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- English Men of Letters: Coleridge - 6/33 -


publication. Deeply sensible of "the anti-climax, the abysmal bathos" of the answer, Coleridge replied, "Only fourpence, each number to be published every eighth day," upon which the tallow-chandler observed doubtfully that that came to "a deal of money at the end of the year." What determined him, however, to withhold his patronage was not the price of the article but its quantity, and not the deficiency of that quantity but its excess. Thirty-two pages, he pointed out, was more than he ever read all the year round, and though "as great a one as any man in Brummagem for liberty and truth, and them sort of things, he begged to be excused." Had it been possible to arrange for supplying him with sixteen pages of the paper for twopence, a bargain might no doubt have been struck; but he evidently had a business-like repugnance to anything in the nature of "over-trading." Equally unsuccessful was a second application made at Manchester to a "stately and opulent wholesale dealer in cottons," who thrust the prospectus into his pocket and turned his back upon the projector, muttering that he was "overrun with these articles." This, however, was Coleridge's last attempt at canvassing. His friends at Birmingham persuaded him to leave that work to others, their advice being no doubt prompted, in part at least, by the ludicrous experience of his qualifications as a canvasser which the following incident furnished them. The same tradesman who had introduced him to the patriotic tallow-chandler entertained him at dinner, and, after the meal, invited his guest to smoke a pipe with him and "two or three other _illuminati_ of the same rank." The invitation was at first declined on the plea of an engagement to spend the evening with a minister and his friends, and also because, writes Coleridge, "I had never smoked except once or twice in my lifetime, and then it was herb-tobacco mixed with Oronooko." His host, however, assured him that the tobacco was equally mild, and "seeing, too, that it was of a yellow colour," he took half a pipe of it, "filling the lower half of the bowl," for some unexplained reason, "with salt." He was soon, however, compelled to resign it "in consequence of a giddiness and distressful feeling" in his eyes, which, as he had drunk but a single glass of ale, he knew must have been the effect of the tobacco. Deeming himself recovered after a short interval, he sallied forth to fulfil the evening's engagement; but the symptoms returned with the walk and the fresh air, and he had scarcely entered the minister's drawing-room and opened a packet of letters awaiting him there than he "sank back on the sofa in a sort of swoon rather than sleep." Fortunately he had had time to inform his new host of the confused state of his feelings and of its occasion; for "here and thus I lay," he continues, "my face like a wall that is whitewashing, deathly pale, and with the cold drops of perspiration running down it from my forehead; while one after another there dropped in the different gentlemen who had been invited to meet and spend the evening with me, to the number of from fifteen to twenty. As the poison of tobacco acts but for a short time, I at length awoke from insensibility and looked round on the party, my eyes dazzled by the candles, which had been lighted in the interim. By way of relieving my embarrassment one of the gentlemen began the conversation with: 'Have you seen a paper to-day, Mr. Coleridge?' 'Sir,' I replied, rubbing my eyes, 'I am far from convinced that a Christian is permitted to read either newspapers or any other works of merely political and temporary interest.'" The incongruity of this remark, with the purpose for which the speaker was known to have visited Birmingham, and to assist him in which the company had assembled, produced, as was natural, "an involuntary and general burst of laughter," and the party spent, we are told, a most delightful evening. Both then and afterwards, however, they all joined in dissuading the young projector from proceeding with his scheme, assuring him "in the most friendly and yet most flattering expressions" that the employment was neither fit for him nor he for the employment. They insisted that at any rate "he should make no more applications in person, but carry on the canvass by proxy," a stipulation which we may well believe to have been prompted as much by policy as by good nature. The same hospitable reception, the same dissuasion, and, that failing, the same kind exertions on his behalf, he met with at Manchester, Derby, Nottingham, and every other place he visited; and the result of his tour was that he returned with nearly a thousand names on the subscription list of the _Watchman_, together with "something more than a half conviction that prudence dictated the abandonment of the scheme." Nothing but this, however, was needed to induce him to persevere with it. To know that a given course of conduct was the dictate of prudence was a sort of presumptive proof to him at this period of life that the contrary was the dictate of duty. In due time, or rather out of due time,--for the publication of the first number was delayed beyond the day announced for it,--the _Watchman_ appeared. Its career was brief--briefer, indeed, than it need have been. A naturally short life was suicidally shortened. In the second number, records Coleridge, with delightful _naivete_, "an essay against fast-days, with a most censurable application of a text from Isaiah [2] for its motto, lost me near five hundred subscribers at one blow." In the two following numbers he made enemies of all his Jacobin and democratic patrons by playing Balaam to the legislation of the Government, and pronouncing something almost like a blessing on the "gagging bills"--measures he declared which, "whatever the motive of their introduction, would produce an effect to be desired by all true friends of freedom, as far as they should contribute to deter men from openly declaiming on subjects the principles of which they had never bottomed, and from pleading to the poor and ignorant instead of pleading for them." At the same time the editor of the _Watchman_ avowed his conviction that national education and a concurring spread of the Gospel were the indispensable conditions of any true political amelioration. We can hardly wonder on the whole that by the time the seventh number was published its predecessors were being "exposed in sundry old iron shops at a penny a piece."

