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This article was written by Leslie Stephen and was published in 1887
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet and philosopher, was born 21 October 1772 at Ottery St. Mary. His father, John Coleridge (1719-1781), vicar of the town and master of the grammar school, was a man of learning and simplicity, often compared by his son to Parson Adams. He edified his congregation by quoting Hebrew in the pulpit. In 1768 he published ‘Miscellaneous Dissertations,’ arising from the 17th and 18th chapters of the Book of Judges; and in 1772 a ‘Critical Latin Grammar,’ in which the name ‘quale-quare-quidditive’ was substituted for the old-fashioned ablative. An advertisement appended states that he took pupils at sixteen guineas a year for boarding and teaching. Many anecdotes were told of his absent-mindedness. He was twice married. He had three daughters by his first wife (Mary Lendon). His second wife, Anne Bowdon (d. 1809), was a sensible woman and a good housekeeper, though not highly educated. He had by her ten children. James, the third son (1760-1836), entered the army, married a lady of fortune, Miss Frances Duke Taylor, and by her was the father of Mr. Justice Coleridge, of Henry Nelson Coleridge, of Edward Coleridge, assistant-master at Eton, of Frances Duke, the wife of Sir John Patteson and mother of Bishop Patteson, and three other children. The fifth and sixth children of John Coleridge, Edward and George, took orders, George (d. 1828, aged 63) afterwards succeeding to his father's school and benefice. The seventh child, Luke Herman, became a surgeon, and died in 1790, aged 25, leaving one son, William Hart, afterwards bishop of Barbados.
The tenth, Samuel Taylor, was singularly precocious and imaginative. ‘I never thought as a child,’ he says, ‘never had the language of a child.’ He read the ‘Arabian Nights’ before his fifth birthday, and preferred day-dreams to active games. His father died 4 October 1781. Sir Francis Buller, the judge, a former pupil of the father, obtained for the son a presentation to Christ's Hospital, where the boy was placed 18 July 1782. Here he was protected by Middleton, afterwards bishop of Calcutta, then a ‘deputy Grecian,’ and became the friend of Charles Lamb. Lamb describes the school in his ‘Recollections of Christ's Hospital’ and in ‘Christ's Hospital Thirty-five years ago,’ one of the ‘Essays of Elia.’ In the last there is the often-cited description of Coleridge as the ‘inspired charity-boy,’ expounding Plotinus and reciting Homer in the Greek. The ‘poor friendless boy’ also represents Coleridge. Middleton found the boy reading Virgil for his pleasure, and spoke of him to the head-master, James Boyer, often called Bowyer, a severe but sensible teacher. Boyer flogged pitilessly, but Coleridge was grateful for his shrewd onslaughts upon commonplaces and bombast.
Coleridge became a good scholar, and before his fifteenth year had translated the ‘eight hymns of Synesius from the Greek into English Anacreontics’. In one of his day-dreams in the street his hands came in contact with a gentleman's clothes. On being challenged as a pickpocket, Coleridge explained that he was Leander swimming the Hellespont. His accuser was not only pacified but paid his subscription to a library; whither he afterwards ‘skulked out’ at all risks and read right ‘through the catalogue’. His brother Luke was now walking the hospitals. Coleridge was seized with a passion for the study of medicine, begged to hold plasters and dressings at operations, and devoured medical books, learning ‘Blancard's Latin Medical Dictionary’ almost by heart. From medicine he diverged, ‘before his fifteenth year,’ into metaphysics. Thomas Taylor's ‘Plotinus concerning the Beautiful,’ published in 1787, probably fell in his way and affected his speculations. Voltaire seduced him into infidelity, out of which he was flogged by Boyer, the ‘only just flogging’ he ever received. He was ready to argue with any chance passenger in the streets, and it is doubtless to this phase that Lamb's description of the ‘inspired charity-boy’ applies.
He was recalled from metaphysics to poetry, in which he had already dabbled, by falling in love with Mary Evans, a schoolfellow's sister, and by reading the sonnets of Bowles, first made known to him by Middleton. Within a year and a half he had made over forty transcriptions of Bowles for presents to friends, being too poor to purchase the book. At the same time he incurred permanent injuries to his health by such imprudences as swimming the New River without undressing, and neglecting to change his clothes. The food was both scanty and bad. Half his time between seventeen and eighteen was passed in the sick ward with jaundice and rheumatic fever. He rose to the top of the school, having abandoned a passing fancy for an apprenticeship to a friendly shoemaker, and left Christ's Hospital on 7 September 1790. He was appointed to an exhibition of £40 a year in 1791. He was entered as a sizar at Jesus College, Cambridge, on 5 February 1791, and came into residence in the following October, when he became a pensioner (5 November 1791). He matriculated on 26 March 1792.
He no doubt came to Jesus to obtain one of the Rustat scholarships, which are confined to the sons of clergymen. He received something from this source in his first term, and about £25 for each of the years 1792-4. He became also a foundation scholar on 5 June 1793. He was stimulated to work in his first year by his friend Middleton (B.A. 1792); he won the Browne medal for a Greek ode (on the slave trade) in 1792, but failed in 1793. He was one of four selected candidates for the Craven scholarship in 1793, Keate, the famous head-master of Eton, being another; but it was won by S. Butler, afterwards head-master of Shrewsbury. The chief test of classical excellence at that time, the chancellor's medal, was open only to wranglers and senior optimes. Coleridge's ignorance of mathematics made it improbable that he would even be qualified to compete, and this prospect is said to have discouraged him. Whether from discouragement or indolence, his reading became desultory, while he enjoyed society, was already famous as a talker, and keenly interested in the politics of the day.
Coleridge had taken the liberal side, and shared the early revolutionary fervour. He always disavowed Jacobin principles, but he was an ardent admirer of Fox and of more extreme radicals. From Lamb's letters, it appears that the two friends were rivals in ‘adoring’ Priestley, then at the height of his fame, whom Coleridge addresses in the ‘Religious Musings’ (Christmas, 1794) as ‘patriot and saint and sage.’ In May 1793 William Frend, a fellow of Jesus College, was tried in the vice-chancellor's court at Cambridge for a pamphlet expressing strong liberal opinions both in politics and theology. After various legal proceedings he was banished from the university. Coleridge, a member of the same college, was deeply interested, and is said to have incurred some risk by applauding Frend at the trial. The master of his college afterwards remonstrated with him for his extreme opinions; and Coleridge was getting into other difficulties. It is said by Gillman that he had rashly incurred a debt ‘of about £100’ for furnishing his rooms. His own statement is that his debts were the cause of great depression and of a flight to London at the end of 1793; while his family believed them to be the result of debauchery on that occasion. Cottle states that the love affair with Mary Evans, which certainly continued beyond this time, had something to do with his escapade.
