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pelled Coleridge to throw his papers, including these pre-
cious MSS., overboard. The wrath of the First Consul
against him was supposed to have been excited by his con-
tributions to the Morning Post, an hypothesis which De
Quincey reasonably finds by no means so ridiculous as it
appeared to a certain writer in Blackwood, who treated it
as the " very consummation of moon-struck vanity," and
compared it to " John Dennis's frenzy in retreating from
the sea-coast under the belief that Louis XIV. had com-
missioned commissaries to land on the English shore and
make a dash at his person." It must be remembered,
however, that Mr. Fox, to whose statement on such a point
Napoleon would be likely to attach especial weight, had
declared in the House of Commons that the rupture of the
Peace of Amiens had been brought about by certain essays
in the Morning Post, and there is certainly no reason to
believe that a tyrant whose animosity against literary or
quasi -literary assailants ranged from Madame de Stael
down to the bookseller Palm would have regarded a man
of Coleridge's reputation in letters as beneath the stoop of
his vengeance.

After an absence of two years and a half Coleridge
arrived in England in August, 1806. That his then condi-
tion of mind and body was a profoundly miserable one,
and that he himself was acutely conscious of it, will be
seen later on in certain extracts from his correspondence ;
but his own Lines to William Wordsicorth — lines " com-
posed on the night after his recitation of a poem on the
growth of an individual mind" — contain an even more

106 COLERIDGE. [chap.

tragic expression of his state. It was Wordworth's pen-
sive retrospect of their earlier years together which awoke
the bitterest pangs of self-reproach in his soul, and wrung
from it the cry which follows :

" Ah ! as I listened with a heart forlorn
The pulses of my being beat anew :
And even as life returns upon the drowned,
Life's joy rekindling roused a throng of pains —
Keen pangs of Love, awakening as a babe
Turbulent, with an outcry in the heart ;
And fears self-willed, that shunned the eye of hope;
And hope that scarce would know itself from fear ;
Sense of past youth, and manhood come in vain,
And genius given, and knowledge won in vain ;
And all which I had culled in wood-walks wild.
And all which patient toil had reared, and all
Commune with thee had opened out — but flowers
Strewn on my corse, and borne upon my bier,
In the same coffin, for the self-same grave !"

A dismal and despairing strain, indeed, but the situation
unhappily was not less desperate. We are, in fact, enter-
ing upon that period of Coleridge's life — a period, roughly
speaking, of about ten years — which no admirer of his
genius, no lover of English letters, no one, it might even be
said, who wishes to think well of human nature, can ever
contemplate without pain. His history from the day of
his landing in England in August, 1806, till the day when
he entered Mr. Gilhnan's house in 1816, is one long and
miserable story of self-indulgence and self-reproach, of lost
opportunities, of neglected duties, of unfinished undertak-
ings. His movements and his occupation for the first year
after his return are not now traceable with exactitude, but
his time was apparently spent partly in London and partly
at Grasmere and Keswick, When in London, Mr. Stuart,


who had now become proprietor of the Courier^ allowed
him to occupy rooms at the ofBce of that newspaper to
save him expense ; and Coleridge, though his regular con-
nection with the Courier did not begin till some years
afterwards, may possibly have repaid the accommodation
by occasional contributions or by assistance to its editor
in some other form. It seems certain, at any rate, that if
he was earning no income in this way he was earning none
at all. His friend and patron, Mr. Thomas Wedgwood,
had died while he was in Malta; but the full pension of
£150 per annum bestowed upon him by the two brothers
jointly continued to be paid to him by Josiah, the senior.
Coleridge, however, had landed in England in ignorance of
his patron's death. He had wholly neglected to keep up
any correspondence with the Wedgwoods during his stay
in Malta, and though " dreadfully affected " by it, as Mr.
Poole records, he seems to have allowed nearly a year to
elapse before communicating with the surviving brother.
The letter which he then wrote deserves quotation, nofc
only as testimony to his physical and pecuniary condition
on his arrival in England, but as affording a distressing
picture of the morbid state of his emotions and the enfee-
bled condition of his will. " As to the reasons for ray si-
lence, they are," he incoherently begins, "impossible, and
the numbers of the causes of it, with the almost weekly
expectation for the last eight months of receiving my
books, manuscripts, etc., from Malta, has been itself a cause
of increasing the procrastination which constant ill health,
despondency, domestic distractions, and embarrassment
from accidents, equally unconnected with my will or con-
duct" [every cause mentioned, it will be seen, but the true
one], " had already seated deep in my very muscles, as it
were. I do not mean to accuse myself of idleness — I have

