H. D. (Henry Duff) Traill.

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Peninsular war, and though the glorious series of Welling-

132 COLERIDGE. [chap.

ton's victories might well, one would tbinlc, have sustained
the rhetorical temperature at its proper pitch, it failed to
do so. Or was it, as the facts appear now and then to
suggest, that Coleridge at Grasmere or Keswick — Coleridge
in the inspiring (and restraining) companionship of close
friends and literary compeers — was an altogether different
man from Coleridge in London, alone with his thoughts
and his opium? The question cannot be answered with
confidence, and the fine quality of the lectures on Shake-
speare is sufficient to show that, for some time, at any rate,
after his final migration to London, his critical faculty
retained its full vigour. But it is beyond dispute that his
regular contributions to the Courier in 1811-12 are not
only vastly inferior to his articles of a dozen years before
in the Morning Post but fall sensibly short of the level of
the letters of 1809, from which extract has just been made.
Their tone is spiritless, and they even lack distinction of
style. Their very subjects, and the mode of treating them,
appear to show a change in Coleridge's attitude towards
public affairs if not in the very conditions of his journalis-
tic employment. They have much more of the character
of newspaper hack-work than his earlier contributions. He
seems to have been, in many instances, set to write a mere
report, and often a rather dry and mechanical report, of
this or the other Peninsular victory. He seldom or never
discusses the political situation, as his wont has been, au
large ; and in place of broad statesmanlike reflection on
the scenes and actors in the great world-drama then in
progress, we meet with too much of that sort of criticism
on the consistency and capacity of " our contemporary, the
Morning Chronicle^'' which had less attraction, it may be
suspected, even for the public of its own day than for the
journalistic profession, while for posterity, of course, it


possesses no interest at all. The series of contributions
extends from September of 1811 until April of the follow-
ing year, and appears to have nearly come to a premature
and abrupt close in the intermediate July, when an article
written by Coleridge in strong opposition to the proposed
reinstatement of the Duke of York in the command-in-
chief was, by ministerial influence, suppressed before pub-
lication. This made Coleridge, as his daughter informs us
on the authority of Mr. Crabb Robinson, " very uncomfort-
able," and he was desirous of being engaged on another
paper. He wished to be connected with the Times, and
"I spoke," says Mr. Robinson, "with Walter on the sub-
ject, but the negotiation failed."

^Yith the conclusion of the lectures on Shakespeare, and
the loss of the stimulus, slight as it then was to him, of
regular duties and recurring engagements, Coleridge seems
to have relapsed once more into thoroughly desultory hab-
its of work. The series of aphorisms and reflections which
he contributed in 1812 to Southey's Omniana, witty, sug-
gestive, profound as many of them are, must not of course
be referred to the years in which they were given to the
world. They belong unquestionably to the order of mar-
ginalia, the scattered notes of which De Quincey speaks
with not extravagant admiration, and which, under the
busy pencil of a commentator always indefatigable in
the strenua inertia of reading, had no doubt accumu-
lated in considerable quantities over a long course of

The disposal, however, of this species of literary mate-
rial could scarcely have been a source of much profit to
him, and Coleridge's difficulties of living must by this time
have been growing acute. His pension from the Wedg-
woods had been assigned, his surviving son has stated, to

134 COLERIDGE. [chap.

the use of his family, and even this had been in the pre-
vious year reduced by half. " In Coleridge's neglect," ob-
serves Miss Meteyard, "of his duties to his wife, his chil-
dren, and his friends, must be sought the motives which
led Mr. Wedgwood in 1811 to withdraw his share of the
annuity. An excellent, even over-anxious father, he was
likely to be shocked at a neglect which imposed on the
generosity of Southey, himself heavily burdened, those du-
ties which every man of feeling and honour proudly and
even jealously guards as his own. . . . The pension of £150
per annum had been originally granted with the view to
secure Coleridge independence and leisure while he effected
some few of his manifold projects of literary work. But
ten years had passed, and these projects were still in nubi-
hus — even the life of Lessing, even the briefer memoir of
Thomas Wedgwood; and gifts so well intentioned, had as
it were, ministered to evil rather than to good." We can
hardly wonder at the step, however we may regret it ; and
if one of the reasons adduced in defence of it savours some-
what of the fallacy known as a non causa pro causa, we may
perhaps attribute that rather to the maladroitness of Miss
Meteyard's advocacy than to the weakness of Mr. Wedg-
wood's logic. The fact, however, that this " excellent, even
over-anxious father " was shocked at a neglect which im-
posed a burden on the genarosity of Southey, is hardly a
just ground for cutting off one of the supplies by which
that burden was partially relieved. As to the assignment
of the pension to the family, it is impossible to question
what has been positively affirmed by an actual member of
that family, the Rev. Derwent Coleridge himself; though,
when he adds that not only was the school education of
both the sons provided from this source, but that through
his (Coleridge's) influence they were both sent to colk-ge,


