H. D. (Henry Duff) Traill.

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henceforth he recovers for us a certain measure of his long-
lost dignity, and a figure which should always have been
" meet for the reverence of the hearth" in the great house-
hold of English literature, but which had far too long and
too deeply sunk below it, becomes once more a worthy
and even a venerable presence. At evening-time it was
lio:ht.



CHAPTER IX.

LIFE AT HIGHGATE.— RENEWED ACTIVITY. — PUBLICATIONS AND
KEPUBLICATIONS. — THE " BIOGRAPIIIA LITERARIA." — THE
LECTURES OF 1818.— COLERIDGE AS A SHAKESPEARIAN CRITIC.

[1816-1818.]

The results of tlie step wliich Coleridge had just taken
became speedily visible in more ways than one, and the
public were among the first to derive benefit from it. For
not only was he stimulated to greater activity of produc-
tion, but his now more methodical way of life gave him
time and inclination for that work of arrangement and
preparation for the press which, distasteful to most writ-
ers, was no doubt especially irksome to him, and thus in-
sured the publication of many pieces which otherwise
might never have seen the light. The appearance of
Christahel was, as we have said, received with signal
marks of popular favour, three editions being called for
and exhausted in the same year. In 1816 there appeared
also The Statesman's Manual ; or the Bible the best guide
to Political Skill and Foresight: a Lag Sermon addressed
to the higher classes of Socieig, with an Appendix contain-
ing Comments and Essays connected with the Study of
the Inspired Writings; in 1817 another Lay Sermon, ad-
dressed to the higher and middle classes on the existing
distresses and discontents ; and in the same year followed



140 COLERIDGE. [chap.

the most important publication of tliis period, tlie Blo-
graplila Lileraria.

In 1817, too, it was that Coleridge at iast made his
long-meditated collection and classification of his already
published poems, and that for the first time something
approaching to a complete edition of the poet's works was
given to the world. The SibtjUine Leaves^ as this reissue
was called, had been intended to be preceded by another
volume of verse, and " accordingly on the printer's signa-
tures of every sheet we find Vol. II. appearing," Too
characteristically, however, the scheme was abandoned, and
Volume II. emerged from the press without any Volume I.
to accompany it. The drama of Zapolt/a followed in the
same year, and proved more successful with the public
than with the critic of Drury Lane. The " general reader "
assigned no " ludicrous objections to its metaphysics ;"
on the contrary, he took them on trust, as his generous
manner is, and Zapolya, published thus as a Chrir-tmas
tale, became so immediatel}'^ popular that two thousand
copies were sold in six weeks. In the year 1818 followed
the three-volume selection of essays from the Friend, a re-
issue to which reference has already been n;ade. With
the exception of Christabel, however, all the publications
of these three years unfortunately proceeded from the
house of Gale and Fenner, a firm which shortly afterwards
became bankrupt ; and Coleridge thus lost all or nearly
all of the profits of their sale.

The most important of the new works of this period
was, as has been said, the Biographia Lileraria., or, to give
it its other title. Biographical Sketches of my Literary
Life and Op>inio7is. Its interest, however, is wholly crit-
ical and illustrative; as a narrative it would be fouYid ex-
tremely disappointing and probably iriitating by the aver-



IX.] RENEWED ACTIVITY. 147

age reader. With tlic exception of one or two incidental
disclosures, but little biog-rapliical information is to be de-
rived from it which is not equally accessible from sources
independent of the author ; and the almost complete want
of sequence and arrangement renders it a very inconven-
ient work of reference even for these few biographical de-
tails. Its main value is to be found in the contents of
seven chapters, from the fourteenth to the twentieth; but
it is not going too far to say that, in respect of these, it is
literally priceless. No such analysis of the principles of
poetry — no such exact discrimination of what was sound
in the modern "return-to-nature" movement from what
was false — has ever been accomplished by any other crit-
ic, or with such admirable completeness by this consum-
mate critic at any other time. Undoubtedly it is not of
the light order of reading; none, or very little, of Cole-
ridge's prose is. The whole of Chapter XV., for instance,
in which the specific elements of "poetic power" arc
"distinguished from general talent determined to poetic
composition by accidental motives," requires a close and
sustained effort of the attention, but those who bestow
it will find it amply repaid. I know of no dissertation
conceived and carried out in terms of the abstract which
in the result so triumphantly justifies itself upon applica-
tion to concrete cases. As regards the question of poetic
expression, and the laws by which its true form is deter-
mined, Coleridge's analysis is, it seems to me, final. I
cannot, at least, after the most careful reflection upon it,
conceive it as being other than the absolutely last word on
the subject. Reasoning and illustration are alike so con-
vincing that the rcailcr, like the contentious student who
listened unwillingly to his professor's demonstration of the
first proposition of Euclid, is compelled to confess that



