backwater into an 
active world. 

In October 178 1 his father died suddenly, and in the 
following spring he was sent to London to await admission 
into Christ's Hospital, to which a presentation had been 
secured. After spending ten weeks with an uncle who 
took him to his favourite taverns, and allowed him to earn 
applause as a prodigy and 'completely spoilt and pam- 
pered both mind and body,' he entered the Junior School 
at Hertford in July 1782. From there, after six happy 
weeks of ample feeding, with 'pudding and vegetables 
almost every day/ he was transferred to the sterner 
environment of the great London School. 


Any stranger who, attracted by the sound of a harsh 
and cantankerous voice, had been bold enough to peep 
into the Grammar School of Christ's Hospital at this time 
would have seen presiding at its far end a 'short, stout, 
round little man.' He sat 'under a deal-board canopy, 
behind a lofty wooden desk, his wooden chair raised upon 
a dais of wooden steps, and two large wooden shutters or 
slides projecting from the wall on either side to screen 
him from the wind.' Upon his head, according as his 
mood was at its best or its worst, he wore either a large, 
white, fresh-powdered wig, or an old, discoloured and 
unkempt one, but neither succeeded in softening the sar- 
donic vigour of his features, his 'aquiline nose, long con- 
vex upper lip, sharp mouth and little cruel eyes that 
darted ferocious glances right and left.' His very hands, 
as a sensitive pupil confessed, were 'enough to make your 
cheeks tingle to look at them,' and his 'short thick legs 
covered with worsted stockings and shoes adorned with 
large silver buckles' tapped the magisterial dais like the 
warnings of fate. His favourite exclamation or rather ex- 
plosion was 'God's-my-life!' and whenever he said this, 
turning upon some trembling pupil and opening his eyes 
like a fish, the victim in question might expect 'to find one 
of his hands taking him with a pinch of the flesh under 
the chin, while with the other he treated his cheek as if 
it had been no better than a piece of deal.' 

His character, like his appearance, was tight and suc- 
cinct,' so tight that peevish Nature was driven to find 
relief in violent outbursts of temper. As the same pupil 
wrote, he 'restrained his passions by giving vent to them' 
in volcanic changes of mood, cynical pinchings and fero- 
cious floggings larded with moral discourse. Even his 
humour was saturnine, his jests an omen of wrath to come. 

22 Svt&fUSL T^TLOR C0L8%[T)ge §2 

But the 'rages and tempest storms which blew up, ter- 
rible to witness, let alone endure* were the defects of un- 
deniable qualities. The driving power of this harsh peda- 
gogue was not confined to his cane, and while his rabid 
pedantry effectually closed the 'healthier and cheerfuller 
roads to knowledge,' it propelled the young mind along 
the rougher roads with a grim efficiency. 

As a teacher he suffered from an eighteenth-century 
cramp, tending to treat all the humanities like so many 
propositions of Euclid. Yet there was always sense in his 
severity, and if he discouraged enthusiasm and the milder 
graces, he pruned the extravagances of sentiment. Blind 
towards all that transcended the logical, he disdained alike 
the imaginative and the effusive, the sublime and the 
affected. No phrase, metaphor, or image, 'unsupported 
by a sound sense, or where the same sense might have 
been conveyed with equal force and dignity in plainer 
words' could survive the thrust of his realism. 'Harp? 
Harp? Lyre?' he would sneer: 'Pen and ink, boy, you 
mean! Muse, boy, Muse? Your nurse's daughter, you 
mean! Pierian Spring? Oh aye! The cloister-pump, I 

In short he was as formidable an opponent of artificial 
diction as of romantic sensibility, and his clericism was no 
more than moral, muscular and official. 

Yet the Institution over which the Reverend James 
Boyer ruled was a 'religious' as well as a 'royal and 
ancient' foundation, and in its buildings, its customs, and 
its ceremonies the atmosphere of an old monastic estab- 
lishment lingered. The Christ's Hospital boy, whether he 
wished it or not, was considered 'a religious character.' 
His school had 'its peculiar prayers, its services at set 
times, its graces, hymns and anthems, following each 
other in an almost monastic closeness of succession.' 

The medievalism, if not the religiosity, of such a 


school could not fail to affect the sensitive. The Bible- 
reading in the wards on Sunday morning and evening 
might not incline them to piety, but the 'hymns, anthems 
and well-tuned organ' must have tended to foster a reli- 
gious mood, such a mood as haunted one who was far too 
human ever to be orthodox, but who recalled in later life 
with fondness 'the carol sung by night at Christmas, 
which, when a young boy, I have so often lain awake to 
hear from seven . . . till ten, when it was sung by the 
older boys and monitors, and have listened to it, in their 
rude chanting, till I have been transported in fancy to the 
fields of Bethlehem, and the song which was sung at that 
season by angels' voices to the shepherds.' 

A historian of the time has gone even further and 
claimed that the atmosphere of the place not only made 
the boys' 'sense of right and wrong peculiarly tender and 
apprehensive,' but also rendered them prone to supersti- 
tion through 'the thousand tales and traditions which 
must circulate with undisturbed credulity,' and that 'with 
this leaning towards an over-belief in matters of religion 
. . . may be classed a turn for romance above most other 
boys' — suppositions which, if applied to the boys in gen- 
eral, suggest a turn for romance in the worthy historian 
himself, but if applied to the particular boy whose sojourn 
at this School is our concern, are certainly in key with the 
character of one who was to be the poet of the miraculous, 
the philosopher of Anglicanism, and who was to confess 
that moral obligation was to him so very strong a stimu- 
lant, that in nine cases out of ten it acted as a narcotic. 


The young Coleridge, however, needed no religious 
foundation to develop in him the 'self-concentration of a 
monk' or a sense of his schoolfellows as 'a sort of laity.' 
It was this laity of seven hundred boys and not the 

24 SiAmUSL TtAYLOR C0L6%IT>gS §3 

grotesque Boyer, still for some years a distant terror, who 
made him feel the waif in the world that in truth he 
always was. If he could have retired alone to the 'old and 
awful cloister' or even to the stately dining-room hung 
round with vast pictures by Verrio, Lely and others, he 
would have been less forlorn. But there was no physical 
escape possible in so peopled a universe. He was too far 
gone as 'a playless day-dreamer' for any rough routine to 
recall him to the normal. The clash and clamour of a 
school, the claim of objective things bidding him come 
out from himself, only served to drive him further in, to 
emphasize his essential solitude. 

Actually, too, he was more lonely than his fellows, set 
down without warning in what seemed a great friendless 
city amid strange faces, with a home so far away. And 
although his brother George, who was a master at a Hack- 
ney school, and a number of acquaintances to whom he had 
been commended, offered him many kindnesses, still their 
attentions struck the sensitive boy as being rather forced 
and formal, and they failed him by degrees. 

On leave-days, a wistful, unregarded figure, he would 
watch 'the swarm of "bee-clad youth," with voices of per- 
petual spring, issuing pell-mell from the lodge in Newgate 
Street,' homeward or friendward bound, while for him 
there was no home and no friend outside himself. Nor 
did holidays bring change and renewal; for it was seven 
years before he saw Ottery again. The silence of the de- 
serted playgrounds as the long, warm days of summer 
dragged to their end was more oppressive than their term- 
time uproar. No wonder that all his homeless life he was 
to hunger after a home. 

It was not long, however, before he ceased to shed tears 
over his memories of Ottery, with its 'church and trees 
and faces.' His yearnings for 'those unfledged years' be- 
came less tragic, and he contemplated 'making or finding 


his way of life a detached individual, a terra films, who was 
to ask love or service of no one on any more specific rela- 
tion than that of being a man, and as such to take my 
chance for the free charities of humanity.* 

Yet no boy, as no man, was less a terr<e filius than Cole- 
ridge, or less capable of such a masculine detachment as 
this to which he aspired. His detachment was at once 
more and less complete than that of the ordinary boy, who 
emerging from the chrysalis has to find his own wings. 
It involved for him a hypochondriac self-absorption, very 
different from independence. So far from being self- 
reliant or even self-sufficient, he craved the sympathy of 
others with a feminine excess. All his life a sense of isola- 
tion, of the barriers set between himself and others, which 
only a mutual and unqualified sympathy so seldom found 
and seldom retained, could dissolve, lay like a dead weight 
upon his heart. To give himself wholly to others and so 
lose himself in a wider harmony was but one aspect of the 
same impulse which hurried him away from the threat of 
discord into solitary abstractions. He dreaded loneliness, 
but he dreaded conflict or even callousness more. 

It was doubtless in consequence of this that he suffered 
less from the paltry tyranny of monitors and barkers' or 
from the barbarities of his equals than such a boy as 
Shelley. Persecution is not for the amiable eccentric with 
a yielding disposition, but for him whose strangeness 
challenges the mob. And Coleridge had no need or im- 
pulse to rebel, because he could sink at will into himself 
and taste there experiences which rendered realism in- 
significant. This power of fugitive abstraction, which 
rather awoke in others a tolerant protectiveness than ex- 
cited any aggressive instincts, preserved him all his life 
from the worst tortures, to which genius in its positive 
denial of conventional values is usually exposed. From 
first to last it qualified also the sincerity of his genius. 


Nature, too, where there was nought lovely to see 'but 
the sky and stars,' no longer competed with books. Before 
a singular accident made it possible for him to continue 
his incessant indulgence in random reading, he had to con- 
tent himself with a rapid survey of the books which he 
fetched from circulating libraries for subscribers. But 
later a stranger with whose coat-tail pocket he had become 
absent-mindedly involved in the street, possibly on one of 
those whole-day leaves 'when he would go prowling about 
objectless and shivering at cold windows of print shops, 
to extract a little amusement,' and who at first took him 
for a thief, was so charmed by his subsequent conversa- 
tion that he made him free of a library in Cheapside. 
Henceforth he would run all risks in skulking out to get 
the two volumes to which he was entitled daily. 

Thus to over-feed the mind, while starving the body 
not only of activity but even of the food necessary to its 
growth, was not likely to better his condition. Excepting 
on Wednesdays, in his own words, he never had a full 
belly. 'Our appetites were damped, never satisfied; and 
we had no vegetables.' And so he could write of himself 
at fourteen: 'I was in a continual low fever. My whole 
being was, with eyes closed to every object of present 
sense, to crumple myself up in a sunny corner, and read, 
read, read — fancy myself on Robinson Crusoe's island, 
finding a mountain of plum-cake, and eating a room for 
myself, and then eating it into the shapes of tables and 
chairs — hunger and fancy 1' 

Against such influences even the Reverend James 
Boyer could make little essential headway, when Coleridge 
passing from the Lower Grammar School, that 'Castle of 
Indolence' presided over by the mildest of masters, 
Mathew Fielde, came into direct contact with his bullying 
superior. Deserve though he might Boyer's half-pitying, 
half-derisive label of 'sensitive fool,' he was beyond the 


reach of aggressive tactics, and the more common sense 
was commanded of him, the more, beneath an outward 
conformity, did he luxuriate in the fantastic. 

There were indeed two occasions on which he drifted 
into a quaint opposition to his terrifying master. When 
about fifteen, he made friends with a shoemaker and his 
wife, who lived near the school and whose homely establish- 
ment seemed such an oasis in the desert of school life that 
he persuaded the man to apply to the headmaster for 
leave to take him as an apprentice. It was the first of 
those many efforts which Coleridge was to make, each as 
fantastic as the last, to escape from the abstract to the 
concrete, and it failed as decisively as them all. The ex- 
ample of Jacob Bohme might commend itself to Coleridge, 
already dabbling in mystical literature, but it was unlikely 
to soften the temper of the Reverend James Boyer, who 
ejected the credulous cobbler with assault and battery. 

It was Coleridge himself, however, who suffered 
physically for his other venture in proclaimed origin- 

The Reverend James Boyer was but a poor expositor of 
Christian values, but he had no doubts of Christian dogma, 
and when a pupil had the effrontery to proclaim himself 
an infidel on the strength of a study of Voltaire's Philo- 
sophical Diclionary, it was no time for expostulation or for 
argument, in which he might well have come off worst. 
He cured him by the severest flogging which he ever 
received at his hands. And since all his life Coleridge was 
to be torn between the appeal of Christianity to his heart 
and of dialectic to his mind, it may be that this soundly 
physical argument had more to do with the unsatisfactory 
compromise which caution was to dictate than has gener- 
ally been supposed. 

Upon his budding literary sense too his master's narrow 
but thorough classicism did undoubtedly leave a lasting 


impression. Far from the eighteenth century as his 
imagination was to roam, his style as a poet was always to 
preserve something of the clarity and polish of the age of 
good sense, a verbal neatness and cunning upon which he 
was to fall back when inspiration failed, and an epigram- 
matic talent in default of lyrical impulse. 

But the boy, like the man, was even more absorbed in 
ideas than in images, and Boyer's attempt to enforce a 
clear logical system of thought, although it may have 
strengthened and organized his precocious reasoning 
powers, merely aggravated by suppression his transcen- 
dental enthusiasm. The intellectual dogma which Boyer 
preached simply failed to correspond with his experience. 
It took no account in its barren propriety of the ideas 
which to him were an immanent reality. The intelligence, 
to adopt the distinction which he was later to borrow from 
Germany, might be content with a system which ex- 
pounded common sense by syllogisms, but the creative 
reason worked on far other premises and dealt not only 
with the logical but the real. 

And so when his talents had elevated him mechanically 
to the ranks of the 'Grecians' - the small intellectual 
aristocracy of the school chosen to prepare for University 
exhibitions — although, as he admitted, he was without a 
spark of conventional ambition, and as for emulation, it had 
no meaning for him, his real life was passed, not in the 
class-room in subjection to Boyer, but in the wide, wide 
wilderness' of his own conjecture, littered as it was with 
'unarranged book knowledge and book thoughts' of which 
Boyer had no knowledge and as little understanding. 
Religious infidelity can be attacked with a cane, but meta- 
physical enthusiasm is a condition for which human 
ingenuity has not yet discovered a cure. 



Indeed the cloisters knew a different Coleridge from 
the class-room. Here the passing stranger might have been 
arrested by a spectacle more appropriate to the porches 
of Athens than the precincts of a London school. A boy 
noticeable for a slightly exotic cast of feature, his grey 
eyes large and beaming, his hair glossy black, his com- 
plexion unusually fair, and full, animal lips, was the centre 
of an admiring group of schoolfellows. Like his com- 
panions he was clothed in a long coat of blue cloth, 
belted with a red leather girdle, in yellow stockings and 
black shoes. His manner expressed at once animation 
and abstraction, a generous expansiveness, and a state of 
trance. He seemed to hypnotize his audience without 
direclly addressing them. 

Possibly it was the quality of his voice, which had a sort 
of caressing unclion, possibly it was the flow of his words 
that took the attention captive and bound it in the labyrinth 
of a sustained soliloquy. Certainly the young scholar was 
an acl:or, though he assumed the part of a philosopher. 
His conversation soared far beyond the schoolboy's ordi- 
nary horizon. It glided imperceptibly through the mazes 
of metaphysics or quickened by recitation the Greek of 
Homer or of Pindar. 

But the material of his utterance was of secondary 
importance. Oblivious of his words as of his audience, 
the boy seemed to worship expression for its own sake, 
as if upon the mere tide of fluent speech he was swept 
out from some low marsh within himself, where feeling 
grew stagnant and thought congested, into a world of life 
and motion. In such monologue he realized himself best 
because he reconciled his self-absorption with the need 
of sympathetic contact with others, and he preferred 
monologue to discussion because he was engaged not in 

30 SzA£MU8L TzAYLOR Q0L8%[T>ge §5 

solving an inner doubt, but in escaping an inner friction. 
This was the Coleridge whose existence, if Boyer sus- 
pected, he thought to clamp under the cast iron of classical 
propriety. But no dam can stay the water that overbrims 
it. And while Boyer had been commanding correctness, 
Coleridge had been drinking to intoxication. He had 
discovered a new kind of Arabian Nights^ and just as in 
childhood he had been driven to relieve his overcharged 
nerves by acting his fairy-stories, so now he acted his meta- 
physics, and acted so well that for the rest of his life he was 
never to lack an audience. 


The normal development of consciousness is from a 
perception of images to one of ideas. Youth sees objec- 
tively and experiences actively. Only later, for certain 
minds at least, are images dissolved into their elements as 
ideas, and thought seeks behind the fleeting moments of 
the actual, as sensation records them, for a resting place 
in the real. 

But Coleridge had never from childhood seen objec- 
tively, with a clear, hard sense of outline. Always to his 
tender abstracted gaze the world was fluctuent, always the 
object expressed more than itself. The consequence in 
childhood was a natural preference for the fantastic, in 
adolescence a hunger for the ideal. To the extreme 
materialist there doubtless seems little difference between 
the two, since to him all interpretation of fact as other than 
fact is fantastic. Yet such an interpretation is in itself an 
indisputable fact. It is at least a psychical reality to which 
thousands can testify. To many sensibilities facts are, like 
words, the media of meaning. For them most objects have 
a dual aspect. They exist for their senses materially, but for 
another kind of perception, or rather for a completer per- 
ception, in which instinct and intelligence, being and 


knowing, are creatively combined and heightened, they 
seem fraught with an inner significance, a reality underly- 
ing their appearance. To the mystic this perception is 
spiritual, to the poet it is imaginative, to the philosopher 
it is an act of intuition. 

These experiences which transcend equally the mental 
and the physical, which claim to be timeless apprehensions 
in a world of time and to abstract the real from the actual, 
are the central concern of all philosophy engaged in 
examining the nature of reality. How to distinguish the 
true illusion from the idle dream, in a sphere in which the 
ordinary criterion of fact is irrelevant, has always been the 

And yet few can doubt that such a distinction exists. 
The mystical insight of a great poet or seer convinces us 
of a reality profounder than either the logical or the senti- 
mental. It is something different from hallucination or 
from any whimsical and purely arbitrary indulgence in the 
fantastic. It does not transgress the actual which it 
transcends. Yet obviously the imaginative man is always 
in danger of surrendering his inner judgment to the unreal 
if he lacks a bedrock of sensuous experience. Instead then 
of spiritualizing the material by filtering it through his 
senses, his emotions, and his mind, disengaging in the 
process its real from its accidental elements, he will merely 
impose a fanciful description upon something which for 
him never had an actual existence. 

The reality therefore of an idealist's vision depends 
essentially on the balance of his faculties and particularly 
on the relation of his instinct to his thought. If these two 
faculties are perfectly co-ordinated in an act of creative 
apprehension, his experience will be true and he will 
translate fact into purer terms of consciousness : it will be 
false and fanciful so far as one faculty is developed at the 
expense of the other and their fusion is incomplete. For 

32 S^^MUSL TtAYLOR C0L6"F(IT>g8 §5 

in harmonizing the physical and metaphysical elements in 
his own nature, he will also harmonize subjective desire 
with objective actuality . 

Every poet is an idealist and every creative philosopher. 
The one translates experiences into images, the other into 
terms of thought: the one desires to make it coherent by 
embodying it in an artistic form, the other in a logical 
system. And the poet who cultivates imagery for its own 
sake instead of translating vital experience into imagina- 
tive terms, reveals the same detachment from reality as 
the philosopher who spins between himself and fact a web 
of abstract ratiocination. 

It has been necessary to emphasize this distinction 
between the ideal and the fantastic, because it lies at the 
root of Coleridge's genius, character and career. Much of 
his life may be explained by reference to his lack of will 
power. Yet the will is only the co-ordinating faculty: it 
unifies body and mind in an effective act of expression. 
Coleridge's temperament was too unbalanced to allow it to 
function healthily. He was always in flight from a weight 
of inorganic matter which he could not assimilate into a 
realm of ideas which lacked a material foundation. 

The qualities and defects of his writing originated in 
this deranged sensibility, in emotional and intellectual 
energies which never had a sure foundation in sensuous 
experience. His lifelong hunger for the infinite, his 

'yearning to touch, to feel 
The dark Impalpable sure* 

never grew naturally out of the soil of realism. The tree 
of his experience was planted in shallow earth, and so 
although it shot up with precocious speed and laced heaven 
with its branches, the live sap of reality ran but thinly 
through them. 

His metaphysical instinct, through trespassing too early 


upon physical experience, deprived itself of that substance 
from which later it might have extracted significance, and 
at fifteen, through exhaustive reading of transcendental 
philosophy, he became as bewildered by ideas as the nor- 
mal imaginative boy is excited by images and metaphors. 
The motive behind this strange metaphysical debauch 
was, like that which earlier plunged him into the miracu- 
lous, a desire for escape from an actuality which jarred; 

'the keen insult of the unfeeling heart, 
The dread dependence on the low-born mind/ 

and in 'the sunny mist, the luminous gloom* of Plato he 
found a kindred spirit. 

Plato too wrote at a time when the concrete world had 
begun to pain men by its oppression and difficulty and 
ugliness, when the tremors of a coming disintegration 
shook faintly the pillars of Paganism. And turning from 
the discord which troubled him he bade the individual 
relate himself to a whole which transient material things 
could not touch, to live in the idea of a Divine harmony, 
of certain intelligible, changeless realities, which trans- 
cended sense-perception and united in a sovereign Beauty, 
eternal, self-sufficient, unproduced and indestructible. 
Plato made little attempt to relate this self-conceived har- 
mony to the fafts of life. His philosophy was the inter- 
pretation of a subjective mood : he was more occupied in 
explaining his own intuitions than in reconciling them 
with an objective necessity, and often, as in his famous 
account of the reincarnation of souls, he was merely 

The value and originality of his philosophy lay in its 
explanation of that theory of intuition, in which he 
combined sense and thought, and upon which he based 
his distinction between particular sensible beauty and 


universal intellectual beauty. It is a theory which has 
been expounded in different terms from his day to ours, 
and on Coleridge it dawned like a personal revelation. 

For he too was haunted by a sense of beauty which 
transcended the particular objects which it mystically and 
rather uncertainly embraced. He too was troubled by an 
incapacity to reconcile his subjective vision and sublunary 
longings with the objective world about him. And just as 
in his human relations he hungered to resolve the conflict 
between self-absorption and a sympathetic communion 
with his fellows, so in his consciousness he wished to 
escape from solitary fantasy by combining a visionary 
with a natural perception of things. Plato seemed to supply 
him with a key to that escape, to explain and justify the 
visionary moods which troubled him, and to prove that 
only by such vague ecstasy as he experienced, in which it 
was nice to believe that the thinking subject: and the object 
contemplated became in some strange way one, could the 
truth be really known. 

Chance, however, soon introduced Coleridge to a philo- 
sopher even more comforting to his self-esteem. Newton 
and Locke, by grounding all ideas in sensation, had for 
some time discredited intuitional philosophy as a form of 
amiable dreaming. The first round of the duel between 
analytical science and synthetic apprehension had gone 
altogether in favour of the former. One of the few English- 
men, however, who resisted this reaction was Thomas 
Taylor, and as a counterblast to the superficial philosophy 
which reduced all thought to physical terms he had pub- 
lished in 1787 a paraphrase of Plotinus' essay ' Concern- 
ing the Beautiful,' which Coleridge was happy to discover 
at the age of fifteen. 

Plotinus carried Plato's ideas still further in a mystical 
direction and submitted them less to logical thought. 
Neo-Platonism, as his system was called, was the last 


utterance of Greek philosophy, already tinged with Chris- 
tian yearning and aspiration, and at the same time very 
akin to the Vedantic system of Indian philosophy and to 
those various forms of Eastern 'Mysteries' which promised 
redemption through sacramental ritual. Like Plato, 
Plotinds sought to acquire a knowledge of the Unity, 
the essence and first principle of all things by direft intui- 
tion, and he traced the emanation of life or being from 
the Nous or Absolute Mind to the world-soul and the souls 
of men. 

Since therefore there was an essential identity between 
the Divine in man and the Divine in the Universe, that 
intelligence was only of value which, like its prototype in 
the Absolute, was creative. He differed from Plato in 
reducing the conscious mind to a quite secondary faculty, 
and he divided man's faculties into spirit, soul and body, a 
prism in which the rays of primal unity were deflected. 
The aim of the seeker after truth, he declared, should be 
to combine this trinity into a unity. And this was to be 
done by merging himself in a supra-rational ecstasy with 
the Absolute One and so apprehending a Reality which 
eluded any partial approach. 

Such a system, by denying beforehand the credentials 
of the conscious mind, armed itself against criticism. On 
the strength of its argument that all true consciousness 
was a state of the soul, an inner illumination, it could 
advance such fanciful theories as that souls which have 
only lived a life of sensation pass into animal bodies, or 
even, if entirely vegetative, into plants, while its disciples 
were enjoined to pass from the outer world of sense into 
an eternal world of dreams. 

To Coleridge, haunted by the inexpressible, troubled by 
a trance-like confusion in which he hardly knew whether 
he was asleep or awake, and hungering for an ecstatic 
sensation of well-being, such a system made an over- 

36 S^T^MUSL TtAYLOR C0L6%IDg8 §5 

whelming appeal, an appeal even stronger than Plato's 
because in its kinship with Christian mysticism it was more 
consolingly human. Alike his readiness to experience 
Beauty as some pure essence but faintly associated with 
things, his natural piety and benevolence, and his pre- 
cocious system-spinning mind were satisfied by a philo- 
sophy which treated the Good, the True and the Beautiful 
as experiences of one originating harmony; which tended 
to shirk the problem of matter, which is also the problem 
of evil, on the rather unwarranted assumption that bodies 
only 'rested on a substratum of matter,' and brought none 
of its convictions to the test of fact. (Did, for example, 
the Beautiful always exist in conjunction with the Good 
and the True?) 

It was enough for him to seek an immediate communion 
with Beauty (and the rest would be added to him), to 
embrace, sentimentally, an ascetic ideal, to dismiss all 
earthly considerations, and 'to mount aloft in pure intellect 
and in perfection of goodness and in intuition of Godhead/ 
Coleridge, who was now becoming conscious of his love 
of the absolute and of the abstract, a tendency which 
before had been implicit in his melting perception of 
Nature and thirst for the miraculous in novels and roman- 
ces, was inevitably drawn to this philosophy which 
scorned the relative spirit that was even then beginning 
in philosophy, as it was later in inductive science, to domi- 
nate the thought of the Western world. 

Yet partial as any purely materialistic philosophy must, 
in our opinion, be, there was a sickliness in Coleridge's 
passion for first principles and abstract entities common to 
much idealistic thinking. He was constitutionally incap- 
able of interpreting things truly in idealistic terms because 
he could not experience them vividly in physical terms. 
Caught in the flux, surrendering himself to life as to some 
tidal music, he sought despairingly to fix it in certain 


eternal outlines, and in this ancient philosophy — at once 
poetic, religious and, if its premises were granted, logically 
presented, he found something which exactly conformed 
with the needs of his own nature, even at such a tender 

He could not of course grasp any of its ideas clearly : 
that was the charm of it; for he could grasp enough to 
be consoled. But they set the tone of his thought for life 
because they accorded with his temperament and seemed 
to justify its abnormality. Meanwhile — 'nothing else 
pleased me. History and particular faclis lost all interest 
in my mind. Poetry itself . . . yea, novels and romances, 
became insipid to me. In my friendless wanderings on 
our leave-days . . . highly was I delighted if any passen- 
ger . . . would enter into conversation with me. For I 
soon found a means of directing it to my favourite subjects 

'Of providence, fore-knowledge, will, and fate, 
Fixed fate, free will, fore-knowledge absolute, 
And found no end in wandering mazes lost/ 


From this 'preposterous pursuit' he was happily de- 
flected in 1788 by two events: his accidental introduction 
to an amiable family, and to an amiable style of poetry. 
Among the younger boys at Christ's Hospital was one 
named Evans. Coleridge had shown him kindness, and 
this led to an introduction to his family. His mother, a 
widow and 'such a nice lady,' had three daughters, and in 
this household Coleridge met with the kindness and 
affection to which he always naively responded. He 
delighted in being addressed as 'Brother Coly,' acclaimed 
Mrs. Evans as his foster-mother, and in the course of two 
years fell vaguely and discreetly in love with the eldest 

38 S^^MUSL TAYLOR QOLS%l c DqS §6 

It was an event which had ultimately unhappy conse- 
quences, but its immediate effect was to reclaim him, to 
some extent, from the abstract. Even he could not reduce 
Miss Evans, in the first realization of adolescent rapture, 
to first principles, nor consider 'how often the loving heart 
and imaginative spirit of a young man will mistake the 
projected creature of his moral yearning, seen in the 
reflecting surface of the first not repulsive or vulgar 
female who treats him affectionately, for the realization 
of his idea/ 

The allurement of metaphysics gave way on Saturdays 
at least before the duty of escorting the Misses Evans 
home from the millinery establishment where they were 
employed, or before the pleasure of pillaging on summer 
mornings the flower-gardens within six miles of London 
for nosegays and presenting them with sonnet or love- 
rhyme attached. Possibly too it was a desire to sustain 
more gallantly these 'hours of paradise' which led him 
to plead with his brother George that a new pair of 
breeches would be 'no inconsiderable accession to his 
appearance'; for, as he wrote long afterwards in a note 
which surprisingly illuminates the amiable softness of his 
character — 'to be feminine, kind, and genteely (what I 
should now call neatly) dressed, these were the only 
things to which my head, heart, or imagination had any 

Thus the last years of his school life brought him the 
congenial happiness of vaguely luxuriating in tender feel- 
ings which he did not bring himself to admit more 
exactly, far less to communicate, until six years later their 
object engaged the attentions of another. 

By this time too he had surrounded himself with a 
circle of friends, captivated by his affectionate and expan- 
sive nature, among them Thomas Middleton, like himself, 
a scholar in his teens, he who, as first bishop of Calcutta, 


'is to be seen to-day in St. Paul's in all the pomp of marble 
wig and lawn, where he stands blessing two nude and tiny 
Indians, male and female, and by the unlearned is fre- 
quently mistaken for the Almighty creating Adam and 
Eve' : Charles Valentine le Grice too, sanguine and nimble- 
witted; Favell, who was to die young on the plains of 
Salamanca; Meyer, the future portrait painter and en- 
graver; little Home, whose voluminous authorship in 
later days was perhaps traceable to his initiation by 
Coleridge into the mysteries of the Greek alphabet; 
Robert Allen, with his 'cordial smile and still more cordial 
laugh,' and the 'gentle-hearted' Charles Lamb, the only 
friend at once human and freakish enough to love him all 
his days. 

Warmed by the admiring attachment of such friends 
Coleridge was another being from the lost spirit, self- 
pitying and self-absorbed, who consoled himself with 
Neo-Platonic phantasies. Never was there a boy or man 
who reflected so sensitively the atmosphere which he 
breathed. Just as in later days he could announce an 
approaching depression with the exactitude of a baro- 
meter, just as his features in repose, at best lethargic, at 
worst a 'fat vacancy of face,' beamed genius when some 
responsive fellow-being kindled them to expression, so in 
the stimulation of these school-friendships, he grew buoy- 
ant, enthusiastic and even jocose. 

The dignity of a 'Grascian' did not allow him to indulge 
in the common amusements of leap-frog and baiting the 
bear, but he could divert himself in ways more suitable to 
his temperament. He could set off with his friends 'with- 
out map, card, or compass' on a serious expedition to find 
out 'Philip Quarll's Island,' or at night, a chosen tale- 
teller, he could quicken his inventive powers in stories 
concerning genii, fairies and witches, enchanted castles, 
tender females held captive by tyrants, subterranean pas- 

4 o SzAmUSL TtAYLOR COL£ c I(IT>gS §6 

sages and solitary cells. Even when through swimming 
across the New River in his clothes and letting them dry 
on his back he was confined to the sick ward for nearly 
half a year with jaundice and rheumatic fever — an indis- 
cretion to which his subsequent ill-health has been attri- 
buted — his feelings were in such a state of pleasurable, if 
drooping, animation, that he could, it seems probable, 
reward the daughter of the school nurse for her sympa- 
thetic attention with some lines, which are so typical in 
their sickly sentiment and soothing cadence, that six of 
them must be quoted: 

'When sinking low the sufferer wan 
Beholds no hand outstretched to save, 
Fair, as the bosom of the swan 
That rises graceful o'er the wave, 
I've seen your breast with pity heave, 
And therefore love I you, sweet Genevieve.* 

The italicized 'therefore' is significant; for it was always 
rather as a convalescent, grateful for sympathy, with emo- 
tions relaxed and swimming senses that Coleridge loved. 
Love was never a passion to him. It was at once a melting 
mood and a sigh of gratitude. It was a narcotic blessed 
with dreams. 

Yet faint as was his physical sense of things there were 
moments of almost animal delight, as when on holiday 
mornings he would sally forth into the fields with a 
party, 'strip under the first warmth of the sun, and wanton 
like young dace in the stream, getting appetites for noon 
. . . the very beauty of the day, and the exercise of the 
pastime, and the sense of liberty, setting a keener edge 
upon them,' until, 'faint and languid,' they would return 
towards nightfall. It is Lamb's description, but doubtless 
it was Coleridge's experience too, and doubtless too it was 
.in one such twilight as this that he saw the evening star, 


'newly bathed as well as I,' and suffused with a delicious 
lassitude, associated its 'pensive serene brightness* with 
his ideal of love and with Mary Evans in particular, em- 
balming his fancy in one of the best of his early sonnets: 

'O meek attendant of Sol's setting blaze, 

I hail, sweet star, thy chaste effulgent glow; 
On thee full oft with fixed eye I gaze, 

Till I, methinks, all spirit seem to grow. 
O first and fairest of the starry choir, 

O loveliest 'mid the daughters of the night, 
Must not the maid I love like thee inspire 

Pure joy and calm delight? 
Must she not be, as is thy placid sphere, 
Serenely brilliant? whilst to gaze awhile 
Be all my wish 'mid Fancy's high career 

E'en till she quit this scene of earthly toil, 
Then Hope perchance might fondly sigh to join 

Her image in thy kindred orb, O star benign!' 

The young milliner, as events were to show, had more 
material ambitions than a constellated union of 'pure joy 
and calm delight' with the benign spirit of 'Brother Coly.' 
But for the time being she served gracefully to preside 
over what her dreamy admirer called 'the era of poetry 
and love,' though in the matter of poetry there were other 
influences at work. 


Boyer's strict classicism did not exclude an interest in 
English literature. He made his pupils read Shakespeare 
and Milton, while they were studying the Greek tragic 
poets, and both with a disciplinary purpose. If Plato per- 
suaded Coleridge of the essential madness of the poet, 
Boyer emphasized his sanity, showing by analysis how the 


loftiest and seemingly wildest odes had a logic of their 
own, 'as severe as that of science; and more difficult, 
because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on 
more and more fugitive causes.' Into these fugitive 
causes Boyer was perhaps not very competent to inquire 
closely, but his assertion that 'in the truly great poets there 
is a reason assignable, not only for every word, but for the 
position of every word' was to live in his pupil's later 
definition of poetry as 'the best words in the best order.' 
Yet no one would have accused Boyer of being a poet, 
and excellent as he might be in enforcing the rules of taste, 
he was more likely to deride than to inspire originality. 
It was natural therefore that Coleridge's earliest com- 
positions should express their author as little in English 
as in Latin or Greek. Nevertheless so early as 1788 verses, 
not directly designed to win Boyer's approval, reflect 
rather the wistful and metaphysical temper of the seven- 
teenth century than the good sense and conventional idiom 
of the eighteenth. The 'Sonnet to the Autumnal Moon,' 
for example, which he wrote in this year, is mildly 
Miltonic. So also in places is the 'Anthem for the Children 
of Christ's Hospital,' written in the following year to 
gratify the Authorities ; but it is also, like the mock heroics 
entitled 'Julia,' which gained a place in Boyer's collection, 
predominantly Augustan, and doubtless won his approval 
by such couplets as : 

'The young uncultur'd mind imbibes the ray, 
And Vice reluctant quits th' expected prey.' 

or the more obvious echo of Pope : 

'From future Almanacks the day be crost! 
At once her Lover and her Lap-dog lost.' 

Coleridge was naturally imitative because he was hyper- 
sensitive, but always he was sincerely and obliviously to 


reflect only that with which his own temperament was in 
harmony; and had no particular circumstances encouraged 
him to be plaintive and maudlin, not even a Boyer could 
have for long kept him loyal to the school of Pope. 'I was 
not blind/ he wrote, 'to the merits of this school, yet . . . 
they gave me little pleasure . . . and I saw that the excel- 
lence of this kind consisted in just and acute observations 
on men and manners in an artificial state of society, as its 
matter and substance; and in the logic of wit, conveyed 
in strong epigrammatic couplets, as its form . . . the 
matter and diction seemed to me characterized not so 
much by poetic thoughts, as by thoughts translated into 
the language of poetry/ 

Already he had turned instinctively for refreshment to 
the luxuriant classicism of Milton and Spenser; already in 
the style of Cowper he had defined his domestic aspirations 
by naming 'Hymeneal bliss' 'that more than friendship, 
friendship mixed with love,' when on his seventeenth 
birthday his friend Middleton presented him with a volume 
of sonnets by the Reverend William Lisle Bowles. 

There can never have been clerical characters more 
antithetical than Bowles and Boyer, and if ever the round 
little pedagogue scanned the verse of 'the maudlin prince 
of mournful sonneteers' we can imagine with what a snort 
of derision the 'first great oracle of tender souls' was capped 
as another 'sensitive fool.' 

But Coleridge was enraptured with the discovery of a 
twin spirit. As Plotinus had justified his mystical cerebra- 
tion, so Bowles consecrated his sentiment. His blandly 
soothing sonnets 'written amidst various interesting scenes 
during a tour under youthful dejection' caused by 'the 
death of a deserving young woman,' seemed to him at once 
tender and manly, natural and real, dignified and har- 
monious. They floated like the soft airs of summer into a 
world frozen by Boyer's wintry discipline, melting his 


inhibitions and inducing now a fervid, now a languid 

For just as later he was to rebut the charge of plagiarism 
brought against his metaphysical theories by claiming 
that all the main and fundamental ideas in which he 
resembled Schelling were born in his mind before he had 
read a page of the German philosopher, so his obligations 
to Bowles were rather those of affinity than of plagiarism. 
Throughout his life, feeling himself an alien among his 
associates, with cravings which they lacked, and a sense of 
life which they could not understand, he gave himself with 
an excess of gratitude and surprise to any writer who 
seemed to reflect a temperament similar to his own. 

It is this which explains the conflagration which so 
small a flame as Bowles kindled. Here was a man who 
in his weakness as in his strength was such a one as Cole- 
ridge might have been, without his genius and without his 
wildness. His resort to poetry as a consoler of mild 
melancholy, his limp simplicity, and the often cloying 
sweetness of his mood, the amiable moralizing which he 
interwove with his descriptions of Nature, his hypochon- 
driac sentiment and the dissolving cadence of his verse — 
were all tendencies latent in Coleridge which it was Bowles* 
distinction to touch to poetic life by such lines as: 

'O Time! who know'st a lenient hand to lay 
Softest on sorrow's wound, and slowly thence 
(Lulling to sad repose the weary sense) 

The faint pang stealest unperceived away;' 


'Languid, and sad, and slow, from day to day 
I journey on, yet pensive turn to view 
(Where the rich landscape gleams with softer hue), 

The streams, and vales, and hills that steal away/ 



'The waving branches that romantick bend 

O'er thy tall banks, a soothing charm bestow; 
The murmurs of thy wand'ring wave below 
Seem to his ear the pity of a friend/ 

Bowles, to quote his own words, presented 

'fairy vales, where the tir'd mind 
Might rest, beyond the murmurs of mankind,' 

but at the same time they were drawn from nature and 
suffused with feeling, which, if languishing and lachry- 
mose, was fresh with life in contrast with Augustan pro- 

Had Bowies' feeling not been as genuine as sentimen- 
tality can be, and had he not possessed a real vein of 
poetic talent, even the assurance that he had 

'droop'd beneath life's early showers' 

or known 

'the fragrant breeze 
Breathe on the trembling sense of wan disease,' 

would not have captivated Coleridge as it did. Particu- 
larly in his descriptive evocations of Nature he did com- 
municate a joy as well as 'wake the Tear, yet steal away the 
pang.' He records the 'grasshopper's faint pipe . . . the 
bleat of the lone lamb . . . the bird's last twitter from the 
hedgerow scene,' the glitter of pebbled streams, with a 
faint but dewy freshness, and even woos 

'The ideal spirit that abides unseen 
'Mid rocks, and woods, and solitudes,' 

in tones sufficiently unfabricated to lisp the great organ 


music that was to be devoted to that theme. But it was 
above all his continual yearning for a humble dwelling 
folded in the peace of a summer evening, for an enchanted 
retirement where he could luxuriate over his emotions, that 
led Coleridge to call him 'the exquisite Bowles/ and to 
accord him the sincerest form of flattery in such lines as 

'Thy native cot she flash'd upon thy view, 
Thy native cot, where still, at close of day, 
Peace smiling sat and listen'd to thy lay.' 

Among poets who sacrificed 'both heart and head to 
point and drapery' Bowles appealed like a kind face and 
a natural manner in a room full of glassy elegants; and 
the effeminacy of the appeal was less noticeable because 
it was spiced with pastoral classicism. The 'oaten reed,' 
'sylvan muse' and 'Sicilian pipe' were discreetly mingled 
with the village bells and the 'melancholy musick' of the 
sea, and 

'Instruction bland 
With young-ey'd Sympathy, went hand in hand 
O'er classick fields:' 

Within less than a year Coleridge's proselytizing zeal had 
produced more than forty transcriptions of Bowles' poems 
for the edification of his friends, but the best evidence of 
his devotion to the god of his idolatry, was his imitation, an 
imitation which on occasions extended to the choice of 
subject and word, but which in general went no further 
than mood. 

The relaxed insinuating note henceforth to be so typical 
of his yielding sensibility begins to be heard, curiously 
mixed with the self-conscious phraseology learnt in 
Boyer's school of taste, and still to be transmuted by 
genius into impalpable music, although such lines as 


'Slumbrous god of half-shut eye! 
Who lovest with limbs supine to lie; 
Soother sweet of toil and care 
Listen, listen to my prayer; 
And to thy votary dispense 
Thy soporific influence !' 

clearly anticipate it. With Bowles too he communed with 
Anna's 'pensive ghost/ loving 'to sit upon her tomb's 
dank grass,' and with Bowles he hymned hypochondriac 
Youth viewing 'the crowd whom Youth and Health 
inspire' with a sigh and a thought that 

'I too could laugh and play 
And gaily sport it on the Muse's lyre, 
Ere Tyrant Pain had chas'd away delight, 
Ere the wild pulse throbb'd anguish thro' the night.' 

Yet pleasant as these sickly sallies, these 'musings in 
torpid woe' were, charming as it was to pictorialize 

'The hideous offspring of Disease, 
Swoln Dropsy ignorant of Rest, 
And fever garb'd in scarlet vest, 
Consumption driving the quick hearse, 
And Gout that howls the frequent curse,' 

there were moments of rapture, unknown to Bowles, in 
which he felt them to be 

'vain Phantasies, the fleeting brood 
Of woe self-solac'd in her dreamy mood,' 

moments when life beckoned like a 'glorious prospect,' 
when wisdom and knowledge hailed him from afar and 
he cried, personifying his faculties with typical meta- 
physical fervour: 


'My eye shall dart thro' infinite expanse 
And Thought suspended lie in Rapture's blissful trance.' 

And not only in his personification of mental and moral 
attributes did he model himself upon earlier poets than 
Bowles. In such verses as 'Music' and 'Devonshire Roads' 
he both imitated and parodied Milton, and in such 
different monodies as that 'On the Death of Chatterton' 
and that 'On a Tea Kettle' he studied the versification of 

When too in 1789 the Western world was thrilled by 
the fall of the Bastille he devoted a bombastic ode to the 
theme in a style which would have jarred the domestic and 
elegiac soul of Bowles. It was his first experiment in 
political rhetoric, and although he was later to communi- 
cate his enthusiasm for Freedom in verse less artificial 

'Yes! Liberty the soul of Life shall reign, 
Shall throb in every pulse, shall flow thro' every vein,' 

yet his attachment to this romantic abstraction was to 
prove like that of others among his contemporaries, too 
sentimental to survive the trial of experience. 

But there was one quality in his early verse which he 
owed neither to Bowles nor to Milton nor to Gray. 
Doubtless it had been fostered by his consumption of 
second-rate romances, but it originated in the wild 
recesses of his own nature. Beneath the surface of domes- 
tic and moral platitude, beneath the florid effusiveness and 
the childish humour in which he at times indulged, there 
was a gulf of childish credulity and fear, a place of dark 
mysteries and 'dank horrors,' a place too of wild enchant- 
ment where 

'The wizard Passions weave a holy spell.' 


It was still a conventional and melodramatic mystery- 
chamber, a hall where 

'hog and devil mingling grunt and yell/ 

a haunt of 'Grim phantoms/ 'Scorpion Kings,* and 'A 
hideous hag, th' Enchantress Pleasure/ but its malign 
and tormented ghosts were those which he was later so 
exquisitely to refine and individualize; it was in this crude 
alembic that he was to distil his purest and most ghostly 


To one learned in the retrospective style of Bowles the 
occasion of leaving school was a heaven-sent opportunity. 
Forgotten were the restraints, the harsh routine and the 
sense of desolation. Already agreeably posed as a care- 
worn youth Coleridge longed for those happy days to 
return when he 'heard of guilt and wonder 'd at the tale/ 
while even the grim face of Boyer assumed a winning 
expression fitting to parental scenes to which a 'grateful 
heart still fondly clings.' And having done full justice to 
such sentiments in a sonnet and an ode, in the summer of 
1 79 1 he bade what was to be his last farewell to the 
'much-loved cloisters pale' of the London Charity School. 



In October 1791, after a few months of renewed 
acquaintance with his family at Ottery, Coleridge 
travelled to Cambridge by a night coach. He was met by 
Middleton, who had preceded him by two years to Pem- 
broke, and by him was conducted to Jesus College, at 
which he had been awarded a school exhibition and a 
Rustat Scholarship. The school authorities had sent him 
to Jesus as the college most likely to offer favourable 
preferment to the Church, and the scholarship entailed an 
informal obligation to take Orders. It was a prospect in 
which ayoung Romantic was not likely to acquiesce, despite 
his inherited piety, and although he could still sign himself 
six months later in a letter to Mrs. Evans as 'Reverend 
in the future tense.' Essentially, perhaps, the signature 
was a true one, but it was never to be formally ratified. 

At first, however, he was too conscious of the new 
delights of freedom to abuse them. After the enclosed 
town life the lyrical landscape of Cambridge was in itself 
a rapture. Walking with Middleton through the country, 
discoursing with his usual fertility, 

'Obedient now to Hope's command, 
I bid each humble wish expand, 
And fair and bright Life's prospects seem, 
While Hope displays her cheering beam, 
And Fancy's vivid colourings stream, 
While Emulation stands me nigh, 
The goddess of the eager eye.' 

There was even a pleasure in writing that 

'Pale Disappointment hangs her head 
O'er darling Expectation dead!' 


§i THE "P^^CfISOC%AriC T>%e^£M 51 

So remote did the possibility seem. For the present was a 
harmony and the future a dream, and it was perhaps of 
this time, when spring came round, that he wrote : 'The 
first sight of green fields with the numberless nod- 
ding gold cups and the winding river with alders on its 
banks, affected me, coming out of a city confinement, 
with the sweetness and power of a sudden strain of 

And he could share it all with Mary Evans, that in- 
valuable conductor of emotions that, without an object 
upon which to direct them, were apt in their delicious 
vagueness to excite without fully satisfying ; writing to her 
in his best Bowlesian manner: 'what a lovely anticipation 
of spring the last three or four days have afforded ! Nature 
has been very profuse of her ornaments to the country 
about Cambridge ; yet the clear rivulet that runs through 
the Grove adjacent to our College, and the numberless 
little birds (particularly robins) that are singing away, and 
above all, the little lambs, each by the side of its mother, 
recall the most pleasing ideas of pastoral simplicity, and 
almost soothe one's soul into congenial innocence.' It 
was only to her sister Anne that he could write of the Cam 
as 'a handsome stream of a muddy complexion.' 

And with these 'dear silent pleasures of the Heart' 
went an 'uncommon flow of health,' a state which it was 
agreeable to impute to the care of Mrs. Evans with whom 
he spent a fortnight at Christmas, but which was in truth 
the physical reflection of his emotional well-being, as 
later his ill-health was attributable far more to psychical 
discord than to obscure rheumatics. The intimate con- 
nection of the two is a fact of primary importance in its 
bearing on his career. 

And in the Master of his college, the Reverend Doctor 
Pearce, he found a personality almost as remote from 
Boyer as Bowles himself, a mild and well-intentioned 


scholar, who reduced the chains of discipline to silken 
bands. Under these conditions it was easy at first to be a 
reasonably industrious student, the more so that Middle- 
ton, with whom he read in the evenings, unlike the genial 
Le Grice, who followed him up a year later, was a model of 
studiousness, and the prizes which the University offered 
still allured. He gained the Browne Gold Medal for a 
Sapphic Ode on the Slave Trade, and came so near 
winning the Craven Scholarship as to be one of the last 
four selected candidates. At the same time he developed 
a passion for Simpson's Euclid, to the charms of which he 
tried to convert his friends, and even found leisure to send 
his brother George some sermons. For, as he confessed 
elsewhere, he was still a politic conformer. 'Though I am 
not an Alderman, I have yet prudence enough to respect 
that gluttony of faith waggishly yclept orthodoxy' — a 
position to which he was finally to return after life had 
had its way with him. 

For more than a year then he could justly claim not to 
have relaxed in his exertions or to have indulged unduly 
in the wanderings of his 'castle-building Imagination,' 
although at times he confessed to being 'most villainously 
vapoured.' But possibly this was due to 'the wild Bac- 
chanalian sympathy' with which he joined in under- 
graduate supper-parties or to the 'fiddle-scraping' and 
'flute-tooting' against which in self-defence he began to 
take lessons on the violin. 

When, however, in 1792 his 'patron and protector' 
Middleton left Pembroke, having sacrificed his chances 
of a fellowship to his republican ardours, the essential 
fluidity of Coleridge's nature could no longer contain 
itself, and it flowed as was inevitable at the time into the 
political channel. Mr. Fox was at the moment the hero 
of young Cambridge Radicals, and his recently published 
'Letter to the Westminster electors' was 'quite the political 

§ i TH8 c PA3^riS0C%driC T>%S^^M 53 

go.' It fired Coleridge's enthusiasm and led him to a 
Radical debauch as vague and Gargantuan as his meta- 
physical had been. 

One of the most interesting characteristics of the 
Romantic temperament is that its excessive individualism 
induces a longing, equally excessive and uncritical, for 
self-escape. Suffocated by his own sensations, the 
Romantic seeks to project them into a system or a fiction 
or a creed. From childhood Coleridge had felt this need 
to an imperative degree, and had sought to satisfy it in the 
vicious circle of miraculous tales, sentimental poetry and 
sublunary philosophy. He now threw himself into 
political and religious Radicalism, and since politics was 
the least abstract of all his refuges, it was the one which 
involved him in the direst consequences and upon which 
disillusionment descended most quickly. 

His Radicalism was of the fantastic sort to be expected 
of one who was temperamentally incapable of relating 
theory to fact. Just as his metaphysical ideal of perfec- 
tion was purely subjective, so his notion of human per- 
fectibility was not that of the gradual fulfilment of creative 
tendencies latent in man, but, like his master Rous- 
seau's, a miraculous jump back into a state of natural 
innocence. It was another fairy story, and how essentially 
for him it was a fairy story, is proved by his inability later 
to graft the ideal truth, which like an allegory it did 
present, on to the facts that experience had forced upon 
his notice. 

But for the time Jacobinism was as satisfying a conduit 
for enthusiasm as Mary Evans was for tender emotions. 
iDschylus and Plato and Thucydides were pushed aside 
in favour of countless political pamphlets. They served, 
as metaphysics had done, his passion for effusive self- 
expression, and his fame as a talker spreading through the 
college, his room on the ground floor became the con- 


stant rendezvous of friends hypnotized by his animated 
and interminable monologue. 

Taking 'little exercise for the sake of exercise* he 
spent his mornings in reading pamphlet after pamphlet, 
and his evenings, oblivious of the practical jokes played on 
him by the more flippant of his audience, in paraphrasing 
their substance, spinning them into new shapes, or in 
repeating whole pages of them word for word, 

For one of the symptoms of his abnormally passive 
sensibility was a memory almost mechanical in its reten- 
tiveness. Often in time to come he was unconsciously to 
reduplicate whole passages in letters to different friends, 
and the prolixity of his utterance throughout life was due 
to the facl: that, unlike the ordinary reader, he could not 
absorb the essentials of his vast reading without at the 
same time retaining it verbally, and that his remarkable 
mind, in its effort after self-expression, was for ever 
struggling to rid itself of the mass of mere material which 
Memory had accumulated. His mind in short was like a 
sponge which must be continually wrung out if it is to 
preserve its condition. 

But to the listener, ignorant of the extent to which he 
was drawing on his reading, the brilliance of his apparent 
extemporization was undeniable. And if his appearance 
did not at first attract, the pale brow and benevolent eyes 
bulking less upon the attention than the loose mouth, bad 
teeth, and short, formless nose, he had only to sail out on 
the stream of his eloquence for even his bad features to be 
forgotten as such, so brimming with expressiveness they 
were. And so he sat, like some beautiful exotic — an im- 
pression strengthened by the long hair parted in the 
middle which framed his face — transporting his friends 
to Arcadian regions where Nature's morals were un- 
questionable and man was no longer vile. 

No tiresome economic analysis, no laborious statistics 

§ i me TA^risoc^Aric T>%e*Am 55 

shackled his feet as they wandered over the enchanted 
meadows of Freedom. 'Feeling was all'; it solved all 
problems by dissolving them in its genial glow. Ex- 
pediency, duty, the great dualism of life, so hard to recon- 
cile, between faith and reason, matter and spirit, desire 
and necessity, all the pedestrian motives of prudence, and 
legality, every jealous distinction, vanished before the 
miraculous summons, 'Rise, God of Nature, rise V France 
had already sounded the summons with phenomenal 
effect. She had proclaimed her faith in the Absolute 
ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, and doubtless 
all else would be speedily added to her. For these were 
not catchwords but mystic symbols, spells which had only 
to be uttered to regenerate mankind. As for the fate of 
Louis XVI, surely 'no Englishman need be alarmed at 
the execution of an individual at Paris?' He refused to see 
any more significance in it than in a street accident. The 
unfortunate monarch had been run over by the traffic of 
progress, a traffic which would now proceed at such a 
speed that in an incredibly short period it would deposit 
humanity in the promised land of a perfect domestic 

Some of his enthusiasms might indeed have struck his 
audience as a trifle contradictory, had not his whole 
purpose been to affirm the identity of all things. It was 
strange, for example, that so fervid a worshipper of 
Nature should espouse the cause of William Godwin, who 
was so blind to the power of natural instincts, that he 
reduced man to a lay figure of reason like himself, and 
even more peculiar was the equal applause which he offered 
to the philosophers Berkeley and Hartley, although the one 
explained all physical things as mental phenomena, and 
the other related all mental phenomena to physical con- 
ditions. But it was by enforcing such distinctions, he 
would have argued, that the individual grew mean and 


separated himself from the generous flow of indiscriminate 
benevolence of which Nature was the fount and origin. 

In religion too, as in politics, he preached the gospel of 
Nature. To a devout disciple of Plotinus, to whom the 
Deity was an abstract of the first principles of the Good, 
the True and the Beautiful, of which Nature was the 
exposition, anthropomorphism was a childish super- 
stition, while such orthodox dogmas as Original Sin, the 
Atonement, and the Divinity of Christ must either be 
rejected outright or accepted in a purely symbolical sense. 
If Fox was his political hero for denouncing Pitt's declar- 
ation of war against the Apostles of Nature in France, 
Priestley, the famous chemist, was his religious hero, for 
opposing Reason and Personal Revelation to crusted 
theology, and paying for it in the destruction of his books 
and instruments and a necessitous flight to America. 

But Cambridge itself was to offer him the opportunity 
of testifying publicly to his admiration for the heroes of 
free thought. Among the fellows of Jesus was a Uni- 
tarian disciple of Priestley's named William Frend, who 
early in 1793 alarmed the University authorities by 
attacking the Established Church and its Thirty-nine 
Articles in a pamphlet euphemistically entitled 'Peace 
and Union.' In May he was brought to trial before the 
Vice-Chancellor and required to recant his heresies and 
also certain Radical opinions in politics, which had 
shocked the Academic mind, on pain of losing his fellow- 
ship. This, in a vigorous speech in his own defence, he 
declined to do, to the delight of Coleridge and his circle, 
who, seated in court, could hardly refrain from a public 
demonstration on behalf of the victim of oppression. 

His speech however did not appeal so winningly to the 
authorities; Coleridge realized that the trial was going 
against him; the spell of first principles had strangely 
failed to work, and when some tentative observations 

§ i THS c PAfKJ'ISOC%A c riC T>%8tA£M 57 

were made in Frend's favour which seemed to him 'a 
dying hope thrown out/ he sought with guileless im- 
petuosity to strengthen their appeal by a sudden burst of 
violent clapping. Fortunately the young man sitting near 
him, whom the Proctor accused of committing this inde- 
corum, could prove his innocence by holding out the stump 
of his right arm, and when Coleridge confessed his respon- 
sibility later he was dismissed with a severe warning. 

But if he avoided suffering himself as a victim of 
oppression, two years of University life had been enough 
to deflect him far from the sober road which led to 
Ordination. He was possessed by the Genius of enthu- 
siasm and had drunk to intoxication of self-expression. 
Freed from discipline, but without private judgment, he 
was henceforth to stake all, generously and uncritically, 
on his sensibility, to feel the joy and wonder of life as only 
those can who make such an unqualified surrender to 
direct emotion, but to stand also naked and defenceless 
against the stabs of circumstance. 

Revolutionary aspirations, however, diverted him from 
poetry as well as from his reading for the Schools. His 
was an eloquent, but not a rhetorical nature, and happiest 
therefore when letting his political idealism flow along the 
unassuming channels of extempore conversation. And it 
was only when, with the long vacation of 1793, his 
audience dispersed and he himself retired to Ottery, that 
in an atmosphere unconducive to the expression of 
political or religious heresies he began to luxuriate again 
in those softer emotions for which verse was a pleasant 
outlet, primarily associated with Mary Evans, but attach- 
able to any sympathetic female form. 

To the influence of Bowles had now been added that of 
Ossian, whose dreamy extravagance inevitably fascinated 
one who, so far as he loved a woman, loved her less for 
herself than as an excuse for melting sentimentalism or 

58 StAmVEL r^ATLOR COLS%IT>g£ §i 

even for Complimentary effusions in the poetic way.' It 
was poetry of this order which he addressed to Miss 
Fanny Nesbitt, who travelled with him in the Tiverton 
diligence from Exeter, and whom he thought 'a very 
pretty girl,' a poetry as artificial in its echoes of Spenser, 
Fletcher, Thomson, or Bowles, as it was in its faint 

She, like the young ladies whom he conducted 'half- 
way up a wood-covered hill* to 'an excavation called the 
Pixies' Parlour, one of whom, of stature elegantly small, 
and of complexion colourless yet clear, was proclaimed 
the Faery Queen' in an ode, redolent of Milton, like too 
the 'lonely Otter's sleep-persuading stream' to which he 
dedicated a sonnet closely modelled upon Bowles' c Sonnet 
to the River Itchin,' existed for him no more than a per- 
fume that induced a languid mood, a mood so sickly and 
evanescent that without pseudo-classical formulas and per- 
sonifications it could never have achieved expression at all. 

Yet there were moments of personal feeling amid the 
derived decoration, if indeed such a description can be 
used of a voluptuousness half-emotional, half-sensuous, 
that indulged itself in 'soothing witcheries.' They are to 
be found particularly in the 'Lines on an Autumnal 
Evening,' in which he invoked with mock ceremony the 
phantom presence of Mary Evans. It was, as he con- 
fessed, a 'dear Deceit'; the maid in whose 'bright blue 
eyes' he saw 'Chaste Joyance dancing' never attended a 
millinery establishment. She was 'formed by the won- 
drous Alchemy of Heaven'; in the best eighteenth- 
century manner 

'A thousand Loves around her forehead fly; 
A thousand Loves sit melting in her eye;' 

and she looked like a landscape deliciously dissolved in 

§ i THS ( PA?N2 J IS0C c E(A c riC T>%S<^m 59 

'When the bent flower beneath the night-dew weeps 
And on the lake the silver lustre sleeps, 
Amid the paly radiance soft and sad, 
She meets my lonely path in moonbeams clad. 
With her along the streamlet's brink I rove; 
With her I list the warblings of the Grove; 
And seems in each low wind her voice to float 
Love whispering Pity in each soothing note!' 

That a young man enjoying his vacation should invoke the 
lady of his fancy in these valetudinarian tones is sufficient 
evidence of his proneness to sickly sensationalism, a 
sensationalism which conditioned also his raptures, as 
when he wrote of a kiss : 

'O'er all my frame shot rapid my thrilled heart, 
And every nerve confessed the electric dart' 

or in a more decorative mood, 

'When twilight stole across the fading vale, 
To fan my Love I'd be the Evening Gale; 
Mourn in the soft folds of her swelling vest, 
And flutter my faint pinions on her breast! 
On Seraph wing I'd float a Dream by night, 
To soothe my Love with shadows of delight : 
Or soar aloft to be the Spangled Skies, 
And gaze upon her with a thousand eyes!' 

The poet who wrote in this style was at best a verbal 
sensualist. He knew no healthy physical reaction to life. 
Desire might fret his nerves for a moment, but seducliive 
fancy was enough to soothe them. Well might he write 

'Ah why refuse the blameless bliss? 
Can Danger lurk within a kiss? 

since for him a kiss was an imaginary sensation and its 


refusal an abstract concern which a little literary cunning 
could turn into the most endearing consent: 

< Well-pleased to hear the whisper'd "No!" 
The whisper'd "No" — how little meant! 
Sweet Falsehood that endears Consent! 
For on those lovely lips the while 
Dawns the soft relenting smile, 
And tempts, with feigned dissuasion coy, 
The gentle violence of Joy.' 

Just, therefore, as in his Utopianism he allowed his aspir- 
ations to masquerade as convictions, because he derived 
such pleasurable sensations from their expression, so, as 
a lover, he projected his emotions into dreams of desire, 
and through excess of sensibility recoiled from the world 
of fact outside himself, by contact with which both his 
desire and his idealism might have discovered reality. 

But fact was preparing to take its revenge. During the 
two years which he had spent at Cambridge he had not 
ceased to correspond regularly with the Evans family, 
sunning himself in Mrs. Evans* tenderness scarcely 
inferior to the solicitude of maternal affection,' and 
assuring her that she had the very first row in the front 
box of my heart's little theatre.' Amid all variations of 
mood his 'love and gratitude' remained 'unalterably 
fixed,' and when the lady was embarking on a journey to 
Wales she was to have himself as an unseen companion, 
one 'whose heart will melt with unutterable tenderness at 
your maternal transports.' 'I write to others,' he con- 
fessed, 'but my pen talks to you,' while to impress on her 
the sincerity of his piety he sent her 'a little work of that 
great and good man, Archdeacon Paley.' 

The cynical reader who should attribute these effusions 

§2 THE <PA?NJ J ISOC%AriC T>%S*Am 61 

to an astute design on Coleridge's part to reconcile Mrs. 
Evans to the idea of accepting him as a son-in-law, would 
be entirely mistaken. No one enjoyed maternal transports 
so much as he. 'Surely,' as he wrote in praise of her un- 
selfishness, 'the pleasures that arise from whispering 
peace to those who are in trouble, and healing the broken 
in heart, are far superior to all the unfeeling can enjoy.' 
And it was indeed almost worth while breaking his own 
heart to qualify for so tender a treatment. Like a child 
he loved to be petted, and his attachment to the lady who 
showed him motherly attention was in truth far more real 
than the sentiment he associated with her daughter. 

Possibly Mary Evans was dimly conscious of this, 
since we find him complaining of the formal conclusions 
to her letters and signing himself with a 'God bless you,' 
'your affectionate and grateful S. T. Coleridge.' But the 
tone of his letters to her was not calculated to inspire a 
more intimate signature. His own description of them as 
c a heap of nothingness ... a river of words and a spoon- 
ful of sense' could not be bettered. They were as artificial 
as the poetry which he occasionally included, and though 
his 'dear sister,' as he called her, might appreciate the gift 
of his 'softest affections' and 'the ardour of his eternal 
friendship,' they were not likely to kindle a passionate 
devotion in her heart. Again, while it was honest, it was 
scarcely complimentary to inform her that 'really, I have 
written so long that I had forgot to whom I was writing.' 

Nevertheless it was very pleasant to have a sympathetic 
correspondent into whose ear one could whisper an 
innocent vanity concerning the new 'swanskin waistcoat, 
a most attractive external,' or communicate a melancholy, 
sententious or aspiring mood, or even a jest at one's own 
sentimentalism by comparing oneself to the old Greek 
philosopher 'who once harangued so movingly on the 
miseries of life that his audience went home and hanged 


themselves, but he lived many years afterwards in very 
sleek condition/ He could hear them all laughing over 
dear 'Brother ColyV facetiousness as he wrote, and the 
thought of it was like a breath of warm air in a cold world. 