Ills statement is at variance, as will be presently seen, with
an anthority equal to his own.

In 1812, at any rate, we may well believe that Cole-
ridge's necessities had become pressing, and the timely ser-
vice then rendered to him by Lord Byron may have been
suggested almost as much by a knowledge of his needs as
by admiration for the dramatic merits of his long-since
rejected tragedy. Osorio's time had at any rate come.
The would-be fratricide changed his name to Ordonio, and
ceased to stand sponsor to the play, which was rechristened
Hemorsc, and accepted at last, upon Byron's recommen-
dation, by the committee of Drury Lane Theatre, the play-
house at whose doors it had knocked vainly fifteen years
l)cfore it was performed there for the first time on the
2:3d of January, 1813. The prologue and epilogue, with-
out which in those times no gentleman's drama was ac-
counted complete, vv'as written, the former by Charles
Lamb, the latter by the author himself. It obtained a
brilliant success on its first representation, and was hon-
oured with what was in those days regarded as the very
respectable run of twenty nights.

The success, however, which came so opportunely for
Ills material necessities was too late to produce any good
effect upon Coleridge's mental state. But a month after
the production of his tragedy wc find him writing in the
most dismal strain of hypochondria to Thomas Poole.
The only pleasurable sensation which the success of Re-
morse had given him was, he declares, the receipt of his
friend's " heart-engendered lines " of congratulation. " No
grocer's apprentice, after his first month's permitted riot,
was ever sicker of figs and raisins than I of hearing about
the Remorse. The endless rat-a-tat-tat at our black-and-blue
bruised doors, and my three master- fiends, proof- sheets,
K 7

136 COLERIDGE. [chap.

letters, and — worse than these — invitations to large din-
ners, which I cannot refuse without offence and imputa-
tion of pride, etc., oppress me so much that my spirits
quite sink under it. I have never seen the play since
the first night. It has been a good thing for the theatre.
They will get eight or ten thousand pounds by it, and
I shall get more than by all my literary labours put to-
getlier — nay, thrice as much." So large a sura of money
as this must have amounted to should surely have lasted
him for years; but the particular species of intemperance
to which he was now hopelessly enslaved is probably the
most costly of all forms of such indulgence, and it seems
pretty evident that the proceeds of his theatrical coup
were consumed in little more than a year.

Early in 1814, at any rate, Coleridge once more returned
to his old occupation of lecturer, and this time not in
London, but in the scene of his first appearance in that
capacity. The lectures which he proposed to deliver at
Bristol were, in fact, a repetition of the course of 1811-
12 ; but the ways of the lecturer, to judge from an amus'
ing story recorded by Cottle, more nearly resembled his
proceedings in 1808. A "brother of Mr. George Cum-
berland," who happened to be his fellow-traveller to Bris-
tol on this occasion, relates that before the coach started
Coleridge's attention was attracted by a little Jew boy
selling pencils, with whom he entered into conversation,
and with Avhose superior qualities he was so impressed as
to declare that " if he had not an important engagement
at Bristol he would stay behind to provide some better
condition for the lad." The coach having started, " the
gentleman " (for his name was unknown to the narrator
of the incident) " talked incessantly and in a most enter-
taining way for thirty miles out of London, and, after-


wards, with little intermission till they reached Marlbor-
ough," when he discovered that a lady in the coach with
him was a particular friend of his; and on arriving at
Bath he quitted the coach declaring that he was deter-
mined not to leave her till he had seen her safe to her
brother's door in North Wales. This was the day fixed
for the delivery of Coleridge's first lecture. Two or three
days afterwards, having completed his detour by North
Wales, he arrived at Bristol ; another day was fixed for
the commencement of the course, and Coleridge then pre-
sented himself an hour after the audience had taken their
seats. The "important engagement" might be broken,
it seems, for a mere whim, though not for a charitable
impulse — a distinction testifying to a mixture of insincer-
ity and unpunctuality not pleasant to note as an evidence
of the then state of Coleridge's emotions and will.

