H. D. (Henry Duff) Traill.

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ually conducted in conformity with any such purpose,
even the chagrined projector himself could scarcely have
had the face to complain, as Coleridge did very bitterly,
of the reception accorded to it by the public. The most
unpractical of thinkers can hardly have imagined that the
"general reader" would "take in" a weekly metaphys-
ical journal published at a town in Cumberland. The
Friend was not quite so essentially hopeless an enter-
prise as that would have been ; but the accidents of
mismanagement and imprudence soon made it, for all
practical purposes, sufficiently desperate. Even the for-
lorn Watchman, which had been set on foot when Cole-
ridge had fourteen years' less experience of the world,
was hardly more certainly foredoomed. The first care of
the founder of the Friend was to select, as the place of
publication, a town exactly twenty -eight miles from his
own abode — a distance virtually trebled, as De Quincey
observes, " by the interposition of Kirkstone, a mountain
only to be scaled by a carriage ascent of three miles,
and so steep in parts that witliout four horses no solitary
traveller can persuade the neighbouring innkeepers to con-
vey him." Here, however, at Penrith, "by way of pur-
chasing intolerable difficulties at the highest price," Coie-


ridge was advised and actually persuaded to set up a printer,
to buy and lay in a stock of paper, types, etc., instead of
resorting to some printer already established at a nearer
place — as, for instance, Kendal, which was ten miles nearer,
and connected with Coleridge's then place of residence by
a daily post, whereas at Penrith there was no post at all.
Having thus studiously and severely handicapped himself,
the projector of the new periodical set to work, upon the
strength of what seems to have been in great measure a
fancy list of subscribers, to print and, so far as his extraor-
dinary arrangements permitted, to circulate his journal.
With naive sententiousness he warns the readers of the Bio-
graphia Literaria against trusting, in their own case, to such
a guarantee as he supposed himself to possess. "You can-
not," he observes, " be certain that the names of a subscrip-
tion list liave been put down by sufficient authority ; or,
should that be ascertained, it still remains to be known
whether they were not extorted by some over -zealous
friend's importunity ; whether the subscriber had not yield-
ed his name merely from want of courage to say no ! and
with the intention of dropping the work as soon as possi-
ble." Thus, out of a hundred patrons who had been ob-
tained for the Friend by an energetic canvasser, " ninety
threw up the publication before the fourth number with-
out any notice, though it was well known to them that in
consequence of the distance and the slowness and irregu-
larity of the conveyance " [it is amusing to observe the way
in which Coleridge notes these drawbacks of his own crea-
tion as though they were " the act of God "] " I was com-
pelled to lay in a stock of stamped paper for at least eight
wrecks beforehand, each sheet of which stood me in five-
pence previous to its arrival at my printer's; though the
subscription money was not to be received till the twenty
T G*

120 COLERIDGE. [chap.

first week after the commencement of the work ; and, last-
ly, though it was in nine cases out of ten impracticable for
me to receive the money for two or three numbers without
paying an equal sum for the postage."

Enough appears in this undesignedly droll account of
the venture to show pretty clearly that, even had the Friend
obtained a reasonable measure of popularity at starting,
the flagrant defects in the methods of distributing and
financing it must have insured its early decease. But, as
a matter of fact, it had no chance of popularity from the
outset. Its first number appeared on 1st August, 1809, and
Coleridge, writing to Southey on 20th October of the same
year, speaks of his " original apprehension " that the plan
and execution of the Friend is so utterly unsuitable to the
public taste as to preclude all rational hopes of its success.
" Much," he continues, " might have been done to have
made the former numbers less so, by the interposition of
others written more expressly for general interest ;" and he
promises to do his best in future to " interpose tales and
whole numbers of amusement, which will make the periods
lighter and shorter." Meanwhile he begs Southey to write
a letter to the Friend in a lively style, rallying its editor
on "bis Quixotism in expecting that the public will ever
pretend to understand his lucubrations or feel any interest
in subjects of such sad and unkempt antiquity." Southey,
ever good-natured, complied, even amid the unceasing press
of his work, with the request; and to the letter of lightly-
touched satire which he contributed to the journal he added
a few private lines of friendly counsel, strongly urging Cole-
ridge to give two or three amusing numbers, and he would
hear of admiration on every side. "Insert too," he sug-
gested, "a few more poems — any that you have, except
Christabel, for that is of too much value. And write now

vii.] THE «' FRIEND." 121

that character of Bonaparte, announced in former times for
' to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow.' " It was too
late, however, for good advice to be of any avail : the Friend
was past praying for. It lingered on till its twenty-eighth
number, and expired, unlike the Watchman, without any
farewell to its friends, in the third week of March, 1810.