Yet it was from this very hothouse of sentiment that the 
stab of realism came. Mary Evans, he learnt, had an 
admirer to whom she was affectionately inclined, and one 
who doubtless, unlike himself, had other aims than 
to feel everything and do nothing. No longer could he 
listen to Hope's bland whisper 'soothing with many a 
dream the hour of rest.' It would be too much to say that 
'Jealousy with feverish fancies pale . . . jarred' his heart's 
'fine fibres with a maniac's hand' : for jealousy requires 
physical passion for its basis. But for such a nature as 
Coleridge's the loss of a romantic illusion was even more 
desolating than hatred of a realistic rival. He never felt a 
woman as a facl: until she became an unpleasant one or 
ceased to be his to associate with a swooning tenderness. 
The distraction was all the greater because he was as 
uncertain of his own feelings towards Mary Evans as he 
was of the rumoured rival. 

Certainly he admired her 'sensibility regulated by 
Judgment, her gaiety proceeding from a cheerful heart, 
acting on the stores of a strong understanding.' He 
derived exquisite enjoyment too from 'voluntarily inviting 
the recollection of these qualities into his mind . . . 
making them the perpetual obje£t of his reveries, and yet 
entertaining no sentiment beyond that of the immediate 
Pleasure annexed to the thinking of her.' But did this 
justify him in passing beyond brotherly benediction and 
avowing a passion with all the material consequences 
which that would involve? 

Irresolute as he was, he lacked the conviction to take 
such a step. To fancy Mary Evans twining a laurel 
wreath around his brow was well enough ; to approach her 

§2 THS <PANJ'ISOC%driC < D C R£*A£M 63 

as a prospective husband was another matter; and it was 
only during the year which followed that in brooding on 
his loss, clinging 'with desperate fondness to this Phantom 
of Love, its mysterious Attractions and hopeless Pros- 
pects/ he deluded himself that he really did harbour 
an unsubduable passion and despairingly confessed it. 
Meanwhile he broke off without explanation all corres- 
pondence with the family and luxuriated in a melancholy 
as sentimental as his previous rapture. Once again he was 
a waif in the world, expelled from the 'arbours' of his 
Eden, and doomed to nurse in his bosom his indulgent 
and unpractical day-dreams 'with an agony of Affection, 
even as a Mother her sickly infant.' 

But realism attacked him in the form of a 'polite 
upholsterer' too. This gentleman, taking advantage of 
his simplicity, had furnished his rooms at his own figure, 
and when the bill was presented Coleridge was staggered 
by a sum far beyond his means. Unfortunately the 
tradesman of a University town was not as ready as him- 
self to dismiss as worthless the paltry motives of self- 
interest, and the double humiliation was too much to bear. 
To plead his own difference from normal men, his innate 
sense of genius, was for him but poor comfort. No doubt 
it was true that 'mine is no common case,' but if the 
abnormal sensibility of genius is not balanced by an 
abnormal aggressiveness, it is at the mercy of circum- 

Coleridge's invariable impulse, when hurt by life, was 
to run away and hide like a child, anywhere, in the hope 
that he might dream undisturbed. On the present 
occasion he fled to London, where the lottery was to be 
drawn, in which he had taken a ticket in the hope of 
retrieving some at least of his fortunes. And while await- 
ing his fate he addressed the fickle goddess in a set of 
verses at once frivolous and pathetic, speaking of the 'One 

64 s^musL TzAylor c° L8 % IT >ge §2 

Flower of Hope' — a flower mystically composed of Mary 
Evans and the lottery ticket — and how 

'At Love's behest 
Trembling, I plac'd it in my secret breast:' 

a flower 

'Oft moistened with the tear's ambrosial dew! 

Poor wither'd floweret! on its head 

Has dark despair his sickly mildew shed! 

But thou, O Fortune! can'st relume 

Its deaden'd tints. . . .' 

Fortune however refused to be seduced by his languish- 
ing verses, and a recruiting poster advertising for 'a few 
smart lads for the 15th Elliot's Light Dragoons' having 
caught his eye, he presented himself for enlistment. It 
did not matter that he was preposterously unsuited to 
play the part of a 'smart lad' or that he was to be trained 
for what he had called 'systematic murder' against the 
very French Republic which was still in his eyes the 
Champion of Liberty and the hope of the world. It did 
not matter that he had always cherished 'a violent anti- 
pathy to soldiers and horses.' The unpleasantness of an 
actuality was to him inconceivable save in the immediate 
moment of experiencing it. Wise men have been known 
to enter the Army because they wanted time to think, but 
Coleridge entered it rather to forget — to forget dunning 
upholsterers and tantalizing young ladies, to lose himself 
in a strange, insensitive world, a world which in prospect 
seemed rather attractively concrete and in which, if he 
wished to dream, his dreams would be heightened by 

And so, half-crazed and quite irresponsible, turning a 
deaf ear to the enlisting corporal's kindly dissuasions, one 
of the most incompetent recruits who ever accepted the 

§3 THE <PA$criSOC%dttC T>%6<^^M 65 

King's service enlisted on December 2, 1793, and two 
days later was attested at Reading, under a name which 
surely ought to have figured in humorous fiction rather 
than on the shop-front from which he is said to have 
borrowed it - that of Silas Tomkyn Comberbacke. 


Nearly thirty years later Coleridge was to say in a 
lecture that 'Magic and War — itself a magic — are the 
day-dreams of childhood ; love is the day-dream of youth 
and early manhood.' And possibly his enlistment was 
an unconscious recoil from one day-dream to another, a 
testing too of his theory that 'some sudden revolution, 
some unexpected change of place' was required to combat 
the vis inertia of the human mind. 

The earlier day-dream was even more rudely shat- 
tered than the later. His inability either to sit or groom 
his horse cannot have eased his relations with his ser- 
geant-major, although his obvious good-nature and smil- 
ing incompetence, and still more his readiness to indite 
love-letters or entertain with romantic stories, soon 
endeared him to his fellow dragoons. But quaintly unreal 
as the life seemed at first, its romance did not survive a 
confinement in Henley Workhouse, due to some 'dread- 
fully troublesome eruptions,' nor the duty of nursing 
there a comrade stricken with confluent small-pox. Even 
the sympathy of a 'beautiful girl' in the Institution did 
not compensate him for 'the almost total want of sleep, 
the putrid smell, and fatiguing struggles with his delirious 

Already he could write, 'mine is a sensibility gan- 
grened with inward corruption and the keen searching of 
the air from without,' and it was small comfort to be told 
by an expansive Swedenborgian, whom he met in a tavern 
a month later, that 'from the intellectual atmosphere that 


emanated from him and enveloped him' he found him to 
be in 'a state of recipiency.' 

It was only too tragically true. He was so recipient 
that he suffered acutely from anything which time or 
distance had not softened. Even his rooms at Jesus, with 
their furniture unpaid for, possessed now the charm of 
unreal things, and within six weeks he confided his situ- 
ation to some friends at Christ's Hospital. Although he 
affected displeasure that the confidence was abused, he 
was unaffectedly relieved that his family were informed of 
his whereabouts and through them his commanding 
officer, who must already have detected some mystery 
about the very indocile equestrian of the cultured speech, 
whose abilities were better employed in nursing sick 
dragoons than in parading with sound ones. 

His relief was certainly mixed with humiliation. He 
was thankful, but he shrunk and shivered too. What a 
spectacle he had made of himself! How could con- 
ventional relations understand the complexities of his 
panic and irresolution? He felt for them too, as well as 
for himself. Their embarrassment even planted his 'pil- 
low with thorns' and made his 'dreams full of terrors,' 
and when he received a letter from kind brother George, 
he lacked the courage either to burn or open it, and 
luxuriated instead in the wildest self-recrimination. 
'Alas! my poor Mother! What an intolerable weight of 
guilt is suspended over my head by a hair on one hand; 
and if I endure to live — the look ever downward — insult, 
pity, and hell! God or Chaos preserve me! What but 
infinite Wisdom or infinite Confusion can do it?' 

And when he did bring himself to open the letter, 
what a delirium it excited. His iniquity was enormous 
and yet his 'feeble and exhausted heart' lacked the energy 
to abhor it. 

'O my wayward soul!' he wrote, 'I have been a fool 

§3 THS c PA^KSlSOC%A c riC T>%e*Am 67 

even to madness. What shall I dare to promise? My 
mind is illegible to myself. I am lost in the labyrinth, 
the trackless wilderness of my own bosom. Truly may I 
say, "I am wearied of being saved." My frame is chill 
and torpid. The ebb and flow of my hopes and fears 
has stagnated into recklessness. One wish only can I 
read distinctly in my heart, that it were possible for me 
to be forgotten as though I had never been!' . . . and so 
on through a crescendo of 'anguish/ 'intolerable images 
of horror' that 'haunt my sleep and enfever my dreams/ 
theatrical intercessions for annihilation to the climax — 
'my brother! my brother! pray for me, comfort me, my 
brother! I am very wretched, and, though my complaint 
be bitter, my stroke is heavier than my groaning!' 

And there was the same hysterical excess in his expres- 
sion of gratitude — 'I am indeed oppressed, oppressed,' he 
wrote in a later letter, 'with the greatness of your love.' 
'Mine eyes gush out with tears, my heart is sick and 
languid with the weight of unmerited kindness.' 

Such were the fruits of the gospel that 'feeling is all.' 
Throughout his life Coleridge was to be reduced to such 
a state as this by every material crisis and to relieve and 
indulge himself in similar effusions. He was as incapable 
of seeing things in proportion as a child stung by a 
nettle. He was no more conscious of self-deception than 
Rousseau was. He really believed that his 'soul sickened 
at its own guilt' even while he proved the opposite by the 
manner of his confession. His very prayers for self-annihi- 
lation reeked with the emotional sophistry of egotism. 

It required however neither 'infinite Wisdom' nor 
'infinite Confusion' to procure him his discharge after a 
letter couched in terms of Biblical fervour had been 
addressed to his eldest brother, Captain James Coleridge, 
- a letter which must have afforded him considerable 
pleasure to write. To prostrate himself before the matter- 


of-fa6t, to accuse himself with all the devices of romantic 
rhetoric, to invoke the forgiveness of his Creator and the 
softer consolations of religion — how superbly and pathe- 
tically incongruous it was in the person of a misplaced 
dragoon ! 

'In a mind,' he wrote, 'which vice has not utterly 
divested of sensibility, few occurrences can inflict a more 
acute pang than the receiving proof of tenderness and 
love where only resentment and reproach were expected 
and deserved. The gentle voice of conscience which had 
incessantly murmured within the soul then raises its tone 
and speaks with a tongue of thunder. My conduct to- 
wards you, and towards my other brothers, has displayed 
a strange combination of madness, ingratitude, and dis- 
honesty. But you forgive me. May my Maker forgive me ! 
May the time arrive when I shall have forgiven myself!' 

Whether Captain James Coleridge was favourably 
impressed by this letter or not we do not know, but it 
must have at least convinced him that its writer was more 
suited for the pulpit than the saddle. And on April 10, 
1794, Silas Tomkyn Comberbacke, after enduring a fort- 
night of daily tumbles off a horse as young and undis- 
ciplined as himself, and with his 'shirts worn to rags,' 
procured his discharge and returned to Cambridge. 


The immediate result however of the 'shocks of adver- 
sity' which had 'electrified his frame' was to make him 
feel 'a convalescence of soul' and become 'like a being 
recently formed from the hands of Nature.' His faculties 
too were greatly refreshed by four months' forced absten- 
tion from reading, and since he escaped with no more 
than an admonishment by Dr. Pearce in the presence of 
the Fellows, a month's confinement to College, and the 
task of translating the works of Demetrius Phalareus into 

§4 THS TAV^riSOC^AttC T>%6^^M 69 

English, his sense of remorse was not unduly prolonged, 
nor for that matter his newly aroused intention of orderly 

Certainly he made a beginning. He dropped his 
acquaintances 'solemnly and for ever,' and in competing 
once more for the Greek Ode prize, announced his aim to 
be at 'correctness and perspicuity, not genius,' and an 
avoidance of the sublime and unintelligible. But try as he 
would, it was the sublime and unintelligible which 
haunted him and the sentimental which allured. And 
though he was to exclude genius from his Greek ode, it 
was to quicken with a sudden momentary inspiration his 
expression in English poetry. 

A dragoonship had not erased from his mind the 
fugitive image of Mary Evans, but had rather served to 
idealize it more vividly. And now in the refreshment of 
his release the dreams of despair which had flattered the 
pride and soothed the sickness of his nature, excited too 
his imagination. Suddenly without warning his hunger 
for the unrealizable melted into music, such music as 
makes us ask with Ferdinand, 'Where should this 
music be? P the air or the earth?' — the music which was 
to justify Coleridge's life, so long as English poetry is 
read. Like an incantation it transcends the physical and 
the intellectual and yet captivates the senses. It hovers 
in the air like wind and lulls like stealing waters. It is at 
once transparent and iridescent, unearthly and yet in- 
woven with rich, dissolving images. No poet could con- 
trol such enchantment. Like some magic potion it was 
distilled of strange contrarieties. Coleridge discovered it 
when circumstances favoured an involuntary surrender 
to emotion powerful enough to harmonize temporarily 
all his peculiar faculties and tendencies, his faint physical 
and far-reaching metaphysical instinct, his langour and 
his effusiveness, his dreamy mysticism and his pining 

jo S^^MUSL T^TTLOR C0L6%IT>g8 §4 

sensuousness, his hope and his despair. These moments 
when his nostalgia became creative, his sense of the real 
just vivid enough to communicate in its elusive motion 
his prevailing sense of the unreal, were gifts of Fortune, 
conditioned by a mood more precarious than any healthy 
creative impulse is, as it was more strange and unanalys- 
able in its issue. His spirits, to use his own description 
of this state in childhood, came upon him now suddenly 
and in a flood that swept him into the stream of expressive 
life and changed the unsatisfied longing over which he 
had so long impotently brooded into a music as universal 
in its inspiration as it was personal in its tone. Such was 
the love-chaunt, the tender appeal and reproach named 
'Lewti,' of which he wrote the first draft at this time: 

'At midnight by the stream I roved, 
To forget the form I loved, 
Image of Lewti ! from my mind 
Depart; for Lewti is not kind. 

'The Moon was high, the moonlight gleam 

And the shadow of a star 
Heaved upon Tamaha's stream; 

But the rock shone brighter far, 
The rock half sheltered from my view 
By pendent boughs of tressy yew — 
So shines my Lewti's forehead fair, 
Gleaming through her sable hair, 
Image of Lewti ! from my mind 
Depart; for Lewti is not kind. 

'I saw a cloud of palest hue, 

Onward to the moon it passed; 
Still brighter and more bright it grew, 
With floating colours not a few, 

Till it reach'd the moon at last; 

§4 THS "PA^CTlSOC%driC T>%EzAm 71 

Then the cloud was wholly bright, 
With a rich and amber light! 
And so with many a hope I seek 

And with such joy I find my Lewti; 
And even so my pale wan cheek 

Drinks in as deep a flush of beauty ! 
Nay, treacherous image! leave my mind, 
If Lewti never will be kind. 

'The little cloud - it floats away, 

Away it goes; away so soon? 
Alas! it has no power to stay: 
Its hues are dim, its hues are grey — 

Away it passes from the moon! 
How mournfully it seems to fly, 

Ever fading more and more, 
To joyless regions of the sky — 

And now 'tis whiter than before! 
As white as my poor cheek will be, 

When, Lewti, on my couch I lie, 
A dying man for love of thee. 
Nay, treacherous image ! leave my mind — 
And yet, thou didst not look unkind. 

'I saw a vapour in the sky, 

Thin, and white, and very high; 
I ne'er beheld so thin a cloud: 

Perhaps the breezes that can fly 

Now below and now above, 
Have snatched aloft the lawny shroud 

Of Lady fair — that died for love. 
For maids, as well as youths, have perished 
From fruitless love too fondly cherished. 
Nay, treacherous image ! leave my mind — 
For Lewti never will be kind. 


'I know the place where Lewti lies, 
When silent night has closed her eyes: 

It is a breezy jasmine-bower, 
The nightingale sings o'er her head: 

Voice of the Night ! had I the power 
That leafy labyrinth to tread, 
And creep, like thee, with soundless tread, 
I then might view her bosom white 
Heaving lovely to my sight, 
As these two swans together heave 
On the gently-swelling wave. 

'Oh! that she saw me in a dream, 

And dreamt that I had died for care; 

All pale and wasted I would seem, 
Yet fair withal, as spirits are! 

I'd die indeed, if I might see 

Her bosom heave, and heave for me! 

Soothe, gentle image! soothe my mind! 

To-morrow Lewti may be kind.' 

In substance this poem, particularly in the last two 
stanzas where the inspiration is failing, is as sickly as 
many which preceded it, but its sickliness is for the most 
part immaterial in both senses of the word. Those 'sounds 
and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not,' that buoy- 
ant and impalpable rhythm, that sensuous charm refined 
as it were by fever, that childlike, yet inevitable simplicity 
in which Coleridge was unique as a poet, were heard here 
for the first time. Hints of these qualities his earlier verse 
had given, but only now were they fully realized. 

Yet the realization was fugitive. A month later he 
sought relief from the same heart-sickness in a poem 
entitled 'The Sigh,' but the miracle was not to be re- 
peated. The vis inertia had supervened .and he could 
only write such lines as: 

§5 THS < PA^riSOC%d c TlC D%£<^m 73 

'I fain would soothe the sense of care, 
And lull to sleep the Joys that were! 
Thy Image may not banished be — 
Still, Mary! still I sigh for thee/ 

It was not until three years later that through a quick- 
ening influence more potent than Mary Evans the power 
of poetical enchantment was to return for a brief and 
brilliant season, and then fade from a world too hard and 
a temperament too stricken to harbour it. 


Early in June, however, Coleridge took the best 
possible measure against introspection by setting out on 
a walking tour with his friend Hucks, a cultivated but 
not too exciting companion. Instead of going direct to 
Ottery, their plan was to reach it by way of Wales, stop- 
ping first at Oxford to visit Coleridge's old school-fellow 
Allen. The consequences of this chance visit to Oxford 
were considerable: for there he met a Balliol under- 
graduate named Robert Southey, a tall self-possessed 
youth two years his junior, with a shrewd face, black 
bushy hair, lips almost as full as his own, but decisive in 
their lines, and eyes as piercing as his own were softly 
luminous. To complete the determination of his aspect, 
his nose was high and prominent. 

A shrewd observer of the features of these two under- 
graduates might have guessed that their temperaments 
were complementary. In those of the one was a suave 
and judicious self-assurance, the assurance of the man 
whose energies are effective because their direction is 
limited. In the other's there were no strong lines. His 
face like his character was fundamentally formless. By 
the way in which it trembled and glowed with feeling, 
it proclaimed a nature void of self-considering motives, 


a mind incapable of self-limiting aims. Yet both pos- 
sessed the animation of the poet, and it was doubtless 
Coleridge's realization of their inverted correspondence 
which led him to write later: 'I think that an admirable 
poet might be made by amalgamating him and me. I 
think too much for a poet, he too little for a great 

Both too at this time were in revolt : Southey, with a 
dour and definite self-conceit, against every power which 
sought to impose its authority on youth; Coleridge, with 
an amiable vagueness, against the principle of the finite 
in everything. It was as inevitable that two such beings 
should immediately coalesce as it was that they should 
eventually draw apart. 

Their boyhood too showed points of similarity. Robert 
Southey was the son of a superior Bristol linen-draper. 
Like Coleridge he had as a child no propensity for boyish 
sports, although this may have been due to the aunt 
who encouraged him rather to stay indoors pricking play- 
bills with a needle. The same aunt, who was an amateur 
patroness of the Stage, introduced him at an early age to 
the theatres of Bath and Bristol, and so quickened his 
interest in poetry and drama that he was experimenting 
in both before his teens. 'It is the easiest thing in the 
world to write a play,' he is reported to have said at the 
age of eight, and the remark is typical. Like Coleridge 
too he read voraciously, procuring his material from a 
circulating library, the Arabian tales amongst it. But 
unlike Coleridge he had a passion for historical inform- 
ation and was keenly interested in botany and entomology, 
while his earliest compositions took the severe form of 
epic dramas. At Westminster School he edited a period- 
ical entitled The Flagellant^ and was expelled by a humour- 
less headmaster for contributing to it an article attacking 
corporal punishment. This acl: of petty tyranny had 


strengthened both his rebellious instindt. and his inclin- 
ation for authorship. He went up to Oxford determined 
to discover 'pedantry, prejudice, and aristocracy' if only 
as an appropriate background to the attitude that he had 
adopted of a 'rebellious spirit, which neither authority 
nor oppression could ever bow.' Like Coleridge he had 
lost his father, and although supposed to be reading for 
Orders, proclaimed his devotion to 'heathen philosophy 
and Grecian republicanism. ' But his philosophy was 
Epicurean rather than Platonic, and his democratic senti- 
ments were practical. He had caught the 'Wilkes and 
Liberty Epidemic' as a boy from old periodicals, but it 
appealed to him only as a general statement of his own 
strong desire not to sacrifice his independence to making 
a livelihood. Like Coleridge he had 'pleasing visions of 
domestic life,' but they were leavened with the common 
sense to be expected of a young man who wrote truly 
enough in his twentieth year, 'Don't think me drunk, for 
if I am, 'tis with sobriety,' and who was justly described 
as possessing 'health, strength of mind, and confirmed 
habits of stricvt morality.' 

In his letters he could certainly conceal his 'very strong 
predilection for life' under a pose of pompous moralizing 
and reflective melancholy, and since his humanitarian 
ideals were not, like Coleridge's, a purely subjective 
dream, he was not quite so blind to the implications of 
the Terror in France. At least it was pleasant to indulge 
the sentiment of disillusionment between bouts of defi- 
ance, to 'look round the world, and everywhere find the 
same mournful spectacle — the strong tyrannizing over 
the weak, man and beast; the same depravity pervading 
the whole creation; oppression triumphant everywhere': 
to write of his hopes as 'extinguished' and of himself as 
having 'no object of pursuit in life but to fill the passing 
hour and to fit himself for death.' 


But while it was agreeable to repeat the prevailing 
romantic gesture that 

'Weary of love, of life, devour'd with spleen, 
I rest, a perfect Timon, not nineteen,* 

he was far too practical merely to indulge in such senti- 
ments. His was not a nature to find refuge from the 
depravity of man and beast in conceptions of primeval 
innocence. At the age of six he had 'formed a delectable 
plan with two school-mates for going to an island and 
living by ourselves/ and six months before Coleridge met 
him he had commended Cowley's intention 'to retire 
with books to a cottage in America, and seek that hap- 
piness in solitude which he could not find in society,' 
adding that he would 'be pleased to reside in a country 
where men's abilities would ensure respect . . . and man 
was considered as more valuable than money; and where 
I could till the earth, and provide by honest industry the 
meat which my wife would dress with pleasing care.' 

The idea was not visionary. America for him was not 
a lost Eden to be recovered, but an undeveloped country 
which offered real opportunities to the pioneer, and he 
pictured himself as wielding the axe, grubbing up roots, 
building a snug little dairy, sleeping on rushes, and shar- 
ing his labour with an emancipated negro, until the wife 
presented herself to dress the meat with pleasing care. 
Rhyming and philosophizing were to occupy his mythical 

The project became more attractive as his prospects of 
a professional career in medicine or the Civil Service, 
both of which he contemplated, grew more remote, and 
his pronounced Unitarianism, confirmed by the intoler- 
ance and subservience to 'useless forms' which he found 
in Oxford, prevented him from considering the Church. 
And it was at this moment when his plans had failed to 

§6 TH8 <PAfNJ'ISOC%driC T>%S^A^M jj 

mature and his horizon was uncomfortably objectless, 
that Coleridge descended upon him like a fertilizing 
sun, bringing to his material project the breath and inspir- 
ation of a creative idea. 

Coleridge, the most dependent person in the world, 
had a passion for abstract independence; Southey, most 
sturdily independent as a man, was too prudent and 
practical to leap before he looked. The conjunction of the 
two was exactly calculated to invest with probability a 
scheme upon which neither alone would have seriously 
acted. The responsibility belonged to them both, al- 
though Southey, the cautious family man of later years, 
was of course convinced that it was Coleridge and Hucks 
who introduced the scheme of pantisocracy to him. 
Doubtless Coleridge christened it, doubtless too he 
enfolded it in his amazing eloquence, converting a mere 
suggestion into a cloud-capped vista of fraternal enter- 
prise, but it is difficult to believe that Southey did not 
originate it. And certainly he materialized it. When the 
tourists left Oxford the project was still quite fantastic. 
There was vague talk of collecting as many brother 
adventurers as possible, of purchasing land with their 
contributions and cultivating it by their common labour. 
But like the countless other projects entertained by Cole- 
ridge, it would have remained a pleasant subject for a 
poem, possibly for a prospectus, and assuredly for effusive 
conversation, had not Southey and his friend Burnett, with 
conscientious thoroughness, agreed to sit on it like a 
committee, talk it into shape, and present their report in 
a few weeks' time. The combination of Rousseauism 
and Benthamism was irresistible. 


Meanwhile with a parting toast to 'Health and Repub- 
licanism to be!' Coleridge pushed on to Wales, 'now 

78 S^^MUSL r^TLOR coLe%ii)gs §6 

philosophizing with Hucks, now melancholizing by him- 
self, or else indulging those day-dreams of fancy that 
make realities more gloomy . . . ever and anon plucking 
the wild flowers of poesy and consigning them to a little 
book.' But the philosophizing was commendably rural, 
the melancholy was transient, and the wild flowers of 
poesy, at any rate in such lines as 

'And o'er the dowried maiden's glowing cheek 
Bade bridal love suffuse its blushes meek* 

would seem to have been plucked before starting in the 
Garden of the Reverend William Bowles. 

Roads so dazzling in the heat that they seemed to 
undulate as they ran across a country bare and unhedged 
to the wild heights beyond did not invite gloomy abstrac- 
tion, still less, when they reached the mountains, the 
'sun-glittering water' dashing down rugged clefts which 
'soothed without disturbing the ear.' And the towns and 
villages they passed offered plenty of diverting incidents, 
whether it was the 'two great huge fellows of butcher-like 
appearance at Llanfyllin' who, excited by a sermon on 
'pantisocracy' or 'asphetism' — the other title which Cole- 
ridge had coined for his dream of ideal communism — 
'danced about a room in enthusiastic agitation' ; the Welsh 
democrat at Bala from whom he feared that he had caught 
the itch but who was 'charmed by his sentiments, and 
bruised his hand with a grasp of ardour'; or the local 
worthies in a tavern who were inclined to resent his drink- 
ing the health of Dr. Priestley but ended by acclaiming 
him 'an open-speaking, honest-hearted fellow.' 

At Wrexham, however, his holiday mood was rather 
seriously disturbed. He had forgotten that here Miss 
Eliza Evans, sister of Mary, lived with her grandmother, 
and as chance would have it, Mary Evans herself was on 
a visit. While standing at the inn's window he was 

§6 THS "PA^TISOC^ATIC T)%S^m 79 

amazed to see the two sisters pass. So agitated was he 
that he 'sickened and well nigh fainted' but managed to 
conceal his identity. It may be that this fragmentary 
incident revived his languishing sentiments by recalling, 
as he put it, * "thoughts full of bitterness and images" 
too dearly loved! now past and but "remembered like 
sweet sounds of yesterday!" ' But for the moment he 
was too healthily occupied to prolong his reminiscences. 
'Love/ as he could write, 'is a local anguish. I am fifty 
miles distant, and am not half so miserable.' Mary 
Evans was reserved as a subject for self-wounding soli- 
loquy until a later and more forlorn occasion. 

Meanwhile she was superseded by 'the terrible graces 
of the wild wood scenery,' by a romantic flute player and 
amounting moon near a ruined castle at Denbigh, by the 
spectacle of promiscuous bathing by the naked of both 
sexes at Abergeley, and by the 'very handsome young 
lady who put her head out of a coach-window' and paid 
for a compliment by a charming blush. 

And then, when he reached Bristol, Southey and 
'Pantisocracy' awaited him; a combination which was so 
satisfying because it promised to put poetry into practice. 
To materialize his aspirations he felt more and more to 
be the essential need of his nature, a need which by him- 
self he could never satisfy. But Southey was a practical 
man: he had already worked out in detail, with the in- 
dustry which he brought to everything he undertook, the 
scheme of colonial communism so vaguely sketched at 
Oxford. Even the architecture of the literary backwoods- 
men's cottages had been planned, and the date of embark- 
ation was to be the following March. The number of 
gentlemen involved was to be twelve, and they were to be 
of good education and liberal principles, and were to 
embark with twelve ladies (qualities unspecified) for 
Somewhere in a delightful part of the new back settle- 

80 StA&iVSL TzATLOR C0L8%IT>gS §6 

merits.' It is true that 'the minutiae of topographical 
information' had yet to be acquired, but a convenient 
distance from Cooper's Town, on the banks of the Susque- 
hanna was a picturesque, if scarcely precise, suggestion. 
Surely only a 'grand river' could boast so imposing a 
name, a name which seemed by some inherent virtue in 
it to attract pleasurable associations, and invite such 
incantations as: 

'Yet I will love to follow the sweet dream, 
Where Susquehanna pours his untamed stream, 
And on some hill, whose forest-frowning side 
Waves o'er the murmurs of his calmer tide.' 

A communistic colony, it was calculated by reference 
to Adam Smith, would only require two or three hours' 
manual work a day from each man, provided that the 
ensuing winter was spent by those 'whose bodies, from 
habits of sedentary study or academic indolence, have 
not acquired their full tone and strength' in learning 'the 
theory and practice of agriculture and carpentry.' The 
rest of their time was to be devoted to study, discussion, 
and the enlightened education of the children. 

'The regulations relating to the females' caused them 
the most difficulty. Did liberal principles, for example, 
allow of the marriage contract being dissolved if agree- 
able to one or both parties? But of the women's employ- 
ments there was less doubt. They were 'the care of infant 
children and other occupations suited to their strength.' 
At the same time the greatest attention was to be paid 
to the cultivation of their minds. Apart from this every 
one was to enjoy his own religious and political opinions, 
and every individual was at liberty to withdraw from the 
society whenever he pleased — a concession of somewhat 
doubtful value to a forlorn dissenter in the backwoods 
of America. 

§6 THS <PAtNJ'ISOC%AriC T>%S*Am 81 

Such a scheme, however, presupposed two things: 
money and marriage. Not even Coleridge, in the highly 
edifying and sententious prospectus which he drew up, 
could altogether avoid reference to these necessities. 
Certainly the most important point was that all the 
pioneers, despite the fact that their total was as yet in- 
complete, were 'highly charged with that enthusiasm 
which results from strong perceptions of moral rectitude, 
called into life and action by ardent feelings/ But the 
fact remained that wives had to be found graced with 
similar perceptions, and that although each man's quota 
was not to be settled with the littleness of arithmetical 
accuracy,' £2,000 should be the aggregate of their con- 

He himself had advertised in the Cambridge Intelli- 
gencer a forthcoming volume of 'Imitations from the 
Modern Latin, with a Critical and Biographical Essay 
on the Restoration of Literature' — a work in two volumes 
in which he was going to introduce, too, 'a copious 
selection from the Lyrics of Casimir, and a New Trans- 
lation of the Basia of Secundus.' So far it had not ad- 
vanced beyond an advertisement, but doubtless with a 
little effort it would supply the £125 required from him- 
self, while Southey's poem on Joan of Arc would do the 
same for him. The prospects, however, of the other 
members of the brotherhood so far enrolled were less 
encouraging. Neither Robert Lovell (a young Quaker 
friend of Southey's), George Burnett (the son of a Somer- 
setshire farmer), nor Robert Allen, had private means; 
while Edmund Seward, who had, was curiously uncertain 
in his allegiance. 

The problem of marriage was, however, more soluble. 
Lovell had recently married a Miss Mary Fricker, the 
daughter of an unsuccessful Bristol manufacturer of sugar 
pans or moulds, who had lately died, leaving his widow 

82 S^i^MUSL TzATLOR COLS c I(I e DgS §7 

and six children wholly unprovided for. Southey had 
already contracted an informal engagement with her 
sister Edith, and there remained another daughter, Sarah, 
whom it was almost uncharitable to exclude from the 
'transatlantic pursuit of happiness.' To one at least so 
susceptible to local atmosphere as Coleridge the sug- 
gestion was difficult to resist. 'Pantisocracy' had taken 
the place of Mary Evans as the elusive image to be car- 
essed, and surely in this case delightfully captured. Sarah 
Fricker, a comely and sensible young person, fitted excel- 
lently into a design so benevolently domestic. His con- 
fidence had only to rise for him to declare his affections 
engaged. And the additional confidence was supplied 
by a walk with Southey into Somerset to see Burnett and 
enrol some more recruits and converts. 

On the 1 8th of August they reached the little county 
town of Nether Stowey, where it nestled at the foot of 
the Quantock Hills, those 'ferny' hills broken up by 
steep coombs and wooded glens, over which Coleridge 
was to wander in the days of his glory and to which he 
was to return so often in memory in the days of his 
dejection. And there he met with Thomas Poole. 


Tom Poole, as he was known to his relations and friends, 
was a partner in his father's tannery at Stowey. Like the 
young men who descended upon him, brimming with 
enthusiastic projects and generous sentiments, he was a 
man of sufficiently rooted liberal sympathies to preserve 
his faith in republican and democratic ideas even in the 
face of the French guillotine. He was convinced that all 
the powers on earth could not destroy the glowing spirit 
of liberty,' which, he thanked God, pervaded the earth, 
ceased to powder his hair, read and appreciated Paine's 
Rights of Man, and, practical in everything, arranged to 

§7 ths TA^crisoc%dric T>%e*Am 83 

find employment as an ordinary workman in a London 

Naturally his views exposed him to suspicion and 
obloquy, the more so because his goodness of heart, 
capacity and integrity could not be denied. That such a 
man should sympathize with a movement, which to the 
conventional-minded stood for nothing but vileness and 
anarchy, was peculiarly exasperating. Even his cousins, 
sharing in just such an ignorant and interested panic as 
has been witnessed in recent years, were pained and 
shocked. 'To be humane and honest now,' he wrote with 
justice, 'is to be a traitor to the Constitution, a lover of 
sedition and licentiousness.' 

Yet he was not blinded by his enthusiasms. He 
trembled 'lest the present excesses may not give a greater 
stab to liberty than the Tyrants of the world who are 
combined against it,' and while he hated to see England 
'guiltily leagued with despots' by her declaration of war 
against France, he realized how ambiguous the issue was. 
'If the French conquer,' he wrote, 'will licentiousness 
instead of liberty prevail? If the French are conquered 
Europe is enslaved.' 

And this lover of the 'French Philosophers and friends 
to mankind' laboured also in the Sunday school. He had 
not enough imagination to be either a poet or a fanatic, 
but he had 'a good head and an honest, feeling heart, 'and 
the combination of the two not only enabled him to fulfil 
a life of usefulness, but also to appreciate genius, the one 
quality which for him 'covered everything but gross vices' 
and made him 'tolerant of great errors.' He had entered 
trade at his father's wish, but he clung quietly and tena- 
ciously in the face of every discouragement to his love of 
literature and by persistent self-education was well-read. 

This was the man, seven years his senior, to whom 
Coleridge unfolded his pantisocratic scheme. One who 

84 SzA^MUSL TAYLOR C0L6^IT>g6 §7 

had described the French Constitution as 'the most beauti- 
ful fabrick that was ever erected by the human mind' could 
not fail to be appreciative. And only a year before he had 
confessed: 'I am weary of thinking of European politicks. 
America seems the only asylum of peace and liberty — the 
only place where the dearest feelings of men are not 
insulted; in short, the only spot where a man the least 
humane and philosophical can live happily.' But although 
Poole really felt this, really agonized over the inhumanity 
of European civilization with a sincerity unknown to 
Coleridge's sentimental egotism, and although he had 
himself practised the ideal of a contemplative life based 
on manual industry, he was too sane to accept more than 
the abstract beauty of the airy pinnacles which he saw 
rise before his eyes. He was not the man to damp 
enthusiasm. But his face, at once shrewd and sensitive, 
assumed, we fancy, a quizzical expression. The eyes 
were all kindness, the mouth was too practical to agree. 
'Could they realize their plan,' he confided to a friend, 
'they would, indeed, realize the age of reason ; but however 
perfeclible human nature may be, I fear it is not yet perfect 
enough to exist long under the regulations of such a sys- 
tem'; and he added the obvious criticism that 'a man 
would do well first to see the country and his future hopes, 
before he removes his connections or any large portion of 
his property there.' 

But his whole heart, so tender and tolerant, sweet, whole- 
some and staunch, went out to Coleridge himself. What- 
ever his projects or ideas they reflected a sincerely humani- 
tarian personality, and it was a genius who expressed them. 
Southey, he seems to have felt instinctively, was just the 
clever young man who proclaimed his essential orthodoxy 
by the very violence of his heresies, the sort of theatrical 
young man who on hearing of Robespierre's death in his 
presence, laid his head down upon his arms and exclaimed, 

§7 THS c PA^CfIS0C%4TIC T>%S^A^M 85 

'I had rather have heard of the death of my own father.' 
It was safe to prophesy that in middle age he would 
lecture young poets for their Jacobinical extravagance. 

But Coleridge was of another order. He satisfied his 
expectations of a poet, he beamed benevolence, he made 
his hearer almost ashamed of common sense when he 
pronounced that 'men anxious for this world are like owls 
that wake all night to catch mice.' And plainly, from his 
own account, Coleridge talked to him not only 'with much 
elegance and energy, and with uncommon facility' but, as 
occasion arose, in that tone of moral self-disapprobation, 
very affecting to a Sunday-school teacher, which he had 
adopted towards Captain James Coleridge a year before, 
confessing with earnest regret to feeling 'the justice of 
Providence in the want of those inferior abilities which are 
necessary to the rational discharge of the duties of life,' 
admitting that 'his aberrations from prudence had been 
great,' but promising now 'to be as sober and rational as 
his most sober friends could wish' — a promise all the 
more endearing because it could so obviously not be kept. 

Poole's own habit too of philosophizing in things, 
though on a far less ambitious plane, would draw him 
to one who would philosophize even the gnat which bit 
him ; while Coleridge on his part derived great satisfaction 
from intercourse with a man who actually produced an 
article of primary necessity, who did succeed in reconciling 
abstract: concerns with concrete activity, like the cobbler 
which he had wanted to be. 

The best proof of the feasibility of 'pantisocracy' was 
that such a man did not deny it. The real reason of course 
was that Poole had not the heart to do so, although even he 
may have been dazzled by Coleridge's eloquent confusion 
of fact and conjecture. For such a scheme was not un- 
feasible in itself if it had had an adequate practical basis. 
But unfortunately the generous spirits who could make a 

86 S^T^MUSL TAYLOR COL£ c RJT>ge §7 

private experiment in communism a success usually lack 
the initial, and, in a still predatory world, essential means, 
while those who possess the means are too comfortable to 
be fired by an ideal. Many an undergraduate since has 
sketched just such an Utopia in the fraternal atmosphere 
of a college room and drawn back from attempting to put 
it into practice through cowardice and convention rather 
than prudence and reason. 

But science had not sanctified caution and verification 
in 1794. The recklessness natural to two young poets 
was enhanced by the reckless forces of the age into which 
they were born. The way in which even moderate men 
turned their eyes to America was in itself significant. Life 
seemed to be smothered in Europe, and the effort of 
emancipation there was so difficult. It was so much easier 
to escape and start afresh, just as in literature it was so 
much easier to cast off the logic which had degenerated 
into a barren correctness, and consecrate feeling, whatever 
its quality, as the only value. It was so much easier to 
pour faith into words, to oppose nature to civilization, 
without examining the facts of either, liberty to authority, 
sentiment to social abuse. It flattered an undisciplined 
egotism to be intoxicated with feeling rather than first 
saddened and then braced by the truth. For the facile 
romantic is not content to state his ideal in unqualified 
terms and then work for it. He deludes himself that he 
has realized it by professing it. 

Thus 'pantisocracy' was symbolical of the strength and 
weakness of the Romantic Movement which had already 
begun. Essentially right as were the fraternal ideals which 
animated it, they were prejudiced by the motive of escape. 
The motive which inspired the Pilgrim Fathers in their 
transatlantic venture was one of stern refusal. But Cole- 
ridge was only capable of refusing to see the actuality which 
balked his visionary delight, the actuality of his own nature 

§8 me vA3^risoc%dric t>%s^:^m 87 

and of non-existent funds. Many other projects in his life 
were feasible, but he lacked the will to carry them through : 
in this case he had the will, but the project was quite 

Unfortunately, however, for him the matter did not end 
there. Whatever Southey's temporary convictions were, 
they did not entangle him in mistakes which he could 
never rectify. But the scheme meant far more to Coleridge, 
it meant, as he felt, no less than a solution of a crying 
inner need, the reconciliation of the theoretical enthusiast 
in him and the real man, an escape from that solitary slav- 
ery to the abstract which was both his luxury and his 
torture. To achieve this contact between himself and a 
physical, social existence, he was willing to sacrifice every 
other need; to achieve it at once it was necessary to banish 
all doubts of the project's realization. 

And so, on his return to Bristol, to fortify his sense of the 
irrevocable nature of the enterprise, he engaged himself to 
Sarah Fricker. It did not matter that only a month before 
he had written of Mary Evans that 'her image is in the 
sanctuary of my heart, and never can it be torn away but 
with the strings that grapple it to life.' 

It had been superseded for the moment by another and 
surely more tangible image, or rather by a beautiful but 
empty frame which it was agreeable to fill with the con- 
crete figure of a pantisocratic wife to be. 

The rest of August Coleridge spent at Bristol with 
thoughts of the day and visions of the night' centred on 
America. These thoughts and visions, however, do not 
seem to have advanced the 'Imitations from the Modern 
Latin' which were to produce his quota to the funds. It 
was more fitting for a good pantisocrat to collaborate even 
in authorship and to select a topical theme. Lovell's 


'sportive' suggestion therefore of 'Robespierre' as a dra- 
matic subject was enthusiastically accepted, and Coleridge, 
Southey and himself each agreed to produce an act in 
twenty-four hours. Such conditions were not calculated 
to produce anything of artistic significance. But though 
Coleridge's sole aim was 'to imitate the empassioned and 
highly figurative language of the French Orators,' a style 
which he parodied in loose dialogue about violence, con- 
spiracy, the popular voice, liberty and expediency, he did 
express himself in two passages; in the lines in which he 
spoke of a character as 


Who flies from silent solitary anguish, 

Seeking forgetful peace amid the jar 

Of elements. The howl of maniac uproar 

Lulls to sad sleep the memory of himself. 

A calm is fatal to him — then he feels 

The dire upboilings of the storm within him.' 

a passage which, divested of melodrama, is illuminating 
self-confession; and in that song: 

'Soft nurse of pain, it soothes the weary soul 
Of care, sweet as the whisper'd breeze of evening 
That plays around the sick man's throbbing temples,' 

which embodies the hunger for domestic harmony which 
deluded him into attaching himself to Sarah Fricker. 

'Tell me, on what holy ground 
May domestic peace be found? 
Halcyon daughter of the skies, 
Far on fearful wing she flies, 
From the pomp of scepter'd state, 
From the rebel's noisy hate, 
In a cottag'd vale she dwells 
List'ning to the Sabbath bells! 

§8 TH8 cPAtKflSOC^AriC T)%S^<<M 89 

Still around her steps are seen 
Spotless honour's meeker mien, 
Love, the sire of pleasing fears, 
Sorrow smiling through her tears, 
And conscious of the past employ, 
Memory, bosom-spring of joy.' 

Despite, however, a very suitable dedication to Mrs. 
Hannah More, the Bristol bookseller to whom the play 
was offered would have none of it, and it was not until later 
that it was accepted by a charitable Cambridge publisher. 

In London, however, to which Coleridge journeyed at 
the end of August, 'pantisocracy' found much cheering 
support. Dyer, to whom he was introduced by a Cambridge 
friend, was 'enraptured' by his exposition of the system 
and pronounced it 'impregnable.' And if the value of the 
opinion of the absent-minded author of The Complaints of 
the Poor was uncertain, 'a most intelligent young man' 
who had spent the last five years of his life in America 
corroborated it. He came regularly every evening to 
'benefit by conversation,' assured Coleridge that £2,000 
would do, that the land could be bought a great deal 
cheaper on the spot, and that twelve men could easily 
clear 300 acres in four or five months, while for an addi- 
tional 600 dollars a thousand acres could be cleared and 
houses built on them — a plan which in the interests of 
'social converse' he thought worth considering. 

As for Susquehanna, it justified its name. Its beauty 
was 'excessive' and it was immune from hostile Indians. 
Moreover, he had never seen a bison in his life, though 
he had heard of them. But they were 'Quite backwards,' 
while the mosquitoes were 'not as bad as our gnats.' In 
addition there were visions of limitless credit : every pos- 
sible assistance would be given, though by whom it was 
not specified, and - most enigmatic reassurance of all — 


'literary characters made money there.' It was surely a 
miraculous land. 

Primed with such encouragement Coleridge returned 
to Cambridge and immediately wrote in a perfect frenzy of 

'I am at last arrived at Jesus. My God! how tumultuous 
are the movements of my heart. Since I quitted this room 
what and how important events have evolved! America! 
Southey! Miss Fricker! . . . Pantisocracy ! Oh! I shall 
have such a scheme of it! My head, my heart, are all 
alive. I have drawn up my arguments in battle array : they 
shall have the tadician excellence of the mathematician, 
with the enthusiasm of the poet. The head shall be the 
mass; the heart, the fiery spirit that fills, informs and 
agitates the whole. Shad goes with us: He is my 
brother!! . . . I am longing to be with you: make Edith 
my sister. Surely, Southey, we shall be frendotatoi meta 
jrendous — most friendly where all are friends. She must, 
therefore, be more emphatically my sister.' 

Shad was the manservant of Southey's rich Aunt Tyler, 
whom, unknown as yet to her, as indeed was the whole 
scheme, the pantisocrats intended ruthlessly removing to 
America to assist in the clearing of the 300 acres. But 
Coleridge in his fraternal orgy smothered in abstract 
embraces not only the members of the prospective brother- 
hood, but even a young jackass which browsed on Jesus 
Piece; and while Southey and Shad moved him to prose, 
he hailed this 'Innocent foal' as 'Brother' in verse, pro- 
testing his love of 'the languid patience' of its face and his 
longing to take it with him 

'In the Dell 
Of Peace and mild equality to dwell, 
Where Toil shall call the charmer Health his bride, 
And Laughter tickle Plenty's ribless side!' 

§8 TH8 <PAP(?ISOC%AriC *B%8*>im 91 

protesting that its 'dissonant harsh bray of joy* would 
there be more 'musically sweet' to him 

'Than warbled melodies that soothe to rest 
The aching of pale Fashion's vacant breast!' 

Even Titania was not more immoderately bewitched. 

But while Southey was agreeably affected by these 
freaks of frantic enthusiasm, there was one matter which 
disturbed his inherent correctness. The touch of personal 
attention was strangely lacking in Coleridge's addresses to 
Sarah Fricker. He had not written to her for a full fort- 
night after his departure, and when admonished for his 
neglect he excused himself a little too effusively to be 
convincing and ended with the rather ominous remark — 
'my heart is very heavy, much more so than when I began 
to write.' 

The news which reached him in October was calcu- 
lated to make it heavier. Southey's mother, who at one 
time had been reported to be 'fully convinced of the pro- 
priety of our resolution,' admiring the plan and enrolling 
herself in the company, had now announced that her son 
was not to entertain it. But there was worse to come. 
Southey had hinted that Aunt Tyler might prove a some- 
what refractory critic when their intentions were disclosed 
to her. But her anger exceeded his gloomiest expectations. 
It was not merely that she objected to the abduction of 
'Shad.' She treated the whole scheme as preposterous, and 
to prove her sincerity expelled her nephew from her house 
on a stormy night and declared that she would never see 
him again nor open a letter of his writing. During the 
four-hour walk back to Bath which this inhuman treat- 
ment necessitated, in pelting rain and the company of a 
drunken old man of sixty, it may be conjectured that the 
tide of 'new life, new hope, new energy' which had been 
running so strongly before began to ebb, and that 'the 

92 S^^MUSL r^ATLOR C0L8%IT>gS §8 

faculties of his mind' ceased to be so genially dilated. 

For Aunt Tyler was their financial hope. Of course 
Southey continued to write jauntily; only so could he 
preserve his self-respect, but the gradual descent towards 
a complete surrender of the scheme had begun, and he 
was soon to make the shocking suggestion that co-opera- 
tive farming in some retired part of Wales should be sub- 
stituted for Paradise by the Susquehanna. 

A reaction from such a debauch of enthusiasm as Cole- 
ridge had indulged in was due, and this news hastened it. 
He was alone in Cambridge. People would listen to his 
pantisocratic talk and admire the performance, but they 
would laugh too. Was it true, as one of them had said, that 
the strength of his imagination had intoxicated his reason, 
and that the acuteness of his reason had given a directing 
influence to his imagination? Perhaps precipitance was 
wrong, perhaps he had once again, as in his military ven- 
ture, been the 'slave of impulse, the child of imbecility/ 
Suddenly the light went out which had illuminated his 
cloudy palaces: they seemed like the framework which 
had upheld overnight a firework set-piece. He felt limp 
and incapable, nerveless and unreal. His very faith in 
fraternity failed him! He was once again thrown back 
upon himself and submerged in solitary self-disgust. 

Even a company of actors who were visitingCambridge, 
which included six sisters 'said to be the most literary of 
the beautiful, and the most beautiful of the literary,' with 
whom he drank tea and to one of whom he addressed a 
poem, could not divert him. His faculties and discern- 
ment were 'so completely jaundiced by vexation that the 
Virgin Mary and Mary Flanders, alias Moll, would appear 
in the same lines.' His fraternalism was so summarily 
quenched that he could confess to Southey that he was 
'out of love with everybody.' 

Inevitably he returned to his old narcotic of self-pitying 

§8 THS "PA^CTISOC^AriC T>%S*Am 93 

verse. A friend, he told Southey, had lately departed this 
life in a frenzy induced by anxiety. Poor fellow, 'a child of 
frailty like me!' - so like, that he could commemorate him 
by mourning over himself in elegiac strains : 

'As c fi ~ in Fancy's thought thy grave I pass, 

And sit me down upon its recent grass, 

With introverted eye I contemplate 

Similitude of soul — perhaps of fate! 

To me hath Heaven with liberal hand assign'd 

Energic Reason and a shaping mind, 

The daring soul of Truth, the Patriot's part 

And Pity's sigh, that breathes the gentle heart — 

Sloth-jaundiced all! and from my graspless hand 

Drop Friendship's precious pearls, like hour-glass sand. 

I weep, yet stoop not! the faint anguish flows, 

A dreamy pang in Morning's feverish doze.' 

But such introversion he knew to be deadly. It was true 
that 'like a sick physician, feeling the pang acutely' he yet 
'derived a wonted pleasure from examining its progress 
and developing its causes.' But the pain exceeded the 
pleasure. He must escape it, and if 'pantisocracy' had 
failed as a means, perhaps Mary Evans would not. The 
glimpse of her at Wrexham tantalized his memory. She 
had started and looked wonderingly before he hid himself, 
and passed and repassed the inn with mute inquiry. Had 
he cruelly misjudged the situation in abruptly ending his 
correspondence with her? Had rumour lied? Was there 
still a chance that his 'Evening Star' would shine again, 
that his 'bleeding Heart' — as he fancied it in the sudden 
revulsion from a mistress who was a detail in a clouded 
system — might be healed? 

'Faint was that Hope, and rayless ! - Yet 'twas fair 
And soothed with many a dream the hour of rest.* 


Surely he should have 'nursed it with an agony of care* 
instead of rejecting it so summarily. 

The problem was now how to convey to Southey the 
revolution which had occurred in his sentiments, to 
Southey, who was repeating his reproaches for his neglecl: 
of Sarah Fricker with a tiresome persistence, and who, 
unless an adequate reason was given, must condemn as 
the basest disloyalty his withdrawal from the pantisocratic 
venture. He did it by quoting a letter, presumably ficti- 
tious, which he claimed to have received three weeks 
before unsigned, but which he immediately recognized as 
from Mary Evans. In it she conjured him earnestly and 
solemnly to consider long and deeply, before he entered 
into any rash schemes. 'There is an eagerness/ the letter 
continued, 'in your Nature, which is ever hurrying you 
in the sad Extreme. I have heard that you mean to leave 
England, and on a Plan so absurd and extravagant that 
where I for a moment to imagine it true, I should be 
obliged to listen with a more patient Ear to suggestions, 
which I have rejected a thousand times with scorn and 
anger. Yes! whatever Pain I might suffer, I should be 
forced to exclaim: "Owhat a noble mind is h.zvto'erthrown> 
Blasted with ecstasy." You have a country, does it demand 
nothing of you? You have doting Friends ! will you break 
their Hearts ! There is a God — Coleridge ! Though I have 
been told {indeed I do not believe it) that you doubt of his 
existence and disbelieve a hereafter — No ! You have too 
much sensibility to be an Infidel.' 

The letter which Mary Evans was really to write 
Coleridge two months later — sober, ta£tful and matter-of- 
facl as he himself testified - no less than the familiar 
pulpit style of this theatrical invention, is proof enough 
that it emanated from himself. And it served a double 
purpose. It threw doubt by proxy on the scheme in which 
Coleridge had lost faith, and it provided him with material 

§8 THS c PA3^TlS0C%d c riC t D<E(e*4&d 95 

to which, if his renewed sentiments for Mary Evans 
should after all evoke a response, he could point as the 
cause and in some sense the justification of his unaccount- 
able change of mood. 

Not that he confessed to Southey as yet his treason. He 
needed to be sure of the new love before he denied the old. 
And at the moment he was sure of nothing. His thoughts 
were 'floating about in a most chaotic state.* But Southey 
would realize how disturbing such a letter would be. 'I 
loved her/ he wrote, 'almost to madness. Her image was 
never absent from me for three years. My resolution has 
not faltered, but I want a comforter/ 

And Sarah Fricker was no longer a comforter. She was 
only one 'whom by every tie of reason and honour I ought 
to love.' 'I am resolved/ he added, 'but wretched! But 
time shall do much. You will easily believe that with such 
feelings, I should have found it no easy task to write to — 
(he could not even bring himself to write her name). I 
should have detested myself, if after my first letter I had 
written coldly — how could I write as warmlyV 

And now for the first time differences of opinion ap- 
peared between himself and Southey over the details of 
'pantisocracy' itself. The critical judgment was no longer 
in abeyance and abstract arguments helped to divert his 
mind from introspection. Southey's suggestion, for ex- 
ample, that 'Shad' should be employed in the toil of the 
field while they were pursuing philosophical studies was 
surely as bad an inequality as that of 'Earldoms or Emper- 
orships.' He was introducing servitude into the society, 
a statement to which doubtless 'Shad' would have assented 
if he had had to listen to Coleridge's metaphysics. And 
though his 'feeble and exhausted heart' regarded even this 
'with a criminal indifference,' he must protest. 

What woman too was really loyal to libertarian prin- 
ciples? Even a sympathetic Cambridge critic had warned 

96 S^T^MUSL TzATLOR C0L8%IT>g8 §8 

him that he would never give his women 'sufficient strength 
of mind, liberality of heart, or vigilance of attention. 
They would spoil it/ 

And then in a feverish rebound from doubt and dejec- 
tion he would feel almost confident, until his thoughts 
turned to Mary Evans and he swooned at the remembrance 
of her. 'Whatever of mind we will to do, we can do! 
What, then, palsies the will? The joy of grief. A mysteri- 
ous pleasure broods with dusky wings over the tumultuous 
mind. . . . She was very lovely, Southey! We formed 
each other's minds; our ideas were blended. Heaven 
bless her! I cannot forget her. Every day her memory 
sinks deeper into my heart.' 

How hatefully the female contingent of pantisocrats 
intruded upon such dreams. 'That Mrs. Fricker!' for 
example. 'We shall have her teaching the infants Chris- 
tianity — I mean that mongrel whelp that goes under its 
name — teaching them by stealth in some ague fit of super- 
stition!' . . . 'Have our Women been taught by us habitu- 
ally to contemplate the littleness of individual comforts 
and a passion for the novelty of the scheme rather than a 
generous enthusiasm for Benevolence? Are they saturated 
with the Divinity of Truth sufficiently to be always weak- 
ful?' Will 'the Mothers tinge the minds of the infants with 
prejudications?' And was not the addition of children 
'subversive of rational hopes of a permanent system? . . . 
the little Frickers, for instance, and your brothers — are 
they not already deeply tinged with the prejudices and 
errors of society? Have they not learned from their 
schoolfellows Fear and Selfishness, of which the neces- 
sary offsprings are Deceit and desultory Hatred? How 
are we to prevent them from infecting the minds of our 

Such were some of the querulous questions which he 
rained upon Southey in the attempt to conceal from him 

§8 TH8 c PA^rmoc c KA c ric D^Re^m 97 

and from himself the fad: that his longings had turned in 
another direction, although he still professed his willing- 
ness to accompany him on 'an imperfect system.' But his 
condition was too hysterical to be eased even by arguing 
about fixed principles. He could no longer endure the 
isolation of Cambridge, heightened as it was by stabs of 
coldness and reproach from home, and on November 8 he 
drove up to London in the phaeton of a Mr. Potter, of 

There at least he was near 1 7 Sackville Street, and to 
that address, 'after infinite struggles of irresolution,' early 
in December he despatched a letter, in which he asked 
Mary Evans whether or no she was engaged to Mr. — . 
'Read this letter,' he wrote, 'with benevolence — and 
consign it to oblivion.' And after describing the course of 
his attachment for her and how brotherly affection had 
imperceptibly changed into 'a Passion which he felt neither 
the power or the courage to subdue,' he added — 'Indulge, 
Mary, this my first, my last request, and restore me to 
Reality, however gloomy. Sad and full of heaviness will the 
intelligence be; my heart will die within me. . . . I will not 
disturb your peace by even a look of Discontent, still less 
will I offend your ear by the whine of selfish Sensibility. 
In a few months I shall enter at the Temple, and there seek 
forgetful calmness where only it can be found — in inces- 
sant and useful activity.' 

'The Temple' was the last fiction which Coleridge was 
able to associate with Mary Evans. Her reply, though it 
was compassionate and even self-accusatory, was decisive. 
It restored him to some sense at least of reality. Divested 
of hope, his 'passion' lost 'its disquieting power.' No one 
knew better than he, who seldom achieved it, what com- 
fort was to be derived from this sense. Even a desolating 
facl: was a straw, to which, drowning in the pool of his own 
emotions, he could cling. 'The workings of one's imagina- 


tion,' as he was to write, 'go beyond the worst that Nature 
afflicts us with; they have the terror of a superstitious 
circumstance.' And now one superstitious circumstance 
was removed and he could enjoy the pose of moral self- 
denial, writing that far distant from her he would journey 
through the vale of Men in calmness, since he could not 
'long be wretched who dared to be actively virtuous/ 
Philosophy, too, offered its compensations; for 'Had I 
been united to her, the excess of my affection would have 
effeminated my intellecl:.' 

Mary Evans was, with one possible exception, the only 
woman who entered Coleridge's life for whom he really 
felt more than a brotherly fondness. Yet even for her it 
was only in absence that his self-indulgent feeling faintly 
approximated to passion. And now her removal as an 
incitement to dreaminess of mind and sense induced a 
calm as pleasing 'as an autumnal day, when the sky is 
covered with grey moveless clouds.' It was rather the 
prospect of being actively virtuous, as Southey interpreted 
it, that pained him. 'To lose her!' he wrote to him, 'I 
can rise above that selfish pang. But to marry another. 
O Southey! bear with my weakness. Love makes all 
things pure and heavenly like itself— but to marry a woman 
whom I do not love, to degrade her whom I call my wife 
by making her the instrument of low desire, and on the 
removal of a desultory appetite to be perhaps not dis- 
pleased with her absence! Enough! These refinements 
are the wildering fires that lead me into vice. Mark you, 
Southey! / will do my duty' 

The pronouncement seems to have contented Southey, 
but in his heart he must have begun to suspect that Cole- 
ridge was as incapable of doing his duty as of experiencing 
a low desire. He had too faint a grasp on things for 

§9 THS TAS^TISOC^ATIC T)%8^3Vl 99 


Nevertheless towards the end of December he was 
resolved, whatever the consequences, to be at Bath by 
the following Saturday. But a new comforter interposed, 
'a man of uncommon genius,* once his schoolfellow and 
now a clerk in the East India House. Like himself Charles 
Lamb was at this time 'a Unitarian Christian, and an 
advocate for the automatism of man.' But it was not so 
much his opinions as his suffering sensibility that attracted. 
He too was haunted by an inveterate subjectivity, felt 
isolated and neurotic. He even dreaded insanity, not hav- 
ing yet achieved that close contact with and so understand- 
ing of life which was later to enable him to sweeten tragedy 
itself with serenity. He was 'sore galled with disappointed 
hope* and, like Coleridge himself, inclined to make the 
most of it, 'Sickly Hope with waning eye' being 'well 
content to droop and die/ 

In the little smoky room at the 'Salutation and Cat' the 
two hypochondriacs, eating welsh-rabbit, drinking 'egg- 
hot' and 'smoking Oronooko,' beguiled the cares of life by 
completely forgetting them. Coleridge, of course, had no 
intention of ever returning to Cambridge. It was too full 
of painful memories, too much the stage of an impossible 
dilemma. Yet it was pleasant to drug himself against the 
thought that in so doing he was rejecting the possibility 
of a conventional career and attaching himself to what, 
amid the human bustle of the London streets, seemed a 
painfully cold and distant creed. 

As usual he drugged himself with talk. Lamb, whose 
stutter encouraged brevity in his own utterance, was a 
very sympathetic listener, and, if he failed him, there were 
always customers to the house, appreciative idlers who 
enjoyed the display so much as a sort of musical undertone 
to their libations that the innkeeper even offered him 


free quarters if he would become a permanent entertainer. 
And he drugged himself with poetry and with metaphysics 
too, reciting, as Lamb put it: 

'Many an holy lay 
That, mourning, soothed the mourner on his way/ 

and completing a poem on which he had been working 
ever since his military escapade, a desultory effusion in 
which he sought, as unsuccessfully in verse as he was to do 
in life, to materialize his pantisocratic idealism. 

'Thought,' he was to write later of an ode, 'is the body; 
enthusiasm the soul; and imagination the drapery/ The 
phrases are too abstract to be really enlightening as 
criticism, but they do in a general way describe the con- 
stituents of such of his verse as that of which 'Religious 
Musings' is the first ambitious example. They explain, 
too, its failure as poetry. For philosophic verse is really a 
contradiction in terms. Poetry may, great poetry must, 
express a philosophy, but it must express it in the imme- 
diate and plastic terms of poetry. Its body of thought and 
its soul of enthusiasm must be fused in an imaginative act. 
With Coleridge this fusion seldom occurred. And so his 
enthusiasm floated like a beautiful or merely dimming 
vapour about a body of ideas, which, instead of being con- 
verted into images, were merely draped in a loose garment 
of metaphors. 

Not yet did he recognize where his fundamental in- 
capacity lay, that it lay in a constitutional inability to cut 
into the world of fact, without which his imagination could 
never function healthily, but only sail like an enchanted 
ship or drift like a derelict in the unmapped seas of the 
miraculous or the abstract. Later indeed he was to recog- 
nize it and experience the despair only possible to a poet 
who knows in theory the creative principles which some 
disorganization of temperament prevents him from prac- 

§9 T , HevA^isoc%A c ricT>%e*Am 101 

tising. But for the time he imputed his dissatisfaction to 
the 'body of thought/ which crowded his poetry and made 
it 'sweat beneath a heavy burden of ideas and imagery,' 
admitting it 'elaborate and swelling/ yet 'the heart not 
owns it/ 

'Religious Musings,' like its companion poem 'The 
Destiny of Nations,' was certainly crowded with such 
unassimilated notions and with a typical array of personi- 
fied attributes, partnered according to their moral or 
immoral tendencies with graceful or opprobrious epithets. 
In purpose it was a hymn of worship to Love as a creative, 
harmonizing spirit, through which the self was annihilated 
and the creature might achieve identity with the Creator. 
But the young neo-Platonic, pantisocratic Unitarian could 
scarcely claim to be a poet in such lines as: 

'There is one mind, one omnipresent Mind 
Omnific. His most holy name is Love. 
Truth of subliming import! with the which 
Who feeds and saturates his constant soul 
He from his small particular orbit flies 
With blest outstarting!' 

The poem had been begun a year before, when the offer 
of a treaty with the French Republic had been rejected 
on the now familiar grounds that the preservation of the 
Christian religion depended on the continuation of the 
war. It was therefore a political as well as a metaphysical 
tract, passing from a high-flown enunciation of transcen- 
dental principles to their practical application as the force 
which 'fraternizes man' in contrast with the 'embattling 
Interests' which divide him. Erring Priests, property and 
'the low puppetry of thrones' were ranged against enlight- 
ened philosophers and scientists and 'the vacant Shep- 
herd' who in a conveniently 'dateless' age cultivated all 


the pastoral virtues; until in a final burst of exotic rapture 
the poet saw earth once more occupied by the Vast family 
of Love/ the massy gates of Paradise thrown open, 

'and forth come in fragments wild 
Sweet echoes of unearthly melodies, 
And odours snatched from beds of amaranth.* 

The final rapture was as unreal as the preceding rhetoric. 
Once again Coleridge was flying from a teasing world to 
drug himself with 'strange beatitudes/ His philosophy 
was the servant of his temperament. He longed for 'the 
plenitude and permanence of bliss* and he thought it was 
to be captured by a vague sensational excess. For this, 
despite all his metaphysical jargon, was what his concep- 
tion of love amounted to. 