For whatever reason, he went to London. Here, according to Stuart, he sold a poem for a guinea to Perry of the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ in which paper he published a series of ‘Sonnets on Eminent Characters’ in 1794-5. He then enlisted in the 15th dragoons, and was sent to be drilled with his regiment at Reading, where he was entered as a recruit on 4 December 1793, under the name Silas Tomkyn Comberback, suggested by, or suggesting, the obvious pun (Cottle gives the name Cumberbatch, and says that it was taken at random from a name in the Inns of Court). Coleridge was always a totally incapable horseman. His officers, however, noticed him kindly; he conciliated his comrades by writing their letters and nursing them in hospital. An accident which discovered his classical knowledge, or the chance encounter with a Cambridge friend, led, according to various accounts, to his recognition and discharge, 10 April 1794. A penitent letter (20 February) to his brother James, first printed by Brandl, shows that his brothers had consented to buy him out. Charles Lloyd introduced the incident in a novel called ‘Edmund Oliver.’
Coleridge returned to Cambridge, where on 12 April he was admonished by the master in presence of the fellows. In June of the same year he visited an old schoolfellow at Oxford, and made the acquaintance of Robert Southey, then at Balliol. In July he made a trip to Wales, described by himself; and by his companion, J. Hucks, in a little book called ‘A Pedestrian Tour in North Wales’ (1795). At Wrexham he had a glimpse of Mary Evans. He returned to Bristol, and there met Southey and Robert Lovell. Lovell was married to Mary Fricker, one of the six children of the widow of a ruined Bristol manufacturer, whose sister Edith was engaged to Southey. Coleridge himself now became engaged to a third sister, Sara, a year or two his senior. Southey, Coleridge, Lovell, George Burnett, and others formed an enthusiastic scheme to which they gave the name ‘Pantisocracy.’ They were to marry and emigrate to the banks of the Susquehanna, selected, according to Cottle, on account of its melodious name, though they seem to have had some rather better reasons. Two hours a day of labour were to provide them with food, and the rest of their time was to be spent in rational society and intellectual employment. Private property was to be abolished. It must be doubted how far this dream was seriously entertained, though for a year or two it was the theme of Coleridge's enthusiastic eloquence. The ‘Fall of Robespierre’ was projected by the three friends, each of them having one day agreed to produce an act of a tragedy by the next evening. Coleridge produced the first act, though not in the time proposed; Southey the second and ultimately the third, as Lovell's work would not fit. The tragedy was published as Coleridge's at Cambridge in September 1794. An appended prospectus of a work by Coleridge in two volumes, containing imitations from the modern Latin poets, with an essay on the ‘Restoration of Literature,’ shows that he was looking to writing for support.
Coleridge left Cambridge without a degree at the end of 1794. He visited London during the winter, where he met Lamb, who has celebrated their meetings at the Cat and Salutation. The landlord is said to have found his conversation so attractive that he begged him to prolong his stay with free quarters. Ultimately Southey had to go to London to induce him to return to Miss Fricker at Bristol. On 24 December 1794 he addressed a letter to Mary Evans, who had finally dismissed him, and says that his passion, now hopeless, will ‘lose its disquieting power’. Here he formed an acquaintance with Joseph Cottle, a young bookseller, already known to Lovell. The ‘pantisocratians’ lodged together at 48 College Street, and at present had not the funds to carry out their scheme or even to pay for their lodgings. Coleridge applied to Cottle for a loan of five pounds to enable him to discharge this bill. Cottle advanced the money, and then offered thirty guineas to Coleridge for a volume of poems, offering Southey fifty guineas at the same time for his ‘Joan of Arc.’ Both offers were gladly accepted, and the two young men endeavoured to increase their supplies by lecturing. Coleridge's first two lectures were delivered at the Plume of Feathers, Wine Street. Two more followed at the end of February 1795, which were published as ‘Conciones ad Populum.’ Two others were published as the ‘Plot Discovered.’ In June he gave a series of six political lectures, followed by six ‘On Revealed Religion: its Corruptions and its Political Views.’ The lectures all represented his strong political sympathies and were vehemently ‘anti-Pittite.’ The preparation of his volume of poems continued, though with many characteristic delays. At last Cottle offered him a guinea and a half for every hundred lines he should write after finishing his volume. He regarded this as a sufficient provision for a couple, and was married to Sara Fricker at St. Mary Redcliffe's on 4 October 1795. He then settled at a small cottage at Clevedon, one story high, with a garden, for which the rent was £5 a year. The cottage, described in his contemporary poems, still exists.
Southey married Edith Fricker 14 November 1795, leaving his bride at the church door for Portugal. He wrote to Coleridge, stating that the scheme of pantisocracy must be abandoned. Coleridge was still so far an enthusiast as to take offence at this desertion, and a temporary coolness ensued, followed by a reconciliation on Southey's return to England next year. Lovell and Edmund Seward, another friend of Southey's, who had sympathised with the scheme, both died in the summer of 1796, and pantisocracy vanished.
At the end of 1795 Coleridge returned to Bristol, where his first volume of poems, including three sonnets by Lamb, was published by Cottle in April 1796. Another sonnet, twice printed as Lamb's, was afterwards published as Coleridge's. He now thought of journalism. In January 1796 he started on a tour to the north to engage subscribers for his new venture. He visited Birmingham, Sheffield, Manchester, and other towns, and came back with a list of nearly a thousand names. A prospectus was issued of the ‘Watchman,’ price fourpence, which was to appear on 1 March, and on every eighth day (in order to avoid the tax payable on weekly newspapers), and to contain original matter, reviews, and full reports of parliamentary speeches. Cottle procured many subscribers at Bristol, and provided for part of the expenditure. The first number, as Coleridge tells us, was behind its time; the second (on ‘fast days’) lost five hundred subscribers by ‘a censurable application of a text from Isaiah for its motto’ (the motto was, ‘my bowels shall sound like an harp,’ Isaiah xvi. 11); the two next disgusted the Jacobins and republicans, and the work dropped at the tenth number, with a frank statement of the ‘short and satisfactory reason’ that it did ‘not pay its expenses.’ Many subscribers did not pay, and the result was a loss, borne chiefly, it would seem, by Cottle.
Coleridge had become an occasional preacher in unitarian chapels. Frend, according to Gillman, had influenced his studies. Cottle records his first performance in the chapel of David Jardine at Bath, where he discoursed in ‘blue coat and white waistcoat’ on the corn laws and the powder tax, and put to flight a very thin congregation. He preached during his ‘Watchman’ tour at Nottingham and Birmingham, submitting to a black coat in the latter place. At Birmingham Coleridge had won the admiration of Charles Lloyd, son of a banker in the town, one of the first of the many friends so fascinated by the extraordinary charm of his conversation that they were willing to contribute to his support rather than see his genius wasted in mere writing for bread. Lloyd now abandoned his bank and came to live with Coleridge at Bristol in a house on Kingsdown. Coleridge's first son, Hartley, so called in his zeal for David Hartley's philosophy, was born 19 September 1796. His other children were Berkeley, born 30 May 1798, died 16 February 1799; Derwent, born 14 September 1800; and Sara, born 22 December 1802.
