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letter to Southey which has been quoted above, and which,
it will be remembered, contained " so gloomy an account
of his health." How painfully ailing he was at this time
we know from a variety of sources, from some of which we
also gather that he must have been a sufferer in more or less
serious forms from his boyhood upwards. Mr. Gillman, for
instance, who speaks on this point with the twofold author-
ity of confidant and medical expert, records a statement of
Coleridge's to the effect that, as a result of such schoolboy
imprudences as "swimming over the New River in my
clothes and remaining in them, full half the time from sev-
enteen to eighteen was passed by me in the sick ward of
Christ's Hospital, afilicted with jaundice and rheumatic
fever." From these indiscretions and their consequences
" may be dated," Mr. Gillman thinks, " all his bodily suffer-
ings in future life." That he was a martyr to periodical
attacks of rheumatism for some years before his migration
to Keswick is a conclusion resting upon something more
than conjecture. The Ode to the Departing Year (1796)
was written, as he has himself told us, under a severe at-
tack of rheumatism in the head. In 1797 he describes him-
self in ill health, and as forced to retire on that account to
the "lonely farmhouse between Porlock and London on
the Exmoor confines of Somerset and Devonshire," where
Kubla Khan was written.'

' Were it not for Coleridge's express statement that he first took
opium at Keswick, one would be inclined to attribute the gorgeous
but formless imagery of that poem to the effects of the stimulant.
It is certainly very like a metrical version of one of the pleasant va.
riety of opium-dreams described in De Quincey's poetic prose.



92 COLERIDGE. [chap.

Thus much is, moreover, certain, that whatever were
Coleridge's health and habits during the first two years of
his residence at Keswick, his career as a poet — that is to
say, as a poet of the first order — was closed some months
before that period had expired. The ode entitled Dejec-
tion, to Avhich reference has so often been made, was writ-
ten on the 4th of April, 1802, and the evidential impor-
tance which attaches, in connection with the point under
inquiry, to this singularly pathetic utterance has been al-
most universally recognised. Coleridge has himself cited
its most significant passage in the Biographia Literaria as
supplying the best description of his mental state at the
time when it was written. De Quincey quotes it with ap-
propriate comments in his Coleridge and Opium-eating. Its
testimony is reverently invoked by the poet's son in the in-
troductory essay prefixed by him to his edition of his fa-
ther's works. The earlier stanzas are, however, so neces-
sary to the comprehension of Coleridge's mood at this time
that a somewhat long extract must be made. In the open-
ing stanza he expresses a longing that the storm which cer-
tain atmospheric signs of a delusively calm evening appear
to promise might break forth, so that

"Those sounds which oft have raised me, whilst they awed,
And sent my soul abroad,
Might now perhaps their wonted impulse give,
Might startle this dull pain, and make it move and live."

And thus, with ever -deepening sadness, the poem pro-
ceeds :

" A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear,
A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioncd grief,
Which finds no natural outlet, no relief
In word, or sigli, or tear —



v.] "DEJECTIOX." 93

Lady ! in this wan and heartless mood,
To other thoughts by yonder throstle woo'd,

All this long eve, so balmy and serene,
Have I been gazing on the western sky,

And its peculiar tint of yellow green :
And still I gaze — and with how blank an eye !
And those thin clouds above, in flakes and bars^
That give away their motion to the stars;
Those stars, that glide behind them or between,
Now sparkling, now bedimmed, but always seen*.
Yon crescent Moon as fixed as if it grew
In its own cloudless, starless lake of blue;

1 see them all so excellently fair,

I see, not feel how beautiful they are !

"My genial spirits fail.

And what can these avail
To lift the smothering weight from off my breast?

It were a vain endeavour,

Though I should gaze forever
On that green light that lingers in the west :
I may not hope from outward forms to win
The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.

*' Lady ! we receive but what we give.
And in our life alone does nature live:
Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud !

And would we aught behold, of higher worth,
Than that inanimate cold world allowed
To the poor loveless ever-anxious crowd,

Ah ! from the soul itself must issue forth,
A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud

Enveloping the earth —
And from the soul itself must there be sent

A sweet and potent voice, of its own birth.
Of all sweet sounds the life and clement !

" pure of heart ! thou need'st not ask of me
Wliat this strong nmsic in the soul may be !