To annihilate self was not for him to purify and human- 
ize instinct by intelligence and so to pierce through the 
actual to the real, but to dissolve in a featureless ecstasy. 
It was not to heighten and deepen consciousness, but to 
lose it or at best to wander over 

'Heights most strange, 
Whence Fancy falls, fluttering her idle wing.* 

Such an escape is no solution of discord either for man- 
kind or, as he was to learn, for the individual. At most 
it can only afford a moment's respite and render more 
grievous the return to the actual. Coleridge was as incap- 
able of facing the facts of his own as of human nature, and 
so his religious philosophy, like his political idealism, his 
poetry and his life, was to prove a fugitive activity, and 
'the whole' for which he hungered was always to elude him 
where he stood, not indeed 'blinded by lusts' as he pictured 
the 'disinherited soul' in this poem, but blinded by the 

§9 THS <PA${riSOC%AriC D%8vf<SW 103 

want of them, and for an exactly opposite reason to the 
sensual egotist, having 'no common centre,' a 

'solitary thing 
Mid countless brethren with a lonely heart.* 

For the universal cannot be satisfactorily experienced as a 
pure abstraction. As such it can only be discoursed upon. 
And just as Coleridge was all his life to long for that vital 
communication with men and things, which he knew to 
be necessary to health and happiness, so as a thinker he 
was to move in involved circles of argument about a 
reality which he could never seize because he could not 
relate it to fact. 

Yet when he directed his flight to Nature and not to 
'Nature's essence,' he drew at least within reach of poetry, 
as when he wrote: 

'Beneath some arched romantic rock reclined 
They felt the sea-breeze lift their youthful locks; 
Or in the month of blossoms, at mild eve, 
Wandering with desultory feet inhaled 
The wafted perfumes, and the flocks and woods 
And many-tinted streams and setting sun 
With all his gorgeous company of clouds 
Ecstatic gazed ! then homeward as they strayed 
Cast the sad eye to earth, and inly mused 
Why there was misery in a world so fair.' 

Coleridge never went beyond such transitory musings, 
since to do so conflicted with the desires which he mistook 
for convictions; and then the problem of evil and of pain, 
being to some extent at least a problem of fact, was difficult 
to grasp for one who 'soaring aloft' breathed 

'the empyreal air 
Of love, omnific, omnipresent Love.' 


It was easier to indulge in phantom horrors, to describe for 
example one whom 

'Some Fury fondled in her hate to man, 
Bidding her serpent hair in mazy surge 
Lick his young face, and at his mouth inbreathe 
Horrible sympathy!' 

Few indeed could have foretold that these qualities of 
relaxed sensuousness and fanciful hysteria should in three 
years be transmuted into magic. 

Towards the end of 'Religious Musings' however there 
is a reference to one 

'of mortal kind 
Wisest, he first who marked the ideal tribes 
Up the fine fibres through the sentient brain,' 

who was to supply Coleridge with a staple subject of con- 
versation for the rest of his life. At the moment he was as 
enthusiastic an admirer of Hartley's empirical philosophy 
as he was later to be an interminable critic. His opinion 
of Godwin, whom he had met since coming to London and 
described as a 'necessitarian,' underwent a similar revolu- 
tion, but not until he had acclaimed him in a sonnet which 
he sent to the Morning Chronicle^ with whose editor and 
proprietor he had dined. This sonnet was one in a series 
of no great merit contributed to the same paper in praise 
or vituperation of public characters so various as Burke 
and Mrs. Siddons, Pitt and the Reverend William 

§ IO 

Meanwhile the Bristol pantisocrats were growing impa- 
tient. No letter had been received for weeks either by 

§io rue TA^risoc%Aric t>%s^a^m 105 

Southey or Sarah Fricker, and they began to think that 
Coleridge's family had placed him somewhere in confine- 
ment. At last, information being received that the fugitive 
was residing at the 'Angel' Inn in Butcher Hall Street, 
Southey presented himself like an officer of the pressgang 
and bore him off to Bristol. 

Coleridge made no resistance. It was nice to be cap- 
tured, and a day or two in company with the brotherhood 
restored his enthusiasm. At least they provided him with 
a variable audience to whom, seven times a week, with the 
smallest excuse, he could discourse on the idealism of 
Bishop Berkeley and the infamies of that 'dark scowler* 
Mr. Pitt, or eulogize those three indispensable books, 
Simpson's Euclid, Hartley 'On Man,' and Bowles' Poems. 
He, Southey and Burnett lodged together at 48 College 
Street, and for the moment quite fraternally. If Southey 
had begun to suspect that 'no dependence could be placed 
on Coleridge,' he concealed the fact and was proud to 
declare that 'our names are written in the book of destiny, 
on the same page.' 

But the possibilities of theory were now for all but 
Coleridge almost exhausted. March was drawing near. 
Aunt Tyler preserved a morose silence, Robespierre and 
Joan of Arc had not sold, and The Imitations from the 
Modern Latin was merely a forgotten advertisement. It 
was necessary to explore other financial avenues. They 
might lecture, they might produce a magazine, they might 
publish some more poetry. An introduction to a young 
Bristol bookseller named Cottle led them to favour the 
third alternative. It was true that he seemed disinclined to 
join the 'social colony' on the banks of the Susquehanna, 
abstract ratiocination making little impression on his 
business instinct. But he was very appreciative when 
Coleridge and Southey read him their poems, offered 
each of them twenty guineas for the copyright, increased 

106 SzAmVSL TAYLOR COL£%I i Dge §10 

it in Coleridge's case to thirty, and kindly assisted 
when the landlady pressed for payment or the larder 
was bare. 

Coleridge set to work at once, but it was fortunate that 
Cottle was so impressed by 'an eye, a brow, and a fore- 
head, indicative of commanding genius,' that he made 
every allowance. The printer, however, had no such 
impression to support his patience. He objected to having 
his types locked up week after week 'to his great detri- 
ment' through long continued delays in the delivery of 
copy. It seemed so unnecessary too since the procrastinat- 
ing poet had repeated to Cottle almost all the poems he 
intended collecting ; they needed only transcribing. But, 
as Coleridge pathetically pleaded, he had very little 'finger 
industry'; the very act of writing things down made them 
so painfully material and put the bridle on a mind which 
needed to be 'always at full stretch.' And even if his 
fingers would work, circumstances were 'brain-crazing,' 
or he was ill, or it only wanted another day or two 
and a fat bundle of manuscript would, he felt sure, be 

The project of lectures, however, did materialize with- 
out delay. It was the one activity which, with a necessary 
reminder as to date and time, he could be relied upon to 
perform, since his lecturing was as involuntary and usually 
as unprepared as his conversation, and he enjoyed the 
one exactly as he enjoyed the other. Both enabled him, 
not so much to express, as to relieve himself. The adver- 
tised theme of the lectures might be political, his professed 
aim a polemic against the war with France, for example, or 
the Pitt and Grenville Acts for gagging the Press, but it 
was not for one whose mind 'soared above the present 
state of humanity' and might be 'justly said to dwell in 
the presence of the Most High' to be bound by petty 

§10 THE TA^TISOC^ATIC T>%S*Am 107 

The audience which gathered in the Corn Market or 
the vacant house in Castle Green discovered a lay-preacher, 
not a stump-orator, one who continually asserted 'the 
propriety and utility of holding up the distant mark of 
attainable perfection, ' who urged the cultivation of the 
'sympathetic passions* and of 'moral taste,' who spoke of 
benevolence as 'the silken thread that runs through the 
pearl-chain of all the virtues,' and looked forward 'to that 
glorious period when justice shall have established the 
universal fraternity of love.' 

Possibly these 'soul-ennobling views' would have more 
quickly wearied the Bristol Radicals had not the lecturer 
on occasions leavened his idealism with ingenious humour, 
as when he recited a letter from 'Liberty' to his dear friend 
'Famine' or discoursed on the Hair Powder Tax with 
inimitable archness. A series of lectures on Revealed 
Religion, its Corruptions and its Political Views, led to an 
invitation to preach in a Unitarian chapel at Bath, but 
here unfortunately humour could not be indulged. And 
when, to the dismay of the gentleman who had issued the 
invitation, he insisted on appearing in the pulpit with his 
blue coat and waistcoat undraped, and then proceeded to 
inflict on the congregation a previously delivered lecture 
on the Corn Laws, his reception was somewhat chilly. It 
was even chillier when, stimulated by his dinner, he com- 
pelled them to listen in the afternoon to his old lecture 
in reprobation of the Hair Powder Tax, divested of its 
whimsical frolics. Yet, despite their fatuities and their 
facile edification, his preaching and lecturing did reveal 
an attitude to life essentially religious. He was still vital 
and true enough to insist that Christian values should 
inspire politics and economics as well as private conduct, 
and to realize the frequent insignificance of dogma. 

Meanwhile, however, the 'silken thread of benevolence' 
that had run through the pantisocratic brotherhood began 


to wear perilously thin. A 'marked coolness/ for example, 
had appeared between Coleridge and Lovell, who was far 
from being convinced by Coleridge's attentions to his 
sister-in-law. Southey too, as Coleridge confided to Bur- 
nett, was curiously distant at times, if not estranged. 
Could it be that he was losing sympathy, that practi- 
cality was undermining the fraternal faith which it had 
once so attractively graced? Why, he asked himself, must 
people change? Why could they not preserve their enthus- 
iasms in simple disregard of circumstance? It was true that 
neither lecturing nor poetry seemed likely to bring the 
realization of 'pantisocracy' nearer; he even admitted that 
its realization was 'distant — perhaps a miraculous mil- 
lennium,' but that did not alter its essential, its wholly 
satisfying rightness. 

Southey, however, derived little satisfaction from the 
'thing in itself: he was not mystically inclined and he 
liked his friends to be dependable, so that when Coleridge, 
after undertaking to deliver a lecture in a series of his 
'On the Rise, Progress, and Decline of the Roman 
Empire' unaccountably failed to appear, all the latent 
dislike of his friend's vagueness and verbosity rose to the 
surface. The expedition to Tintern Abbey, upon which 
Cottle tried to heal the breach, proved 'a detestable party 
of pleasure,' a most un-pantisocratic altercation ensued, 
and the suggestion that such a lapse was not likely to 
occur again was received with frank incredulity. 

And the rift went deeper than accidentals. Ironically 
enough Coleridge himself now appeared to Southey the 
strongest argument against the 'pantisocracy' he preached. 
The scheme shared in the discredit of his grandiloquent, 
undependable nature. The idea of offering any of his 
expected annuity to so improvident a partner grew 
increasingly distasteful. He could not tell Coleridge this, 
but he could hint it by opposing his principles, by pleading 

§ io the vAsyrisoc^Aric T>%e*Am 109 

with pertinacity 'for the wisdom of making self an undi- 
verging center'; he could assume a 'cold and gloomy' 
manner, and he could break up the joint lodging in College 
Street on the grounds of economy and return to his mother 
at Bath. Even Coleridge began to suspect that Southey 
'meditated a separation.' 'Pantisocracy,' he noticed, was 
avoided as a topic of conversation, and then there was a 
dark rumour that an uncle was urging him to enter the 
Church, a course which, as he wrote to him, 'would argue 
imbecility and a latent wickedness in myself, if for a 
moment I doubted concerning your purposes and final 

Southey rejected the Church, but he dallied with the 
Law, and although Coleridge himself had dallied with it 
too, the parallelism was scarcely comforting. For even 
Southey's dallying was purposeful. If only he could have 
demanded openly his intentions, the situation would not 
have been so wretched. But he hated scenes, hated above 
all surrendering a cherished idea and a delightful con- 
versational topic. Something at least must be preserved 
from the ideal shipwreck, and surely domestic happiness 
was pantisocracy in miniature, 'the greatest of things 
sublunary, and of things celestial it is impossible, perhaps, 
for unassisted man to believe anything greater.' 

Southey was failing him; but Sarah, plump, smiling 
and imperturbable, remained. To marry her was no 
longer a baseness or even a duty. It was the consecration 
of a faith threatened on all sides by treason, it provided 
also an escape from lonely lodgings to an Elysium which 
he had never known — the Elysium of a home. He needed 
some one to heal his soul 'sickening at the world,' he felt, 
as he confessed in the lines he addressed about this time 
'To an Infant,' his own infantile helplessness, his own 
need of the maternal attentions of a wife and the maternal 
support of a creed: 

no SeA&fUSL TzAYLOR COLS1(IT>gS § 10 

'A babe art thou — and such a thing am I ! 
To anger rapid and as soon appeased, 
For trifles mourning and by trifles pleased, 
Break Friendship's mirror with a tetchy blow, 
Yet snatch what coals of fire on Pleasure's altar glow ! 

4 thou that rearest with celestial aim 
The future Seraph in my mortal frame, 
Thrice holy Faith ! whatever thorns I meet 
As on I totter with unpractised feet, 
Still let me stretch my arms and cling to thee, 
Meek nurse of souls through their long infancy!' 

Sarah was motherly; she could tend him like a child, and 
'in soft impassioned voice, correctly wild' could, as he 
fancied, 'raise the Poet's kindred strain' in eternal tribute 
to 'pantisocracy,' and eternal scorn of 'purple Pride, that 
scowls on wretchedness.' 

A visit to Poole at Stowey confirmed him in his purpose. 
He told him, with tears stealing down his cheeks, of 
Southey's defection, of a friend 

'Who erst, as thou dost say, was wondrous kind, 
But now, unkind, forgets.' 

Poole was visibly affe£ted and was so excited by his visitor's 
moods of indignation for the unfeeling world and adora- 
tion of 'Religion, white-robed Maid of Peace,' that he 
recorded his impressions in verse, hailing a 'soul to heaven- 
wards towering' that culled celestial sweets 'amid the 
flowerets of the milky way.' Coleridge returned with his 
idealism reinforced, and when Cottle, possibly as a further 
inducement to 'finger industry,' offered to buy an un- 
limited number of verses at the fixed rate of a guinea and 
a half for every hundred lines, he no longer hesitated. If 
any scruples existed, this offer removed them. To so 

§ io me <PA?K?isoc%Aric t>%s^a3vl i i i 

genial an improvisatore the prospect of producing a hun- 
dred thousand lines of poetry a year for the upkeep of a 
home had no terrors. 

And so in the full conviction that his subsistence was 
assured, Coleridge on October 4, 1795, married Sarah 
Fricker at the Church of St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. 



One of the most unfortunate results of Coleridge's 
indifference to material concerns was that when 
material things did affecl: him, they affected him quite 
out of proportion to their importance, while his imagin- 
ation, which was only too far-sighted in its own abstract, 
sphere, was incapable of concrete foresight. His mar- 
riage to Sarah Fricker was the outcome of similar trivial- 
ities to those which had made him wish to be a cobbler 
and masquerade as a dragoon. Yet each of these actions 
was also provoked by the same basic need, the need to 
anchor himself to something solid. It was easy for him 
to transfer his idealism from Mary Evans to Sarah 
Fricker, because she was part of a formula, an element 
in a system based on first principles. In marrying her he 
attached himself less to a person than to an array of per- 
sonifications, to 

'Freedom's undivided dell, 
Where Toil and Health with mellow'd Love shall 
Far from folly, far from men, 
In the rude romantic glen.' 

Any imperfection of face or character counted for 
nothing beside that immaculate 'perfectibility' upon 
which he had expended so much eloquence, and in the 
radiance of which she stood. Yet addresses which, in 
his own words, were 'first paid from principle, not feel- 
ing,' and which 'met with a reward more than propor- 
tionate to the greatness of the effort,' were scarcely a 
promising form of courtship. They certainly did not 
flower into poetry in such lines as: 


§i rns rDO&tesric D%e<^**M 113 

'The tears that tremble down your cheek, 
Shall bathe my kisses chaste and meek 

In Pity's dew divine; 
And from your heart the sighs that steal 
Shall make your rising bosom feel 

The answering swell of mine!' 

Admittedly for one who craved in woman less beauty 
and vivacity than an indulgent sympathy, the want of 
immediate passion was no cardinal defect. He was not 
physically sensuous. 'Nothing,' as he wrote, 'affects me 
much at the moment it happens. It either stupefies me 
... or I am simply indifferent.' He was sensuous only 
in meditation, when he could invest the physical with a 
delicate enchantment, as in the description of 'Such light 
as lovers love, when the waxing moon steals in behind a 
black, black cloud, emerging soon enough to make the 
blush visible which the long kiss has kindled,' or of the 
voices in opera, — 'one and not one, they leave, seek, pur- 
sue, oppose, fight with, strengthen, annihilate each other, 
awake, enliven, soothe, flatter and embrace each other 
again, till at length they die away in one tone,' than which 
there seemed to him in later years 'no sweeter image of 
wayward yet fond lovers.' 

But generally his conception of love was even more 
remote from the particular and more diffused than this. 
Once when reading Troilus and Cressida he emphasized 
the distinction between the ajfeflion of Troilus and the 
passion of Cressida, remarking that only the former 
deserved the name of love, and when he spoke of the 
'religion that is in all deep love,' it meant, as religion 
always meant to him, something which 'soothes mis- 
fortune' even more than it 'buoys up to virtue.' Sarah 
Fricker was, in short, a 'pillow of sorrows,' on which he 
hoped to wake to virtue. He was lonely and worried: 

1 1 4 S^^MUSL T^TLOR COLS^FtlTtge §i 

he dreaded a return to apathy, to that sense of flabby 
impotence he knew so well. To marry was to escape 
momentarily from the foreknowledge of failure. 'In the 
tumultuous evil hour' . . . 'Peace with Sara came.' But 
it was a peace sown, had he known, with discord. 

To attribute however to Coleridge's marriage, as some 
critics have done, the tragedy of his broken life is surely 
a mistake. In a sense his life was always broken. To 
appreciate the unity of his career necessitates a recog- 
nition of the essential disunity of his character, a disunity 
which affected him physically, mentally, and spiritually. 
This, and not the unfortunate marriage to which it inci- 
dentally contributed, was the root cause of disaster. Yet 
although Coleridge's destiny was almost certainly 
beyond any woman's control, he could scarcely have 
done worse than to drift into marriage with one so little 
capable of understanding the nature or the needs of 

Years later, in writing of marriage as satisfying more 
than any other relationship the need of man 'to transfuse 
from himself into others, and to receive from others into 
himself,' he cited among the necessary pre-conditions 
for such a state, 'an understanding proportionate to 
thine, that is, a recipiency at least of thine,' and 'a natural 
sensibility and lively sympathy in general.' Sarah Fricker 
may have possessed the latter of these qualities, but it was 
quickly deadened by her want of the former. Love, for a 
man of intelligence, as Coleridge was speedily to dis- 
cover, can never really 'transform the soul into a con- 
formity with the objecl: loved' unless that object has some 
intellectual affinity. To him, with his appealing sensibility, 
such a transformation was the breath of life. Without it 
he languished and all the festering traits in his character, 
his indolence, self-indulgence, cant, and in effectual ity 
emerged. Without it too 

§i me t>o mesne T>%s*Am 115 

'With cruel weight these trifles press 
A temper sore with tenderness 
When aches the void within.* 

Yet it is as unreasonable to blame Sarah Fricker for 
being a commonplace woman as it is to blame Coleridge 
for not being content with her many practical virtues. 

That she should have allowed Coleridge to marry her 
was also inevitable. Strange though she must have 
thought his silences in the early days of their engagement, 
his renewed enthusiasm must have completely reassured 
her. Even Southey had only begun to read the reality 
beneath the captivating illusion, and it was not till later 
that Coleridge began to favour his friends with those 
portraits of himself, so exasperating in their insight 
because by confessing his weaknesses he excused himself 
from trying to eradicate them; as for example — 'Indeed I 
want firmness. I perceive I do. I have that within me 
which makes it difficult to say, No! . . . my face, unless 
animated by immediate eloquence, expresses great sloth, 
and great, indeed, almost idiotic good nature. 'Tis a 
mere carcass of a face ; fat, flabby, and expressive chiefly 
by inexpression. ... As to my shape, 'tis a good shape 
enough if measured, but my gait is awkward, and the 
walk of the whole man indicates indolence capable of 

Dimly Sarah Fricker may have perceived this; but in 
the flush of immediate contact, even his weaknesses were 
extraordinarily attractive. He was so ardent, expansive 
and bewildering, and though so little animal in his in- 
stincts, he irradiated a strange magnetism. His very 
tenderness was voluptuous, his amiability breathed a 
yielding, a docile, charm, just because they were self- 
indulgent, because he loved the love of others rather than 
themselves. But an inexperienced girl could not trace 

n6 S^^MUSL TAYLOR C0LS%I1)gS §2 

an eloquence and an affluent generosity, so apparently 
disinterested, to its source, could not guess that without 
the genius which justified it all, his impulse was not dis- 
similar to that which induces the garrulous bore to make 
himself, in self-absorbed obliviousness, a burden to his 
friends and acquaintances. 

And beneath the melodious speech there was a pathos. 
He so obviously needed his audience. Alone in the centre 
of his amazing utterance, and ineffective in all else, he 
appealed to them, as a child would to his elders, to hear 
his story and accept him as one of themselves. The pitiful 
lot of Sarah Fricker was to respond to that appeal for 
sympathy as any woman would, without sufficient under- 
standing however to supply it indefinitely. The excessive 
unworldliness which attracted her in the genius was 
exactly that which, as a conventional woman, she was in- 
capable of tolerating in the man. She could not make 
allowances because genius meant nothing to her; for the 
same reason she could not truly appreciate, and her in- 
ability to do so served only to exaggerate in Coleridge the 
self-pitying impotence which in the end fully justified her 


For the moment, however, all was bliss. One detail at 
least of the pantisocratic dream had achieved the dignity 
of reality. 'We are settled,' he wrote to Poole three days 
after their marriage, 'nay, quite domesticated, at Clevedon 
our comfortable cot! Mrs. Coleridge! I like to write the 
name. . . . The prospect around is perhaps more various 
than any in the kingdom. Mine eye gluttonizes the sea, 
the distant islands, the opposite coast! I shall assuredly 
write rhymes, let the nine Muses prevent it if they 
can. . . .' 

Rhymes he did write, since he was in harmony with 

§2 me T>omesric T>%e<±Am 117 

himself and so with nature, and they reveal how quick- 
ened his sensibility was. Sara, plump, pretty, and 
methodical, was not calculated to renew the note of 
'Lewti,' but she made Coleridge feel at home not only in 

'our cot o'ergrown 
With white-flowered Jasmin, and the broad-leaved 

(Meet emblems they of Innocence and Love!)' 

but with the scent of bean-fields and the 'murmur of the 
distant sea.' His desire had found 'a local habitation and 
a name' ; he was no longer an alien in a world of things ; he 
could sink deliciously into a natural world, which accepted 
him for a short while as one of her family. 

The luxury of this sense of identity with life was more 
rich and stable than his dreams of Mary Evans. It regen- 
erated like music trembling along the nerves; his passive 
pleasure-loving instincts ceased to cloy, ceased to require 
justification from his conscience, and the unreal seemed 
real. He was like the iEolian harp which he hung in the 
cottage casement, and addressed in what he called the 
most perfect poem he ever wrote: 

'How by the desultory breeze caressed, 
Like some coy maid half yielding to her lover, 
It pours such sweet upbraiding, as must needs 
Tempt to repeat the wrong! And now its strings 
Boldlier swept, the long sequacious notes 
Over delicious surges sink and rise, 
Such a soft floating witchery of sound 
As twilight Elfins make, when they at eve 
Voyage on gentle gales from Fairy-Land, 
Where Melodies round honey-dropping flowers, 
Footless and wild, like birds of Paradise, 
Nor pause, nor perch, hovering on untamed wing! 


O! the one life within us and abroad, 
Which meets all motion and becomes its soul, 
A light in sound, a sound-like power in light, 
Rhythm in all thought, and joyance everywhere - 
Methinks, it should have been impossible 
Not to love all things in a world so filled; 
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air 
Is Music slumbering on her instrument. 

'And thus, my love! as on the midway slope 
Of yonder hill I stretch my limbs at noon, 
Whilst through my half-closed eyelids I behold 
The sunbeams dance, like diamonds, on the main, 
And tranquil muse upon tranquility; 
Full many a thought uncalled and undetained, 
And many idle flitting phantasies, 
Traverse my indolent and passive brain, 
As wild and various as the random gales 
That swell and flutter on this subject lute!' 

And since love was this infinitely indolent surrender, 
there was satisfaction even in surrendering a philosophers 
freedom of thought, those 'shapings of the unregenerate 
mind' which provoked a 'mild reproof in the more 
serious eyes of the 'meek daughter in the family of Christ* 
who had saved him from dark bewilderment, and now 
expected him to be correct in his views and to 'walk 
humbly with his God.' 

So agreeable was it to please Sara by his correctness, 
so delightful to cross his lotus mood with practical pro- 
jects, that he even proposed to become a pedagogue. 'In 
the course of half a year,' he wrote, 'I mean to return to 
Cambridge . . . and taking lodgings there for myself 
and wife, finish my great work of "Imitations," in two 
volumes. My former works may, I hope, prove somewhat 
of genius and erudition. This will be better; it will show 

§2 ths Domesric T>%e*Am n 9 

great industry and manly consistency; at the end of it I 
shall publish proposals for School etc.* 

It was all fiction of course, but it was pleasant to fancy 
himself a conventional professional man on a conventional 
honeymoon. Even a letter from Southey announcing his 
abandonment of 'pantisocracy' and his immediate inten- 
tion of sailing for Lisbon did not really stab him to the 
heart as he pretended. It gave him the opportunity of 
delivering a moving funeral oration over the corpse of the 
scheme and of his friendship. Still better it enabled him 
to forget his own treachery and disillusionment in de- 
nouncing that of Southey. He did not wish to admit that 
'pantisocracy' was in itself unrealizable, because in con- 
demning it as such he condemned himself and incident- 
ally his marriage. 

The enormous attraction which the scheme exercised 
over him was due to its exact reflection of his own nature. 
To disown it was indeed to confess that he was 'drunk 
with principle,* but by attributing its non-realization to 
Southey's defection, he preserved his dream and his 
self-approval intact. 'When you broke from us/ he 
argued, 'our prospects were brightening; by the Maga- 
zine or by poetry we might and should have got ten 
guineas a month.' But alas! by a 'system of prudentials' 
and qualifications Southey had gradually 'sloped his 
descent from virtue' to the abyss of apostasy. His own 
vacillation in the previous year was a very different 
matter. He took honour to himself for the 'convulsive 
struggles of feeling' he then underwent, inferring that 
he had sacrificed Mary Evans to his pantisocratic loyalty. 
What indeed could be more dastardly than that Southey 
should play false to 'the plan for which he abandoned his 
friends, and every prospect and every certainty and the 
woman whom he loved to an excess' which Southey 'in his 
warmest dreams of fancy could never shadow out'? 

120 SzAmUSL TAYLOR C0L6%IT>g8 §2 

It was exceedingly affecting to pose as one who had 
given his all and only asked in return a like generosity 
from his friend and a little bread and cheese; it was even 
more ironically apposite when he attacked Southey for 
contemplating the very profession which he himself had 
proposed to Mary Evans. 'For the sake of mankind' he 
claimed to have tried to argue Southey out of his base- 
ness, but it was of no avail. He had 'fallen back into the 
ranks,' he had turned from 'the ocean of Universal 
Redemption.' With 'trembling hand' he accused him of 
'falsehood and duplicity.' 'You are lost to me, 1 he wrote, 
'because you are lost to Virtue. . . . O selfish, money- 
loving man ! What principle have you not given up ? . . . 
O God! that such a mind should fall in love with that 
low, dirty, gutter-grubbing trull, Worldly Prudence!' 

Full of self-deception as this letter is, it is possible to 
sympathize with Coleridge's standpoint. His indig- 
nation was that of a child refusing to be robbed of an 
illusion. It hurt him, with his devotion to theory, even 
more that Southey should reject a word-proof scheme 
than that he should rejecl: himself. But the impossibility 
of the scheme, as Southey saw, was one with the impossi- 
bility of Coleridge's character. Coleridge could quote 
examples of his energy and helpfulness in rebuttal of the 
charge of indolence. But this did not alter the fact that, 
with the best intentions, he would have made a hopeless 
partner in any concern which called for effectual organiz- 
ation. He was clearly incapable of 'disciplining his body 
and mind' to the extent required by pantisocratic, no less 
than by creedless, pioneers. And then the whole scheme 
had no material foundation, and, so far as could be seen, 
never would have. For Southey it had ceased even to 
serve a purpose by generating enthusiasm. All he could 
say was that 'the plan you are going upon is not of suffi- 
cient importance to justify me to myself in abandoning a 

§2 the T>o<mesric t>%8sA£m 121 

family who have none to support them but me,' It was a 
cruel, but necessary candour. 

The cottage on the banks of the Severn was, however, 
no poor substitute for a conjecture on the banks of the 
Susquehanna. Burnett and one of Sara's sisters were 
visitors for a time and gave a pantisocratic flavour to the 
housework, while the excellent Cottle was at hand to 
supply such necessary articles as a cheese-toaster, a riddle- 
slice and a carpet-brush, and such necessary comestibles 
as coffee, currants, rice and a keg of porter. When he 
added to his services by sending an 'upholsterer' to white- 
wash the walls of the cottage, Coleridge's gratitude over- 
flowed into a set of verses in which, blind to Cottle's very 
modest poetical powers, he prophesied fame for the verse 
'concise yet clear,' which 

'Tunes to smooth melody unconquer'd sense.' 

Indeed for six months he had dilated with gratitude 
towards everything and every one except Southey. The 
nightingale on the high bough 

'Within whose moon-mellow'd foliage hid 
Thou warblest sad thy pity-pleading strains,' 

the simmering landscape, the grey clouds 

'that shadowing spot the sunny fields; 
And river, now with bushy rocks o'erbrowed, 
Now winding bright and full, with naked banks; 
And seats, and lawns, the abbey and the wood, 
And cots, and hamlets, and faint city-spire; 
The Channel there, the Islands and white sails, 
Dim coasts, and cloud-like hills, and shoreless Ocean' — 

were all in league with Sara to console. Surely divinity 
was Omnipresent in such peace, surely a love which drew 


from him such sighs of content was 'pure and spotless' ! 
'Blest hour! It was a luxury — to be!' 

Yet strangely enough Sara herself did not inspire him 
to poetry, The nightingale did, but when he tried to 
compare its voice with Sara's, the result undeniably was 
bathos, and although she was certainly the 'best beloved 
of human kind,' his attempts to express his devotion 
proved rather maudlin and uxorious. Even the fa£t that 
they were composed during illness could scarcely justify 
for example such lines as: 

'Dim hour! that sleep'st on pillowing clouds afar, 
O rise and yoke the Turtles to thy car! 
Bend o'er the traces, blame each lingering Dove, 
And give me to the bosom of my Love ! 
My gentle Love, caressing and carest, 
With heaving heart shall cradle me to rest! 
Shed the warm tear-drop from her smiling eyes, 
Lull with fond woe, and medicine me with sighs! 
While finely-flushing float her kisses meek, 
Like melted rubies, o'er my pallid cheek.' 

And as the novelty wore off the situation, the excite- 
ment did too. It no longer thrilled him quite so plea- 
santly to see 'a wealthy son of commerce saunter by,' con- 
sumed surely with envy for his peaceful lot. The land- 
scape, once so 'green and woody,' refreshed him less; so 
did the skylark 

'Viewless, or haply for a moment seen 
Gleaming on sunny wings.' 

Thus satiety began to settle on 'The Valley of Seclu- 
sion.' Friends and the Bristol City Library recovered 
their attractions for one 'in a remote village among apath- 
ists and ignorants.' Even Sara had her limitations. For 
although 'good temper and habitual ease are the first 

§3 ths t>o mesne t>%s^^m 123 

ingredients of private society . . . wit, knowledge, or 
originality, must break their even surface into some 
inequality of feeling, or conversation is like a journey on 
an endless flat/ Sara's surface was unexceptionably even, 
and the fact recalled him rather surprisingly to a sense of 
public duty. 

'Was it right, 
While my unnumbered brethren toiled and bled, 
That I should dream away the entrusted hours 
On rose-leaf beds, pampering the coward heart 
With feelings all too delicate for use?' 

that he should be of 

'The sluggard Pity's vision-weaving tribe! 
Who sigh for wretchedness, yet shun the wretched, 
Musing in some delicious solitude 
Their slothful loves and dainty sympathies! 
I therefore go, and join head, heart, and hand, 
Active and firm, to fight the bloodless fight 
Of science, freedom, and the truth in Christ.' 


The plan of battle eventually decided upon was to 
publish a weekly paper, but it was rather financial anxiety, 
aggravated by the prospect of fatherhood, than any moral 
purpose that dictated the step. For after a week or two 
at his mother-in-law's house in Bristol, Coleridge began 
to long again for unobtrusive Clevedon. The Frickers 
were very suburban, their conversation an 'endless flat,' 
and their minds, as he had feared, 'deeply tinged with 
the prejudices and errors of society.' Fortunately Poole 
understood the situation. He was a trifle sententious, but 
he understood. 'In their moments of mind,' he wrote of 
men of genius, 'they form plans which would be practic- 
able only if those moments were of continued duration ; 

i2 4 S^^MUSL TAYLOR QOLS^lTtqS §3 

but in their career they feel like other mortals the sad 
burdens of mortality . . . they ought imperiously to 
command themselves to think without genius of the com- 
mon concerns of life. If this be impossible — happy is the 
genius who has a friend ever near of good sense' He was 
such a friend and he showed it by asking Coleridge to 
bring his wife to Stowey. 

The change proved most salutary. Poole himself was 
so 'active and firm' and he stood for 'science and freedom/ 
while Sara's virtues had no longer to wage a losing battle 
with her family's respectability. Early in 1796 they both 
returned to lodgings in Bristol, and Coleridge braced him- 
self to a practical effort. He took up again the idea, 
originally mooted by Southey, of starting a magazine, 
and gathered a number of friends and potential sub- 
scribers one evening to the Rummer Tavern to lay pro- 
posals before them and sketch preliminaries. A few days 
later the inevitable prospectus appeared under the motto: 

'That All may know the Truth; 
And that the Truth may make us Free!!' 

The journal was to combine the functions of the 
modern newspaper, a literary review and Hansard, and 
was to be called 'The Watchman,' since its editor offered 
himself to the Public 'as a faithful watchman, to proclaim 
the state of the Political Atmosphere, and preserve Free- 
dom and her Friends from the attacks of Robbers and 

To avoid contributing through the Stamp Tax to the 
guilt of a war against Freedom, it was to appear every 
eighth day, a systematic irregularity well calculated to 
appeal to Coleridge himself and to irritate a methodical 
public. Despite this, however, three hundred and seventy 
promises of subscription were obtained in Bristol, and 
to swell the number Coleridge determined to combine 

§3 TH8 Domesric t>%s^asvl 125 

the functions of a missionary and an advertising agent 
in an expedition to the Midlands and the North. The 
possibility of a prolonged exposition of first principles 
was exceedingly inviting. And so, with a blue coat and 
white waistcoat to proclaim his utter independence 'of 
the woman of Babylon' and a number of recommendatory 
epistles, he set out. 

He went to Worcester, Birmingham and Nottingham, 
to Lichfield, Derby, Manchester, Sheffield and Liver- 
pool, and he talked incessantly. If he was not canvassing 
tradespeople, he was preaching in Unitarian chapels. 
He did not stoop to adapt himself to his audience: the 
same stream of radical eloquence descended upon all 
and sundry, upon the Calvinist tallow-chandler at Bir- 
mingham, 'a tall dingy man,' lean and desiccated, who was 
supposed to have 'proved to the satisfaction of many 
that Mr. Pitt was one of the horns of the second beast in 
The Revelations, that spake as a dragon J but who excused 
himself from becoming a subscriber on the grounds that 
one copy of the proposed paper was as much as he read 
in a year; or upon the 'stately and opulent Manchester 
cotton dealer' who replied curtly enough that he was 
'overrun with these articles.' 

Yet generally people were exceedingly friendly, and 
although it was noticeable that they all tried to dissuade 
him from proceeding with his enterprise, he was too 
absorbed in his oratory to guess that most of them regarded 
him as a very amiable eccentric. Certainly there were 
moments when his spirits flagged, when he was inclined 
to complain, 'Ah, what a weary way ! my poor crazy ark 
has been tossed to and fro on an ocean of business, and I 
long for the Mount Ararat on which it is to rest.' But his 
journey was full of compensations. The space in the 
coach to Worcester, for example, might be villainously 
restricted 'by a lump of a man, who would want elbow 

126 SzAgWUSL T^TLOR COLS<F(lT>gS §3 

room if he were walking on Salisbury Plain ! a most 
violent Aristocrat to boot,' and the city, when he reached 
it, might prove to lie under the heel of the Clergy, but at 
least it contained the hospitable Mr. Barr, whose lovely 
children sat round after church singing hymns so sweetly 
that with great difficulty he abstained 'from weeping 
aloud,* while a baby in Mrs. Barr's arms 'looked like a 
young spirit just that moment arrived in Heaven.' 

Yet Heaven seemed far enough off when it came to 
bandying business with booksellers. 'Like a prisoner, 
who in his dreams has enjoyed the freedom he has 
imagined,' he began to suspect that he was sleeping and 
feared 'to dispel the illusion by waking.' With a rush 
his sense of freakish isolation came upon him again. 'I 
verily believe no poor fellow's idea-pot ever bubbled up 
so vehemently with fears, doubts, and difficulties, as 
mine does at present. Heaven grant it may not boil over, 
and put out the fire! I am almost heartless! My past 
life seems to me like a dream, a feverish dream ! all one 
gloomy huddle of strange actions, and dim-discovered 
motives! Friendships lost by indolence, and happiness 
murdered by mismanaged sensibility!' 

It was reassuring to return to Bristol and Sara. She at 
least existed, even if her condition inclined her to be tear- 
ful and reminded him cruelly of his responsibilities. He 
had collected, too, a thousand names, if not a thousand 
subscribers, and the propagandist in his travels had served 
to advertise the poet, if ever his work should struggle into 
print. But when Cottle, knowing how harassed he was, 
pressed for copy, the pathos of his situation was really 
too affecting. 'I have left my friends,' he wrote, 'I have left 
plenty; I have left that ease which would have secured a 
literary immortality, and have enabled me to give the 
public works conceived in moments of inspiration, and 
polished with leisurely solicitude, and alas! for what have 

§3 THS DO^MSSriC D%8^^M 127 

I left them? for - who deserted me in the hour of distress, 
and for a scheme of virtue impracticable and romantic ! 
So I am forced to write for bread ! write in flights of poetic 
enthusiasm, when every moment I am hearing a groan 
from my wife. Groans and complaints, and sickness! 
The present hour I am in a quick-set hedge of embar- 
rassment, and whichever way I turn a thorn runs into 
me! The future is cloud and thick darkness! Poverty, 
perhaps, and the thin faces of them that want bread, 
looking up to me ! Nor is this all. My happiest moments 
for composition are broken in upon by the reflection that 
I must make haste. I am too late! I am already 
months behind! I have received my pay beforehand! 
Oh wayward and desultory spirit of genius! Ill canst 
thou brook a taskmaster! The tenderest touch from 
the hand of obligation wounds thee like a scourge of 

It is comforting, however, to know that a timely bank- 
note from Cottle completely lifted the 'cloud* and ex- 
tracted the 'thorn.' The 'hand of obligation' apparently 
had no power to wound when it made such winning 
gestures, and his conversation became once more as bril- 
liant and as edifying as ever. 

And at last, on March 1, nearly a month behind the 
scheduled date, the first number of The Watchman was 
published. Almost immediately he was assailed by dis- 
appointed subscribers. Despite his attack on contem- 
porary methods of criticism, his own reviews were wordy 
and worthless ; there was little news, and the staple sub- 
stance of the paper, the Parliamentary Debates, had been 
reported at length elsewhere. One subscriber objected 
to his 'democratic scurrility,' another to the amount of 
original composition, and quite a number of sensitive 
readers were outraged when in the second number he 
attached to an essay on 'National Fasts' the too pictur- 


esque motto 'Wherefore my Bowels shall sound like an 

And while there was abuse from without, there was 
slovenliness within. Burnett proved a most incompetent 
assistant, and the printer multiplied 'injurious blunders/ 
Between the two of them and Sara's increasing danger, 
Coleridge's eyes became alarmingly inflamed and his 
mood utterly distracted. Three years before, in a letter 
to Mary Evans, he had confessed to taking 'rather a 
strong dose of opium'; now, since journalism, unlike 
poetry, was proving an irritant instead of a sedative, he 
was obliged to take laudanum almost every night. Week 
by week the subscribers fell off, debts accumulated, and 
in a tenth and farewell number he was compelled to 
admit 'O Watchman! thou hast watched in vain.' 

Like Southey, it seemed, the 'patriot and the philan- 
thropist' had failed him. They preferred to be taught 
'rational liberty' by the New Monthly Magazine, which 
more adroitly than he 'strengthened the intellect, by 
science and softened the affections by the graces.' But 
as usual Poole was there to break the fall. On the last 
day of publication the editor's 'sorrow-sallowed cheeks' 
were cheered by a cheque and an almost fulsome testi- 
monial. Poole, who had foreseen disaster, had persuaded 
half a dozen of Coleridge's friends to contribute five 
guineas each to a sustentation fund, which he hoped to 
continue for six years. They were 'irresistibly impelled 
to make this offer by recollecting the disinterested traits 
in his character' and because he presented in himself 'an 
object, which awakens every tender and noble sensation of 
the soul.' 

Coleridge received the gift with a 'burst of affectionate 
feeling,' admired the 'excess of delicacy' which dictated 
'some grossness of flattery,' and vowed that he would 
make every possible exertion. He succeeded at any rate 

§4 THS "DO^MSSriC T>%8*Am 129 

in completing his poems for the press and at last in April 
they appeared. 


They were, as he later admitted, full of faults. There 
was in them for example 'a rage and affectation of double 
epithets . . . truly ridiculous,' and they were full of those 
'shadowy nobodies of personifications.' He confessed 
suspiciously enough to a 'conscious aptitude for many 
poetic styles and an incapacity to determine which should 
be definitely adopted and cultivated to perfection. ' He 
had too 'such a high idea of what poetry ought to 
be that he could not conceive that such things as his 
natural emotions might be allowed to find a place in 
it.' The result was artificiality and strain, 'a garishness 
and swell of diction' also, which he hoped in future to 

But these, after all, were superficialities. Every young 
poet may be forgiven for deviating from 'Nature and 
simplicity' until he has found himself. In estimating his 
possibilities it is wise rather to examine those elements 
in his early work which are typical not of his youth but of 
his personality. Even Coleridge's early verse is abun- 
dantly typical in this sense, and already imperfectly he 
himself knew the flaw in his consciousness. 'I feel 
strongly,' he wrote, 'and I think strongly, but I seldom 
feel without thinking or think without feeling. Hence 
though my poetry has in general a hue of tenderness or 
passion over it, yet it seldom exhibits unmixed and simple 
tenderness or passion.' 

This intermingling as distinct from fusion of thought 
and feeling had its origin in a physical incapacity. The 
artist's sensibility, as a modern critic has said, is one 
upon which objects and episodes in the life about him 
produce not only a deeper but a more precise impression 


than they do upon the ordinary man. In Coleridge they 
produced an impression which was agitating but not 
precise. 'Of all men I ever knew,' he was to write, 'I 
have the faintest pleasure in things contingent and transi- 
tory'; and again, — 'In looking at objects of Nature . . . 
I seem rather to be seeking, as it were asking for, a symbol- 
ical language for something within me that already and 
for ever exists, than observing anything new.' Lacking a 
normal sensuous response to things his perception was 
utterly disorganized. He could not project his feeling 
into things, and so it fermented within him, and at best 
he could only diffuse it over objects dimly perceived and 
never crystallized by insight into significance. Similarly 
his mind, starved of real forms to criticize and define, 
was compelled to fabricate forms, to build an abstract 
world of argument over a concrete void. 

Again, the great artist's attitude to life, his perspective 
of values, is formed from an accumulation of exact and 
instinctive impressions out of which eventually emerges 
a unity of idea, a universal criterion to which the parti- 
cular is subconsciously referred. This metaphysic he may 
in his maturity translate into terms of thought, or it may 
remain implicit in his handling of his artistic medium. 
But in either case its origin is not rational but instinctive. 
His abstract ideas are the interpretation of concrete 
experiences, his moments of vision the fusion of sense, 
thought and feeling. 

But from childhood Coleridge lacked this sense of the 
concrete : often as he preached the necessity of a union of 
feeling and thought for both the poet and the philoso- 
pher, he himself could never really unite them, because 
for him they lacked a common denominator in primary 
experience. Consequently the superstructure of his writ- 
ing had the most tenuous foundations; its complexity did 
not derive, as it should have, from an essential simplicity, 

§4 THE DOmSSTlC T>%e*A3V[ 131 

and his sense of the infinite remained amorphous for want 
of achieving contact with the finite. 

The more therefore he desensualized his nature by 
purely abstract thought, the more discursive that thought 
became; and the more he enveloped the world of men and 
things in an emotional mist, the more, as a poet, in a vain 
attempt to objectify, did he multiply metaphors and 
personifications, while the inevitable image eluded him. 
Instead of the symbolical language of art he resorted to 
allegory and 'dim similitudes in moral strains.' 

His early poetry like his later metaphysics reveals this 
constitutional defect, a defect which must be emphasized 
since his failure to focus his experience was at once the 
cause and effect of his neuroticism. More and more he 
was to long for the poet's complete realization of ideas in 
concrete expression, more and more he was to struggle 
to become a conscious, effective soul, to escape from him- 
self into a pure imaginative act. For one short period he 
did. launch himself upon a magnificent voyage into the 
unreal and make it real. It was his one hour of pure crea- 
tive satisfaction, but it was a miracle that hung upon the 
hazard of circumstance and which circumstance did not 
allow him to repeat. 

Valueless therefore as most of his early poetry was in 
itself, its qualities were prophetic. Its lack of organic 
cohesion or impulse, its self-indulgent romanticism, its 
dreamy exoticism, touched by ecstasy in 'Lewti' to en- 
chantment, and elsewhere occasionally by fever to a sort 
of ghostly delirium, its involuntary assimilation of the 
style of other poets, are all conditions of the later miracle. 
But above all it foretold that 'indescribable sweetness and 
fluent projection' of versification, that flowing form which 
he himself, in speaking of Spenser, distinguished from 
the deeper and more inwoven harmonies of Shakespeare. 
He preferred music among the arts because it seemed 


most completely to resolve the conflict which troubled 
him between a world of form and of motion, of matter 
and idea, to enable him as it were to float upon the lan- 
guor which clogged him. He described music, too, as 
Rubricating' his inventive faculty, and his own highest 
achievement as a poet approaches a condition of pure 
music. It was never perhaps the greatest music of which 
poetry is capable, because, even when most animated, it 
was the music of surrender and escape, not that in which 
the fa&s of life are nobly mastered and harmonized; but 
it was the most bewitching and seductive. 

In his early verse it is seldom even that. The surrender 
was too much of a swoon, but in several passages where 
prose became poetry simply by virtue of its deliquescent 
syllables and sliding cadences, the later music, so melting 
and impalpable, so sweet and buoyant too at its best, was 
foreshadowed. And as with other romantic poets his 
sense-perceptions intermingled, colour in particular 
suffusing sound and movement, as in the line 'Bathed in 
rich amber-glowing floods of light'; although only in 
'Lewti' had he yet conjured that mild iridescence which 
plays over his greatest verse like suave moonlight on the 
ripples of a stream. 

Of his tendency, never outgrown, to moralize nature, 
he himself was his best critic, when later he wrote of 
Bowles that 'never to see or describe any interesting 
appearance in Nature without connecting it, by dim 
analogies, with the moral world proves faintness of 
impression. ... A poet's heart and intellect should be 
combined^ intimately combined and unified with the great 
appearances of nature, and not merely held in solution 
and loose mixture with them, in the shape of formal 
similes. . . . The truth is Bowles has indeed the sensi- 
bility of a poet, but he has not the passion of a great poet.' 

It was because, though morbidly sensitive, he lacked 

§5 THS T>0 £M£SriC D%evf£M 133 

the passion of a great poet, that when he wrote of simple 
human things, of love and domestic peace, and even at 
times of Nature, he was either sentimental or moralistic. 
His imagination was only vitally kindled by the strange 
and far, by drifting dream-scenes, and homeless, un- 
realized desires. 

He did himself however less than justice in pinning all 
his poetical credit on the 'Religious Musings,' doubtless 
mistaking an apparent universality of theme for imagin- 
ative power. Yet even in this effusion there were passages, 
such as that already quoted, where he escaped from 
moralized landscapes to such characteristic nature re- 
flection as he wove into the poems written at Clevedon. 
And although few could have divined the possibilities of 
an 'Ancient Mariner' or a 'Christabel' in the relaxed verse 
of this early volume, it showed a progressive advance in 
technique. In the later poems the blank verse was broken 
up and was less florid and emptily sublime, while in the 
shorter lyrics, sickly as the feeling generally was, it had 
superseded the elaborate and artificial. The deft weaving 
too of some of the verse-patterns, learnt from such various 
poets as Spenser, Crashaw and Thomson, foreshadowed 
both the inspired selective artistry of his great poems and 
the deft verbal simplicity that still gave distinction to 
many of his verses long after inspiration had failed. 


Although however 'The Monthly . . . catara£ted pane- 
gyric . . . the Critical cascaded it, and the Analytical 
dribbled it with civility' the poems did not ease the finan- 
cial situation, rendered desperate, but for Poole's testi- 
monial, by the failure of The Watchman, A fortnight at 
Stowey in May soothed his sense of defeated hope and 
even restored his spirits, but a plaintive wife and a sentinel 
mother-in-law awaited him on his return. Something he 

i 3 4 S^^MUSL TAYLOR C0L£%[T>g8 §5 

must do, and when towards the end of June he was 
offered the assistant editorship of the Morning Chronicle, 
despite his aversion to 'local and temporary polities' which 
'narrow the understanding and at least acidulate the 
heart,' he was prepared to bid 'farewell to the Muse and 
his literary Fame.' 

Almost immediately, however, a suggestion was made 
to him by a Mrs. Evans, of Matlock, whom he had met 
on his missionary tour earlier in the year, that he should 
act as tutor to her sons. Accordingly he and Sara went to 
Darley Abbey to arrange the matter and the visit proved a 
great success — 'a sunny spot,' as they spoke of it later, 'in 
their lives.' Coleridge 'was the first fiddle: — not in the 
concerts — but everywhere else.' At Matlock he 'dined in 
a cavern at the head of a divine little fountain, and re- 
turned to Darley, quite worn out with the succession of 
sweet sensations.' Unfortunately, however, the trustees 
ended by vetoing the transaction, and the visit ended with 
a gift of baby-clothes to Sara and a consolation prize of 
£95 to her husband. 

But another missionary acquaintance, a Dr. Crompton, 
stepped into the breach, proposing that the 'Watchman' 
should open a school in Derby. Coleridge went so far 
as to engage an unfinished house which was to be com- 
pleted by October, before going to stay with a friend at 
Moseley, where he preached on Faith. Here he renewed 
his acquaintance with a neurotic young man named 
Charles Lloyd, the son of a banker. Coleridge's person- 
ality and propaganda appealed to him so strongly that 
the prospect of a commercial career became utterly dis- 
tasteful. Indeed so great was the fascination that he 
offered to contribute ^80 a year to household expenses 
in return for the privilege of his conversation. It was a 
pity that he was subject to epileptic fits, but the prospect 
of so appreciative a paying guest attracted Coleridge. 

§5 ths do mesne t>%s^a^m 135 

It seemed a god-sent opportunity, and one which, with 
^40 earned by himself in reviewing, might relieve him 
of the necessity of bidding 'farewell to literary fame.* 
Lloyd's banker father, 'a mild man . . . and in religion 
an allegorizing Quaker,' was induced to agree, and it was 
in the midst of these negotiations that Coleridge was 
informed of the birth of a son. 

He had, of course, miscalculated the date, was 'quite 
annihilated with the suddenness of the information,' and 
when he retired to his room to address himself to his 
Maker, 'could only offer up to Him the silence of stupe- 
fied feelings'! To be first numbed by experience and 
then to overflow with feeling was characteristic enough. 
The feeling he enshrined in three sonnets, the second of 
which, composed on the way back to Bristol with Lloyd, 
contained the luxurious notion of weeping 'idly o'er thy 
little bier!' Finding the infant, however, alive, he had to 
content himself with the melancholy — and indeed in the 
issue relevant - thought of 'all I had been, and all my child 
might be.' 'I looked on it with a melancholy gaze; my 
mind was intensely contemplative, and my heart only 
sad. But when two hours after, I v saw it at the bosom of 
its mother - on her arm - and her eye tearful and watch- 
ing its little features — then I thrilled and melted, and 
gave it the kiss of a father.' He gave it too the names 
David Hartley, trusting 'that his head would be con- 
vinced of, and his heart saturated with the truths so ably 
supported by that great Master of Christian Philosophy' - 
a master whose arguments he was incidentally to spend 
many hours of his later life in refuting. 

For the moment the joy of paternity renewed his sense 
of domestic satisfaction : 

'for the mother's sake the child was dear, 
And dearer was the mother for the child.' 

136 StAmUSL TAYLOR cols^i^qs §5 

Lloyd's delight also in 'the circumstances of his domes- 
tication' was most gratifying, the more so as he now spoke 
of the arrangement as a permanency; and when Southey, 
who had returned from Portugal, made a gesture of 
reconciliation, it was eagerly accepted. The 'blasted oak* 
of friendship might not perhaps 'put forth its buds anew,' 
but it was not for a father to cherish feelings of hostility 
towards any man. 

All these events, however, had been very agitating, and 
a reaction was inevitable. Something, he realized, must be 
done, and the thought worried and depressed. On nearer 
consideration pedagogy attracted as little as journalism. 
Was it really necessary? he asked himself, and appealed 
to Poole to confirm his own unuttered negatives. 'Can 
you conveniently receive Lloyd and me?' he wrote. 'I 
have much, very much to say to you, and to consult with 
you about; for my heart is heavy respecting Derby.' 

After a week's visit to Stowey the very thought of Dr. 
Crompton was too painful to entertain. By November 
he had wiped him from his memory. 'To live in a beauti- 
ful country,' as he wrote to Poole, 'and to enure myself 
as much as possible to the labour of the field, have been 
for this year past my dream of the day, my sigh at mid- 
night. But to enjoy these blessings near you, to see you 
daily, to tell you all my thoughts in their first birth, and 
to hear yours, to be mingling identities with you as it 
were, — the vision-weaving fancy has indeed often pictured 
such things, but hope never dared whisper a promise.' 

The rumour of a possible vacant house near Stowey 
only increased his agitation. Once again a dream seemed 
realizable, a new pantisocracy with Poole and Lloyd and 
Sara amid the Quantock Hills, 'not wearisome and bare 
and steep,' but soft and gradual as was his temper, mossed 
over with 'coloured lichens' and sprayed by 'summer tor- 
rents.' There beneath the 'red clusters of the ash': 

§5 THS DOmSSTIC T>%S^A^M 137 

'Calm Pensiveness might muse herself to sleep; 

Till haply startled by some fleecy dam, 
That rustling on the bushy clift above 
With melancholy bleat of anxious love, 

Made meek enquiry for her wandering lamb. 

Such a green mountain 'twere most sweet to climb, 
E'en while the bosom ached with loneliness — 
How more than sweet, if some dear friend should bless 

The adventurous toil, and up the path sublime 
Now lead, now follow: the glad landscape round, 
Wide and more wide, increasing without bound.' 

There he pictured himself wandering, arm linked in 
friendly arm . . . the world's vain turmoil left, until 

'eve the valley dims 
Tinged yellow with the rich departing light' 

or cheating the noons 

'in moralizing mood, 
While west winds fanned our temples toil-bedewed: 

Then downwards slope, oft pausing, from the mount, 
To some lone mansion, in some woody dale, 
Where smiling with blue eye, Domestic Bliss 
Gives this the Husband's, that the Brother's kiss!' 

But would 'Heaven realize this vision bright'? He had 
been so cruelly disillusioned before. Fancy, as he wrote 
in 'The Destiny of Nations' - an effusion closely akin to 
'The Religious Musings' upon which he was working 
at the time — might unsensualize 

'the dark mind, 
Giving it new delights'; 

but could the delights ever have any substance? Between 
desire and doubt he suffered agonies. Life itself, he felt, 


hung upon the issue. 'I so ardently desire it,' he wrote, 
'that any disappointment would chill all my faculties, 
like the ringers of death'; and four days later — 'Disap- 
pointment ! disappointment ! dash not from my trembling 
hand the bowl which almost touches my lips/ 

Such hysteria brought the inevitable physical conse- 
quences and what was now to prove the inevitable ano- 
dyne. He was seized 'with an intolerable pain from the 
right temple to the tip of the right shoulder. . . .' He was 
'nearly frantic, and ran about the house naked, endeavour- 
ing by every means to excite sensations in different parts 
of his body, and so to weaken the enemy by creating 
diversion/ It continued from one in the morning till 
half-past five, and left him 'pale and fainting/ On its 
recurrence the next day he 'took between sixty and seventy 
drops of laudanum, and sopped the Cerberus, just as his 
mouth began to open/ The next day, a Friday, 'it only 
niggled, as if the thief had departed from a conquered 
place, and merely left a small garrison behind. . . . But 
this morning he returned in full force, and his name is 
Legion. Giant-fiend of a hundred hands, with a shower 
of arrowy death-pangs he transpierced me, and then he 
became a wolf, and lay a-gnawing at my bones!' His 
medical attendant, he added, decided it to be altogether 
nervous, and that it originated 'either in severe appli- 
cation, or excessive anxiety/ He took twenty-five drops 
of laudanum every five hours and gained 'ease and spirits' 
by it. 

Coleridge was always to be remarkable as the poet and 
analyser of pathological states, because these were the 
only physical conditions from which he could not escape, 
save by narcotics, into a dream world. Of them he was, 
until they were artificially assuaged, concretely aware, 
abnormally so because of his strange insensitiveness to 
normal stimuli. 'I hear in my brain,' he was to write, 

§5 trs T>omesric T>%e*Am i 39 

'sensations ... of various degrees of pain, even to a 
strange sort of uneasy pleasure ... I hear in my brain, 
and still more in my stomach. ' 

It was the poet's pleasure in imaging for once an 
actuality, that led him to describe experiences of this kind 
so vividly, but it was also his constitutional aversion to 
actuality that made pain so much more intolerable to him 
than to the ordinary man and drove him without a 
thought of consequences to the drug which brought 
relief. Laudanum supplied the same refuge from phy- 
sical pain as first poetry and then metaphysics from 
mental pain. But the two were of course intimately 
connected. The neuralgic symptoms which he here 
described were always to coincide with periods of acute 
mental anxiety and emotional stress. 

Physical distress, however, was at the moment an 
additional argument on behalf of a move which he now 
desired with utter abandonment. It would surely banish 
any doubts which Poole might still entertain of the wis- 
dom of the step, make him realize that even the thought 
of frustration endangered not only his friend's hopes but 
his health. Meanwhile he grew more and more frenzied. 
'With a gloomy wantonness of imagination I had been 
coquetting with hideous possibles of disappointment. I 
drank fears like wormwood, yea, made myself drunken 
with bitterness ; for my ever-shaping and distrustful mind 
still mingled gall-drops, till out of the cup of hope I 
almost poisoned myself with despair. . . . My anxieties 
eat me up. ... I want consolation — my Friend 1 my 
Brother! write and console me.' Even Poole's sister 
was caught in the deluge of his -feelings : — 'I felt my heart 
overflowed with such tenderness for her as made me 
repeatedly ejaculate prayers in her behalf. 5 And then 
from despair he would rebound to hope, and even to a 
facetiousness that rang false as the hysteric's laughter. 

i 4 o s^musL r<^rLOR C0L8%iT>ge §5 

'Will you try,' he asked, 'to look out a fit servant for us - 
simple of heart, physiognomically handsome, and scien- 
tific in vaccimulgence?' 

At last Poole announced that a small, unattractive 
cottage on the street had fallen vacant. He emphasized 
its disadvantages, but Coleridge snatched at it deliriously. 
The news was so glorious as to be scarce endurable. In 
gratitude he multiplied resolutions. — 'I mean to work 
very hard — as Cook, Butler, Scullion, Shoe-Cleaner, 
occasional Nurse, Gardener, Hind, Pig-protector, Chap- 
lain, Secretary, Poet, Reviewer, and omnium-b other um 
schilling-Scavenger.' There was no end to his prospective 
activities or to the motives which determined and justified 
the step. He saw himself as a 'horticulturist and a 
farmer* managing half an acre of land, and raising on it 
with his own hands all kinds of vegetables and grain, 
enough for himself and his wife, and sufficient to feed a 
pig or two with the refuse. 

Unfortunately the cautious Poole was troubled with 
second thoughts. A better residence was obtainable 
near Bristol. Was Coleridge wise to retire to a cramped 
cottage in a remote village, far from libraries and stimu- 
lating friends? His agricultural enthusiasm was of course 
very charming, but how little would it stand the test of 
fact. These doubts he embodied in a second letter which 
crossed that containing Coleridge's acceptance. Upon 
his enthusiastic expectancy it fell like a hammer. At first 
he was numbed and replied in terms of reasonable argu- 
ment, but as the day advanced he was seized with panic. 
The edifice of rural enchantment, which for three months 
his fertile fancy had been raising, seemed to tumble about 
his ears. He was as one 'falling from the summit of his 
fondest desires, whirled from the height just as he had 
reached it.' 

The result was a second letter, penned in the evening 

§5 THS DO^MSSTIC *D*R£*A:M 141 

and continued the next morning, that approximated to 
the ravings of lunacy. 'There is one Ghost/ he wrote, 
'that I am afraid of . . . the hideous Ghost of departed 
Hope. O Poole! how could you make such a proposal to 
me? . . . Surely, surely, my friend! Something has 
occurred which you have not mentioned to me. Your 
mother has manifested a strong dislike to our living near 
you — or something or other. . . . My God ! my God ! 
what if . . . my most beloved friend has grown cold 
towards me. ... I shall be again afloat on the wide sea, 
unpiloted and unprovisioned. . . . Nothing remains pos- 
sible but a School, or Writer to a newspaper, or any 
present plan. I could not love the man who advised me 
to keep a school, or write for a newspaper. He must have 
a hard heart ! . . . Surely, surely you do not advise me to 
lean with the whole weight of my necessities on the Press? 
Ghosts indeed ! I should be haunted with Ghosts enough 
— the ghosts of Otway and Chatterton, and the phantasms 
of a wife broken-hearted, and a hunger-bitten Baby ! O 
Thomas Poole ! Thomas Poole ! if you did but know what 
a Father and a Husband must feel who toils with his 
brain for uncertain bread! I dare not think of it. The 
evil face of Frenzy looks at me. . . . Indeed, indeed, I 
am very miserable/ The whole letter covered many pages. 
Poole of course surrendered. A poet so hysterical and 
so theatrical could not be argued with. Even so his nerve 
storm necessitated a further resort to the laudanum bottle, 
the effects of which may perhaps be traced in the 'Ode on 
the Departing Year' which he wrote hastily for the Cam- 
bridge Intelligencer in the last week of December. It was, 
like all but one of his political verses, a brittle composition 
echoing the ghostly violence of Burgher's 'Leonore,' 
which he had been reading, and in a hollow fashion 
Milton's 'Nativity Ode.' Doubtless his own recent night- 
mares dictated the passage: 

142 S^^MUSL TAYLOR C0LS%IT>g8 §5 

'Yet still I gasped and reeled with dread. 
And ever, when the dream of night 
Renews the phantom to my sight, 
Cold sweat-drops gather on my limbs; 

My ears throb hot; my eye-balls start ; 
My brain with horrid tumult swims; 

Wild is the tempest of my heart; 
And my thick and struggling breath 
Imitates the toil of death/ 

But it ended on a very personal note of relief and expect- 

'Away, my soul, away ! 
In vain, in vain the birds of warning sing — 
And hark ! I hear the famished brood of prey 
Flap their lank pennons on the groaning wind! 
Away, my soul, away! 
I unpartaking of the evil thing, 
With daily prayer and daily toil 
Soliciting for food my scanty soil, 
Have wailed my country with a loud Lament. 
Now I recentre my immortal mind 

In the blest sabbath of meek self-content. ' 

So on the 30th of December, 1796, he moved to Stowey. 
The dream had materialized after all. And considering 
how much it was to mean to English poetry, Coleridge's 
satisfaction must find an echo in many hearts. 


TH6 T06TIC T>%§<AM 


' A green and silent spot' it was 'amid the hills' even 
/jj^in winter, through the feathery moss that clung to 
the stripped boughs and carpeted the airy ridges. A 
pastoral spot, where sheep-bells mingled with the gush 
of streams and the woodman wound along the deep lanes 
with laden pony. And inland up the heathy Quantocks 
ran broken coombs, half glens, half gorges, lined with 
fir and oak and forest undergrowth, with many a 'quiet 
spirit-healing nook* where silence was companionable 
even without the hum of insecls, 'that noiseless noise 
which lives in the summer air,' or the larks that filled the 

When spring came, a wanderer amid the golden furze 
on the upper slopes could look northward across a level 
of moor and marsh and meadow to the heaped mounds 
of the Mendip Hills or beyond to the Welsh mountains 
faintly pencilled in blue along the sky-line, while behind 
him stretched and, when the breeze blew inland, sounded, 
or seemed to sound, the sea. Thus like a girl between two 
Titan lovers Stowey lay, a girl too tender to be wild, too 
virginal to be profuse. It was the feminine genius of the 
place which appealed to Coleridge. With his homeless 
mind he yearned for a homely, a caressing environment. 
And he yearned for beauty too. Stowey with its cool 
foliage and swelling slopes provided both. The same 
need compelled him to write — 'My poetic vanity and my 
political furor have been exhaled, and I would rather be 
an expert self-maintaining gardener than a Milton, if I 
could not unite both.' 

