Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The friend: a series of essays, in three volumes, to aid in the formation of fixed principles in politics, morals, and religion, with literary amusements interspersed (Volume 1) online

. (page 5 of 17)
Online LibrarySamuel Taylor ColeridgeThe friend: a series of essays, in three volumes, to aid in the formation of fixed principles in politics, morals, and religion, with literary amusements interspersed (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

in terms strictly appropriate. Alas! legitimate
reasonmg is impossible without severe thinking,
and thinking is neither an easy nor an amusing
employment. The reader, who would follow
a close reasoner to the summit and absolute
principle of any one important subject, has
chosen a Chamois^hunter for his guide. Our
guide will, indeed, take us the shortest way,
will save us many a wearisome and perilous
wandering, and warn us of many a mock road
that had formerly led himself to the brink of
chasms and precipices, or at best in an idle


circle to the spot from whence he started. But
he cannot carry us on his shoulders : we must
strain our own sinews, as he has strained his ;
and make firm footing on the smooth rock
for ourselves, by the blood of toil from our
own feet. Examinethejournalsof our humane
and zealous missionaries in Hindostan. How
often and how feelingly do they describe the
difficulty of making the simplest chain of
reasoning intelligible to the ordinary natives :
the rapid exhaustion of their whole power of
attention, and with what pain and distressful
effort it is exerted, while it lasts. Yet it is
among this class, that the hideous practices of
self-torture chiefly, indeed almost exclusively,
prevail. O if folly were no easier than
wisdom, it being often so very much more
grievous, how certainly might not these miser-
able men be converted to Christianity? But
alas! to swing by hooks passed through the
back, or to walk on shoes with nails of iron
pointed upward on the soles, all this is so
much less difficult, demands so very inferior
an exertion of the will than to think, and by
thought to gain Knowledge and Tranquility !

It is not true, that ignorant persons have no
notion of the advantages of Truth and Know-
ledge. They confess, they see, those ad-
vantages in the conduct, the immunities, and
the superior powers of ihe possessors. Were
these attainable by Pilgrimages the most toil-
some, or Penances the most painful, we should
assuredly have as many Pilgrims and as many
Self-tormentors in the service of true Religion
and Virtue, as now exist under the tyranny of
Papal or Brahman superstition. This ineffi-
cacy of legitimate Reason, from the want of fit
objects, this its relative weakness and how
narrow at all times its immediate sphere of
action must be, is proved to us by the impos-
tors of all professions. What, I pray, is their
fortress, the rock which is both their quarry
and their foundation, from which and on which
they are built ? The desire of arriving at the
end without the effort of thought and will,
which are the appointed means. Let us look
backward three or four centuries. Then as
now the great mass of mankind were governed
by the three main wishes, the wish for vigor
of body, including the absence of painful feel-


ings: for wealth, or the power of procuring
the external conditions of bodily enjoyment:
these during life— and security from pain and
continuance of happiness after death. Then,
as now, men were desirous to attain them by
some easier means than those of Temperance,
Industry, and strict Justice. They gladly
therefore applied to the Priest, who could en-
sure them happiness hereafter without the per-
formance of their duties here ; to the Lawyer
who could make money a substitute for a right
cause; to the Physician, whose medicines pro-
mised to take the sting out of the tail of their
sensual indulgences, and let them fondle and
play with vice, as with a charmed serpent; to
the Alchemist, whose gold-tincture would en-
rich them without toil or economy ; and to the
Astrologer, from whom they could purchase
foresight without knowledge or reflection. The
established professions were, without exception,
no other than licensed modes of witchcraft.
The Wizards, who would now find their due
reward in Bridewell, and their appropriate
honors in the pillory, sate then on episcopal
thrones, candidates for Saintship, and already


canonized in the belief of their deluded con-
temporaries; while the one or two real teachers
and Discoverers of Truth were exposed to the
hazard of iire and faggot, a dungeon the best
shrine that was vouchsafed to a Roger Bacon
and a Galileo I


