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Memoir of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
There is no writer of his time who has been so many, are all who now survive; and of these more the theme of panegyric by his friends, the poet is the youngest. and of censure by his enemies, than Coleridge. Coleridge was educated at Christ's HospitalIt has been the custom of the former to injure school, London. The smallness of his father's him by extravagant praise, and of the latter to living and large family rendered the strictest pour upou bis head much unmerited abuse. economy necessary. At this excellent seminary Coleridge has left undone so much which his he was soon discovered to be a boy of talent, talents and genius would have enabled him to eccentric but acute. According to his own effect, and has done on the whole so little, that statement the master, the Rev. J. Bowyer, was a he has given his foes apparent foundation for severe disciplinarian after the inane practice of some of i.eir vituperation. His natural charac- English grammar-school modes, but was fond of ter, however, is indolent; be is far more ambi- encouraging genius, even in the lads he flagellattious of excelling in conversation, and of pouring ed most unmercifully. He taught with assiduity, out his wild philosophical theories-of discours- and directed the taste of youth to the beauties of
the better classical authors, and to comparisons of one with another.
He habituated me," says Fix'd fate, free-will, fore-knowledge absolute
Coleridge, a to compare Lucretius, Terence, and the mysteries of Kant, and the dreams of meta- above all the chaste poems of Catullus, not only physical vanity, than a in building the lofty with the Roman poets of the so called silver and rhyme. His poems, however, which have been brazen ages, but with even those of the Augustan recently collected, form several volumes;- era; and, on grounds of plain sense and universal and the beauty of some of his pieces so amply logic, to see and assert the superiority of the redeems the extravagance of others, that there former, in the truth and nativeness both of their can be but one regret respecting him, namely, thoughts and diction. At the same time that we that he should have preferred the short-lived were studying the Greek tragic poets, he made us perishing applause bestowed upon his conversa- read Shakspeare and Milton as lessons; and they tion, to the lasting renown attending successful were the lessons too which required most time poetical efforts. Not but that Coleridge may lay and trouble to bring up, so as to escape his claim to the praise due to a successful worship censure. I learned from binn that poetry, even of the muses ; for as long as the English language that of the loftiest, and seemingly that of the endures, his « Geneviève» and « Ancient Mariner» wildest odes, bad a logic of its own, as severe as will be read: but he has been content to do far that of science, and more difficult; because more less than his abilities clearly demonstrate him subtle and complex, and dependent on more and able to effect.
more fugitive causes. In our English composiSamuel Taylor Coleridge was born at Ottery tions (at least for the last three years of our Saint Mary, a town of Devonshire, in 1773. His school education) he showed no mercy to phrase, father, the Rev. John Coleridge, was vicar there, image, or metaphor, unsupported by a sound having been previously a schoolmaster at South sense, or where the same sense might have been Molton. He is said to have been a person of conveyed with equal force and dignity in plainer considerable learning, and to have published words. Lute, harp, and lyre, muse, muses, and several essays in fugitive publications. He assist inspirations--Pegasus, Parnassus and Hippocrene, ed Dr Kepnicot in collating his manuscripts for a were all an abomination to him. In fancy, I can Hebrew bible, and, among other things, wrote a almost hear him now exclaiming - « Harp! harp! dissertation on the « A0705.» He was also the lyre! pen and ink, boy, you mean! muse, boy author of an excellent Latin grammar. He died muse! your nurse's daughter, you mean! Pierian in 1782, at the age of sixty-two, much regretted, spring! O ay! the cloister pump, I suppose. » In his leaving a considerable family, three of which, if « Literary Life,» Coleridge has gone into the con
duct of his master at great length; and, compared he finished by enlisting in the 15th dragoons, to the majority of pedagogues who ruled in under the name of Clumberbacht. Here he grammar-schools at that time, he seems to have continued some time, the wonder of his combeen a singular and most honourable exception rades, and a subject of mystery and curiosity
He sent his pupils to the uni- to his officers. While engaged in watching a versity excellent Greek and Latin scholars, with sick comrade, which he did night and day, he is some knowledge of Hebrew, and a considerable said to have got involved in a dispute with the insight into the construction and beauties of their regimental surgeon; but the disciple of Esculavernacular language and its most distinguished pius had no chance with the follower of the writers-a rare addition to their classical acquire inuses; he was astounded and put to flight by ments in such foundations.