In the outsider of course the avowal must have excited 
derision. Never was there a man less capable of getting 
up before breakfast to work in the garden or of cleaning 


i 4 4 SzAmUSL T^TLOR C0LS%IT>g6 §i 

out a pigsty. And yet the assertion was tragically sincere. 
Coleridge, than whom no man was more capable of self- 
analysis or less capable of self-reform, knew himself 
unbalanced, knew obscurely that only physical experience 
could cure him of the disease of himself, knew too what 
awaited him if he failed to adjust his body to his mind. 
'O this unutterable dying away here/ he was to write in a 
few months, 'this sickness of the heart!* Every decisive 
action which he had taken was directed unconsciously 
towards remedying an abnormality which tortured him 
between excitement and inertia. In a regular practical 
life at Stowey he hoped yet again to achieve balance, to 
cease to be 'depressed by weight of musing Phantasy,' to 
'tame himself down to living purposes,' to become the 
master of his moods. For thirteen years he continued 
however fitfully to struggle for that balance, and then, 
almost with relief, he abandoned the attempt. 

He began at Stowey happily enough. He was deter- 
mined to be idyllic, and the little cottage was far from 
being the old hovel' which it later became. Certainly it 
was small, dark and drab, but its strip of kitchen garden 
and orchard opened into Poole's land, and it was only a 
step to his house, or, on warm mornings, to an 'arbour' 
that invited composition. 'We are very happy,' he wrote 
in the spring, 'and my little David Hartley grows a sweet 
boy. ... I raise potatoes, and all manner of vegetables. 
. . . Our house is better than we expected. . . . Before 
our door a clear brook runs of very soft water (he did not 
mention that it was in the street) and in the backyard is a 
nice well of fine spring water. We have a pretty garden 
. . . and I am already an expert gardener.' . . . Neverthe- 
less he had to admit later that the garden was covered 
with weeds, but this was due rather to his equalitarian 
principles, since he thought it unfair to prejudice the soil 
towards roses and strawberries. Sara may possibly have 

§i THE NOETIC T>%EtA3VL 145 

thought otherwise, but neither she nor the Bristol librarian 
who dunned him for five shillings for not returning books, 
nor the mice which took advantage of his aversion to set- 
ting a trap, succeeded in quenching his impish humour, a 
humour which won the hearts of 'a number of very pretty 
young women in Stowey, all musical.' With them, he 
announced, he was 'an immense favourite; for I pun, 
conundrumize, listen, and dance,' while in the intervals 
Hartley 'laughs at us till he makes us weep for fond- 

It may be that Coleridge was scarcely as blissful as his 
correspondence suggests, since he had so long indulged 
over-statement that it had become a habit. For example, 
he told a friend at this time that after hearing of his wife's 
illness, 'Sara burst into an agony of tears that she had 
been so ill' — an improbable outburst in a woman of 
marked common sense. 

Certainly a more chastened note, a 'moody murmur' 
sounded in the dedicatory lines to his brother George, 
which at Cottle's suggestion he wrote for a second edition 
of his Poems. In these he spoke of friendships and hopes 
that had failed him, and while describing his present happi- 
ness, confessed that at times his soul was sad because he 
stood as an alien to his own kin. Once again too 'anxieties 
and slothfulness in a combined ratio' caused the printer 
exasperating delays. The revision of his Poems which 
should have been completed in a fortnight, dragged on 
until near midsummer when, supplemented with poems by 
Lamb and Lloyd, they limped into print. It was a task 
all the more grievous because his judgment was rapidly 
maturing. He began to see how flaccid much of his early 
poetry was. 'The Monody on Chatterton' for example and 
the 'Pixies' Parlour' contained less than five lines 'which 
might not have been written by a man who had lived and 
died in the self-same St. Giles' cellar, in which he had been 

146 Samuel, t^tlor coL8%iT>ge §1 

first suckled by a drab with milk and gin/ The Pixies was 
the least disgusting, 'because the subject leads you to 
expect nothing, but on a life and death so full of heart- 
going realities as poor Chatterton's, to find such shadowy 
nobodies as cherub-winged Death, Trees of Hope, blue- 
bosomed Afeclion and simpering Peace, makes one's blood 
circulate like ipecacuanha/ 

Long walks and Poole's sound sense were beginning 
to take effecl:, and when in March Sheridan invited him 
to write a play for Drury Lane he was so anxious to avoid 
muffled pieties that he plunged helplessly into melodrama. 
Incapable of human characterization or 'heart-going 
realities' he could do nothing else. The only alternative to 
the jejeune was the violent and macabre. But he was not 
satisfied. Encouraged by Charles Lamb and by that 
'divine and nightly-whispering voice, which speaks to 
mighty minds, of predestinated garlands starry and un- 
withering,' he dreamed of a great Epic on the Origin of 
Evil. The work was of vast design, as was to be expected 
of one to whom evil in the particular and the concrete 
was an unknown quantity. He contemplated devoting 
not less than twenty years to it, ten years 'to warm his 
mind with universal science. . . . Mathematics, Mechan- 
ics, Hydrostatics, Optics, Astronomy, Botany, Metallurgy, 
Fossilism, Chemistry, Geology, Anatomy, Medicine, the 
mind of man, the minds of men in all Travels, Voyages 
and Histories,' five years for composition and five for 
correction. It was an inebriating prospect, and as such 
it sufficed, materializing only in a desultory reading of 
certain books of travel, which threw little light on the 
origin of evil but did in a few months' time quite unexpec- 
tedly redound to the glory of poetry. 

Meanwhile Charles Lloyd was far from blessing 'the 
adventurous toil' or leading up 'the path sublime.' His 
fits were frequent and severe. Once they occurred three 

§ i the to eric T>%e<L££M 147 

times in the space of seven days and he remained in 'one 
continued state of agonized delirium . . . from twelve 
o'clock at night to five in the morning/ No wonder after 
such a bout that Coleridge paid for his guest 'with aching 
temple and a feeble frame' ; no wonder that, try as he would, 
Osorio, as he called his play, refused to be anything but 
morbid and overstrung, and that he could write in it 

'All men seemed mad to him, 
... In this world 
He found no fit companion.' 

He seemed to be dogged by failures. George Burnett 
was another frequent visitor, another victim to panti- 
socracy, mourning in his listless way over a lost illusion 
for which he could substitute no other aim, and, to stress 
his incapacity, developing jaundice. 

Soon enough the old depression 'too dreadful to be 
described' was to return, 'a sort of calm hopelessness' to 
diffuse itself over his heart. But on the downward path 
a magnetic influence was first to interpose, an influence 
so potent that for a few dazzled months he was to mount 
to heights which float for ever in a kind of ether above the 
deepening morass of his life. 

Earlier in the year he had wished to send some verses to 
the poet Wordsworth, whom, it seems probable, he had 
met quite formally two years before, and who was now 
living with his sister Dorothy at Racedown, only forty 
miles away. The wish persisted, but instead of sending 
verses he decided to present himself. And so on June 6 he 
went on foot from Taunton. The Wordsworths were out 
walking, and when he recognized them at a distance he 
broke from the high road, 'leapt over a gate, bounded 
down the pathless field by which he cut off an angle,' and 
introduced himself all fire and eagerness and disarray. 

The manner of his meeting was symbolical. He had 


discovered two beings to whom he could give himself, not, 
at first at least, as a sick soul but as a vital one, not as a 
pantisocrat but as a poet. And the gift was possible because 
both could return it in kind : Wordsworth thriftily as was 
his wont, but Dorothy with the adorable unreserve of a 
nature even more finely sensitive than his own. For three 
minutes only did she stand aside, doubting, assessing with 
wild and rapid glances. He was plain and pale and thin. 
He had thick lips and imperfecl teeth. And then the tide 
of his talk began and she thought no more of such things. 
'His eye/ she wrote, 'is large and full, and not very dark, 
but grey — such an eye as would receive from a heavy 
soul the dullest expression; but it speaks every emotion of 
his animated mind ; it has more of "the poet's eye in a fine 
frenzy rolling" than I ever witnessed. He has fine dark 
eyebrows, and an overhanging head/ 

It was such appreciation Coleridge needed to take fire, 
to prove himself indeed 'a wonderful man.' Insensitive 
affeclion could not work the miracle; a tolerant kindness 
could comfort, it could not quicken. But this was 'a 
woman indeed, in mind . . . and heart . . . her manner 
. . . simple, ardent, impressive. In every motion her most 
innocent soul outbeams so brightly, that who saw her 
would say 

"Guilt was a thing impossible in her." 

Her information various. Her eye watchful in minutest 
observation of nature; and her taste a perfect electrometer. 
It binds, protrudes and draws in, at subtlest beauties and 
most recondite faults.' 

Such was Wordsworth's 'exquisite sister'; and she who 
gave her brother eyes and ears, gave Coleridge a year of 
faith in his own wonder-working genius, and paid, it seems 
probable, for her power to do so in the melancholy vacuity 
of after years. 

§2 TH6 TO STIC D?(6^<<M 149 

But Wordsworth himself too contributed to the miracle. 
Two years older than Coleridge, he was just twenty- 
eight. Gaunt, narrow-shouldered and prematurely prim, 
the impression he made was in strong contrast with that 
of his sister, whose ardent sensibility proclaimed itself 
with a certain gipsy wildness in every motion and glance, 
in quick flushing and impulsive speech. Her instin£t 
was so plainly, so fiercely, yet delicately vital. But in him 
the same fire seemed bleakly incased. It smouldered in 
the eyes, but the face as a whole was too strong, austere, 
and uncouth to reflect a flow of feeling. It suggested a 
nature more capable of spiritual solemnity than responsive 

Yet in several ways Wordsworth's experience had par- 
alleled that of Coleridge. From childhood his vision was 
abnormal. 'I was often,' he wrote, 'unable to think of 
external things as having external existence, and I com- 
muned with all that I saw as something not apart from, 
but inherent in, my own immaterial nature. Many times 
while going to school have I grasped a wall or tree to 
recall myself from this abyss of idealism to the reality.' 
For him too therefore as a poet the absorbing problem 
was how to relate this subjective radiance, this 

'something in myself, a dream, 
A prospect in the mind,' 

to the facts of life. Recent events had made a solution of 
this problem absolutely imperative. With far more sin- 
cerity than Coleridge he had indulged the hopes generated 
in every young and liberal heart by the French Revo- 
lution, and when the 'pyre' that he had raised 'upon the 
basis of the coming time . . . fell in ruins' round him, 
disillusionment struck down to the roots of his nature 

i5-o S^ASVLVSL TAYLOR C0L6%IT>ge §2 

and reduced him to impotence. For his enthusiasms had 
not been, like Coleridge's, the mere vapours of an in- 
dulgent sensibility. His mysticism might play strange 
tricks with his sense-perception, but this was not due to 
any lack of animal instinct, but only to an excessive 
self-absorption. Similarly Nature for him was not an 
abstraction, but an intimate sensation of force, freedom 
and life, which he wished to realize and justify in his own 
creative expression, and men and nations to realize in 
their social and international relationships. 

He had not succeeded in realizing it in the poetry which 
he had yet written — 'Descriptive Sketches,' 'Guilt and 
Sorrow* and the 'Borderers' — because he had entangled 
his creative powers in the emotional individualism of 
Rousseau and the rational of Godwin. And when France 
had declared war upon England four years before, it was 
not France that seemed disproved, but the very instinct 
of Nature which quickened him to expressiveness. The 
shock to his moral nature, aggravated by a bitter personal 
experience of frustration in a romantic attachment, para- 
lysed his creative powers. He could not, like Coleridge, 
temper the shock by sophistry. If Nature, as he under- 
stood her in the fibres of his being, was a blind, destructive 
agency, he had no right to sentimentalize her in poetry. 
The one outlet for his fierce, retentive egotism seemed 
closed and the gloom of impotence settled upon him. 

It was thus at a time when 

'Nature within me seemed 
In all her functions weary of herself,' 

when even Dorothy could not quicken faith, but only 
sharpen sensibility, that Coleridge bounded down the 
pathless field and opened a way to self-escape. And the 
service was reciprocated, not so much through any gener- 
osity on Wordsworth's part (it was Dorothy who gave), 

§2 me to eric T>%e^^M 151 

as because his stability, his very limitations of character 
were in themselves for a time a reinforcement to Coleridge, 
provided him with a foundation of confidence and under- 
standing from which he could take his amazing leap into 
the enchanted unknown. Coleridge needed some one posi- 
tive and practical to spur him to activity, Wordsworth 
needed another's emotional faith to enable him to master 
creatively the bitter knowledge of fact he had acquired. 
It was thus, as he later gratefully acknowledged, that 
Coleridge gave: 

'O capacious soul! 
Placed on this earth to love and understand, 
And from thy presence shed the light of love, 
Shall I be mute, ere thou be spoken of? 
Thy kindred influence to my heart of hearts 
Did also find its way. Thus fear relaxed 
Her overwhelming grasp; thus thoughts and things 
In the self-haunting spirit learned to take 
More rational proportions/ 

The fruit of this alliance was in Wordsworth a ten years' 
wonder of human achievement, in Coleridge little more 
than a ten months' wonder of inhuman witchery. Both 
were egotists, both were fighting inertia, but with a differ- 
ence. Both had found that mere individualism led only to 
disillusion; Coleridge for example was projecting at this 
very moment 'a book of morals in answer to Godwin,' 
while the villain of the 'Borderers' was a Godwinian 
rationalist. But while Wordsworth discovered release in a 
profoundly sympathetic and detailed study of Nature and 
of unsophisticated men, Coleridge could only escape by 
unworldly ecstasy. Wordsworth read the real into the 
commonplace, Coleridge made the fantastic real; the one 
illuminated actual life before coming prosaically to terms 
with it, the other but faintly touched it either in the 


morning moment of his romantic rapture or the long 
cloudy afternoon of his philosophic compromise. 

This fundamental difference existed from the beginning 
and revealed itself in their first plan as collaborators, in 
which it was agreed that Coleridge should endeavour to 
give 'a human interest and a semblance of truth' to things 
supernatural, and Wordsworth 'the charm of novelty to 
things of every day'; but it was not until later when 
differences arose and Coleridge suffered from being identi- 
fied with certain of Wordsworth's critical opinions, that 
he would admit how fundamental the difference was. He 
needed and profited too much by Wordsworth's friend- 
ship, and was himself too gratefully sympathetic to ac- 
knowledge it for many years. And meanwhile he infused 
into Wordsworth his own idealism when he was about to 
lapse into a materialist conception of the universe, from 
which no poetry could flower, without making him the 
helpless transcendentalist he was himself. 

Wordsworth's matter-of-facl:ness — the uninspired com- 
monplace which alone survived when ten years later the 
fire had almost burnt itself out - ensured him against the 
unsubstantial ecstasy which was all that Coleridge himself 
had to give. But it was Coleridge, with his feminine 
generosity and infinitely subtler mind, who kindled the 
fire which Wordsworth's masculine limitations were to 
make effective. For, as he was to write — 'Of all the men 
I ever knew, Wordsworth has the least femineity in his 
mind. He is all man. He is a man of whom it might have 
been said — It is good for him to be alone.' It was disas- 
trous for Coleridge to be alone. His powers at once dis- 
solved in self-pity. He began to whine about his condition 
or philosophize his failure. Wordsworth and his sister 
between them gave him for a season a sense of partnership 
in poetic enterprise, and fortified by it he suddenly floated 
into pure poetic achievement. 

§2 me vosric D^eam 153 

'I find an unmixed pleasure in esteeming and admiring/ 
wrote Coleridge, and he indulged it to the utmost in these 
first days of intercourse with Wordsworth. He found the 
'Borderers' 'absolutely wonderful,' vowed it rose to the 
level of Schiller and Shakespeare without their 'inequali- 
ties,' and spoke of his friend now as 'the Giant,' and soon 
as 'the only man to whom at all times and in all modes of 
excellence I feel myself inferior.' 

Brother and sister came on a fortnight's visit to Stowey 
in July, and on the 7th Charles Lamb, sad, shy, but to 
whom no sound was 'dissonant which tells of life,' came 
too. Suddenly Coleridge found himself more profoundly 
in harmony with things than he had ever known. It did 
not matter that Sara accidentally emptied a skillet of 
boiling milk on his foot which confined him to house and 
garden. He had found 'the sympathy of human faces' 
which he needed, and he could feed on his contentment 
only the more blissfully when its originators were momen- 
tarily away. Sitting in Poole's arbour one evening he 
followed them in fancy and put his fancy into verse: 

i ? 

'Well, they are gone, and here must I remain. 
This lime-tree bower my prison ! I have lost 
Beauties and feelings, such as would have been 
Most sweet to my remembrance even when age 
Hath dimmed mine eyes to blindness ! They meanwhile 
Friends, whom I never more may meet again, 
On springy heath, along the hill-top edge 
Wander in gladness, and wind down, perchance, 
To that still roaring dell, of which I told 

'Yes! they wander on 
In gladness all; but thou, methinks, most glad, 
My gentle-hearted Charles! for thou hast pined 

154 S^^MUSL T^TLOR C0L8%IT>QS §2 

And hungered after Nature, many a year, 

In the Great City pent, winning thy way 

With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain 

And strange calamity ! Ah! slowly sink 

Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun ! 

Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb, 

Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds! 

Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves! 

And kindle, thou blue Ocean! So my friend 

Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood, 

Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round 

On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem 

Less gross than bodily; and of such hues 

As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes 

Spirits perceive his presence. 

A delight 
Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad 
As I myself were there!' 

The relaxed note was there, but it was informed with 

lively joy.' The consequence was first a finer focus of 

vision. His senses were quickened. Indeed, judging by 

such passages as the following, for example, it might seem 

that Dorothy, of whom in the first version of the poem he 

spoke as 'my sister,' had already given him eyes kindred 

to her own: tj , 

the sea, 

With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up 

The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles 

Of purple shadow!' 

'and I watched 
Some broad and sunny leaf, and loved to see 
The shadow of the leaf and stem above, 
Dappling its sunshine.' 

And secondly his idealism was for the moment almost 

§2 me <Poeric t>%s^a^m 155 

pinned to earth. His benevolent, visionary mind on this 
lovely July evening had established a real contact with the 
richly-tinged walnut-tree, 'the dark green file of long lank 
weeds' and the bat that wheeled in the twilight. The life 
directly about him had at last an existence of its own. It 
was hut completely overlaid by the unreality of himself. 
And so he could cry: 

'Henceforth I shall know 
That Nature ne'er deserts the wise and pure; 
No plot so narrow, be but Nature there, 
No waste so vacant, but may well employ 
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart 
Awake to Love and Beauty V 

It was a knowledge which he could help Wordsworth to 
acquire but could not retain himself. In these lines, 
among the finest of all his communings with Nature, he 
put in to the haven from which he was soon to be driven 
on homeless wanderings. A sense of 'the kind "charities" ' 
of relationship, as the gentle-hearted Charles called it, a 
relationship that came as near to physical expression as 
ever he required, enabled him to do so, set him right, as 
it were, with the human world, and through it with the 
inanimate. Instead of being suffocated by his own tender- 
ness, it opened a way for him to the heart of life. 

Such was the first transient fruit of this phenomenal 
friendship, and when, before the fortnight's visit was over, 
the Wordsworths secured a house at Alfoxden, only three 
miles distant, its continuance was assured. Henceforth 
Coleridge and they saw as much of one another 'as if the 
width of a street, and not a pair of coombes' had separated 
them. They were 'three people but one soul.' Later in 
the month too the neighbourhood was outraged by the 
arrival of a notorious Jacobin, named Thelwall, who had 
suffered imprisonment for his views and so attracted 

156 StA&lUSL TzAYLOR QOLei(IDgS §2 

Coleridge's sympathy. The ultimate consequences of this 
visit both to Coleridge and Wordsworth were consider- 
able, since Citizen Thelwall's presence brought even 
Wordsworth under suspicion, and although Poole assured 
the owner of Alfoxden of his tenant's entire respectability, 
he refused to extend the lease of the house beyond a year. 

But the supposed conspirators had no thought of the 
future as they rambled among the plantations, passing 
sentence on the productions and characters of the age, 
bursting forth in poetical flights of enthusiasm, and philo- 
sophizing their minds into a state of tranquillity. They 
agreed that it was 'a place to reconcile one to all the 
jarrings and conflicts of the wide world.' Coleridge was 
quite naively charmed by the fact that Thelwall should 
prove a great favourite with Sara, for the energetic activity 
which was his 'master feature,' and doubtless Sara herself, 
exposed to a rather invidious comparison 'with a more 
intellectual person' and naturally a trifle jealous of her 
husband's long walks with Dorothy, was nothing loth to 
emphasize her appreciation. 

Meanwhile the work on Osorio advanced, and in 
October he sent the play to Sheridan. He had little hope 
of its 'success or even of its being acted' ; for he knew his 
weakness as a dramatist. He could not create character 
because he was not intimate enough with humanity, could 
not lose himself impersonally in men and women. The 
'sentimental moralist' which his hero represented was 
certainly more real because more personal than the sophis- 
ticated villain, but both were incapable of natural action. 
And metaphysical speculations, which are not inwoven 
into a play's action or significantly related to an actor's 
character, as in Hamlet, are irrelevant. Osorio had some 
poetical but little dramatic merit. At best Coleridge could 
only project his own sentiments like a ventriloquist into 
puppets or knock their heads violently together. 

§2 TH6 ^POETIC D%e<^^M 157 

And at moments, even in this halcyon period, the fact 
depressed him. He began to feel that the harmony with 
Nature which he had boasted was a passing illusion. 
Within him at least she seemed again 'in all her functions, 
weary of herself.' But, as he wrote, 'God remains,' and, 
what was more important, Wordsworth did. He could 
forget his failure in daily conversation. In talk he had the 
sensation of drifting, and his liking for the sensation led 
him to plan a great poem on Man, Nature and Society 
which should flow like a brook in its course from upland 
source to the sea. But even a brook was too confined. If 
only 'along some ocean's boundless solitude' he could 
'float for ever with a careless course'! 

Sometimes his talk with Wordsworth as they rambled 
along the top of the Quantocks did float about such ulti- 
mates. How was personality to be reconciled with 
infinity? Was a sheet of paper, as a thing in itself, 
separate from the phenomenon or image in the percep- 
tion? Granted the existence of a Being, the ground of 
all existence, was He necessarily a moral Creator and 

But Wordsworth's metaphysical range was limited. 
He preferred to confine his theorizing to poetry and not 
then to stray too far into abstractions. It was therefore on 
the relations of actuality and imagination, of the natural 
and the supernatural in poetry that their conversation 
most frequently turned. They were both convinced of the 
sterility of pseudo-classical verse, but while Coleridge 
was particularly alive to its commonplace content, its 
failure to give the interest of novelty by the modifying 
colours of imagination,' Wordsworth stressed the artifi- 
ciality of its diction. He argued that poetry should employ 
the language of ordinary,' or, as he sometimes described 
it, 'of real life,' and should choose simple and even collo- 
quial subjects. What he inferred by 'ordinary' or 'real' was 

158 S^^MUSL TAYLOR C0L8%IT>gS §2 

somewhat doubtful and scarcely satisfied Coleridge's taste 
for metaphysical definition, but it was enough that he 
wished to inject reality into poetry from below as Coleridge 
himself did from above. His statement of principle might 
be confused, though Coleridge was too sympathetic to 
stress the point, but it was his practice which mattered, and 
there was no doubt that in that he was beginning to 
achieve a reality which transcended altogether the elegant 
correctness of Pope and his school. 

Coleridge was so convinced of it that on reading an 
account of the effects of witchcraft on the Negroes in the 
West Indies he made it the basis of what he called a com- 
mon Ballad-tale supposed to be told in homely diction 
by an old sexton in a country churchyard to a traveller 
whose curiosity had been awakened by three graves. 
The story of 'The Three Graves,' as it was later named, was 
certainly too fantastic and macabre for Wordsworth, but 
Wordsworth's influence is evident enough in the diction, 
although Coleridge was later to deny that the poem was 
in any way connected with his views on diction. With his 
views indeed it may not have been, but one so sensitive 
to any influence as he, could not associate with Words- 
worth for some weeks and listen to his poetry without 
reflecting its tone and accent. Wordsworth affected his 
style; he made it simpler and purged it of superfluous 
epithets without affecting in any way the nature of his 
poetical experience. 

When Coleridge tried to be homely, as he did occa- 
sionally in this ballad, the result was a parody of Words- 
worth's worst manner: 

'But Ellen, spite of miry ways 

And weather dark and dreary, 
Trudged every day to Edward's house 

And made them all more cheery. 

§2 THE TOSttC T>%8*Am 159 

'Oh! Ellen was a faithful friend, 

More dear than any sister! 
As cheerful too as singing lark; 
And she ne'er left them till 'twas dark, 
And then they always missed her.' 

The error in Wordsworth's theory concerning the inherent 
poetical virtue of 'the language of ordinary life' could 
not be better exemplified. But when Coleridge, while 
echoing Wordsworth's manner, sought to express his own 
morbid, necromantic consciousness, the result was not 
poetry perhaps, but the first crude vibrations of a poetry 
which in the next few months was to sound in perfection. 
It is not difficult for example to parallel such stanzas as 
the following in 'The Ancient Mariner': 

"Tis sweet to hear a brook, 'tis sweet 

To hear the Sabbath-bell, 

'Tis sweet to hear them both at once 

Deep in a woody dell.' 

'A tiny sun, and it has got 

A perfect glory too; 
Ten thousand threads and hairs of light, 
Make up a glory gay and bright 

Round that small orb, so blue.' 

Or these in 'Christabel': 

'Dear Ellen did not weep at all, 

But closelier did she cling, 

And turned her face and looked as if 

She saw some frightful thing.' 

"Twas such a foggy time as makes 

Old sextons, Sir, like me, 

Rest on their spades to cough; the spring 

Was late uncommonly.' 

160 S^A^MUSL T^TLOR C0LS1{IT>ge §2 

The strange blending of the supernatural element in 
himself with the natural diction of Wordsworth had begun. 
He was exciting his visionary mind by reading and emu- 
lating Swedenborg and Bohme. He suspended for some 
hours of the day 'all communication with sensible objects' 
and he confided to his note-book — 'Certainly, there are 
strange things in the other world, and so there are in all 
the steps to it; and a little glimpse of Heaven . . . any 
communication from the spirit of Comfort, which God 
gives to his servants in strange and unknown manners — 
are infinitely far from illusions/ And to Thelwall he wrote : 
'All things appear little^ all the knowledge that can be 
acquired child's play. . . . My mind feels as if it ached 
to behold and know Something Great, something one 
and indivisible. . . . But in this faith all things counterfeit 
infinity. ... It is but seldom that I raise and spiritualize 
my intellect to this height. ... I should much wish, like 
the Indian Vishnu, to float about along an infinite ocean 
cradled in the flower of the Lotus, and wake once in a 
million years for a few minutes just to know that I was 
going to sleep a million years more.' 

But fortunately Wordsworth, the pedestrian, was at 
hand to save these dreams from the void of somnambulism 
and induce Coleridge to convert them into feelings of vivid 
sense in a poem which has not its like, nor can have its 
like, as its author later claimed, in the English tongue. 

On November 13, at half-past four on a dark and 
cloudy afternoon, Coleridge, Wordsworth and Dorothy 
set out on a walk to Watchet, intending from there to 
explore the coast as far as Linton and the Valley of the 
Stones. Their expenses were to be defrayed by a poem 
jointly composed on the way, for which they hoped that 
the editor of the Monthly Magazine would offer them £5. 
As they plodded along the Quantock Hills they searched 
after a possible theme. Coleridge had recently had a dream 

§2 the to eric D^e^m 161 

described to him by a friend in which a skeleton ship 
figured, manned by a ghostly navigator, and with this 
dream he associated incidents from various strange voy- 
ages of which he had been reading in books of travel, 
particularly an Epistle of Saint Paulinus to Macarius, 
telling of a miraculous shipwreck. Wordsworth, more 
interested in facl: than fantasy, remembered that Sheve- 
locke reported in his Voyages that he had frequently seen 
an albatross while doubling Cape Horn. Suppose,' said 
he, with a typical desire to blend the moral even with the 
miraculous, 'you represent him as having killed one of 
these birds on entering the South Sea, and that the tutelary 
spirits of these regions take upon them to avenge the 

The idea fired Coleridge. He wanted something to 
justify the purely spiritual experience with which he knew 
his poetical powers to be most at home, and the ideas of 
vengeance and remorse appealed to him the more easily 
for their recent embodiment in Osorio. The two poets 
began composing together, or rather Coleridge uttered 
the first stanzas with the certainty of one repeating an 
incantation, and when he drew breath Wordsworth began 
to furnish a line or two. He furnished: 

'He holds him with his glittering eye - ' 

he furnished: 

'And listens like a three years' child 
The Mariner hath his will.' 

And after that, save for the lines: 

'And thou art long, and lank, and brown 
As is the ribbed sea-sand,' 

the Mariner had his will. 

For Coleridge was launched on strange seas where 

162 S^^MUSL TAYLOR C0L£<%IT>g6 §2 

Wordsworth could not follow him; his sails were caught 
in the wind of creative ecstasy : 

'I moved, and could not feel my limbs 
I was so light — almost 
I thought that I had died in sleep, 
And was a blessed ghost. 

'And soon I heard a roaring wind: 
It did not come anear; 
But with its sound it shook the sails, 
That were so thin and sere.' 

The act of walking and in such company had released him. 
All the horrors which his uneasy nerves had stored, the 
apparitions that he had glimpsed, the strange reptiles 
he had read of, the sweet sounds of the June countryside 
so luxuriously absorbed, even the bassoon that had been 
added to the Stowey choir were suddenly caught in and 
overmastered by the need and delight of expression, an 
expression almost as involuntary as the movement of his 
body in walking. He had discovered 'the pleasurable 
activity of mind excited by the attractions of the journey 
itself. Like the motion of a serpent ... or like the path 
of sound through air ; — at every step he pauses and half 
recedes, and from the retrogressive movement collects 
the force which again carries him onward/ It was as if 
the vague images some still pool had reflected in its weedy 
depths suddenly rose to the surface when its waters 
were stirred to motion and floated there exquisitely 

It is surely significant that Coleridge's finest poem and 
perhaps the finest descriptive passage in his letters should 
have been rooted in physical activity. Bodily movement 
enabled him to escape the stagnation which entangled his 
faculties. It was that stagnation which he imaged in the 

§2 the <poeric T>%e*Am 163 

becalming of the ship while Death and Life-in-Death 
diced for the Mariner. This and the subsequent effortless 
movement of the ship were symbols of his own spiritual 
experience, of his sense of the lethargy that smothered his 
creative powers and his belief that only by some miracle 
of ecstasy which transcended all personal volition, he 
could elude a temperamental impotence. Impotence was 
the daemon that he feared: 

'Like one, that on a lonesome road 
Doth walk in fear and dread, 
And having once turned round walks on, 
And turns no more his head; 
Because he knows a frightful fiend 
Doth close behind him tread . . .' 

It was the sense too of death haunting his own creative 
desire that made so poignant his love of gliding, glittering, 
tensely animated and tireless things, or that urged him to 
fling himself with a nightmare feverishness into the wild 
elements of nature, as in 

'The upper air burst into life! 
And a hundred fire-flags sheen, 
To and fro, and in and out, 
The wan stars danced between. 

'And the coming wind did roar more loud, 
And the sails did sigh like sedge; 
And the rain poured down from one black cloud; 
The Moon was at its edge.' 

Like the Mariner 'in his loneliness and fixedness he 
yearneth towards the journeying Moon, and the stars that 
still sojourn, yet still move onward; and everywhere the 
blue sky belongs to them, and is their appointed rest, and 


their native country and their own natural homes/ For 
the moment he had himself found that natural home when 
he wrote: 

'The moving Moon went up the sky 
And nowhere did abide: 
Softly she was going up, 
And a star or two beside/ 

In such lines he was one with the elements he worshipped 
for their buoyancy as he was with the water-snakes that 

'moved in tracks of shining white 
And when they reared, the elfish light 
Fell off in hoary flakes. 

'Within the shadow of the ship 
I watched their rich attire: 
Blue, glossy green, and velvet black, 
They coiled and swam; and every track 
Was a flash of golden fire. 

'O happy living things! no tongue 
Their beauty might declare: 
A spring of love gushed from my heart, 
And I blessed them unaware/ 

It was by this creative communion with living things that 
Coleridge, like his 'Ancient Mariner/ sought the absolu- 
tion he longed for. 

Fully to live is not merely to reflect but to create, 
whether in life or art or thought, and Coleridge, being 
essentially a poet, hungered for such a life in sickly defi- 
ance of a slothful nature. As he was to write later: 'all 
the produces of the mere reflective faculty partook of 
death, and were as the rattling twigs and sprays in winter, 
into which a sap was yet to be propelled from some root 

§2 THS <P0STIC T)%8*Am 165 

to which I had not penetrated, if they were to afford my 
soul either food or shelter.' 

In 'The Ancient Mariner' even his indolence trembled 
with life and motion: 

'Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing 
Beloved from pole to pole! 
To Mary Queen the praise be given! 
She sent the Gentle Sleep from Heaven, 
That slid into my soul.' 

And finally, what an allegory of his own longing to escape 
from the solitude of an abnormal consciousness the con- 
clusion of the poem is! 

'I pass, like night, from land to land; 
I have strange power of speech; 
That moment that his face I see, 
I know the man that must hear me: 
To him my tale I teach,' 

is himself seeking relief throughout his life in endless 
monologues, because 

'this soul hath been 
Alone on a wide wide sea: 
So lonely 'twas that God Himself 
Scarce seemed there to be.' 

It is his own never-satisfied need of simple, devout human 
relationships which speaks in 

'O sweeter than the marriage-feast, 
'Tis sweeter far to me 
To walk together to the kirk 
With a goodly company!' 

and his own childlike affection for everything without 
distinction in 


'He prayeth best who loveth best 
All things both great and small; 
For the dear God who loveth us, 
He made and loveth all.' 

Finally in 

'It is the Hermit good! 
He singeth loud his godly hymns 
That he makes in the wood. 
He'll shrieve my soul, he'll wash away 
The Albatross's blood/ 

he strangely forecasted the conventional religious sanclu- 
ary to which he himself was at last to resort, when a wreck, 
with warped planks and sere sails, he drifted over the 
harbour-bar of Highgate. 

To emphasize these personal parallels may seem a trifle 
superfluous, since Coleridge, of course, could not have 
achieved the imaginative triumph of the poem without 
projecting himself into every tone and gesture of his 
Mariner. But it is perhaps well to do so, if only to show 
why the poem reaches a higher level of reality than any 
other which he wrote. 

It was no mere miracle of inventive fantasy, but an 
involuntary but inevitable projection into imagery of his 
own inner discord. The Mariner's sin against Nature in 
shooting the Albatross imaged his own morbid divorce 
from the physical: and the poem was therefore moral in 
its essence, in its implicit recognition of creative values 
and of the spiritual death which dogs their frustration. 

Imagination can only be moral in this ultimate sense, 
and the explicit moral inserted at the end of the poem was 
a descent from the pure imaginative level. Coleridge 
knew that imagination was distinguished from fancy by 
its deeper loyalty to the creative principles, to the positive 

§2 THE NOETIC T>%S*Am 167 

truth of life, and that this was its only moral obligation. 
But he knew also how slight a hold he himself had upon 
such principles and such truth, how often his dreams were 
vague and disorganic, how insecurely he lived beyond 
good and evil. And so as 'The Ancient Mariner' drew to 
a close, his fears returned. Had he been after all a mere 
romancer? Was the illusion, which he had achieved, true 
or false, arbitrary or necessary? Troubled, as he always 
was in his passive moments, with the sense of a vital moral 
obligation which he could not meet, he concluded his 
poem, as he was to conclude his life, with a conventional 

But to emphasize the personal reference of the poem 
shows also that the miracle which had occurred had its 
roots in everything which had gone before. Coleridge's 
nature was not changed by his association with the Words- 
worths or by the walk to Watchet, but his powers were 
suddenly co-ordinated. His whole spirit was at last 
engaged in an experience, which harmonized the passive 
and active tendencies of his nature, concentrated emotions 
previously diffused and charged the whole with creative 
delight. The very defects of his nature, its obscure dis- 
cords, were unconsciously fused, as in a dream, and in- 
voluntarily dramatized in the person of a Mariner out- 
lawed in a silent, festering sea. 

The cause of this sudden transmutation of weakness 
into strength was perhaps the physical stimulus of walking 
with such companions and the fact that the theme and 
form of the poem was exactly suited to release his imagina- 
tion from self-consciousness. For the form he was con- 
siderably indebted to Wordsworth, not so much for any 
details of ballad metre, as for the simple, natural diction 
which, with his amazing powers of speedy assimilation, he 
had spontaneously acquired and employed for effects which 
were quite alien to Wordsworth's experience. 

168 S^JMUSL TzAYLOR COLS%[T>ge §2 

Eight miles of the journey were enough to convince 
Wordsworth of that. It was evidently an undertaking, 
whatever its ultimate value might be, upon which he 
could only be 'a clog.* That 'willing suspension of dis- 
belief,* which constituted Coleridge's poetic faith, was not 
his. How little it was his may be judged from his later 
criticism of the poem in which he wrote that it 'has indeed 
great defects ; first that the principal person has no distinct 
character, either in his profession of Mariner, or as a 
human being . . . : secondly, that he does not act, but is 
continually acted upon : thirdly, that the events having no 
necessary connection do not produce each other; and 
lastly, that the imagery is too laboriously accumulated.' 

This formidable and rather foolish indictment was due 
to his inability to allow that imagination could dispense 
with fact, or to recognize a pure poetic value which trans- 
cended human dimensions and transported human emo- 
tion into an unmapped region of sea and air. Regarded 
as a sequence of lyrical moods 'The Ancient Mariner' was 
perfectly related. It had its own higher logic, and Words- 
worth's censures were as irrelevant as a literal application 
of the Aristotelian canon of the dramatic unities to 'The 
Tempest' or a play of Maeterlinck. Genius, as Coleridge 
was later to remark, is constituted in 'the power of acting 
creatively under laws of its own organization.' And the 
laws are necessarily modified by the nature of the subject 
matter which they govern. 

If Coleridge had attempted to make the poem more 
concrete or humanly intelligible, it would have sunk 
immediately to the level of 'The Three Graves.' His 
imagination flagged at the touch of fact : it only moved 
coherently and vitally in a dream world, and 'the obtrusion 
of the moral sentiment' later seemed to him, and rightly, 
a fault in a work of such pure imagination. 

Coleridge was drawn to Wordsworth because he pos- 

§2 TH6 VOSriC T>%8*Am 169 

sessed the moral and local sense of life which he himself 
lacked, because he sought to penetrate deeper into life as 
it was lived by ordinary men, and to make the world yield 
a meaning. At first companionship with such a man 
sustained him, helping him, as has been shown, to simplify 
and more adequately materialize his own very different 
experience. But little by little it depressed him. The 
finer flame was quenched by the stronger. Wordsworth's 
solider sense of things, of human beings and moral rela- 
tions, served only to intensify his dissatisfaction with his 
own dream-shadowed, introspective genius. Unfortu- 
nately he was too moral and metaphysically minded himself 
to be content to be a purely lyrical poet, communicating 
immediate experience valued only for itself; and yet he 
lacked the faculty to be anything else. Ought he, he 
increasingly asked himself, to reject the actual to enjoy 
the ideal? Had such an ideal any desirable reality? Was 
he harmonizing his own experience merely by avoiding its 
discord? Had poetry of this kind only the superficial 
charm of strangeness? 

That was his dilemma, and Wordsworth's virtues 
aggravated it. To use the terms of a distinction made by 
a modern critic, Wordsworth's aim as a poet was that of 
interpretation, Coleridge's that of refuge, and the fact 
made him ashamed of taking flight from a world of dis- 
tress and discord into that peculiar world of his own which 
was under a spell. It made him long for self-command 
when all his hopes of realizing his genius lay in self- 

The process of disillusion had begun which was to end 
in his writing to Godwin : 'If I die and the booksellers will 
give you anything for my Life, be sure to say, "Words- 
worth descended on him like the yvcbdi aeavrov from 
heaven; and by showing him what true poetry was, he 
made him know that he himself was no poet." ' 

170 SiAZMUSL TiAYLOR C 0L S c RJ'Dg8 §3 


The rejection of Osorio by Sheridan in December must 
have increased his doubts, and when in the same month 
he was invited to preach at a Unitarian chapel at Shrews- 
bury as a prospective candidate for the Ministry, he 
accepted thevoffer. He disliked 'preaching God's holy 
word for hire/ but literature promised to bring him 
nothing, except pain and unrest, while these were as 'the 
fertilizing rain' to a professionally 'religious benevolent 
man' whose life was 'an April day/ 

It was true that the 'hey-day of hope' and enthusiasm in 
which absolute religious and political liberty seemed so 
necessary and desirable was already passing. He was half 
disgusted with the 'absurdities of sectarian and democratic 
fanaticism/ and no longer derived any pleasure from 
mounting 'his darling hobby-horse, "the republic of 
God's own making" ' or from scattering 'levelling sedi- 
tion/ The very freedom which Unitarianism claimed for 
the individual, the emphasis it laid on rational judgment, 
failed to satisfy both his mystical bent and his need of 
substantial support. Secretly he began to feel that the 
Established Church was more likely to satisfy his require- 
ments. It was a venerable and respectable institution, 
which offered to its inmates, with a very small sacrifice of 
personal conviction, a solid sense of security. 

But it did not offer a yearly stipend of £150, and so 
he went by coach to Shrewsbury and was entertained by 
Mr. Rowe, whom he contemplated succeeding. Among 
the congregation on the Sunday morning was one William 
Hazlitt, the son of a neighbouring minister, who had 
walked ten miles in the mud to hear him preach, a young 
man whose mind was full of thoughts which he could not 
express and who was therefore the more amazed at the 
volubility of the 'round-faced man in black/ with never- 

§3 TH8 TOeriC T>%EiA£M 171 

thelcss 'a strange wildness in his aspect,' who rose and 
gave out as his text, 'And he went up into the mountain 
to pray, himself alone/ in a voice, too, which, as he de- 
scribed it in days no longer inarticulate, * "rose like a 
stream of rich distilled perfumes' ' ; and when he came to the 
last words, which he pronounced loud, deep, and distinct,' 
it seemed to his listener 'as if the sounds had echoed from 
the bottom of the human heart, and as if that prayer might 
have floated in solemn silence through the universe.' 

Doubtless it was the soul of the Mariner so recently 
'alone on a wide wide sea' that gave to Coleridge's voice 
so reverberating an intonation. And the sermon upon 
peace and war was a kindred incantation. 'I could not 
have been more delighted,' wrote Hazlitt, 'if I had heard 
the music of the spheres. Poetry and Philosophy had met 
together. Truth and Genius had embraced under the eye 
and with the sanction of Religion.' 

On the following Tuesday the enchanter called on 
Hazlitt's father, and while he 'glanced over a variety of 
subjects' the same observer had an opportunity of marking 
more closely his features. 'His complexion was . . . clear, 
and even bright. His forehead . . . broad and high, light 
as if built of ivory, with large projecting eyebrows, and 
his eyes rolling beneath them, like a sea with darkened 
lustre. . . . His mouth was gross, voluptuous, open, 
eloquent ; his chin good-humoured and round ; but his 
nose, the rudder of the face, the index of the will, was 
small, feeble, nothing. ... It might seem that the genius 
of his face as from a height surveyed and projected him 
. . . into the world unknown of thought and imagination, 
with nothing to support or guide his veering purpose. . . . 
His person was rather above the common size, inclining 
to the corpulent. . . . His hair . . . black and glossy as 
the raven's . . . fell in smooth masses over his forehead.' 

The next morning, however, a letter arrived which 

172 SzAmUSL TAYLOR C0L83?IT>g8 §3 

promised both to support and guide his veering purpose. 
Among Poole's friends, with whom Coleridge had become 
acquainted, were two brothers, Thomas and Josiah Wedg- 
wood, sons of the famous potter. They had inherited a 
considerable fortune, of which they regarded themselves 

'rather as Trustees than Proprietors.' Thomas suffered 


from an obscure disease, which he was incessantly strug- 
gling to cure or relieve, but which was in fact incurable. 
He was an excellent chemist, but this unfortunately 
induced him to experiment continually with drugs in the 
hope of recovering his health. He was also deeply inter- 
ested in metaphysics and this was the chief bond between 
Coleridge and himself. When the two brothers heard that 
Coleridge intended abandoning poetry and philosophy for 
the Ministry, they sent him £100 in the hope of dissuad- 
ing him. Coleridge thanked them but returned the cheque. 
It offered no security for the future. But on the Wednes- 
day morning at the Hazlitts' house he received another 
letter offering him on the same terms a regular yearly 
annuity of £150, an annuity 'to be independent of 
everything* but the wreck of his benefactors' fortune. It 
arrived with a covering letter from Poole, who wrote to 
his 'dearly beloved' that 'it would be palsying that bene- 
volence, which, God be praised, does exist in the human 
breast, to think of refusing it.' 

Coleridge decided to accept the offer while he was tying 
on one of his shoes. It relieved both his financial and 
mental embarrassments. For he had already decided, as 
he confided to Hazlitt, that he could not accept the 
Shrewsbury situation. He realized that his sympathies 
were no longer with Unitarianism, and although, as he 
went on his way accompanied for six miles by his young 
admirer, he condemned that erstwhile 'great and good 
man, Archdeacon Paley' as a 'mere time-serving casuist,' 
his feet were really set towards the Church and the faith 

§4 ths voeric T>%e*Am 173 

of which that syllogistic divine was to be the perennial 

The Wedgwoods' gift gave a new impulse to Coleridge's 
poetic faith. Perhaps after all, instead of being a Dissent- 
ing Pastor, he was really 'to inhabit the Hill of Parnassus, 
to be a Shepherd on the Delectable Mountains.' And if 
Wordsworth strode on so far before that he 'dwindled in 
the distance,' Dorothy was glad to walk with him on the 
lower slopes. So for the first three months of 1798 she 
walked with him incessantly. With her encouragement 
the perfect telling of a fairy tale did not seem so unworthy 
an aim. It was not until March 23 that he could bring 
'The Ancient Mariner' to her complete in its final form, 
but meanwhile he was working on another poem the idea 
of which he had derived from Spenser, and possibly from 
Mrs. Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest, He intended to 
describe in it the bewitching of a maiden 'Christabel' by 
a fiend, disguised as a lady in distress; and to emancipate 
himself the more from mundane consciousness, he 
planned to found the metre on an accentual principle, 
which gave a greater variation in the number of syllables 
to a line. 

But as he walked to and fro from Alfoxden with 
Dorothy their talk had little reference to prosody. She 
showed him the first strawberry flower under the hedge, 
the locks of wool, spotted with red marks, that the sheep 
had left upon the paling, the vapour sliding in one mighty 
mass upon the seashore, and how the distant country, 
overhung by straggling clouds that sailed upon it, seemed 
itself like a bank of darker cloud. She bid him listen to 
the snow dripping from the holly boughs and the slender 
notes of a redbreast, or they lay on the turf together, 
and if her questing eyes captured no 'perfect image of 


delight/ fancy filled the void. The year advanced and 
they worshipped the gathering tide of 'soft and vivid 

But nights perhaps were even more enchanting than 
days. On January 27 they walked from seven o'clock till 
half-past eight, and in a wood, as she wrote in her Journal, 
'the moon burst through the invisible veil which enveloped 
her, the shadows of the oaks blackened, and their lines 
became more strongly marked. . . . The manufacturer's 
dog makes a strange, uncouth howl, which it continues 
many minutes after there is no noise near it but that of the 

And Coleridge, who through her had lived these mo- 
ments as vividly as she, turned to his poem and wrote: 

'Sir Leoline, the Baron rich 
Hath a toothless mastiff, which 
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.' 

On March 7 she drank tea with her brother at Coleridge's. 
'A cloudy sky,' she wrote. 'Observed nothing particularly 
interesting - the distant prospect obscured. One only 
leaf upon the top of a tree — the sole remaining leaf — 
danced round and round like a rag blown by the wind.' 
March 24 was a dull night: 'a sort of white shade over 
the blue sky. The stars dim. The spring continues to 
advance very slowly, no green trees, the hedges leafless; 
nothing green but the brambles that still retain their old 
leaves. . . . The crooked arm of the old oak tree points 
upwards to the moon.' And on the next evening, spent 

§4 ths <poenc T>%e*Am 175 

again at Stowey, she noted - 'The night cloudy but not 
dark.* And Coleridge continued his poem: 

'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. . . . 

'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 mistletoe. 
She kneels beneath the huge oak tree, 
And in silence prayeth she. . . . 

'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.' 

Thus 'ChristabeF was born between them. Coleridge's 
was the fantastic fancy, the power of enchanting transmu- 
tation; Dorothy's was the vivid sense of the sights and 
sounds of nature that supplemented his vaguer vision. As 
to any definite plot, the poem never had one until in later 

176 SiAmTJSL r^TLOR C0L8%IT>gS §4 

years Coleridge invented one to excuse his inability to 
continue it. 

It was the projection of a romantic mood, of a haunted 
mood also, like 'The Ancient Mariner.' For the fiend of 
this poem, as of another — written shortly afterwards : 

'That sometimes from the savage den, 
And sometimes from the darksome shade 
And sometimes starting up at once 
In green and sunny glade,'- 

came and looked him in the face, was the phantom of his 
own despair which haunted even his happiest moments. 
But the poem was the fruit also of a tender association. 
Without the association it could scarcely have come into 
being; for his magical powers were already being sapped 
by circumstance, and, save for a moment when they were 
artificially restored by a narcotic, 'Christabel' was the last 
poem in which they were fully realized. In two other 
poems of this year, 'Love* and 'The Ballad of the Dark 
Ladie,' there are echoes of the same note, but their general 
level is more conventionally romantic. Both surely are 
haunted by Dorothy's presence, although it would be 
misleading to suggest that they were actually addressed 
to her. Coleridge addressed her, as he had addressed 
Mary Evans, as 'Sister/ It was for him the perfect 
relationship and he implied by it something more than 
brotherly affection. At once feminine and childlike him- 
self he responded to any woman's sympathy with a tender- 
ness devoid of passion but at times almost fulsome in its 
feeling. For a woman of such subtle sensibility as Dorothy 
Wordsworth his devotion only differed in degree. At 
moments it was translated into the poetry of an enchanted 
communion, and doubtless it was an image of her which 
floated through the poem 'Love' and underlay the 'Dark 
Ladie.' She lives, a consoling phantom, in the stanzas: 

§4 THS 'POETIC T>%SzA&d 177 

'The moonshine, stealing o'er the scene 
Had blended with the lights of eve; 
And she was there, my hope, my joy, 
My own dear Genevieve! 

• «••••• 

'Few sorrows hath she of her own. 
My hope! my joy! my Genevieve! 
She loves me best, whene'er I sing 
The songs that make her grieve. 

'I played a soft and doleful air, 
I sang an old and moving story — 
An old rude song, that suited well 
That ruin wild and hoary.' 
Or in: 

'Wait only till the hand of eve 
Hath wholly closed yon western bars, 
And through the dark we two will steal 
Beneath the twinkling stars.' 

In such verses, intermingled with the relaxed sentiment 
typical of Coleridge whenever he set himself to write a 
love poem, the meetings of which 'Christabel' was born 
are unconsciously remembered; and in two other stanzas, 
again doubtless unconsciously, more light is shed on his 
relationship with Dorothy than by any amount of inference 
from later events: 

'My friends with rude ungentle words 
They scoff and bid me fly to thee ! 

give me shelter in thy breast! 
O shield and shelter me! 

'My Henry, I have given thee much, 

1 gave what I can ne'er recall, 

I gave my heart, I gave my peace, 
O Heaven ! I gave thee all.' 

178 S^mUSL TAYLOR C0L8%LT>ge §4 

The poet and the dreamer, as modern psychology has 
demonstrated, are closely akin. The images which come 
to both are dramatizations of the subconscious. With 
Coleridge the comparison is particularly relevant, since he 
was a somnambulist even in his waking hours, and all his 
purest poetry was written in a state of trance. These two 
stanzas may be regarded merely as parts of a romantic 
ballad and doubtless he wrote them as such. But they 
are surely self-confession too, and the second of them may 
even reflect the self-accusation which he was far too irre- 
sponsible to admit to his conscious mind, but which 
emerged in this way from the subconscious. Certainly the 
first embodies in picturesque language the need which 
Dorothy supplied, and the second, with tragic complete- 
ness, the price which she is now recognized to have paid. 
And if 'Christabel' was almost the last of his pure in- 
cantations, 'Frost at Midnight' was, except for a passage 
in 'The Nightingale' written two months later, the last 
of his domestic idylls. Sara's possibilities as a poetic 
stimulant were never considerable and could not be com- 
pared with Dorothy's, but infancy and childhood made a 
particular appeal to the childlike in Coleridge. For him, 
who was in his buoyant hours, as Wordsworth recorded, 

'and gamesome as a boy; 
His limbs would toss about him with delight, 
Like branches when strong winds the trees annoy,' 

the eager, oblivious, activity of a child was an image of 
that perfect natural expressiveness which he longed to 
realize himself. 'They seem,' he wrote later of young 
children, 'to be the immediate and secreting organ of 
Hope in the great organized body of the whole human 
race, in all men considered as the component atoms of Man 
— as young leaves are but organs of supplying vital air to 

§4 THS TOeriC DltSvfiSM 179 

the atmosphere/ But poetry told more than such scientific 

l 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/ 

'That always finds and never seeks* — such he was himself 
in his purest poetic moments; and the light that filled his 
eyes as he watched Hartley at play was often rendered 
poignant by self-comparison. This was the mood which 
he extemporized so tenderly in 'Frost at Midnight.' 
Surely his infant should realize the freedom, physical and 
spiritual, of which he was ever by some circumstance or 
some sultry inhibition being balked: 

'My babe so beautiful! It thrills my heart 
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee, 
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore, 
And in far other scenes! For I was reared 
In the Great City, pent 'mid cloisters dim, 
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars. 
But thou, my babe! shall wander like a breeze 
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags 
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds, 
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores 
And mountain crags.' 

Strangely prophetic the lines were, since at the time he 
had no prospecl of living in the Lake Country; strangely 
pathetic too in the light of his own future decline beneath 
those mountain crags! 

And indeed a period was already being set to his happi- 
ness. Fac~t was beginning to threaten fantasy, and fear, 

180 StAJMUSL TAYLOR C0L6^T>g8 §4 

public and private, to trouble peace. In April there was an 
alarm of a French invasion and even in 'a green and silent 
spot amid the hills' it was no longer possible 'in a half 
sleep' to dream 'of better worlds.' Wordsworth's attitude 
to life and his own maturing mind had deprived him of 
that solace, and yet a contrite, but at heart conventional, 
patriotism and 'the thoughts that yearn for humankind' 
could not inspire his mind as they did Wordsworth's. 
Only the supernatural could give it 4 a livelier impulse and 
a dance of thought,' or that 'gentle Maid' 

'vowed and dedicate 
To something more than Nature in the Grove.' 

'Fears might crowd upon him in Solitude' but he forgot 
them when with Dorothy in the wood, in which day by 
day through this sunny April they walked together, he 
listened to the nightingale, 

'That crowds, and hurries, and precipitates 
With fast thick warble his delicious notes. . . . 
But never elsewhere in one place I knew 
So many nightingales; and far and near, 
In wood and thicket, over the wide grove, 
They answer and provoke each other's songs, 
With skirmish and capricious passagings, 
And murmurs musical and swift jug, jug, 
And one low piping sound more sweet than all — 

'. . . she knows all these notes, 
That gentle Maid ! and oft, a moment's space, 
What time the moon was lost behind a cloud, 
Hath heard a pause of silence; till the moon 
Emerging, hath awakened earth and sky 
With one sensation, and those wakeful birds 
Have all burst forth in choral minstrelsy, 
As if some sudden gale had swept at once 

§5 THS T08TIC T>%8*Am 181 

A hundred airy harps! And she hath watched 

Many a nightingale perch giddily 

On blossoming twig still swinging from the breeze, 

And to that motion tune his wanton song 

Like tipsy joy that reels with tossing head.' 

It was the last occasion in his poetry in which 'Nature 
seemed to bless him as a thing of her own.' He was to 
worship her in the future, but always as a rejected suitor 
longing for the embrace which once he had known, and it 
is fitting that the nightingale, of all Nature's voices the 
most luxuriously buoyant, should have inspired his ecstatic 


For April, apart from Dorothy, was a month of troubles. 
In the first place Sara was shortly expecting a baby. The 
fact, as before, filled him, despite the Wedgwood annuity, 
with financial forebodings. And his nervous depression 
was intensified by a painful rupture with Lloyd, a rupture 
all the more harrowing because it also temporarily alien- 
ated Lamb. 'Alas!' as to relieve his pain, he wrote in 
'Christabel' : 

'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.' 

Estrangement with anyone meant anguish to Coleridge: 
it intensified his sense of loneliness. That the 'gentle 
hearted Charles' should have been perverted by the dis- 
eased tittle-tattle of Lloyd shook his faith in human under- 


Of course Lloyd had taken full advantage of his engag- 
ing confidences and grossly distorted them. He told 
Lamb that Coleridge had contrasted himself with Lamb 
in a distinction which he drew between Genius and Talent, 
that he had said : 'Poor Lamb ! if he wants any knowledge, 
he may apply to me,' and Lamb had accepted it all liter- 
ally. He had abandoned him for a man who, as Coleridge 
plaintively wrote, 'became attached to you in consequence 
of my attachment, caught his from my enthusiasm, and 
learned to love you at my fireside, when often while I 
have been sitting and talking of your sorrows and affliction 
I have stopped my conversation and lifted up wet eyes 
and prayed for you.' Even the mock sonnets ridiculing his 
own and his friend's weaker style, which he had sent to 
the Monthly Magazine six months before under the name 
of 'Nehemiah Higginbottom,' were now brought up 
against him, and Southey too affected displeasure. 

Finally Lloyd had written a novel of which the chief 
character was no less than a libellous portrait of his late 
host, and in which, besides caricaturing his dreamy in- 
capacity, he suggested that he was addicted to laudanum. 

Such ingratitude cut deeply into his heart; it also 
reduced him to a nervous state in which the most trifling 
thing made him weep. The wound to his sentiments he 
tried to heal by moralizing. 'Times change and people 
change,* he wrote, 'but let us keep our souls in quietness/ 
and 'I pray God that I may sanctify these events by for- 
giveness and a peaceful spirit full of love.' A peaceful 
spirit, however, could not ease the toothache. For that, as 
he told his brother George, 'Laudanum gave me repose, not 
sleep; but you, I believe, know how divine that repose is, 
what a spot of enchantment, a green spot of fountain and 
flowers and trees in the very heat of a waste of sands!' 

It was such a spot that he discovered in a lonely farm- 
house between Porlock and Linton to which he retired 

§5 THS TOeriC T>%£zA3\d 183 

to try and compose his feelings by a change of scene. 
After taking a dose of opium he fell asleep in his chair 
while reading the following passage in Purchas* Pilgrim- 
age: 'In Xanadu did Cublai Can build a stately Palace, 
encompassing sixteene miles of plaine ground with a wall, 
wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant springs, de- 
lightfull Streames, and all sorts of beasts of chase and 
game, and in the middest thereof a sumptuous house of 

The sleep thus induced lasted for about three hours, 
during which he was convinced that he composed from 
two to three hundred lines, 'if that indeed can be called 
composition in which all the images rose up before him 
as things^ with a parallel production of the correspondent 
expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of 
effort.' The whole was so vivid in his mind when he woke, 
that he instantly began to write it down. Unfortunately, 
however, he was very soon interrupted by 'a person on 
business from Porlock,' and after being detained by him 
above an hour, was mortified to find that, save for some 
eight or ten scattered lines and images, 'all the rest had 
passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into 
which a stone has been cast, but, alas! without the after 
restoration of the latter!' 

The simile was exacl; as it was happy. Coleridge's 
genius was the genius of a stream, a moving mirror that 
mixed and recombined the images which it passively 
reflected. 'Kubla Khan' was only an extreme example of 
the involuntary and almost automatic process which pro- 
duced 'Christabel' and 'The Ancient Mariner.' Not only 
Purchas, but Bartram's Travels and Maurice's History of 
Hindostan were brewed in the witches' cauldron. Paradise 
Lost) as a critic has recently pointed out, was also an 
ingredient. ' Alph, the sacred river, ' probably derived from 
that which 

1 84 StAmVSL r^TLOR COLS%IT>gS §5 

'Southward through Eden went. . . . 
Nor changed his course but through a shaggie hill 
Pass'd underneath ingulft . • . ,' 

the 'gardens bright with sinuous rills' from 

'Rose a fresh Fountain, and with many a rill 
Watered the Garden; thence united fell 
Down the steep glade, and met the neather Flood,' 

and, most significant of all : 

'It was an Abyssinian maid, 
And on her dulcimer she played, 
Singing of Mount Abora,' 

'Nor where Abassin Kings their issue Guard, 
Mount Amara.' 

Thus images, stored up in the deeps of memory and 
dissociated entirely from meaning, rose to the surface and 
were rhythmically blended in unconscious association. 
'Kubla Khan* is an extreme example of the process, of 
the sacrifice of meaning to image, and is for that reason 
no more than a wonderful narcotic. 

All great lyrical poetry has the quality of an incantation, 
but its sense is merged in, not sacrificed to sound. Cole- 
ridge had little originating force or capacity to transmute 
fadt. into image. He was unique, as a dreamer, in recom- 
bining images which he had accepted without fully assim- 
ilating. In 'Kubla Khan* the dreaming process, the 
imagination's absolute independence of fa£t,was complete. 

But to dream, it was necessary to sleep. And that, 
without opium, Coleridge could no longer do. The world 
was too much with him and his nerves were on edge. In 
an Ode to France, originally entitled 'The Recantation,' 
a poem which also borrowed a phrase or two from Milton 

§5 THS <P08ttC T>%8*Am 185 

and the last in which he had sufficient faith in Abstract 
Freedom to honour her with fine verse, he had already 
expressed his disillusionment that France should have 
failed to present 'to the observation of Europe a people 
more happy and better instructed than under other forms 
of Government/ But now, like Wordsworth, he was pay- 
ing the price for his early sentimentalism. And with him 
realism killed poetry without a hope of resurrection. 
Ironically enough he who had renewed Wordsworth's 
faith and so his creative powers could not adjust his own. 
Compromise, any modification of absolute conceptions by 
material considerations, was fatal to his poetic genius as 
it always is to the self-indulgent as distinct from the self- 
annihilating Romantic. 

His imagination could only function amid ideals 
remote from contemporary fact, and France seethed with 
savage, unavoidable fact. Social man, he was driven to 
admit, was too selfishly depraved to realize freedom under 
any form of government ; and what hope could he place 
in individual man after the treatment he had received 
from Lloyd? 

Little wonder then that he wrote to his brother George, 
- 'Of guilt I say nothing, but I believe most steadfastly 
in original sin . . . our organization is depraved and our 
volitions imperfect/ From this stark acceptance of evil, 
poetic idealism such as his offered no longer a refuge, nor 
for the time indeed did metaphysics. 'Our quaint meta- 
physical opinions/ he confided to his note-book, 'in the 
hour of anguish like a plaything by the bedside of a deadly 
sick child/ They must be reinforced, he felt, by religious 
belief- the spirit of the Gospel is the sole cure,' adding 
that 'without religious joys and religious terrors, 
nothing can be expected from the inferior classes in 

The conviction had been growing upon him with each 


experience of failure. After the collapse of The Watchman 
he had written, 'We have all become more religious than 
we were' and regretted his 'precipitance in praise of God- 
win.' He said the same during the nightmare months 
which preceded his coming to Stowey and sent Thelwall 
an earnest, if rather sermonizing, defence of Christianity. 
And now that both poetical and political faith were failing 
him ('The Opposition and the Democrats' he denounced 
as 'not only vicious, they wear the filthy garments of vice'), 
he snapped his 'squeaking baby-trumpet of sedition' and 
wished 'to be a good man and a Christian,' not a Whig, 
Reformist or Republican. 

Mrs. Coleridge was embarrassed by the change. Her 
mind ran in simple channels, and if her husband had 
become respectable, she wished to be able to announce 
the fact categorically. 'It is very unpleasant to me,' she 
complained, 'to be often asked if Coleridge has changed 
his political sentiments, for I know not properly how to 
reply. Pray furnish me.' 

But the change was not a matter of simple definition. 
It might indeed have been Wordsworth who wrote: 'I 
devote myself to such works as encroach not on the anti- 
social passions — in poetry to elevate the imagination and 
set the affections in right tune by the beauty of the inani- 
mate impregnated as with a living soul by the presence of 
life. ... I love fields and woods and mountains with 
almost a visionary fondness. And because I have found 
benevolence and quietness growing within me as that 
fondness has increased, therefore I should wish to be the 
means of implanting it in others.' But there was a differ- 
ence between the two men's opinions of what 'a Chris- 
tian' implied. Coleridge regretted it: he reverenced his 
friend's powers; he admitted that he was 'a tried good 
man,' but 'on one subject we are habitually silent; we 
found our data dissimilar, and never renewed the subject. 

§5 THS "POETIC T>%B*Am 187 

. . . He loves and venerates Christ and Christianity. I 
wish he did more.' 

