H. D. (Henry Duff) Traill.

Coleridge online

. (page 14 of 16)
Online LibraryH. D. (Henry Duff) TraillColeridge → online text (page 14 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


worths must, I should imagine, have been the last expedi-
tion involving any considerable exercise of the physical
powers which he was able to take. Within a year or so
afterwards his condition seems to have grown sensibly
worse. In November, 1831, he writes that for eighteen
months past his life had been " one chain of severe sick-
nesses, brief and imperfect convalescences, and capricious
relapses." Henceforth he was almost entirely confined to
the sick-room. His faculties, however, still remained clear
and unclouded. The entries in the Table Talk do not
materially diminish in frequency. Their tone of colloquy
undergoes no perceptible variation ; they continue to be as
stimulating and delightful reading as ever. Not till 11th
July, 1834, do we find any change; but here at last we
meet the shadow, deemed longer than it was in reality, of
the approaching end. " I am dying," said Coleridge, "but



112 COLERIDGE. [ciiai>. x.

without expectation of a speedy release. Is it not straiij^e
that, very recently, by-gone images and scenes of early life
have stolen into my mind like breezes blown from the
spice-islands of Youth and Hope — those twin realities of
the phantom world ! I do not add Love, for what is Love
but Youth and Hope embracing, and, so seen, as one. . . .
Hooker wished to live to finish his Ecclesiastical Polity —
so I own I wish life and strength had been spared to me
to complete my Philosophy. For, as God hears me, the
originating, continuing, and sustaining wish and design in
my heart were to exalt the glory of His name ; and, which is
the same thing in other words, to promote the improvement
of mankind. But visum aliter Deo, and His will be done."
The end was nearer than he thought. It was on the
11th of July, as has been said, that he uttered these last
words of gentle and pious resignation. On that day fort-
night he died. Midway, however, in this intervening pe-
riod, he knew that the " speedy release " which he had not
ventured to expect was close at hand. The death, when it
came, was in some sort emblematic of the life. Sufferings
severe and constant, till within thirty-six hours of the end:
at the last peace. On the 25th of July, 1834, this sorely-
tried, long -labouring, fate-marred and self- marred life
passed tranquilly away. The pitiful words of Kent over
his dead master rise irrepressibly to the lips —

"0 let him pass; he hates hiin
Who would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer."

There might have been something to be said, though not
by Kent, of the weaknesses of Lear himself; but at such
a moment compassion both for the king and for the poet
may well impose silence upon censure.



CHAPTER XL

COLERrOGE'S METAPHYSICS AND THEOLOGY. — THE "SPIRITUAL
philosophy" op MR. GREEN.

In spite of all tlie struggles, the resolutions, and the en-
treaties which displayed themselves so distressingly in the
letter to Mr. Allsop, quoted in the last chapter, it is doubt-
ful whether Coleridge's "great work" made much addi-
tional progress during the last dozen years of his life. The
weekly meeting with Mr. Green seems, according to the
latter's biographer, to have been resumed. Mr. Simon
tells us that he continued year after year to sit at the feet
of his Gamaliel, getting more and more insight into his
opinions, until, in 1834, two events occurred which deter-
mined the remaining course of Mr. Green's life. One of
these events, it is needless to say, was Coleridge's death ;
the other was the death of his disciple's father, with the
result of leaving Mr. Green possessed of such ample means
as to render him independent of his profession. The lan-
guage of Coleridge's will, together, no doubt, with verbal
communications which had passed, imposed on Mr. Green
what he accepted as an obligation to devote so far as nec-
essary the whole remaining strength and earnestness of his
life to the one task of systematising, developing, and es-
tablishing the doctrines of the Coleridgian philosophy.
Accordingly, in 1836, two years after his master's death,



IH COLERIDGE. [cuap.

he retired from medical practice, and thenceforward, until
his own death, nearly thirty years afterwards, he applied
himself unceasingly to what was in a twofold sense a
labour of love.