the profound erudition and astonishing eloIt was owing to a present made to Coleridge of quence of his antagonist. His friends at length Bowles' sonnets by a school-fellow (the late Dr Mid- found him out, and procured his discharge. dleton) while a boy of 17, that he was drawn away In 1791 Coleridge published a small volume of from theological controversy and wild metaphy- poems which were much praised by the critics of sics to the charms of poetry. He transcribed the time, though it appears they abounded in these sonnets no less than forty times in eighteen obscurities and epithets too common with young months, in order to make presents of them to his writers. He also published, in the same year, friends; and about the same period he wrote his while residing at Bristol, The Fall of RobesOde to Chatterton. Nothing else,» he says, pierre, an Historic Drama,» which displayed con
pleased me; history and particular facts lost siderable talent. It was written in conjunction al interest in my mind.» Poetry had become with Southey; and what is remarkable in this insipid ; all his ideas were directed to his fa- composition is, that they began it at 7 o'clock vourite theological subjects anú mysticisms, until one evening, finished it the next day by 12 o'clock Bowles' sonnets, and an acquaintance with a very noon, and the day after it was printed and pubagreeable family, recalled him to more pleasant lished. The language is vigorous, and the paths, combined with perhaps far more of ratio- speeches are well put together and correctly vernal pursuits.
sified. -- Coleridge also, in the winter of that When eighteen years of age, Coleridge remov- year, delivered a course of lectures on the French ed to Jesus College, Cambridge. It does not ap- revolution, at Bristol. pear that he obtained or even struggled for On leaving the University, Coleridge was full academic honours. From excess of animal spi- of enthusiasm in the cause of freedom, and rits, he was rather a noisy youth, whose general occupied with the idea of the regeneration of conduct was better than that of many of his mankind. He found ardent coadjutors in the fellow-collegians, and as good as most : his fol- same enthusiastic undertaking in Robert Lovell lies were more remarkable only as being those of and Robert Southey, the present courtly laureate. a more remarkable personage; and if he could This youthful triumvirate proposed schemes be accused of a vice, it must be sought for in the for regenerating the world, even before their little attention he was inclined to pay to the dic- educations were completed; and dreamed of haptates of sobriety. It is known that he assisted a py lives in aboriginal forests, republics on the friend in composing an essay on English poetry Mississippi, and a newly-dreamed philanthropy. while at that University; that he was not un- lu order to carry their ideas into effect they bemindful of the muses himself while there ; and gan operations at Bristol, and were received with that he regretted the loss of the leisure and quiet considerable applause by several inhabitants of he had found within its precincts.
that commercial city, which, however remarkIn the mouth of November, 1793, while la- able for traffic, has been frequently styled the bouring under a paroxysm of despair, brought Bæotia of the west of England. Here, in 1795, Coleon by the combined effects of pecuniary diffi- ridge published two pamphlets, one called a Conculties and love of a young lady, sister of a sciones ad populum, or addresses to the people; » school-fellow, he set off for London with a party the other, «A protest against certain bills (then of collegians, and passed a short time there in pending) for suppressing seditious meetings. » joyous conviviality. On his return to Cambridge, The charm of the political regeneration of nahe remained but a few days, and then abandon- tions, though thus warped for a moment, was not ed it for ever. He again directed his steps towards broken. Coleridge, Lovell and Southey, finding the metropolis, and there, after indulging some the old world would not be reformed after their what freely in the pleasures of the bottle, and mode, determined to try and found a new one, in wandering about the various streets and squares which all was to be liberty and happiness. The in a state of mind nearly approaching to phrenzy, deep woods of America were to be the site of