The republication of this periodical, or rather selections
from it, which appeared in 1818, is hardly perhaps described
with justice in De Quincey's words as " altogether and ab-
solutely a new work." A reader can, at any rate, form a
pretty fair estimate from it of the style and probable pub-
lic attractions of the original issue ; and a perusal of it,
considered in its character as a bid for the patronage of the
general reader, is certainly calculated to excite an astonish-
ment too deep for words. We have, of course, to bear in
mind that the standard of the readable in our grandfathers'
days was a more liberal and tolerant one than it is in our
own. In those days of leisurely communications and slow-
ly moving events there was relatively at least a far larger
public for a weekly issue of moral and philosophical essays,
under the name of a periodical, than it would be found easy
to secure at present, when even a monthly discourse upon
things in general requires Mr. Ruskin's brilliancy of elo-
quence, vivacity of humour, and perpetual charm of unex-
pectedness to carry it off. Still the Spectator continued to
be read in Coleridge's day, and people therefore must have
had before them a perpetual example of what it was possi-
ble to do in the way of combining entertainment with in-
struction. How, then, it could have entered into the mind
of the most sanguine projector to suppose that the lon-
gueurs and the difficulty of the Friend would be patiently
borne with for the sake of the solid nutriment which it
contained it is quite impossible to understand. Even sup-

122 COLERIDGE. [chap.

posing that a weekly, -whose avowed object was " to aid in
the formation of fixed principles in politics, morals, and
religion," could possibly be floated, even " with literary
amusements interspersed," it is evident that very much
would depend upon the character of these "amusements"
themselves. In the republication of 1817 they appear un-
der the heading of " landing-places." One of them con-
sists of a parallel between Voltaire and Erasmus, and be-
tween Rousseau and Luther, founded, of course, on the re-
spective attitudes of the two pairs of personages to the
Revolution and the Reformation. Another at the end
of the scries consists of a criticism of, and panegyric on.
Sir Alexander Ball, the governor of Malta. Such are the
landing - places. But how should any reader, wearied
with "forever climbing up the climbing wave" of Cole-
ridge's eloquence, have found rest or refreshment on
one of these uncomfortable little sandbanks? It was
true that the original issue of the Friend contained po-
etical contributions which do not appear in the repub-
lication ; but poetry in itself, or, at any rate, good po-
etry, is not a relief to the overstrained faculties, and,
even if it were, the relief would have been provided at
too infrequent intervals to affect the general result. The
fact is, however, that Coleridge's own theory of his duty
as a public instructor was in itself fatal to any hope of
his venture proving a commercial success. Even when
entreated by Southey to lighten the character of the peri-
odical, he accompanies his admission of the worldly wis-
dom of the advice with something like a protest against
such a departure from the severity of his original plan.
His object, as he puts it with much cogency from liis
own unpractical point of view — his object being to teach
men how to think on politics, religion, and morals, and