Various plans for writing in the ‘Morning Chronicle,’ for tuition in the family of Mrs. Evans (of Darley, near Derby), and other occupations, were contemplated without success in the summer of 1796. Thomas Poole of Nether Stowey, near Bridgewater, whose acquaintance he had made as early as 1794, now found Coleridge a small house at Nether Stowey for £7 a year, and Coleridge, with Lloyd, settled there in the winter of 1796-7. Poole, a man of plain exterior, was engaged in business in a tannery at Nether Stowey. He had acquired much knowledge of literature and economics, and was beloved in the district in spite of his strong political views. He got up a subscription to provide Coleridge with a small annuity, and remained one of his best friends. Coleridge still dreamed of maintaining himself in part by manual labour. He told Thelwall that he should raise enough corn and vegetables from his acre and a half to keep himself and his wife, and feed a couple of pigs from the refuse. A second edition of Coleridge's poems, with additional poems by Lloyd and Lamb, appeared in the course of 1797. Lamb, with his sister, visited Coleridge in June, and in the same month Coleridge went to see Wordsworth at Racedown in Dorsetshire. They had already met. Soon afterwards the Wordsworths moved to Alfoxden (or Alfoxton), near Nether Stowey, the ‘principal inducement’ being ‘Coleridge's society.’ Coleridge had already been struck at Cambridge by the power manifested in Wordsworth's ‘Descriptive Sketches.’ Both poets had tried their hands at dramatic writing. Wordsworth had written the ‘Borderers.’ At Stowey Coleridge wrote ‘Osorio,’ afterwards called ‘Remorse.’ Cottle offered thirty guineas apiece for the ‘Borderers’ and ‘Osorio,’ which was declined in the hope of producing them on the stage. ‘Remorse’ was sent to Sheridan, who took no notice of it. The ‘Borderers’ was declined. The poets had long conversations, which exposed them to the suspicions of the authorities. Coleridge's avowed principles had made him sufficiently notorious. An intimacy with the agitator Thelwall, who also visited Coleridge here, encouraged the suspicion. In writing to Thelwall (who thought of settling at Stowey) Coleridge expresses serious alarm as to the probable effect upon the ‘aristocrats’ of such a conjunction of extreme politicians. The discussions with Wordsworth really turned upon the principles of their art. They agreed to combine forces in a volume, where Wordsworth should exemplify the power of giving interest to the commonplace by imaginative treatment, while Coleridge should make the supernatural interesting by the dramatic truth of the emotions aroused. The result was the ‘Lyrical Ballads,’ published in September 1798. Coleridge's principal contribution was the ‘Ancient Mariner.’ The circumstances of the composition have been described by Wordsworth. It was planned during a walk across the Quantocks in November 1797. Wordsworth supplied a few lines, and suggested some subsidiary points. The original thought, as he says, was suggested to Coleridge by a dream of his friend Cruikshank. Wordsworth suggested the albatross from a passage lately read by him in Shelvocke's ‘Voyages’ (1726), where an albatross is shot in hopes of improving the weather. De Quincey has made a needless charge against Coleridge for denying obligations to Shelvocke, of which he may have been ignorant or which he may have forgotten. In the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for October 1853 it is suggested that Coleridge took some hints from a story told by Paulinus, secretary to St. Ambrose. The only other poems contributed by Coleridge were the ‘Nightingale’ and two scenes from ‘Osorio.’
The next edition (1800) included also the poem called ‘Love,’ or an ‘Introduction to the Tale of the Dark Ladie.’ The first parts of ‘Christabel’ and ‘Kubla Khan’ were also written in the winter of 1797. Coleridge tells us that he composed from two to three hundred lines of ‘Kubla Khan’ during a sleep of three hours, and wrote down the fragment now existing (fifty-four lines) upon awaking. He was interrupted by a visitor, and the remainder vanished from his mind. These poems were not published for eighteen years.
The ‘Lyrical Ballads,’ for which Cottle had given thirty guineas, failed for the time. A year or two later Cottle retired from business, and sold all his copyrights to the Longmans at a valuation, in which the value of the ‘Lyrical Ballads’ was put down as nil. He thereupon begged the worthless copyright from Longman, and presented it to Wordsworth. Wordsworth explained the failure, he adds, by the severity of the reviews and by the ‘Ancient Mariner,’ which nobody seemed to understand. A third edition of Coleridge's previous volume, however, was contemplated in 1798. Coleridge contributed to the ‘Monthly Magazine’ for November 1797 three sonnets ridiculing himself, Lloyd, and Lamb. Some misunderstanding arose with his two friends, attributed by Cottle to this performance, or to Coleridge's proposing to exclude his friends' poems from the projected edition. It was almost certainly due to some silly tattling of Lloyd's. Lamb was on friendly terms with Coleridge in January 1798. He afterwards wrote a sarcastic letter, in which were included certain ‘theses quædam theologicæ,’ intimating that Coleridge's high qualities were combined with self-conceit and insincerity. Lloyd left Coleridge's family for Birmingham about the same time. Lamb and Coleridge speedily resumed the old friendship, and Lamb saw the next edition (1803) of Coleridge's poems through the press, his own and Lloyd's being excluded (see a reference to the separation in Lamb's dedication of his works to Coleridge, 1818).
Coleridge, during his stay at Stowey, preached occasionally in the unitarian chapel at Taunton. He thought of becoming a regular minister in the persuasion, although he felt some scruples, and feared that his political notoriety would be against him. In a letter to Cottle he says that a draft for £100 has been sent to him by Josiah Wedgwood, ‘in order to prevent the necessity of his going into the ministry.’ John, Josiah, and Thomas Wedgwood had inherited the fortune of their father, the elder Josiah, who died on 3 January 1795. John had taken Cote House, at Westbury, near Bristol, towards the end of 1797. Here Thomas, a man of great abilities and miserable health, often stayed. He had already passed some time at Clifton, to be under the care of Dr. Beddoes (1760-1808), and had probably made Coleridge's acquaintance through Poole. The brothers were munificent to many poor men of promise, especially Mackintosh and John Leslie of Edinburgh. Coleridge returned the £100 after some hesitation. He had received an invitation to be minister at Shrewsbury, and he went thither to try the place in January 1798. William Hazlitt (b. 10 April 1778) was then with his father, a unitarian minister at Wem, near Shrewsbury. He has left a graphic account of Coleridge as he then appeared. Hazlitt describes the extraordinary impression produced by the ‘half-inspired speaker,’ and his kindly notice of the minister's son, who afterwards spent three weeks with him at Nether Stowey.