Pray, why is it, tlial people say that men are not
such fools now-a-days as they were in the days of yore ?
I would fain know, whether you would have ris under-
stand by this same saying, as indeed you logically may,
that formerly men were fools, and in this generation are
grown wise ? How many and what dispositions made
them fools? How many and what dispositions were
wanting to make 'em wise? Why were those fools?
How should these be wise ? Pray, how came you to
know that men were formerly fools? How did you find,
that they are now wise ? Who made ihem fools ? Who
in Heaven's name made us wise? Who d'je think are
most, those that loved mankind foolisli, or those that
love it wise ? How long has it been wise ? How long
otherwise? Whence jjroceeded the foregoing folly?
Whence the following wisdom? Why did the old folly
end now and no iaier ? Wl)y did the modern wisdom
begin now and no sooner ? What were we the worse
for tlie former folly ? What the belter for the succeed-
ing wisdom ? How should the ancient folly have come


to nothing ? How should this aame new wisdom be

started up and established? Now answer nie, an't please

J'oii !

Fr. Rabelais' Preface to hi/s 3th Book.

MONSTERS and Madmen canonized and
Galileo blind in a dungeon I It is not so in our
times. Heaven be praised, that in this respect, at
least, we are, if not better, jet better ojf' than our
forefathers. But to what, and to whom (under
Providence) do we owe the improvement ? To
any radical change in the moral affections of
mankind in general ? Perhaps the great ma-
jority of men are now fully conscious that they
are born with the god-like faculty of Reason,
and that it is the business of life to develope
and apply it? The Jacob's ladder of Truth,
let down from heaven, with all its numerous
rounds, is now the common highway, on which
we are content to toil upward to the objects of
our desires ? We are ashamed of expecting
the end without the means? In order to an-
swer these questions in the affirmative, I must
have forgotten the Animal Magnetists ; the
proselytes of Brothers, and of Joanna South-


cot; aud some hundred thousand fanatics less
original in their creeds, but not a whit more
rational in their expectations ! I must forget
the infamous Empirics, whose advertisements
pollute and disgrace all our Newspapers, and
almost paper the walls of our cities ; and the
vending of whose poisons and poisonous drams,
(with shame aud anguish be it spoken) sup-
ports a shop in every market-town ! I must
forget that other opprobrium of the nation,
that Mother-vice, the Lottery ! I must forget,
that a numerous class plead Prudence for keep-
ing their fellow-men ignorant and incapable of
intellectual enjoyments, aud the Revenue for
upholding such temptations as men so ignorant
will not withstand — yes I that even senators
and officers of state hold forth the Revenue as
a sufficient plea for upholding, at every fiftieth
door throughout the kingdom, temptations to
the most pernicious vices, which fill the land
with mourning, aud fit the labouring classes for
sedition and rehgious fanaticism! Above all
I must forget the first years of the French Re-
volution, and the millions throughout Europe
who confidently expected the best and choicest


results of Knowledge and Virtue, namely. Li-
berty and universal Peace, from the votes of a
tumultuous Assembly — that is, from the me*
chanical agitation of the air in a large room at
Paris — and this too in the most light, unthink-
ing, sensual and profligate of the European
nations, a nation, the very phrases of whose
language are so composed, that they can
scarcely speak without lying I — No I Let us
not deceive ourselves. Like the man who
used to pull off his hat with great demonstra-
tion of respect whenever he spoke of himself,
we are fond of styhng our own the enlight'
ened age : though as Jortin, I think, has wit-
tily remarked, the golden age would be more
appropriate. But in spite of our great scientific
discoveries, for which praise be given to whom
the praise is due, and in spite of that general
indifference to all the truths and all the princi-
ples of truth, that belong to our permanent
being, and therefore do not lie within the fsphere
of our senses, (that same indifference which
makes toleration so easy a virtue with us, and
constitutes nine-tenths of our pretended illumi-
nation) it still remains the character of the mass


of mankind to seek for the attainment of their
necessary ends by any means rather than the ap-
pointed ones ; and for this cause only, that the
latter imply the exertion of the Reason and the
Will. But of all things this demands the long-
est apprenticeship, even an apprenticeship from
Infancy; which is generally neglected, because
an excellence, that may and should belong to
all men, is expected to come to every man of
its own accord.

