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THE ANCIENT MARINER. Circumstances of composition and publication.-In November, 1796, Coleridge had taken up his residence in Somersetshire in the village of Nether Stowey. Thither in July of the following year came Wordsworth to settle in Alfoxden, three miles distant, to be within reach of Coleridge's society. There the Ancient Mariner (A. M.) was planned and composed. The story of its origin is told in most detail by Wordsworth in a note to We are Seven, dictated to Miss Fenwick :
"In the autumn of 1797 (spring of 1798, Knight) he (Coleridge], my sister, and myself started from Alfoxden pretty late in the afternoon, with a view to visiting Linton (Lenton, Knight) and the Valley of Stones near to it; and, as our united funds were very small, we agreed to pay the expense of the tour by writing a poem, to be sent to the “New Monthly Magazine," set up by Phillips, the bookseller, and edited by Dr. Aikin. Accordingly we set off, and proceeded along the Quantock Hills [near Nether Stowey], towards Watchet; and in the course of this walk was planned the poem of the Ancient Mariner, founded on a dream, as Mr. Coleridge said, of his friend Mr. Cruikshank [a neighbour of the poet's). Much the greater part of the story was Mr. Coleridge's invention ; but certain parts I myself suggested : for example, some crime was to be committed which should bring upon the Old Navigator, as Coleridge afterwards delighted to call him, the spectral persecution, as a consequence of that crime, and his own wanderings. I had been reading in Shelvock's Voyages, a day or two before, that, while doubling Cape Horn, they frequently saw albatrosses in that latitude, the largest sort of sea-fowl, some extending their wings twelve or thirteen (fifteen, Knight) feet: “Suppose,” said I, “you represent him as having killed one of these birds on entering the South Sea, and that the tutelary spirits of these regions take upon them to revenge the crime." The incident was thought fit for the purpose, and adopted accordingly. I also suggested the navigation of the ship by the dead men, but do not recollect that I had anything more to do with the scheme of the poem. The gloss with which it was subsequently accompanied was not thought of by either of us at the time, at least not a hint of it was given to me, and I have no doubt it was a gratuitous after-thought. We began the composition together, on that to me memorable evening. I furnished two or three lines at the beginning of the poem, in particular:
* And listen 'd like a three years' child;
These trifling contributions all but one, which Mr. C. has with unnecessary scrupulosity recorded, slipped out of his mind, as they well might. As we endeavoured to proceed conjointly (I speak of the same evening), our respective manners proved so widely different, that it would have been quite presumptuous in me to do anything but separate from an undertaking upon which I could only have been a clog. We returned after a few days.... by Dulverton to Alfoxden. The Ancient Mariner grew and grew till it became too important for our first object, which was limited to our expectations of five pounds; and we began to think of a volume.—Memoirs of William Wordsworth, by Christopher Wordsworth, i. 107 ; Knight, i.198 f.
Coleridge's account shows the philosophic side. His conversation, he said, with Wordsworth often turned on two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination.... The thought suggested itself that a series of poems might be composed of two sorts. In the one the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the excellence arrived at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real.... For the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life.... In this idea originated the plan of the Lyrical Ballads; in which it was agreed that my endeavours should be directed to poems and characters supernatural, or at least to romantic; yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.... With this view I wrote The Ancient Mariner, and was preparing among other poems, The Dark Ladie, and the Christabel.-Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, chap. xiv.
The very memorable volume in which Coleridge and Wordsworth thus collaborated was the Lyrical Ballads, published in Bristol and London in 1798.
The history of the text.—The A. M. in its present form shews the result of many years' changes and revisions. The first printed version of the poem, in Lyrical Ballads, 1798, was no sooner published than the work of revision began. Later editions show decided modifications. Already