At Hazlitt's house Coleridge announced that he had received an offer of an annuity of £150 from Josiah and Thomas Wedgwood, on condition of devoting himself entirely to philosophy and poetry. Coleridge, says Hazlitt, seemed to make up his mind to accept the proposal while ‘tying on one of his shoes’. In fact, he certainly hesitated longer. The acceptance of the annuity led to his separation from the unitarian body. His later language implies a more rapid divergence of opinion than seems actually to have been the case. His letters to Estlin in 1802 show that up to that date he was still on the whole a unitarian. His philosophical reading had hitherto been chiefly in the English writers, especially Berkeley, Hartley, and Priestley. His early study of Plotinus had been followed by some acquaintance with the mystical writers to whom he acknowledges his obligations in the ‘Biog. Lit.’. His early poems are marked by a kind of platonic pantheism oddly combined with reverence for the materialism of Hartley and Priestley. The Wedgwoods' munificence now enabled him to fulfil a plan already formed for studying the ‘Kantian philosophy’ in Germany. He started in company with Wordsworth and Miss Wordsworth, the expenses of Coleridge at least being paid by the Wedgwoods. He left Yarmouth for Hamburg on 16 September 1798, and has given some description of his tour in ‘Satyrane's Letters,’ published in the ‘Friend’ and the ‘Biographia Literaria’. Coleridge and Wordsworth visited Klopstock at Hamburg. The Wordsworths went to Goslar, while Coleridge settled with a protestant pastor at Ratzeburg, where he set vigorously to work upon the language. In January 1799 he moved to Göttingen, where he met Carlyon, who has described the period in his ‘Early Years and Late Reflections.’ Coleridge seems to have been popular with his fellow-students, and to have indulged freely in his ‘perennial pastime’ of disquisition. In May 1799 he made a walking tour through the Hartz, and wrote the ‘Lines on ascending the Brocken.’ He attended the lectures of Blumenbach on physiology, and obtained notes of Eichhorn's lectures on the New Testament, while making apparently a superficial acquaintance with Kant. On 24 June 1799 he gave a farewell entertainment and returned to England. He was at Stowey in August, and in the north with the Wordsworths in September 1799, whence he went for a time to London, and resumed the old friendship with Lamb.
Coleridge's first literary employment was to translate Schiller's ‘Wallenstein,’ omitting ‘Wallenstein's Lager,’ the first part. According to Gillman, he shut himself up for six weeks in Buckingham Street, Strand, to finish this work; but the statement is more than doubtful. The translation, which has always been regarded as a masterpiece, was published by Longman in 1800, contemporaneously with the original. Coleridge's prediction to the publishers, that the piece ‘would fall dead from the press,’ was verified, and they neglected his advice to preserve the copies with a view to future success. Most of it was sold as waste paper, though sixteen years later it was eagerly sought for and doubled its price. A projected life of Lessing came to nothing.
At the same period Coleridge made a serious attempt at journalism. He had already contributed occasionally to the ‘Morning Chronicle.’ Daniel Stuart states that Coleridge met Mackintosh (afterwards Sir James) at the Wedgwoods' at Cote House in the winter of 1797-8. Mackintosh (b. 1765) had some dialectical encounters with Coleridge, in which his more rapid and dexterous logic gave him the advantage over the discursive eloquence of his opponent. Coleridge, says Stuart, ‘was driven from the house’ by his opponent. Mackintosh was, however, struck by Coleridge's ability, and recommended Stuart to engage both him and Southey at a salary, apparently, of a guinea a week as contributors to the ‘Morning Post.’ Coleridge sent several poems, and among them the verses called ‘Fire, Famine, and Slaughter,’ written in 1796. They were published in the ‘Morning Post’ on 8 January 1798, and attracted much notice. The ‘Morning Post’ was an anti-ministerial, though also an anti-Jacobin paper, and represented Coleridge's opinions at the time. It is to his honour that, whatever his difficulties, he avowed and acted upon the principle of only contributing to papers whose politics commanded his sincere approval.
About Christmas 1799 Coleridge became for a time a regular contributor. Stuart took lodgings for him in King Street, Covent Garden, and frequently consulted him. He wrote some articles during the early part of 1800 upon the peace negotiations and the French constitution. While repudiating Jacobinism, Coleridge was still anti-Pittite, was strongly in favour of peace, and held that the first war was unjustifiable and conducted on erroneous principles. The ode to France (dated February 1797) shows that the attack upon Switzerland had alienated his sympathies from the republicans. He still thought, however, in 1800 that Napoleon might turn out to be a Washington. He soon became disenchanted, and after the peace of Amiens became a thorough supporter of the war. His dislike of Pitt remained through life. Stuart occasionally took him to the reporters' gallery, where his only effort appears to have been a report of a remarkable speech delivered by Pitt 17 February 1800. A story of Canning's calling next day and asking for the reporter is pronounced by Stuart to be a ‘romance.’ Coleridge attacked the speech on 22 February and expressed his annoyance on finding that it had been generally admired. On 19 March 1800 appeared an article by Coleridge giving a severe character of the minister. A similar article upon Bonaparte was promised for ‘to-morrow,’ but never appeared. Stuart speaks of the sensation made by the first, and the frequent inquiries for its successor.
The famous ‘Devil's Thoughts’ had appeared in its first form on 6 September 1799. The first three stanzas of fourteen were by Southey. This amusing doggerel was reprinted in Coleridge's ‘Sibylline Leaves’ (1817), and in his collected poems, 1829 and 1834, with due statement of Southey's share. It was imitated by Byron and claimed for Porson. In Southey's poems it is reprinted with many additional stanzas, including some referring to the Porson story. This squib caused a large sale of the number, and appears to have been Coleridge's most successful contribution. His services to the paper have been variously estimated. Coleridge wrote to Poole in March 1800 stating that Stuart had offered him half shares in the ‘Morning Post’ and the ‘Courier’ on condition of his devoting himself to them. This would be worth £2,000 a year. ‘But I told him,’ says Coleridge, ‘that I would not give up the country and the lazy reading of old folios for two thousand times £2,000 — in short that beyond £350 a year I considered money a real evil’. In the ‘Biographia Literaria’ he speaks of the ‘rapid and unusual increase’ of the circulation of the paper, and intimates that he wasted the ‘prime and manhood of his intellect’ upon these labours. In the ‘Table Talk’ he is reported as saying that he raised the sale of the ‘Morning Post’ to seven thousand copies. We need not doubt Coleridge's sincerity, but cannot accept the accuracy of his impressions. Stuart states that Coleridge was, as might be expected, a most irregular contributor, who was paralysed by compulsion; that his contributions were almost confined to a few months in the beginning of 1800, and a few articles in 1802; and that the paper reached its highest circulation of 4,500 in 1803, in the August of which year he parted with the property. The two poems and the article on Pitt were clearly very successful, and some of the other articles show (as Mr. Traill, a most competent judge, points out) remarkable aptitude for journalism. But Coleridge's attempt to contribute regularly lasted only for the six or seven months from Christmas 1799; the circulation of the paper increased before and after that period, and the few contributions afterwards sent by Coleridge were of no importance. A man living at Keswick could not be an effective London journalist. There can be no doubt that Coleridge's estimate of the value of his writings was, though sincere, one of his customary illusions; and there must have been some misconception as to Stuart's offer of a share in the paper.