To whom then do we owe our ameliorated
condition ? To the successive Few in every
age (more indeed in one generation than in
another, but relatively to the mass of mankind
always few) who by the intensity and per-
manence of their action have compensated for
the limited sphere, within which it is at any
one time intelligible; and whose good deeds
posterity reverence in their results, though the
mode, in which we repair the inevitable waste
of time, and the style of our additions, too
general!}' furnish a sad proof, how little we
understand the principles. I appeal to the
Histories of the Jewish, the Grecian, and the
Roman Republics, to the Records of the Chris^


tian Church, to the History of Europe from
the Treaty of Westphalia (1648). What do
they contain but accounts of noble structures
raised by the wisdom of the few, and gradually
undermined by the ignorance and profligacy
of the many? If therefore the deficiency of
good, which everywhere surrounds us, originate
in the general unfitness and aversion of men
to the process of thought, that is, to continuous
reasoning, it must surely be absurd to ap-
prehend a preponderance of evil from works
which cannot act at all except as far as they
call the reasoning faculties into full co-exertion
With them.

Still, however, there are truths so self-evident
or so immediately and palpably deduced from
those that are, or are acknowledged for such,
that they are at once intelligible to all men, who
possess the common advantages of the social
state : although by sophistry, by evil habits,
by the neglect, false persuasions, and im-
postures of an anti-christian priesthood joined in
one conspiracy w ith the violence of tyrannical
governors, the understandings of men may


become so darkened and their consciences so
lethargic, that there may arise a necessity for
the republication of these truths, and this too
with a voice of loud alarm, and impassioned
warning. Such were the doctrines proclaimed
by the first Christians to the Pagan world; such
were the lightnings flashed by Wickliff, Huss,
Luther, Calvin, Zuinglius, Latimer, &c. across
the Papal darkness ; and such in our own times the
agitating truths, with which Thomas Clarkson,
and his excellent confederates, the Quakers,
fought and conquered the legalized banditti of
men-stealers, the numerous and powerful per-
petrators and advocates of rapine, murder, and
(of blacker guilt than either) slavery. Truths
of this kind being indispensible to man, con-
sidered as a moral being, are above all ex-
pedience, all accidental consequences : for as
sure as God is holy, and man immortal, there
can be no evil so great as the ignorance or
disregard of them. It is the very madness of
mock prudence to oppose the removal of a
poisoned dish on account of the pleasant sauces
or nutritious viands which would be lost with


it! The dish contains destruction to that, for
which alone we ought to wish the palate to be
gratified, or the body to be nourished.

The sole condition, therefore, imposed on us
by the law of conscience in these cases is, that we
employ no unworthy and heterogeneous means
to realize the necessary end, that we entrust the
event wholly to the full and adequate promul-
gation of the truth, and to those generous
affections which the constitution of our moral
nature has linked to the full perception of it.
Yet evil may, nay it will be occasioned.
Weak men may take offence, and wicked men
avail themselves of it ; though we must not
attribute to the promulgation, or to the truth
promulgated, all the evil, of which wicked men
(predetermined, like the wolf in the fable, to
create some occasion) may chuse to make it
the pretext. But that there ever was or ever
can be a preponderance of evil, I defy either
the Historian to instance or the Philosopher to
prove. " Let * it fly away, all that chaff of

• Avolent quantum volent levis fidei quo-
cunqupafflatu tentationnni! eo jnirior massa frumenti iu
borrea domini reponetur. Tertullian.