148 COLERIDGE. [ciiap.

"he Las notliing to reply." To the judicious admirer of
Wordsworth, to every one who, while recognising Words-
worth's inestimable services to English literature as the
leader of the naturalist reaction in poetry, has yet been
vaguely conscious of the defect in his poetic theory, and
very keenly conscious of the vices of his poetic practice —
to all such persons it must be a profound relief and satis-
faction to be guided as unerringly as Coleridge guides
them to the " parting of the ways " of truth and falsity
in Wordsworth's doctrines, and to be enabled to perceive
that nothing which has offended him in that poet's thought
and diction has any real connection with whatever in the
poet's principles has commanded his assent. There is no
one who has ever felt uneasy under the blasphemies of the
enemy but must entertain deep gratitude for so complete
a discharge as Coleridge has procured him from the task
of defending such lines as —

"And I liave travelled far as Hull to see
What clothes he might have left or other property."

Defend them indeed the ordinary reader probably would
not, preferring even the abandonment of his theory to a
task so humiliating. But the theory has so much of truth
and value in it that the critic who has redeemed it from
the discredit of Wordsworth's misapplications of it is en-
titled to the thanks of every friend of simplicity, who is
at the same time an enemy of bathos. There is no longer
any reason to treat the deadly commonplaces, amid which
we toil through so many jiages of the Excursion, as hav-
ing any true theoretic affinity with its but too occasional
majestic interludes. The smooth, square -cut blocks of
prose which insult the natural beauty of poetic rock and
boulder even in such a scene of naked moorland grandeur



IX.] rUBLICATIOXS AND REPUBLICATIONS. 149

as that of Resolution and Independence are seen and sliown
to be the mere intruders which we have all felt them to
be. To the Wordsworthian, anxious for a full justifica-
tion of the faith that is in him, t!ie whole body of Cole-
ridge's criticism on his friend's poetry in the Blographia
Literaria mav be confidently recommended. The refu-
tation of what is untenable in Wordsworth's theory, the
censure pronounced upon certain characteristics of Lis
practice, are made all the more impressive by the tone of
cordial admiration which distinguishes every personal ref-
erence to the poet liitnself, and by the unfailing discrim-
ination with which the critic singles out the peculiar beau-
ties of his poetr\'. No finer selection of finely character-
istic Words\vorthi;m passages could perhaps have been
made than those which Coleridge has quoted in illustra-
tion of his criticisms in the eighteenth and two following
chapters of the Biographia Literaria. For the rest, how-
ever, unless indeed one excei)ts the four chapters on the
Hartleian system and its relation to the German school of
philosophy, the boolc is rather one to be dipped into for
the peculiar pleasure which an hour in Coleridge's com-
pany must always give to any active intelligence, than to
be systematically studied with a view to perfecting one's
conception of Coleridge's philosophical and critical genius
considered in its totality.