Thus inauspiciously commenced, there was no reason
why the Bristol lectures of 1814 should be more success-
ful than the London Institution lectures of 1808; nor
were they, it appears, in fact. They arc said to have
been "sparsely attended" — no doubt owing to the natural
unwillingness of people to pay for an hour's contempla-
tion of an empty platform ; and their pecuniary returns
in consequence were probably insignificant. Coleridge
remained in Bristol till the month of August, when he
returned to London.

The painful task of tracing his downward course is now
almost completed. Li the middle of this year he touched
the lowest point of his descent. Cottle, who had a good
deal of intercourse with him by speech and letter in 1814,
and who had not seen him since 1807, was shocked by
his extreme prostration, and then for the first time ascer-
tained the cause. " In 1814," he says in his Recollections,

138 COLERIDGE. [chap.

" S. T. C. liad been long, very long, in tlic liabit of taking
from two quarts of laudanum a week to a pint a day, and
on one occasion lie had been known to take in the twenty-
four Lours a whole quart of laudanum. The serious ex-
penditure of money resulting from this habit was, the least
evil, though very great, and must have absorbed all the
produce of his writings and lectures and the liberalities of
his friends." Cottle addressed to him a letter of not very
delicate remonstrance on the subject, to which Coleritigc
replied in his wontedly humble strain.

There is a certain Pharisaism about the Bristol poet-
publisher which renders it necessary to exercise some lit-
tle caution in the acceptance of his account of Coleridge's
condition ; but the facts, from whatever source one seeks
them, appear to acquit him of any exaggeration in his
summing up of the melancholy matter. "A general im-
pression," he says, " prevailed on the minds of Coleridge's
friends that it was a desperate case, that paralysed all their
efforts ; that to assist Coleridge with money which, under
favourable circumstances would have been most promptly
advanced, would now only enlarge his capacity to obtain
the opium which was consuming him. We merely knew
that Coleridge had retired with his friend, Mr. John Mor-
gan, to a small house at Calne, in Wiltshire."

It must have been at Calne, then, that Coleridge com-
posed the scries of " Letters to Mr. Justice Fletcher con-
cerning his charge to the Grand Jury of the county of
Wexford, at the summer Assizes in 1814," which appeared
at intervals in the Courier between 20th September and
10th December of this year. Their subject, a somewhat
injndicipnsly animated address to the aforesaid Grand
Jury on the subject of the relations between Catholicism
and Protestantism in Ireland, was well calculated to stimu-


late the literary activity of a man who always took some-
thing of the keen interest of the modern Radical in the
eternal Irish question ; and the letters are not wanting
either in argumentative force or in grave impressiveness
of style. But their lack of spring and energy, as com-
pared with Coleridge's earlier work in journalism, is pain-
fully visible throughout.

Calne, it is to be supposed, was still Coleridge's place
of abode when Southey (iTth October) wrote Cottle that
letter which appears in his Corresjwndence, and which il-
lustrates with such sad completeness the contrast between
the careers of the two generous, romantic, brilliant youths
who had wooed their wives together — and bctv/een the
fates, one must add, of the two sisters who had listened
to their wooing — eighteen years before : a letter as hon-
ourable to the writer as it is the reverse to its subject.
" Can you," asks Southey, " tell me anything of Coleridge?

A few lines of introduction for a son of Mi". , of St.