94 COLERIDGE. [cuap.

What, and wherein it doth exist,

This liglit, this glory, this fair luminous mist,

This beautiful and beauty-making power.

Joy, ■virtuous Lady ! Joy that ne'er was given,
Save to the i)ure, and in their purest hour,
Life, and Life's effluence, cloud at once and shower,
Joy, Lady ! is the spirit and the power.
Which, wedding Nature to us, gives in dower

A new Earth and new Heaven,
Undreamt of by the sensual and the proud —
Joy is the sweet voice, Joy the luminous cloud —

We in ourselves rejoice !
And thence flows all that charms or ear or sight,

All melodies the echoes of that voice,
All colours a suffusion from that light."

And then follows the much quoted, profoundly touch-
ing, deeply significant stanza to which we have referred :

" There was a time when, though my path was rough,

This joy within me dallied with distress,
And all misfortunes were but as the stuff

Whence Fancy made me dreams of happiness :
For hope grew round me, like the twining vine.
And fruits, and foliage, not my own, seemed mine.
But now afflictions bow me down to earth :
Nor care I that they rob me of my mirth,

But ! each visitation
Suspends what nature gave me at my birth.

My shaping spirit of Imagination.
For not to think of what I needs must feel.

But to be still and patient, all I can ;
And haply by abstruse research to steal

From my own nature all the natural Man —

This my sole resource, my only plan :
Till that which suits a part infects the whole,
And now is almost grown the habit of my Soul."

Sadder lines than these were never perhaps written by
any poet in description of his own feelings. And what



v.] "DEJECTION." 95

gives them their peculiar sadness — as also, of course, tlieir
special biographical value — is that they are not, like Shel-
ley's similarly entitled stanzas, the mere expression of a
passing mood. They are the record of a life change, a
veritable threnody over a spiritual death. For there can
be no doubt — his whole subsequent history goes to show
it — that Coleridge's " shaping spirit of Imagination " was
in fact dead when these lines were written. To a man
of stronger moral fibre a renascence of the poetical in-
stinct in other foi-ms might, as I have suggested above,
been possible ; but the poet of Christabel and the Ancient
Mariner was dead. The metaphysician had taken his
place, and was striving, in abstruse research, to live in
forgetfulness of the loss. Little more, that is to say, than
a twelvemonth after the composition of the second part
of Christabel the impulse which gave birth to it had passed
away forever. Opium-taking had doubtless begun by this
time — may conceivably indeed have begun nearly a year
before — and the mere mood of the poem, the temporary
phase of feeling which directed his mind inwards into
deeper reflections on its permanent state, is no doubt
strongly suggestive, in its excessive depression, of the ter-
rible reaction which is known to follow upon opium-ex-
citement. But, I confess, it seems to me improbable that
even the habitual use of the stimulant for so comparative-
ly short a time as twelve months could have produced so
profound a change in Coleridge's intellectual nature. I
cannot but think that De Quincey overstates the case in
declaring that " opium killed Coleridge as a poet," though
it may well be that, after the collapse of health, which
appears to me to have been the real causa causans in the
matter, had killed the poet as we know him, opium pre-
vented his resurrection in another and it may be but little
5*



96 COLERIDGE. [chap.

inferior form. On the whole, in fact, the most probable
account of this all-important era in Coleridge's life appears
to me to be this: that in the course of 1801, as he was
approaching his thirtieth year, a distinct change for the
worse — precipitated possibly, as Mr. Gillman thinks, by
the climate of his new place of abode — took place in his
constitution; that bis rheumatic habit of body, and the
dyspeptic trouble by which it was accompanied, became
confirmed ; and that the severe attacks of the acute form
of the malady which he underwent produced such a per-
manent lowering of his vitality and animal spirits as, Ji7'st,
to extinguish the creative impulse, and then to drive him
to the physical anodyne of opium and to the mental stim-
ulant of metaphysics.