Coleridge removed with his family to Greta Hall, Keswick, in July 1800. He shared the house (or two houses under one roof), which was not quite completed, with his landlord, Mr. Jackson. Southey occupied the other part from 1803, and after Jackson's death in 1809 the whole. At Keswick, Coleridge wrote the second part of ‘Christabel’ in 1800. Here, too, on 4 April 1802, was written the ‘Ode to Dejection,’ almost his last poem of importance, expressing the deepest regret for the decay of his imaginative powers, and saying that he can only distract himself by abstruse metaphysical research. The poetic impulse, already flagging, almost expired with this period.
His health, injured by his follies and bad food at school, had never been strong. Complaints of depression, due partly to his precarious prospects, but also to ill-health, are found even in his Stowey letters; they become increasingly frequent, and at Keswick are continuous. Rheumatism and neuralgic pains in the head tormented him. He had resort to a disastrous means of cure. On 5 November 1796 he tells Poole that he has relieved his sufferings by laudanum. On 17 December following he told Thelwall that a painful nervous affection had made ‘the frequent use of laudanum absolutely necessary.’ ‘Kubla Khan’ was written in 1797 under the influence of an ‘anodyne.’ In January 1800 he incidentally mentions the ‘pleasureable sensations of a dose of opium’. The habit, according to his own statements, became fixed about 1803. In 1826 he attributes this to his relief from a violent attack of rheumatism by the ‘Kendal black drop’ (apparently at Keswick), and he speaks of some stanzas written twenty-three years before (i.e. in 1803), ‘soon after my eyes had been opened to the true nature of the habit’. He constantly expressed the bitterest compunction for his enslavement. In 1808 he says that he has reduced his dose to one-sixth, but that a total abandonment would cost his life. He solemnly protested that the habit was due to the dread of physical agony, not to ‘any craving after pleasurable sensations.’ ‘My sole sensuality was not to be in pain’. The cruel levity with which De Quincey asserts the contrary can only be attributed to his annoyance at passages published by Gillman. Coleridge there charges De Quincey with seducing others into opium-eating, and prays for him with unction. De Quincey was naturally stung by this; but it is impossible to disregard Coleridge's passionate and obviously sincere statement of facts only knowable by himself, or to doubt that the chain was forged under severe suffering. He gradually became so habituated to the drug that in 1814 he had long been in the habit of taking two quarts of laudanum a week, and had once taken a quart in twenty-four hours.
He had recourse to the usual devices of such persons for evading the vigilance of his friends. His statements about himself became utterly untrustworthy. The effect upon his intellectual activity must be a matter of speculation. De Quincey holds that it ‘killed him as a poet,’ but stimulated him as a philosopher, though it doubtless weakened whatever powers of systematic application he possessed. From the first Coleridge was infirm of will, a dreamer of great schemes never to be fulfilled, diverted at any moment by his marvellous versatility from every path which he entered, and as conspicuous from first to last for the absence of all business-like power as for the presence of other faculties. His incapacity for business is as marked in the ‘Watchman’ (1796) as in the ‘Friend’ (1809). Opium aggravated his weakness, but there is no proof of any abrupt transformation of character.
His domestic circumstances were uncomfortable. De Quincey makes the assertion, based on Coleridge's own statement long afterwards, that he had been forced into marriage by thoughtlessly going too far in a flirtation. A report is also given by De Quincey from a ‘neutral spectator,’ that he was ‘desperately in love’. The continued passion for Mary Evans is certainly in favour of the first statement. In any case Mrs. Coleridge, though a good mother and a conscientious wife, was unable to manage a most difficult husband. They seem to have gradually drifted apart. There are painful indications in unpublished letters of a complete alienation in later years. A remark reported by Allsop to the effect that really affectionate though selfish women may make a grievance of their husbands leaving them in search of health is significant. Coleridge was impatient of domestic details, utterly careless of money till his debts became pressing, and, though always fond of his children, gradually came to leave much of his own burden to the steady, laborious, and overburdened Southey.