The difference was very significant. Wordsworth was 
still a free man, evolving a faith for himself out of experi- 
ence, and so his poetic powers were unprejudiced. For 
ten years at least they remained so, and then imperceptibly 
he surrendered to a conventional orthodoxy and to that 
Sabbatical style which later Coleridge happily described 
as his 'I and my brother the Dean manner/ But Cole- 
ridge was already compromised, had already flinched 
from standing alone; and so the elevating poetry which 
he planned was never realized, and most of his meta- 
physics was fatally prejudiced by religious presupposi- 
tions. A clerical conscience interposed between him 
and the Nature with which he could identify himself only 
in moments of utter abandon. And even the comparative 
orthodoxy which he had accepted did not solve his diffi- 
culties. Christianity he described as his 'passion/ but 'it is 
too much my intelleclual passion and therefore will do me 
but little good in the hour of temptation and calamity.* 

The words were prophetic enough. Neither his faith 
in Nature nor in Christ was ever complete or concrete 
enough to brace him for the activities of life. In both he 
merely took Sanctuary. 

His spirits however improved as the summer advanced. 
In May a second son was born and christened Berkeley; 
Hazlitt came on a visit, and Coleridge joined Words- 
worth in a trip to Cheddar. Arrangements too were made 
with Cottle to collaborate in a volume of verse to be 
entitled Lyrical Ballads. But behind these pleasant 
activities loomed the fact that the Wordsworths had to 
quit Alfoxden in June. It was depressing and unsettling, 
and the thirty guineas promised for the copyright of the 
poems suggested a scheme by which the association could 
be prolonged. 

188 SPASMUS!, TzAYLOR C0L6%IT>g6 §6 

Germany was the home of the Romantic Movement, 
of its nostalgia and transcendentalism. To Germany they 
would go, all of them at least save Sara and the children. 
In August Coleridge followed the Wordsworths to Bristol, 
and the scheme by that time had assumed the character of 
a serious mission, the realization of which was 'of great 
importance* to his 'intellectual activity' and of course to 
his 'moral happiness/ In September they were in London 
and a few days before starting, the Lyrical Ballads were 
published anonymously. Mrs. Coleridge wrote later with 
a blunt honesty which exceeded the truth, that they were 
'not liked at all by any' ; and that was all the poets heard 
of them. They embarked at Yarmouth on the 16th and 
reached Hamburg three days later. 

Dressed all in black, with large shoes and black worsted 
stockings, Coleridge might well have passed on board, as 
he suggested, for a Methodist missionary. But his bear- 
ing was in no way Methodistical. Impervious to sea- 
sickness, he drank, sang, and danced. And he talked so 
well that he drew from an intoxicated Dane the following 
comprehensive tribute: 'Vat imagination! vat language! 
vat vast science! and vat eyes! vat a milk-vite forehead! 
O my heafen! vy, you're a Got!* 

Characteristically enough his expectation of the sea's 
immensity far outran the reality, and he was consequently 
disappointed 'at the narrowness and nearness ... of the 
circle of the horizon.' Only by night was the ocean 'a 
whole thing.' But now that Sara and the children were 
become images in the mind, they inspired a really doting 
affection. 'Every night,' he wrote to his wife, 'when I go 
to bed, and every morning when I rise, I will think with 
yearning love of you and of my blessed babes' and 'after 
the antique principles of Religion, unsophisticated by 

§6 THE ^POETIC T>%8*Am 189 

Philosophy, will be, I trust, your husband faithful unto 
death.* After landing at Hamburg, however, he felt 'like 
a liberated bird that had been hatched in an aviary, who 
now, after the first soar of freedom, poises himself in 
the upper air,* and this, despite or possibly because of his 
eventual claim to have worked harder in Germany 'than I 
trust God Almighty I shall ever have occasion to work 
again,' despite too a sorrow that fell upon him during his 
stay, was the dominant mood of the next nine months. 

Fact lends little support to the suggestion that Ger- 
many killed the poet in Coleridge. He devoted himself 
to mastering the language, he attended lectures, and he 
studied modern German literature. He projected a life of 
Lessing, but he only dipped into other metaphysicians. 
His immersion in Kant, so often attributed to these days, 
did not occur until at least a year after his return. For 
the time he confessed to finding him utterly incompre- 
hensible, though almost every German professor was a 
Kantean to some degree. It is true that his letters to Sara 
were often couched in a pathetic and appealing key, but 
the home-sickness they embodied was as transient as that 
of a callow schoolboy and too fulsome in its expression 
to convince of the anguish which they claimed. By his 
own account he could not receive a letter without palpi- 
tations, yet he begged his wife to write 'all that can cheer 
me ; all that will make my eyes swim and my heart melt 
with tenderness.' 

But at Ratzeburg, where he stayed with a German 
pastor for four months after parting with the Words- 
worths, he was sufficiently master of his feelings to turn 
them into charming verse, a clear proof of his happier 
condition, even though the stanzas were not written 
'without a yearning, yearning, yearning Inside' They 
were, as he entitled them, 'Something childish, but very 
natural/ and as exquisitely typical of the playful pathos 

i 9 o s^^musl t^tlor coLe%iT>gs §6 

and confiding tenderness of his nature as anything which 
he ever wrote: 

'If I had but two little wings 
And were a little feathery bird, 
To you I'd fly, my dear! 
But thoughts like these are idle things, 
And I stay here. 

'But in my sleep to you I fly: 

I'm always with you in my sleep! 
The world is all one's own. 
But then one wakes, and where am I? 
Alone, all alone. 

'Sleep stays not, though a monarch bids: 
So I love to wake ere break of day : 
For though my sleep be gone, 
Yet while 'tis dark one shuts one's lids 
And still dreams on.' 

But Coleridge was on the whole so happy in Germany 
because he was so little alone. At Ratzeburg, for instance, 
he was surrounded by children who corrected his pro- 
nunciation 'in pretty, pert lisps.' And though he might 
assure his wife of his longing to be home, he confessed to 
others that 'no little fish thrown back again into water, 
no fly unimprisoned from a child's hand, could more 
buoyantly enjoy its element, than I this clean and peaceful 

The Gentry and Nobility too paid him 'almost an 
adulatory attention,' and then there was a 'sweet little 
woman' - a Countess Kilmansig - with 'perfectly white, 
regular, French teeth,' whose heart he quite won by the 
gift of a German poem. He abandoned vegetarianism too 
in time to enjoy the German Christmas, and early in the 
New Year he was skating on the lake and marvelling at 

§6 THS NOETIC T>%S*Am 191 

the prismatic effects of colour in the ice. Similarly when 
he went to Gottingen in the following March he was 
adopted by a group of high-spirited English students, and 
renewed, between bouts of abstruse speculation, some- 
thing of the revelry of his early Cambridge days. In 
abstaining on the whole from writing poetry he was 
merely following Poole's advice. He was refusing to be 
diverted from his proposed aim 'to attend to those things 
which are better attained in Germany than elsewhere/ 
And he clearly felt the better for it. 'The journey to Ger- 
many/ he wrote, 'has certainly done me good. My habits 
are less irregular and my mind more in my own power/ 

His letters justified his claim to greater self-awareness; 
the faft was indeed in his case not to favour poetry, but it 
was an inevitable condition of growth which would have 
occurred, though maybe less rapidly, if he had never 
crossed the sea. He wrote, for example, of the 'disease' of 
his mind that 'it is comprehensive in its conceptions, and 
wastes itself in the contemplations of the many things 
which it might do/ And later, 'I have at times experi- 
enced such an extinction of light m my mind — I have been 
so forsaken by all the forms and colourings of existence, as 
if the organs of life had been dried up ; as if only simple 
Being remained, blind and stagnant'; and again - 'Love 
is the vital air of my genius.' In a portrait of Lessing too 
he saw a great likeness to himself. 'The whole face,' he 
added, 'seemed to say that Lessing was a man of quick 
and voluptuous feelings . . . acute; yet acute not in the 
observation of actual life, but in the arrangements and 
management of the ideal world, that is, in taste, and in 

The point at which he had arrived in his own develop- 
ment coincided exactly with the change that had affected 
methods of criticism in Germany. More and more baffled 
in self-expression, he had begun to examine the nature of 

i 9 2 SzAmUSL T^TLOR C0L8%I i DgS §6 

his perception - a perception which he felt to be morbid 
and ineffective. And in the leaders of German criticism 
he discovered men who were engaged on a similar examin- 
ation of aesthetic perception, who had broken through 
the formal and external methods of classical criticism 
and were studying art less for its own sake than for the 
light which it threw upon the nature of the intellectual 
and moral faculties. In the disinterested experience of 
beauty Kant had harmonized the conflicting kinds of 
perception of which his system was an extended analysis, 
and in similar metaphysical study Coleridge hoped to 
resolve in theory or at least explain the discord in his own 
perception which foiled his practice as a poet. 

It is well to recognize from the start the personal bias 
of all his metaphysical inquiry, since it explains its genera 
ineffectuality. The great philosopher is a great poet 
inverted. He interprets a rich experience in terms ot 
idea, as the poet in terms of image. Significant meta- 
physics are creative as significant poetry is : both transcend 
the purely personal and accidental, both are rooted in a 
physical sense of life. Their axioms, in Keats* words, are 
'proved upon our pulses/ On the contrary, both fanciful 
poetry and fanciful metaphysics are self-sufficient activ- 
ities of the imagination and mind respectively which 
avoid reference to the actual. Kant, idealist as he was, did 
not avoid this reference, but Coleridge did, and was there- 
fore for the most part what he called Rousseau, 'a spinner 
of speculative cobwebs.* His metaphysics, like his poetry, 
were possessed by the spirit of evasion, were an escape 
from the real rather than an apprehension and analysis of 
reality, although in both he achieved moments of remark- 
able insight. 

What attracted him in German idealism was its proof 
of the insufficiency of the senses either as the criterion 
of truth or belief. But while Kant included the senses in 

§6 THS "POETIC T>%S*Am 193 

his synthesis of a -priori perception, Coleridge merely 
used Kant's arguments to excuse his own lack of keen 
sense-perception. In the metaphysical speculation into 
which he was shortly to plunge he was engaged in explain- 
ing, and so, to some extent, comforting himself in his 
impotence. At his best too he did distinguish what the 
elements of ideal expression were, though in terms gen- 
erally too descriptive to be quite satisfactory. But the first 
principles which he was to preach with wearisome iter- 
ation, and such distinctions as he drew between subjective 
and objective, were little more than mechanical extem- 
porizations upon borrowed terms in an attempt to forget 
that he was himself too morbidly subjective to reconcile 
them in any significant unity. 

But although he could conceal the fact more easily in 
metaphysics than in poetry, he was to fail in the one to 
the same extent as he had failed in the other. In both he 
was a transmitter rather than an originator, and his imag- 
ination, reduced to its abstract elements in metaphysics, 
still trafficked with the unreal. Only when he was tied 
to the particular in the criticism of poetry can he be said 
to have achieved an analysis of real experience, an analysis 
in which metaphysical ideas were adequately sustained 
by psychological insight. It was a kind of criticism which 
he may be truly said to have originated, and he acquired 
the faculty from a long and subtle observance of his own 
pathological states. 

But Germany was no more responsible than Plotinus 
for changing him from a poet into a metaphysician. The 
needs and defects of his own nature determined that. 
How inherent his philosophizing tendency was may be 
measured by the way in which he received from Poole in 
March the news of his son Berkeley's death. His wife 
wrote of her own suffering that it was beyond his con- 
ception, and his reply to Poole corroborated her. 'I read 

i 9 4 S^T^MUSL TAYLOR C0L£%IT>g8 §6 

your letter in calmness, ' he wrote, 'and walked out into 
the open fields, oppressed, not by my feelings, but by the 
riddles which the thought so easily proposes, and solves 
never ! . . . Fling yourself forward into your immortality 
only a few thousand years, and how small will not the 
difference between one year old and sixty years appear! 
. . . But I cannot truly say that I grieve — I am perplexed 
— I am sad — and a little thing — a very trifle — would 
make me weep — but for the death of the baby I have not 
wept! Oh the strange, strange, strange scene-shifter 
Death ! - that giddies one with insecurity and so unsub- 
stantiates the living things that one has grasped and 
handled !' 

To Poole, who had written counselling common sense, 
such a tone might have been assumed, but it equally 
characterized his letter to his wife. He bade her remem- 
ber that the attractions of an infant a few months old were 
merely instinctive, and that though its life might seem 
short, considered 'referently to non-existence/ it was 'a 
manifold and majestic Thing.' 1 Certainly the poet spoke 
in the passage - 'Methinks there is something awful in 
the thought, what an unknown being one's own infant is 
to one — a fit of sound — a flash of light — a summer gust 
that is as it were created in the bosom of the calm air, that 
rises up we know not how, and goes we know not 
whither!' But it was a poet to whom human flesh was 
indeed a vapour. 

As the spring came, however, he announced that the 
vital sap of his affections was rising as in a tree and that 
there were moments in which he had such a power of 
life within him. He went with a party of students to the 
Harz Mountains, lived on potatoes and pancakes, slept 
on straw in village inns, and left some verses behind in 
one of them on 'Brocken's sovran height.' And although 
he described himself as working harder than ever in his 

§6 me vosric d^s^^m 195 

life, he found time to conceive a scheme for making money 
by extracting sugar from beet. 'My poor Muse,' he con- 
fessed, 'is quite gone — perhaps she may return and meet 
me at Stowey.' But as a precautionary measure he spent 
£30 on metaphysical books 'with a view to the one work 
to which I hope to dedicate in silence the prime of my 

On the 23rd of June, 1 799, at a farewell supper with one 
of the Professors he was in the best of spirits and talked 
inordinately 'with the worst German accent imaginable.' 
A month later he was back at Stowey. 'The whale,' he 
confided to his note-book, 'is followed by waves. I would 
glide down the rivulet of quiet life a trout.' 

Alas ! for him life was to prove no quiet rivulet, but a 
sea of which the horizons were perpetually veiled and 
over which, in the wake of recurring and diminishing 
tornadoes, the air hung limp and stagnant. 


TH6 T06TIC WjgHTM<47{6 

§i _ 

*1\ /1T Y reso ^ ve i s fixed,' Coleridge had written to Poole 
JL V A from Germany, 'not to leave you till you leave me!' 
Nevertheless Stowey without the Wordsworths seemed 
dreadfully empty. Poole, with all his fine qualities, did 
not excite to poetry, and even Southey, with whom he 
was now reconciled as he was shortly to be with Lamb, 
and who came on a fortnight's visit, could only help him 
to concoct a piece of satirical doggerel on public life 
entitled 'The Devil's Thoughts,' which deservedly made 
something of a sensation when it appeared in The Morning 
Post, but was scarcely a proof of renewed poetic power. 
It was primarily because he still hoped that the miracle 
might be renewed, if only to the extent of finishing 
'Christabel,' that his movements for the next year were 
so restless. Further, he craved Dorothy's presence, and 
yet Poole, who had described him as 'that sort of acquis- 
ition which nothing can replace,' had a prior claim upon 
his loyalty. 

He went to Ottery St. Mary and discovered that he 
had neither tastes nor feelings in common with his clerical 
and military brothers — a facl: which he learnt from their 
conversation, but tactfully did not suffer them to learn 
from his. On his return to Stowey he had a rheumatic 
attack accompanied by its usual symptoms of pain and 
sleeplessness. Doubtless the Cerberus was sopped too in 
the usual manner, and somewhat significantly he wrote at 
the time to Southey that 'the wife of a man of genius 
who sympathizes effectively with her husband in his 
habits and feelings is a vara avis with me.' 

Early in October he went to London. But it was the 
Wordsworths whom he really wanted : they were staying 
at Sockburn with relations, and, on hearing a rumour 


§i me cposric tKiQHTm*A%e 197 

that Wordsworth was ill, Coleridge followed them and 
met Mary Hutchinson, the future wife of the poet, and 
her sister Sarah, who was later to take Dorothy's place in 
the succession of those who inspired tender sentiments 
principally because they supplied a need. 'Few moments 
in life,' he remarked complacently in his note-book, 'are 
so interesting as those of our affectionate reception from a 
stranger who is the dear friend of your dear friend ! How 
often you have been the subject of conversation, and how 
affectionately !' 

The whole party immediately set out on a tour of the 
Lake Country, and the attractions of Grasmere proved so 
strong that Wordsworth decided to settle there, and 
before Christmas he and Dorothy had taken Dove Cot- 
tage. But meanwhile Coleridge had received a proposal 
from Stuart, the editor of The Morning Post, to whom the 
Wedgwoods had earlier introduced him, that he should 
live in London and write political articles for that paper. 
The remuneration offered was good and all expenses 
were to be defrayed. Coleridge had anticipated his 
allowance and so he accepted the offer as a purely tem- 
porary expedient to clear off his debts. He took lodgings 
in the Strand, and early in December was joined by Sara 
and Hartley. From the same motive he engaged to trans- 
late Schiller's Wallenstein for Longmans, and between 
the two activities he cannot have exaggerated when he 
wrote, 'I work from I-rise to I -set.' 

But both labours irked. The 'Newspaper business,' 
in particular, proved 'too, too fatiguing.' Reporting 
speeches in the House and writing leaders was indeed sad 
work for either a poet or a philosopher, although his 
automatic memory was of great service, while in his most 
famous report — that of Pitt's speech on January 17 - his 
imagination supplied the want of attention. He proved in 
fact a very workmanlike journalist just because in such 

198 S^^MUSL r^ATLOR C0LS1{I < DQS §i 

superficial and transitory writing as political leaders he 
was never tempted into that diffuseness, over-refinement, 
and involved ratiocination which metaphysical abstractions 
invited. But to be an efficient political journalist gave 
him so little satisfaction that he could claim later to have 
wasted on it in three months 'the prime and manhood of 
his intelleftP 

Early in the New Year he abandoned it and suggested 
that after he had given the Wedgwoods some proof in a 
Life of Lessing that he was endeavouring to do well for 
his fellow-creatures, he should form a pleasant little colony 
for a few years in Italy or the South of France. Unfor- 
tunately the prospect of an addition to his family in the 
following September compelled him to relinquish both 
schemes. He indulged himself instead in drawing up 
prospectuses of the books which Southey might write, 
and in March took flight to the Wordsworths at Gras- 

But he was still the slave of a task, an 'irksome, soul- 
wearying labour, the translation of Schiller.' He needed 
the £50 promised by Longmans too much to abandon it, 
and with a rapidity which astonished Wordsworth he 
completed it before the end of April. In a few years, 
when English interest in German literature had grown, 
it might well have proved a financial as well as a literary 
success. On the testimony of many authorities it was 
the latter. A reliable German critic spoke of it as doing 
justice not only to Schiller's mind but to his imagination. 
Carlyle judged it the best rendering in existence, and Scott 
remarked that Coleridge had made it far finer than he 
found it. In old age Coleridge himself considered it 'a 
specimen of my happiest attempt, during the prime 
manhood of my intellect, before I had been buffeted by 
adversity or crossed by fatality,' and it may still appeal 
to any reader of to-day who can enjoy a play which, like 

§i TH6 voeric vQqHrmiA^s i 99 

Coleridge's own, has little interior necessity and which is 
richer in poetic thoughts than poetry. 

But the more Coleridge felt his faculties to be dwind- 
ling in the performance of soulless journey work, the more 
necessary close association with the Wordsworths seemed 
when, later in the year, his wings should be 'wholly un- 
birdlimed.' It therefore added to his embarrassment 
that Poole should show slight signs of jealousy, taxing 
him with prostrating himself before Wordsworth as a 
second Milton; and although, when he visited him in 
May, his friendliness was as staunch and comforting as 
ever, he could not hide from himself that Stowey without 
Alfoxden was no longer the horticultural Eden of three 
years before. Fortunately there was no other house than 
the 'old hoveF procurable at Stowey, and this supplied 
him with a pretext for escaping to one at Keswick, which, 
as he told Godwin, was 'of such a prospect, that if, accord- 
ing to you and Hume impressions and ideas constitute our 
being, I shall have a tendency to become a God, so 
sublime and beautiful will be the series of my visual 

Certainly Greta Hall, into which he moved with his 
family towards the end of July after three weeks spent 
with the Wordsworths at Dove Cottage, seemed as 
favourable a residence in which to put Godwin's theory to 
the test as could be found. It was a combination of a 
manor and a farm-house, which the Coleridges shared 
with their landlord, a quiet, sensible man, and the pos- 
sessor of a respectable library. It stood on a low hill and 
faced 'a giant's camp — an encamped army of tent-like 
mountains,' which lay about 'massy Skiddaw, smooth, 
green, high,' and 'by an inverted arch' gave on the right 
'a view of another vale' — the 'lovely vale and the wedge- 
shaped lake of Bassenthwaite.' On the left was Derwent- 
water, the waterfall of Lodore, and 'the fantastic moun- 

200 SzA&lUSL r^TLOR COLS^DQS §i 

tains of Borrowdale. , Behind the house there was an 
orchard and a small wood falling to the River Greta, which 
encircled the house and caught the evening lights at its 

But, as anyone familiar with the Lake Country will 
know, it was not merely the landscaped architecture which 
was sublime and all-inclusive, but the changeful artistry 
of the atmosphere. 'The two lakes,' as Coleridge was 
quick to observe, 'the vale, the river, and mountain mists, 
and clouds and sunshine' made 'endless combinations, as 
if heaven and earth were for ever talking to each other,' 
while every day had such moments as that recorded from 
his study window of a 'rich mulberry-purple which a 
floating cloud has thrown on the lake, and that quiet boat 
making its way through it to the shore'; or suddenly 
'darkness vanished as by enchantment : far off, far off to 
the south, the mountains of Glaramara and Great Gable 
and their family appeared distinct, in deepest, sablest 
blue . . . with a rainbow at their back'; or the moon 
through scudding rain clouds looked 'as if it had been 
painted and the colours had run.' 

Surely here, in a country that seemed itself to be 'wor- 
shipping the power and "eternal link" of energy,' and 'in 
the way of almost all whom I love and esteem,' he would 
recapture the poetry of which such verse as he had written 
since his return from Germany was only the shadow? 
And surely Poole for his part would understand the need 
he had of such inspiration, forgive his friend's abandon- 
ment, and 'never doubt that I am attached to you beyond 
all other men'? 

That he should begin his residence in the Lakes with 
another rheumatic attack was ominous. The illness and 
its inevitable anodyne left him weak and listless, but 
Grasmere was only twelve miles away and the old inter- 
course was renewed. Wordsworth was preparing a second 

§2 me "poetic tKiqHrm*A%e 201 

volume of Lyrical Ballads for the press. He was to ex- 
plain his views on poetic diction in a preface, and among 
Coleridge's contributions was to be the completed 'Chris- 
tabel.' Once again Coleridge walked with Dorothy, now 
in the Windy Brow woods, now over the Fells. He began 
to follow her example and record in his note-book the 
leaves of trees upturned by the stirring wind in twilight 
— an image of paleness, wan affright, ' or 'the beards of 
thistle and dandelions flying about the lovely mountains 
like life — and I saw them through the trees skimming 
the lake like swallows.' 

But autumn drew on and winter followed, and still the 
miracle was withheld. Again and again he recited 'Christ- 
abel,' again and again he discussed it, and always the 
poem excited interest and admiration, but neither it nor 
any other contribution to the Lyrical Ballads materialized. 
It was surely, he ingeniously argued, the deep unutterable 
disgust which he had suffered in the translation of that 
accursed Wallenstein that had stricken him with barren- 
ness. 'The wind from the Skiddaw and Borrowdale was 
often as loud as wind need be, and many a walk in the 
clouds in the mountains' did he take. 'But all would not 

At last, profoundly dejected, he desisted, and in a 
typical attempt to save himself from facing the reality of 
his impotence reported to a friend that the poem had 
grown so long - to 1,300 lines he fictitiously claimed - 
and so impressive, that Wordsworth had rejected it from 
his volume as disproportionate. 

But the reality could not be evaded so easily. Under 
conditions so favourable to creative effort he could 
scarcely claim to be 'buffeted by adversity,' and if in fact 
he was 'crossed by fatality,' it was the fatality of himself. 


The 'honey dew' and 'the milk of Paradise' which he had 
drunk had turned into a malign potion that caused him 
to long for the old hallucination and at the same time 
know it for wliat it was. He was 'a cork, flexible, floating, 
full of pores and openings, and yet he could neither 
return nor transmit the waters of Helicon, much less the 
light of Apollo.' He could not, because he had become 
too self-conscious to be a 'passive vehicle of inspiration, 
possessed by the spirit, not possessing it,' while to possess 
it was beyond his powers. If only he could have been 
magnificent in his disregard of fact, his imagination could 
have continued to cast its glitter over fictions. But 
Wordsworth and Lessing had taught him too much for 
that. The confused conception of poetry, voiced in a 
later day by critics to whom 'Kubla Khan' was supreme 
by virtue of its melodious unintelligibility, was no longer 
entertained by its author, if indeed it ever was. He knew 
that a poet must be true to his medium, that he was both 
more and less than a musician, and that words should 
serve an intelligible as well as an enchanting purpose. 
'Idly talk they,' he was to write, 'who speak of poets as 
mere indulgers of fancy, imagination, superstition. . . . 
They are the bridlers by delight, the purifiers; they that 
combine all these with reason and order — the true proto- 
plasts — Gods of Love who tame the Chaos.' 

The power to master and purify the diversity of every- 
day experience, in that and that only he had begun to see 
lay the possibility of realizing all the implications of a 
creative aft. The poet should be solving a problem, not 
composing a narcotic, and in the solution of his art, he 
would solve also the problem of himself. It was that 
problem which Wordsworth was solving. He was effect- 
ing 'a complete and constant synthesis of thought 
and feeling and combining them with poetic form,' 
and Coleridge felt himself 'a better poet, in knowing 

§2 TH8 <poeric $QqH?m*A%e 203 

how to honour htm than in all his own 'poetic com- 

For with him emotion and thought would not coalesce. 
The greatest happiness he had known was in an entirely 
irresponsible play of the feelings. But, as he was later to 
admit, 'on such meagre diet as feelings, evaporated 
embryos in their progress to birth^ no moral being ever 
became healthy.' Emotional indulgence results in spirit- 
ual inertness, if not in active discord. For the heart and 
the head can only unite by being subordinated to some- 
thing beyond themselves and centred in an act of dis- 
interested recognition. Such an act he could not achieve, 
but the desire to do so soured his life at the source. For 
it was his misfortune to be too moral to enjoy and even 
exploit his neurosis as other Romantic poets were to do, 
to pose as a sensitive plant in a chilly world and luxuriate 
in melancholy isolation. He had had enough of the 
poet's sense of the eternal freshness and singularity of 
things to be utterly miserable, like a sick child, in a life 
which seemed exhausted within and without; his emo- 
tional longing for brotherhood intensified the ache of 
solitude, and his nostalgia was as often barbed, as it was 
softened, by self-accusation. 

And wherever he turned the same conditions pre- 
vailed. The conviction of unity and reality, as he was to 
discover, was no more realizable by him in religion and 
metaphysics than in poetry. Since Nature failed him as 
a radiator and renewer of energy, Christianity, both as a 
faith and a philosophy, failed him too, a real act of imagin- 
ation being as necessary for the capture of an idea and 
the living of it, as for the true impersonation of a character 
in a play. 

Two years later, for example, he was to write — 'It is 
easy to clothe imaginary beings with our own thoughts 
and feelings; but to send ourselves out of ourselves, to 

204 S^^MUSL T^TLOR C0L6"F(IT>gS §2 

think ourselves into the thoughts and feelings of beings 
in circumstances wholly and strangely different from 
our own, hie labor hoc opus. . . . Metaphysics is a word 
that you . . . are no great friend to, but yet you will 
agree with me that a great poet must be implicite, if not 
explicite, a profound metaphysician. He may not have it 
in logical coherence in his brain and tongue, but he must 
have the ear of a wild Arab listening in the silent desert, 
the eye of a North American Indian tracing the footsteps 
of an enemy upon the leaves that strew the forest, the 
touch of a blind man feeling the face of a darling child.' 

In short a poet, if he is not, like a lily, to fester, must 
mature. For a time indeed the unreal is intoxicating 
enough and has a flavour faint but exquisite of its own. 
But inevitably this fades, and if it is not succeeded by the 
flavour of real existence, which recompenses a healthy 
maturity for its loss, life must become pale and insipid. 
Coleridge did not for several years, if ever, realize all 
that was implied by the creative impotence which now so 
profoundly depressed him. The fanciful had failed 
him: he could not complete 'Christabel,' but still perhaps 
he hoped that the power of taking hold of experience, the 
gift of positive intuition transcending any purely personal 
projection, would be granted him. Certainly it was not 
until two years later that he confessed in perhaps the 
saddest tribute ever paid by one poet to another that his 
poetic genius was gone. 

But meanwhile the conflict between his sense of what 
great poetry implied and his inability to realize it, 
undermined his physical as well as his spiritual life. It is 
of course arguable that ill-health and opium were the 
cause and not the effect of his imaginative impotence. 
Similarly his domestic infelicity might be considered 
rather as generating than accompanying a temperamental 
discord. But while there can be no doubt that all these 

§3 THS "POETIC ^(igHrm^%8 205 

were aggravating conditions, the root cause must surely 
have been spiritual. Coleridge was not yet enslaved to 
opium or estranged from his wife. His physical suffer- 
ings, as his doctor had told him, were nervous in origin, 
and always coincided with periods of stress. At the same 
time it must be granted that the morbid sensibility which 
had already paralyzed his imagination also exposed him 
abnormally to climatic conditions, conditions which in 
the Lake Country were particularly likely to prey upon a 
rheumatic subject. On December 13 of this year 1800 
Dorothy noted in her journal: 'Coleridge came. Very ill, 
rheumatic, feverish. Rain incessantly, and he himself was 
to remark, 'Very hot weather brings me about in an 
instant, and I relapse as soon as it coldens.' 


From the failure then to complete 'Christabel' the 
rapid deterioration in Coleridge's health and character 
may be dated. His nature did not alter, but it was mas- 
tered by its inherent disease. The most noticeable symp- 
tom was diminished power to distinguish facl: from fiction. 
Incidentally he was far too preoccupied with his personal 
problem and far too conscious of Wordsworth's healthier 
ability, to contest certain points in the preface to the 
new Lyrical Ballads, 'half a child' though it was of his 
own brain, which he must have known to be very mis- 
leading. Posterity may be grateful for his neglect, since 
fifteen years later it resulted in so splendid a piece of 
criticism, but in the interval he was to suffer much from 
the supposition that the preface represented his opinions 
or corresponded with his practice. It was not, however, 
until July 1 802 that he troubled even to set a friend right 
'with regard to my perfect coincidence with his (Words- 
worth's) poetic creed.' Wordsworth, he then wrote, had 
not quite justly interpreted his views, and while warmly 

206 SzAmUSL r^TLOR C0LS c I(I e Dg8 §3 

agreeing with his attack on artificial diction, he added - 
'In my opinion, poetry justifies as poetry, independent 
of any other passion, some new combinations of language 
and commands the omission of many others allowable in 
other compositions. Now Wordsworth, me saltern judice, 
has in his system not sufficiently admitted the former, 
and in his practice has too frequently sinned against 
the latter. Indeed, we have had lately some little con- 
troversy on the subject, and we begin to suspect that 
there is somewhere or other a radical difference in our 

But indolence and misery were too constantly present 
during 1800 and 1801 for him to contest a point of 
theory. He was perpetually in flight from an inner con- 
flict, sopping himself with opium or with metaphysics 
or with epistolary confession. Impotent to realize or even 
yet clearly to explain himself, he could at least pity and 
delude himself. He could 'die in a dream of activity/ 
balancing the unrealized by prospectuses of the un- 
realizable, and consoling himself for his practical sterility 
by his theoretical fertility. 

And so fabrications, adapted to the taste of each cor- 
respondent, multiplied in his letters. He even lied to the 
Wordsworths, claiming to be contributing articles to 
the Morning Post, when in fact those appearing were 
Poole's. His undertakings for the booksellers, he assured 
others, were overwhelming him. There was a huge 
geographical school-book of 1,200 or 1,400 pages, an 
Essay on Poetry ('in reality a disguised system of morals 
and polities'), and a revised Life of Lessing. He was 
studying the most ancient forms of the Northern Lan- 
guages and investigating the laws by which our feelings 
form affinities with each other, with ideas and words. 
That he was trying to lose consciousness in discursive 
reading was doubtless the truth, but the booksellers had 

§3 THS VOeriC ^CigHT^M^%S 207 

no share in the process. Nor had they for many years in 
the speculations of which this study of the law of Associ- 
ation was to prove the perennial centre. 

Coleridge's efforts to refute the empirical philosophers, 
who referred all the phenomena of the human mind to 
sensation, were eventually not only to influence the philo- 
sophic thought of his age but to prepare the way for a real 
psychology. He did 'gain great light into several parts 
of the human mind* in the process of explaining himself; 
and in the eternal conflict between a mechanistic and 
vitalist conception of the universe, a conflict which in the 
nineteenth century was to become particularly acute 
through the growth of pure science, he was to play, quite 
unwittingly, his part, though rather as an interpreter of 
German idealism, a comforter of uneasy consciences, and 
an idealizer of the Church's dogma, than as either a clear 
or significant thinker. 

But it was as a comforter of himself 'in the twilight of 
imagination and just on the vestible of consciousness' that 
he turned now to the study of the highest form of Locke's 
philosophy, as presented by Hartley, before plunging into 
Kant. In meditating on 'the relation of thoughts to 
things ... of ideas to impressions,' in claiming to have 
completely extricated the notions of time and space . . . 
and overthrown all the irreligious metaphysics of modern 
infidels — especially the doctrine of necessity,' he light- 
ened the burden of time, space and necessity which 
weighed upon himself. In arguing too that 'deep think- 
ing is attainable only by a man of deep feeling and that 
all Truth is a species of Revelation,' he tried in terms of 
philosophy to justify his own evanescent consciousness; 
while his projected essay 'concerning Poetry and the 
nature of the Pleasures derived from it,' which was to 
'supersede all the books of metaphysics, and all the books 
of morals too,' was an airy substitute for the poetry which 

2o8 SzAmVSL TAYLOR £0L£^/£>££ §3 

he could not write and the moral effort which he could not 

But such metaphysics, like the opium and brandy in 
which he indulged, aggravated the condition which they 
temporarily relieved. He confessed to Poole that 'the 
experiments on my own sensations and on my senses . . . 
did injury to my nervous system,' and resulted in terrible 
stomach attacks and nephritic pains. The weeks passed 
in alternations of false cheerfulness, when a dose of laud- 
anum had 'a£ted like a charm, like a miracle,' and a drowsy 
self-distrust deepening into loathing as the unusual stimu- 
lus subsided and with it the 'hopes, the vitality and co- 
hesion' of his being. 

Even Nature seemed to be in league with his own 
bewildered, outlawed state. 'The night wind,' he wrote, 
'pipes its thin, doleful, climbing, sinking notes, like a 
child that has lost its way and is crying aloud, half in 
grief, and half in hope to be heard by its mother.' In a 
letter which he had 'scarce strength to fold up' he pro- 
claimed his resolution to be a 'liver by Rule,' and in one 
that asked a loan of (jio he promised to 'gird up his loins 
and disembarrass his circumstances.' 'I have no doubt,' he 
wrote in typical strain, 'that I could make £500 a year if I 
liked. But then I must forgo all desire of truth and excel- 
lence. . . . Oh, for a Lodge in a land where human life 
was an end to which labour was only a means, instead of 
being, as it is here, a mere means of carrying on labour.' 

But it was because his sense of life was curdled that he 
could not labour, and to quote any further from these 
letters can serve no useful purpose. It is enough to say 
that his correspondence for the next two years was 'a 
wildly wailing strain,' hysterical, fantastic, querulous. He 
was distraught by everything, by his debts, his incapacity, 
his ideas, his ill-health, by 'pestilent commerce' and 
'splenetic politics,' by the destitution and vagrancy he saw 

§3 THS "POETIC ^KiqRT^M^A%8 209 

about him like a sordid reflection of himself, by his family 
life and what he called the lack of 'moral being' in all 
but those who have felt the pressure of actual hard- 

And among these he came to include even Poole. For 
Poole's common sense now acted as an irritant. It was 
both exasperating and humiliating to have such rhetorical 
questions as 'Is it better to die or quit my native country, 
and live among strangers?' answered in sober and judicial 
tones. 'If,' wrote Poole, 'your disease be really bodily, 
and not the consequence of an irritated mind,' a warmer 
climate must be tried. The very conditional read like an 
accusation, and alas! a true one, and it deprived 'the 
poor sufferer of that sympathy which is always a comfort 
and, in some degree, a support to human nature.' Poole 
with his robust health might try to argue away his fears, 
bid him 'have courage, and make Mrs. Coleridge have 
courage to live within your income.' He might remind 
him that he had staunch friends and was assured of a fixed 
annuity, but to his neurotic mind even this was already 
held 'perhaps by a very precarious tenure' and the value 
of money was sure to decrease. With the kindest inten- 
tions Poole failed him. Instead of answering his appeals 
for compassion and nursing his self-depreciation, he tried 
naturally to brace him to 'set his house in order.' He even 
went further and rather sententiously diagnosed the two 
weak parts of his friend's mind: 'its tendency to restless- 
ness and its tendency to torpor.' Coleridge derived small 
satisfaction from citing in reply what he considered the 
two defects in Poole's character, and when later Poole 
failed to respond to a request for a loan of £50 or ^100, 
offering instead to join with others in contributing £20 
towards it, he was deeply hurt. 

Poverty was after all a blessing, he told Southey; 'No 
man's heart can wholly stand up against property'; and to 

210 8*AmU8L TtAYLOR C0L8%IT>g6 §3 

Poole himself he wrote after two months: 'It is impossible 
that you should feel as to pecuniary affairs as Wordsworth 
or as I feel — or even as men greatly inferior to you in all 
other things that make man a noble being. . . . You 
deem me, too often perhaps, an enthusiast. Enthusiast as 
I may be, Poole ! I have not passed through life without 
learning that it is a heart-sickening degradation to borrow 
of the rich, and a heart-withering affection to owe to the 

Nevertheless the penurious idealist who thus reproved 
his friend from a superior height of moral sensitiveness 
was found asking him for another advance in a few 
months' time. 

But such discrepancies between high sentiment and 
fadt could not be concealed from Sara. To Wordsworth 
he was still 'a great man, and if God grant him life will do 
great things.' But Sara, to whom greatness as an abstract 
quality meant little, who possessed Poole's common 
sense without his insight into genius, could scarcely feel 
so optimistic. Incapable of appreciating her husband's 
flights into the empyrean, she had nothing to set against 
his too obvious flounderings in the mire. She must 
already have known the immediate cause of his being 
'apparently quite well one day, and the next the fit comes 
on him again with as much violence as ever.' And even 
the artificial sense of freedom and expansion which he 
experienced under the influence of laudanum had no 
practical issue. Ill or well he was in incessant flight from 
the present, dreaming of the Azores or of a staider pantiso- 
cracy on a West Indian Island, 'spawning plans like a 
herring,' as South ey said, or being washed off the rock of 
convalescence into deeps of mental and physical anguish 
where she could not follow him. 

She could not realize that he was tormented by a sense 
of death in life : she only saw his pathetic, exasperating 

§3 THS TO STIC ?KiqH<Tm*A%8 211 

incompetence and wondered where it was to end. And 
try as she would, she could not altogether suppress a 
sense of injury and even a faint contempt for his sickly 
plaints. Coleridge, for his part, knew the impossibility of 
explaining. His malady was too subtle in its origin for 
his wife to comprehend it. Inevitably she judged by 
appearances, since these only she could understand. Her 
gloom and distress was a tacit accusation. He ought to 
be working and could not. 'To each reproach that thun- 
dered from without . . . remorse groaned an echo/ His 
lot, as he theatrically described it, was 'a prison without 
ransom, anguish without patience, a sick-bed in the 
house of contempt.' It made it worse that the discord, at 
least on his side, was not active. It became so, gradually, 
on hers, simply because his utter inability to quarrel posi- 
tively, or passionately, his aimless, amiable futility in all 
practical matters, tried her nerves beyond endurance. 
But for him it was rather a dull ache of hopeless unadapt- 
ability that 'gangrened' life 'in its very vitals/ 

Even a criminal, he wrote in his note-book, finds 'un- 
speakable comfort' in being understood, and he avowed 
later in life that he could have been happy with a servant 
girl 'had she only in sincerity of heart responded to my 
affection.' It was not subtlety of intellect or accomplish- 
ment that he craved, or to know and share a passion, but 
a cherishing companionship, blindly loyal in its devotion, 
a placid, doting affection that would appease his loneli- 
ness, soothe his mortification, and draw him home from 
the wild wilderness of his ideas. For 'God said that it 
was not well for the human Being to be alone; to be what 
we ought to be, we need support, help, communion in 
good. What, then, if instead of a Helpmate we take an 
Obstacle, a daily counteraction?' 

No helpmate probably could have saved Coleridge from 
himself, but doubtless a more tolerant and tactful woman 


than Sara could have strengthened the finer elements in 
his nature. His response to affection, selfish though it 
often was, was also lavish and unqualified. How little 
Sara could inspire it is proved by the desolatingly true 
analysis which he wrote of their respective tempera- 

'Mrs, Coleridge's mind has very little that is bad in it; 
it is an innocent mind; but it is light and unimpressible^ 
warm in anger, cold in sympathy, and in all disputes 
uniformly projecls itself forth to recriminate, instead of 
turning itself inward with a silent self-questioning. Our 
virtues and our vices are exacl; antitheses. I so attentively 
watch my own nature that my worst self-delusion is a 
complete self-knowledge so mixed with intellectual com- 
placency, that my quickness to see and readiness to 
acknowledge my faults is too often frustrated by the small 
pain which the sight of them gives me and the consequent 
slowness to amend them. Mrs. C. is so stung with the 
very first thought of being in the wrong, because she 
never endures to look at her own mind in all its faulty 
parts, but shelters herself from painful self-enquiry by 
angry recrimination. Never, I suppose, did the stern 
match-maker bring together two minds so utterly con- 
trariant in their primary and organical constitution.' 

A husband so searching in theory and so flabby in 
practice was a problem beyond Sara's powers of solution, 
but his very detachment from the momentary troubles 
with which she herself was apt to be unnecessarily ob- 
sessed angered her every day, drove her to recrimination 
and a 'love-killing' manner which was not really typical 
of her nature, with the result that Coleridge could eventu- 
ally write - 'The most happy marriage I can picture or 
image to myself would be the union of a deaf man to a 
blind woman.' His situation could not be better summed 

§3 ths vosric ?Kiqin:m*A%E 213 

But for him who 

'loved no other place, and yet 
Home was no home to him* 

it was a real tragedy. He fled of course to Dorothy. She 
forgot his faults in the light of his genius, and even his 
faults were rather 'amiable propensities' than vices. 
Coleridge confided in her. In many an 'interesting, melan- 
choly talk' he made her believe that he had struggled 
to bring Sara 'to a change of temper, and something 
like communion with him in his enjoyments/ that 
he was convinced it was impossible, and that he must 
'reconcile himself to that one great want, an utter want 
of sympathy.' 

The want excited her compassion as his genius drew 
her love, and he lived on both. He never reckoned the 
havoc he was working upon her feelings or the bitterness 
that he was intensifying in the heart of his wife. Sym- 
pathy was 'literally medicinal' to him; he needed it as he 
needed the laudanum-bottle. And so week by week he 
walked and talked with Dorothy or, when he was away 
in London or at Stowey, wrote her agonizing letters. It 
never occurred to him that she suffered, that she opened 
them in fearful expectation, and that when, as so often, 
they were couched in terms of gloomy extravagance, she 
was too agitated to sleep, and yet cherished them as she 
longed to cherish him. 

'Poor C. left us,' she wrote in her Journal, 'and we 
came home together. . . . Every sight and every sound 
reminded me of him — dear, dear fellow, of his many 
walks to us by day and by night, of all dear things. I was 
melancholy, and could not talk, but at last I eased my 
heart by weeping — nervous blubbering, says William. 
It is not so. O! how many, many reasons have I to be 
anxious for him.' Or - 'Two very affecting letters from 

2i 4 S^^MUSL TzAYLOR C0LS%LT>g8 §3 

Coleridge; resolved to try another climate. I was stopped 
in my writing, and made ill by the letters* ; or - * We 
received a letter from Coleridge. His letter made us 
uneasy about him. I was glad I was not by myself when 
I received it.' And though compassion sounded most 
frequently in her Journal, she confided an intimate tender- 
ness to it too. For example — 'The hips very beautiful, 
and so good ! ! and, dear Coleridge ! I ate twenty for thee, 
when I was by myself ' ; or — 'We broke the seal of Cole- 
ridge's letter, and I had light enough just to see that he 
was not ill. I put it in my pocket. At the top of the 
White Moss I took it to my bosom, - a safer place for it*; 
or - 'We parted from Coleridge at Sara's crag, after hav- 
ing looked for the letters which C. carved in the morning. 
I kissed them all.' 

Such were the feelings which Coleridge had come to 
excite, and incapable himself of any but vague emotions, 
he had no conception of the corroding intensity with 
which they possessed a sensibility more exquisitely precise 
and personal than his own. But Dorothy's devotion could 
only soothe: it could not heal. It made life often toler- 
able, and, when health and weather favoured, even cheer- 
ful. With her and Wordsworth he would wander over 
the hills in holiday mood. He would forget the 
canker-worm and follow her daring eyes about the 
countryside, about the bays that 'shot into the low 
fading shores/ and up to the sky where a little fleecy 
cloud hung above the mountain ridge and was 'rich 
in amber light.' He could even ponder 'a series of love 
poems truly Sapphic, save that they shall have a 
large interfusion of moral sentiment, and calm imagery - 
love in all the moods of mind, philosophic, fantastic' 

For a fluid temperament had its compensations. He 
could romanticize not only despair, but also hope. Senti- 
mentalist as he was, even his home beamed promise 

§3 THE TO STIC ^CigHT^M^^S 21 5 

when he was away from it. 'Oh, that I were at Keswick 
with my darling! My Hartley and my fat Derwent,' he 
wrote from London, in an expansive moment; 'God bless 
you, my dear Sara! I shall return in love and cheer- 

Doubtless two days at home shattered the dream and 
killed the resolve, but he could find a substitute in the 
'two years in a mild and even climate' which 'with God's 
blessing* were to give him 'a new lease in a better con- 

Yet neither dreams nor Dorothy could hide the fact 
that he had no heart for poetry, and there were times 
when her intense vitality and her brother's 'homogeneous' 
industry acted as terrible reminders. So keenly did he 
feel the contrast that in April 1802 on an evening when 
the misted moon foretold the coming on of rain, herald 
to him of 'giddy head, sick stomach, and swoln knees,' his 
sense of it overflowed into verse. It was his testament to 
the spirit which in days of 'morning freshness' he had 
communicated to Wordsworth, but had lost himself. 
Once again as at Clevedon the ^Eolian lute trembled in 
the wind, but no longer with a 'floating witchery of 
sound.' The 'long sequacious notes' had degenerated 
into a dismal drone, 'which better far were mute,' and the 
very quietness of the night beyond seemed impregnated 
with his own 'dull pain.' For it was the dullness that 
galled, the complete failure of the life within to wed itself 
to the life without and so, as once it did, 'meet all motion 
and become its soul.' Instead there was 

'A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear, 
A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief, 
Which finds no nat'ral outlet, no relief, 
In word, or sigh, or tear - 
O Edmund! in this wan and heartless mood, 
To other thoughts by yonder throstle woo'd, 

216 SzA&dUSL r^ATLOR C0L8 c I(IT>g8 §3 

All this long eve, so balmy and serene, 
Have I been gazing on the western sky, 

And its peculiar tint of yellow-green : 

And still I gaze - and with how blank an eye ! 

And those thin clouds above, in flakes and bars, 

That give away their motion to the stars; 

Those stars, that glide behind them, or between, 

Now sparkling, now bedimm'd, but always seen; 

Yon crescent moon, as rlx'd as if it grew, 

In its own cloudless, starless lake of blue, 

A boat becalm'd! a lovely sky-canoe! 

I see them all so excellently fair — 

I see, not feel how beautiful they are ! 

'My genial spirits fail; 
And what can these avail, 
To lift the smoth'ring weight from off my breast? 
It were a vain endeavour, 
Though I shall gaze forever 
On that green light that lingers in the west: 
I may not hope from outward forms to win 
The passion and the life, whose fountains are within. 

'O Edmund! we receive but what we give, 
And in our life alone does Nature live: 
Ours is her wedding-garment, ours her shroud! 
And would we aught behold, of higher worth, 
Than that inanimate cold world, allowed 
To the poor loveless ever-anxious crowd, 
Ah ! from the soul itself must issue forth, 
A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud 
Enveloping the earth — 
And from the soul itself must there be sent 
A sweet and potent voice, of its own birth, 
Of all sweet sounds the life and element. 

§3 ths voeric ^(igHrm^%s 217 

'Joy, virtuous Edmund! joy that ne'er was given, 
Save to the pure, and in their purest hour, 
Joy, Edmund! is the spirit and the pov/r, 
Which wedding Nature gives to us in dow'r, 

A new Earth and new Heaven, 
Undream'd of by the sensual and the proud - 
Joy is the sweet voice, Joy the luminous cloud — 

We, we ourselves rejoice! 
And thence flows all that charms or ear or sight, 
All melodies the echoes of that voice, 
All colours a suffusion from that light. . . . 

'There was a time when, tho* my path was rough, 

This joy within me dallied with distress, 
And all misfortunes were but as the stuff 

Whence fancy made me dreams of happiness : 
For hope grew round me, like the twining vine, 
And fruits, and foliage, not my own, seemed mine. 
But now afflictions bow me down to earth: 
Nor care I, that they rob me of my mirth. 

But oh! each visitation 
Suspends what nature gave me at my birth, 
My shaping spirit of Imagination. . . . 

'O Edmund, friend of my devoutest choice, 
O rais'd from anxious dread and busy care, 
By the immenseness of the good and fair 
Which thou see'st everywhere, 
Joy lifts thy spirit, joy attunes thy voice, 
To thee do all things live from pole to pole, 
Their life the eddying of thy living soul!' 

It was natural that in their revised form these lines should 
be addressed to Dorothy; for she, more intimately even 
than her brother, reminded him of an ecstasy which he 
could no longer share. It was natural too that he should 


describe this faculty in moral terms, since for him creative- 
ness was the purest form of moral life, a life in which 
discord was resolved by a continual acl: of self-forgetful 
love. If it had been merely an aesthetic problem, his sense 
of loss would not have amounted to anguish. 

But for him failure as a poet meant failure in every 
relationship of life, and the only satisfaction left to him 
was to analyse his condition, as he did in these lines with 
pathetic subtlety. Indeed he never stated his dilemma 
with greater psychological accuracy. For here, in this 
deadly, unimpassioned mood, he could see, as Dorothy 
saw, with a minute accuracy. The world without was 
no longer intangible, but sharply defined. Yet he saw 
only as an anatomist dissecting a corpse. 'I see, not feel 
how beautiful they are/ There was no vital relation be- 
tween himself as subject and nature as object, and so 
there was no joy. He was still 'in a prison without ran- 
som.' And this state was the exa£t opposite and was 
logically conditioned by the other mood, the loss of which 
he now lamented, and which he described in the lines: 

'O Edmund! we receive but what we give 
And in our life alone does Nature live/ 

In that mood, which he had expressed at various times 
in his early verse, Nature as object scarcely existed for 
him. She was a something without definition, an in- 
tangible essence into which he projected himself. In her, 
as in a moving stream, he saw only his own blurred image. 
The movement, the sense of luxurious relaxation, deluded 
him into the belief that he was achieving a creative experi- 
ence and in the process escaping from himself. But in 
truth he was only less smothered by egotism in his earlier 
emotional worship of nature than in the emotionless 
observance of her which he chronicled in this deeply 
affefting ode. 

§3 TH6 Toenc fKiqnrmzA^e 219 

The fact strikes to the root of the difference between 
himself and Wordsworth. Nature's reality for Words- 
worth transcended his personal mood. He did not merely 
give and receive himself back again as Coleridge, speaking 
from his own experience, claimed. Nature gave herself 
to him, too; she existed, in her own right, as an organism 
to be lovingly studied and, in moments of inspiration, to 
be harmoniously wed. It is this true and equable marriage 
between a poet's personality and the external world which 
distinguishes a mystical realization of life from a senti- 
mental impression, a self-annihilating from a self-indul- 
gent romanticism. It is thus that the personal becomes 
more than personal and the vision disinterested. 

Always Coleridge longed for such a realization, and 
always the fatal flaw in his temperament prevented it. 
His 'shaping spirit of Imagination' could wed only with 
phantoms. Between it and things there drifted, in all but 
unimpassioned moments, a mist of diffused emotion- 

But so complete an expression, even of impotence, 
brought relief. It did not renew his poetic faith, because 
his ideal of expression was something far other than this. 
To quote his own later words: 'there are men who can 
write passages of deepest pathos, and even sublimity, 
on circumstances personal to themselves and stimulative 
of their own passions ; but they are not, therefore, on this 
account poets.' But it made it easier 

'not to think of what I needs must feel, 
But to be still and patient all I can; 
And haply by abstruse research to steal 
From my own nature all the natural man.' 

Denaturalized metaphysics were not likely to be more 
significant than pathetically personal poetry or 'poetical 

220 s*Amu£L r<tATLOR coLe c RjT>ge § 3 

prose,* as he perhaps too modestly called it, but they 
involved less pain. And so he began a systematic study of 
Kant, drifting in dreamy passivity along the maze of that 
philosopher's arguments, until words became truly 
'elevated into things and living things too . . . like the 
parts and germinations of a plant.' 

The weakness of Coleridge's metaphysics was due to 
the fictitious life which words as words assumed for him. 
Like the images of 'Kubla Khan' they were accepted for 
themselves rather than as vehicles of meaning, and the facl: 
explains his extraordinary literal memory and power of 
sustained verbal circumlocution. He derived, however, 
considerable satisfaction from the process, and could 
shortly confess with some equanimity that 'all my poetic 
genius (if ever I really possessed any genius, and it was not 
rather a mere general aptitude of talent, and quickness in 
imitation) is gone and I have been fool enough to suffer 
deeply in my mind, regretting the loss.' 

At the same time he came to an understanding with 
Sara, of which the immediate consequence, as he told 
Southey, was 'that now for a long time there has been 
more love and concord in my house than I have known 
for years before. I had made up my mind to a very 
awful step, though the struggles of my mind were so 
violent, that my sleep became the valley of the shadows 
of Death and my health was in a state truly alarming. It 
did alarm Mrs. Coleridge. The thought of separation 
wounded her pride - she was fully persuaded that 
deprived of the society of my children and living abroad 
without any friends I should pine away, and the fears of 
widowhood came upon her, and though these feelings 
were wholly selfish, yet they made her serious and that 
was a great point gained.' 

Doubtless to Sara the situation for the last three years 
had always been serious enough, but according to her 

§3 the vosric tKiqnrmiA%e 221 

husband's complacent account she now 'for the first time 
since our marriage felt and acted as beseemed a wife and 
a mother to a husband and the father of her children,' 
promised to alter her 'external manners and looks and 
language and to fight against her inveterate habits of 
puny thwarting and unintermitting dyspathy'; while he, 
on his part, engaged 'to be more attentive to all her feel- 
ings of pride . . . and to correct my habits of impetuous 
censure. I have the most confident hopes,' he concluded, 
'that this happy revolution in our domestic affairs will be 

His hopes were of course delusive, but they actually 
revived his poetic impulse, even if in so doing they 
intensified a subsequent despair. A visit from Charles 
Lamb and his sister in August 1 802 sustained the illusion. 
They drove from Penrith in the midst of a gorgeous 
evening sunshine and thought they 'had got into Fairy- 
land.' The mountains were all dark with clouds upon 
their heads, as they reached Greta Hall at dusk. 'Glori- 
ous creatures,' wrote Lamb, 'fine old fellows. ... I shall 
never forget ye, how ye lay about that night, like an 
intrenchment. . . . Coleridge had got a blazing fire in 
his study; which is a large, antique, ill-shaped room, with 
an old-fashioned organ, never played upon, big enough 
for a church, shelves of scattered folios, an i^Eolian harp, 
and an old sofa, half bed.' 

Lamb's enthusiasm was infectious. For three weeks 
they walked 'among the clouds,' climbed Skiddaw and 
from Scawfell saw the mountains dying away to the sea 
in eleven parallel ridges. And the exhilaration survived 
their going. Late in September he could write to a 
friend : 'The river is full, and Lodore is full, and silver- 
fillets come out of clouds and glitter in every ravine of all 
the mountains, and the hail lies like snow upon their tops, 
and the impetuous gusts from Borrowdale snatch the 

222 SzAmUSL VzAYLOR COLS%IT>ge §3 

water up high, and continually at the bottom of the lake 
it is not distinguishable from snow slanting before the 
wind — and under this seeming snowdrift the sunshine 
gleams, and over all the nether half of the lake it is bright 
and dazzles, a cauldron of melted silver boiling ! It is in 
very truth a sunny, misty, cloudy, dazzling, howling, 
omniform day, and I have been looking at as pretty a 
sight as a father's eyes could well see - Hartley and little 
Derwent running in the green where the gusts blow 
most madly, both with their hair floating and tossing, a 
miniature of the agitated trees, below which they were 

Poetical prose might be 'a very vile Olio/ but when he 
hymned the elements, Coleridge's critical conscience was 
fortunately put to sleep. And it seems clear that for these 
few months he did respond vitally to the genius of the 
Lake Country, ceasing to look on the mountains in Eucli- 
dean abstraction 'only for the curves of their outlines,' 
losing himself in a worship of 'the spirit of unconscious 

His appreciation of Nature, when it was not relaxed, 
is indeed an excellent example of what a psychologist of 
to-day has termed 'empathy,' the projection of self into 
the lines and curves of landscape. As he was to write: 
'One travels along with the lines of a mountain. Years 
ago I wanted to make Wordsworth sensible of this. How 
fine is Keswick Vale! Would I repose, my soul lies and 
is quiet upon the broad level vale. Would it a£t? it darts 
up into the mountain-top like a kite and like a chamois- 
goat runs along the ridge - or like a boy who makes a 
sport on the road of running along a wall or narrow 

It was this typically fluent, and to some extent, abstract 
experience which he now enjoyed. 'A new joy,' as he 
wrote : 

§3 TH8 "POETIC 3^igHr^M^%S 223 

'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! The master-passion quelled, 
I feel that I am free/ 

The freedom was in truth precarious and indefinite as the 
elements : 

'He would far rather not be that he is; 
But would be something that he knows not of, 
In winds or waters, or among the rocks!' 

Yet he could claim it as an 'hour of triumph.' It was 
'delicious to the soul' if 'fleeting, vain,' and it momen- 
tarily quickened his pulse to poetry. On Scawfell he 
'involuntarily poured forth a hymn,' later entitled 'Hymn 
before Sunrise, in the Vale of Chamouni,' and although 
its resemblance to Frederica Brun's poem of the same 
name was considerable, doubtless the plagiarism was in- 
voluntary too. It was but another example of his char- 
acteristic automatism, of that desire for expression 'in 
which the effort required bears no proportion to the 
activity enjoyed.' The moment he tried to control, to be 
master of a spontaneous afflatus, inspiration failed and 
prose thought intruded. Poetry for him lived only in an 
unconscious surrender to what seemed some supernatural 
impulse, but which might be, as it was in this poem, a 
recollection of another poet's verse. 

His exhilaration, however, survived a tour in South 
Wales with the Wedgwoods, where with Thomas he 
discoursed metaphysics and dabbled in narcotics, inquir- 
ing particularly after one called 'Bang,' the powder of the 
leaves of a kind of hemp that grew in hot climates, impres- 
sively described as 'the Nepenthe of the Ancients,' and 
said to be taken by criminals in Barbary condemned to 

224 S^mVSL TAYLOR C0L6%IT>g6 §3 

suffer amputation. In the absence of this and encouraged 
by his delightful and instructive companion/ he confined 
himself (daily) to 'half a grain of purified opium, equal to 
twelve drops of laudanum/ which, he added, was not more 
than an eighth part of what he took at Keswick, and he 
further eased his conscience by anathematizing tea and 
suggesting that Virtue and genius are diseases of the 
hypochondriacal and scrofulous genera, and exist in a 
peculiar state of the nerves and diseased digestion, 
analogous to the beautiful diseases that colour and varie- 
gate certain trees.' 

Later in the year he returned to Greta Hall to find that 
a daughter had been born to him the morning before, but 
stormy weather and a soaking on Kirkstone Pass broke the 
spell of comparative health and provoked a return to 
unregulated laudanum. Not yet however did the sense of 
ecstasy forsake him, and in a reply to Wedgwood, who 
had remarked on his imprudence in disregarding the state 
of the weather, he suddenly launched into as splendid and 
illuminating a passage of self-expression as ever he penned. 

Prudence, he wrote, even if he possessed any, 'least of 
all things would endure the climate of the mountains. 
In simple earnestness, I never find myself alone, within 
the embracement of rocks and hills, a traveller up an 
alpine road, but my spirit careers, dives, and eddies, like 
a leaf in autumn; a wild activity of thoughts, imaginations, 
feelings, and impulses of motion rises up from within me; 
a sort of bottom wind, that blows to no point of the com- 
pass, comes from I know not whence but agitates the 
whole of me; my whole being is filled with waves that 
roll and stumble, one this way, and one that way, like 
things that have no common master. I think that my soul 
must have pre-existed in the body of a chamois chaser. 
The simple image of the old object has been obliterated, 
but the feelings, and the impulsive habits, and incipient 

§3 ths tostic tKiqurm*ji%e 225 

actions, are in me, and the old scenery awakens them. 
The further I ascend from animated nature, from men, 
and cattle, and the common birds of the woods and fields, 
the greater becomes in me the intensity of the feeling of 
life. Life seems to me then an universal spirit, that neither 
has, iior can have an opposite. "God is every where,' ' I 
have exclaimed, and works everywhere, and where is there 
room for death? In these moments it has been my creed, 
that death exists only because ideas exist; that life is 
limitless sensation; that death is a child of the organic 
senses, chiefly of the sight; that feelings die by flowing 
into the mould of the intellect becoming ideas, and that 
ideas passing forth into action reinstate themselves again 
in the world of life. ... I do not think it possible that 
any bodily pains could eat out the love of joy, that is so 
substantially part of me, towards hills, and rocks, and 
steep waters.' 

If it had been possible always to live and move on 
mountain tops, where no action was resisted and so space 
was forgotten, where the elements in motion seemed 
limitless and the prospect by its remoteness and immen- 
sity seemed to forego all restlessness, and anticipate an 
infinite repose, Coleridge's difficulties would have been 
at an end. He could have exulted all his days in a sen- 
sational pantheism instead of, on a humbler and drearier 
plane, devoting years of elaborate argument to an uncon- 
vincing exposition of theism. Only by such a sensational 
ascent, as he here described, could he, without narcotics, 
escape the dualism between the infinite and the finite 
which tormented him. 

But in truth such ecstasy, though far more vital, was 
as inconclusive as his later argument, and for the 
same reason. Just as his view of an omniscient and 
benevolent Creator was compromised by his failure to 
face the conditions which governed the material universe, 


so his spirit lost amid the elements had no true vision of 
life, because it was blind to its material aspect. 

But down in the valley the material aspect obtruded 
and the ideal vanished like smoke, unless restored by 
laudanum. It was probably laudanum that explained 
the impression of power and activity which he made on 
an observer who saw him in London in the spring and 
in describing his talk spoke of the 'brilliant images of 
greatness' that 'float upon his mind like the images of 
the morning clouds upon the waters . . . agitated by 
every breeze, and modified by every sunbeam. He 
talked, in the course of one hour, of beginning three 
works, and he recited the poem of Christabel^ unfinished.' 
And when in August came heavy wind and rain, he pined 
as he had exulted with the elements, finding himself 
unwell at the very hour when the glass changed and dating 
his relapses and recoveries by its movements. 

And so the tide of exhilaration ebbed. Once again his 
mind was 'strangely shut up,' and when he took paper to 
write there was 'one blank feeling; one blank idealess 
feeling. I had nothing to say; — could say nothing.' 
Even opium filled his nights with terrors. Sleep was his 
'tormenting Angel,' dreams were 'no shadows, but the 
very calamities' of his life, and his night-screams made 
him 'a nuisance' in his own house. Inevitably his rela- 
tions with Sara were as strained as ever, and it was from a 
hell of domestic discord and mental anguish that in the 
middle of the month he embarked on a tour of Scotland 
with the Wordsworths. 

But his state was too sodden to be bettered even by a 
journey to remote regions. The weather became very 
bad; Wordsworth, himself a 'brooder over his painful 
hypochondriacal sensations,' was scarcely a helpful com- 
panion, while Dorothy's quenchless vitality, her endless, 
minute, appreciative fervour had ceased to stimulate. 

§3 TH6 vosric tKiqHTm*A%e 227 

Even she confessed in her journal that she had said so 
much of a certain lake that she had tired herself and feared 
she must have tired her friends. Coleridge could no 
longer live on her level. It was painful to be so constantly- 
made to see things which he did not feel. He was often 
ill; from the time they left Glasgow 'it rained all the way, 
all the long, long day,' and laudanum, his one refuge, his 
one hope of animation, could only be secretly and dis- 
creetly indulged in, if at all. 

After a fortnight of fluctuating misery, he fled. Shoe- 
less and moneyless he was, and suffering from rheu- 
matism, but how gleefully he found himself alone and no 
longer compelled to admire, 'having Nature with solitude 
and liberty - the liberty natural and solitary, the solitude 
natural and free.' 