From the summer of 1801, at any rate, his malaise,
both of mind and body, appears to have grown apace.
Repeated letters from Southey allow us to see liow deeply
concerned he was at this time about his friend's condition.
Plans of foreign travel are discussed between them, and
Southey endeavours in vain to spur his suffering and de-
pressed correspondent to " the assertion of his supremacy "
in some new literary work. But, with the exception of
his occasional contributions to the press, whatever he com-
mitted to paper during these years exists only, if at all, in
a fragmentary form. And his restlessness, continually on
the increase, appears by the end of 1802 to have become
ungovernable. In November of that year he eagerly ac-
cepted an offer from Thomas Wedgwood to become liis
companion on a tour, and he spent this and the greater
part of the following month in South Wales with some
temporary advantage, it would seem, to his health and
spirits. " Coleridge," writes Mr. Wedgwood to a friend,
"is all kindness to me, and in ))rodiuions favour here.



v.] RESTLESSJ^ESS. 97

He is quite easy, cheerful, and takes great pains to make
himself pleasant. He is willing, indeed desirous, to ac-
company me to any part of the glohe." " Coll and I,"
he writes on another occasion, the abbreviation of name
having been suggested to him by Coleridge himself, "har-
monise amazingly," and adds that his companion "takes
long rambles, and writes a great deal." But the fact that
such changes of air and scene produced no permanent ef-
fect upon the invalid after his return to his own home
appears to show that now, at any rate, his fatal habit
had obtained a firm hold upon liim. And his "writing
a great deal resulted " only in the filling of many note-
books, and perhaps the sketching out of many of those
vast schemes of literary labour of which he was destined
to leave so remarkable a collection at his death. One
such we find him forwarding to Southcy in the August
of 1803 — the plan of a Bibliotheca Britannica, or "His-
tory of British Literature, bibliographical, biographical, and
critical," in eight volumes. The first volume was to con-
tain a "complete history of all Welsh, Saxon, and Erse books
that are not translations, but the native growth of Britain ;"
to accomplish which, writes Coleridge, "I will with great
pleasure join you in learning Welsh and Erse." The sec-
ond volume was to contain the history of English poetry
and poets, including " all prose truly poetical." The third
volume " English prose, considered as to style, as to elo-
quence, as to general impressiveness ; a history of styles
and manners, their causes, their birthplace and parentage,
their analysis." The fourth volume would take up "the
history of metaphysics, theology, medicine, alchemy ; com-
mon, canon, and Roman law from Alfred to Henry VH."
The fifth would "carry on metaphysics and ethics to the
present day in the first half, and comprise in the second



98 COLERIDGE. [chap.

half the theology of all the reformers." In the sixth and
seventh volumes were to be included " all the articles you
(Southey) can get on all the separate arts and sciences that
have been treated of in books since the Reformation ; and
by this time," concludes the enthusiastic projector, " the
book, if it answered at all, would have gained so high a
reputation that you need not fear having whom you liked
to write the different articles — medicine, surgery, chemis-
try, etc. ; navigation, travellers' voyages, etc., etc." There
is certainly a melancholy humour in the formulation of so
portentous a scheme by a man who was at this moment
wandering aimlessly among the lakes and mountains, una-
ble to settle down to any definite piece of literary work,
or even to throw off a fatal habit, which could not fail, if
persevered in, to destroy all power of steady application in
the future. That neither the comic nor the pathetic ele-
ment in the situation was lost upon Southey is evident
from his half -sad, half - satirical, wholly winning reply.
" Your plan," he writes, " is too good, too gigantic, quite
beyond my powers. If you had my tolerable state of
health and that love of steady and productive employment
which is now grown into a necessary habit with me, if you
were to execute and would execute it, it would be beyond
all doubt the most valuable work of any age or any coun-
try ; but I cannot fill up such an outline. No man can
better feel where he fails than I do, and to rely upon you
for whole quartos ! Dear Coleridge, the smile that comes
with that thought is a very melancholy one ; and if Edith
saw me now she would think my eyes were weak again,
when in truth the humour that covers them springs from
another cause." A few weeks after this interchange of
correspondence Coleridge was once again to prove how
far he was from possessing Southey's " tolerable state of