vii] THE "FRIEND." 123

thinking being* a very arduous and distasteful business to
the mass of mankind, it followed that the essays of the
Friend (and particularly the earlier essays, in which the
reader required to be "grounded" in his subject) could
hardly be agreeable reading. With perfect frankness in-
deed does he admit in his prospectus that he must "sub-
mit to be thought dull by those who seek amusement
only." He hoped, however, as he says in one of his ear-
lier essays, to become livelier as he went on. "The prop-
er merit of a foundation is its massiveness and solidity.
The conveniences and ornaments, the gilding and stucco-
work, the sunshine and sunny prospects, will come with
the superstructure." But the building, alas! was never
destined to be completed, and the architect had his own
misgivings about the attractions even of the completed
edifice. "I dare not flatter myself that any endeavours
of mine, compatible with the duty I owe to the truth and
the hope of permanent utility, will render the Friend
agreeable to the majority of what is called the reading
public. I never expected it. How indeed could I when,
etc." Yet, in spite of these professions, it is clear from
the prospectus that Coleridge believed in the possibility
of obtaining a public for the Friend. He says that " a
motive for honourable ambition was supplied by the fact
that every periodical paper of the kind now attempted,
which had been conducted with zeal and ability, was not
only well received at the time, but has become popular ;"
and he seems to regard it as a comparatively unimportant
circumstance that the Friend would be distinguished from
" its celebrated predecessors, the Spectator and the like,"
by the "greater length of the separate essays, by their
closer connection with each othei", and by the predomi-
nance of one object, and the common bearing of all to

124 COLERIDGE. [chap.

one end." It was, of course, exactly this plus of prolix-
ity and minus of variety which lowered the sum of the
Friend's attractions so far below that of the Spectator as
to deprive the success of Addison of all its value as a

Nor is it easy to agree with the editor of the reprint
of 1837 that the work, " with all its imperfections, is per-
haps the most vigorous" of its author's compositions.
That there are passages in it which impress us by their
force of expression, as well as by subtlety or beauty of
thought, must of course be admitted. It was impossible
to a man of Coleridge's literary power that it should be
otherwise. But " vigorous " is certainly not the adjective
which seems to me to suggest itself to an impartial critic
of these too copious disquisitions. Making every allow-
ance for their necessary elasticity of scope as being de-
signed to " prepare and discipline the student's moral and
intellectual being, not to propound dogmas and theories
for his adoption," it must, I think, be allowed that they
are wanting in that continuity of movement and co-ordi-
nation of parts which, as it seems to me, enters into any
intelligible definition of " vigour," as attributed to a work
of moral and political exposition considered as a whole.
The writer's discursiveness is too often and too vexatious-
ly felt by the reader to permit of the survival of any sense
of theorematic unity in his mind ; he soon gives up
all attempts at periodical measurement of his own and
his author's progress towards the prescribed goal of their
journey ; and he resigns himself in this, as in so many
other of Coleridge's prose works, to a study of isolated
and detached passages. So treated, however, one may
freely admit that the Friend is fully worthy of the ad-
miration with which Mr. H. N. Colcridcfc regarded it. If

Til.] THE "FRIEND." 125

not the most vigorous, it is beyond all comparison the
most characteristic of all his uncle's performances in this
field of his multiform activity. In no way could the pe-
culiar pregnancy of Coleridge's thoughts, the more than
scholastic subtlety of his dialectic, and the passionate
fervour of his spirituality be more impressively exhibited
than by a well-made selection of loci from the pages of
the Friend.


"courier" articles. — THE SHAKESPEARE LECTURES. —


The life led by Coleridge during the six years next en-
suing is diflScult to trace, even in the barest outline ; to
give a detailed and circumstantial account of it from any
ordinarily accessible source of information is impossible.
Nor is it, I imagine, very probable that even the most
exhaustive search among whatever unprinted records may
exist in the possession of his friends would at all com-
pletely supply the present lack of biographical material.
For not only had it become Coleridge's habit to disappear
from the sight of his kinsmen and acquaintances for long
periods together; he had fallen almost wholly silent also.
They not only ceased to see him, but they ceased to hear
of him. Letters addressed to him, even on subjects of
the greatest importance, would remain for months unno-
ticed, and in many instances would receive no answer at
all. His correspondence during tlic next half-dozen years
must have been of the scantiest amount and the most in-
termittent character, and a biographer could hope, there-


fore, for but little aid in bridging- over the large gaps in
his knowledge of this period, even if every extant letter
written by Coleridge during its continuance were to be
given to the world.