But now as he retraced his steps, once again the horrors 
of night overtook him. It may be that he was paying for a 
too sudden break in narcotic indulgence. He tried ether 
as an opiate, but only to fall down 'precipices of dis- 
tempered sleep.' He struggled to keep awake, he prayed, 
he walked nearly three hundred miles in eight days, 
hoping to outdistance the demons that pursued him, but 
still they came up with him at night a 

'fiendish crowd 
Of shapes and thoughts that tortured me : 
A lurid light, a trampling throng, 
Sense of intolerable wrong, 
And those I scorned, those only strong! 
Thirst of revenge, the powerless will 
Still baffled, and yet burning still! 
Desire with loathing strangely mixed 
On wild or hateful objects fixed. 
Fantastic passions! maddening brawl 
And shame and terror over all. . . . 

228 StAmUSL r^ATLOR C0L6%[T>ge §3 

'So two nights passed: the night's dismay 
Saddened and stunned the coming day. 
Sleep, the wide blessing, seemed to me 
Distemper's worst calamity. 
The third night, when my own loud scream 
Had waked me from the fiendish dream, 
O'ercome with sufferings strange and wild, 
I wept as I had been a child; 
And having thus by tears subdued 
My anguish to a milder mood, 
Such punishments, I said, were due 
To natures deepliest stained with sin: 
Still to be stirring up anew 
The self-created Hell within, 
The Horror of the crimes to view, 
To know and loathe, yet wish to do! 

'Such griefs with such men well agree, 
But I — oh wherefore this on me} 
Frail is my soul, yea, strengthless wholly, 
Unequal, restless, melancholy; 
But free from Hate and sensual Folly! 
To live beloved is all I need, 
And whom I love, I love indeed.' 

Child as he was, Coleridge could not understand why 
amiable weakness was punished more than vicious 
strength, why life should be kinder to the sensualist than 
the sentimentalist. He had not yet read nature as heed- 
fully as later he did when he spoke of Shakespeare as 
knowing 'that courage, intellect and strength of char- 
after, are the most impressive forms of power, and that 
to power in itself, without reference to any moral end, 
an inevitable admiration and complacency appertains, 
whether it be displayed in the conquests of a Buona- 

§3 ths Tosnc ?KiqHrm<iA%8 229 

parte or Tamerlane, or in the foam and the thunder of a 

He knew only that he longed to love and be beloved, 
that he had 'a joy in life that passeth all understanding*; 
and yet his very virtues undermined his moral being. 
His joy led to despair, his benevolence to self-indulgence, 
not to the brutal licence from which grosser natures 
derive some positive satisfaction and suffer little from 
afterthoughts, but to a licence which was a dream in the 
hours of indulgence and a nightmare afterwards, 'coun- 
terfeiting as it were the tortures of guilt, and what we are 
told of the punishment of a spiritual world/ 

In this state of haunted self-awareness he remained 
through the autumn, enslaved by 'streamy associations,* 
by his 'moral feelings and the state of the atmosphere.* 
The universe itself seemed often lurid and malign 

'And every goodly, each familiar form 
Had a strange somewhat that breathed terrors on me!* 

Clouds impressed him 'with a demoniacal grandeur* and 
the moon, as she rose in the sky, 'upboiled a swell of 

At best the world was phantasmal in its beauty, curi- 
ous and cold as it is to the sleepless who watch it emerging 
in the early hours, as darkness ebbs. 'The voice of the 
Greta and the cock-crowing,* he noted at two o*clock one 
November morning; 'the voice seems to grow like a 
flower on or about the water beyond the bridge, while the 
cock-crowing is nowhere particular - it is at any place I 
imagine and do not distinctly see. A most remarkable 
sky! the moon, now waned to a perfect ostrich egg^ hangs 
over our house almost, only so much beyond it, garden- 
ward, that I can see it, holding my head out of the smaller 
study window. The sky is covered with whitish, and with 


dingy cloudage, thin dingiest scud close under the moon, 
and one side of it moving, all else moveless, but there are 
two great breaks of blue sky. . . . The water leaden- 
white, even as the grey gleam of water is in latest twilight. 
Now while I have been writing this and gazing between- 
whiles . . . the break over the road is swallowed up, and 
the stars gone; the break over the house is narrowed into 
a rude circle, and on the edge of its circumference one 
very bright star. See! already the white mass, turning 
at its edge, fights with its brilliance. See! it has bedimmed 
it, and now it is gone, and the moon is gone. The cock- 
crowing too has ceased. The Greta sounds on for ever. 
But I hear only the ticking of my watch in the pen-place 
of my writing-desk and the far lower note of the noise of 
the fire, perpetual, yet seeming uncertain. It is the low 
voice of quiet change, of destruction doing its work by 
little and little.' 

More than ever he felt that his nature required 'another 
nature for its support, and reposes only in another from 
the necessary indigence of its being.' Yet there was no 
one in whom he could repose, and more and more what 
hopes he still had centred on some foreign country where 
the barometer changed less often. 

Meanwhile he pondered much on the problem of evil. 
He was pained by the 'irreverent' way in which Words- 
worth and Hazlitt spoke of Nature and 'so malignantly' 
too 'of the Divine Wisdom.' Bitterly conscious of his 
own imperfections, he dare not tamper with the idea of 
Divine perfection. He must create an idea of perfect 
wisdom and virtue and vitality somewhere in life to 
oppose to his own sense of failure and degradation. He 
could scarcely bear to face the fact of discord in himself; 
far less could he face it in the Universe. 'Never to be 
friendless, never to be unintelligible!' he was to write in 
his note-book. 'O to feel what the pain is to be utterly 

§3 ths voeric tKiqHTm^^E 231 

unintelligible and then - "O God, thou understandest!" ' 
and again — 'Facts ! Never be weary of discussing and 
exposing the hollowness of these/ 

In December he could endure the atmosphere of Greta 
Hall no longer. Starting for London to see Poole by- 
way of Dove Cottage he had a serious relapse there and 
was nursed for a month by Dorothy and Mrs. Words- 
worth. He was exceedingly happy. No effort was re- 
quired of him, and conscience spares an invalid. No 
longer was 'his inner being disturbed': he felt 'serene and 
self sufficing* since illness had 'taken away . . . the con- 
necting link of voluntary power, always slender, which 
continually combines that part of us by which we know 
ourselves to be, with that outward picture or hieroglyphic 
by which we hold communion with our like — between 
the vital and the organic.' 

Lying in bed, with 'only strength enough to smile 
gratefully on my kind nurses, who tended me with sister's 
and mother's love, and often, I well know, wept for me in 
their sleep and watched for me even in their dreams,' he 
seemed a spirit disencumbered of a corpse; and how 
largely psychological his illnesses were is suggested by 
'the suddenness and seeming perfectness' of his recovery. 
In a single hour he changed 'from a state that seemed next 
to death ... to a state of elastic health.' 

But the weather as usual paralleled his recovery, and 
such illusory health brought little comfort. Only by a 
change of climate, beneath sunny skies, he assured him- 
self, might he yet recapture his being from opium, dis- 
cover a will to act and in action forget the need of sym- 
pathy which Sara could not supply. Perhaps too the 
Wordsworths might be tempted to join him in Sicily, and 
since 'mortal life' seemed 'destined for no continuous 
happiness, save that which results from the exact perform- 
ance of duty,' he began to lay down 'the whole plan' of his 

232 s*A&dueL r^TLOR coLe%[T>ge § 3 

literary life and 'the exact order' in which he would 
execute it. 

His first work, fittingly enough, was to be one entitled 
'Consolations and Comforts from the exercise and right 
application of the Reason, the Imagination, and the Moral 
Feelings, addressed especially to those in Sickness, 
Adversity, or Distress of Mind, from Speculative Gloom, 
etc.' He also advised Poole 'to look steadily at every- 
thing and to see it as it is,' and sent Sara, 'the mother, the 
attentive, and excellent mother of my children,' as he 
called her in a farewell letter, minute instructions about 
the game of 'spillekins' which she was to teach Hartley 
and Derwent. 

But he did not sail till March, and although in January 
he had sufficient spirit to oppose Godwin ('this dim- 
headed prig of a philosophoside'), when he was incited to 
attack him by his 'green-spectacled wife,' and 'thundered 
and lightened with frenzied eloquence for near an hour 
and a half,' February found him once again 'low and 
sinking.' Possibly the 'rich and precious wines' which he 
enjoyed in Lamb's company did not agree so admirably 
with him as he claimed, but the fact hastened his depar- 
ture. And when Wordsworth and Sir George Beaumont, 
another Grasmere friend, each advanced £100 towards 
his expenses he looked out for a ship to take him to Malta, 
a convenient stopping place on a voyage to Sicily. He 
spent his last weeks in London with John Tobin the 
dramatist, who tired him with earnest advice and had the 
bad taste to remind him of an unhonoured debt of ^10. 
And then late in March, 'weak and daily tottering into 
relapses,' he slipped away to Portsmouth. Nearly a fort- 
night later he sailed in the Speedwell for Malta. It was 
an adventure upon which he staked the last remnant of 
his hopes. 

§4 TH6 TOSTIC ?KiqHTm^4%S 233 


The voyage was far from promising. Except for ten 
days spent at Gibraltar scrambling about the rock among 
the monkeys in a pair of silk stockings and nankeen panta- 
loons, he was uniformly ill and depressed, and when he 
was not reading through an Italian grammar, he was 
analysing his 'dimness of feeling.' Only in the last four 
or five days did his languor begin to lift. Dr. Stoddart, 
however, the resident attorney-general, to whom he bore 
a letter of introduction, received him 'with an explosion 
of surprise and welcome* which was just what he wished, 
and the mere novelty of his surroundings distracted him 
for a time, though he found it a dreary place and the 
Maltese the 'noisiest race under heaven/ 

In June he wrote that he was better in health on the 
whole and hoped in a month or so to be able to give a 
more encouraging account. 'As it is, I have every reason 
to be satisfied. The efFe6l of years cannot be done away in 
a few weeks/ As previously in Germany he was pathetic- 
ally home-sick. He trembled at the thought of letters 
from England. 'I should be most miserable,' he con- 
fessed, 'without them, and yet I shall receive them as a 
sentence of death! So terribly has fear got the upper 
hand in my habitual feelings, from my long destitution 
of hope and joy.' 

But at first he was too fully occupied to indulge in 
'diseased excess* of sensibility, since soon after his arrival 
he became an official secretary to the Governor, Sir Alex- 
ander Ball, who found his company a delightful feast to 
his mind, save when he insisted on propounding such 
distinctions as that between 'an unorganized mass of 
matter' and 'a mass of unorganized matter.' Early in 
August too he was sent to Sicily to draw up a political 
paper on its revenues and resources, and soon after his 


return, was appointed as the temporary successor of the 
Public Secretary, who had died. Among his duties, 
ironically enough, was that of writing drafts in Castle- 
reagh's name, scarcely a congenial task even for a dis- 
illusioned Jacobin. 

But his real life had little relation to these surface 
activities; rather the monotony and press of official duties 
accentuated his introspection. During 1804 his health 
showed real signs of improvement and his eye was 
focused upon the beauties of his new world. Yet all the 
time he remained dishearteningly detached. He saw for 
example how interestingly 'a brisk gale and the foam that 
peopled the alive sea' combined with the number of white 
sea-gulls as if 'the foam-spit had taken life and wing and 
had flown up,' but he saw it like a geometrical proposition, 
while the sky, 'that soft, blue, mighty arch, resting on the 
mountain or solid sea-like plain' suggested 'an awful 
omneity in unity.' He could not, as he longed to do, feel 
himself into their very being. 'Days and weeks and 
months pass on,' he noted, 'and the sea, the sea and the 
breeze have their influences on me, and so, too, has the 
association with good and sensible men. I feel a pleasure 
upon me, and I am, to the outward view, cheerful, and 
have myself no distinct consciousness of the contrary, for 
I use my faculties, not, indeed, at once, but freely. But 
oh ! I am never happy, never deeply gladdened. I know 
not — I have forgotten — what the joy is of which the 
heart is full, as of a deep and quiet fountain overflowing 
insensibly, or the gladness of joy, when the fountain over- 
flows ebulient.' 

He had tasted intoxication and henceforth no other 
state was really tolerable. And the self-consciousness, 
which he at once relieved and aggravated by perpetual 
analysis, rapidly degenerated into morbid self-pity when 
his hopes of returning home in May 1805 were disap- 

§4 THE TO STIC tKiqH.Tm*A%8 235 

pointed. In addition, through a mishap to the mail, he 
had received no letters from England for nearly ten weeks 
and his consequent dejection of spirits was intensified by 
the news of the death of Wordsworth's sailor brother, 
which he was told at a public reception, and immediately, 
according to his own account, fell down on the ground in 
'a convulsive hysteric fit.' The effect of these accidents 
was disastrous. 'They have nearly broken my heart,' he 
wrote, and his health deteriorated rapidly. 

He suddenly realized his isolation among hard-headed 
officials on a dreary island. They had a 'self-betraying 
side-and-down look of cunning' : their only criterion was 
one of use. He had no one in whom to confide, no one 
even to whom he could comfortably talk. His work 
seemed the very prostitution of his powers, his hopes of 
physical and spiritual recovery a delusion, his future a 
homeless blank. 

In September he escaped at last, setting out for Rome, 
but staying on the way for four months at Naples. He was 
too wretched, too resigned now even to be homesick. 
An American artist who met him often in Rome noted 
how prematurely middle-aged he looked. Only the large 
grey eyes remained invincibly childlike, proclaiming, as 
they were always to do, the one constant and lovable 
quality in a character already at the age of thirty-four 
irreparably aged. 

For so soon, he now recognized, he had passed 'the 
top of the Mir \ the exhilaration, the irresponsibility of 
youth was gone from him. He found himself a man with- 
out a man's capacity. 'Dreadful was the feeling — till 
then life had flown so that I had always been a boy, as it 
were; and this sensation had blended in all my conduct, 
my willing acknowledgment of superiority, and, in truth, 
my meeting every person as a superior at the first moment. 
Yet if men survive this period, they commonly become 

236 S^^MUSL TzAYLOR COLS%IT>ge §4 

cheerful again. That is a comfort for mankind, not for 

In May he left Rome hurriedly at a rumour that Napo- 
leon, who had already cut him off from Naples, intended 
to arrest all the English in Italy, and cherished a peculiar 
animosity towards himself for articles which he had con- 
tributed to the Morning Post. At Leghorn he arranged 
for a passage home in an American ship, which was not 
however to sail for more than a month, a month of increas- 
ing anguish of mind and body. Never had he been so 
paralysed. His head 'felt like another man's ... so 
dead was it* and his right side was numbed as if by a 
palsy stroke. 

But at the same time he was feverishly conscious. 'O 
my children!' he wrote in his note-book, 'whether, and 
which of you are dead, whether any and which among 
you are alive I know not, and were a letter to arrive this 
moment from Keswick I fear that I should be unable to 
open it, so deep and black is my despair. O my children ! 
My children ! I gave you life once, unconscious of the 
life I was giving you, and you as unconsciously have 
given life to me.' 

Yet he knew now that the only final escape for him 
from a sense of death in life lay in the possibility of a life 
in death. Surely in the infinite unknown he might be 
gloriously quit of his sagging body and at last come face 
to face with the central reality of things. 'Come, come,' he 

'thou bleak December wind, 
And blow the dry leaves from the tree! 
Flash, like a love-thought thro* me, Death! 
And take a life that wearies me.' 

But alas! Poole was right in his refusal to believe that 
'your diseases come near the silver cord.' An excessive 

§4 THS TOSriC 3^igHrSM^%S 237 

sensitiveness to circumstance and atmosphere could co- 
exist with great bodily solidity. Indeed it was this very 
combination which was his tragedy; and though his 
sufferings on the voyage home were unremitting, the 
Captain and his fellow passengers had no need to be 
'seriously alarmed for his life.' 

In this condition he reached Portsmouth early in 
August, and a week later dragged himself to London and 
took sanctuary with Lamb. He was 'ill, penniless, and 
worse than homeless,' and afraid 'even to cowardice, to 
ask for any person, or of any person.' He had played his 
last card and lost. He stood face to face with himself, and 
in the background, distorted by his sense of remorse and 
self-disgust, hovered the accusing faces of his wife and 
his friends. It had been easy to say beforehand that if he 
did not bring back health, he would at least bring back 
experience, and suffer with patience and silence; but he 
did not realize then how stark the experience would be or 
how incapable of silent resignation he was. 

There is no moment more terrible to the romanticist 
than that in which realism is forced upon him. Generally 
he eludes the full impact of fact, and possibly this was 
the only moment in Coleridge's life when some sort 
of evasion was impossible. Neither poetry, metaphysics, 
religious unction, epistolary self-depreciation nor projects 
availed him. His genius had faded like a ghost at cock- 
crow, his body was an unco-ordinated weight of matter, 
and the faith and sympathy which alone could quicken 
the blood in his veins could never be his, because he could 
not pretend to justify it. He dare not turn even to the 
Words worths. 

'O the complexities,' he wrote in his note-book, 'of the 
ravel produced by time struggling with eternity!' But 
that was merely an abstraction; it was the conflict in his 
own harassed being of body with spirit that could never, 

2 3 8 S^^MUSL T^TLOR COLS%(IT>g£ §4 

he now realized, be resolved. 'The chestnut,' he wrote, 'is 
a fine shady tree, and its wood excellent, were it not that 
it dies away at the heart first. Alas! poor me!' 

It was not at the heart that his tree was dying, but at 
the roots. 



Fortunately however Stuart presided at the Courier 
office and there for a month he gave himself to 
routine work. It was an ill-substitute for that 

'abiding place of love 
O'er which my spirit, like the mother dove, 
Might brood with warming wings!' 

but it helped him to forget. A kind and encouraging 
letter however from Wordsworth tempted him away, and 
a month after his return he wrote for the first time to 
Sara (whose 'character in general,' he informed her, he 
held 'in more than mere esteem — in reverence') that he 
would arrive at Greta Hall in a fortnight. 

But his reverence was met by neither sympathy nor 
respecT:. Sara was heartless enough to make him get up 
on really freezing mornings in his nightshirt to light the 
fire, before she dressed herself and the children, and 
according to his own account broke out into outrageous 
passions, 'like a wet candle spitting flame,' he aptly noted. 
The weather and his health were terrible and opium a 
ceaseless necessity. Once again he resolved at all costs 
formally to separate, but Sara's conventionality, which 
had helped to kill the marriage as a reality, preserved it as 
a facl:. Her one argument in opposing such a step was 
that 'everybody will talk,' although Coleridge's suggestion 
that he should take his two boys with him and superintend 
their education may have with reason alarmed her. Before 
Christmas, however, his patience was exhausted, and 
taking Hartley with him, he followed the Wordsworths 
to Coleorton. 

Even Wordsworth's hopes were damped by his appear- 


240 S^^MUSL T^TLOR C0L6%I i DQS §i 

ance. His own verses, written four years before, must 
surely have recurred to his mind: 

'Ah! piteous sight it was to see this Man 

When he came back to us, a withered flower, - 

Or like a sinful creature, pale and wan. 

Down would he sit; and without strength or power 

Look at the common grass from hour to hour.' 

But after nearly three years of exile 'the sweet sense of 
Home' which stole over Coleridge was inexpressibly 
consoling. His sense of life began to revive. And in Sarah 
Hutchinson his emotions, so long frozen within him, dis- 
covered a new object over which to diffuse themselves. 
Dorothy was too intimately associated with the days 

'when we first 
Together wandered in wild poesy.' 

Her very sympathy was a reminder of failure, of those 
awful days when 'Christabel' hung fire; but Sarah Hutch- 
inson could give him 'a sister's and mother's love' uncom- 
plicated by the past. And so desperate was his need, so 
dim his realization of love as an exclusive attraction that 
he never stopped to consider the effect which this new 
attachment might have on Dorothy. 

Surely, he thought, even when he first met Sarah Hutch- 
inson at Sockburn he had unconsciously recognized an 
affinity? 'As when the taper's white cone of flame is seen 
double, till the eye moving brings them into one space 
and then they become one - so did the idea in my imagin- 
ation coadunate with your present form soon after I first 
gazed upon you.' And although her charm in his eyes 
was that she did not remind him of extinguished poetry, 
it was in meditative verse that he wrote of her in his note- 


'And in life's noisest hour 
There whispers still the ceaseless love of thee, 
The heart's self-solace and soliloquy,' 

or again: 

'You mould my hopes, you fashion me within, 
And to the leading love-throb in my heart 
Through all my being, all my pulses beat. 
You lie in all my many thoughts like light, 
Like the fair light of dawn, or summer light, 
On rippling stream, or cloud-reflecting lake — 
And looking to the Heaven that beams above you, 
How do I bless the lot that made me love you!' 

He blessed it because it restored him to some degree at 
least of communion with life and soothed 'the secret pang 
that eats away the heart.' Her voice was the 

'dear woman's voice to one cast forth, 
A wanderer with a worn-out heart forlorn, 
Mid strangers pining with untended wounds.' 

Like a man who has been near death, and knows he can 
never know good health again, he could yet enjoy a com- 
parative convalescence. 'The moulting peacock,' he noted, 
'with only two of his long tail-feathers remaining, and 
those sadly in tatters, yet, proudly as ever, spreads out his 
ruined fan in the sun and breeze.' 

That, he had to admit, was beyond his powers of re- 
covery, yet with Sarah Hutchinson's help he felt that he 
could faintly emulate it. How much like a moulted pea- 
cock he was, was forced upon him by Wordsworth's 
recitation of the poem 'On the growth of an individual 
mind,' later named 'The Prelude,' upon which, while his 
friend's life had been going down in ruins, he had been 
steadfastly working, reconciling in the process 

242 S^A^MUSL T^TLOR COL£%IT>ge §i 

'the two natures. 
The one that feels, the other that observes" 

between which Coleridge himself could find no unifying 
concord. Yet as night after night the great constructive 
record unfolded, despite the memory so often recalled 

'of that hour 
Of thy communion with my nobler mind,* 

despite the comparison it so poignantly, so chasteningly, 
suggested, his mood was strangely tranquil. He had 
accepted failure as a poet and derived almost a melancholy 
satisfaction from the 

'Sense of past youth, and manhood come in vain, 
And genius given, and knowledge won in vain; 
And all, which I had cull'd in wood-walks wild, 
And all which patient toil had rear'd, and all 
Commune with thee had open'd out — but flowers 
Strew'd on my corse, and borne upon my bier, 
In the same coffin, for the self-same grave!' 

The tide of the poem took him and he lay passive on it 

'by the various strain 
Driven as in surges now, beneath the stars, 
With momentary stars of her own birth, 
Fair constellated foam, still darting off 
Into the darkness; now a tranquil sea, 
Outspread and bright, yet swelling to the moon. 

( And when - O Friend ! my comforter, my guide ! 

Strong in thyself, and powerful to give strength ! — 

Thy long sustained Song finally clos'd, 

And thy deep voice had ceas'd - yet thou thyself 

Wert still before my eyes, and round us both 

That happy vision of beloved faces - 

(All whom I deepliest love - in one room all !) 

§ i fluctuations 243 

Scarce conscious, and yet conscious of its close, 
I sate, my being blended in one thought, — 
(Thought was it? or aspiration? or resolve?) 
Absorb'd; yet hanging still upon the sound — ' 

But while he was forgetting one Sara in the person of 
another, he was forgetting other friends too. Poole 
doubtless was too understanding to impute this to positive 
indifference, but Josiah Wedgwood was both hurt and 
angry. His brother Thomas had died during Coleridge's 
absence abroad, and yet six months had passed since his 
return and not even a letter of ordinary condolence had 
been received. In addition he had sent a message through 
Wordsworth concerning a proposed Memoir, which 
would have produced a reply from any good man with 
feeling such as men usually possess,' but even this had 
failed to break Coleridge's silence. Illness and unhap- 
piness could not excuse such conduct, and he ceased, in 
his own words, 'to esteem him.' The breach had been 
made in their relationship, which, despite a temporary 
healing, was to end in the withdrawal of his share of the 

Meanwhile Coleridge early in 1 807 went up to London 
to visit another friend, Basil Montagu, and there between 
February and May he planned to deliver at the Royal 
Institution the first of those series of lectures on the Prin- 
ciples of Art which for the rest of his life were to prove 
the most congenial and creative activity in which he was 
ever engaged. In May it had been arranged that he 
should join Mrs. Coleridge and his other children at 
Bristol and that they should all go from there on a visit 
first to Stowey and then to Ottery St. Mary. The rumour, 
however, of a possible separation was too much for his 
clerical brother George, and he closed his doors against 

244 SzA^MUSL TAYLOR C0LS%IT>g6 §i 

Doubtless Coleridge was much relieved. For Stowey 
maintained the revival begun at Coleorton. The 'stout 
plain-looking farmer' in Poole helped him to view both his 
poetical and domestic failures in a more mundane per- 
spective. He rode a horse or he wandered about his 
'dear old walks of Quantock and Alfoxden' ; he abandoned 
fermented and abstained from spirituous liquors and less- 
ened the daily dose of opium. Poole found his 'mind 
heightened and better disciplined, ' but his health and 
will-power weaker. Nevertheless he prevailed upon him 
to write at last to Josiah Wedgwood, and doubtless his 
plea for pity, the casuistical contention that the faultiest 
parts of his conduct had 'arisen from qualities both 
blameable and pitiable, but yet the very opposite of 
Neglect or Insensibility,' and the fiction that he had 'a 
paper now on its way from Malta,' in which he had por- 
trayed 'poor Thomas,' was responsible for removing all 
Wedgwood's feelings of anger. 

But Coleridge's comparative happiness lay in the fact 
that he had now accepted the position of being a mental 
doctor continually diagnosing his disease. He was to 
suffer still from circumstances that lacerated his feelings, 
but never again was he really to agonize over the dis- 
integration of his personality. Rather it was increasingly 
to supply him with a subject for secret analysis and public 
exposition, both in the form of lectures and of that copious 
conversational display which was to be the outstanding 
feature of his remaining years and the source of much of 
his posthumous repute. 

It was this performance which amazed and gratified 
an Oxford undergraduate, 'a scholar and a man of genius,' 
as Cottle described him in an introductory letter to Poole, 
who, finding Coleridge away for a few days, followed him 
to Bridgwater. His admiration had been excited eight 
years before by 'The Ancient Mariner,' 'the greatest 


event/ as he called it, in the unfolding of his mind. He 
had seen in it 'the ray of a new morning, ' but his interest 
had been recently renewed by the information that Cole- 
ridge was applying his whole mind to metaphysics and 
psychology - his own 'absorbing pursuit.' 

A small, shy, dreamy imp of a man, a precocious Greek 
scholar, yet gifted with a memory vastly retentive and a 
taste already nibbling at narcotics, he had indeed many 
points of affinity with the burnt-out poet tending to cor- 
pulence whom he found standing in a deep reverie under 
a gateway off the main street of Bridgwater. Coleridge 
took him back to the house where he was staying and 
there, after a few courteous preliminaries, 'like some great 
river, the Orellana, or the St. Lawrence, that, having been 
checked and fretted by rocks or thwarting islands, sud- 
denly recovers its volume of waters and its mighty music, 
swept at once, as if returning to his natural business, into 
a continuous strain of eloquent dissertation, certainly the 
most novel, the most finely illustrated, and traversing the 
most spacious fields of thought, by transitions the most 
just and logical that it was possible to conceive.' 

It is not the place here to discuss the value of Cole- 
ridge's talk: that may be more suitably done later in 
considering the quality of his metaphysics and of his prose 
writing in general, since all of it was dictated conver- 
sation. But one point in De Quincey's account may be 
countered at once. 'Coleridge,' he wrote, 'to many people, 
and often I have heard the complaint, seemed to wander; 
and he seemed then to wander the most when, in fa£t, his 
resistance to the wandering instinct was greatest - viz., 
when the compass and huge circuit, by which his illus- 
trations moved, travelled farthest into remote regions 
before they began to revolve. Long before this coming 
round commenced, most people had lost him, and natur- 
ally enough supposed that he had lost himself . . . and I 


can assert . . . that logic the most severe was as inalienable 
from his modes of thinking, as grammar from his language/ 

So far as talk can be considered merely as a technical 
display, this testimony to Coleridge's logical subtlety and 
coherence was doubtless justified. But the complaints 
were also justified, since, wonderful as the circuit of his 
eloquence might be, it was generally a verbal circuit. 
Like vocal virtuosity it was a triumph of articulation, but 
it lacked the very essence of effective communication in 
words, a clear and concrete meaning. 'Words' too often 
had become 'things.' And if it was logical in detail, it had 
no central idea to which its details were subordinated. 

But De Quincey's admiration of his eloquence and 
sympathy with his views on the Hartleian theory evoked 
an immediate response from Coleridge: he even 'entered 
into a spontaneous explanation' of his opium habits, and 
he so wrought upon his admirer's feelings that on his 
return to Bristol he begged Cottle to inquire whether 
Coleridge would accept a gift from an unknown friend. 
Coleridge replied that the only serious obstacle to the 
completion of the works to which he aspired was pecu- 
niary pressure; that he would employ the tranquillity of 
mind so gained to benefit his fellow-men, and that he 
hoped to be able to restore the money at the end of two 
years. The result of these plausible assertions was a gift 
of £300 which neither hastened the realization of mythical 
works nor even the lectures 'On Taste,' which he had 
vaguely promised to deliver at the Royal Institution and 
which Poole was constantly urging him to prepare. He 
continued to talk very much like an angel and to do 
nothing at all. 

His talk however at this time had undergone a change, 
not in its characteristics, but in its subject matter. It had 


begun to be quite explicitly devout. Having failed to 
realize in poetical activity the morality of the creative 
artist, he had fallen back upon the creed of the theologian. 
He had confessed to De Quincey how profoundly ashamed 
he was of Unitarianism and how disgusted to think that 
he could at any time have countenanced its tenets; and 
doubtless on the many walks he took with Poole after 
Sara and the children had returned to Bristol, he dis- 
coursed at length on this subject. Certainly his letters 
were increasingly preoccupied with it. 

The characteristics of the religious views which he now 
embraced may be more profitably summarized towards 
the end of his life, when they had become his absorbing 
interest and had assumed a less crude and credulous form. 
At this point it will be enough to stress the personal aspect 
of the change from an Unitarian to a Trinitarian creed. 
The change coincided with his own loss of the power of 
unified experience. For his conception of God as of Nature 
was exclusively an idealized conception of himself. The 
more he ceased to be able to harmonize his being in an act 
of creative expression, the more conscious he became of the 
various faculties which should ideally contribute to such 
an act, but which in him were imperfectly co-ordinated. 

It was these constituent elements which he began and 
henceforth never ceased to separate and analyse in himself, 
and it was the knowledge derived from such analysis 
which made him unique in his day as a psychological 
critic. If he could have brought the same psychology to 
an analysis of religious experience, the result might have 
been equally fruitful. But into this province of inquiry 
another and stronger personal element entered. 

For while his failure of creative power as a poet sharp- 
ened his critical sense, when he turned to examine, in 
the light of his own past experience, works of creative art, 
his failure to live creatively as a man completely preju- 


diced his attitude to religious questions. Christ, as he was 
to admit later, was 'not primarily a teacher, but a doer,' 
and no faith has real value which has not been actively 
experienced. Poetry in its purest and strangest essence as 
an imaginative act Coleridge had really experienced, and 
so, as a critic of romantic art, he could break through 
literary dogma and pierce to reality. But Christianity as a 
vital and harmonizing faith, rooted in and issuing in action, 
was the one kind of poetical experience which he could 
never realize; he turned to it not joyfully and creatively, 
as one who has discovered a new set of values which 
resolved an inner discord, but as one harassed by 'sorrow 
and ill health and disappointment,* who seized despair- 
ingly upon a body of doctrine to interpose between himself 
and the reality of his own maladjusted life. And as such 
it always remained. In short, instead of experiencing a 
Christian conversion and then in the light of that con- 
version examining the Church's dogmas to see if they 
truly represented it, he merely accepted orthodox dogma, 
because its fixity comforted his fluid nature and wove 
about it a thin but voluminous fabric of philosophical 

Much of the Church's dogma is true because it defines 
and summarizes characteristic religious experiences; some 
of it is false because man has outgrown in knowledge and 
experience the data upon which it was based. The task 
of the free mind is to discriminate between these two 
types, before attempting to translate either into terms of 
its own thought and to renew them with its own faith. 

But that task Coleridge never attempted. He was not 
strenuous enough either to believe or disbelieve vitally; 
he was too bewildered in a world of fact, to wish to sacrifice 
one stone in an edifice which appealed to him just because 
it seemed firm, final, and touchingly mellowed with age. 
And so the foundations of his religious thought were 

§ 2 fluctuation 2 49 

generally formulas and its superstructure edifying abstrac- 

He could write for example at this time of the Bible - 
'without . . . stopping to contend on what all dispassion- 
ate men must deem undebatable ground, I may assume 
inspiration as admitted; and equally so, that it would be 
an insult to man's understanding to suppose any other 
revelation from God than the Christian scriptures. . . . 
If therefore these scriptures, "impregnable in their 
strength" . . . do inculcate the doctrine of the Trinity \ 
however surpassing human comprehension; then I say, 
we are bound to admit it on the strength of moral demon- 

Such 'moral demonstration' as this surely surpassed any 
of the sophistries of which he accused the Socinians. It 
does indeed far less than justice to his ultimate concep- 
tions. In the last years of his life, for example, he could 
write that he considered the Bible most inspired because 
in it 'there is more that finds me than I have experienced 
in all other books put together . . . and at greater depths 
of my being.' Nevertheless it is well to quote these pulpit 
platitudes, since they reveal in a crude form the lack of 
real meaning which was always to characterize his religious 

As will later be shown, Coleridge sought to justify a 
nebulous faith and idealism by a specious use of Kant's 
metaphysical distinction between 'Reason' and 'Under- 
standing,' claiming on these grounds not only that 
religion is an act of faith' or of 'reason' in the Kantian 
sense, which it is, but that also the dogmas of a church 
and the scriptural 'evidences' upon which it based its 
authority could not be affected by any criticism, however 
destructive, of the mere 'understanding.' 

The following quotation from the letter already cited 
will serve to show how conveniently vague and high- 


sounding the distinction could become when interpreted 
by a devout Trinitarian : — 'All should remember that 
some truths from their nature, surpass the scope of man's 
limited powers, and stand as the criteria of faith, deter- 
mining by their rejection or admission, who among the 
sons of men can confide in the veracity of heaven. Those 
more ethereal truths, of which the Trinity is conspicuously 
the chief, without being circumstantially explained, may 
be faintly illustrated by material objects. . . . The Trinity 
is a subject on which analogical reasoning may advan- 
tageously be admitted, as furnishing at least a glimpse of 
light, and with this, for the present, we must be satisfied. 
Infinite wisdom deemed clearer manifestations inexpedi- 
ent; and is man to dictate to his Maker?' 

Unction such as this is the inevitable result of sacrificing 
a mundane critical conscience to the veracity of heaven,' 
and of forming an illicit relationship between free meta- 
physical inquiry and a tied theology. 


Naturally therefore conversion to orthodoxy did not 
affect Coleridge's practical ways of life. Religion was a 
speculative retreat full of verbal avenues and intricate 
bypaths, in any one of which he faintly hoped by some 
incredible 'saving grace' to be suddenly made a new man, 
as he had hoped to renew the miracle of 'The Ancient 
Mariner.' Meanwhile opium continued as pervasive, and 
fact and fiction as confused. He still described himself too 
as 'penniless' and 'resourceless' and as wasting in remorse 
(and it might be added in Trinitarian metaphysics) 'the 
energy which should be better employed in reformation.' 

From Stowey he returned to Bristol, and after Sara and 
the children had left for home, attended by De Quincey, 
who most conveniently wished to visit Wordsworth and 
Southey, he retired to the house of a Mr, Morgan and 


there fell ill. Coleridge showed great discretion in his 
choice of households in which to fall ill. For here, as at 
Dove Cottage, there were two ladies who tended him 
with 'sister's and mother's love,' Mrs. Morgan herself 
and her sister Charlotte; and 'choked up with heavy lum- 
ber' as the entrance passage to his heart may by now have 
been, it ever remained exceedingly susceptible to comfort- 
ing bedside manners. 

On this occasion he expressed his gratitude (the grati- 
tude, as he wrote, which 'suspends the heart's despair') in 
a set of typically 'soft and pamby' verses, comparing his 
two new comforters to the 

'Two dear, dear Sisters, prized all price above, 
Sisters, like you, with more than sisters' love,' 

whom Mrs. Coleridge, when she read the verses on their 
appearance in the Courier, had little difficulty or satisfaction 
in identifying as Dorothy and Sarah Hutchinson. 'Dear 
and honoured Mary and Charlotte' were in fact very 
shortly to take the place of these 'other selves,' as he called 
them, when a tragic misunderstanding divided him from 
the Wordsworth family. 

Meanwhile late in November, still suffering from a 'low 
bilious fever,' and with only two locks of hair and two 
profiles to remind him of his new benefactors, he arrived 
in London and took up his residence once again at the 
top of the Courier building in the Strand. Here, depressed 
by 'the comfortlessness of seeing no face, hearing no voice, 
feeling no hand that is dear,' he sank more than ever under 
the dominance of opium. Nevertheless he arranged at 
last to give his lectures on the English Poets, 'in illustra- 
tion of the general principles of poetry.' Since, during the 
next ten years, he was to deliver a succession of these 
lectures, varying in detail, but essentially the same, it will 
be better to examine their quality later as a whole. 

252 S^A^MUSL r^TLOR QOLS^DgS §3 

Here it will suffice to say that they dealt generally with 
the subjects of taste, imagination, fancy, and passion, as 
the sources of pleasure in the fine arts and with the con- 
nection of such pleasure with moral excellence; that Cole- 
ridge imported into them many of the principles of German 
criticism, but that he did so in no real sense as a plagiarist, 
but because such principles did fit his own experience. For 
example, when he spoke of the 'naive' as an essential 
quality of poetic genius, it was his own essential naivete 
which dictated the statement, although Kant expressed a 
similar view. Similarly when he contrasted, like Schiller, 
the pure moral feeling which underlay even gross passages 
in Shakespeare with the vicious prudery of Richardson, 
or with Lessing condemned the artificiality of French 
tragedy and dubbed Voltaire 'a petty scribbler,' it was his 
own essential naturalism which he was voicing. In addi- 
tion he had a sense of humour unknown to German 

For these lectures, like his conversation, satisfied a per- 
sistent need of self-expression. 'My thoughts,' he wrote, 
'crowd each other to death'; in lecturing he eased the 
pressure and he also achieved something of that 'joy 
without consciousness' which he read into Bacchus, as 
the symbol of 'the organic energies of the Universe' still 
untroubled by the criticizing intellect. The essence of 
poetry as also of moral excellence was to him this uni- 
versality, a fusion of all opposites in creative ecstasy, an 
organic communication of life, and to discourse upon it 
spontaneously, to empty his mind of the accumulated 
ponderings and yearnings of years, was at least a toler- 
able substitute for realizing it. To have written or even 
prepared his lectures would have destroyed the mood of 
melting fluency which he so much appreciated and by 
which alone he could escape a congested self-conscious- 
ness and that perpetual sense of the inexpressible which 


convinced him that 'processes of thought might be carried 
on independent and apart from spoken or written 

The result was that he ranged amazingly wide, was 
often disappointingly discursive, and indulged in constant 
digressions. But when his mind was held by an object 
and his whole being concentrated itself in an act of imme- 
diate apprehension, his criticism was of that creative 
order which blends synthesis with analysis, and estimates 
a work of art by an absolute as well as by a relative stan- 
dard. This co-ordination between abstract principles and 
their concrete application depended too much upon an 
animated mood. Often, when depressed, he lost himself 
in abstractions: but when he achieved it he stood and 
still stands in the front rank of English critics. 

On this first occasion, however, he could not even be 
relied upon to appear in the lecture-room, and when he 
did, it was in a state either of coma or exhaustion, 'his 
lips . . . baked with feverish heat, and often black in 
colour' and labouring 'under an almost paralytic inability 
to raise the upper jaw from the lower.' 

So he dragged on until late in June 1808, when the 
course was completed ; and shortly afterwards he fled from 
his own loneliness and the narcotic excuses it involved to 
Allan Bank, the Wordsworths' new house at Grasmere. 


The change in his health and spirits was immediate and 
phenomenal. Love was indeed 'the genial sun of human 
nature,' and though 'he divided his rays in acting on me 
and my beloved,' they still remained vitalizing enough. 
It was 'a duty, nay ... a religion to that power to show' 
. . . that 'for itself can it produce all efforts, even if only 
to secure its name from scoffs as the child and parent of 


Such was the result of renewed intercourse with the 
Wordsworths, and above all with Sarah Hutchinson. He 
even claimed to have mastered the opium habit. 'I am 
hard at work,' he wrote, 'and feel a pleasure in it which 
I have not known for years; a consequence and reward 
of my courage in at length overcoming the fear of dying 
suddenly in my sleep, which, Heaven knows, alone seduced 
me into the fatal habit.' He was submitting his case 
'carefully and faithfully, to some physician': already he 
felt 'the blessedness of walking altogether in light,' and 
should he entirely recover, he deemed it 'a sacred duty to 
publish my cure, tho' without my name, for the practise of 
taking opium is dreadfully spread.' 

1 A good conscience,' he noted, 'and hope combined 
are like fine weather that reconciles travel with delight,' 
and although he had no intention of returning to his wife, 
he was sufficiently in love with life to meet her on the 
friendliest terms at Allan Bank. Throughout the autumn 
his letters continued in this key, telling of an improvement 
beyond his boldest hopes, of 'a painful effort of moral 
courage remunerated by tranquility — by ease from the 
sting of self-disapprobation.' 'Judge me,' he wrote glee- 
fully, 'from the 1st January, 1809.' 

And behind it all lay the comfort of Sarah Hutchin- 
son's appreciatory regard. His pulse was quickened by it, 
he breathed a new and genial air, and in a reaction from 
baffled inertia he plunged headlong into a journalistic 
venture, which was 'to make or mar' him. The perfidy of 
subscribers to the Watchman was forgotten ; he cherished 
an 'honourable Ambition to be useful, aided by the wish 
to be generally acknowledged to have been so' ; he would 
prove himself a practical idealist, a worthy object of sis- 
terly affection; while collaboration with Wordsworth 
suggested a pleasant parallel in prose with the enchanted 
days of the first Lyrical Ballads, 

§ 4 FLUCru^riO^S 255 

The weekly paper, of which he issued a prospectus in 
December, was in fact planned as an outlet for his new 
religious views. It was 'to aid in the formation of fixed 
principles in politics, morals, and religion.' Leading 
articles, reviews or news were to have no place in it, and 
should passing events be chronicled, it was in the light 
of that 'true philosophy' of which Christianity was the 
perfect expression. 

He called it The Friend^ and possibly if his Quaker 
subscribers had not shown what he considered a particular 
meanness in their mode and discontinuance of payment, 
the fact that 'in the essentials of their faith,' in 'unwearied 
beneficence and unfeigned listening and obedience to the 
Voice within,' he believed as they did, might have 
tempted him from the securer haven of the Establish- 

The first number was provisionally announced to 
appear on January 7, 1809, but 'vexations, hindrances, 
scoundrelism, disappointments, and pros and cons,' 
without, he was convinced, 'the least fault on my own 
part,' delayed publication for six months. His greatest 
difficulty was to discover a printer. Southey had been 
cheated by his printer, and Coleridge, in his anxiety to 
avoid a similar fate, was led into an act of unpractical 

Instead of arranging to have the paper published in 
London, where it would have had some chance of a reason- 
able and efficient circulation, he preferred to depend on 
local efforts. His first choice was a Kendal bookseller, 
named Pennington, whose chief claim to consideration 
was that he was 'a genius and mightily indifferent about 
the affairs of this life' ; but in February he discovered a 
really 'clever young man,' a Mr. John Brown, of Penrith, 
who only required £38 worth of type to set him going. 
Penrith was separated from Grasmere by twenty-eight 

256 S^^MUSL T^TTLOR coLs^iDge §4 

miles of rough road which included the Kirkstone Pass. 
The postal system between the two places was primitive 
and in rough weather quite uncertain. Nevertheless Mr. 
Brown's impressive cleverness won the day. 

March however came and still the public had no oppor- 
tunity of forming fixed principles. Coleridge's spirits, too, 
were beginning to suffer, and an attack of the 'mumps* 
and the death of Dr. Beddoes, who had undertaken to 
cure him of his laudanum habit, took, as he wrote, a large 
slice of hope out of his life. In other words, it offered him 
an excuse for drugging his anxieties by renewed indul- 
gence. And one so sensitive must have been conscious of 
Wordsworth's distrust. He was convinced, he told Poole, 
that Coleridge would never now achieve anything, that 
everything was 'frustrated by a derangement in his intel- 
lectual and moral constitution,' that he had 'no voluntary 
power of mind whatsoever' and was incapable of 'acting 
under any constraint of duty or moral obligation.' Even if 
The Friend should appear, he was certain that it could not 
continue for any length of time, and he begged Poole to 
prevail on Coleridge to abandon the venture before it was 

But no one could have persuaded Coleridge to do that 
now. Had he not staked all his credit as an effective 
being on this cast? Was not his attachment to Sarah 
Hutchinson poignantly involved in its success or failure? 
And so on June 1, after friends had advanced money for 
the stamped paper, the first number at last appeared. 

Meanwhile he had received nothing but lists of hypo- 
thetical subscribers, and the manner of payment, 'the 
ugliest part of the business,' as he wrote with a laudable 
but unfortunate contempt for money, had not even been 
decided upon. Possibly, judging others by himself, he 
thought that the best way to sell his goods was not to 
demand it until people had thoughtlessly incurred the 


debt, but the only way of honouring it ever suggested was 
a vague announcement in the second number that pay- 
ment should be made at the close of each twentieth week. 

After despatching the second number on June 8 he 
returned from Penrith to Grasmere. He was in a mood 
of genial optimism, claiming fictitiously that the material 
for the next two numbers was ready 'in a very superior 
style of polish and easy intelligibility,' and that henceforth 
regularity was secured. But although Allan Bank was 
more homely than Penrith lodgings, although he could lie 
in bed and didtate to Sarah Hutchinson, while Dorothy 
stifled her feelings as best she could in cookery and the 
housework, his distance from the publishing centre was 
the final fatality of this ill-starred scheme. A printer thirty 
miles away was not only inconveniently, but conveniently 
remote. He did not trouble the conscience save by fits 
and starts, and so weeks would pass without a line being 
written, and then in a frenzy of remembrance he would 
compose a whole number in two days, only to be provoked 
and disheartened by a delay in its delivery. 

By the New Year, failure, though he would not admit 
it, was already stamped upon the venture. Of the small 
number of subscribers, two-thirds nearly had discontinued, 
or, what was worse, continued to receive the paper without 
payment, while even the faithful complained of its dullness 
and fretted at its transcendentalism. 

And indeed there was some justice in their complaints. 
It was not merely that Coleridge preached - for, as Lamb 
jestingly remarked, he never did anything else, and yet 
his audiences were generally captivated - but the style of 
his preaching was not suited to weekly journalism. 

The journalist, if he is not a pure impressionist, must 
at least concentrate his thought within narrow limits; 
he must aim at point, variety and brevity. His style, as 
Hazlitt wrote, must be 'bright and quick as the first 

258 SzAMUSL r^TLOR COLS%IT>ge §4 

feelings of truth': it must have a concentrated flavour. 
That is why the best journalism is generally prejudiced. 
It gains in force in proportion to its prejudice. But Cole- 
ridge always wanted to say everything about anything, 
and he could seldom keep his eye fiercely focussed upon 
an object for the vapours that rose from his sense of under- 
lying profundities and wreathed about his mind. 

Again, true as it might be that 'no two things that are 
yet different, can be in closer harmony than the deductions 
of a profound philosophy and the dictates of plain common 
sense,' the plain man wanted common sense in concrete 
terms and not in those of abstract ratiocination. Coleridge 
however credited him with his own extended metaphysi- 
cal reading and his own relish for thought as thought, 
and continually indulged in abstruse meditations upon 
first principles. Necessarily such meditations could not 
be treated popularly, as he at one time hoped, 'and with 
that lightness and variety of illustration which formed 
the charm of The Spectator' Addison provided 'reading 
made easy' because he skimmed the cream off the surface 
of life, and Coleridge wrote truly enough - 'Of paren- 
theses I may be too fond, and will be on my guard in this 
respect. But I am certain that no work of impassioned 
and eloquent reasoning ever did or could subsist without 
them. They are the drama of reason and present the 
thought growing instead of a mere Hortus siccus' 

Nevertheless the fact remained that weekly journalism 
was no place for so extended a drama of reason. The 
ordinary reader became lost in its involved periods, and 
doubtless in simpler and crueller terms would have con- 
firmed Coleridge's own strictures when he wrote that 
'there is often an entortillage in the sentences and even the 
thoughts (which nothing can justify), and always almost, a 
stately piling up of story on story in one architectural 
period, which is not suited to a periodical essay . . . least 


of all suited to the present illogical age, which has, in 
imitation of the French, rejected all the cements of lan- 

And even those who survived the style found the sub- 
stance unsatisfying. They felt dimly that the compromise 
which Coleridge had adopted in religion and sought to 
apply to political affairs was not a vital one. It was the 
compromise of a man who looked back instead of forward, 
who was occupied in steering a middle and abstract course 
between the ague of Hobbes* and 'the fever of Rousseau,' 
who was upholding the principles both of Taste and 
Philosophy, adopted by the great men of Europe from the 
middle of the fifteenth till towards the close of the seven- 
teenth century* because of his inability to live in his own 
century and relate his ideals to its problems. To add a 
'sanctifying spirit* to the views of Hampden, Milton and 
Sidney, to review 'the fair humanities of old religion,' was 
a poor substitute for studying contemporary events in the 
light of really personal and constructive values. 

Yet remote as much of Coleridge's idealism was from 
actual experience, his attempt to apply ideal principles to 
the consideration alike of art and religion and national and 
social life was right in intention and significant in its 

The Romantic poets of whom Coleridge and Words- 
worth were the forerunners did not discover ideal values ; 
at most they rediscovered them ; but they were unique in 
attempting, often imperfectly, to humanize them, to bring 
them into vital relation with ordinary life. Just as Coleridge 
tried to read poetry in the light of human experience and 
not as a detached literary display, so he wished to connect 
human conduct with aesthetic values. His expression of 
these values was often tainted by a conventionally religious 
standpoint, but in a true sense such values are religious. 

Modern idealism originated in the Christ of the Gospels, 


in one sense perhaps the first Romantic, as a writer has 
recently called him, and it grew up with the Christian era 
and the sensitive individualism which Christianity ex- 
pressed. But for centuries it remained a retreat to which 
men, jarred by the conflict of the world, resorted. Its relig- 
ious expression was other worldly or entangled in theolog- 
ical abstractions. Its literary and artistic expression was 
equally abstract, save in some of the plays of Shakespeare; 
and even he, if the evidence of the 'Tempest' is to be 
believed, ended in abandoning his attempt to reconcile the 
discord of man with the perfect harmony which his imagi- 
nation conceived. Chaucer frankly dismissed such a har- 
mony to regions of clerical discourse, and such poets as 
Spenser conceived of it and worshipped it only in sub- 
liminal and generally fanciful terms. The mystical poets 
of the seventeenth century read it uncritically into the 
phenomenal beauty of nature, but pondered little on the 
ideal potentialities of man, treating him at best as a sinner 
to be saved by the sacraments of the Church. The eigh- 
teenth century went further and tried to forget the need 
of ideal values in correctness and in uninspired common 

But with the new century they began to be reasserted, 
not as an abstract but as a practical necessity. For the first 
time it was claimed that a Christian humanism should 
affect every department of life. The poets who made this 
claim were generally too ecstatically conscious of the har- 
mony they desired to bring it into true relation with prac- 
tical concerns ; but from their day Romanticism ceased to 
be a merely private or aesthetic or academic concern. Its 
values became indeed gradually a directing force in the 
life and thought of the West. Modern man, not only 
as a seeker after an inward harmony but as a responsible 
citizen, was more and more compelled to accept or reject 
its moral values, to choose between its creative faith in the 


potential reasonableness and humanity of man and a 
realistic and self-interested view of him as a creature fore- 
doomed to lust and selfishness and lethargy. And if he 
accepted the former view, he was more and more bound 
to apply his faith constructively to every department of life. 
In this effort to link up a religious consciousness with 
everyday things, to treat art, not merely as a luxury or an 
activity governed by values of its own, but as imaging 
creative principles, applicable to life as a whole, Coleridge 
was a pioneer. In his literary criticism he related art 
intimately to human experience ; in The Friend he attemp- 
ted to estimate even political action by the creative prin- 
ciples which he saw working in great poetry and which 
he translated imperfectly into philosophic and religious 
terms. It was a forlorn and confused experiment, but it 
deserved at least the commendation of one of his acquaint- 
ances:— 'Of Coleridge ... I think the better for his 
Friendly productions; there is writing of a high order 
thickly interspersed, and ... it must be owned that he 
often develops sentiments which few have elevation 
enough to cogitate.* Doubtless few had such elevation, 
but The Friend was an early venture in that process of 
education, by which men were led to apply truly human 
standards not only to art and religion, but also to life. 


Coleridge, however, could derive little consolation from 
a solitary admirer. Only Wordsworth's wish prevailed on 
him to continue his 'march through the wilderness, ' and 
by January 18 10 he had ceased to make even sporadic 
efforts and had fallen back on some old letters from Ger- 
many and 'Sketches and Fragments of the Life and Char- 
acter of the late Sir Alexander Ball/ Worthy man as the 
late Governor of Malta undoubtedly was, pleasing as the 
panegyric must have proved to Sir Alexanders family - 


surprising too, since its author and his subject were ru- 
moured to have parted 'on a mutual notorious hatred of 
each other' - it was scarcely calculated to help in the 'for- 
mation of fixed principles' or the retention of wavering 

But early in March the blow fell. Sarah Hutchinson's 
long visit was to end in a fortnight. 'Coleridge,' wrote 
Dorothy, 'most of all will miss her, as she has transcribed 
almost every paper of The Friend for the press.' He missed 
her so much that the paper, 'an enormous title page,' as 
Hazlitt a little unfairly called it, 'an endless preface to an 
imaginary work,' ended on March 15 with her departure. 

For in Mrs. Wordsworth's 'amiable sister' Coleridge 
lost not only an industrious amanuensis, but the last spur 
to a dormant conscience. 'There is a sense of the word, 
Love,' he was to write in even sadder days to Words- 
worth, 'in which I never felt it, but to you and one of 
your household,' and the same letter contained the signifi- 
cant crescendo, 'Dear Mary! Dear Dorothy! Dearest 
Sara!' And in his note-book he had confessed all the 
subtly sad, vague luxury of his emotion. 

* "I fear to speak, I fear to hear you speak, so deeply 
do I now enjoy your presence, so totally possess you in 
myself, myself in you. The very sound would break the 
union and separate you-me into you and me. We both, 
and this sweet room, its books, its furniture, and the 
shadows on the wall slumbering with the low, quiet fire, 
are all our thought, one harmonious imagery of forms 
distinct on the still substance of one deep feeling, love 
and joy - a lake, or, if a stream, yet flowing so softly, so 
unwrinkled, that its flow is life, not change - that state in 
which all the invidious nature, the distinction without 
division of a vivid thought, is united with the sense and 
substance of intensest reality." 

'And what if joy pass quick away? Long is the track 

§ 5 fl ucru^rio^s 2 6 3 

of Hope before - long too the track of recollection after 
... so Nature, with Hope and Recollection, pieces out 
our short summer.' 

But she was gone, and soon enough there was to be no 
track of Hope before. Dorothy had served his poetry, 
Sarah Hutchinson his prose, but both ventures had ended 
in failure. Yet from this failure he derived a certain con- 
tentment, the peace of resignation. It seemed to him 
more a material than an ideal failure. He had made an 
effort to help mankind and mankind had rejected him. 
As for his effort to save himself, it had been always a 
delusion, always beyond his powers. He had passed be- 
yond self-disgust into the quiet of self-acceptance. His 
nature, he realized, could not be conquered or directed. 
Its very virtues were the quality of its defects. He had 
energies and could exert them, but 'not in anything which 
the duty of the day demanded/ Even his wife ceased to 
irritate him. He addressed her once again as 'my dear 
Love' and humbly asked if she could put him up, and he 
passed the next four or five months at Greta Hall, spilling 
his usual snuff over the carpets, and bewildering her by 
his gentle equanimity. 

She could not fathom the change, knew not 'what to 
think or what to do,' so uniformly kind was his disposition. 
He seemed actually happier than for years. For he could 
indulge in abstractions to his heart's content, without 
attempting to relate them to actual life. He could be duti- 
ful in apothegms, such as, 'To perform duties absolutely 
from the sense of duty, is the ideal^ and then he would 
go on to prove by argument and analogy the impossibility 
of its realization. Happiness to him was the state of that 
person who, in order to enjoy his nature in its highest 
manifestations of conscious feeling, has no need of doing 
wrong, and who in order to do right is under no necessity 
of abstaining from enjoyment/ 

264 S^A^MUSL r^TLOR COLS%IT>gS §5 

In a negative sense he had achieved this innocent Epi- 
cureanism for which he always hungered. He had ceased 
to consider whether he was doing wrong. He was simply 
enjoying his nature, jotting down an occasional hint of an 
idea for a 'Christabel' which he knew would never be 
continued, or sardonically recommending Lloyd's State 
Worthies as a manual for every man who would rise in the 

Truly * Repose after agitation' was 'like the pool under 
a waterfall, which the waterfall has made.' The last num- 
ber of The Friend lay on his desk, and though the sight of 
it filled Mrs. Coleridge's heart 'with grief and her eyes 
'with tears,' it filled her husband's heart with a secret 
serenity. It had taught him the folly and futility of con- 
scientious effort. With a conscience for the time unteased 
by remorse he could sun himself in the admiration that 
his conversation provoked, read Italian to his family and 
'be perfectly content to be doing nothing else.' In material 
things he might be shipwrecked, but over the immaterial 
world of his own thoughts he floated as over a wan, 
autumnal sea. 


. § x . 

Life, however, Coleridge was to discover, could still 
wound, and from the most unexpected and most 
desolating quarter. In October 1810 Basil Montagu and 
his family stopped at Greta Hall on their way south from 
Scotland, and Coleridge accepted an offer of a vacant place 
in their chaise and hospitality on their arrival in London. 
Meanwhile Wordsworth, upon whom they called, had 
taken the opportunity of confiding to Montagu that 
some of Coleridge's habits made him a difficult guest in a 
well-ordered household, hoping in this way, as he later 
explained, to prevent any embarrassments which might 
arise. Doubtless his intentions were kindly, although his 
manner of expressing them was probably too sententious 
to be happy. But the consequences were dire. 

Coleridge had only been three days in Montagu's house 
when his host, with extreme tactlessness, informed him 
that he had been commissioned to say that owing to cer- 
tain of his habits he had proved an intolerable guest at 
Allan Bank and that Wordsworth had no hope for him. 

In a sense this was probably not as gross a libel upon 
Wordsworth's sentiments as has generally been claimed. 
He had confessed to Poole that he had ceased to hope for 
Coleridge as an effective being, and his subjection to 
opium and its rather sordid consequences were as likely 
to prove 'a nuisance' to Mrs. Wordsworth - even though 
she struck Moore as 'a comfortable sort of person enough' 
- as to Mrs. Coleridge or any other orderly housewife. 

But Wordsworth's unhappy comments were significant 
of more than this. That hardening of his arteries as a 
creative being, which was to substitute moralizing in his 
poetry for vital, human sympathy, had already begun. 
The great decade of his life was over, and all that was 



prosaic and self-centred in his nature was in the ascendant. 
Coleridge's weak-willed benevolence therefore appealed 
to him less and less as the moralist superseded the poet. 
He saw all his faults with open eyes, and he had ceased 
to derive encouragement from his unworldly virtues. 

But no more cruel way of informing Coleridge of a 
difference preordained in their respective natures could 
have been devised. That the friend in whom he placed 
such absolute confidence should have spoken of him in 
private in such a way was a terrible disillusionment, but 
that he should have actually, as he supposed, asked Mon- 
tagu to inform him of his opinions was, as he gasped, not 
only 'cruel' - it was 'base.' It could only be interpreted as 
a method intentionally adopted of closing the doors of 
Allan Bank against him. 

The cold callousness of it burst upon him 'like a thun- 
derstorm out of a blue sky after fifteen years of such re- 
ligious, almost superstitious idolatry and self-sacrifice. ' 
Inevitably he expressed his feelings hysterically and with 
that element of cant which had now become constitutional. 
But he scarcely exaggerated when he wrote that ' all former 
afflictions of my life come less than flea-bites' compared 
to this. For he had truly given himself to Wordsworth, 
invested him with the faith which he had lost himself, and 
crowned him with an idolatrous halo. His friendship was 
in this sense 'enthusiastic and self-sacrificing,' even though 
it entailed no such material gifts as Wordsworth on his 
side had advanced. 

'I call God Almighty to be my witness,' he wrote, 'as I 
have thought it no more than my duty, so did I feel a 
readiness to prefer him to myself, yea, even if life and 
outward reputation itself had been the pledge required' ; 
and in confiding the facts to Mary Lamb his feelings so 
overpowered him that in a fit of weeping he could only 
stutter convulsively - 'Wordsworth, Wordsworth has 

§ i zA'D'KIFT 267 

given me up. He has no hope of me - I have been an 
absolute nuisance in his family.' 

He was theatrical of course, but not consciously so. It 
was simply that he did not suffer as much as he claimed 
and felt he ought to suffer, because he was as incapable of 
facing pain starkly as he was of a keen thrill of joy. But 
one who leant upon an understanding sympathy as he did, 
who had known friends fail him, until Wordsworth as it 
seemed only remained, could not gather himself together 
to meet the blow. He was too amiable, and too conscious 
of dependence to cherish resentment. As with moral 
obligations the blow that should have roused him, stunned. 
It produced only a fermentation, not a reaction. 

And there was a deeper cause of anguish even than 
Wordsworth's apostasy. Sarah Hutchinson, too, was 
ruled out of his life. Gone was 'the track of Hope before' 
which had sanctified his resignation, while 'the track of 
recollection after' was seared with the 'griping and grasp- 
ing sorrows of life.' A score of times he began to write 
to her in Wales a detailed account of what had occurred, 
but gave it up from 'excess of agitation' until finally he 
learnt, from what source he did not state, that all of the 
Wordsworth family had decided against him unheard and 
that Wordsworth begged that he would no longer talk 
about it. 

This was of course as distorted a version of the facts as 
Montagu's original narrative, but knowing how readily 
Coleridge confused fact and fiction, Wordsworth might 
surely have offered an explanation unasked. 

The truth was that Coleridge's hysterical conduct in the 
matter only aggravated the half-contemptuous disgust 
which Wordsworth had begun to feel for the 'capacious 
soul' of other days. He heard that the breach between 
them was the common property of London literary circles 
and he conjectured, somewhat incorrectly, that Coleridge 

268 StA^MUSL r^TLOR COLS%IT>gS §i 

had confided the fadts to anyone who would listen. He 
knew exactly with what a luxury of self-depreciation, with 
what histrionic epithets Coleridge would heighten the 
tale in his appeal for sympathy, and his pride revolted, 
his heart was hardened against such sentimentalism. 

Did not Lamb also report that his supposedly stricken 
friend had powdered his head and looked 'like Bacchus, 
Bacchus ever sleek and young*? that he was 'going to turn 
sober, but his clock has not struck yet; meantime he pours 
down goblet after goblet, the second to see where the first 
is gone, the third to see no harm happens to the second, 
a fourth to say there is another coming, and a fifth to say 
he is not sure he is the last.* Inevitably Wordsworth 
doubted the sincerity of the feelings of such a man and 
justified his own silence. And yet so generous and essen- 
tially lovable a man as Coleridge deserved a more sensitive 
and tolerant reading of his character from one to whom 
he had given, spiritually, so much; and it was Words- 
worth's failure to preserve his affeftion against a loss of 
conventional respect that wounded worst of all. 

Quoting Jean Paul, Coleridge wrote in his note-book: 
'I find all things upon earth, even truth and joy, rather 
than friendship' ; although it would have been more correct 
to say that he had lost each in their fullness for the same 
reason. And he admitted his last loss with the same candid 
finality as those which had preceded it. 'There may be 
wrongs,' he noted, 'for which with our best efforts for the 
most perfect suppression, with the absence, nay, the 
impossibility of anger or hate, yet, longer, deeper sleep 
is required for the heart's oblivion, and thence renewal - 
even the long total sleep of death.' 

And indeed so it was to be. Two years later a recon- 
ciliation was effected, 'but,' as he wrote — 'aye there re- 
mains an ineradicable But.' The following year confirmed 
the truth of this qualification. 

§ i <zd"D%fFT 269 

Wordsworth lost his little son Thomas, and immedi- 
ately on hearing of it Coleridge, abandoning all restraint, 
poured out a letter of unqualified sympathy. * Write? My 
dear Friend ! Oh, that it were in my power to be with you 
myself instead of my letter. The Lectures I could give up ; 
but the rehearsal of my Play commences this week, and 
upon this depends my best hopes of leaving town after 
Christmas, and living among you as long as I live. 
Strange, strange are the coincidences of things ! Yester- 
day Martha Fricker dined here, and after tea I had asked 
question after question respecting your children, first one, 
then the other; . . . And not two hours ago ... I was 
asked what was the matter with my eyes? I told the fact, 
that I had awoke three times during the night and morn- 
ing, and at each time found my face and part of the pillow 
wet with tears. "Were you dreaming of the Words- 
worths?" she (Mrs. Morgan) asked - "Of the children?" 
I said, "No! not so much of them, but of Mrs. W. and 
Miss Hutchinson, and yourself and sister." 