v.] INCREASING RESTLESSNESS. 99

health." Throughout the whole of this year he had been
more restless than ever. In January, 1803, we find him
staying with Southey at Bristol, "suffering terribly from
the climate, and talking of going abroad." A week later
he is at Stowey, planning schemes, not destined to be real-
ised, of foreign travel with Wedgwood. Returning again
to Keswick, he started, after a few months' quiescence, on
IStli August, in company with Wordsworth and his sister,
for a tour in Scotland, but after a fortnight he found him-
self too ill to proceed. The autumn rains set in, and " poor
Coleridge," writes Miss Wordsworth, " being very unwell,
determined to send his clothes to Edinburgh, and make
the best of his way thither, being afraid to face much "wet
weather in an open carriage." It is possible, however, that
his return to Keswick may have been hastened by the cir-
cumstance that Southey, who had paid a brief visit to the
Lake country two years before, was expected in a few
days at the house which was destined to be his abode for
the longest portion of his life. He arrived at Greta Ilall
on 7th September, 1803, and from time to time during the
next six months his correspondence gives us occasional
glimpses of Coleridge's melancholy state. At the end of
December, his health growing steadily worse, he conceived
the project of a voyage to Madeira, and quitted Keswick
with the intention, after paying a short visit to the Words-
worths, of betaking himself to London to make prepara-
tions. His stay at Grasmcre, however, was longer than he
had counted on. " He was detained for a month by a se-
vere attack of illness, induced, if his description is to be
relied on, by the use of narcotics.' Unsuspicious of the

» See Miss Meteyard {A Group of Englishmen, p. 223). Her evi-
dence, however, on any point otherwise doubtful in Coleridge's his-
tory should be received witli caution, as her estimate of the poet
certftlnlv errs soniewliat on the side of excessive harshness.



100- COLERIDGE. [chap. v.

cause, Mrs. and Miss Wordsworth nursed liim with the
tenderest affection, while the poet himself, usually a parsi-
monious man, forced upon him, to use Coleridge's own
words, a hundred pounds in the event of his going to
Madeira, and his friend Stuart offered to befriend him."
From Grasmere he went to Liverpool, where he spent a
pleasant week with his old Unitarian friend, Dr. Cromp-
ton, and arrived in London at the close of 1803. Here,
however, his plans were changed. Malta was substituted
for Madeira, in response to an invitation from his friend
Mr,, afterwards Sir John, Stoddart, then resident as judge
in the Mediterranean island. By 12th March, as we gather
from the Southey correspondence, the change of arrange-
ments had been made. Two days afterwards he receives
a letter of valediction from his "old friend and brother"
at Greta Hall, and on 2d April, 1804, he sailed from Eng-
land in the Speedwell, dropping anchor sixteen days later
in Valetta harbour.



CHAPTER VI.

STAY AT MALTA. — ITS INJURIOUS EFFECTS. — RETURN TO ENG-
LAND. — MEETING WITH DE QUINCEY. — RESIDENCE IN LON-
DON. — FIRST SERIES OF LECTURES.

[1806-1809.]

Never was human being destined so sadly and signally to
illustrate the caelum non animum aphorism as the unhappy
passenger on the Speedwell. Southey shall describe his
condition when he left England; and his own pathetic
lines to William Wordsworth will picture him to us on his
return. " You are in great measure right about Coleridge,"
writes the former to his friend Riclcman, " he is worse in
body than you seem to believe ; but the main cause lies
in his own management of himself, or rather want of man-
agement. His mind is in a perpetual St. Vitus's dance —
eternal activity without action. At times he feels morti-
fied that he should have done so little, but this feeling
never produces any exertion. ' I will begin to-morrow,'
he says, and thus he has been all his life long letting to-
day slip. He has had no heavy calamities in life, and so
contrives to be miserable about trifles. Poor fellow, there
is no one thing which gives me so much pain as the wit-
nessing such a waste of unequalled powers." Then, after
recalling the case of a highly promising schoolfellow, who
had made shipwreck of his life, and whom "a few indi>



102 ^COLERIDGE. [chap.

viduals only remember with a sort of horror and affection,
which just serves to make them melancholy whenever they
think of him or mention his name," he adds : " This will
not be the case with Coleridge ; the disjecta membra will
be found if he does not die early : but having so much to
do, so many errors to weed out of the world which he is
capable of eradicating, if he does die without doing his
work, it would half break ray heart, for no human being
has had more talents allotted." Such being his closest
friend's account of him, and knowing, as we now do (what
Southey perhaps had no suspicion of at the time), the
chief if not the sole or original cause of his morally nerve-
less condition, it is impossible not to feel that he did the
worst possible thing for himself in taking this journey to
Malta. In quitting England he cut himself off from those
last possibilities of self - conquest which the society and
counsels of his friends might otherwise have afforded him,
and the consequences were, it is to be feared, disastrous.
After De Quincey's incredibly cool assertion that it was
" notorious that Coleridge began the use of opium, not as
a relief from any bodily pain or nervous irritations, since
his constitution was strong and excellent (!), but as a source
of luxurious sensations," we must receive anything which
he has to say on this particular point with the utmost
caution ; but there is only too much plausibility in his
statement that, Coleridge being necessarily thrown, while
at Malta, " a good deal upon his own resources in the nar-
row society of a garrison, he there confirmed and cher-
ished ... his habit of taking opium in large quantities."
Contrary to his expectations, moreover, the Maltese climate
failed to benefit him. At first, indeed, he did experience
some feeling of relief, but afterwards, according to Mr. Gill-
man, he spoke of his rheumatic limbs as " lifeless tools,"



