H. D. (Henry Duff) Traill.

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Charles Lamb that the titles alone would fill a volume, and
such "popular reputation," in the strict sense of the word,
as he has left behind him, is measured rather by what he
was thought capable of doing than by what he did. By
serious students, however, the real worth of Coleridge will
be differently estimated. For them his peculiar value to
English literature is not only undiminished by the incom-
pleteness of his work ; it has been, in a certain sense, en-
hanced thereby. Or, perhaps, it would be more strictly
accurate to say that the value could not have existed with-
out the incompleteness. A Coleridge with the faculty of
concentration, and the habit of method superadded — a
Coleridge capable of becoming possessed by any one form
of intellectual energy to the exclusion of all others — might,
indeed, have left behind him a more enduring reputation
as a philosopher, and possibly (although this, for reasons
already stated, is, in my own opinion, extremely doubtful)
bequeathed to his countrymen more poetry destined to live ;
but, unquestionably, he would never have been able to ren-
der that precise service to modern thought and literature



198 COLERIDGE. [otap.

which, in fact, they owe to him. To have exercised his
vivifying and fertilising influence over the minds of others
his intellect was bound to be of the dispersive order ; it
was essential that he should " take all knowledge to be his
province," and that that eager, subtle, and penetrative mind
should range as freely as it did over subject after subject
of human interest — illuminating each of them in turn
with those rays of true critical insight which, amid many
bewildering cross-lights and some few downright ignes
fatui, flash forth upon us from all Coleridge's work.

Of the personal weaknesses which prevented the just
development of the powers, enough, perhaps, has been in-
cidentally said in the course of this volume. But, in sum-
ming up his history, I shall not, I trust, be thought to judge
the man too harshly in saying that, though the natural dis-
advantages of wretclied health, almost from boyhood up-
ward, must, in common fairness, be admitted in partial ex-
cuse for his failure, they do not excuse it altogether. It
is difficult not to feel that Coleridge's character, apart alto-
gether from defects of physical constitution, was wanting
in manliness of fibre. His willingness to accept assistance
at the hands of others is too manifestly displayed even at
the earlier and more robust period of his life. It would be
a mistake, of course, in dealing with a literary man of Cole-
ridge's era, to apply the same standards as obtain in our
own days. Wordsworth, as we have seen, made no scruple
to accept the benevolences of the "Wedgwoods. Southey,
the type of independence and self-help, was, for some years,
in receipt of a pension from a private source. But Cole-
ridge, as Miss Meteyard's disclosures have shown, was at
all times far more willing to depend upon others, and was
far less scrupulous about soliciting their bounty, than was
either of his two friends. Had he sharcc more of the spirit



sii.] riXAL REVIEW. 199

which made Johnson refuse to owe to the benevolence of
others what Providence had enabled him to do for himself,
it might have been better, no doubt, for the world and for
the work which he did therein.

But when we consider what that work was, how varied
and how wonderful, it seems idle — nay, it seems ungrate-
ful and ungracious — to speculate too curiously on what fur-
ther or other benefits this great intellect might have con-
ferred upon mankind, had its possessor been endowed with
those qualities of resolution and independence which he
lacked. That Coleridge so often only shows the way, and
so seldom guides our steps along it to the end, is no just
ground of complaint. It would be as unreasonable to com-
plain of a beacon-light that it is not a steam-tug, and for-
get in the incompleteness of its separate services the glory
of their number. It is a more reasonable objection that
the light itself is too often liable to obscuration — that it
stands erected upon a rock too often enshrouded by the
mists of its encircling sea. But even this objection should
not too greatly weigh with us. It would be wiser and bet-
ter for us to dwell rather upon its splendour and helpful-
ness in the hours of its efficacy, to think how vast is then
the expanse of waters which it illuminates, and its radiance
how steady and serene.



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