Keswick continued to be Coleridge's headquarters for a time, though he made frequent excursions. Lamb visited him in 1802. In 1803 he accompanied the Wordsworths on a tour to Scotland, but left them after a fortnight in bad health and spirits. Spite of his physical weakness Coleridge loved mountain scenery, and describes occasional scramblings in the hills. He plunged into metaphysics, and now for the first time made a serious study of Kant. In November 1802 he had made a tour in Wales with Thomas Wedgwood. Wedgwood, whose health was breaking up and whose spirits were greatly depressed, talked of a journey abroad. Coleridge was suggested as a companion; but his state of health made him a doubtful attendant for a sinking invalid. He desired, however, to travel on his own account, first intending a visit to Madeira. Four medical men had strongly urged the trial of an ‘even and dry climate’. At the end of 1803 he started from Keswick, but was detained for a month with the Wordsworths at Grasmere by an illness ‘induced by the use of narcotics’. The thrifty Wordsworth ‘forced upon him’ a ‘loan’ of £100 towards his expenses. His brothers were expected to advance another £100 and he was able to leave his whole annuity to his wife. He reached London at the end of January. A friend, Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Stoddart, Hazlitt's brother-in-law, at the time a judge at Malta, proposed to him to substitute Malta for Madeira. Coleridge sailed 2 April 1804, and reached Valetta 18 April. Here he became acquainted with the governor, Sir Alexander Ball, whose secretaryship was vacant. Coleridge filled the place, which gave him incessant occupation for some months of a kind little suited to his habits. His health was very weak; his breathing became laborious, a weakness which increased slightly until his death; he suffered severe pains, which could not be relieved by opium or other medicines. His heart was undergoing a slow organic change. De Quincey says that his confinement at Malta to a narrow society induced him to resort more freely to opium. He left Malta on the arrival of a new secretary, 27 September 1805; touched at Sicily; was at Naples 15 December 1805; and spent some months at Rome, where he made the acquaintance of Tieck. At Rome he received a warning from Wilhelm von Humboldt, then Prussian minister at Rome, that he was a marked man. Napoleon had an eye upon him for certain articles in the ‘Morning Post’ during the peace of Amiens. The pope sent him a passport, and after some delay he sailed from Leghorn in an American ship, whose captain he met by accident, and fascinated by his talk. He was, it is said, chased by a French cruiser on the voyage, and Coleridge threw his papers overboard, thus losing his labours at Rome. The account has been ridiculed; but Napoleon's conduct towards journalists does not tend to discredit it; and Coleridge's connection with the ‘Morning Post,’ which was asserted by Fox in parliament to have caused the renewal of the war, was well known and probably exaggerated. Some boxes of papers shipped at Malta were also lost. Coleridge reached England in August 1806, ‘after a most miserable passage of fifty-five days, in which his life was twice given over,’ ill, penniless, and worse than homeless. He did not hear till his arrival of the death of his friend Thomas Wedgwood on 10 July 1805; Mrs. Coleridge had feared to tell him the news, knowing that he had kept his bed a fortnight after hearing of the death of Captain Wordsworth, the poet's brother. Wedgwood's will continued his share of the annuity to Coleridge. Coleridge was back in August 1806; he soon after went to Keswick with his boy Hartley, stayed with Wordsworth at Coleorton, and afterwards with Basil Montagu in London. In June 1807 he met his wife and family at Bristol, where Mrs. Fricker was then living, and spent the summer with them in Somersetshire. Poole noticed both the increase of procrastinating habits and the wider range of his knowledge. At the end of July he was staying with a Mr. Chubb at Bridgewater. Here he was met for the first time by De Quincey, then a student at Oxford, who made a pilgrimage from Bristol Hot Wells to see the author of the ‘Ancient Mariner.’ De Quincey describes the respect shown to Coleridge by the people of Bridgewater, and his apparent coolness towards his wife. De Quincey's enthusiasm took the practical shape of an offer of £500, reduced at Cottle's advice to £300, which was paid to Coleridge 12 November 1807, as from ‘an unknown friend.’ De Quincey had met him again at Bristol in the autumn of 1807, and escorted his family to the Lakes, Coleridge having undertaken to lecture at the Royal Institution. Mr. Ashe thinks that he had already lectured there in 1806-7; but this appears to be a mistake.
Stuart gave Coleridge a lodging at the ‘Courier’ office, the discomfort of which is humorously described by De Quincey. The promised lectures, given at the Royal Institution in the spring of 1808, brought in £100 (advanced by Stuart), and did little to improve his reputation. De Quincey gives a painful account of the performance. Large and fashionable audiences attended, but were more than once dismissed on pretext of the lecturer's illness. He was languid, he spoke without preparation, recited illustrative passages at random, and read badly. An attendant at a later course says that nobody read poetry so ill. Coleridge describes his general mode of preparation for lectures. He was most successful, he says, and he is confirmed by Gillman's account, when he had prepared the matter beforehand but trusted to the moment for the form, and put his notes aside. Gillman gives a curious account of an impromptu and successful lecture delivered at the London Institution on the ‘Growth of the Individual Mind,’ a subject proposed to him at the instant. The lectures of 1808 were a failure, and Coleridge next tried a repetition of the ‘Watchman’ experiment. He settled with Wordsworth at Grasmere, his family being still at Keswick, and began a paper called the ‘Friend.’ He set up a printer at Penrith, twenty-eight miles distant across mountain-passes, laid in the necessary plant, and proceeded to collect subscribers. The ‘Friend’ continued from August 1809 to March 1810. Its slow logical approaches to his metaphysical theory of the distinction between the reason and the understanding wearied subscribers, who were not conciliated by occasional attempts at lighter matter. He had 632 subscribers at starting, but ninety out of a hundred procured by one friend dropped off by the fourth number. Two-thirds of his subscribers had dropped off in January 1810. Wilson (‘Christopher North’) contributed an article signed ‘Mathetes,’ and Wordsworth a reply to it, three essays ‘On Epitaphs,’ some sonnets, and a fragment of the ‘Prelude.’ Stuart helped him in this undertaking, as Cottle had done in the ‘Watchman,’ the only practical result being increase of debt. A letter to Mr. Purkis shows that he bitterly resented a refusal from one of his brothers to help him in this undertaking. He seems to have been completely estranged from his family by this time.
After his failure Coleridge was for a time at Keswick. He went to London in 1810 with the Basil Montagus. De Quincey says that he lived with them for a time, till they were separated on account of a silly quarrel variously related. De Quincey's statement is probably false, but there was a temporary estrangement between Coleridge and Montagu, in which Wordsworth was concerned. Coleridge certainly renewed his friendship with the Montagus. Soon after his arrival he was with John Morgan, an old Bristol friend, at Portland Place, Hammersmith, sometimes in lodgings to consult a doctor, and afterwards with Morgan in Berners Street, for three years according to Cottle. With Morgan he seems to have been chiefly domesticated until 1816. A mysterious reference to the second of the four ‘griping and grasping sorrows’ of his life (the first being the break-up of his domestic happiness), which fell upon him at this time through the failure of an ‘enthusiastic and self-sacrificing friendship,’ is made in a letter. There is reason to believe that this refers to the misunderstanding with Wordsworth already noticed.
In the winter of 1810-11 he gave his lectures upon Shakespeare and other poets. They excited considerable interest. Coleridge, as Byron tells Harness, 15 December 1811, ‘is a kind of rage at present.’ Byron, Rogers, and other men of note of the day went to hear him, and the fragments preserved are enough to show that they were listening to the greatest of English critics. He had an audience of about a hundred and fifty, and was at times warmly received. He lectured again in the summer of 1812 and in the beginning of 1813. Coleridge again applied for employment on the ‘Courier,’ of which Street was now co-proprietor with Stuart. In 1809 the ‘Courier’ had published some articles by him on the Spanish struggle as illustrated by an historical parallel with the insurrection of the Dutch against Philip II. Street's opinion of Coleridge was less favourable than Stuart's, but Coleridge wrote for the paper during the greater part of 1811. He proposed in June to come in daily from Hammersmith, walking back to save 9s. a week from the stage fares. That he ever did so does not appear. He did not repeat his previous successes. An article in July by Coleridge, or rather by Stuart, on Coleridge's information, attacking the Duke of York, had to be suppressed, and his connection with the paper gradually ceased. On 7 December 1811 he tells Sir G. Beaumont that he has not been near the office for some months past, though articles by him appeared until the end of September. In 1814 he wrote a few more articles upon a charge of Judge Fletcher to an Irish jury, and in 1817 defended Southey against William Smith in the controversy arising from the republication of ‘Wat Tyler.’ So late as May 1818 he appears from a note in Robinson's diary to have been writing in the papers about the employment of children in factories.