Vol. I. H


light faith that can fly off at any breath of
temptation ; the cleaner will the true grain be
stored up in the granary of the Lord," we
are entitled to say with Tertullian : and to
exclaim with heroic Luther, " scandal* and
offence! Talk not to me of scandal and
offence. Need breaks through stone-walls,
and recks not of scandal. It is my duty to
spare weak consciences as far as it may be
done without hazard of my soul. Where not,
I must take counsel for my soul, though half
or the whole world should be scandalized

Luther felt and preached and wrote and
acted, as beseemed a Luther to feel and utter and
act. The truths, which had been outraged,
he re-proclaimed in the spirit of outraged
truth, at the behest of his conscience and
hi the service of the God of truth. He did

• Aergeriiiss bin, Aergeniiss her ! Nolli briclit Eisen,
IHid hat kein Aergerniss. Ich soil tier schwacbeu
Gewisseii sciioneii so fcni es obne Gefabr nieincr Seelen
gescbcbn mag. Wo nicbt, so soil icb meiner Seelcu
ralbeii, es argcre sicb darau die gauze odcr balbe


his duty, come good, come evil ! and made
no question, on which side the preponderance
would be. In the one scale there was gold,
and the impress thereon the image and super-
scription of the Universal Sovereign. In all the
wide and ever widening commerce of mind
with mind throughout the world, it is treason
to refuse it. Can this have a counter-weight?
The other scale indeed might have seemed
full up to the very balance-yard ; but of what
worth and substance were its contents ? Were
they capable of being counted or weighed
against the former ? The conscience indeed
is already violated when to moral good or
evil we oppose things possessing no moral
interest. Even if the conscience dared waive
this her preventive veto, yet before we could
consider the twofold results in the relations
of loss and gain, it must be known whether
their kind is the same or equivalent They
must first be valued, and then they may be
weighed or counted, if they are worth it.
But in the particular case at present before us,
the loss is contingent, and alien ; the gain
essential and the tree's own natural produce.
H 2


The gain is permaneut, and spreads through
all times and places ; the loss but temporary
and, owing its very being to vice or ignorance,
vanishes at the approach of knowledge and
moral improvement. The gain reaches all
good men, belongs to all that love light and
desire an increase of light : to all and of all
times, who thankHeaven for the gracious dawn,
and expect the noon-day ; who welcome the
first gleams of spring, and sow their fields in
confident faith of the ripening summer and the
rewarding harvest-tide ! But the loss is confined
to the unenlightened and the prejudiced — say
rather, to the weak and the prejudiced of a
single generation. The prejudices of one age
are condemned even by the prejudiced of the
succeeding ages : for endless are the modes
of folly, and the fool joins with the wise in
passing sentence on all modes but his o^^^l.
Who cried out with greater horror against the
murderers of the Prophets, than those who
likewise cried out, crucify him '.crucify him! - ^
The truth-haters of every future generation
will call the truth-haters of the preceding ages
by their true names : for even these the stream


of time carries onward. In fine, Truth con-
sidered in it itself and in the effects natural to it,
may be conceived as a gentle spring or water-
source, warm from the genial earth, and
breathing up into the snow drift that is piled
over and around its outlet. It turns the obstacle
into its own form and character, and as it makes
its way increases its stream. And should it
be arrested in its course by a chilling season,
it suffers delay, not loss, and waits only for a
change in the wind to awaken and again roll

cm wards.

/ semplici pastori
Sul fesolo neeoso
Fata curvi e canuti,
D' alto stupor son muti
Mirando alfonte ombroso
II Po con pochi umori;
Posein udendo gli onori
DeW uraa angusta e stretta,
Che 7 Adda che'l Tesino
Soverchia in suo cammino,
Che ampio ul mar '* affretta
Che si spuma, e si suona,
Che gli si da corona! ' CniABRERA.

* I give literal translations of my poetic as well as
prose quotation:), because the propriety of their intro-


Literal Translation. "The simple shepherds
grown bent and hoary-headed on the snowy
Vesolo, are mute with deep astonishment, gazing
in the overshadowed fountain on the Po with
his scanty waters ; then hearing of the honors
of his confined and narrow urn, how he
receives as a sovereign the Adda and the
Tesino in his course, how ample he hastens
on to the sea, how he foams, how mighty his
voice, and that to him the crown is assigned."

duction often depends on the exact sense and order of
the words : which it is impossible always to retain in a
metrical version.


Great men ha;-* li\''d among us, Heads that plann'd
And Tongues that utter'd Wisdom — better none.