108 COLEKIDGE. [chap.

enough of self-crimination without adding imaginary arti-
cles — but in all things that affect my moral feelings I have
sunk under such a strange cowardice of pain that I have
not unfrequently kept letters from persons dear to me for
weeks together unopened. After a most miserable pas-
sage from Leghorn of fifty-five days, during which ray life
was twice given over, I found myself again in my native
country, ill, penniless, and worse than homeless, I had
been near a month in the country before I ventured or
could summon courage enough to ask a question concern-
ing you and yours, and yet God Almighty knows that ev-
ery hour the thought had been gnawing at my heart. I
then for the first time heard of that event which sounded
like my own knell, without its natural hope or sense of
rest. Such shall I be (is the thought that haunts me), but

! not such ; O ! with what a different retrospect ! But

1 owe it to justice to say. Such good I truly can do myself,
etc., etc." The rest of this painfully inarticulate letter is
filled with further complaints of ill health, with further
protestations of irresponsibility for the neglect of duties,
and with promises, never to be fulfilled, of composing or
assisting others to compose a memoir of Thomas Wedg-
wood, who, in addition to his general repute as a man of
culture, had made a special mark by his speculations in

The singular expression, " worse than homeless," and the
reference to domestic distractions, appear to indicate that
some estrangement had already set in between Coleridge
and his wife. Do Quincey's testimony to its existence at
the time (a month or so later) when he made Coleridge's
acquaintance may, subject to the usual deductions, be ac-
cepted as trustworthy ; and, of course, for aught we know,
it may then have been already of some years' standing.


That the provocation to it on the husband's part may be
so far antedated is at least a reasonable conjecture. There
may be nothino- — in all likelihood there is nothing — worth
attention in De Quincey's gossip about the young lady,
" intellectually very much superior to Mrs. Coleridge, who
became a neighbour and daily companion of Coleridge's
walks" at Keswick. But if there be no foundation for
his remarks on " the mischiefs of a situation which exposed
Mrs. Coleridge to an invidious comparison with a more
intellectual person," there is undoubtedly plenty of point
in the immediately following observation that " it was
most unfortunate for Coleridge himself to be continually
compared with one so ideally correct and regular in his
habits as Mr. Southey." The passion of female jealousy
assuredly did not need to be called into play to account for
the alienation of Mrs. Coleridge from her husband. Mrs.
Carlyle has left on record her pathetic lament over the fate
of a woman who marries a man of genius ; but a man of
genius of the coldly selfish and exacting type of the Chel-
sea philosopher would probably be a less severe burden to
a woman of housewifely instincts than the weak, unmethod-
ical, irresolute, shiftless being that Coleridge had by this
time become. After the arrival of the Southeys, Mrs.
Coleridge would indeed have been more than human if she
had not looked with an envious eye upon the contrast be-
tween her sister Edith's lot and her own. For this would
give her the added pang of perceiving that she was spe-
cially unlucky in the matter, and that men of genius could
(" if they chose,"" as she would probably, though not per-
haps quite justly have put it) make very good husbands
indeed. If one poet could finish bis poems, and pay his
tradesmen's bills, and work steadily for the publishers in
his own house without the necessity of periodical flittings

110 COLERIDGE. [chap.

to various parts of the United Kingdom or the Continent,
why, so could another. Witli such reflections as these
Mrs. Coleridge's mind was no doubt sadly busy during the
early years of her residence at the Lakes, and, since their
causes did not diminish but rather increased in intensity
as time went on, the estrangement between them — or rath-
er, to do Coleridge justice, her estrangement from her hus-
band — had, by 1806, no doubt become complete. The
fatal habit which even up to this time seems to have been
unknown to most of his friends could hardly have been a
secret to his wife, and his four or five years of slavery to
it may well have worn out her patience.