And yet, like everything which came from Coleridge's hand, this immature and unpractical production has an interest of its own. Amid the curious mixture of actuality and abstract disquisition of which each number of the _Watchman_ is made up, we are arrested again and again by some striking metaphor or some weighty sentence which tells us that the writer is no mere wordy wielder of a facile pen. The paper on the slave trade in the seventh number is a vigorous and, in places, a heart-stirring appeal to the humane emotions. There are passages in it which foreshadow Coleridge's more mature literary manner--the manner of the great pulpit orators of the seventeenth century--in a very interesting way. [3] But what was the use of No. IV containing an effective article like this when No. III. had opened with an "Historical Sketch of the Manners and Religion of the Ancient Germans, introductory to a sketch of the Manners, Religion, and Politics of present Germany"? This to a public who wanted to read about Napoleon and Mr. Pitt! No. III. in all probability "choked off" a good proportion of the commonplace readers who might have been well content to have put up with the humanitarian rhetoric of No. IV., if only for its connection with so unquestionable an actuality as West Indian sugar. It was, anyhow, owing to successive alienations of this kind that on 13th May 1796 the editor of the _Watchman_ was compelled to bid farewell to his few remaining readers in the tenth number of his periodical, for the "short and satisfactory" reason that "the work does not pay its expenses." "Part of my readers," continues Coleridge, "relinquished it because it did not contain sufficient original composition, and a still larger part because it contained too much;" and he then proceeds with that half-humorous simplicity of his to explain what excellent reasons there were why the first of these classes should transfer their patronage to Flower's _Cambridge Intelligencer_, and the second theirs to the _New Monthly Magazine_.

It is not, however, for the biographer or the world to regret the short career of the _Watchman_, since its decease left Coleridge's mind in undivided allegiance to the poetic impulse at what was destined to be the period of its greatest power. In the meantime one result of the episode had been to make a not unimportant addition to his friendships. Mention has already been made of his somewhat earlier acquaintance with Mr. Thomas Poole of Nether Stowey, a man of high intelligence and mark in his time; and it was in the course of his northern peregrinations in search of subscribers that he met with Charles Lloyd. This young man, the son of an eminent Birmingham banker, was so struck with Coleridge's genius and eloquence as to conceive an "ardent desire to domesticate himself permanently with a man whose conversation was to him as a revelation from heaven;" and shortly after the decease of the _Watchman_ he obtained his parents' consent to the arrangement.

Early, therefore, in the year 1797 Coleridge, accompanied by Charles Lloyd, removed to Nether Stowey in Somersetshire, where he occupied a cottage placed at his disposal by Mr. Poole. His first employment in his new abode appears to have been the preparation of the second edition of his poems. In the new issue nineteen pieces of the former publication were discarded and twelve new ones added, the most important of which was the _Ode to the Departing Year_, which had first appeared in the _Cambridge Intelligencer_, and had been immediately afterwards republished in a separate form as a thin quarto pamphlet, together with some lines of no special merit "addressed to a young man of fortune" (probably Charles Lloyd), "who abandoned himself to an indolent and causeless melancholy." To the new edition were added the preface already quoted from, and a prose introduction to the sonnets. The volume also contained some poems by Charles Lloyd and an enlarged collection of sonnets and other pieces by Charles Lamb, the latter of whom about the time of its publication paid his first visit to the friend with whom, ever since leaving Christ's Hospital, he had kept up a constant and, to the student of literature, a most interesting correspondence. [4] In June 1797 Charles and Mary Lamb arrived at the Stowey cottage to find their host disabled by an accident which prevented him from walking during their whole stay. It was during their absence on a walking expedition that he composed the pleasing lines--

"The lime-tree bower my prison,"

in which he thrice applies to his friend that epithet which gave such humorous annoyance to the "gentle-hearted Charles." [5]

But a greater than Lamb, if one may so speak without offence to the votaries of that rare humorist and exquisite critic, had already made his appearance on the scene. Some time before this visit of Lamb's to Stowey Coleridge had made the acquaintance of the remarkable man who was destined to influence his literary career in many ways importantly, and in one way decisively. It was in the month of June 1797, and at the village of Racedown in Dorsetshire, that he first met William Wordsworth.

FOOTNOTES

1. The volume contained also three sonnets by Charles Lamb, one of which was destined to have a somewhat curious history.

2. "Wherefore my bowels shall sound like an harp."--Is. xvi. 11.

3. Take for instance this sentence: "Our own sorrows, like the Princes of Hell in Milton's Pandemonium, sit enthroned 'bulky and vast;' while the miseries of our fellow-creatures dwindle into pigmy forms, and are crowded in an innumerable multitude into some dark corner of the heart." Both in character of imagery and in form of structure we have here the germ of such passages as this which one might confidently defy the most accomplished literary "taster" to distinguish from Jeremy Taylor: "Or like two rapid streams that at their first meeting within narrow and rocky banks mutually strive to repel each other, and intermix reluctantly and in tumult, but soon finding a wider channel and more yielding shores, blend and dilate and flow on in one current


English Men of Letters: Coleridge - 6/33

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