Such light, too, as is retrospectively thrown upon it by
Coleridge's correspondence of a later date is of the most
fitful description — scarcely more than serves, in fact, for
the rendering of darkness visible. Even the sudden and
final departure from the Lakes it leaves involved in as
much obscurity as ever. Writing to Mr. Thomas Allsop*
from Ranisgate twelve years afterwards (8th October,
1822) he says that he "counts four grasping and griping
sorrows in his past life." The first of these " was when "
[no date given] " the vision of a happy home sank for-
ever, and it became impossible for me longer even to
hope for domestic happiness under the name of husband."
That is plain enough on the whole, though it still leaves
us in some uncertainty as to whether the " sinking of the
vision" was as gradual as the estrangement between hus-
band and wife, or whether he refers to some violent rupt-
ure of relations with Mrs. Coleridge, possibly precipitating
his departure from the Lakes. If so, the second ''griping

' Coleridge made the acquaintance of this gentleman, who became
his enthusiastic disciple, in 1818. Ilis chief interest for us is the
fact that for the next seven years he was Coleridge's correspondent.
Personally, he was a man of little judgment or critical discrimination,
and his sense of the ridiculous may be measured by the following
passage. Speaking of the sweetness of Charles Lamb's smile, he
says that " there is still one man living, a stock-broker, who has that
smile," and adds : " To those who wish to sec the only thing left on
earth, if it is stiU left, uf Lamb, his best and most beautiful remain —

his smile — I will indicate its possessor, Mr. , of Throgmorton

Street." How the original " possessor " of this apparently assign-
able security would have longed to " feel Mr. AUsop's head !"

128 COLERIDGE. [chap.

and grasping sorrow " followed very quickly on the first,
for be says that it overtook him "on the night of his ar-
rival from Grasmere with Mr. and Mrs. Montagu ;" while
in the same breath and paragraph, and as though undoubt-
edly referring to the same thing, he speaks of the " de-
struction of a friendship of fifteen years when, just at the
moment of Fenner and Curtis's (the publishers) bankrupt-
cy " (by which Coleridge was a heavy loser, but which did
not occur till seven years afterwards), somebody indicated
by seven asterisks and possessing an income of £1200 a
year, was " totally transformed into baseness." There is
certainly not much light here, any more than in the equal-
ly enigmatical description of the third sorrow as being
"in some sort included in the second," so that " what the
former was to friendship the latter was to a still more in-
ward bond." The truth is, that all Coleridge's references
to himself in his later years are shrouded in a double ob-
scurity. One veil is thrown over them by his deliberate
preference for abstract and mystical forms of expression,
and another perhaps by that kind of shameful secretive-
ness which grows upon all men who become the slaves of
concealed indulgences, and which often displays itself on
occasions when it has no real object to gain of any kind

Thus much only we know, that on reaching London in
the summer of 1810 Coleridge became the guest of the
Montagus, and that, after some months' residence with
them, he left, as the immediate result of some difference
with his host which was never afterwards composed.
Whether it arose from the somewhat trivial cause to
which De Quincey has, admittedly upon the evidence of
"the learned in literary scandal," referred it, it is now im-
possible to say. But at some time or other, towards the


close probably of 1810, or in the early months of 1811,
Coleridge quitted Mr. Montagu's house for that of Mr.
John Morgan, a companion of his early Bristol days, and
a common friend of his and Southey's ; and here, at No. 7
Portland Place, Hammersmith, he was residing when, for
the second time, he resolved to present himself to the
London public in the capacity of lecturer. His services
were on this occasion engaged by the London Philosophi-
cal Society, at Crane Court, Fleet Street, and their pro-
spectus announced that on Monday, 18th November, Mr.
Coleridge would commence " a course of lectures on
Shakspeare and Milton, in illustration of the principles
of poetry and their application, on grounds of criticism,
to the most popular works of later English poets, those
of the living included. After an introductory lecture on
false criticism (especially in poetry) and on its causes, two-
thirds of the remaining course," continues the prospectus,
"will be assigned, 1st, to a philosophical analysis and ex-
planation of all the principal characters of our great dram-
atists, as Othello, Falstaff, Richard the Third, Ligo, Ham-
let, etc., and to a critical comparison of Shakspeare in
respect of diction, imagery, management of the passions,
judgment in the construction of his dramas — in short, of
all that belongs to him as a poet, and as a dramatic poet,
with his contemporaries or immediate successors, Jonson,
Beaumont and Fletcher, Ford, Massinger, and in the en-
deavour to determine which of Shakspeare's merits and
defects are common to him, with other writers of the
same age, and what remain peculiar to his genius."