Even so doth Heaven protect us !


IN the preceding Number I have explained
the good, that is, the natural consequences of
the promulgation to all of truths which all are
bound to know and to make known. The
evils occasioned by it, with few and rare
exceptions, have their origin in the attempts
to suppress or pervert it; in the fury and
violence of imposture attacked or undermined
in her strong holds, or in the extravagances
of ignorance and credulity roused from their
lethargy, and angry at the medicinal disturb-
ance — awakening not yet broad awake, and


thus blending the monsters of uneasy dreams
with the real objects, on which the drowsy eye
had alternately hali-opened and closed, again
half-opened and again closed. This re-action
of deceit and superstition, with all the trouble
and tumult incident, I would compare to a
fire which bursts forth from some stifled and
fermenting mass on the first admission of light
and air. It roars and blazes, and converts the
already spoilt or damaged stuff with all the
straw and straw-like matter near it, first into
flame and the next moment into ashes. The
fire dies away, the ashes are scattered on all
the winds, and what began in worthlessness
ends in nothingness. Such are the evil, that
is, the casual consequences of the same pro-

It argues a narrow or corrupt nature to lose
the general and lasting consequences of rare
and virtuous energy, in the brief accidents,
which accompanied its first movements — to set
lightly by the emancipation of the human
reason from a legion of devils, in our com-
plaints and lamentations over the loss of a
herd of swine I The Craumers, Hampdens, and


Sidneys : the counsellors of our Elizabeth, and
the frieuds of our other great Deliverer, the
third William, — is it in vain, that these have
beeii our countrymen ? Are we not the heirs
of their good deeds? And what are noble
deeds but noble truths realized 1 As Pro-
testants, as Englishmen, as the inheritors of so
ample an estate of might and right, an estate
so strongly fenced, so richly planted, by the
sinewy arms and dauntless hearts of our fore-
fathers, we of all others have good cause to
trust in the truth, yea, to follow its pillar
of lire through the darkness and the desart,
even though its light should but suffice to make
us certain of its own presence. If there be
elsewhere men jealous of the hght, who pro-
phecy an excess of evil over good from its
manifestation, we are entitled to ask them, on
what experience they ground their bodings?
Our own country bears no traces, our own
history contains no records, to justify them.
From the great aeras of national illumination
we date the commencement of our main
national advantages. The tangle of delusions,
which stifled and distorted the growing tree,


have been torn away ; the parasite weeds, that
fed on its very roots, have been plucked up
with a salutary violence. To us there reraaia
only quiet duties, the constant care, the gradual
improvement, the cautious unhazardous labors
of the industrious though contented gardener —
to prune, to engraft, and one by one to remove
from its leaves and fresh shoots the slug and
the caterpillar. But far be it from us to under-
value with light and senseless detraction the
conscientious hardihood of our predecessors,
or even to condemn in them that vehemence,
to which the blessings it won for us leave us
now neither temptation or pretext. That the
very terms, with which the bigot or the hireling
would blacken the first publishers of political
and religious Truth, are, and deserve to be,
hateful to us, we owe to the effects of its pub-
lication. We ante-date the feelings in order to
criminate the authors of our tranquility, opu-
lence, and security. But let us be aware. Ef-
fects will not, indeed, immediately disappear
with their causes ; but neither can they long
continue without them. If hy the reception of
Truth in the spirit of Truth, we became w hat


we are : only by the retention of it in the same
spirit, can we remain what we are. The nar-
row seas that form our boundaries, what were
they in times of old? The convenient high-
way for Danish and Norman pirates. What
are they now? Still but " a Span of Waters." —
Yet they roll at (he base of the inisled Ararat,
on which the i\vk of the Hope of Europe and
of Civilization rested!

Even so tlotli (Jod protect us, if we be
Virt4ioiis and Wise. Winds blow and Wat

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibrarySamuel Taylor ColeridgeThe friend: a series of essays, in three volumes, to aid in the formation of fixed principles in politics, morals, and religion, with literary amusements interspersed (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 17)