'Mrs. Morgan and her sister are come in, and I have 
been relieved by tears. The sharp, sharp pang at the heart 
needed it, when they reminded me of my words the very 
yester night: "It is not possible that I should do other- 
wise than love Wordsworth's children, all of them; but 
Tom is nearest my heart." . . . 

*0 dearest friend ! what comfort can I afford you? What 
comfort ought I not to afford, who have given you so much 
pain? Sympathy deep, of my whole being. ... In grief, 
and in joy, in the anguish of perplexity, and in the fulness 
and overflow of confidence, it has been ever what it is ! 
There is a sense of the word, Love, in which I never felt 
it but to you and one of your household ! I am distant 
from you some hundred miles, but glad I am that I am no 
longer distant in spirit, and have faith, that as it has 
happened but once, so it never can happen again. An 

270 S^^MUSL r^AYLOR QOLE'KIDqe §i 

awful truth it seems to me, and prophetic of our future, as 
well as declarative of our present real nature, that one mere 
thought, one feeling of suspicion, jealousy, or resentment 
can remove two human beings farther from each other 
than winds or seas can separate their bodies/ 

His words were indeed prophetic enough. Admittedly 
the tone of the letter is excessive. Coleridge, when he 
was moved, could not write otherwise. He never outgrew 
an adolescent emotionalism. Yet his obvious sympathy, 
however fulsome and fanciful its expression, should have 
provoked a generous response. Certainly the conclusion 
of the letter was exasperating. Coleridge expatiated in 
typical vein on 'religious fortitude,' and added, 'more 
cheering illustrations of our survival I have never received, 
than from the recent study of the instincts of animals, 
their clear heterogeneity from the reason and moral 
essence of man and yet the beautiful analogy/ But the last 
sentence was pitifully sincere. 'Dear Mary ! dear Dorothy ! 
dearest Sara! Oh, be assured, no thought relative to 
myself has half the influence in inspiring the wish and 
effort to appear and to ad what I always in my will and 
heart have been, as the knowledge that few things could 
more console you than to see me healthy and worthy of 

Wordsworth's reception of this letter finally removed 
any doubts as to what his attitude towards Coleridge was. 
He had ceased, as earlier Southey had, to credit Coleridge 
with any sincerity. The sentimental idealism which had 
once in Stowey days given life to his own poetic genius 
now jarred upon him, since experience had proved time 
after time that it never issued in action. Even such a letter 
of sympathy as this rang intolerably false in his dour 
Northern ears, while the confession of particular fondness 
for Sarah Hutchinson may have displeased the rigid and 
self-assured moralist that he was becoming. 

§i *AT>%IFT 271 

Coleridge at such a time was not likely to take offence 
easily, but he was bitterly wounded by Wordsworth's 
reply. It proved to him that the reconciliation, which for 
a moment he had believed this new bond of sympathy 
might transform into a reality, was impossible. He had 
offered himself with all the sincerity of which he was 
capable and had been rebuffed. And surely what he was 
in 'will and heart,' even if its realization were a myth as 
Wordsworth believed, should have counted for something. 
A few months later indeed Wordsworth, in a mood of 
possible contrition, tried to heal the wound he had 

But with all his faults Coleridge had the genius of 
reading men's hearts. He understood that the difference 
between them was irremediable. Wordsworth's nature 
had narrowed, and his had remained as expansive as ever. 
Between the two there would never be real sympathy 
again, because on one side there was a latent intolerance 
amounting to contempt. 'O worse than all,' he wrote, 

'O pang all pangs above, 
Is kindness counterfeiting absent love!' 

Possibly his hopes of reformation were as delusive as 
ever. Yet circumstances, as will be shown, favoured their 
realization as perhaps they had never done before, and it 
is at least possible that while Coleridge helped Words- 
worth to realize his genius, Wordsworth at this time pre- 
vented Coleridge from recovering the remnants of his. 

Yet it was typical of him not to harbour bitterness. 
Certainly in his last years he complained in confidence to 
a friend of Wordsworth's reception of his criticism in the 
book in which he at last enunciated the grounds of his 
disagreement with certain elements in Wordsworth's 
theory and practice as a poet. But no book testifies more 
surely to the magnanimity in which he was Wordsworth's 

272 SzA3\dUSL VzAYLOR C0L8<F(IT>ge §2 

superior than the Biographia Liter aria. To Wordsworth 
himself the praise in that book seemed 'extravagant, and 
the censure inconsiderate'; but although the searching 
criticism was perhaps unduly extended, it is well to remem- 
ber the years during which Coleridge had suffered for his 
supposed complicity with the confused thought he there 
analysed in masterly fashion. And the spirit behind the 
whole performance was tenderly considerate, in a time too 
when criticism presumed on its right to fight ruthlessly 
and unscrupulously for its opinions, and had so presumed 
in the person of Hazlitt and others in assaults on Coleridge 

But never for a moment did Coleridge exploit his vast 
superiority as a critic at Wordsworth's expense. Despite 
the gulf of eighteen disillusioned years he was still at 
heart the generous, self-abasing friend of Nether Stowey 
days, impulsive in his praise, chivalrous in his attack and 
delicately anxious not to hurt in the necessary process of 
defining and illustrating the just grounds of his criticism. 

In these qualities at least Wordsworth had something 
to learn from his friend whose effusiveness, improvidence 
and weakly self-delusion not unnaturally provoked a frown 
of conscious superiority. 


No fruitful purpose would be secured by tracing in 
detail the events of the last twenty-four years of Coleridge's 
life. There were still fluctuations in it, still alternations 
of hope and despair which like the waves of an ebbing sea 
grew less and less noticeable. For he had ceased to try and 
conquer himself: his only aim was to limit the amount of 
his opium consumption without intensifying 'the gnawing 
recollection behind the curtain of my outward being.' The 
same motive underlay his perpetual talk, 'a counteracting 
principle,' as he wrote, 'to the intensity of my feelings, and 

§ 2 *AT>%LFT 273 

a means of escaping from a part of the pressure.* But 
although doubtless it was this in origin, it became with 
every year more a loose habit of eloquence than either 
an outlet for or antidote to any intensity of feeling of 
which indeed he ceased gradually to be capable. At best 
it was a mild and desultory intoxication which less and 
less frequently advanced to full and brilliant inebria- 
tion, his mind being merely carried forward by its own 

Certainly he was absorbed in the process, so absorbed 
that anyone who had the daring to intrude upon his 
declamation was passed over unnoticed like a pebble by 
a wide stream. But if the intruder persisted, Coleridge 
was, to change the metaphor for one adopted by one of 
his audience, easily unsaddled, despite the wonderful skill 
with which he rode his hobby. A disputant recalled him 
to consciousness, his audience ceased to be sympathetic 
ghosts and himself a ghost among them; he noticed the 
snuff of which maybe for an hour or more he had been 
taking pinches, rubbing between his fingers, and deposit- 
ing on the carpet, and the spell of almost involuntary 
association by which ideas poured from his mind or whole 
paragraphs from his memory in intricate logical or some- 
times merely grammatical connection was broken. Inevit- 
ably so unconscious an activity entailed a tendency to pass 
loosely from subject to subject, in an indifferent sense of 
the inter-relationship of all things, entailed, too, much 
repetition, particularly when, as so frequently, his theme 
was metaphysical ; but he had read so widely and reten- 
tively, that though the essence might be the same, the 
permutations and combinations of its expression were 

And always at the heart of his talk, however dimly seen 
through the voluminous folds of his verbosity, was him- 
self, the 'Mariner' of his great poem grown portly and 


middle-aged, but still haunted by remembrance of 'a 
woeful agony' 

* Which forced me to begin my tale; 
And then it left me free . . .' 

It was this that magnetized his audience apart from the 
verbal display. Whether in literary criticism or religious 
ideology he was for ever seeking a spiritual harmony, 
hailing it as achieved in this poet or that thinker, and 
condemning others for their inability to grasp its prin- 
ciples or to appreciate its necessity. Or again he was 
trying to forget his own failure to achieve it in poetry 
or thought or reciprocated love by philosophizing its 

How completely he could lose himself in the rush of 
such philosophizing, such a revolving, invertebrate sen- 
tence as the following from his note-book will show: 'The 
lover worships in his beloved that final consummation of 
itself which is produced in his own soul by the action of 
the soul of the beloved upon it, and that final perception 
of the soul of the beloved which is in part the consequence 
of the reaction of his (so ameliorated and regenerated) 
soul upon the soul of his beloved, till each contemplates 
the soul of the other as involving his own, both in its 
givings and its receivings, and thus, still keeping alive its 
outness, its self-oblivion united with self-warmth, still 
approximates to God.' 

Into such subtle sophistries had his feelings for Sarah 
Hutchinson disintegrated. 

Thus for the last twenty-four years of his life, save for 
one last delusive spurt of hope and animation, Coleridge 
pursued a more and more posthumous existence, his 
figure with each year more portly, his shuffle more pro- 
nounced, his mental control over his tongue less and less 
purposeful. Dying imperceptibly he continued to analyse 

§ 3 ^T>%IFT 275 

the constituents of a creative life which he had once 
intensely, but never healthily, experienced. And to kind 
friends, to edifying thought, and to Nature he turned for 
the comfort, the homeliness which might proteft him 
against the fear of himself and his inadequacy to cope 
with life or face the fact of death. For 'even when all men 
have seemed to desert us and the friend of our heart has 
passed on, with one glance from his "cold disliking eye" 
— yet even then the blue heaven spreads itself out and 
bends over us, and the little tree still shelters us under its 
plumage as a second cope, a domestic firmament, and the 
low creeping gale will sigh in the heath-plant and soothe 
us by sound of sympathy till the lulled grief lose itself in 
fixed gaze on the purple heath-blossom, till the present 
beauty becomes a vision of memory.' 

More and more he cultivated this 'fixed gaze/ which 
did not generate feeling but, like the fixed gaze imposed 
by the mesmerist, submerged the conscious in the sub- 
conscious. The record of such moments in his note-book 
became increasingly frequent, and gradually everything 
positive in his nature was subdued to a mood of wistful 
charity. Life lost the little definition which it had ever 
possessed for him, as his figure thickened and his face 
assumed a look of worried benignity. A pietistic mysti- 
cism, blended of subjeftive dreaming and conventional 
dogma, trenched more and more upon the vital analysis 
and exposition of imaginative experience which his literary 
criticism represented. 


From 1810 to 181 6, save for a brief period of escape 
due, as he explained, to ' bitter consciousness of my own 
infirmities and increasing irregularity of temper/ he made 
his home in London with the Morgans. They treated 
him with unfailing taft and kindness, and the anxiety 

276 StAmUSL TzAYLOR QOLB^Dqe §3 

which he reasonably entertained lest they too would find 
him a 'nuisance* was ungrounded. Their attempts, 
however, to break him of his subjection to opium proved 
doubtless in his weaker moments a nuisance to him, 
unsuccessful as they were. 

For some time, however, he strove to justify their 
efforts. He was really fearful lest he should alienate even 
'dear, dear* Marv*s and 'dearest* Charlotte's esteem or 
chill their affection. He was continually about to consult 
a Dr. Abernethy and contemplating taking lodgings and 
entering on 'my dread ordeal.* But as he grew more 
secure in his friends* affections the project was abandoned. 

Nevertheless despite a visit to Greta Hall with all its 
painful associations aggravated by a violent cold and 
intermittent fever attributed to the dampness of the house 
and weather; despite, too, financial worries aggravated by 
a loss of £50 with which that 'clever young man,* Mr. 
Brown of Penrith, absconded, his health by 18 12 had 
greatly improved and his indulgence decreased. Previous 
to the Morgans* efforts his ordinary consumption of 
laudanum was from two quarts a week to a pint a day, but 
although 'he suffered dreadfully during the first abstin- 
ence, so much as to say that it was better to die than to 
endure his present sufferings,* Mrs. Morgan's reply that 
it was indeed better that he should die than that he should 
continue to live on as he had been living proved effective. 
Consequently he could write on April 2 1 to his wife, with 
whom he actually talked of settling once again in London : 
'My health, spirits, and disposition to activity have con- 
tinued such since my arrival in town, that every one has 
been struck with the change, and the Morgans say they 
have never before seen me myself, I feel myself an altered 
man, and dare promise you that you shall never have to 
complain of, or to apprehend, my not opening and reading 
your letters. Ever since I have been in town, I have never 

§ 3 *AT)%LFT 277 

taken any stimulus of any kind, till the moment of my 
getting into bed, except a glass of British white wine after 
dinner, and from three to four glasses of port when I have 
dined out. Secondly, my lectures have been taken up most 
warmly and zealously. . . . Thirdly, Gale and Curtis are 
in high spirits and confident respecting the sale of The 
Friend (he was proposing to republish the periodical as a 
complete work). . . . * Nothing intervenes to overgloom 
my mind, but the sad state of health of Mr. Morgan, a 
more faithful and zealous friend than whom no man ever 
possessed. Thank God! my safe arrival, the improvement 
of my health and spirits, and my smiling prospects have 
already exerted a favourable influence on him.' 

Three days later he proclaimed himself 'alive, well, and 
in full fleece,* and in May, still further to secure himself 
from being 'overtaken and hurried back by the surges 
just as I had begun to feel the firm ground under my feet,' 
he completed, outwardly at least, his reconciliation with 

This happy convalescence, 'a resurrection, a palingenesy 
of our youth,' as he too optimistically described it, was 
largely due to the success of the two courses of lectures 
which he delivered at the rooms of the London Philo- 
sophical Society off Fleet Street and at Willis's Rooms in 
King Street. The Morgans guaranteed his regular attend- 
ance, and although the lectures varied according to his 
mood, from the level of inspired clairvoyance to that of 
diffuse digression, they made a great impression. On 
Byron's testimony, who with Rogers attended more than 
one of them, Coleridge became 'a sort of rage,' and the 
first course concluded with much applause from a crowded 

The third course, delivered in the autumn, was not 
quite such a success, although it improved towards the 
end, but again on appearing for his last lecture he was 


'received with three rounds of applause and very loudly 
acclaimed at the close/ 

His elation over his success was increased by the pro- 
duction early in 1 8 1 3 at Drury Lane of his play Osorio^ now 
named Remorse, The critics were not very kind, but it 
ran for twenty nights; he was applauded by the pit on 
being recognized in a box, and, quite apart from the 
printed edition of the play, which quickly ran into three 
editions, it brought him ^400. This financial success 
occurred at a happy moment, since it coincided with 
Josiah Wedgwood's withdrawal of his share of the annuity. 
The grant had been made unconditionally, and Coleridge 
might well have been hurt as well as depressed by its 
withdrawal. But he was too cheerful. A letter of con- 
gratulation from Poole on the success of his play heartened 
him like 'an unexpected strain of sweetest music,' and in 
replying to it he paid a tribute to Wedgwood's 'beautifully 
balanced' character, reiterated his affection towards him, 
and wrote in reference to his withdrawal of the grant: 
"Tis well . . . because it has given me the strongest 
impulse, the most imperious motives I have experienced, 
to prove to him that his past munificence has not been 
wastedY For the time at least he had forgotten the folly 
of all motive-mongering, while the individual self 

And then like a blight upon the new summer of his 
hopes descended the conviction of Wordsworth's anti- 
pathy, of which the circumstances have already been 
related. Immediately he lost all the ground which he had 
gained. 'Alas,' as he had said of Macbeth's end - 'Now 
all is inward with him; he has no more prudential pros- 
pective reasonings ... he puts on despondency, the final 
heart-armour of the wretched, and would fain think every- 
thing shadowy and unsubstantial.' He renewed and 
continually increased his indulgence in opium, he spun a 

§4 ^fT>%IFT 279 

web of metaphysical fancies about his mind and con- 
science, and he entered again that dreary hell of intro- 
spection and passivity from which he was only to be 
partially rescued, when he drifted three years later, an 
irreparable derelict, into the muffled harbourage of High- 

Meanwhile in this last paroxysm of hope Coleridge 
had achieved something of permanent creative value. At 
first as a lecturer he surpassed himself, to quote Crabb 
Robinson, 'in the art of talking in a very interesting way, 
without speaking at all on the subject announced.' When 
advertised, for example, on December 5, 181 1, to lecture 
on Romeo and Juliet^ he began with a defence of school- 
flogging, went on to remark 'on the character of Elizabeth 
and James I as compared with that of Charles I ; distin- 
guished not very clearly between wit and fancy; referred 
to the different languages of Europe; attacked the 
fashionable notion concerning poetic diction . . . and 
warmly defended Shakespeare against the charge of im- 
purity/ At another time, in delivering a rhapsody on 
brotherly and sisterly love, he was 'seduced into a dis- 
sertation on incest/ 

Nevertheless many of such effusions, when he avoided 
'the indefinities and the infinities,' were exceedingly fine 
in themselves. They were 'beyond the reach of the 
analytic faculty,' but a keen analysis underlay their syn- 
thesis ; and when he fastened his mind upon Shakespeare, 
he discovered a kinship of poetic experience in which 
self-confession, a hunger for the universal, and a fine 
critical sense were almost perfectly harmonized. 

In order to understand Shakespeare, he remarked in 
one of his lectures, 'it is essential that we should reflect on 
the constitution of our own minds. Man is distinguished 

280 S^T^MUSL TzATLOR C0L6<F(IT>ge §4 

from the brute animals in proportion as thought prevails 
over sense; but in the healthy processes of the mind, a 
balance is constantly maintained between the impressions 
from outward objects and the inward operations of the 
intellect; for if there be an overbalance in the contem- 
plative faculty, man thereby becomes the creature of a 
mere meditation, and loses his natural power of action. 
Now one of Shakespeare's modes of creating characters 
is to conceive any one intellectual or moral faculty in 
morbid excess, and then to place himself, Shakespeare, 
thus mutilated or diseased, under given circumstances.' 
In studying Shakespeare's characters, therefore, Cole- 
ridge studied himself; he was the first critic, with the 
exception of Lamb, to pass inside them, because he was 
the victim of the Romantic consciousness in its most dis- 
integrating form. In Hamlet he read, with more self- 
apology, it may be admitted, than justice, an exact por- 
trait of what he conceived himself to be. In this char- 
acter, he said, Shakespeare 'seems to have wished to 
exemplify the moral necessity of a due balance between 
our attention to the objects of our senses, and our medi- 
tation on the workings of our minds — an equilibrium 
between the real and the imaginary world. In Hamlet 
this balance is disturbed: his thoughts and the images of 
his fancy, are far more vivid than his actual perceptions, 
and his very perceptions, instantly passing through the 
medium of his contemplations, acquire, as they pass, a 
form and a colour not naturally their own. Hence we see 
a great, an almost enormous, intellectual activity, and a 
proportionate aversion to real action consequent upon it, 
with all its symptoms and accompanying qualities . . . 
he vacillates from sensibility, and procrastinates from 
thought, and loses the power of action in the energy of 
resolve. . . . The effect of this overbalance of the imagin- 
ative power is beautifully illustrated in the everlasting 

§4 *AT>1(IFT 281 

broodings and superfluous activities of Hamlet's mind, 
which, unseated from its healthy relation, is constantly 
occupied with the world within, and abstracted from the 
world without, giving substance to shadows, and throwing 
a mist over all commonplace actualities. It is the nature 
of thought to be indefinite — definiteness belongs to 
external imagery alone. . . . Hamlet's senses are in a 
state of trance, and he looks upon external things as 
hieroglyphics. His soliloquy: 

"O! that this too too solid flesh would melt," etc., 

springs from that craving after the indefinite — for that 
which is not — which most easily besets men of genius; 
and the self-delusion common to this temper of mind is 
finely exemplified in the character which Hamlet gives of 
himself. . . . He mistakes the seeing of his chains for 
the breaking them, delays action till action is no use, and 
dies the victim of mere circumstance and accident. . . . 
Where there is a just coincidence of external and internal 
action, pleasure is always the result; but where the former 
is deficient, and the mind's appetency of the ideal is un- 
checked, realities will seem cold and unmoving.' Action,' 
he concluded, 'is the great end of all; no intellect however 
grand, is valuable, if it draws us away from action and 
leads us to think and think till the time of action is 
passed by, and we can do nothing.' *A satire of your- 
self,' said some one to him. 'No,' he replied, 'it is an 

And such in fact it was. The bias is too personal to 
make it a just piece of creative criticism; Hamlet was not 
so eaten away by idealism as himself; but as critical self- 
portraiture it is perfect. Coleridge could not cure himself, 
but he understood his disease, even if such knowledge 
did not prevent him from disseminating a comforting 
religious idealism in his last years which was false in 


exact proportion to that lack of objectivity which he 
traced here to its sources in his own temperament. 

But although the impulse behind his lectures on 
Shakespeare was, little less than his later mysticism, a 
desire to comfort himself by self-confession, they em- 
bodied by contrast so much of vital truth because the 
Shakespearean characters expressed under diverse forms 
and relations the dualism that haunts the Romantic 
consciousness between imagination and fact, the dynamic 
and the static, the infinite and the finite, fixity and flux, 
freedom and necessity, Life and Death. Coleridge's 
genius had been worn away by the friction of these oppo- 
sites, and so although he was inclined to impose himself 
upon his subject, he was generally in profound harmony 
with it. Here at last circumstances enabled him to recon- 
cile the subjective with the objective in the very act of 
reducing to their elements characters whose chief poetic 
significance lay in their struggle to do so for themselves. 

And for this reason, in his literary criticism as distinct 
from his religious idealism, his consciousness of what 
was ill in himself served a creative purpose. In inter- 
preting himself through other characters he had the 
strength to face reality, while self-knowledge enabled 
him to substitute a psychological for an ethical judgment 
of human nature, and thereby to forecast the modern 
attitude to 'vice' as the distortion of normal vital functions. 
Of such an attitude his analysis of Iago's resentment 
and revenge as the motive-hunting of a motiveless malig- 
nity* is a typical example, or his explanation of Hamlets 
wild recoil from the shock of the Ghost's appearance as a 
sort of defence-reaction. 

He brought a similar science of mental philosophy to 
his analysis of what aesthetic experience represented both 
for the artist himself and for his audience, illustrating for 
instance the quality of artistic illusion by reference to 

§4 <l4T>%{FT 283 

our mental state, when dreaming/ And such appreci- 
ations as the following of dramatic genius penetrated to a 
new level of understanding. Of the storm and shipwreck 
with which the Tempest opens, he said: 

4 It prepares and initiates the excitement required for 
the entire piece, and yet does not demand anything from 
the spectators which their previous habits had not fitted 
them to understand.' And of Miranda, that she 'is never 
directly brought into comparison with Ariel, lest the 
natural and human of the one and the supernatural of the 
other should tend to neutralize each other.' Again of 
Shakespeare's interweaving of the lyrical and the dramatic 
he noted, 'You experience the sensation of a pause with- 
out the sense of a stop.' Of Oliver in As You Like It he 
remarked, 'In such characters there is sometimes a gloomy 
self-gratification in making the absoluteness of the will 
. . . evident to themselves by setting the reason and the 
conscience in full array against it' ; and of Viola's speech 
in Twelfth Night beginning: 

'A blank, my lord: she never told her love! - 
But let concealment,' etc., 

that 'after the first line (of which the last five words 
should be spoken with, and drop down in, a deep sigh), 
the actress ought to make a pause ; and then start afresh, 
from the activity of thought, born of suppressed feelings, 
and which thought had accumulated during the brief 
interval, as vital heat under the skin during a dip in cold 

Such physical analogies were as illuminating in his 
criticism as they were irrelevant in his religious meta- 
physics, because he had really felt himself into the natures 
which he was discussing. 

And it was his minute knowledge of human nature 
and how it acts under given circumstances, derived from 


an intensive study of himself, which distinguished his 
analysis from that of many modern psychologists. Life 
was for him a stage and not a laboratory; a stage peopled 
with dynamic figures who were to be apprehended in all 
their fluctuations of feeling and action by a creative in- 
sight, not dissected like corpses. Indeed he opposed the 
mechanistic conception of life in his critical practice far 
better than in his metaphysical arguments. For because 
his insight was creative, it was metaphysical as well as 
psychological. In studying Shakespeare he sensed the 
universal elements of Nature as well as her particular 

Doubtless many modern critics, who would banish 
metaphysics from criticism, suspect such a double vision ; 
and at times when Coleridge's grasp of abstract elements 
trespassed upon his sense of the concrete in character, or 
when he was discussing the principles of poetry, their 
suspicion is justified. Yet for the true appreciation of all 
art into which romantic or metaphysical consciousness 
enters (and no art is truly great which lacks it) such a 
double vision is essential. 

Coleridge at his best perfectly combined a sense of the 
universal and the particular. He read the surface with 
subtlety but always in relation to elemental forces under- 
neath. He possessed negatively the three powers which 
he attributed positively to Shakespeare — 'wit, which 
discovers partial likeness hidden in general diversity; 
subtlety, which discovers the diversity concealed in 
general apparent sameness; and profundity, which dis- 
covers an essential unity under all the semblances of 

And it was this sense of a unity of feeling in a great 
poet underlying all its diverse manifestations in character 
and action, which enabled him to effect a revolution in 
men's attitude to Shakespeare. He realized that a play 

§4 *AT>%[FT 285 

and its characters are but projections of a dramatist's 
consciousness. To judge a play merely externally as a 
form of art obeying certain fixed laws was to miss its 
essential significance. 'For art/ as he wrote, 'cannot exist 
without, or apart from nature; and what has man of his 
own to give to his fellow-man, but his own thoughts and 
feelings, and his observations so far as they are modified 
by his own thoughts or feelings?' 

To say this is not of course to deny the importance of 
technique. An artist has to communicate his feelings 
effectively, and for that he must study and perfect his 
medium, but the success of the means which he adopts, 
as Coleridge was never tired of insisting, can only be 
fairly judged by those who are capable of understanding 
the end he has in view. No-poets cannot comment on 
the greatest of poets. Shakespeare's thoughts and feelings 
were rooted in a consciousness of life superlatively rich 
and profound. In his drama 'there is a vitality which 
grows and evolves itself from within — a key-note which 
guides and controls the harmonies throughout.' He was a 
force of nature subtly keyed up to intelligence. To apply 
to such a poet the conventions of correctness or the dogmas 
of formal unities, or to condemn him, as eighteenth- 
century critics had done, as an anomalous, wild and 
irregular genius, was as irrelevant as to condemn Hel- 
vellyn because it lacked the lines of a neo-classic garden. 

It was because Coleridge had experienced the elemental 
in Nature and based all his criticism on a personal intui- 
tion of Shakespeare himself that he could justly appraise 
the exquisite appropriateness of Shakespeare's technique, 
could show in detail how instinctively organized the body 
of his art was, and could prove that his judgment, far 
from being submerged in imagination, was implicit in 
its expression. He showed therefore that a poet was 
great, not by any mere sleight of hand, but in proportion 

286 S^^MUSL TAYLOR C0L8%IT>g8 §4 

to the wealth and complexity of experience which he 
succeeded in harmonizing. How essential this organic 
harmony was and how far it surpassed any symmetry 
imposed upon experience from without he knew from his 
own sad experience, and it was the same experience which 
led him to associate it with the truly moral. 

The moral in art as in life he knew to be the perfect 
humanizing of the natural, the harmonizing of instinct 
and intelligence, of the unconscious and the conscious. 
In this sense his own failure as a poet was a moral failure. 
His roots in nature were diseased. But in Shakespeare it 
was always the natural which was keyed up to the imagi- 
native : his head and his heart and his senses too were in 
perfect accord, and so he could create life with a 'happy 
valiancy,' which contrasted poignantly with Coleridge's 
own neurotic state. But Coleridge could appreciate what 
he could not emulate: when he spoke of the close and 
reciprocal connection of just taste with pure morality,' he 
implied that absolute disinterested morality, which is one 
with a perfect exercise of the imagination. 

And so he could champion Shakespeare's morality on 
the grounds of its essential vitality and truth against the 
correct writers of the succeeding age. Shakespeare did 
not preserve decency of manners at the expense of 
morality of heart. 'If he occasionally disgusts a keen 
sense of delicacy, he never injures the mind; he neither 
excites, nor flatters, passion, in order to degrade the sub- 
ject of it; he does not use the faulty thing for a faulty 
purpose, nor carries on warfare against virtue by causing 
wickedness to appear as no wickedness, through the 
medium of a morbid sympathy with the unfortunate. In 
Shakespeare, vice never walks as in twilight: nothing is 
purposely out of its place; he inverts not the order of 
nature and propriety, does not make every magistrate a 
drunkard or glutton, nor every poor man meek, humane, 

§4 ^T>%IFT 287 

and temperate; he has no benevolent butchers, nor any 
sentimental rat-catchers.* 

In short the moral, as he conceived it through Shake- 
speare, was the vital in all its chaotic, originating force 
subdued to perfect justice, relevance and coherence. It 
was the complete and harmonious expression of the 
human in its farthest reach and the natural at its greatest 
depth. It was the ideal which he could not achieve either 
as a poet or a man himself. 

And as in Hamlet he read his own morbidity, so in 
Mercutio he recalled his own most animated moments — 
*01 how shall I describe that exquisite ebullience and 
overflow of youthful life, wafted on over the laughing 
waves of pleasure and prosperity. . . . Wit ever wakeful, 
fancy busy and procreative as an insect, courage, an easy 
mind that, without cares of its own, is at once disposed to 
laugh away those of others, and yet to be interested in 
them — these and all congenial qualities, melting into the 
common copula of them all.' And in Richard II, 'that 
sweet lovely rose,' he read his own sweetness of temper, 
his own languid, lyrical bent, the bloom of an inherent 
weakness — 'an intellectual feminineness which feels a 
necessity of ever leaning on the breast of others ... we 
see in him that sophistry which is common to man, by 
which we can deceive our own hearts, and at one and the 
same time apologize for, and yet commit, the error . . . 
his faults are not positive vices, but spring entirely from 
defedl of character.' Or in Lear he recalled the ingrati- 
tude, which had dogged his own 'intense desire of being 
intensely beloved, selfish, and yet characteristic of the 
selfishness of a loving and kindly nature alone; the self- 
supportless leanings for all pleasure on another's breast; 
the cravings after sympathy with a prodigal disinterested- 
ness, frustrated by its own ostentations, and the mode 
and nature of its claims.' 

288 S^^MUSL TzAYLOR C0L8 c RJ £ DgS §4 

Doubtless in such interpretations Coleridge was apt 
to intrude himself too much upon his subject. The inter- 
pretative critic is an artist, faced with the same problem 
as other artists — the problem of adjusting himself truly 
to his subject. Without personal emotion, without a 
kindred reach of experience, he cannot project himself 
into the subject and so realize it from within; but with- 
out also a fine critical sense he cannot justly subordinate 
his egotism to the claims of his subject. In great inter- 
pretative criticism creative sympathy and critical judg- 
ment are perfectly balanced. It is so sensitively personal 
as to be impersonal. Feeling and analysis combine in a 
disinterested divination. 

Coleridge in his criticism as in all his other activities 
showed a subjective bias, but he showed it least in his 
study of romantic poetry because he had explored in 
himself all the wild and weakly fluctuations of the roman- 
tic consciousness. It is only in such occasional generali- 
zations as the following that he obviously obtruded his 
own predispositions upon Shakespeare: 'He is always 
the philosopher and the moralist, but at the same time 
with a profound veneration for all the established insti- 
tutions of society, and for those classes which form the 
permanent elements of the state — especially never intro- 
ducing a professional character, as such, otherwise than 
as respectable. If he must have any name, he should be 
styled a philosophical aristocrat, delighting in those here- 
ditary institutions which have a tendency to bind one age 
to another, and in that distinction of ranks, of which, 
although few may be in possession, all enjoy the advant- 
ages.' Conservative as Shakespeare may have been in 
some superficial aspects, he was never such a sententious 
Tory as this. 

And the same lapse from precise contact with his sub- 
ject may be seen in Coleridge's occasional tendency to 

§4 *AT>%LFT 289 

indulge in superstitious worship, in his claim for example 
that Shakespeare's genius was 'superhuman' — a claim 
which was as likely to encourage a false estimate as the 
conception of his genius as 'frantic' which he so justly 
disproved. The same tendency to a vague idolatry 
blinded him to technical imperfections. He did not of 
course possess our modern analytical knowledge of 
sources, and he was interested in the dramatic truth of 
character rather than perfection of stagecraft. That the 
dramatic purpose in Hamlet, for example, is confused, as 
has recently been argued, because Shakespeare's own 
conception is imperfectly grafted on to the groundwork 
of an old melodrama, was a kind of criticism which he 
never attempted. And illuminating as his deductive 
insight was, it would have profited by more inductive 

But in these lectures it was chiefly in his exposition of 
the abstract principle of poetry that he indulged his dis- 
cursive tendency. As a poet his imagery had tended to 
evaporate into hazy day-dreaming; as a metaphysical 
critic his ideas tended to evaporate into hazy word-spin- 
ning. But if he could not define with sufficient objectivity, 
he could describe the essence of creative ecstasy more 
luminously than it had ever been described before; how 
it had the 'sweetness and easy movement of nature,' how 
it gave an illusion of 'energy without effort' and balanced 
and reconciled 'opposite or discordant qualities,' how 
harmoniously it melted down and fused 'the sensual into 
the spiritual,' how in it alone 'are all things at once differ- 
ent and the same; there alone,, as the principle of all 
things, does distinction exist unaided by division; there 
are will and reason, succession of time and unmoving 
eternity, infinite change and ineffable rest.' 

In such descriptions of that in which ideal experience 
consists, of the 'exquisite harmony of all the parts of the 


moral being, constituting one living total of head and 
heart,' he escaped from discursiveness into pure intuition 
because he was describing the ideal which he had wasted 
his life in trying to realize. It was this co-ordination of 
all the faculties in a creative acl: which he saw to be the 
essential characteristic of Shakespeare's genius. And 
while the greatness of his tragedies lay in the conflict 
between the ideal and the real, a conflict which Coleridge 
poignantly understood, Shakespeare's final gesture in the 
Tempest, in which he turned from the strife which har- 
rowed and which nothing, it seemed, might heal, and 
conceived the ideal miraculously achieved, was parti- 
cularly calculated to appeal, since it was his own lifelong 
gesture purged of all its elements of weakly and wistful 
surrender, and fresh with all knowledge transmuted into 
a second innocence. 

In short, Shakespeare revealed the romantic conscious- 
ness in all its positive power to one who had suffered from 
its negative disabilities. And in association with such a 
commanding genius, with one who mastered the sensi- 
bility which made him 'a superior spirit, more intuitive, 
more intimately conscious' than his fellows, Coleridge 
himself became positive. He ceased to be merely medi- 
tative and waxed creative. As little could the flux and 
reflux of so subtle a mind and heart as Shakespeare's 'be 
brooded on by mean and indistinct emotion, as the low, 
lazy mist can creep upon the surface of a lake, while a 
strong gale is driving it onward in waves and billows.' 

In Shakespeare he discovered a world more real than 
the actual, and yet one in which the actual rose by some 
dynamic force within itself to the ideal, and in which the 
ideal was never attenuated or querulous, but heroic even 
in its defeat: a world in which evil itself, even 'to the last 
faintings of moral death,' was tensely vital, in which the 
natural and the supernatural were but progressions of 

§5 sAD c %IFT 291 

each other, or, like joy and pain, the alternations of one 
rhythm; in which man, in the fine flower of his humanity, 
had not forgotten his kinship with the elements but felt 
amid the very pomp and violence of regal activity the 
swirl of darkness beneath his feet and a morning radiance 
in the air he breathed; a world in which womanhood was 
holy 'with a purity unassailable by sophistry,' so perfect 
was the conjunction of mind and sense and spirit; and in 
which love combined passion with affection, and vivacity 
with the calm depth derived from 'a will stronger than 

In this world, so buoyant in its strength and candour 
and organic diversity, Coleridge moved like a renovated 
being. He was 'enlarged by the collective sympathies of 
nature,' by a live sap that set his declining faculties 
functioning so vitally that at times he was compelled to 
pass beyond the vocabulary of ideas and crystallize his 
interpretation in imagery. 

'What is Lear} It is storm and tempest! — the thunder 
at first grumbling on the far horizon, then gathering 
around us, and at length bursting in fury over our heads — 
succeeded by a breaking of the clouds for a while, a last 
flash of lightning, the closing in of night and the single 
hope of darkness ! And Romeo and Juliet} — It is a spring 
day, with the song of the nightingale ; whilst Macbeth is 
deep and earthy, composed to the subterranean music of a 
troubled conscience, which converts everything into the 
wild and fearful!' 

From 1 8 13, however, Coleridge's life resembled more 
and more a morass of ignoble indulgence smothered in 
vapours of thought. In the autumn of this year he under- 
took, on Cottle's suggestion, to give a course of lectures 
in Bristol, but although, after two failures to appear at 


the time announced, habit and memory enabled him to 
deliver them, many of his friends remarked 'with great 
pain, that there was something unusual and strange in his 
look and deportment/ At one of them indeed he grasped 
Cottle's hand with great solemnity and assured him that 
'this day week I shall not be alive' ; and after another he 
called him on one side and borrowed £10 from him on 
the ground that 'a dirty fellow' had threatened to arrest 
him for that amount; while on a visit to Hannah More 
who lived in the neighbourhood his hands shook to such 
an alarming degree that he could not take a glass of wine 
without spilling it, though one hand supported the other. 

He had reached that stage of opium indulgence when 
only by continually increasing his consumption he could 
prevent the dream state it induced from lapsing into a 
physical nightmare in which he really did fear for his 

At last even Cottle discovered the cause of these dis- 
quieting symptoms, and 'influenced,' as he wrote, 'by the 
purest motives' called him to repentance. He addressed 
a sententious and theatrical letter to Coleridge, bidding 
him recall his image in past years and compare it with 'the 
wild eye ! the sallow countenance ! the tottering step ! the 
trembling hand! the disordered frame!' 'Will you not,' 
he concluded, 'be awakened to a sense of your danger, and 
I must add, your guilt?' 

But Coleridge needed no awakening. 'O for a sleep, 
for sleep itself to rest in!' was his perpetual prayer. What 
use was it, he pathetically replied, to pour c oil of vitriol 
. . . into the raw and festering wound of an old friend's 
conscience?' Was it not his tormenting consciousness of 
guilt which sent him, despite the danger and the degrada- 
tion involved, to the laudanum bottle? His only defence 
was the casuistical one that he was 'seduced into the 
Accursed habit ignorantly . . . not by any temptation of 

§ 5 vHXSJVT 293 

pleasure, or expectation, or desire of exciting pleasurable 

Certainly he was passive even in his vices, but his 'utter 
impotence of the volition' was a facl: which no appeals to 
conscience could affect. In a second letter Cottle coun- 
selled prayer. But although this, like incessant talk, like 
opium itself, might comfort at the moment, it could not 
cure. 'I feel/ he wrote, 'with an intensity unfathomable 
by words, my utter nothingness, impotence, and worth- 
lessness, in and for myself. I have learned what a sin is, 
against an infinite imperishable being, such as is the soul 
of man ! I have had more than one glimpse of what is 
meant by death and outer darkness, and the worm that 
dieth not. . . . But the consolations, at least, the sensible 
sweetness of hope, I do not possess. On the contrary, 
the temptation which I have constantly to fight up against 
is a fear, that if annihilation and the -possibility of heaven 
were offered to my choice, I should choose the former. 
. . . No spiritual effort appears to benefit me so much as 
the one, earnest, importunate, and often for hours, 
momently repeated prayers: "I believe, Lord, help my 
unbelief! Give me faith but as a mustard seed and I 
shall remove this mountain! Faith! faith! faith! I be- 
lieve. Oh, give me faith! Oh, for my Redeemer's sake, 
give me faith in my Redeemer." ' 

Alas ! Coleridge was still too free a spirit, was at once 
too volatile and too self-conscious to be really affedted by 
such religious auto-suggestion, while he was too weak 
and damaged a one to conquer by personal effort a con- 
viction of his own fatality. He was a case now, not for 
the moral, but the medical man. Yet when he suggested 
putting himself under the control of a Dr. Fox, if enough 
money could be procured, the moral Cottle made no 

Southey's suggestion was equally useless. He begged 

294 S^^MUSL TAYLOR Q0L8%[T>ge §5 

Poole to urge Coleridge to return to Greta Hall and defeat 
the foe by regular work. He assured him that his chil- 
dren would receive him with joy, his wife 'certainly not 
with reproaches,' and himself with encouragement. It 
was all well meant, and since Southey had for some time 
most generously fathered Coleridge's family, since he 
saw Mrs. Coleridge's spirits and health 'beginning to 
sink under her misfortunes,' and the problem of support- 
ing Hartley at College had yet to be solved, it was more 
than reasonable. 

Yet how could Coleridge return to such a household? 
Nothing could be more humiliating than the conscious- 
ness that people were making a special effort to be inde- 
cently decent, cheerful and helpful towards one whom 
they regarded as something far other even than 'an arch- 
angel somewhat damaged' (for Lamb, who coined the 
phrase, never forgot the seraph in the wasted man); as in 
facl: a being at best to be pitied and at worst deplored for 
his culpable weakness. All his life Coleridge had suffered 
from moralists: Southey, Sara, Wordsworth, even Poole 
had aggravated his disease by frowning upon it. Pie had 
ceased to hope for the unreserved sympathy which once 
at least might have enabled him to conquer it himself: 
only science remained to temper its malignity and 
religious sophistry to soothe his conscience into forget- 

And so when Southey wrote to consult him about his 
children's future, he did not answer. What indeed could 
he reply to one who apprehended, as he had every right 
to apprehend, 'some shameful and dreadful end to this 
deplorable course'? It was only to simple, unaccusing 
folk, like his landlady, that he could talk fondly and for- 
getfully of his children and of their prospects. But there 
were times when he could not forget; even Cottle's epic, 
Messiah, which he corrected for a fee of £10, and the same 

§ 5 ^T>%IFT 295 

writer's ascription of all his ills to satanic possession, pro- 
voked a hollow ridicule. He might strike the chance 
spectator as a 'most amusing man,' but his humour was 
the defence-reaction of an effeminate Hamlet. 

And on quitting Josiah Wade's house in Bristol to 
return to the Morgans, he confessed to his host with an 
unusual sincerity the passive finality of his despair. 

'Dear Sir,' he wrote: 

'For I am unworthy to call any good man friend — 
much less you, whose hospitality and love I have abused ; 
accept, however, my intreaties for your forgiveness, and 
for your prayers. 

'Conceive a poor miserable wretch, who for many 
years has been attempting to break off pain, by a constant 
recurrence to the vice that reproduces it. Conceive a 
spirit in hell employed in tracing out for others the road 
to that heaven from which his crimes exclude him. In 
short, conceive whatever is most wretched, helpless, and 
hopeless, and you will form as tolerable a notion of my 
state as it is possible for a good man to have. 

'I used to think the text in St. James that "he who 
offended in one point offends in all," very harsh; but I 
now feel the awful, the tremendous truth of it. In the 
one crime of opium, what crime have I not made myself 
guilty of! — Ingratitude to my Maker! and to my bene- 
factors-injustice! and unnatural cruelty to my -poor chil- 
dren ! - self-contempt for my repeated promise — breach, 
nay, too often, actual falsehood! 

'After my death, I earnestly entreat that a full and 
unqualified narrative of my wretchedness and of its guilty 
cause, may be made public, that at least some little good 
may be effected by the direful example.' 

Thus in his mind opium had become the prime, in- 
stead of the contributory, cause of all his failure. The 
prime cause, as has been sufficiently shown and as he 

296 s*AmueL t^tlor coL8%[T>ge §5 

knew in his calmer moments, lay deeper. It lay in his 
nature, which had been indulging in narcotics, less 
physically but no less spiritually demoralizing, ever since 
childhood, and was to continue to indulge to the end. 

For the rest of his life he was to expend what energy 
remained to him in tracing out for others a road to 
heaven. But 'a spirit in hell' is no competent guide in 
such matters. He is too feverish to be disinterested. And 
so the great work which Coleridge now engaged himself 
to write, which was to contain all knowledge and proclaim 
all philosophy, and which he never ceased boasting his 
ability to complete, if circumstances did but allow him, 
was to prove the same vain dream of his fading mental 
powers as 'ChristabeF had proved of his poetical. 

Its title was: Christianity, the one true Philosophy; or 
Five Treatises on the Logos, or Communicative Intelli- 
gence, natural, human and divine/ Despite the impres- 
sive sub-titles attached to each treatise, the whole concep- 
tion was misty, and, to quote his own description of a 
political letter, 'like most misty compositions, laborious,' 

That in itself was enough to prevent its realization. 
But Wordsworth's failure in his 'Excursion* to prove, as 
he had hoped, a modern Lucretius and reconcile poetry 
and philosophy, increased his attachment to the project. 
Wordsworth seemed to him at best to have only placed 
'commonplace truths in an interesting point of view.' 
Dimly perhaps he connected his disillusionment of the 
man with his inability to produce the great philosophic 
poem for which in his idolatry he had looked. There was 
doubtless something narrow and sectarian about Words- 
worth. It had shown itself in the poetical theory with 
which he himself had been so unjustifiably associated in 
the public mind, and the fact was a further inducement to 
effort. His Magnum Opus should be the very opposite of 
sectarian. It should embrace everything in the wide sweep 

§ 5 <tAT>%IFT 297 

of its sympathetic logic. And behind this mist of con- 
jectural universality he sank lower and lower in the scale 
of material degradation. Neither at Ashley, where he 
shared a cottage with them, nor at Calne in Wiltshire, 
could the Morgans exercise any restraint over his indul- 
gence. More and more his letters betrayed the sordid 
shifts of the inebriate. 

In the summer of 18 15, however, he rallied. A long 
visit from his son Hartley and a successful performance 
of Remorse by a travelling company cheered him ; Cottle 
too had agreed to publish his scattered poems, and al- 
though he wrote that they must wait for a series of Odes on 
the sentences of the Lord's Prayer, a series which, like 
the Magnum Opus itself, reported already as nearly fin- 
ished, 'has never been seen by any,' he was led to contem- 
plate, as a preliminary, a preface to the poems. 

Since the Magnum Opus was 'planned to be illustrated 
by fragments of Autobiography,' it was natural that this 
preface should pass imperceptibly into the same category. 
For Coleridge now had two avenues of escape from the 
present — the past and the metaphysical. In the book, or 
rather the disconnected scrap-book of criticism, specu- 
lation and reminiscence, so often expressed before in 
letters and talk, into which this preface grew, Coleridge 
wandered, now dilatory and discursive, now brilliantly 
absorbed, down both avenues. 'I have a great, a gigantic 
effort to make,' he wrote, 'and I will go through with it 
or die.' 

And for once he kept his vow, because an instinct of 
self-defence and self-realization in the face of self-disgust 
sustained him, and because in fact the effort required was 
little greater than that of his daily conversation. The 
hours from eleven to four and from six to ten which he 
spent regularly in his study dictating to the admirable 
Morgan were periods of happy release. The hopeless 


present faded into the past with its fond aspirations and 
its pathetic memories. It was a tale of failure, no doubt, 
but it had become an image in his mind which no longer 
hurt but even provoked at times a wistful humour. 

And even if inclination had not led him into auto- 
biography, he could not have discussed his poetry or 
poetry in general without self-confession. Poetry inevit- 
ably took him in thought to Wordsworth and to the 
controversy concerning Wordsworth's Poems and 
Theory, in which his name had been so constantly in- 
cluded. At last he was free to speak without 'the dread 
of giving pain, or exciting suspicions of alteration and 
dyspathy,' which had restrained him before, free to 
deny that he was a 'mere symbol of Wordsworth and 

And doubtless, incapable as he was of any vindictive 
feeling, this act of abstract self-justification gave him 
peculiar satisfaction. In practical things he was at a hope- 
less disadvantage: there he had no justification to offer, 
but in theory, in the knowledge of what genius was and 
how it worked, was he not the moralists' superior? Had 
he not through his very want of all prudential values come 
nearer to the heart of creation? 

Wordsworth therefore was the central point about 
which the whole inconsequent narrative, with its digres- 
sions and circumlocutions, turned. For he was the central 
point of Coleridge's life. It was in his reactions to Words- 
worth that he had both discovered and lost himself, and 
could the genius of the two men have been combined, 
literature might have had another Shakespeare. Cole- 
ridge knew Wordsworth's virtues as a poet by comparison 
with his own defects, and he knew Wordsworth's defects 
in comparison with his own virtues. The result was that 
the chapters which he devoted to Wordsworth's critical 
theory and to the defects and beauties of his poetry are 

§ 5 *AT>%[FT 299 

among the finest pieces of sustained and penetrating 
criticism which exist. 

Here there was no wandering from the point into 
vague abstractions. His differences with Wordsworth 
were not mere matters of theory : they had been bitterly 
tested in the conduct of life, and so 'in completely sub- 
verting Wordsworth's theory/ and in proving that the 
poet himself had 'never acted on it except in particular 
stanzas, which are the blots of his composition/ he was 
subconsciously attacking the elements in Wordsworth's 
nature which had ultimately divided them. At the same 
time his knowledge of the constitutional defect in himself 
which had caused that division, his fatal want of finite 
power and objectivity, enabled him to define and illus- 
trate Wordsworth's unique excellencies with sensitive 
precision — the 'perfect appropriateness of the words to 
the meaning,' the 'correspondent weight and sanity of 
the Thoughts and Sentiments,' 'the sinewy strength and 
originality of simple lines and paragraphs,' 'the perfect 
truth of nature in his images,' and 'the gift of Imagination 
in the highest and strictest sense of the word.' 

And even in his analysis of Wordsworth's theory of 
Poetic Diction he was careful to separate truth from 
matter-of-factness, acting in this so differently from many 
later critics, who have disproved to their own satisfaction 
Tolstoy's somewhat analogous theory of Art by separating 
statements from their context and demonstrating their 
absurdity, while making no attempt to appraise his 
general principles. 

Coleridge by contrast did full justice to the truth 
of Wordsworth's underlying idea, his preference for 
language dictated by impassioned feeling over the mere 
artifices of connection or ornament, which characterized a 
false, because superficial, poetic style, while at the same 
time demonstrating, both on the ground of first principles 


and by searching illustration, the literal-mindedness with 
which he had applied and so falsified the idea. 

In doing so he was merely amplifying a theme which 
he had often developed in private conversation, and it 
involved him, after his usual involuntary fashion, in other 
collateral themes of his talk, in a discussion of the law of 
Association from Aristotle to Hartley, of the nature of 
poetry in the light of German criticism, of Shakespeare 
as the perfectly co-ordinated poet of his lectures, and 
of the distinction between Fancy and Imagination. 

But apart from such irrelevances as 'remarks on the pre- 
sent mode of conducting critical journals' and 'an affection- 
ate exhortation to those who in early life feel themselves 
disposed to become authors,' an essential unity of purpose 
did underlie all these themes, grew naturally, if diffusely, 
out of the autobiography with which the book began, and 
was intimately connected with the conjunction of Words- 
worth and himself. 

For poetry for Coleridge was not a special activity to be 
studied within recognized limits. It was a symbol of life 
functioning ideally; the creative processes which he 
traced in it were for him a replica of the divine process of 
creation, and in the nature of the great poet he read also 
the nature of God. 'The poet,' he wrote, 'described in 
ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity, 
with the subordination of its faculties to each other 
according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses 
a tone and spirit of unity that blends, and (as it were) 
fuses, each into each, by that synthetic and magical power, 
to which I would exclusively appropriate the name of 
Imagination. This power, first put in action by the will 
and understanding, and retained under their irremissive, 
though gentle and unnoticed control, /axis ejfertur habenis, 
reveals itself in the balance or reconcilement of opposite 
or discordant qualities: of sameness, with difference; of 

§5 *AT>%IFT 301 

the general with the concrete; the idea with the image; 
the individual with the representation; the sense of 
novelty and freshness with old and familiar objects; a 
more than usual state of emotion with more than usual 
order; judgment ever awake and steady self-possession 
with enthusiasm and feeling profound or vehement; and 
while it blends and harmonizes the natural and the arti- 
ficial, still subordinates art to nature; the manner to the 
matter ; and our admiration of the poet to our sympathy 
with the poetry.' 

To him, therefore, aesthetical criticism was intimately 
connected, as it was to Kant, with ethical values. The 
climax of his argument on the nature of poetry — the dis- 
tinction between Fancy and Imagination — was only a 
special application to poetry of the mystical theory of 
experience in general which he opposed to a mechanistic 
in the chapters on the law of Association. 

And that theory was based necessarily on an examin- 
ation of his own experience. Few knew better than he 
how much of a facl: the law of Association was. Did not 
his conversation and his poetry constantly illustrate its 
workings? But he knew too how inadequate it was to 
explain all that was real in either. How frequently, for 
example, for want of some guiding and originating idea 
his own talk revealed only a logical or verbal connection! 
It needed but one step further for it to degenerate into the 
pure hysteria over which nothing but the accidental law 
of Association presided. His experience as a poet taught 
him the same thing. If the materialist claim was really 
valid, the poet had only to be set going like a clock and 
one image evolved from another with the same mechani- 
cal sequence as one minute from that which preceded it. 

The apparently involuntary workings of imagination 
which begot 'The Ancient Mariner' were something far 
other than this. Doubtless there was material continuity 

3 o2 S^^MUSL TzAYLOR COLS^Dge §5 

and interconnexion, as there was between the cells of a 
body or between moments in time or points in space, but 
behind the physical conditions, behind the mechanism of 
fact, there was an originating impulse, a shaping idea 
which alone gave to the body of poetry, as it gave to the 
human body, an organic reality. In short, the idea pre- 
ceded and begot the image, the subject the object, and 'I 
am/ 'It is.' 

It was because Spinoza reversed the process that he 
considered his philosophy false. 'Does lust,' he wrote in a 
letter, 'call forth or occasion love? Just as much as the 
reek of the marsh calls up the sun. The sun calls up the 
vapour — attenuates, lifts it — it becomes a cloud — and 
now it is the veil of divinity.' 

The extent to which Coleridge overstressed the part 
of the subjective in the creative process may be con- 
sidered later. He overstressed it because his own temper- 
ament was excessively subjective; and this in what he 
called his Natural Theology led him to disregard the 
facts of Nature as insignificant and so impute to the God 
of his own idea the absolute authority, benevolence and 
omniscience to which the facts of the physical universe 
lend no support. 

But in his aesthetic criticism the subjective bias was 
less apparent. Briefly, he distinguished between Imagin- 
ation and Fancy as between an originating and a merely 
organizing faculty. Imagination was 'the living power 
and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repe- 
tition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in 
the infinite I am.' It was an exceptionally vital, individual 
force which, working on multitudinous experience, 
passively absorbed and assimilated, subdued it to the 
unity of a single consciousness in an act of recreation. 

Fancy on the contrary was incapable of assimilating the 
objects of experience. It knew them only externally, as 

§5 ^1>%IFT 303 

'fixities and definites,' and these dead forms, as Coleridge 
considered them, it arranged with conscious choice or 
elegant cunning. In short, the imaginative poet was an 
idealist, the fanciful poet a materialist. 

The difference between the two was overdrawn by 
Coleridge. Imagination and Fancy were surely better 
considered as kindred than as antithetical faculties. They 
differ only in degree, Fancy revealing the same organizing 
and even originating powers as imagination but on a 
shallower basis of experience. Certainly its roots in 
reality do not lie so deep, but no art could exist in which a 
creative as well as an organizing power was not implicit. 
The best lyrics of a Waller or a Lovelace, for example, 
are not more than charming and fanciful; they do not 
penetrate passionately into life, but they are distinguished 
from the merely artificial versifying in which these poets 
also indulged by the creative and so ideal purpose which 
rendered them organic. Life does not burn intensely in 
them, but it burns enough to sustain each part in a neces- 
sary relation. 

Coleridge overstressed the distinction because it was 
a projection into metaphysical terms of his own baffled 
experience. It was because for him there was an absolute 
gulf between the two, because he had little sense of the 
'fixities and definites,' of which imagination as well as 
fancy must take notice, that he had failed to grow to 
imaginative maturity. In his dejection he forgot how 
wonderfully imagination had been blended with fancy in 
'The Ancient Mariner' and 'Christabel.' He remembered 
only that his most ecstatic moments as a poet had been 
purely subjective, that the objective world had passed at 
such times into a dream of which his poetry was a melo- 
dious incantation; and so he failed to do justice to the vital 
principle at work in poetry more concretely defined or less 
elementally inspired. 


And yet in his application, as distinct from his defini- 
tion, of his theory he was never the dogmatist. He was 
unerring in his sense of what was original in poetry and 
what mechanical, what was alive and what dead, as also 
in estimating the degree of its vitality. And the fact that 
he himself was to so great an extent an L automaton of 
genius/ a 'passive vehicle of inspiration,* made him bitterly 
aware of the conflict which must underlie art's ultimate 
harmony, the wrestling of the creative power with the 
intellectual energy, and of the positive imagination with 
the material of negative sensibility. Each faculty, as he 
knew, in the great poet threatens 'the extinction of the 
other.' Perfect intuition and expression lay in the ener- 
getic equilibrium of opposites, the equilibrium which he 
had sought in vain. 

Wordsworth at his best had achieved it; he lacked 
Shakespeare's degree of passion and power, but like him 
he had 'studied patiently, meditated deeply, understood 
minutely till knowledge, become habitual and intuitive, 
wedded itself to his habitual feelings' and gave birth to a 
poetry at once personal and universal. At his worst he 
had failed to subdue the objective to a subjective purpose, 
failed to assimilate the matter of thought and observance 
and recreate it in his own image. 

And so the Biographia Literaria was not only a book 
in which poetical experience was philosophically analysed 
as it had never in English been analysed before: it was 
also a final summary of the relation in which, ever since 
Nether Stowey days, Coleridge had stood as a poet to 

For ten fruitful years Wordsworth had generally suc- 
ceeded in combining the subjective and the objective, 
and then the materialist in the guise of the literalist and 
the moralist, had submerged the originating idealist. 

Meanwhile Coleridge, save for a few brilliant pre- 

§6 <^T>%IFT 305 

carious months, had never succeeded in reconciling the 
ideal and the real, but he had learnt in anguish the nature 
of the harmony which he could not achieve. He was a 
victim of the friction, growing ever more acute with 
each century of the Christian era, the friction between 
instinct and intelligence. 

In this sense the problem of modern poetry is, as Cole- 
ridge realized, interwoven with religious values. Chris- 
tianity destroyed the unity of the Pagan consciousness. 
The individual drew apart from Nature. He opposed his 
moral values to Nature's physical processes. He did not 
merely reflect life, he criticized it. And gradually the gulf 
widened. Art, philosophy and human life, therefore, 
became more and more a problem of adjustment between 
the world within and the world without, an attempt to 
capture reality by reconciling the individual and the 
ideal with the generic and the real. 

In Coleridge the problem was beyond solution; the 
world within was all-powerful. And the Biographia Liter- 
aria was essentially in its anecdote and its criticism an 
explanation of this dualism, and of how in the greatest 
poetry, as, so Coleridge claimed, in the creative processes 
of the Universe, it was resolved. 


The industry and concentration expended upon the 
Biographia Literaria was inevitably followed in 1 8 1 6 by a 
relapse. Certainly Byron's advice that he should repeat 
the dramatic success of Remorse kept him working in a 
desultory manner at a play, and the same poet had per- 
suaded Murray to publish 'Christabel,' to which Cole- 
ridge also added 'Kubla Khan' and 'The Pains of Sleep.' 
The addition was a mistake, since the extremely narcotic 
flavour of the two shorter poems was certain to affe£t the 
reader's judgment of the longer, and the very hostile 


reception of the volume as a whole by the critics may be, 
to some extent at least, attributed to this conjunction. 

But the opium question had now become so serious 
that some practical step seemed imperative. He had tried 
on a doctor's advice to cut himself down to the smallest 
dose that would keep him tranquil and capable of literary 
labour, but always he had failed for two reasons : the one 
mental, and the other physical. 

Either, with more moderation, he became more con- 
scious of the pitiable indulgence of which he was the slave 
and so fell back into his old habits to drug his conscience; 
or, if he resisted this temptation, there always came a 
point when his physical agony was unendurable. For a 
time his spirits mounted and, like a convalescent, he felt a 
keener relish for life, 'till the moment, the direful moment, 
arrived when my pulse began to fluctuate, my heart to 
palpitate, and such a dreadful falling abroad, as it were, 
of my whole frame, such intolerable restlessness, and in- 
cipient bewilderment,' that he felt his whole being to be 
in danger of imminent dissolution. 

He realized at last that without a doctor in close and 
authoritative attendance he would never pass this point, 
and fear as much as remorse compelled him to put himself 
at least for six months under medical control. With this 
end in view he went up to London in March, and there, 
lodging significantly enough at a chemist's laboratory in 
Norfolk Street, renewed for a week his old intercourse 
with Lamb. 

Much indeed had passed over his head since he had 
drowned his thoughts of Mary Evans at the 'Salutation 
and Cat' in 'egg-hot' and 'smoking Oronooko.' Yet 
Lamb, who could look behind a heavy body and a flabby 
face, found 'his essentials not touched. He is very bad,' 
he wrote, 'but then he wonderfully picks up another day, 
and his face, when he repeats his verses, hath its ancient 

§6 ^AT> C KIFT 307 

glory . . . ; the neighbourhood of such a man is as excit- 
ing as the presence of fifty ordinary persons. 'Tis enough 
to be within the whiff and wind of his genius for us not to 
possess our souls in quiet.' 

It was doubtless in one such mood of drug-dazzled 
glory that he had written the song by Glycine, which was 
the only moment of creative ecstasy in the play entitled 
Zapolya — a laboured melodrama modelled upon the 
Winter s Tale - which he brought with him to London 
and which Covent Garden rejected. For the last time in 
this lyric, artificial as it is, he recaptured something of the 
liquid, dancing glitter which had proclaimed him in his 
youth a veritable child of light: 

C A sunny shaft did I behold, 

From sky to earth it slanted: 
And poised therein a bird so bold - 

Sweet bird, thou wert enchanted! 

'He sunk, he rose, he twinkled, he trolled 
Within that shaft of sunny mist; 

His eyes of fire, his beak of gold, 
All else of amethyst ! 

'And thus he sang: "Adieu! adieu! 
Love's dreams prove seldom true. 
The blossoms, they make no delay: 
The sparkling dew-drops will not stay. 
Sweet month of May, 
We must away; 
Far, far away! 
To-day! to-day!" ' 

But he was leaving now for good the world of enchant- 
ment and excess. Henceforth he was to live regularly, 
but in a cloud of numbness through which life, if it played 
at all, played to him on muted strings. 


On April 9 he consulted a Dr. Adams, and after can- 
didly stating his case asked him if he knew 'a physician 
who will be not only firm but severe in his regimen,' and 
who, if possible, could offer him a place of retirement and 
a garden. Dr. Adams applied to Mr. Gillman, a very 
kindly man and with interests other than medical. Mr. 
Gillman had not contemplated an addition to his house- 
hold, but when Coleridge visited him on April 11, he 
was completely captivated. It was thus that Coleridge later 
described his host's attitude in calling down blessings on 
his head: 'Your love to me from first to last has begun in, 
and been caused by, what appeared to you a translucence of 
the love of the good, the true, and the beautiful from 
within me — as a relic of glory, gleaming through the 
turbid shine of my mortal imperfections and infirmities, 
as a Light of Life seen within "the body of this Death." ' 

Coleridge promised to return the next day, a Saturday. 
He gave himself one more week-end of freedom and 
indulgence; but on Monday evening he arrived to accept 
that voluntary confinement, which, except for a few fugi- 
tive days, was to last until the end. 


S i ■ 

For eighteen years Coleridge 'sat on the brow of High- 
gate Hill . . . like a sage escaped from the inanity of 
life's Little.' More accurately, he was a voluble Romantic 
bankrupt seeking forgetfulness of his failure in the king- 
dom of Earth by instructing the elecl: in the principles 
which ensured their entrance into the kingdom of 
Heaven. Long before his death he had become, like 
so much of his oracular idealism, almost a myth, cer- 
tainly a memorial. 

Nor can he be said to have profited altogether by the 
respectability and security which he had at last accepted, 
and which encouraged sometimes a rather pompous 
priggishness, a tendency to interpret the very qualities 
which, before the Gillmans supervened to preserve him 
from their consequences, were a source of continual con- 
trition, as actually justifying the pose of a complacent 
sage. In short, apologetic self-deception inclined to harden 
into a solid and satisfied hypocrisy, so that even Lamb 
after a morning call was constrained to write that he found 
something in him or his apothecary ... so unattrac- 
tively — repulsing, — from any temptation to call again 
that I stay away as naturally as a lover visits.' 

Yet even when his person had grown rotund and 
relaxed, his mouth watery and his nose snuffy, he pre- 
served about him an air of voluptuous repose, an air too 
of docile benignity, of affectionate childishness, which 
made his visitors forget the shapeless body, the shuffling 
walk, and all the signs of impotent senility. He was the 
best proof of his theory that reality transcends the phy- 
sical'. Within the slack, shambling bulk of the man there 
lurked still a bright, mellifluous spirit, often submerged, 
but always liable to peep out from the vaguely luminous 


310 S^^MUSL TzAYLOR C0LS%IT>g8 §i 

eyes, and with any encouragement to slide off into a con- 
tinuous flow of converse. 