VI.] STAY AT MALTA. 103

and of the " violent pains in his bowels, which neither
opium, ether, nor peppermint combined could relieve."

Occupation, however, was not wanting to him, if occu-
pation could have availed in the then advanced stage of
his case. He early made the acquaintance of the gov-
ernor of the island. Sir Alexander Ball, who, having just
lost his secretary by death, requested Coleridge to under-
take that official's duties until his successor should be ap-
pointed. By this arrangement the governor and the pub-
lic service in all likelihood profited more than the provi-
sional secretary; for Coleridge's literary abilities proved
very serviceable in the department of diplomatic corre-
spondence. The dignities of the office, Mr. Gillman tells
us, no doubt on Coleridge's own authority, " he never at-
tempted to support ; he was greatly annoyed at what he
thought its unnecessary parade, and he petitioned Sir Al-
exander Ball to be relieved from it." The purely mechan-
ical duties of the post, too, appear to have troubled him.
He complains, in one of the journals which he kept dur-
ing this period, of having been " for months past inces-
santly employed in official tasks, subscribing, examining,
administering oaths, auditing, etc." On the whole it
would seem that the burden of his secretarial employ-
ment, though doubtless it would have been found light
enough by any one accustomed to public business, was
rather a weariness to the flesh than a distraction to the
mind ; while in the meantime a new symptom of disorder
— a difficulty of breathing, to which he was always after-
wards subject — began to manifest itself in his case. Prob-
ably he was glad enough — relieved, in more than one sense
of the word — when, in the autumn of 1805, the new sec-
retary arrived at Malta to take his place.

On 27th September Coleridge quitted the island on his
H



104 COLERIDGE. [chap.

homeward journey via Italy, stopping for a short time at
Syracuse on his way. At Naples, which he reached on the
15th of December, he made a longer stay, and in Rome his
sojourn lasted some months. Unfortunately, for a reason
which will presently appear, there remains no written rec-
ord of his impressions of the Eternal City ; and though
Mr. Gillman assures us that the gap is "partly filled by his
own verbal account, repeated at various times to the writer
of this memoir," the public of to-day is only indebted to
"the writer of this memoir" for the not very startling
information that Coleridge, " while in Rome, was actively
employed in visiting the great works of art, statues, pict-
ures, buildings, palaces, etc. etc., observations on which he
minuted down for publication." It is somewhat more
interesting to learn that he made the acquaintance of many
literary and artistic notabilities at that time congregated
there, including Tieck, the German poet and novelist, and
the American painter Alston, to whose skill we owe what
is reputed to be the best of his many not easily reconcilable
portraits. The loss of his Roman memoranda Avas indi-
rectly brought about by a singular incident, his account of
which has met with some undeserved ridicule at the hands
of Tory criticism. When about to quit Rome for England
via Switzerland and Germany he took the precaution of
inquiring of Baron von Humboldt, brother of the traveller,
and then Prussian Minister at the Court of Rome, whether
the proposed route was safe, and was by him informed
that he would do well to keep out of the reach of Bona-
parte, who was meditating the seizure of his person. Ac-
cording to Coleridge, indeed, an order for his arrest had
actually been transmitted to Rome, and he was only saved
from its execution by the connivance of the "good old
Pope," Pins VII., who sent him a passport and counselled



Ti.] RETURN TO ENGLAND. 105

liis immediate flight. Hastening to Leghorn, he discovered
an American vessel ready to sail for England, on board of
which he embarked. On the voyage she was chased by a
French vessel, which so alarmed the captain that he com-


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