This single cause indeed, namely, Coleridge's addiction
to opium, is quite sufficient, through the humiliations, dis-
comfort, and privations, pecuniary and otherwise, for which
the vice was no doubt mediately or immediately responsi-
ble, to account for the unhappy issue of a union which
undoubtedly was one of love to begin with, and which
seems to have retained that character for at least six years
of its course. We have noted the language of warm affec-
tion in which the " beloved Sara" is spoken of in the early
poems, and up to the time of Coleridge's stay in Germany
his feelings towards his wife remained evidently unchanged.
To his children, of whom three out of the four born to
him had survived, he was deeply attached ; and the re-
markable promise displayed by the eldest son, Hartley, and
his youngest child and only daughter, Sara, made them
objects of no less interest to his intellect than to his heart.
" Hartley," he writes to Mr. Poole in 1803, "is a strange,
strange boy, exquisitely wild, an utter visionary ; like the
moon among thin clouds, he moves in a circle of light of
his own making. He alone is a light of his own." And
of his daughter in the same poetic strain : " My meek lit-


tie Sara is a remarkably interesting- baby, with the finest
possible skin, and large bine eyes, and she smiles as if she
were basking in a sunshine as mild as moonlight of her
own quiet happiness." Derwent, a less remarkable but no
less attractive child than his brother and sister (whom he
was destined long to survive), held an equal place in his
father's affections. Yet all these interwoven influences — a
deep love of his children and a sincere attachment to his
wife, of whom, indeed, he never ceased to speak with re-
spect and regard — were as powerless as in so many thou-
sands of other cases they have been, to brace an enfeebled
will to the task of self -reform. In 1807 ''respect and re-
gard" had manifestly taken the place of any warmer feel-
ing in his mind. Later on in the letter above quoted he
says, " In less than a week I go down to Ottery, with my
children and their mother, from a sense of duty " {i.e. to
his brother, the Rev. George Coleridge, who had succeeded
his father as head-master of the Ottery St. Mary Grammar
School) " as far as it affects myself, and from a promise
made to Mrs. Coleridge, as far as it affects lier, and indeed
of a debt of respect to her for her many praiseworthy qual-
ities." When husbands and wives take to liquidating
debts of this kind, and in this spirit, it is pretty con-
clusive evidence that all other accounts between them are

The letter from which these extracts have been taken
was written from Aisholt, near Bridgewater, where Cole-
ridge was then staying, with his wife and children, as the
guest of a Mr. Price ; and his friend Poole's description
to Josiah Wedgwood of his state at that time is signifi-
cant as showing that some at least of his intimate ac-
quaintances had no suspicion of the real cause of his bod-
ily and mental disorders. " I admire him," Poole writes,

112 COLERIDGE. [chap.

"and pity him more than ever. His information is much
extended, the great qualities of his mind heightened and
better disciplined, but alas ! his health is much weaker,
and his great failing, procrastination, or the incapabil-
ity of acting agreeably to his wish and will, much in-

Whether the promised visit to Ottery St. Mary was ever
paid there is no record to show, but at the end of July,
1807, we again hear of the Coleridges at the house of a
Mr. Chubb, a descendant of the Deist, at Bridgewater;
and here it was that De Quincey, after having endeav-
oured in vain to run the poet to earth at Stowey, where
he had been staying with Mr. Poole, and whence he had
gone to pay a short visit to Lord Egmont, succeeded in
obtaining an introduction to him. The characteristic pas-
sage in which the younger man describes their first meet-
ing is too long for quotation, and it is to be hoped too
well known to need it; his vivid and acute criticism of
Coleridge's conversation may be more appropriately cited
hereafter. His evidence as to the conjugal relations of
Coleridge and his wife has been already discussed; and
the last remaining point of interest about this memorable
introduction is the testimony which it incidentally affords
to De Quincey's genuine and generous instinct of hero-
worship, and to the deptli of Coleridge's pecuniary em-
barrassments. The loan of £300, which the poet's en-
thusiastic admirer insisted on Cottle's conveying to him
as from an unknown " young man of fortune who admired
his talents," should cover a multitude of De Quincey's
subsequent sins. It was indeed only upon Cottle's urgent
representation that he had consented to reduce the sum
from £500 to £300. Nor does there seem any doubt of
his having honestly attempted to conceal his own identity


witli the nameless benefactor, though, according to his
own later account, he failed.'