He would begin to discourse on some high theme in a 
sweet low tone, would seem 'to dally with the shallows of 
the subject and with fantastic images which bordered it: 
but gradually the thought grew deeper, and the voice 
deepened with the thought; the stream gathering 
strength seemed to bear along with it all things which 
opposed its progress and blended them with its cur- 
rent; and stretching away among regions tinted with 
ethereal colours, was lost at airy distance in the horizon 
of fancy.' 

These were his best hours, the hours when in a temple 
of talk he became indeed 'the priest of invisible rites 
behind the veil of the senses/ when he made even the 
unintelligible appear plain by a strange power of hypnotic 
and hierophantic suggestion. 

But they became less and less frequent as the years 
passed. More often he was 'credulous and talkative from 
indolence': the pulse of thought beat faint in the vast 
body of his speech; a tedious preaching tone, very differ- 
ent from his once liturgical chant, crept into his voice, 
and neither truth nor ethereal fancy gave wings to the 
endless files of words which he conducted through in- 
genious manoeuvres, marshalled in perplexing periods or 
allowed to trail across his auditors' hearing, like a lagging 
rearguard on a route-march. 

Doubtless the deterioration in his talk was connected 
with the opium restriction to which he submitted. He 
never ceased to take it, but he was never allowed to take 
enough for exhilaration. He was in this way cured of the 
terror which previously had haunted him in the periods 
of reaction, but this terror had acted as the particular 
stimulus of his conversation. He had been so ecstatic a 
talker because he was in flight from a fiend, and when the 

§ i i^c to^t 3 1 1 

fiend ceased to pursue him he tended to lapse into a sen- 
tentious amble. 

And as opium consumption decreased, another nar- 
cotic took its place — 'a department of knowledge . . . 
the study of which, rightly and liberally pursued, is beyond 
any other entertaining^ beyond all others tends at once to 
tranquillize and enliven, to keep the mind elevated and 
steadfast, the heart humbler and tender: it is Biblical 
theology — the philosophy of religion, the religion of 

The religious thought to which Coleridge devoted all 
his last years was not wholly void of contemporary value. 
Indeed he proved a rallying point for many who wanted 
their minds propped against the invasion of new doubts, 
much as Tennyson did thirty years later ; for many earnest 
Christians, too, who were equally dissatisfied with the dry 
and superficial religion of conventional ecclesiastics and 
the crudities of evangelical zealots. Coleridge seemed to 
supply a philosophical basis for theological dogmas, and 
so to renew them. He claimed that Christianity, rightly 
understood, was identical with the highest philosophy, 
and that its essential doctrines were 'necessary and eternal 
truths of reason — truths which man, by the vouchsafed 
light of Nature and without aid from documents or 
tradition, may always and anywhere discover for himself.' 

In private he could even go further and aver that 'he 
should have been a Christian had Christ never lived ; that 
all that was good in the teaching of Christ was to be 
found in Plato, in Zoroaster, Confucius and the Gymno- 
sophists; that the miracles had no force as affirming 
truths, were of no more weight than so many conjuring 

Certainly such a statement showed an insensitiveness 
to the personal reality of Christ and his distinctive genius. 
But if Coleridge had honestly acted upon this opinion 


and disentangled Christian values from the accretion of 
stereotyped dogma and flimsy historical evidence in 
which ecclesiastical minds had encased them, the writ- 
ings of his later years might have had a real significance 

But that of course he did not do. Kant had translated 
Christianity into terms of rationalistic philosophy, and 
whether his idealistic hypothesis be accepted or not, it is 
at least disinterestedly and searchingly developed. Cole- 
ridge claimed to do the same, but he was far too easy and 
accommodating an idealist to purge religious thought of 
dead dogma. No thinker can achieve reality without 
accepting limitations, but they must be limitations im- 
posed by himself over his own discursiveness, and not 
by an external authority on his own freedom of thought. 
It was because Coleridge lacked the power to do the 
former that his acceptance of the latter was without value. 
It had become, he confessed, as much his nature to evolve 
the fact from the law as that of the practical man to deduce 
the law from the fact, and the law as he conceived it was 
so generously latitudinarian that he had little difficulty in 
reconciling with it any facts and any dogmas he wished. 

So fearful was he lest 'true philosophy' should unsettle 
the 'principles of faith, that may and ought to be common 
to all men,' that he glossed over Anglican dogmas with the 
same eloquent facility as he glossed over the facts of nature, 
and his so-called Natural Theology was an agreeable but 
quite arbitrary attachment of his own philosophic pre- 
conceptions to the Church of England's creed. 

The result of such a compromised union, dictated as it 
was by his own need of the fixity and assurance of insti- 
tutional religion, was that the real elements in his idealism 
were progressively sacrificed to sanctimoniousness, the 
pure religious instinct of the poet to the religiosity of the 
sectarian, to whom Christ was not the divinest 'Son of 

§2 i^c^o^r 313 

Man,' the poet of new values and of a new world, but an 
abstraction dressed in ecclesiastical dialect, an incarnation 
'in Trinity or tri-unity.' 

The philosopher who drew upon his instincts as a poet 
could not fail to mingle truth with fiction: to adopt his 
own metaphor, though Etna smoked above, there were 
electrical flashes from the crater and sometimes a bright 
eruption'; but the philosopher who came to terms with 
the cleric was as devoid of real value as the poet of Gras- 
mere who had come to terms with the country gentleman. 

The chief writings in which Coleridge embodied his 
religious and moral thoughts during these declining years 
were The Friend, Aids to Refleftion and two Lay Sermons 
addressed to the Higher and Middle Classes. The first 
was almost 'a complete rifacimento , of the Grasmere 
Journal, the second rose out of a proposed selection of 
beauties' from the writings of that 'wonderful man' 
Archbishop Leighton, writings which, in Coleridge's 
opinion, renewed the inspiration of the Apostolic epistles, 
and even provoked a preposterous analogy with the 
thought and style of Shakespeare. The Lay Sermons 
were more specifically tracts for the times, and offered 
various edifying suggestions for the cure of 'existing Dis- 
tresses and Discontents' — among them a plea that states- 
men should content themselves with the Bible as the 
best guide to political skill and foresight,' and as an actual 
foreteller, to those who could read it allegorically, of 
coming events. 

Of these publications The Friend contained the most 
reality. Coleridge's attempt in the original version to 
relate his idealism to the practical concerns of life has 
already been remarked, and something of the creative 
sincerity which belonged to the original survived its 


reconstruction. The style too, if often a style in deli- 
quescence, was often also supple and caressing, as if 
blending the manners of Hooker and of Jeremy Taylor, 
which he so much admired; it was rich too in picturesque 
illustration ; and to read many passages aloud is to under- 
stand the spell which his conversation cast. In places too 
he did commune with that Very and permanent self 
which he informed his readers was the first step to know- 

But as a whole The Friend reflected, little less than his 
other writings of the period, the false compromise which 
was the condition of a limp idealism. The youthful 
reader, whom in his avuncular mind's eye he saw standing 
beside him like his own youth, 'fresh and keen as the 
morning Hunter in the pursuit of Truth, glad and restless 
in the feeling of mental growth/ was bidden to learn 
early 'that if the Head be the Light of the Heart, the 
Heart is the Life of the Head,' and that 'Consciousness, 
of which all reasoning is the varied modification, is but 
the Reflex of the Conscience when most luminous/ 

In short, there was no truth but moral truth. The 
'Understanding* which observed phenomena and based 
its judgment on the appearance of things was worthless: 
the 'Reason' only, by a sort of moral intuition, could per- 
ceive things as they really were, and grasp truth inde- 
pendently of the senses. 

Such a theory of course accorded exactly with Cole- 
ridge's nature. But his creed like his experience was dis- 
organic. As he had said of Macbeth: 'He has by guilt 
torn himself live-asunder from nature, and is, therefore, 
himself in a preternatural state : no wonder, then, that he 
is inclined to superstition, and faith in the unknown of 
signs and tokens, and super-human agencies.' 

All religions are myths, and all philosophies systems, 
in which experience is materialized, but the degree of 

§ 2 I&C "PO^r 3 1 5 

their reality corresponds with the degree of their truth 
to nature, the depth, proportion and amplitude of the 
experience which underlies them. The child and the 
savage are natural mythologists, but they lack the experi- 
ence to make their mythology conform with truth, to 
inform their innocence with knowledge. It is this basis of 
knowledge implicit in innocence which distinguishes reve- 
lation from superstition and mysticism from mystification. 
But since details to Coleridge were of little value except 
so far as they illustrated and proved a principle, they 
could be shelved when they failed to do so; and since the 
evidence of the senses was worthless, the moral 'Reason* 
was free to claim anything as truth which pleased it. 

Hence arose often enough 'a fatuous vapour, a warmth- 
less bewildering mockery of Light, exhaled from its 
corruption or stagnation/ and there was nothing to pre- 
vent, as inertia crept over him, a mere repetition of myths 
which he found edifying as a 'Liberal' Churchman and a 
'progressive' Tory. The miracles, for example, might be 
'really or only seemingly supernatural/ but he was soon 
'content for sake of its divine truths to receive as articles 
of faith or . . . leave undisputed the miracles of the New 
Testament, taken in their literal sense.' They were so 
valuable, it seemed to him, in generating 'that predis- 
posing warmth' of which Faith was born. 

The Friend was riddled with such plausible casuistry, 
and it was as a brother conjurer that he penned an absurd 
eulogy of the quack educator, Dr. Andrew Bell, and, 
deploring the foundation of new secular, Universities, 
urged that the education of the future should be en- 
trusted to a permanent nationalized learned order of 

A like pious unreality falsified his moral teaching. He 
professed indeed the most liberal views, desired to remove 
ignorance rather than to make the ignorant religious, 

3 i6 S^T^MUSL T^TLOR C0LE1(IT)gS §2 

and claimed that 'all effective faith presupposes know- 
ledge and individual conviction, ' that it was 'no mere 
acquiescence in truth, uncomprehended and unfathomed.' 

But the individual conviction was to tally with his own. 
If not, it was shocking 'speculative infidelity' ; and there 
was something at once pathetic and ridiculous in one who 
had failed so utterly to direct his own life, solemnly 
preaching that the preventive, remedy and counteraction 
of all evil, social and personal, was the habituation of the 
intellect to clear, distinct and adequate conceptions con- 
cerning all things that are the possible objects of clear 
conception,' after ruling out the whole objective world 
from such a category. His own failure was entirely due 
to a lack of clear conception and to a morbid absorption 
in those feelings 'which,' so he comfortably claimed, 
'belong, as by a natural right, to those obscure ideas that 
are necessary to the moral perfection of the human being 
notwithstanding, yea, even in consequence of, their 

The generation which, a century after Coleridge's day, 
has learnt by bitter experience how necessary, if humanity 
is to survive, is the application of Christian values to the 
political and economic, equally with the personal, con- 
cerns of human life, is not likely to quarrel with his inten- 
tion; but it has learnt too how worse than useless is a 
religion of edification or a morality divorced from fact. 
Such merely delude, as they deluded Coleridge himself, 
with a sense of peace and security, by drawing a cloudy 
curtain over the discord. The failure of the Church, 
upon whose doctrine Coleridge grafted his bodiless ideal- 
ism, to represent disinterestedly the values of Christ, is 
in itself a sufficient warning against a faith that sacrifices 
science to 'heart-dilating sentiments,' dogmas, or meta- 
physical abstractions. 

To admit for truth 'a higher and deeper ground than 

§2 i^c^o^ 317 

the intellect itself can supply' should not mean that 'only 
those who have the will to believe against the evidence of 
the senses can believe. ' The mind must take the senses 
with it in its search for truth if it is not to fall into the con- 
ventional or the inane. Certainly the subjective and the 
objective, which are but antithetical aspects of the time- 
order, are transcended in every pure a6l of spiritual 
experience. But the experience must contain them both, 
if it is truly to surpass them. 

In his interpretation of Shakespeare's genius Coleridge 
had recognized an intuition which represented a perfectly 
co-ordinated activity of the whole being, an identification 
of that which knows with that which w, and at times even 
in The Friend he could translate such a consciousness into 
religious terms without debasing it, as for example when 
he wrote: 'This elevation of the spirit above the sem- 
blances of custom and the senses to a world of spirit, this 
life in the idea, even in the supreme and godlike, which 
alone merits the name of life, and without which our 
organic life is but a state of somnambulism; this it is 
which affords the sole sure anchorage in the storm, and 
at the same time the substantiating principle of all true 
wisdom, the satisfactory solution of all the contradictions 
of human nature, of the whole riddle of the world. . . . 
But let it not be supposed that it is a sort of knowledge: 
no! it is a form of being, or indeed it is the only know- 
ledge that truly is 9 and all other science is real only as far 
as it is symbolical of this. The material universe, saith a 
Greek philosopher, is but one vast complex mythus^ that 
is, symbolical representation, and mythology the apex and 
complement of all genuine physiology.' 

But it was because Coleridge's mythology was not the 
complement of a genuine physiology that he imposed a 
fanciful allegory upon the material universe instead of 
deriving from it a true symbolism. 

318 S^mUSL TAYLOR C0LS1{IT>gS §2 

As a moralist he wished to bring his idealism 
into effective relation with the practical concerns of 
life, but through inability to face and analyse the 
practical, he could only graft it on to a conventional 
Toryism. As a 'Natural Theologian' he wished to 
relate his faith to Nature, but through inability to 
study the facts of Nature he only succeeded in grafting a 
philosophical Ethic on to the theological paraphernalia 
of his time. 

His excuse was that the 'Reason, being one with the 
ultimate end, of which it is the manifestation,' had no 
concern with things (the impermanent flux of parti- 
culars).' In this he showed the familiar presumption of 
the idealistic egotist who, rather than face a universe at 
least as cruel in its governing conditions as benign, attri- 
butes to the world at large his own self-conceived values 
and his own morality. He composes a picture of what the 
world ought to be, and in defiance of the evidence claims 
that so it is. He is inspired with benevolence himself and 
hungers after moral perfection, and he imports into all 
reality, under the name of God, the same high sentiments. 
Since Coleridge's day men have increasingly devoted 
themselves to an objective study of Nature and have dis- 
covered how ignorant she is of what she is going to pro- 
duce, and how careless of perfection when she has pro- 
duced it. They have learnt how complete is her unconcern 
for the moral values of man, that she reveals no more 
than a blindly disinterested vitality, and that purpose in 
the universe, if it exists, is a matter of hesitating evolution 
based on a method of trial and error. Such a discovery in 
no way renders an idealistic standpoint untenable. Ein- 
stein indeed, by proving that experience cannot be inter- 
preted in terms of space and time, has confirmed idealism 
physically. But it is an idealism disencumbered of 
mythology and moral assumptions, distinctively human 

§2 KNiTO^ 319 

though its roots are in nature, and tested at every point by 
a reference to fa6t. 

As a modern writer has put it: 'Unless we hold in 
mind the analysis of the world towards which the physical 
is bringing us, we shall not understand the synthesis of 
the world towards which the philosopher is bringing us.' 
In short, the physical and the metaphysical, science and 
imagination, are recognized to be mutually dependent, 
and the only idealism which is not prejudiced to be that 
which is grounded in matter itself. Consequently man 
has generally assumed far more responsibility for con- 
quering and controlling his experience. He no longer 
believes in the protection of a blandly benevolent God in 
whom everything brutal and everything inexplicable can 
be comfortably forgotten. He has adapted his conception 
of God to a view of Life rather as an evolutionary process, 
to be interpreted not statically as of old, or as an image 
of eternally fixed principles, but dynamically, or like a 
stream of consciousness moving towards some end yet 
dimly realized, charged with vast possibilities of develop- 
ment and altered direction, to which he himself can 
effectively contribute. 

In such a conception man seeks to-day to harmonize 
his new scientific experience, and it would of course be 
unfair to charge Coleridge with mental dishonesty because 
his conception of God lacked the material basis which the 
science of a later day supplied. But it lacked more than 
this. 'The starry heavens above' and 'the moral law 
within' should fill anyone, as they did Kant, 'with awe,' 
but the problem, which Kant as a philosopher and 
Wordsworth as a poet faced, was to bridge the space 
between them. 

Coleridge made no attempt to solve that problem. He 
took an easy leap into the dark, and however ecstatic such 
a leap may be, it can only result in a false conviction of the 


fall of man from an imaginary perfection, and paralyse 
his efforts to rise from an adtual savagery. And as excess 
of pain brings indifference, so excess of sensibility brings 
senselessness, or what Mr. Santayana has called 'a sub- 
sidence into the primordial life of undifferentiated feel- 
ing/ A too expansive love of everything, whether associ- 
ated with 'the starry heavens above' or 'the moral law 
within,' approximates to a love of nothing. Coleridge 
himself half-admitted the facl: in a lecture on the Gothic, 
when he said: 'But the Gothic art is sublime. On enter- 
ing a cathedral I am filled with devotion and with awe; I 
am lost to the actualities that surround me, and my whole 
being expands into the infinite, earth and air, nature and 
art, all swell up into eternity, and the only sensible im- 
pression left, is, that I am nothing!' 

Doubtless such 'free unresisted action, the going forth 
of the soul, life, without consciousness, is, properly, in- 
finite, that is unlimited,' but the essential problem of the 
artist and thinker is to impose limit upon it, and so com- 
pel it into the sphere of the conscious and intelligible. 
This is not to deny that all dynamic writing is charged 
with far more than a conscious meaning, suggests an 
infinite background and timelessness overbrimming the 
banks of time. But just as the infinite cannot be com- 
municated save as the overtones of the finite, so the idealist 
cannot achieve true freedom unless he faces necessity. 
If his idealism is to be honest and real, he must relate his 
absolute convictions to the actual and relative. He must 
accept that 'reality-loving limitation behind which the 
Absolute can lie concealed,' of which Goethe wrote, and 
his thought must not flow over Nature, but finely pene- 
trate to her texture. 

Coleridge failed as thinker because his thought was 
neither static nor dynamic, but fluid. As a Church apolo- 
gist he would have done well to lay to heart his own 

§2 i^c^o^ 321 

aphorism - 'He who begins by loving Christianity better 
than truth, will proceed by loving his own seel: or church 
better than Christianity/ 

For the half-truth embodied in the more typical state- 
ment that 'to become a believer one must love the doc- 
trine, and feel in harmony with it, and not sit down coolly 
to inquire whether he should believe or not/ removed, as 
he wished to do, the only means by which truth could be 
distinguished from fiction. 

Certainly, as Pascal wrote, it is necessary to love to 
understand; to this extent all true perception is moral; 
and Coleridge had brilliantly exemplified the truth in his 
analysis of Shakespeare. But while love supplies the 
creative sympathy necessary to all true insight, it will 
degenerate into mere sentimentalism if not sustained by a 
keen critical sense. Coleridge could not be critical of con- 
ventional religion because he needed its peace and security 
too much - needed, as he wrote in Aids to Refleftion> 
a God 'with a merciful consideration of our infirmities, a 
gracious acceptance of our sincere though imperfect 
strivings, a forgiveness of our defects.' His theology was 
no more disinterested than his morality, and his idealism, 
so weak in its reference to fact, played the inevitable 
pander to both. 

And so in his religious teaching he degraded Kant's 
philosophy of absolutes to serve the uses of a merely local 
and Conservative piety, and deluded himself into believ- 
ing that the discords in human nature could be healed by 
rapt contemplation of those meaningless 'spiritual objects, 
the universal, the eternal and the necessary/ in which a 
permanent nationalized learned order of clergy was to 
instruct the coming generations. 

He had ceased to be either a God-tormented or a 
God-illuminated man. He was for the most part a God- 
befuddled one. 

322 S^^MUSL TAYLOR C0L8%IT>gS §2 

While therefore he was as right in intention in oppos- 
ing the materialistic school which derived from Condillac 
in philosophy, as he was in opposing that which derived 
from Boileau in poetry, his achievement in both spheres 
was prejudiced by his temperament. Such lyrical poetry 
as 'Kubla Khan' may possibly give 'most pleasure when 
only generally and not perfectly understood,' but a fan- 
tastic metaphysic is worthless. 

Truth was to be 'educed by the mind out of its own 
essence/ and his mind's essence was decayed. He was 
never in full and wholesome harmony with Nature be- 
cause his nature was not in harmony with itself. In his 
last years the disintegration had become so advanced, and 
the vital impulse so dimmed, that he was at the most cap- 
able only of a sort of moral mortification, of 'a sinking 
inward into ourselves from thought to thought, a steady 
remonstrance, and a high resolve.' That he should seri- 
ously address himself in Aids to Reflection to those 'desirous 
of building up a manly character' only reveals how 
moribund he had become. He had ceased even to know 

Certainly The Friend has a value which survives its 
transcendental falsifications and its muffled moralizing. 
Even a sickly spirit, if it seek after deeper harmonies and 
finer perceptions, is always apt to flower in beauty and 
self-revelation at a happy impulse of emotion. Cole- 
ridge's language was always subtly woven; it breathed 
too a pious sympathy, and at moments there descended 
upon it the radiance of a miraculous insight. All these 
qualities may be found in The Friend, and it has also 
passages of tender and dissolving eloquence, as well as of 
mere metaphorical emptiness, typical of one who was 
engaged in solacing his sad heart rather than thinking 
constructively, to whom wisdom was not prudential, and 
so could flow into words like a soft caressing current, 

§3 i*c<po<Rr 3 2 3 

unimpeded by, or gently overtopping the boulders of fact. 

•Such a passage is the following: 

'There never perhaps existed a schoolboy, who, hav- 
ing, when he retired to rest, carelessly blown out his 
candle, and having chanced to notice, as he lay upon his 
bed in the ensuing darkness, the sullen light which had 
survived the extinguished flame, did not, at some time 
or other, watch that light as if his mind were bound to it 
by a spell. It fades and revives, gathers to a point, seems 
as if it would go out in a moment, again recovers its 
strength, nay, becomes brighter than before : it continues 
to shine with an endurance, which in its apparent weak- 
ness is a mystery; it protracts its existence so long, cling- 
ing to the power which supports it, that the observer, 
who had lain down in his bed so easy-minded, becomes 
sad and melancholy; his sympathies are touched; it is to 
him an intimation and an image of departing human life; 
the thought comes nearer to him ; it is the life of a vener- 
ated parent, of a beloved brother or sister, or of an aged 
domestic, who are gone to the grave, or whose destiny it 
soon may be thus to linger, thus to hang upon the last 
point of mortal existence, thus finally to depart and be 
seen no more/ 

Such indeed was the destiny of Coleridge's genius 
through these last years at Highgate. 

But if the resting-place which Coleridge made for 
himself in religion was largely a delusion, Mr. and Mrs. 
Gillman were 'amiable and respectable* facts. Not that 
Coleridge could even accept his kindly hostess as a fact. 
She too was a Trinitarian formula, was 'of all women I 
ever knew . . . the woman who seems to have been 
framed by Nature for a heroine in that rare species of 
love which subsists in a triunity of the heart, the moral 


sense, and the faculty, corresponding to what Spurzheim 
calls the organ of ideality* ; but her a fortiori virtues and 
her kinship with 'the Spanish Santa Teresa* did not pre- 
vent her, whom in a less metaphysical moment he called 
his Very dear Sister and Friend,' from tending him with 
maternal solicitude. 

Only when her 'restless and interrogating anxieties 
and her careworn countenance* accused him of exceeding 
the prescribed quantity of opium did he feel any inclin- 
ation to run away. He indulged the inclination once, in 
1824, for ten days, but he was glad to be recovered. 
Possibly it would have been nicer if Mrs. Gillman had 
contented herself with being only the 'tender sister* and 
not the 'anxious friend.* But he felt at last at home, and 
whether driving in Mr. Gillman*s gig or shuffling along 
on foot among the 'delicious groves and alleys* of Caen 
Wood, his worst suffering, the sense of awful isolation, 
was at an end. 

Melancholy still alternated with cheerfulness, but he 
felt neither keenly. The poor Morgans might go bank- 
rupt, and so might his publisher Fenner; he himself 
might be driven by poverty into lecturing and journalism; 
Hazlitt and Jeffrey might attack his personal character 
so caustically in the Edinburgh that he even contemplated 
bringing a libel action ; he might be taunted with having 
declined into 'torpid uneasy repose, tantalized by useless 
resources, haunted by vain imaginings, his lips idly 
moving, but his heart for ever still*; yet torpor was at 
least a non-conductor. He felt such things like echoes 
from a world whence he had withdrawn. 

Only one event indeed really awoke him to a sense of 
past horrors, or imported him once again into 'the howl- 
ing wilderness of sleep that I dread' - Hartley's depriv- 
ation of his fellowship in 1820 on the grounds of in- 
temperance. Even the Bible could bring him no comfort 

§3 iwL<po%r 325 

there. Truly the father 'had eaten sour grapes' and the 
son's teeth were 'set on edge;' and could anything 'be 
more dreadful than the thought that an innocent child 
has inherited from you a disease or weakness, the penalty 
in yourself of sin, or want of caution?' 

Once again in a letter to a friend he rehearsed and tried 
to excuse his own weakness. Surely no human being 
was more indifferent to the pleasures of the table than 
himself, or less needed any stimulation to his spirits. He 
was seduced into the use of narcotics and saw not the 
truth till his body had contracted a habit and a necessity. 
His responsibility was for cowardice: not for the least 
craving after gratification, but for yielding to pain, terror, 
and haunting bewilderment. 

Dreadful, however, though the parallel was between 
himself and his son, even here the casuist discovered a 
reason for shelving some of the responsibility. Doubtless 
Hartley's weakness had been fostered by the culpable 
indulgence, at least non-interference, of himself, but also 
'in a different quarter, contempt of the self-interest he 
saw seduced him unconsciously into selfishness.' So 
dire, it was convenient to think, was the effect of Southey's 
or of Sara's common prudence on a tender sensibility! 

But even so sudden and heavy an affliction as this 
passed as rapidly as a peal of thunder over Highgate. 
More and more he felt that he could 'be well off nowhere 
away from' his host and hostess. They interposed a solid 
affectionate humanity between himself and the world and 
memory. He had drifted at last into a region of security, 
though it was the security of the padded cell, and when 
the monotony of Highgate palled or his spirits were at a 
low ebb, he was allowed a change of air at Muddiford or 
Littlehampton or Ramsgate. The sea was never too cold 
for his liking and he was very fortunate at each of these 
places in striking up friendships with congenial fellow- 

326 S^^MUSL TzATLOR Q0L8%[T>ge §3 

visitors, pacing the sands at Muddiford with Stewart 
Rose, the friend of Scott, 'while ebbing seas have hummed 
a rolling bass' ; or at Littlehampton with Charles Augustus 
Tulk, the eminent Swedenborgian, who introduced him 
to Blake's poetry; or with H. F. Cary, whose translation 
of Dante he popularized by recommending it in one of his 

And at home gradually the Thursday evenings became 
a conversational institution. Rumour of his extraordinary 
performance spread; how, as Carlyle said, after accu- 
mulating 'formidable apparatus, logical swim-bladders, 
transcendental life-preservers, and other precautionary 
and vehiculatory gear,' he would at last get under way, 
only to be 'turned aside by the flame of some radiant new 
game on this hand or on that into new courses, and ever 
into new; and before long into all the universe, where it 
was uncertain what game you would catch or whether 
any/ But how, after talking 'with eager musical energy 
two stricken hours, his face radiant and moist/ and com- 
municating 'no meaning whatsoever to any individual of 
his hearers,' suddenly 'glorious islets' would 'rise out of 
the haze . . . balmy sunny islets of the blest and the 
intelligible,' or, to quote another writer, far horizons of 
thought flashing 'with the beauty of a sunrise at sea.' 

It was expectation of these moments that drew his 
audience and made them tolerant of 'the moaning sing- 
song' of 'theosophico-metaphysical monotony.' 

And apart from Lamb, who, despite his gentle scep- 
ticism, loved Coleridge as only one who had 'more of the 
essentials of Christianity than ninety-nine out of a hun- 
dred professing Christians' could, and who was constant 
in his half-humorous, half-reverential attention, Coleridge 
attracted two new friends. One of these was a young 
business man named Allsop, who introduced himself 
after a lecture, and from the beginning behaved towards 

§3 I^C^O^ 327 

him 'more like a dutiful and anxious son than an acquain- 
tance/ Judging by the account which Allsop later gave 
of their relations for the edification of his children, he 
was drawn to Coleridge as much by a native sympathy 
with his grandiloquent piety as by pity and astonishment. 

And doubtless a young man with a tendency to moral- 
ize and to fail in business would find in Coleridge a 
comforting affinity, while equally comforting to Coleridge 
was his ignorance of the desolated past, behind which 
all the friends of his own youth, save Lamb, had with- 
drawn with varying glances of moral disapprobation. 
His relations with Allsop were unembarrassed by the 
past. He could offer sententious advice to his 'dear young 
friend' without fearing to provoke a veiled derision; and 
gradually between 18 19 and 1826 their intimacy in- 
creased, fostered by a long series of exceedingly con- 
fidential letters, in which as of old he tended to flatter 
his self-esteem by self-apology. In one of these, for 
example, described truly by Allsop as 'a letter which no 
one but my lamented friend could have written/ he pre- 
faced a request for a loan of money, 'provided it could 
be accepted without moral degradation,' with a diffuse 
lament over his circumstances, which in its sentimental 
cant was easily the equal of any of those that had sickened 
the heart of Southey and of Wordsworth. 

Fortunately, however, Allsop was not a young poet, 
but a young moralist. Unlike Keats, who, meeting Cole- 
ridge on a walk, found his eloquence a curious but not a 
significant phenomenon, Allsop accepted all he said at 
its face value, and his affeclion must indeed have been 
clearly demonstrated to provoke the remark that 'as a 
mother would talk of the soothing attentions, the sacri- 
fices and devotion of a son, eager to supply every want 
and anticipate every wish, so I talk to myself concerning 
you.' 'Oh,' he added, with a girlish rapture typical of 


his younger days, 'we will exchange souls \ and with the 
self-pitying infidelity of the romancer, though the refer- 
ence was doubtless in the main to Wordsworth, he wrote: 
'Would to Heaven I had had many with feelings like 
yours, "accustomed to express themselves warmly and 
(as far as the word is applicable to you, even) enthusiastic- 
ally." But alas! during the prime manhood of my in- 
tellect I had nothing but cold water thrown on my efforts 
... I have loved with enthusiastic self-oblivion those 
who have been so well pleased that I should, year after 
year, flow with a hundred nameless rills into their main 
stream, that they could find nothing but cold praise and 
effective discouragement of every attempt of mine to roll 
onward in a distinct current of my own.' 

At first indeed such a 'hope, promise and impulse' was 
this new friendship to him that the ghost of a completed 
'Christabel' once more appeared. Allsop, however, could 
scarcely succeed where the forgotten Dorothy had failed. 
The expected 'genial recurrence of the ray divine' did not 
of course occur; but at least he had found a confidant. 
His mind with its best faculties was no longer 'locked 
up in one ungenial frost,' and in his letters he expressed 
his opinions with more candour than in his printed works. 
The fact that Allsop was a Radical may have had some- 
thing to do with it, for Coleridge's sensibility always led 
him to temper his opinion to that of his correspondent. 
He expressed, for example, his desire to do away with 
'the servile superstition which makes Bibliolaters, and yet 
holds from them the proper excellencies, the one con- 
tinued revelation of the Bible documents, which they 
idolize,' scorned 'the false reasonings and absurdities of 
the rogues and fools with which all establishments, and all 
creeds seeking to become established, abound,' and the 
selfishness of statesmen who opposed the education of the 
lower orders 'in the belief that the closer a nation shuts its 

§3 ISfPO^ 329 

eyes, the wider it will open its hands' ; and remarked of an 
attempt to suppress free opinion under the blasphemy- 
laws, 'I hold the assertion, that Christianity is part and 
parcel of the law of the land, to be an absurdity . . . 
Carlile may be wrong; his persecutors undoubtedly are so. y 

Of the petty elements in Wordsworth's character he 
had much to say, and of his poetry he wrote: 'I will not 
conceal from you that this inferred dependency of the 
human soul on accidents of birth-place and abode, to- 
gether with the vague, misty, rather than mystic, con- 
fusion of God with the world, and the accompanying 
nature- worship, ... is the trait in Wordsworth's poetic 
works that I most dislike as unhealthful, and denounce as 

Possibly the provincialism to which Wordsworth 
finally succumbed justified such a criticism, but Words- 
worth might well have answered Coleridge in his own 
words that 'as there is a worldliness or the too-much of this 
life, so there is another-worldliness, equally hateful and 
selfish with this worldliness, ,' 

Throughout all his letters to Allsop, however, Cole- 
ridge constantly bewailed in familiar strain the circum- 
stances, particularly the lectures on literature and philo- 
sophy that he was compelled to give, like 'a retail dealer 
in instruction and pastime,' which prevented the com- 
pletion of his Magnum Opus, It hovered like a dream of 
enormous dimensions over his consciousness of blasted 
powers ; and the other new friend of these years helped 
to delude him into believing that one day it would 

He became acquainted with Joseph Henry Green, a 
young surgeon and writer on medical subjects, in 18 17. 
Like Coleridge he had been to Germany, studied philo- 
sophy there, and despite the 'horrid materialism' of a 
medical training he was convinced of 'a spiritual first 

330 SiAmVSL TAYLOR C0LS c BJT>g8 §3 

cause and a presiding free will/ He became Coleridge's 
first disciple and offered himself for two afternoons of the 
week as amanuensis and collaborator in laying the found- 
ations of what was to be such a system of philosophy as 
should Virtually include the law and explanation of all 
being, conscious and unconscious, and of all correlativity 
and duty, and be applicable directly or by deduction to 
whatsoever the human mind can contemplate — sensuous 
or supersensuous — of experience, purpose, or imagin- 

The whole system, to which Green devoted not only 
much of his time during the last seventeen years of 
Coleridge's life, but also the last twenty-eight of his own, 
was a chimera, a vast web of unfounded deductions, a 
juggling with inconceivable entities. It is worth, how- 
ever, mentioning one aspect, and that the central one, of 
this fantastic system, as Green later reported it, since 
here, as in all the literary activities of his life, Coleridge 
projected into the universe the problem of his own person- 
ality and strove by a sort of algebraical formula to solve 
in theory what he could not solve in practice. 

Just as he had described the poet in ideal perfection as 
reconciling opposites or discordant qualities, so he defined 
the Deity as reconciling in Himself the opposition of 
subject and object. God to him was the poet of the Uni- 
verse, perpetually affirming Himself self-consciously by 
an act of will, and the three persons of the Trinity were 
the three elements in his consciousness: God the Father 
being the T or thinking subject, God the Son the 'Me' or 
the subject regarded as object, and God the Holy Ghost 
the reconciler of object and subject in a perfect unity of 

The idea of 'persuading mankind of the truths of 
Christianity' by such remote deductions from orthodox 
dogma was of course ludicrous. And such a conception 

§3 i^C^o^r 33 i 

is of interest merely because it represented once again his 
idea of a truly creative consciousness. He felt that it 
was impotence of will which had prevented him from 
experiencing and expressing life truly as a poet. He had 
failed because he could not reconcile the subject and 
the object. And so in his idea of God he merely perfected 
his own personality. Unfortunately, however, for the 
significance of his philosophy, the same disability which 
had frustrated him as a poet clung to him as a meta- 
physician, and an age intolerant of airy hypotheses can 
only refuse to attribute the objective reality which he 
claimed to so purely subjective a conception. 

God is something more than a sublimation of mental 
philosophy, and to reduce Him to three elements of con- 
sciousness was merely to cling to anthropomorphism 
while pretending to believe in His 'absolute imperson- 
ality. ' If God exists, all life, and not merely the private 
aspirations of the individual, must be a representation of 
Him, and it is useless to dismiss a theory of life which 
recognizes this necessity as 'pernicious/ since, in Cole- 
ridge's words, 'it excludes all our deep and awful ideas 
of the holiness of God, His justice and mercy. ... "If 
you will be good, you will be happy,' ' it says: that may be, 
but my will is weak; I sink in the struggle.' 

God's perfect holiness, justice, and divine humanity 
therefore were proved, according to Coleridge, in de- 
fiance of many facts of life by his own moral weakness. 
He at once exaggerated and disregarded what he called 
the 'pravity' of Nature. Nature is neither depraved nor 
benevolent, but only neutral. If man will accept her as 
such and aim himself at reflecting her disinterested 
vitality, while wedding it to human values, he will cease 
to plead a mythical damnation of mankind as an excuse 
for cowardly and uncreative living. 

So far as man fell, he fell only away from the unmoral 

332 S^A^MUSL TAYLOR C0L8^IT>g6 §3 

state of primitive Nature that he might climb by way of 
knowledge to a higher condition of consciousness, and 
so of life. But Coleridge lacked the courage to climb 
thus, and he excused his weakness by sentimentalizing his 
origins. For him it was a God of the past from whom he 
had fallen, and not a God of the future towards whom he 

'I believe,' he wrote, 'and hold it as the fundamental 
article of Christianity that I am a fallen creature; that I 
am of myself capable of moral evil, but not of myself 
capable of moral good. ... I am born a child of wrath. 
This fearful mystery I pretend not to understand . . . 
my conscience, the sole fountain of certainty, commands 
me to believe it.' 

Thus a mediaeval conscience can make cowards and 
casuists of us all. All his life Coleridge had been con- 
science-stricken. In other words, he had known that he 
was not living in true harmony with life. But instead of 
studying life to learn how he had transgressed its laws, 
he merely condoned his morbid conscience in the person 
of an ideally moral 'legislator,' and invoked a conventional 
redemptive power. In this way, and by attacking as 
infidels those who saw no such moral scruples in the 
working of the life-force, but who stressed man's respons- 
ibility to outgrow his savage origins and humanize the 
Natural — as infidels who made it 'necessary for us to 
rejedl and declare utterly null, all the commands of con- 
science, and all that is implied in those commands' - he 
tried to forget his own life-long inability to aft upon the 
commands of that conscience which he invested with 
universal sovereignty. 

In short, Coleridge lacked the courage to scan the face 
of Life disinterestedly, to mark not merely its expressive 
beauty but its scowls and wrinkles, its leers and lightning 
flashes and clouds of gloomy violence. Hungering for the 

§3 I^CTO^f 333 

divine and beatific, he saw only a radiant mist, and upon 
it he painted his own transfigured countenance, and 
having painted it proceeded to reduce it, as he had 
so often reduced it in its marred actuality, to its con- 
stituent elements. Still further to veil the purely personal 
quality of the process, he borrowed the doctrines of the 
Church and concealed himself behind their venerable 

Green, however, and the Magnum Opus served at least 
to give an illusion of methodical purpose to these last in- 
effective years, to help him to repeat what he described 
in a lecture as 'the perpetual promises of the imagination.' 
And gradually the one dutiful disciple was joined by 
others, and in 1822 Coleridge even contemplated forming 
a class, since he had reason to suppose that the three or 
four young men who had already attached themselves to 
him in an informal way, had by conversing, reading and 
corresponding, benefited in the 'improvement and acceler- 
ated growth of their faculties, and in the formation, or at 
least in the grounding, strengthening and integration, as it 
were, of their whole character/ 

Strange it would have been if one so disintegrated as 
he had exercised such an influence as he claimed over the 
disciples, with whom in rapt attendance he might have 
been seen strolling over Hampstead Heath. And since 
poor, eloquent, effeminate Edward Irving, who was 
eventually to die of a theosophical decline, was chief 
among them, there is little doubt that Coleridge was 
deluded in this as in other things. That he did however 
attract young men of manly character and noble ideals 
is sufficiently attested in the person of John Sterling, 
although even to him, who outlived his early enthusiasm, 
and passed on to the sterner creed of Carlyle, the associ- 
ation was scarcely beneficial. 

The explanation of the attraction was that Coleridge 


did seem to stand for values which were being submerged 
in a rising tide of brute materialism. The industrial age 
was beginning, and none could see then what new and 
more firmly grounded values might issue from it. They 
saw only that all the old stable principles, intellectual 
and moral, to which men had clung for centuries, were 
being disregarded, and in a world that was for long to 
divide its allegiance between utility and laissez-faire , a 
world that was spawning ugliness as automatically as its 
multiplying machines, Coleridge seemed like a forlorn 
lamp of ancient esoteric wisdom beaming through a 
gathering cloud of smoke rather than a will-o'-the-wisp 
dancing over its own morass. 

He was the precursor of the Disraeli of Coningsby when 
he argued that 'Commerce has enriched thousands, it has 
been the cause of the spread of knowledge and of science, 
but has it added one particle of happiness or of moral 
improvement? Has it given us a truer insight into our 
duties, or tended to revive and sustain in us the better 
feelings of our nature? No!! when I consider that whole 
districts of men, who would otherwise have slumbered on 
in comparatively happy ignorance are now little less than 
brutes in their lives and something worse than brutes 
in their instincts, I could almost wish that the manu- 
facturing districts were swallowed up as Sodom and 

But although it was to his credit that, long before 
Shaftesbury, Coleridge printed and had distributed cir- 
culars advocating a Bill to regulate the employment of 
children in cotton factories, his social like his religious 
idealism was essentially ineffective. It was typical of him 
that in applauding the distribution of relief to the poor 
he should remark that 'it would, on the other hand, be 
wilful to blindness not to see that the lower orders become 
more and more improvident in consequence, more and 

§3 I9C<PO<nr 335 

more exchange the sentiments of Englishmen for the 
feelings of Lazzaroni.' 

The possibility of hungry men indulging in the vice of 
improvidence has always haunted the minds of con- 
ventional and comfortable Conservatives, but such ten- 
derntoo for the moral welfare of the victims of a predatory 
social system was surely a sublime example of hypocrisy 
in a man who had depended on 'the distribution of relief' 
throughout his life. 

The philanthropic Conservatism of Coleridge's later 
life was sentimental like his early Jacobinism. He was 
sincere enough to know that the Conservative Party was 
composed of half-truth men, but he resisted everything 
really progressive, every pronounced desire to order and 
direct, circumstance rather than leave it to 'divine Provi- 
dence,' as dangerous in itself, or as conflicting with his 
abstract principles. Radicals were sceptics; neither imagi- 
nation nor love could have a place in minds so coldly 
calculating. Political economy he dubbed 'solemn hum- 
bug' and denounced as directly tending 'to denationalize, 
to make the love of our country a foolish supersti- 
tion,' and he vehemently opposed the Reform Bill as 
'that huge tapeworm lie of some three score and ten 

He could not range himself with the forces of the future 
which alarmed him, could not bring his ideals into touch 
with contemporary fadl. He could only lament over 
change and speak in horror of Atheism and Materialism. 
He saw as little in Science as Science now sees in 
his metaphysical needlework. Querulously eloquent, he 
judged the present by the standards of the past, and so at 
best he had only palliatives to offer for a situation which 
offended his sensibility, but to which it was philosophic- 
ally useless to apply so superficial a faculty as the under- 

336 S^^MUSL r^TLOR C0L8%IDg6 §4 

Yet behind the compromise there still lurked the poet 
eloquently hungering after the divine, selfishly enamoured 
of an infinite harmony. And it was this, combined with 
benevolence, piety, and an insistence on principles in 
themselves estimable, which drew to him the young and 
ardent, and for a time persuaded them that even his finite 
judgments were significant, that a world which was sacri- 
ficing principle to mechanism might actually be saved, not 
by an alliance of humanity and science, but by a Church 
which infused a Coleridgean metaphysic into the skele- 
tons of its dogma. 


But although 'the Patriot' and 'the Christian* were 
henceforth the idols of Coleridge's esteem, and 'the 
Atheist' and 'the Materialist' the objects of his oppro- 
brium ; although The Beggar s Opera, which twenty years 
before he had acclaimed as 'perfection,' now filled him 
with 'horror and disgust. ... So grossly did it outrage 
all the best feelings' of his nature; the poet in him glanced 
occasionally and fearfully into the abyss over which he 
had constructed a bridge of piety and edification. 

It was a Limbo from which not only all the glitter of 
life, which he loved like a blind man that feels the sun 
upon his face, was banished, but in which death and 
darkness were themselves dreadful positives. 

"Tis a strange place, this Limbo! - not a Place 
Yet name it so ; — where Time and weary Space 
Fettered from flight, with night-mare sense of fleeing, 
Strive for their last crepuscular half-being; — 
Lank Space, and scytheless Time with brawny hands 
Barren and soundless as the measuring sands, 
Not mark'd by flit of Shades, - unmeaning they 
As moonlight on the dial of the day ! . . . 

§4 I^CTO^T 337 

Wall'd round, and made a spirit-jail secure 

By the mere horror of blank Naught-at-all, 

Whose circumambience doth these ghosts enthral. 

A lurid thought is growthless, dull Privation, 

Yet that is but a Purgatory curse; 

Hell knows a fear far worse, 

A fear - a future state; - 'tis positive Negation.' 

Such was the Limbo which gaped beneath his moralizing, 
and it was his fear of this 

'Sole Positive of Night! 
Antipathist of Light!' 

of all the sagging weight of negation in himself, that had 
forced him to surrender to conventional piety. As he 
wrote : 

What hast thou, Man, that thou dar'st call thine own? - 

What is there in thee, Man, that can be known? - 

Dark fluxion, all unfixable by thought, 

A phantom dim by past and future wrought, 

Vain sister of the worm, - life, death, soul, clod - 

Ignore thyself, and strive to know thy God!' 

He had fed upon himself until naught remained but to 
sit and cower 'o'er my own vacancy' — a vacancy which, 
if it was not peopled with the ghosts of past failure, seemed 
to forecast some such Hell as Dante had allotted to the 
apathetic. It was no use turning to Nature: for in her 
face too he could only read himself, unless he were 
observing detail dispassionately; and that only diverted, 
it did not fulfil and comfort. 

There were moments indeed when still his senses 
dreamily responded to the beauty of life, but they grew 
less and less frequent. In one of them the nightingales 

338 S*A3[1U£L TAYLOR COLS%IT>gS §4 

reminded him of his walks twenty years before in the 
woods about Alfoxden, so many were they and in such 
full song, particularly that giddy voluminous whirl of 
notes which you never hear but when the Birds feel the 
temperature of the air voluptuous/ In another, he wrote 
to Allsop: 'Hark yet again to that sweet strain! see how 
calm, how beauteous that prospect toward my garden! 
Would to God I could give out my being amidst flowers, 
and the sight of meadowy fields, and the chaunt of birds. 
Death without pain at such a time, in such a place as this, 
would be a reward for life. If I fear at all, I fear dying — 
I do not fear death.* 

It was a state of dying, infinitely prolonged, that he 
feared, a continued consciousness of inability ever to give 
out his being. 'In vain,' he wrote, 

'we supplicate the Powers above; 
There is no resurrection for the Love 
That, nursed in tenderest care, yet fades away 
In the chiird heart by gradual self-decay/ 

And so for the reality he substituted the convention, and 
was content to 

'trace in leaves and flowers that round me lie 
Lessons of love and earnest piety.' 

Yet there were times when his piety was more than con- 
ventional, when the elusive child in him peeped round 
the skirts of Archbishop Leighton, with a wistful wonder 
in eyes that never, like Polonius', became 'the watery 
eyes of superannuation/ 

Never again could he run wild 'as the full moon in a 
fine breezy October night, driving on amid clouds of all 
shapes and hues, and kindling shifting colours, like an 
ostrich in its speed/ The sky above him was shrouded, 

§4 I^TO%T 339 

and it was 'a cruel sort of world,' but he could write 
appealingly and without the whine of defeat, because 
self-pity was sweetened by self-understanding, and resig- 
nation by an innocence at once childlike and benign. In 
such moods his thoughts went back to 'dear, ever fondly 
remembered Stowey' and happy Quantock times, to 
'Love's first hope to gentle mind,' that was 

'As Eve's first star thro' fleecy cloudlet peeping; 
And sweeter than the gentle south-west wind, 
O'er willowy meads, and shadow'd waters creeping, 
And Ceres' golden fields.' 

And even when he wrote of age and joy's decline, it 
was with a vernal charm - 'Winter assumes the character 
of Spring, Spring the sadness of Winter' in 'Youth 
and Age': 

'Verse a breeze mid blossoms straying, 
Where Hope clung feeding, like a bee - 
Both were mine! Life went a-maying 
With Nature, Hope, and Poesy, 
When I was young! 

'When I was young? - Ah, woful When! 
Ah! for the change 'twixt Now and Then! 
This breathing house not built with hands, 
This body that does me grievous wrong, 
O'er aery cliffs and glittering sands, 
How lightly then it flashed along ; — 
Like those trim skiffs, unknown of yore, 
On winding lakes and rivers wide, 
That ask no aid of sail or oar, 
That fear no spite of wind or tide ! 
Naught cared this body for wind and weather 
When Youth and I lived in't together. 

340 SzA&dUSL T^TLOR QOLS^DgS §4 

'Flowers are lovely; Love is flower-like; 
Friendship is a sheltering tree; 
O ! the joys that came down shower-like, 
Of Friendship, Love, and Liberty, 
Ere I was old! 

'Ere I was old? Ah woful Ere, 
Which tells me, Youth's no longer here! 

Youth! for years so many and sweet, 
'Tis known that Thou and I were one, 
I'll think it but a fond conceit - 

It cannot be that thou art gone! 
Thy vesper-bell hath not yet toll'd: - 
And thou wert aye a masker bold! 
What strange disguise hast now put on 
To make believe, that thou art gone? 

1 see these locks in silvery slips, 
This drooping gait, this altered size; 
But Spring-tide blossoms on thy lips, 
And tears take sunshine from thine eyes! 
Life is but thought: so think I will 
That youth and I are house-mates still.' 

But the 'bird shattered and irremediably disorganized 
in one wing' could only flutter a short way and then 
come to earth again. The faint creative impulse sank back 
on itself 'like a sigh heaved up from the tightened chest 
of a sick man,' and gradually from 1826 he grew feebler. 
Active as his mind still seemed, he was always 'an over- 
tired man roused from insufficient sleep/ a guest who had 

'outstay'd his welcome while, 
And tells the jest without the smile.' 

His very eloquence, now more intermittent, was the 
symptom of an inward muteness, and the past like the 
present became a faded picture on a wintry wall. 

§4 i*c<po%r 341 

'For a while/ he wrote to Gillman, 'the mind seems to 
have the better in the contest, and makes of Nature what 
it likes . . . composes country dances on her moonshiny 
ripples, fandangos on her waves, and waltzes on her eddy- 
pools, transforms her summer gales into harps and harpers, 
lovers' sighs and sighing lovers, and her winter blasts 
into Pindaric Odes, Christabels, and Ancient Mariners 
set to music by Beethoven, and backs and chases the dodg- 
ing stars in a sky-hunt! But alas! alas! that Nature is a 
wary wily long-breathed old witch. . . . She is sure to 
get the better of Lady Mind in the long run and to take 
her revenge too; transforms our to-day into a canvas 
dead-coloured to receive the dull, featureless portrait 
of yesterday: . . . she mocks the mind with its own 
metaphor . . .' 

Thus does indifferent Nature treat the mind that would 
enjoy her without understanding, and snatch at truth and 
happiness without submitting to her law. And so for the 
poet, deserted by the forces of life, the poet for whom the 
amaranths no longer bloomed and work was without 
hope, there was nothing left but undlion, unless it was a 
sudden verbal devotion to 'Duty' as 'the only sure friend 
of declining life.' 

The more he came to look like a dissenting minister, 
the more his orthodoxy stiffened; the more verbal his 
faith became, the less real his experience. The grey eyes 
were at times still 'full of intelligent softness/ but more 
often they stared into space with a blank, sad gaze, and 
the face against the long white hair was strangely un- 
creased, strangely round and plump and childish. He 
had never allowed experience to strike deep into his being, 
and so the cheeks and eyes preserved their childlike 
appearance. But his roots were dead. 

Spring called to him in 1827. 'What an interval!' he 
wrote in his note-book, 'Heard the singing birds this 

342 StAMUSL T^TLOR C0L6%IT>g8 §4 

morning in our garden for the first time this year, though 
it rained and blew fiercely; but the long frost has broken 
up, and the wind, though fierce, was warm and westerly.' 

But no wind could unfetter his frost. He was a jelly 
that had been poured into a mould and had stiffened. 
'Morning and evening and in the watches of the night' he 
earnestly besought the 'God who seeketh that which was 
lost, who calleth back that which had gone astray' to 
'shew him his sins and their sinfulness.' A few years 
before he had written: 'It is requisite that the conviction 
now become so self-evident, "that vice is the effect of 
error, the offspring of surrounding circumstances, the 
object of condolence and not of anger." But he had 
ceased to be the psychologist as he had ceased to be the 
poet. He was content to commit himself, in whom really 
there was no darkness but only light faded through its 
own unworldly excess to a neutral grey, but whom he 
described as a 'poor dark creature,' to an 'Omniscient and 
All- Merciful, in whom are the issues of Life and Death' ; 
he still professed an 'earnest love of Truth for its own 
sake,' but he held a steadfast conviction 'grounded on 
faith, not fear, that the religion into which I was baptized 
is the Truth, without which all other knowledge ceases to 
merit the appellation.' 

Certainly Coleridge did not fear death. He had too 
slight a hold on physical life to shudder at its cessation. 
As Lamb wrote : 'he long had been on the confines of the 
next world ... for he had a hunger for eternity.' But it 
was a morbid hunger, never appeased; and behind his 
conventional assertion of Christian conviction concerning 
an after-life lay an agitated suspicion that in this as in so 
many things he was deluding himself. It was easy to 
boast like Tertullian, 'I believe, because it is impossible,' 
or to argue that 'love is the proof of continuing, as it is 
the cause and condition of existing consciousness. How 

§4 I?t<PO%r 343 

beautiful the harmony!' But love had failed him, and the 
strings of life were broken. Might not his belief also in 
an Omniscient Creator be but the 'dancing flames or 
luminous bubbles on the magic cauldron of my wishes?' 
Jeremy Taylor had written that 'it is possible for a man 
to bring himself to believe anything he hath a mind to.' 
But what was this belief? — 'Analyse it into its constitu- 
ents — is it more than certain passions or feelings converg- 
ing into the sensation of positiveness as their focus . . .?' 

Hastily he put the inquiry aside. As he had said, when 
lecturing on Romeo and Juliet^ 'the reverend character of 
the Friar is very delightful and tranquillizing.' His 
thought and his language became increasingly clerical. 
'I shall be much gratified,' he wrote in accepting an invi- 
tation to be a godfather, 'by standing beside the baptismal 
font as one of the sponsors of the little pilgrim at his in- 
auguration into the rights and duties of Immortality.' 

In the summer of 1 828 he actually joined Wordsworth 
and his daughter Dora in a tour of the Rhine district. 
He knew that he could never again feel or think in the 
same spirit with Wordsworth, but he had ceased to fear 
antipathies. 'Old friends burn dim,' he had written, 

'like lamps in noisome air, 
Love them for what they are\ nor love them less, 
Because to thee they are not what they were' 

But if any memories haunted him of other tours, of his 
first landing on German soil, not yet 'a sordid, solitary 
thing,' or of that dismal tramp through Scotland from 
which he escaped only into nightmares, — Dorothy was 
not there to reproach his recollection. Yet her absence 
was in itself, had he known, a reproach. A few months 
later she was to suffer the first attack of the mysterious 
nervous ailment from which she never really recovered and 

344 SzAmUSL TAYLOR C0L8^JT>g£ §4 

which resulted in her reason being for the rest of her life 
no longer in continuous command. 

As late as 183 1 he still believed that he was advancing 
'regularly and steadily towards the completion of my 
Opus Magnum on Revelation and Christianity/ But full 
as the Reservoir might be of the reflections and reading 
of twenty-five years, a system of pipes was never dis- 
covered to convey the living water to a thirsty public. 
The same failure attended a last attempt to throw off 
opium. At first God was reported to have 'worked almost 
a miracle of grace in and for me by a sudden emancipation 
from a thirty-three years' fearful slavery.' But however 
admirable miracles might be in generating a predisposing 
warmth for Faith, they could not work an effectual cure, 
and nothing was left for the physical man but 'a weary 
time of groaning and life-loathing. ' Even the days of 
orchestral remorse were over. Relapse, reprieve and con- 
valescence followed each other 'with a little fluttering 
distinctly felt at my heart, and a sort of cloud-shadow of 
dejection flitting over me.' And gradually the flutter 
grew less distinct and the shadow less regarded. Gradu- 
ally 'the Ghosts of defunct hopes' ceased altogether to 
chase 'the Jack-o'-lanterns of foolish expectation.' He 
was no more than 'a shadow sleeping amid the wan yellow 
light of the December morning . . . like wrecks and 
scattered ruins of the long, long night.' 

A visit from Emerson in 1833 provoked a last pathetic 
outburst against Unitarianism from the 'short, thick old 
man . . . who took snuff freely' and 'soiled his cravat and 
neat black suit,' and whose vehemence was significant 
only of senile sentiment arraigning its youthful counter- 
part. Harriet Martineau, who visited him a few months 
before, found him looking very old 'with his rounded 
shoulders, and drooping head and excessively thin 
limbs.' But he held her with his glittering eye and dreamy 

§4 I9CP&W 345 

involuntary voice. She forgot the flabby face in the weird 
light that seemed to possess it, like a huge crystal 'flashing 
back every impression of life and every possibility of 
thought/ to quote a later writers comparison. 

In May of the following year Poole saw him for the 
last time, and found his mind 'as strong as ever, seeming 
impatient to take leave of its encumbrance/ But long 
before this his mind had in fact taken leave of the body 
which it loathed. It moved airily about in a vacuum of 
its own, and this was why he could write that he was 
'reconciled and harmonized/ He was not really harmon- 
ized : he had merely ceased to strike the bass notes in his 
nature which made a discord, and played only on the 
treble clef. 

On July 13 he wrote to his godchild: 'I now on the 
eve of my departure, declare to you and earnestly pray 
that you may hereafter live and act on the conviction, 
that Health is a great blessing; and a great blessing it is 
to have kind, faithful, and loving friends and relatives; 
but that the greatest of all blessings, as it is the most 
ennobling of all principles, is to be indeed a Christian. 
But I have been likewise, through a large portion of my 
later life, a sufferer, sorely afflicted with bodily pains, 
languor, and manifold infirmities; and for the last three 
or four years have, with few and brief intervals, been 
confined to a sick-room, and at this moment, in great 
weakness and heaviness, write from a sick-bed, hopeless 
of recovery, yet without prospect of a speedy removal. 
And I thus, on the brink of the grave, solemnly bear wit- 
ness to you, that the Almighty-Redeemer, most gracious 
in His promises to them that truly seek Him, is faithful 
to perform what He has promised; and has reserved, 
under all pains and infirmities, the peace that passeth 
understanding, with the supporting assurance of a recon- 
ciled God, who will not withdraw His spirit from me in 

346 SzAMUSL TAYLOR C0L6%IT>g8 §5 

the conflict, and in His own time will deliver me from the 
evil one.' 

How much more real value for him attached to these 
devotional dreams than to those generated in childhood 
by the Arabian Nights can only be conjectured. At least 
they brought him serenity, and in the comfort of that 
serenity twelve days later he died. 


'Why was I made for love and love denied me?' Cole- 
ridge had written and denied his friends in the question; 
denied above all Lamb, who wrote of him shortly before 
his own death: 'His great and dear Spirit haunts me; 
never saw I his likeness, nor probably the world can see 
again. I seem to love the house he died in more passion- 
ately than when he lived.' 

And yet essentially Coleridge was right. Love was 
denied to him as life and truth were in their fullness, con- 
stancy and strength. The chronicle which has now been 
brought to a conclusion sufficiently records the reason. 
Coleridge's life is among the saddest in literary history. 
A being splendidly endowed with genius, sensibility and 
intellect, large in comprehension, elemental in instinct, 
generous, affectionate and enthusiastic, broke himself on 
the rocks of a world which he could not see. 

This was the fatal defect of his nature, of which an 
impotent will was perhaps less the cause than the con- 
sequence. For treason to the material is visited with even 
direr penalties than treason to the ideal, and the more 
humanity refines itself, the harder it is to preserve that 
contact with the physical, that 'identity between the 
actual and the real,' which Coleridge himself described 
as essential to perfect reality and without which the 
spiritual life can only be a sickness and a sigh. 

Ever since the Renaissance and the Reformation in- 

§5 I^C i PO%r 347 

tellectual Man has tended to grow farther and farther 
away from his roots in physical as in social life, and his 
experience to become more and more personal and exclu- 
sive. And although great and necessary has been his 
consequent advance in self-knowledge, he has paid the 
penalty in an idealism which has had little organic neces- 
sity, in mere subjective dreaming or in an exploitation 
of perverted, subtle and languid moods. The vice of 
over-cultivation is evident in the artist who seeks self- 
indulgently after beauty, instead of creating beauty as a 
condition of true experience, as in the idealist who in 
escape from the facts of life loses himself in abstractions 
or clings to a morality which reflects only personal pre- 
judice or contemporary utility. 

Despite an elementalism which conditioned perhaps the 
most miraculous lyric in the English language, Coleridge 
suffered as artist, idealist and man from this subjective 
hysteria. Stricken with the loneliness inevitable to all 
who strive after an absolute beauty, he made spasmodic 
efforts to re-establish his sense of the reality of life by 
human attachments and concrete activities, and he sought 
forgetfulness of his failure in opium, metaphysics and 
religiosity. Even in his poetry he was the same fugitive, 
and so could seldom find there anything but transitory 
appeasement, and never perhaps but once, victorious 

Speaking of Milton in one of his last lectures, he re- 
marked: 'He was, as every truly great poet has ever been, 
a good man ; but finding it impossible to realize his own 
aspirations, either in religion, or in politics, or society, he 
gave up his heart to the living spirit and light within him, 
and avenged himself on the world by enriching it with the 
record of his own transcendental ideal.* 

In this passage Coleridge enunciated his own ideal, and 
the two poets are sufficiently near in type to emphasize, 

348 SzAmUSL TAYLOR C0L8?(IT>gS §5 

by the contrast between their achievements, the truth 
that it matters not how transcendent a poet's inten- 
tion may be (indeed it cannot be too transcendent), or 
how much he employs the methods of improbable illu- 
sion, provided always his experience is grounded in the 
physical. There was a firm Pagan element in Milton, a 
sensuousness exquisitely refined but never disintegrated 
by humanistic or Christian thought. And so, however 
metaphysical his thought might be, or however involved 
in contemporary dogma and cosmology, its expression 
remained individual and organic, while even in his 
morality he transcended the conventional more often than 
he echoed it and continued to the end essentially true 
to the values of a creative imagination. 

It was this physical basis which Coleridge lacked. 
There was a gaping fissure in his nature between the 
physical and the spiritual, and so between himself and the 
natural world. Consequently his poetry died away for 
want of a true morality, and he could only smother his 
latter years in a conventional one. 

It might have been of him that Meredith wrote in 
A Reading of Earth : 

'If we strain to the farther shore, 
We are catching at comfort near. 
Assurances, symbols, saws, 
Revelations in Legends, Light 
To eyes rolling darkness, these 
Desired of the flesh in affright, 
For the which it will swear to adore, 
She yields not for prayers at her knees; 
The woolly beast bleating will shear. 
These are our sensual dreams; 
Of the yearning to touch, to feel 
The dark Impalpable sure, 

§ 5 IK vo%r 349 

And have the unveiled appear; . . . 
Yet we have but to see and hear, 
Crave we her medical herb. 
For the road to her soul is the Real: 
The root of the growth of man : 
And the senses must traverse it fresh 
With a love that no scourge shall abate, 
To reach the lone heights where we scan 
In the mind's rarer vision this flesh: 
In the charge of the Mother our fate; 
Her law as the one common weal/ 

From childhood Coleridge had little root in the real, and 
so the organic life of nature never ran healthily through 
him, like the sap through the stem and branches of a tree, 
to be translated by the higher faculties into terms of vital 
spiritual activity. Rather he was shut away from life in 
the chamber of himself, and there his restless, ever-work- 
ing fancy, his subtle logic-spinning mind, his fluent 
emotion, stirred up a bewildering ferment. He longed to 
communicate, to give himself to things and people, and 
to take them into himself, but although he diffused 
emotion, it could not bring him into vital contact with 
objects, and without that contact the object could not be 
truly transmuted into subject and feed a healthy con- 
sciousness. 'I fled in a Circle,' he wrote, 'still overtaken 
by Feelings, from which I was ever more fleeing, with my 
back turned towards them.' His flight from feeling was 
but the consequence of his flight from things, since feel- 
ing only ceases to be a fever when it is wed by sensation to 
things and only ceases to be a luxury or a languor when 
both are wed to thought. 

Generally Coleridge's emotion was not even explo- 
sively dissipated : it was merely vapourishly diffused. His 
spirit, uncentred in a world of fact, either streamed out 


into the void where there was no certain foothold, or fed 
upon itself in a haunted solitude : while the world, which 
he could neither feel nor focus with a clear, impersonal 
vision, impressed and punished him unduly with its 
power to betray and hurt. 

Yet terrible as was his shipwreck, and heart-rending 
in the light of a genius so seraphic, and a nature so credu- 
lously loving, it is to his defects, to his tainted temper- 
ament, that posterity owes his three or four inimitable 
poems. He wrote himself of Nelson that 'to the same 
enthusiastic sensibilities which made a fool of him with 
regard to his Emma, his country owed the victories of the 
Nile, Copenhagen, and Trafalgar.' 

To the feverish sensibility which led Coleridge to the 
laudanum bottle and the piety of Archbishop Leighton, 
his country owes the miracles of 'The Ancient Mariner/ 
'Christabel' and 'Kubla Khan/ 

Date Due 






J" ""Z 

MAR * «N 


VOG 2 4 1 

«UG (J 5 JAni 


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Samuel Taylor Coleridge, main 
821. 7C693Yf 1967 C.2 

3 lEbE 033S2 flTlT 



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