We are not, it seems from his biographer's account, to
suppose that Mr. Green's task was in any material degree
lightened for him by his previous collaboration with Cole-
ridge. The latter had, as we have seen, declared in his
letter to Allsop that " more than a volume " of the great
work had been dictated by him to Mr. Green, so as to ex-
ist in a condition fit for the press ; but this, according to
Mr. Simon, was not the case, and the probability is, there-
fore, that " more than a volume " meant written material
equal in amount to more than a volume — of course, an
entirely different thing. Mr. Simon, at any rate, assures
us that no available written material existed for setting
comprehensively before the public, in Coleridge's own lan-
guage, and in an argued form, the philosophical system
with which he wished his name to be identified. Instead
of it there were fragments — for the most part mutually
inadaptable fragments, and beginnings, and studies of spe-
cial subjects, and numberless notes on the margins and fly-
leaves of books.

With this equipment, such as it was, Mr. Green set to
work to methodise the Coleridgian doctrines, and to con-
struct from them nothing less than such a system of phi-
losophy as should " virtually include the law and expla-
nation of all being, conscious and unconscious, and of all
correlativity and duty, and be applicable directly or by de-
duction to whatsoever the human mind can contemplate
— sensuous or supersensuous — of experience, purpose, or
imagination." Born under post-diluvian conditions, Mr.
Green was of course unable to accomplish his self-proposed



XI.] METAPHYSICS AND THEOLOGY. 116

enterprise, but he must be allowed to have attacted his
task with remarkable energy, " Theology, ethics, politics
and political history, ethnology, language, aesthetics, psy-
chology, physics, and the allied sciences, biology, logic,
mathematics, pathology, all these subjects," declares his
biographer, " were thoughtfully studied by him, in at least
their basial principles and metaphysics, and most were elab-
orately written of, as though for the divisions of some vast
cyclopaedic work," At an early period of his labours he
thought it convenient to increase his knowledge of Greek ;
he began to study Hebrew when more than sixty years old,
and still later in life he took up Sanscrit. It was not un-
til he was approaching his seventieth year and found his
health beginning to fail him that Mr, Green seems to have
felt that his design, in its more ambitious scope, must be
abandoned, and that, in the impossibility of applying the
Coleridgian system of philosophy to all human knowledge,
it was his imperative duty under his literary trust to work
out that particular application of it which its author had
most at heart. Already, in an unpublished work which he
had made it the first care of his trusteeship to compose, he
had, though but roughly and imperfectly, as he considered,
exhibited the relation of his master's doctrines to revealed
religion, and it had now become time to supersede this un-
published compendium, the Religio Laid, as he had styled
it, by a fuller elaboration of the great Coleridgian position
that " Christianity, rightly understood, is identical with the
highest philosophy, and that, apart from all question of
historical evidence, the essential doctrines of Christianity
are necessary and eternal truths of reason — truths which
man, by the vouchsafed light of Nature and without aid
from documents or tradition, may always and anywhere
discover for himself." To this work accordingly Mr. Green



116 COLERIDGE. [cuap.

devoted the few remaining years of his life, and, dying in
1863 at the age of seventy-two, left behind him in MS.
the work entitled Spiritual Philosophy : founded on the
teaching of the late Samuel Taylor Coleridge, which was
published two years later, together with the memoir of the
author, from which I have quoted, by Mr. John Simon. It
consists of two volumes, the first of which is devoted to
the exposition of the general principles of Coleridge's phi-
losophy, while the second is entirely theological, and aims
at indicating, on principles for which the first voUime has
contended, the essential doctrines of Christianity.

The earlier chapters of this volume Mr. Green devotes to
an exposition (if indeed the word can be applied to what
is really a catalogue of the results of a transcendental in-
tuition) of the essential difference between the reason and
the understanding — a distinction which Coleridge has him-
self elsewhere described as pre-eminently the gradus ad
philosophiam, and might well have called it?, pons asinorum.
In the second part of his first volume Mr. Green applies
himself to the establishment of a position which, funda-
mental as it must be accounted in all philosophical specu-
lations of this school, is absolutely vital to the theology
which Coleridge sought to erect upon a metaphysical ba-
sis. This position is that the human will is to be regarded
as the one ultimate fact of self-consciousness. So long as
man confines himself to the contemplation of his percipi-
ent and reflective self alone — so long as he attends only to
those modes of consciousness which are produced in him
by the impressions of the senses and the operations of
thought, he can never hope to escape from the famous re-
ductio ad inscihile of Hume. He can never afiirm anything
more than the existence of those modes of consciousness,
or assert, at least as a direct deliverance of intuition, that