As to the two lay sermons, the less ambitious of them
is decidedly the more successful. The advice to " the
higher and middle classes" on the existing distresses and
discontents contains at least an ingredient of the practi-
cal ; its distinctively religious appeals are varied by sound
political and economical arguments ; and the enumeration
and exposure of the various artifices by which most ora-
tors are accustomed to delude their hearers is as masterly



150 COLEraDCE. [chap.

as only Coleridge could have invade it. Who but he, for
instance, could have thrown a piece of subtle observation
into a form in which reason and fancy unite so happily
to impress it on the mind as in the following passage:
" The mere appeal to the auditors, whether the arguments
are not such that none but an idiot or an hireling could
resist, is an effective substitute for any argument at all.
For mobs have no memories. They are in nearly the
same state as that of an individual when he makes what
is termed a bull. The 2xxssions, like a fused metal, Jill up
the ivide interstices of thought and supply the defective links ;
and thus incoinjjatible assertions are harmonised hy the sen-
sation icithout the sense of connection.'''' The other lay ser-
mon, however, the Statesman'' s Manual, is less appropri-
ately conceived. Its originating proposition, that the Bible
is "the best guide to political skill and foresight," is un-
doubtedly open to dispute, but might nevertheless be capa-
ble of plausible defence upon a priori grounds. Coleridge,
however, is not content with this method of procedure; as,
indeed, with so avowedly practical an object in view he
scarcely could be, for a " manual " is essentially a work
intended for the constant consultation of the artificer in
the actual performance of his work, and ought at least to
contain illustrations of the application of its general prin-
ciples to particular cases. It is in undertaking to supply
these that the essential mysticism of Coleridge's counsels
comes to light. For instance: "I am deceived if you will
not be compelled to admit that the prophet Isaiah revealed
the true philosophy of the French Revolution more than
two thousand years before it became a sad irrevocable
truth of history. ' And thou saidst, I shall be a lady for
ever, so that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart
ni'ithcr didst remember the latter end of it. . . . There-



IX.] THE LECTURES OF 1818. ir.l

fore shall evil come upon tlice ; tliou shalt not know from
■whence it riseth, etc' " And to this last-quoted sentence
Coleridge actually appends the following note : " The
reader will scarcely fail to find in this verse a remem-
brancer of the sudden setting* in of the frost before the
usual time (in a country, too, where the commencement of
its two seasons is in general scarcely less regular than that
of the wet and dry seasons between the tropics) which
caused, and the desolation Avhicli accompanied, the flight
from Moscow." One can make no other comment upon
this than that if it really be wisdom which statesmen would
do well to lay to heart, the late Dr. Camming must have
been the most profound instructor in statesmanship that
the world has ever seen. A prime minister of real life,
however, could scarcely be seriously recommended to shape
his pollc}' upon a due consideration of the possible alle-
goric meaning of a passage in Isaiah, to say nothing of
the obvious objection that this kind of appeal to Soi'tes
Bihlicce is dangerously liable to be turned against those
who recommend it. On the whole, one must say of this
lay sermon that it justifies the apprehension expressed by
the author in its concluding pages. It docs rather "resem-
ble the overflow of an earnest mind than an orderly and
premeditated," in the sense, at any rate, of a well-con-
sidered " composition."

In the month of January, 1818, Coleridge once more
commenced the delivery of a course of lectures in Lon-
don. The scope of this series — fourteen in number — was,
as will be seen from the subjoined syllabus, an immensely
comprehensive one. The subject of the first was " the
manners, morals, literature, philosophy, religion, and state
of society in general in European Christendom, from tlie
eighth to the fifteenth century ;" and of the second " the



152 COLERIDGE. [chap.

tales and metrical romances common for the most part to
England, Germany, and the north of France; and English
songs and ballads continued to the reign of Charles I." In
the third the lecturer proposed to deal with the poetry of
Chaucer and Spenser, of Petrarch, and of Ariosto, Pulci,
and Boiardo. The fourth, fifth, and sixth were to be de-
voted to the dramatic works of Shakespeare, and to com-
prise the substance of Coleridge's former courses on the
same subject, " enlarged and varied by subsequent study
and reflection." In the seventh he was to treat of the
other principal dramatists of the Elizabethan period, Ben
Jonson, Massinger, and Beaumont and Fletcher; in the
eighth of the life and all the works of Cervantes; in the
ninth of Rabelais, Swift, and Sterne, with a dissertation
" on the nature and constituents of genuine humour, and
on the distinctions of humorous from the witty, the fan-
ciful, the droll, the odd, etc." Donne, Dante, an


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Online LibraryH. D. (Henry Duff) TraillColeridge → online text (page 12 of 16)