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the mists of pantisocracy vanishing in the past, settled down in a £5-a-year cottage at Clevedon, near Bristol, to enjoy his married life;— " send me a riddle slice, a candlebox, two glasses for the wash-hand stand, one dustpan, one small tin tea-kettle, one pair of candlesticks, a Bible, a keg of porter,"
Writing for periodicals, lectures, tutoring, founding of a new magazine, whose weekly numbers should cry the state of the political atmosphere,' but which the servant used for starting the editor's fire, — "La, Sir, why it's only Watchmen!'-such were the labours of these early years of married life. A first volume of Poems on Various Subjects was published in 1796, but secured no special attention. It was immediately followed by the Ode to the Departing Year. Early in the following summer Coleridge removed to Nether Stowey, Somersetshire, where he had a rich friend and patron in Thomas Poole, and where Charles Lloyd became his lodger.
Nether Stowey lies at the foot of the Quantocks, a few miles from the Bristol Channel, in a country of clear brooks and wooded hills. At Racedown, in the neighbouring shire of Dorset, Wordsworth and his sister had found a home, and there the two poets read their compositions to each other,–Coleridge his tragedy of Osorio, and Wordsworth his tragedy of The Borderers. Thus began the friendship of these two men, a friendship that meant much for themselves, much for English literature. Charmed by the scenery of the Quantocks and the opportunity of being near Coleridge, Wordsworth took
his abode in Alfoxden, not three miles distant from Stowey. The period of companionship and mutual stimulus that ensued was marked by the production of poems that are the earliest unmistakeable manifestations of the presence of a new spirit of poetry that was to dominate the first half of the century to come.
The origin and publication of Lyrical Ballads have been spoken of elsewhere (see p. 177ff.). Its immediate influence was very slight. The Monthly Review considered the Ancient Mariner the strangest cock and bull story, a rapsody of unintelligible wildness and incoherence, though admitting exquisite poetical touches, and in general called upon the author of the volume to write on more elevated subjects and in a more cheerful disposition. Cottle parted with most of his five hundred copies at a loss, and on going out of business returned the copyright to Wordsworth as valueless. De Quincey and John Wilson were perhaps alone in recognizing the value of the volume. Originality, it is said, must create the taste by which it is to be appreciated, and it was some years before taste for the new poetry was created.
The close of the eighteenth century was a period of ferment and uncertain impulse. "Monk” Lewis and Mrs. Radcliffe were producing their tales of mystery, spectral romances where the imagination revels in midnight, wild heaths, lonely towers, groans and the tolling of castle-bell, muffled strangers, spectre bridegrooms, blue flames, death's heads, where
The worms crept in, and the worms crept out,
And sported his eyes and his temples about.
In strange disaccord existed, side by side with this tendency to the grotesque and supernatural, a strong tendency to realism, in which the daily life of common folk was depicted with the fidelity of Dutch art, as in Crabbe's Village.
On their bare heads and dewy temples play. There was also a steady and increasing attention paid to the older writers, chiefly Spenser, and to the traditional ballad poetry of England and Scotland. Collections of this ballad poetry were issued and eagerly read, Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, 1765, being the most influential. Finally a growing sympathy with Nature as well in its wild aspects as in scenes of cultivated beauty can be traced in Gray, Burns, and Cowper. But all this lay for the most part below an obdurate literary tradition that lacked sensitiveness of ear and tenderness of emotion, and idolized the heroic couplet, set phrases, and polished antitheses. What Lyrical Ballads did was to show that imagination free from grotesqueness could join with a realism free from triteness; that the literature of the past could afford inspiration and models to all who sought refuge from the monotony of the accepted literary forms; that for man, long pent in dusty towns, there was a new spirit of communion,
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man. Coleridge's share in Lyrical Ballads was limited to four pieces in which the imagination deals with the supernatural, the chief being the Ancient Mariner. This poem stands amid the fragments and wrecks of greater undertakings as the one great finished achievement of its author. The story of a half insane sailor, by sheer effort of imagination, rises into regions of subtlest feeling and thought; scene after scene flashes past in ever-changing beauty ; the whole range of human emotion is gone through : it is the world and human life in miniature, and as it unrolls before our eyes, an undercurrrent of tender feeling charms the heart, and an undertone of music, with cadences subtle as of a hidden brook in sleeping woods, takes captive the
The other poems of the Nether Stowey period are scarcely less remarkable than the Ancient Mariner. Christabel, a fragment, was composed in part there, and is a most effective union of beauty with the fascination of terror and mystery. Kubla Khan, likewise a fragment, recollected from a dream, is characterized by an almost unequalled rhythm, while the Ode to France has the lofty organ-music that at times brings Coleridge within reach of Milton.
Before the Lyrical Ballads were actually issued, Coleridge had sought occupation as a Unitarian preacher in Shrewsbury. There the Wedgwoods, sons of the great potter, came to his aid, gave him an annuity, and enabled the poet to carry out a long-cherished project of a pilgrimage to Germany. Through the same benevolent source, Wordsworth and his sister drew the means of accompanying him.
Coleridge parted company with the Wordsworths on their arrival in Germany, passed on to Ratzeburg, where for five months he studied German; then went to Göttingen to attend lectures in philosophy and metaphysics. He returned to London in November, 1779, with a command of German that enabled him in six weeks to produce his translation of Schiller's Wallenstein. It is the greatest translation in English, but German literature was still of doubtful market value, and the copies sold as waste paper. From translating he passed to journalism, in which he was decidedly successful; then threw
flattering offers, and left London for Greta Hall, Keswick, twelve miles from Grasmere.
From this time, with trifling exceptions, Coleridge ceased to write poetry. The Ode to Dejection in 1802, and a few pathetic lyrics of the later years of his life, such as Youth and Age, Work without Hope, which are for the most part laments over lost opportunities and talents ill spent, virtually complete his poetic career.
Coleridge arrived in Keswick in 1800. Four years later he left England for Malta, wrecked in body and spirit. Exposure in a Scottish outing brought on rheumatism. To relieve this he had recourse to a mysterious black drop, which he learnt later, when under its power, consisted chiefly of opium, and like other great English men of his time he became a slave to the drug. He drifted about from London to Malta, to Sicily, to Rome, back to England, and Keswick.
Ah ! piteous sight was it to see this man,
Look at the common grass from hour to hour. Coleridge went back to London in 1806 to write for The Courier. He lectured likewise at the Royal Institution, till his health and his audience failed him. In 1809 he started The Friend, which was mismanaged and after twenty-seven numbers collapsed. In 1811-12 he lectured again with wonderful interpretative insight on Shakspere and Milton. There was a gleam of success when his old tragedy of Osorio was acted, but his new Zapolyta was