xr.] METAPHYSICS AND THEOLOGY. Ill

his conscious self is anything apart from the perceptions
and concepts to which lie is attending. But when he turns
from his perceiving and thinking to his wilUng self he be-
comes for the first time aware of something deeper than
tlie mere objective presentations of consciousness ; he ob-
tains a direct intuition of an originant, causative, and in-
dependent self-existence. lie will have attained in short
to the knowledge of a noumenon, and of the only knowa-
ble noumenon. The barrier, elsewhere insuperable between
the subject and object, is broken down ; that Avhicli knows
becomes identified with that which is; and in the con-
sciousness of will the consciousness also of a self, as some-
thing independent of and superior to its own modifications,
is not so much affirmed as acquired. The essence, in short,
of the Coleridgian ontology consists in the alteration of a
single though a very important word in the well-known
Cartesian formula. Cogito ergo sum had been shown by
Hume to involve an illicit process of reasoning. Descartes,
according to the Scottish sceptic, had no right to have said
more than Cogito ergo cogitationes sunt. But substitute
willing for thinking, convert the formula into Volo ergo
sum, and it becomes irrefragable.

So far as I can perceive, it would have been sufficient
for Mr. Green's subsequent argument to have thus estab-
lished the position of the will as the ultimate fact of con-
sciousness, but he goes on to assert that he has thus se-
cured the immovable ground of a phil«sophy of Realism.
For since man, " in aflSrming his Personality by the verb
substantive I am, asserts, nay, acquires, the knowledge of
his own Substance as a Spiritual being, and thereby knows
what substance truly and properly is, so he contemplates
the outward, persons or things, as subjects partaking of
reality by virtue of the same substance of which he is con-



1V8 COLERIDGE. [chap.

scious in his own person." So far, however, from this
being a philosophy of Realism, it is in efiect, if not indeed
in actual terms, a philosophy of Idealism. I, at least, am
unable to see how any Idealist, from Berkeley downwards,
could ask for a better definition of his theory of the ex-
ternal world than that it " partakes of reality by virtue of
the same substance of which he is conscious in his own
person."

But it is, of course, with the second volume of Mr.
Green's work that one is chiefly concerned. Had Cole-
ridge been a mere Transcendentalist for Transcendental-
ism's sake, had there been no connection between his phi-
losophy of Being and his religious creed, it might be a
question whether even the highly condensed and necessa-
rily imperfect sketch which has here been given of it would
not have been superfluous and out of place. But Coleridge
was a Theosophist first, and a philosopher afterwards ; it
was mainly as an organon of religion that he valued his
philosophy, and it was to the development and perfection
of it, as such otyanon, that he may be said to have de-
voted, so far as it could be redeemed from its enthralment
to lower necessities, the whole of the latter half of his
career. No account of his life, therefore, could be com-
plete without at least some brief glance at the details of
this notable attempt to lead the world to true religion by
the road of the Transcendental philosophy. It is difficult,
of course, for those who have been trained in a wholly
different school of thought to do justice to processes of
reasoning carried on, as they cannot but hold, in terms
of the inconceivable ; it is still more diflScult to be sure
that you have done justice to it after all has been said ;
and I think that no candid student of the Coleridgian
philosophico-theology (not being a professed disciple of



XI.] METAPHYSICS AND THEOLOGY. 1V9

it, and therefore bound, at any rate, to feign familiarity
with incomprehensibilities) will deny that he is often com-
pelled to formulate its positions and recite its processes in
somewhat of the same modest and confiding spirit as ani-
mates those youthful geometricians who learn their Euclid
by heart. With this proviso I will, as briefly as may be,
trace the course of the dialectic by which Mr. Green seeks
to make the Coleridgian metaphysics demonstrative of the
truth of Christianity.