this new golden region. There all the evils of and wrote there in the spring, at the desire of European society were to be remedied, property Sheridan, a tragedy which was, in 1813, brought was to be in common, and every man a legislator. out under the title of « Remorse:» the name it oriThe name of «Pantisocracy” was bestowed upon ginally bore was Osorio. There were some circumthe favoured scheme, while yet it existed only in stances in this business that led to a suspicion of
a imagination. Unborn ages of human happiness Sheridan's not having acted with any great regard presented themselves before the triad of philoso- to truth or feeling. During his residence here Colephical founders of Utopian empires, while they ridge was in the habit of preaching every Sunwere dreaming of human perfectibility :
:-a harm- day at the Unitarian Chapel in Taunton, and was less dream at least, and an aspiration after better greatly respected by the better class of his neighthings than life's realities, which is the best that bours. He enjoyed the friendship of Wordscan be said for it. In the midst of these plans worth, who lived at Allfoxden, about two miles of vast import, the three philosophiers fell in from Stowey, and was occasionally visited by love with three sisters of Bristol, named Fricker Charles Lamb, John Thelwall, and other con(one of them, afterwards Mrs Lovell, an ac- genial spirits. « The Brook,» a poem that he tress of the Bristol theatre, another a mantua- planned about this period, was maker, and the third kept a day-school), and all pleted. their visions of immortal freedom faded into Coleridge had married before he possessed thin air. They married, and occupied themselves the means of supporting a family, and he dewith the increase of the corrupt race of the pended principally for subsistence, at Stowey, old world, ivstead of peopling the new. Thus, upon his literary labours, the remuneration for unbappily for America and mankind, failed the which could be but scanty. At length, in 1798, scheme of the Pantisocracy, on which at one the kind patronage of the late Thomas Wedgtime so much of human happiness and political wood, Esq., who granted him a pension of regeneration was by its founders believed to 100l. a-year, enabled him to plan a visit to depend. None have revived the phantasy since; Germany; to which country he proceeded with but Coleridge has lived to sober down his early Wordsworth, and studied the language at extravagant views of political freedom into some- Ratzeburg, and then went to Gottingen. He thing like a disavowal of having held them; there attended the lectures of Blumenbach on nabut he has never changed into a foe of the tural history and physiology, and the lectures of generous principles of human freedom, which Eichhorn on the New Testament; and from prohe ever espoused; wliile Southey has become the fessor Tychven he learned the Gothic graminar. enemy of political and religious freedom, the sup- He read the Minnesinger and the verses of Hans porter and advocate of arbitrary measures in Sachs, the Nuremberg cobbler, but his time was church and state, and the vituperator of all who principally devoted to literature and philosophy. support the recorded principles of his early At the end of his « Biographia Literaria » Coleridge years.
has published some letters, which relate to his About this time, and with the same object, sojourn in Germany. He sailed, September 16th namely, to spread the principles of true liberty, 1798, and on the 19th landed at Hamburgh. It Coleridge began a weekly paper called « The was on the 20th of the same month that he says Watchman,” which only reached its ninth num- he was introduced to the brother of the great poet ber, though the editor set out on his travels to Klopstock, to professor Ebeling, and ultimately procure subscribers among the friends of the to the poet himself. He had an impression of doctrines he espoused, and visited Birmingham, awe on his spirits when be set out to visit the Manchester, Derby, Notiingham, and Sheffield, German Milton, whose humble house stood about for the purpose. The failure of this paper was a a quarter of a mile from the city gate. He was severe mortification to the projector. No ground much disappointed in the countenance of Klopwas gained on the score of liberty, though about stock, which was inexpressive, and without pecnthe same time his self-love was flattered by the liarity in any of the features. Klopstock was success of a volume of poems, which he republish- lively and courteous; talked of Milton and Glover, ed, with some communications from his friends and preferred the verse of the latter to the forLamb and Lloyd.