James's, in your city, are all that we have received from
him since I saw him last September twelvemonth (1813)
in town. The children being thus left entirely to chance,
I have applied to his brothers at Ottey (Ottery ?) concern-
ing them, and am in hopes through their means and the
assistance of other friends of sending Hartley to college.
Lady Beaumont has promised £30 a year for the pur-
pose, and Poole £10. I wrote to Coleridge three or four
months ago, telling him that unless he took some steps
in providing for this object I must make the application,
and required his answer within a given terra of three weeks.
lie received th-e letter, and in his note by Mr. prom-
ised to answer it, but he has never taken any further
notice of it. I have acted with the advice of Words-
worth. The brothers, as I expected, promise their con-

140 COLERIDGE. [ni.u-.

curi'cncc, and I daily expect a letter stating to what extent
tlicy will contribute." With this letter before him an im-
partial biographer can hardly be expected to adopt the
theory which has commended itself to the filial piety of
the Rev. Derwent Coleridge — namely, that it was through
the father's " influence" that the sons were sent to college.
On a plain matter of fact such as this, one may be per-
mitted, without indelicacy, to uj)hold the conclusions com-
pelled by the evidence. Such expressions of opinion, on
the other hand, as that Coleridge's " separation from his
family, brought about and continued through the force
of circumstances over which he had far less control than
has been commonly supposed, was in fact nothing else but
an over-prolonged absence ;" and that " from first to last
he took an affectionate, it may be said a passionate, inter-
est in the welfare of his children " — such expressions of
mere opinion as these it may be proper enough to pass by
in respectful silence.

The following year brought with it no improvement in
the embarrassed circumstances, no reform of the disordered
life. Still domiciled with Mr. Morgan at Calne, the self-
made sufferer writes to Cottle : " You will wish to tnow
something of myself. In health I am not worse than
when at Bristol I was best ; yet fluctuating, yet unhappy,
in circumstances poor indeed 1 I have collected my scat-
tered and my manuscript poems sufficient to mate one
volume. Enough I have to make another. But, till the
latter is finished, I cannot, without great loss of character,
publish the former, on account of the arrangement, be-
sides the necessity of correction. For instance, I earnest-
ly wish to begin the volumes with what has never been
seen by any, however few, such as a series of odes on the
different sentences of the Lord's Prayer, and, more than


all this, to finish my greater work on * Christianity con-
sidered as philosophy, and as the only philosophy.'"
Then follows a request for a loan of forty pounds on the
security of the MSS., an advance which Cottle declined
to make, though he sent Coleridge " some smaller tem-
porary relief." The letter concludes with a reference to
a project for taking a house and receiving pupils to board
and instruct, which Cottle appeared to consider the crown-
ing "degradation and ignominy of all."

A few days later we find Lord Byron again coming to
Coleridge's assistance with a loan of a hundred pounds
and words of counsel and encouragement. Why should
not the author of Remorse repeat his success ? " In Kean,"
writes Byron, " there is an actor worthy of expressing the
thoughts of the character which you have every power of
embodying, and I cannot but regret that the part of Or-
donio was disposed of before his appearance at Drury
Lane. We have had nothing to be mentioned in the
same breath with Remorse for very many years, and I
should think that the reception of that play was sufficient
to encourage the highest hopes of author and audience."
The advice was followed, and the drama of Zapolya was
the result. It is a work of even less dramatic strength
than its predecessor, and could scarcely, one thinks, have
been as successful with an audience. It was not, how-
ever, destined to see the footlights. Before it had passed
the tribunal of the Drury Lane Committee it had lost the
benefit of Byron's patronage through the poet's departure
from England, and the play was rejected by Mr. Douglas
Kinnaird, the then reader for the theatre, who assigned, ac-
cording to Mr. Gillman, " some ludicrous objections to the
metaphysics." Before leaving England, however, Byron
rendered a last, and, as the result proved, a not unimpor-

142 COLERIDGE. [chap.

tant service to las brotlaer-poet. lie introduced Lim to
Mr. Murraj', who, in the following year, undertook the pub-
lication of Christahel — the most successful, in the sense of
the most popular, of all its author's productions in verse.