Having shown that the Will is the true and the only
tenable base of Philosophic Realism, the writer next pro-
ceeds to explain the growth of the Soul, from its rudi-
mental strivings in its fallen condition to the development
of its spiritual capabilities, and to trace its ascent to the
conception of the Idea of God. The argument — if we
may apply so definite a name to a process which is con-
tinually forced to appeal to something that may perhaps
be higher, but is certainly other than the ratiocinative fac-
ulty — is founded partly on moral and partly on intellectual
considerations. By an analysis of the moral phenomena
associated with the action of the human will, and, in par-
ticular, of the conflict which arises between " the tendency
of all Will to make itself absolute," and the consciousness
that, under the conditions of man's fallen state, nothing
but misery could result both to the individual and the race
from the fulfilment of this tendency — Mr. Green shows
how the Soul, or the Reason, or the Speculative Intellect
(for he seems to use all three expressions indiscriminately)
is morally prepared for the reception of the truth which
his Understanding alone could never have compassed —
the Idea of God. Tliis is in effect neither more nor less
than a restatement of that time-honoured argument for
the existence of some Being of perfect holiness which has



180 COLERIDGE. [chap.

always weighed so much with men of high spiri'tuaficy as
to bHnd thera to the fact of its actually enhancing the
intellectual difficulties of the situation. Man possesses a
Will which longs to fulfil itself; but it is coupled with a
nature which constantly impels him to those gratifications
of will which tend not to self-preservation and progress,
but to their contraries. Surely, then, on the strength of
the mere law of life, which prevails everywhere, there
must be some higher archetypal Will, to which human
wills, or rather certain selected examples of them, may
more and more conform themselves, and in which the
union of unlimited efficiency in operation with unqualified
purity of aim has been once for all effected. Or to put
it yet another way : The life of the virtuous man is a life
auxiliary to the preservation and progress of the race ; but
his will is under restraint. The will of the vicious man
energises fi-eely enough, but his life is hostile to the pres-
ervation and progress of the race. Now the natural and
essential nisus of all Will is towards absolute freedom.
But nothing in life has a natural and essential nisus to-
wards that which tends to its deterioration and extinction.
Therefore, there must be some ultimate means of recon-
oiling absolute freedom of the Will with perfectly salutary
conditions of its exercise. And since Mr. Green, like his
master and all other Platonists, is incapable of stopping
here, and contenting himself with assuming the existence
of a " stream of tendency " which will gradually bring
the human will into the required conditions, he here
makes the inevitable Platonic jump, and proceeds io con-
clude that there must be a self-existent ideal Will in which
absolute freedom and power concur with perfect purity
and holiness.

So much for the moral part of Mr. Green's proof, which



XI.] MR. GREEX'S SPIRITUAL PHILOSOPHY. 181

so far fails, it will be observed, to carry us muck beyond
the Pantheistic position. It has, that is to say, to be
proved that the " power not ourselves," which has been
called Will, originates in some source to which we should
be rationally justified in giving the name of "God;" and,
singular as such a thing may seem, it is impossible at any
rate for the logic of the understanding to regard Mr.
Green's argument on this point as otherwise than hope-
lessly circular. The half-dozen pages or so which he
devotes to the refutation of the Pantheistic view reduce
themselves to the following simple -petitio principii: the
power is first assumed to be a Will ; it is next affirmed
with perfect truth that the very notion of Will would
escape us except under the condition of Personality ; and
from this the existence of a personal God as the source of
the power in question deduced. And the same vice un-
derlies the further argument by which Mr. Green meets
the familiar objection to the personality of the Absolute
as involving contradictory conceptions. An infinite Per-
son, he argues, is no contradiction in terms, unless " fiuition
or limitation" be regarded as identical with "negation"
(which, when applied to a hypothetical Infinite, one would
surely think it is) ; and an Absolute Will is not the less
absolute from being self-determined ab intra. For how,
he asks, can any Will which is causative of reality be con-
ceived as a Will except by conceiving it as se finiens, pre-
determining itself to the specific processes required by the
act of causation ? How, indeed ? But the answer of a
Pantheist would of course be that the very impossibility
of conceiving of Will except as se finiens is his very ground
for rejecting the notion of a volitional (in the sense of a
personal) origin of the cosmos.

