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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 up 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 gination, 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 up 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 refused by the players. In 1816 Coleridge put himself under the care of Dr. Gillman, of the Grove, Highgate, London, and slowly won his way back from the depths of opium bondage to liberty and health.
Those Highgate days were essentially days of philosophy. The printed works of this period however are only a small part of the fructifying influence which Coleridge, chiefly by his conversation, exercised on contemporary thought. The records of his life and literary opinions he gathered into his Biographia Literaria, 1817. With the publication of Aids to Reflection, 1825, the world began to appreciate this neglected genius, and the sage of Highgate became the oracle of men like Maurice, Hallam, and even Carlyle. In November, 1833, feeling his end was approaching, he wrote his epitaph :
Stop, Christian Passer-by !-Stop, child of God,
He ask'd and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same. On the 25th of July, 1834, he died. They praised him in death, but it was too late.
Carlyle's picture of Coleridge, as he appeared in his old age (see page 213), is set off by the portrait Dorothy Wordsworth drew of him in June, 1797:
"He is a wonderful man. His conversation teems with soul, mind, and spirit. At first I thought him very plain, that is, about three minutes ; he is pale, thin, has a wide mouth, thick lips, and not very good teeth, longish, loosegrowing half-curling rough black hair. But if you hear him speak for five minutes, you think no more of them.
His eye is large and full, and not very dark, but grey, such an eye as would receive from a heavy soul the dullest expression ; but it speaks every emotion of his animated mind, it has more of the poet's eye in a fine frenzy rolling' than I ever witnessed. He has dark eyebrows, and an overhanging forehead.”
A noticeable man with large grey eyes,
Coleridge's poetry is in great part fragmentary. The work he wrote with full power of his genius could be printed, it has been said, on twenty pages, but it should be bound in pure gold. His special gift, which he shares with no other English writer, is the power of clear spiritual imagination in the regions of the supernatural, which he is still able to humanize. He was one with the Lake School in their subtle insight into the spiritual aspects of nature, and had the same power as Wordsworth of giving expression to the finest shades of loftiest emotion.