With the coming of spring in the following year that
dreary story of slow self-destruction, into which the narra-
tive of Coleridge's life from the age of thirty to that of
forty-five resolves itself, was brought to a close. Coleridge
had at last perceived that his only hope of redemption lay
in a voluntary submission of his enfeebled will to the con-
trol of others, and he had apparently just enough strength
of volition to form and execute the necessary resolve. He
appears, in the first instance, to have consulted a physician
of the name of Adams, who, on the 9th of April, 1816, put
himself in communication with Mr. Gillman, of Ilighgate.
"A very learned, but in one respect an unfortunate gentle-
man, has," he wrote, " applied to me on a singular occa-
sion. Ho has for several years been in the habit of talcing
large quantities of opium. For some time past he has
been in vain endeavouring to break himself of it. It is
apprehended his friends are not firm enough, from a
dread lest he should suffer by suddenly leaving it off,
though he is conscious of the contrary, and has pro-
posed to me to submit himself to any regimen, however
severe. With this view he wishes to fix himself in the
house of some medical gentleman who will have the cour-
age to refuse him any laudanum, and under whose assist-
ance, should he be the worse for it, he may be relieved."
Would such a proposal, inquires the writer, be absolutely
inconsistent with Mr. Gilhnan's family arrangements? He
would not, he adds, have proposed it " but on account of
the great importance of the character as a literary man.
His communicative temper will make his society very in-

Till.] AT MR. GILLMAN'S. 143

teresting as well as useful." Mr. Gillinan's acquaintance
with Dr. Adams was but slight, and he bad bad no pre-
vious intention of receiving an inmate into bis bouse. But
the case very naturally interested bira ; be sought an inter-
view with Dr. Adams, and it was agreed that the latter
sbould drive Coleridge to Iligbgate the following evening.
At the appointed hour, however, Coleridge presented him-
bimself alone, and, after spending the evening at Mr. Gill-
man's, left him, as even in bis then condition be left most
people who met him for the first time, completely capti-
vated by the amiability of bis manners and the charm of
his conversation. The next day Mr. Gilhiian received from
him a letter finally settling the arrangement to place him-
self under tlie doctor's care, and concluding with the fol-
lowing pathetic passage :

"And now of myself. My ever wakeful reason and the keenness
of my moral feelings will seeurc you from all unpleasant circum-
stances connected with me save only one, viz., the evasion of a spe-
cific madness. You will never Jiear anything but truth from me ;
prior habits render it out of my power to tell an untruth, but, unless
carefully observed, I dare not promise that I should not, with regard
to this detested poison, be capable of acting one. Not sixty hours
have yet passed without my having taken laudanum, though, for the
last week, comparatively trifling doses. I have full belief that your
anxiety need not be extended beyond the first week, and for the first
week I shall not, must not, be permitted to leave your house, unless
with you ; delicately or indelicately, this must be done, and both the
servants, and the assistant, must i-eceive absolute commands from
you. The stimulus of conversation suspends the terror that haunts
my mind ; but, when I am alone, the horrors I have suffered from
laudanum, the degradation, the blighted utility, almost overwdielm
me. If (as I feel for the Jirst iitne a soothing confidence that it will
prove) I should leave you restored to my moral and bodily health, it
is not myself only that will love and honour you ; every friend I have
(and, thank God! in spite of this wretched vice I iiave many and

144 COLERIDGE. [chap. viii.

warm ones, who were friends of my youth, and have never deserted
rac) will thank you with reverence. I have taken no notice of your
kind apologies. If I could not be comfortable in your house and
with your family, I should deserve to be miserable."

This letter was written on a Saturday, and on the fol-
lowing Monday Coleridge presented himself at Mr. Gill-
man's, bringing in his hand the proof-sheets of Christabel,
now printed for the first time. lie had looked, as the let-
ter just quoted shows, with a "soothing confidence" to
leaving his retreat at some future period in a restored con-
dition of moral and bodily health ; and as regards the res-
toration, his confidence was in a great measure justified.
But the friendly doors which opened to receive him on
this 15th of April, 1816, were destined to close only upon
his departing bier. Under the watchful and almost rever-
ential care of this well -chosen guardian, sixteen years of
comparatively quiet and well-ordered life, of moderate but
effective literary activity, and of gradual though never
complete emancipation from his fatal habit, were reserved
to him. lie had still, as we shall see, to undergo certain
recurrences of restlessness and renewals of pecuniary diffi-
culty ; his shattered health was but imperfectly and tem-
porarily repaired ; his " shaping spirit of imagination "
could not and did not return ; his transcendental brood-
ings became more and more the " habit of his soul." But

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Online LibraryH. D. (Henry Duff) TraillColeridge → online text (page 11 of 16)