This occurred in November, 1807, and in the previous
month De Quincey had been able to render Coleridge a
minor service, while at the same moment gratifying a long
cherished wish of his own. Mrs. Coleridge was about to
return with her children to Keswick, but her husband, not
yet master of this £300 windfall, and undoubtedly at his
wits' end for money, was arranging for a course of lectures
to be delivered at the Royal Institution early in the ensu-
ing year, and could not accompany them. De Quincey
offered accordingly to be their escort, and duly conducted
them to Wordsworth's house, thus making the acquaint-
ance of the second of his two great poetical idols within
a few months of paying his first homage to the other. In
February, 1808, Coleridge again took up his abode in Lon-
don at his old free quarters in the Courier office, and be-
gan the delivery of a promised series of sixteen lectures
on Poetry and the Fine Arts. " I wish you could see him,"
again writes Poole to Wedgwood, "you would pity and
admire. He is much improved, but has still less volun-
tary power than ever. Yet he is so committed that I
think he must deliver these lectures." Considering that
the authorities of the Royal Institution had agreed to pay
him one hundred guineas for delivering the lectures, he
undoubtedly was more or less " committed ;" and his vol-
untary power, however small, might be safely supposed to

' " In a letter written by him (Coleridge) about fifteen years after
that time, I found that he had become aware of all the circumstances,
perhaps through some indiscretion of Mr. Cottle's." Perhaps, how-
ever, no very great indiscretion on Mr. Cottle's part was needed to
enable Coleridge to trace the loan to so ardent a young admirer and

114 COLERIDGE. [chap.

be equal to the task of fulfilling a contract. But to get
the lecturer into the lecture - room does not amount to
much more than bringing the horse to the water. You
can no more make the one drink than you can prevent
the other from sending his audience away thirsty. Cole-
ridge's lectures on Poetr}'' and the Fine Arts were con-
fused, ill arranged, and generally disappointing to the last
degree. Sometimes it was not even possible to bring the
horse to the water. Charles Lamb writes to Manning on
the 20th of February, 1808 (early days indeed), that Cole-
ridge had only delivered two lectures, and that though
" two more were intended, he did not come." De Quin-
cey writes of " dismissals of audience after audience, with
pleas of illness; and on many of his lecture-days I have
seen all Albermarle Street closed by a lock of carriages
filled with women of distinction, until the servants of the
Institution or their own footmen advanced to the carriage-
doors with the intelligence that Mr. Coleridge had been
suddenly taken ill." Naturally there came a time when
the " women of distinction " began to tire of this treat-
ment. " The plea, which at first had been received with
expressions of concern, repeated too often began to rouse
disgust. Many in anger, and some in real uncertainty
whether it would not be trouble thrown away, ceased to
attend." And what De Quincey has to say of the lectures
themselves, when they did by chance get delivered, is no
less melancholy. " The lecturer's appearance," he says,
" was generally that of a man struggling with pain and
overmastering illness."

"His lips were baked with feverish heat, and often blaclt in col-
our ; and in spite of the water which he continued drinking through
the whole course of the lecture, he often seemed to labour under an
almost paralytic inability to raise the upper jaw from the lower "