In 1811 Josiah Wedgwood, annoyed by Coleridge's neglect of his duties, withdrew his share of the annuity. A promised life of Thomas Wedgwood had come to nothing, and Coleridge's transference of his family to Southey increased a not unnatural irritation. Coleridge not only made over his annuity to his wife, but kept up till his death an insurance effected before his return to Malta, for which his widow received about £2,500. For himself, he had to depend upon accidents, including loans from friends. In 1824 he became one of ten ‘royal associates’ of the Society of Literature, each of whom received £100 a year from a grant made by George IV. This ceased upon the king's death, as his successor discontinued the subscription. This appointment, according to Stuart, was obtained by Mackintosh. Stuart himself made various advances, besides a yearly present of £30 for a visit to the seaside. Other friends, like De Quincey, contributed at different times to his wants. A more desirable help came through Byron, who, though he had sneered at Coleridge in his early satire, retained a warm admiration for ‘Christabel,’ the metre of which he attempted to imitate in the lines now prefixed to the ‘Siege of Corinth.’ Through Byron's influence ‘Remorse’ was now accepted by the Drury Lane committee of management, and successfully performed on 23 January 1813. Its reception is described in C. R. Leslie's ‘Autobiographical Recollections’. It had a run of twenty nights, and no doubt helped Coleridge's exchequer. The theatre, he wrote to Poole, would make £8,000 or £10,000, and he would get thrice as much as by all his previous literary labours. At the end of 1813 Coleridge was again lecturing on Shakespeare and Milton at Bristol. A sudden impulse in the coach induced him to escort a lady to Wales, and thereby to miss his appointment. The lectures, however, or some lectures, were given after a time. Cottle and other old friends were shocked by his appearance, and he now confessed to Cottle, with painful self-abasement, his habit of opium-eating. Cottle declined to give him money, thinking the destination of his funds too certain, but administered a severe remonstrance. Coleridge himself declared that the best chance was to be placed in a private lunatic asylum.
He stayed at Bristol with an old friend, Josiah Wade, who did his best to impose a restraint, which Coleridge avoided by various subterfuges. He was treated by a Dr. Daniel, who tried to limit his consumption. From Bristol he went to stay with John Morgan, who had now settled in Calne, Wiltshire. Robinson speaks of the ‘unexampled assiduity and kindness’ of this old friend, whose friendship has hardly received justice from Coleridge's biographers. Coleridge stayed at Calne during a great part of 1815, and he was there in January 1816. He says (29 July 1815) that he has finished the ‘Biographia Literaria,’ and he was at work upon play-writing. During part of this period his friends had almost lost sight of him. On 17 October 1814 Southey wrote to Cottle asking for news of Coleridge, whom he had not seen for thirteen months. Southey was providing means for sending Hartley Coleridge to college, but could extract no reply to a letter addressed to Coleridge himself.
Coleridge at last resolved to make a final effort to retrieve his position. On 9 April 1816 Dr. Joseph Adams, whom he had consulted, applied to Mr. Gillman of Highgate, asking whether he would receive Coleridge into his family. A day or two later Gillman saw Coleridge himself, and was fascinated by his conversation. An agreement was at once made, and Coleridge came to Gillman's house 15 April 1816, where for the rest of his days he remained as an honoured and cherished guest. Gillman and his wife appear to have been in the highest degree judicious and affectionate, and deserved the gratitude with which Coleridge continued to regard them. It does not appear how far the habit of opium-eating was finally abandoned, but at least Coleridge was enabled to exert much personal influence, and to collect such fragments of his speculations as still remain.
His literary activity for a time was considerable, and Gillman thought too much for his strength. Byron had asked him for another tragedy. The result was ‘Zapolya,’ dictated to Morgan at Calne, to which, to Coleridge's great disgust, Maturin's tragedy ‘Bertram’ was preferred. Byron, however, according to Moore, recommended ‘Zapolya’ to Murray, by whom it was published as a ‘Christmas Tale,’ in two parts, in 1817. It is more probable that Byron's letter to Murray refers to ‘Christabel’. Murray, at any rate, accepted ‘Christabel,’ which was at press when Coleridge first saw Gillman, and was published with ‘Kubla Khan’ and the ‘Pains of Sleep’ in 1816. The poem had long been well known. Stoddart had repeated it to Scott, who profited by its new system of versification in the ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel.’ Coleridge refers to this imitation as an injury in a letter to Josiah Wedgwood in June 1807, when he speaks of ‘two volumes of poems,’ including ‘Christabel,’ as about to go to press. The poem was already so well known that a ‘sequel’ called ‘Christobell’ appeared in the ‘European Magazine’ for April 1815. A later parody, probably by Maginn, appeared in ‘Blackwood’ for June 1819. The poem struck the fancy of the public more than any of his previously published works, and three editions were sold in the year. Coleridge always professed an intention of executing a conclusion, and a sketch of his design is given by Gillman. In the ‘Canterbury Magazine’ for September 1834, is Coleridge's indignant denial of a theory suggested that Geraldine was meant to be a man. ‘Christabel’ was attacked by Moore in the ‘Edinburgh Review.’ Murray had given him £80 for it, which he had handed over to the Morgans, now in distress. Murray was alarmed by the reviews, and Coleridge transferred his other writings to a publisher named Curtis. Curtis soon became bankrupt, and Coleridge lost a considerable sum in consequence.
In 1817 appeared a collection of his poems, called ‘Sibylline Leaves.’ Other publications followed about the same time; two lay sermons appeared in 1816 and 1817, and in 1818 a new and greatly altered edition of the ‘Friend.’ In 1817 appeared the ‘Biographia Literaria,’ a work primarily intended as a kind of ‘Apologia,’ or rather as a claim for public recognition, but diverging into some of his most admirable criticism. He gave his last series of lectures in Flower-de-Luce Court, Fetter Lane, between January and March 1818, to crowded and sympathetic audiences. His later publications were the ‘Aids to Reflection,’ 1825, and the ‘Essay on Church and State,’ 1820. At Gillman's Coleridge led a quiet and monotonous life, soothed by the attention of his hosts and the admiration of many friends who came to wonder at his discourses. Among them was Thomas Allsop, who wrote to him about one of the lectures of 1818. A personal acquaintance soon followed, and Coleridge wrote many letters to his young friend, showing that he still dwelt upon grand schemes of future work, and hoped to complete his poems. In January 1821 he sketches a series of writings, including his ‘great work,’ part of which, he says, has been already dictated to his disciple, Green. The plan can be executed if his friends will advance £200 a year. Coleridge had become famous, and many young men came to listen to his conversation, which has been described with inimitable vivacity by Carlyle in his ‘Life of Sterling.’ Emerson's impressions are given in the account of his first visit to England in ‘English Traits.’ Frequent mention of Coleridge in his later years will be found in the diaries of Crabb Robinson. A great part of every year after 1822 he was confined to his room, and generally to his bed. Yet he was to be met with occasionally at the houses of his friends, and made a few trips to Margate and elsewhere. In 1824 Robinson met him at a ‘dance and rout’ at the house of his disciple, Green, and heard him declaim philosophy in the ball-room. In 1828 he accompanied the Wordsworths on a tour up the Rhine. An interesting account of this is given in T. C. Grattan's ‘Beaten Paths’. In 1833 he visited Cambridge with the British Association, and talked with his old vigour in Thirlwall's room. He soon afterwards became weaker, and died gently 25 July 1834. An account of his death is in the ‘Memoirs of Sara Coleridge’. A post-mortem examination revealed no cause of his long sufferings. Mrs. Coleridge survived till 1845.