However, it is beyond my purposes to enter into any



182 COLERIDGE. [chap.

detailed criticism of Mr. Green's position, more especially
as I have not yet reached the central and capital point of
his spiritual philosophy — the construction of the Chris-
tian theology on the basis of the Coleridgian metaphysics.
Having deduced the Idea of God from man's conscious-
ness of an individual Will perpetually affirming itself, Mr.
Green proceeds to evolve the Idea of the Trinity, by (as
he considers it) an equally necessary process from two of
the invariable accompaniments of the above-mentioned
introspective act. " For as in our consciousness," he truly
says, "we are under the necessity of distinguishing the
relation of ' myself,' now as the subject thinking and now
as the object contemplated in the manifold of thought, so
we might express the relations in the Divine instance as
Deus Subjectivus and Deus Objectivus — that is, the Ab-
solute Subjectivity or Supreme Will, uttering itself as and
contemplating itself in the Absolute Objectivity or pleni-
tude of Being eternally and causatively realised in his Per-
sonality." AVhence it follows (so runs or seems to run
the argument) that the Idea of God the Father as neces-
sarily involves the Idea of God the Son as the "I" who,
as the thinking subject, contemplate myself, implies the
contemplated " Me " as the object thought of. Again,
the man who reflects on the fact of his consciousness,
" which discloses to him the unavoidable opposition of
subject and object in the self of which he is conscious,
cannot fail to see that the conscious mind requires not
only the distinction in order to the act of reflection in
itself, but the continual sense of the relative nature of the
distinction and of the essential oneness of the mind itself."
Whence it follows (so runs or seems to run the argument)
that the Idea of the first two Persons of the Trinity as
necessarily involves the Idea of the Third Person, as the



XI.] MR. GREEN'S SPIRITUAL PHILOSOPHY. 183

contemplation of the "Me" by the "I" implies the per-
petual consciousness that tlie contemplator and the con-
templated — the " I " and the " Me " — are one. In this
manner is the Idea of the Trinity shown to be involved
in the Idea of God, and to arise out of it by an implica-
tion as necessary as that which connects together the
three phases of consciousness attendant upon every self-
contemplative act of the individual mind.'

It may readily be imagined that after the Speculative
Reason has been made to perform such feats as these the
remainder of the work proposed to it could present no
serious difficulty. And in the half-dozen chapters which
follow it is made to evolve in succession the doctrine of
the Incarnation, the Advent, and the Atonement of Christ,
and to explain the mysteries of the fall of man and of
original sin. Considered in the aspect in which Coleridge
himself would have preferred to regard his pupil's Avork,
namely as a systematic attempt to lead the minds of men
to Christianity by an intellectual route, no more hopeless
enterprise perhaps could have been conceived than that
embodied in these volumes. It is like offering a traveller
a guide-book written in hieroglyphics. Upon the most
liberal computation it is probable that not one-fourth part

* Were it not hazardous to treat processes of the Speculative Rea-
son as we deal with the vulgar dialectic of the Understanding, one
would be disposed to reply that if the above argument proves the
existence of three persons in the Godhead, it must equally prove the
existence of three persons in every man who reflects upon bis con-
scious self. That the Divine Mind, when engaged in the act of self-
contemplation, must be conceived under three relations is doubtless
as true as that the human mind, when so engaged, must be so con-
ceived ; but that these three relations are so many objective realities
is what Mr. Green asserts indeed a few pages farther on, but what
he nowhere attempts to prove.
N 9



184 COLERIDGE. [chap. xi.

of educated mankind are capable of so mucli as compre-
hending the philosophic doctrine upon which Coleridge
seeks to base Christianity, and it is doubtful whether any
but a still smaller fraction of these would admit that the
foundation was capable of supporting the superstructure.
That the writings of the pupil, like the teachings of the
master whom he interprets, may serve the cause of relig-
ion in another than an intellectual way is possible enough.
Not a few of the functions assigned to the Speculative
Eeason will strike many of us as moral and spiritual rath-
er than intellectual in their character, and the appeal to
them is in fact an appeal to man to chasten the lower
passions of his nature, and to discipline his unruly will.
Exhortations of that kind are religious all the world of
philosophy over, and will succeed in proportion to the
moral fervour and oratorical power which distinguish them.
But if the benefits of Coleridge's theological teachings are
to be reduced to this, it would of course have been much
better to have dissociated them altogether from the ex-
ceedingly abstruse metaphysic to which they have been
wedded.



CHAPTER XII.

Coleridge's tositiox in nis later years.— nis discourse.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16

Online LibraryH. D. (Henry Duff) TraillColeridge → online text (page 14 of 16)