[i.e., I suppose to move the lower jaw]. " la such a state it is clear
that nothing could save the lecture itself from reflecting his own
feebleness and exhaustion except the advantage of having been pre-
eomposed in some happier mood. But that never happened : most
unfortunately, he relied on his extempore ability to carry him through.
Xow, had he been in spirits, or had he gathered animation and kin-
dled by his own emotion, no written lecture could have been more
effectual than one of his unpremeditated colloquial harangues. But
either he was depressed originally below the point from which re-
ascent was possible, or else this reaction was intercepted by continual
disgust from looking back upon his own ill success ; for assuredly
he never once recovered that free and eloquent movement of thought
which he could command at any time in a private company. The
passages he read, moreover, in illustrating his doctrines, were gener-
ally unhappily chosen, because chosen at haphazard, from the diffi-
culty of finding at a moment's summons these passages which his
purpose required. Nor do I remember any that produced much ef-
fect except two or three which I myself put ready marked into his
hands among the Metrical Romances, edited by Ritson. Generally
speaking, the selections were as injudicious and as inappropriate as
they were ill delivered, for among Coleridge's accomplishments good
reading was not one. He had neither voice (so at least / thought)
nor management of voice. This defect is unfortunate in a public
lecturer, for it is inconceivable how much weight and effectual pathos
can be communicated by sonorous depth and melodious cadence of
the human voice to sentiments the most trivial ; ' nor, on the other
hand, how the grandest are emasculated by a style of reading which
fails in distributing the lights and shadows of a musical intonation.
However, this defect chiefly concerned the immediate impression ; the
most afflicting to a friend of Coleridge's was the entire absence of his
own peculiar and majestic intellect; no heart, no soul, was in any-
tiimg he said ; no strength of feeling in recaUiug universal truths ,

' The justice of this criticism will be acknowledged by those many
persons whom Mr. Blight's great elocutionary skill has occasionally
deluded into imagining that the very commonplace verse which the
famous orator has been often known to quote with admiration is
poetry of a high order.

116 COLERIDGE. [chap. vi.

no power of originality or compass of moral relations in his novel-
ties ; all was a poor, faint reflection from pearls once scattered on
the highway by himself in the prodigality of his early opulence — a
mendicant dependence on the alms dropped from his own overflow-
ing treasury of happier times."

Severe as is this censure of the lectures, there is unhap-
pily no good ground for disputing its substantial justice,
and the inferences which it suggests are only too pain-
fully plain. One can well understand Coleridge's being
an ineffective lecturer, and no failure in this respect, how-
ever conspicuous, would necessarily force us to the hy-
pothesis of physical disability. But a Coleridge who could
no more compose a lecture than he could deliver one — a
Coleridge who could neither write nor extemporise any-
thing specially remarkable on a subject so congenial to
him as that of English poetry — must assuredly have spent
most of his time, whether in the lecture-room or out of
it, in a state of incapacity for sustained intellectual effort.
De Quincey's humorous account of the lecturer's shiftless,
untidy life at the Courier office, and even the Rabelaisian
quip which Charles Lamb throws at it in the above-quoted
letter to Manning, are sufficient indications of his state at
this time. "Oh, Charles," he wrote to Lamb, early in
February, just before the course of lectures Avas to begin,
"I am very, very ill. Vixiy The sad truth is that, as
seems to have been always the case with him when living
alone, he was during these months of his residence in
London more constantly and hopelessly under the do-
minion of opium than ever.




From the close of this series of lectures in the month
of May, 1808, until the end of the year it is impossible
to trace Coleridge's movements or even to determine the
nature of his occupation with any approach to exactitude.
The probability is, however, that he remained in London
at his lodgings in the Courier office, and that he sup-
ported himself by rendering assistance in various ways to
Mr. Daniel Stuart. "VVe know nothing of him, however,
with certainty until we fiud him once more at the Lakes
in the early part of the year 1809, but not in his own
home. Wordsworth had removed from his former abode
at Grasmere to Allan Bank, a larger house some three-
quarters of a mile distant, and there Coleridge took up his
residence, more, it would seem, as a permanent inmate of
his friend's house than as a guest. The specific cause of
this migration from Greta Hall to Allan Bank does not
appear, but all the accessible evidence, contemporary and
subsequent, seems to point to the probability that it was
the result of a definite break-up of Coleridge's own home.
Ee continued, at any rate, to reside in Wordsworth's house

118 COLERIDGE. [chap.

during the whole seven months of his editorship of the
Friend^ a new venture in periodical literature which he
undertook at this period ; and we shall see that upon its
failure he did not resume his residence at Greta Hall, but
quitted the Lake country at once and forever.

We need not take too literally Coleridge's declaration
in the Biographia Literaria that one "main object of his
in starting the Friend was to establish the philosophical
distinction between the Reason and the Understanding."
Had this been so, or at least had the periodical been act-

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Online LibraryH. D. (Henry Duff) TraillColeridge → online text (page 9 of 16)