A couple of months before the commencement of this
course, viz., in September, 1811, Coleridge seems to have
entered into a definite journalistic engagement with his old
editor, Mr. Daniel Stuart, then the proprietor of the Con-

130 COLERIDGE. [chap.

rier. It was not, however, his first connection with that
journal. He had ah-eady published at least one piece of
verse in its columns, and two years before, while the
Friend was still in existence, he had contributed to it a
series of letters on the struggle of the Spaniards against
their French invaders. In these, as though to show that
under the ashes of his old democratic enthusiasm still lived
its wonted fires, and that the inspiration of a popular cause
was only needed to reanimate them, we find, with less of
the youthful lightness of touch and agility of movement,
a very near approach to the vigour of his early journal-
istic days. Whatever may be thought of the historic
value of the parallel which he institutes between the
straggle of the Low Countries against their tyrant, and
that of the Peninsula against its usurping conqueror, it is
worked out with remarkable ingenuity of completeness.
"Whole pages of the letters are radiant with that steady
flame of hatred which, ever since the hour of his disillu-
sionment, had glowed in his breast at the name and
thought of Bonaparte ; and whenever he speaks of the
Spaniards, of Spanish patriotism, of the Spanish Cortes,
we see that the names of "the people," of "freedom," of
" popular assembly," have some of their old magic for
him still. The following passage is almost pathetic in its
reminder of the days of 1792, before that modern Le-
onidas, the young French Republic, had degenerated into
the Xerxes of the Empire :

" The power which raised up, established, and enriched the Dutch
republic — the same mighty power is no less at work in the present
struggle of the Spanish nation — a power which mocks the calculations
of ordinary statecraft too subtle to be weighed against it, and mere
outward brute force too different from it to admit of comparison. A
power as mighty in the rational creation as the clement of electricity


in the material world ; and, like that element, infinite in its affinities,
infinite in its mode of action, combining the most discordant natures,
fixing the most volatile, and arming tlie sluggish vapour of the marsh
with arrows of fire ; working alike in silence and in tempest, in
growth and in destruction ; now contracted to an individual soul, and
now, as in a moment, dilating itself over a whole nation ! Am I asked
what this mighty power may be, and wiierein it exists ? If we are
worthy of the fame whicli we possess as the countrymen of Hamp-
den, Russell, and Algernon Sidne}', we shall find the answer in our
own hearts. It is the power of the insulted free-will, steadied by the
approving conscience and struggling against brute force and iniqui-
tous compulsion for the common rights of human nature, brought
home to our inmost souls by being, at the same time, the rights of
our betrayed, insulted, and bleeding country."

And as this passage recalls the most striking character-
istics of his earlier style, so may its conclusion serve as a
fair specimen of the calmer eloquence of his later manner :

" It is a painful truth, sir, that these men who appeal most to facts,
and pretend to take them for their exclusive guide, are the very per-
sons who most disregard the liglit of experience when it refers them
to the mightiness of their own inner nature, in opposition to those
forces which they can see with their eyes, and reduce to figures upon
a slate. And yet, sir, what is history for the greater and more useful
part but a voice from the sepulchres of our forefathers, assuring us,
from their united experience, that our spirits are as much stronger
than our bodies as they are nobler and more permanent? The his-
toric muse appears in her loftiest character as the nurse of Hope.
It is her appropriate praise that her records enable the magnanimous
to silence the selfish and cowardly by appealing to actual events for
the information of these truths wliich they themselves first learned
from the surer oracle of their own reason."

But this reanimation of energy was but a transient phe-
nomenon. It did not survive the first freshness of its
exciting cause. The Spanish insurrection grew into the

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Online LibraryH. D. (Henry Duff) TraillColeridge → online text (page 10 of 16)