Coleridge's conversation is described as astonishing by all who heard him. Carlyle in the ‘Life of Sterling,’ Hazlitt in the ‘Spirit of the Age,’ De Quincey, and Henry Nelson Coleridge in preface to ‘Table Talk,’ may be compared They agree, except that the first two failed to perceive what was evident to the others, that his apparent rambling was governed by severe logical purpose. Lamb said that Coleridge talked like an angel, and added ‘but after all his best talk is in the “Friend.”’ Readers of that work will be able to judge for themselves whether the wanderings were real or apparent. Mme. de Staël's statement that he was great in monologue but bad in dialogue was made to Crabb Robinson.
His personal appearance has been described by Hazlitt, Miss Wordsworth, De Quincey, Carlyle, and Southey. The last says that the power of his eye, forehead, and brow was astonishing; but that nothing could be ‘more imbecile than the rest of his face.’ He says of himself to Thelwall in 1796: ‘My face, unless when animated by immediate eloquence, expresses great sloth and great, indeed almost idiotic, good nature. 'Tis a mere carcase of a face, fat, flabby, and expressive chiefly of inexpression. Yet I am told that my eyes, eyebrows, and forehead are physiognomically good. … 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 energies. I am and ever have been a great reader, and have read almost everything, a library cormorant. I am deep in all out-of-the-way books, whether of the monkish times or the puritanical era. I have read and digested most of the historical writers, but I do not like history. Metaphysics and poetry and “facts of mind” (i.e. accounts of all the strange phantasms that ever possessed your philosophy-dreamers from Tauth, the Egyptian, to Taylor, the English pagan) are my darling studies. In short, I seldom read except to amuse myself, and I am almost always reading. Of useful knowledge I am a so-so chemist, and I love chemistry, all else is blank; but I will be (please God) an horticulturist and a farmer. I compose very little; and I absolutely hate composition. Such is my dislike that even a sense of duty is sometimes too weak to overpower it. I cannot breathe through my nose; so my mouth with sensual thick lips is almost always open.’
Coleridge alone among English writers is in the front rank at once as poet, as critic, and as philosopher. In his first-rate poems the philosophy, though it may determine the principles, does not intrude into the execution. They illustrate the canon which he quotes from Milton, that poetry should be ‘simple, sensuous, passionate.’ Like Spenser he is a poet's poet. The ‘Ancient Mariner’ at least has gained popularity, but his direct influence is less remarkable than his influence upon more popular poets. He supplied the imaginative essence which they alloyed with elements more prosaic but more immediately acceptable. Coleridge explained Hazlitt's indifference to the ‘Arabian Nights’ by saying, ‘You never dream,’ and added that there was ‘a class of poetry built on the foundation of dreams’. His own poems give the finest examples of the class. ‘Kubla Khan’ was actually a dream, and his best poems are all really dreams or spontaneous reveries, showing a nature of marvellous richness and susceptibility, whose philosophic temperament only appears in the variety and vividness of the scenery. His unique melody is the natural expression of his surprising power of giving the mystical beauty of natural scenery. Coleridge's combination of poetic sympathy with logical subtlety gives unsurpassed value to his criticism, especially to the discussion of Wordsworth's principles and practice in the ‘Biographia Literaria,’ and to the fragmentary, but not less suggestive, criticisms of Shakespeare and the old English divines and poets. His strong prejudices render his estimate of the eighteenth-century writers less trustworthy.
Coleridge's claims as a philosopher are more disputable. His antagonists may hold that, though his imagination was not injured by his metaphysics, his metaphysical subtlety was too much at the service of his imagination. It is undeniable, however, that he took a leading part in the introduction of English thinkers to the results of German thought; and that his criticism of the national school of Hume, Bentham, and the Mills was frequently most effective and serviceable, even to his opponents. His influence upon Maurice and other writers of the rising generation was of great importance. He put a new spirit into the old conservatism by his attempt in his political writings to find a philosophical basis for doctrines previously supported by sheer prejudice; and his services in this respect are fully recognised in Mill's essay. His detached remarks are frequently most instructive. ‘A living spirit breathes from Coleridge's pages which I at least can find in no others,’ says a distinguished metaphysician, Mr. Shadworth Hodgson, and Mr. Hodgson proceeds to show that he has himself learnt his most distinctive principles from Coleridge, especially from the ‘Aids to Reflection.’ Coleridge, however, suffers when any attempt is made to extract a philosophical system from his works. He never had, or soon lost, the power of sustained and concentrated attention necessary for the task. The distinction to which he attached primary importance between ‘the reason and the understanding’ — borrowed from Kant, though completely altered in the process — has not satisfied even his disciples, though it is doubtless an attempt to formulate an important principle. The most careful account of his doctrine is given by Professor Hort in ‘Cambridge Essays’ for 1856. Joseph Henry Green, Coleridge's disciple in later years, spent almost a lifetime in trying to elaborate a system of Coleridgean philosophy. Coleridge had not really dictated anything more than a few fragmentary contributions to such a system, though upon this point he was under one of his usual delusions. The result appeared after Green's death in ‘Spiritual Philosophy, founded on the teaching of the late S. T. Coleridge’, edited by John Simon, F.R.S. It contains a statement of first principles and a deduction of the essential doctrines of the christian faith upon philosophical grounds. The book, however, is in any case a very imperfect sketch, and was published at a time when philosophic speculation had raised very different issues. Coleridge's most elaborate metaphysical exposition is inserted in the ‘Biographia Literaria,’ but is to so great an extent a translation from Schelling as to have little value as original matter, whatever excuses may be made for the plagiarism. Mr. Hutchison Stirling shows forcibly the superficial nature of Coleridge's acquaintance with Kant and the weakness of his claim to independent discovery of principles. In truth it seems that Coleridge's admirers must limit themselves to claiming for him, what he undoubtedly deserves, the honour of having done much to stimulate thought, and abandon any claim to the construction of a definitive system.
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