mer,-a very curious mistake, but natural enough Coleridge married Miss Sarah Fricker in the in a foreigoer. He spoke with indignation of autumn of 1795, and in the following year his the English translations of his Messiah. He said eldest son, Hartley, was born. Two more sons, his first ode was fifty years older than his last, Berkley and Derwent, were the fruits of this and hoped Coleridge would revenge him on Enunion. In 1797, he resided at Nether Stowey, glishmen by translating the Messiahı. a village near Bridgewater, in Somersetshire, On his returu from Germany, Coleridge went to
reside at Keswick, in Cumberland. He had made whom it rallies, and feels it impossible to trust a great addition to his stock of knowledge, and be the changeable leader, or applaud the addresses seems to have spared po pains to store up what of him who is inconsistent or wavering in priowas either useful or speculative. He had become ciples : it will not back out any but the firm master of most of the early German writers, or unflinching partisan. In truth, what an ill rather of the state of early German literature. He compliment do men pay to their own judgment, dived deeply into the inystical stream of Teutonic when they run counter to, and shift about from philosophy. There the predilections of his earlier points they have declared in indelible ink are years no doubt came upon him in aid of his founded on truth and reason irrefutable and eterresearches into a labyrinth which no human clue nal! They must either, have been superficial will ever unravel; or which, were one found ca- smatterers in what they first promulgated, and pable of so doing, would reveal a mighty nothing. have appeared prematurely in print, or they must Long, he
says, while meditating in England, had be tinctured with something like the hue of unhis heart been with Paul and John, and his head crimsoned apostacy. The members of what is with Spinoza. He then became convinced of the called the a Lake School » have been more or less doctrine of St Paul, and fro:n an antitrinitarian strongly marked with this repreliensible change became a believer in the Trinity, and in Chris- of political creed, but Coleridge the least of them. tianity as commonly received; or, to use his own In truth he got nothing by any change he venword, found a « re-couversion.» Yet, for all his tured upon, and, wliat is more, he expected noarguments on the subject, he had better have thing; the world is therefore bound to say of him retained his early creed, and saved the time what cannot be said of his friends, if it be true, wasted in travelling back to exactly the same that it believes most cordially in his sinceritypoint where he set out, for he finds that faith and that his obliquity in politics was caused by necessary at last which he had been taught in his his superficial knowledge of them, and his devotion church, was necessary at his first outset in life. of his high mental powers to different questions. His arguments, pro and con, not being of use to Notwithstanding this, those who will not make a any of the community, and the exclusive property candid allowance for him, have expressed wonder of their owner, he had only to look back upon how the author of the « Consciones ad Populum,, his laborious trifling, as Grotius did upon his and the « Watchman,» the friend of freedom, and own toils, when death was upon him. Meta- one of the fouuders of the Pantisocracy, could physics are most unprofitable things; as political afterwards regard the drivelling and chicanery of economists say, their labours are of the most the pettifogging minister, Perceval, as glorious in
unproductive class » in the community of British political history, and he himself as the thinkers.
best and wisest» of ministers! Although ColeThe next step of our poet in a life which seems ridge has avowed his belief that he is not calcuto have had no settled object, but to have been lated for a popular writer, he has endeavoured steered compassless along, was to undertake the to show that his own writings in the Morning Post political and literary departments of the Morning were greatly influential on the public mind. Post newspaper, and in the duties of this si- Coleridge himself confesses that his Morning tuation he was engaged in the spring of Post essays, though written in defence or fur1802.
was less fitted for a popu- therance of the measures of the government, lar writer ; and, in common with his early added nothing to his fortune or reputation. How connections, Coleridge seems to have had no should they be effective, when their writer, who fixed political principles that the public could not long before addressed the people, and echoed understand, though he perhaps was able to re- from his compositions the principles of freedom concile in his own bosom all that others might and the rights of the people, now wrote with imagine contradictory, and no doubt he did so scorn of « inob-sycophants,» and of the a halfconscientiously. His style and manner of writing, witted vulgar ?. It is a consolation to know that the learning and depth of his disquisitions for ever our author himself laments the waste of his came into play, and rendered him unintelligible, manhood and intellect in this way. What might or, what is equally fatal, unreadable to the mass. he not have given to the world that is enduring It was singular too, that he disclosed in his bio-, and admirable, in the room of these misplaced graphy so strongly his unsettled political prin- political lucubrations! Who that has read his ciples, which showed that he had not studied better works will not subscribe to this truth? politics as he had studied poetry, Kant, and the- His translation of Schiller’s Wallenstein may be ology. The public of each party looks upon a denominated a free one, and is finely executed. political writer as a sort of champion around It is impossible to give in the English language a