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of wonder or incredulity.
For, from my early reading of fairy tales and about genii. and the like, my mind had been habituated to the Vast; and I never regarded my senses in any way as the criteria of my belief. I regulated all my creeds by my conceptions, not by my sight, even at that age
The few glimpses of his childhood afforded by the poems are invariably pleasant, and he seems to have been petted, not only by his parents, but by his brother George, whom he describes as his earliest friend.' 2 All this, or the best o: it, came to an end when the boy had hardly completed his ninth year. His father died suddenly on the 4th October 1781, and his place, both as vicar and as schoolmaster, was taken by a Mr. Warren, with whom Coleridge remained as a day scholar until the following April, when a presentation to Christ's Hospital was obtained for him from a Mr. John Way, but through the interest of Mr. Francis Buller (afterwards the famous judge), who had been a pupil of the Vicar. Thus 'too soon transplanted, ere his soul had fixed its first domestic loves,' Coleridge entered the great school on the 18th July 1782, an intervening period of about ter weeks having been spent in London with his mother's brother, Mr. John Bowdon who had a shop in Threadneedle Street. This affectionate but injudicious uncle, he relates, used to carry me from coffee-house to coffee-house, and tavern to tavern, where I drank, and talked, and disputed as if I had been a man.'
After six weeks of the Junior School at Hertford-where I was very happy on the whole, for I had plenty to eat and drink'-he was removed, in September, to the great London school, being placed in the second, or 'Jeffries' Ward, and in the Under Grammar School. Christ's Hospital, he says, then contained about seven 'hundred boys, about one-third being the sons of clergymen. The school and the Coleridge of those days have been described for all time in Lamb's Essays—' Recollections of Christ's Hospital' (1813), and Christ's Hospital five-and-thirty years ago' (1820). The former is a serious historical account of the Foundation and its advantages; the latter presents the reverse of the medal, the side which impressed itself most vividly on the Blue-coat boys of the essayist's time. Although Lamb was Coleridge's junior by a little more than two years, he entered Christ's Hospital a few months earlier. His parents lived close at hand, and Coleridge was the 'poor friendless boy' for whom he speaks:
My parents and those who should care for me were far away. Those few acquaintances of theirs which they could reckon upon being kind to me in the great city, after a little forced notice, which they had the grace to take of me on my first arrival in town, soon grew tired of my holiday visits. . . One after another they all failed me, and I felt myself alone among six hundred playmates. . . . How in my dreams would my native town (far in the west) come back, with its church, and trees, and faces! How I would wake weeping, and in the anguish of my heart exclaim upon sweet Calne in Wiltshire !'
'Calne,' of course, is only Lamb's device for concealing his friend's identity. His words about the boy's dreams are but a reflection of Coleridge's own lines in Frost at Midnight (II. 23-43, pp. 126, 127). It is the same poem which contains the remarkable prophecy how his beloved Hartley should wander like a breeze by lakes and mountains, unlike his father, who was
1 Sonnet to the River Otter (p. 23); Lines to a beautiful Spring in a Village (p. 24); Frost at Midnight (p. 126), etc.; Lines composed in a Concert-Room (p. 148).
2 To the Rev. George Coleridge (p. 81). See also Monody on a Tea-Kettle (p. 12); A Mathematical Problem (p. 13); and the 'Note' to the Greek Prize Ode (p. 653).
In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim,
—sky and stars seen from the roof of Christ's Hospita'.
1 Prelude, Book VI. Cf. Coleridge's Sonnet to the River Otter (p. 23), Lines to a beautiful Spring in a Village (p. 24), and Frost at Midnight (p. 126).
A long exile it proved, for it seems probable that the boy did not return to Ottery until the summer of 1789. But Coleridge's school-days were not a monotony of weeping and day-dreaming. Such, in some measure, they may have been, perhaps, at first; but the clouds broke. He was full of natural gladness,' and possessed in an extraordinary degree the invaluable faculty of making friends. He had for such not only Lamb, but the two Le Grices and Bob Allen, and a little host beside; for protector and encourager, Middleton (afterwards Bishop of Calcutta); and as a tolerable substitute for a home, the house of Mrs. Evans, the mother of Mary and other daughters. Boyer (whose floggings did his pupil no serious harm that we know of) took a paternal headmaster's interest in him, and brought him up in the way a good scholar, and even a good poet, should go; so that Coleridge, whose talents were quite as great as his genius, took the best honours the school afforded, and this in spite of his persistent waywardness. In his sixth year as a scholar, which was the sixteenth of his life, he entered the ranks of the Grecians'-the small band selected by the headmaster for special training under his own birch for the University Exhibitions of the school, one of which he gained in due time.
But there were interruptions. When about fifteen Coleridge took a fancy to be apprenticed to a friendly cobbler in the neighbourhood of the school, and induced the cobbler to make formal application to Boyer. This was more than Boyer could stand, and he drove the astonished applicant from his sanctum, with assault and battery. Coleridge himself seems to have escaped unhurt from the mêlée. Soon trueafter this his brother Luke came up to walk the London Hospital, and Coleridge thought of nothing but how he too might become a doctor-read all the medical and surgical books he could procure, went round the hospital wards with Luke, and thought it bliss if he were permitted to hold a plaster. 'Briefly' (he says) 'it was a wild dream, which gradually blending with, gradually gave way to, a rage for metaphysics, occasioned by the essays on "Liberty" and Necessity" in Cato's Letters, and more by theology After I had read Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary I sported infidel! but my infidel vanity never touched my heart.'4 Boyer took his
above two or three at a time were inaugurated
3 By John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon.
2 See Lamb's account of the group-'seldom
4 Gillman's Life, p. 23.
'short way,' and r ed his pupil by means of a sound flogging-tu 'just one,' Colerid pleased in after-life to say, he ever received fron' master. This was toss but a fond and passing conceit, for elsewhere he bless him from being emasculated into a juvenile prodigy. e been, if his own and Lamb's reminiscences are to be ith a substantial grain of salt; how he read straight ibrary, of which he was made free by a singular incident dlessly romantic); and how he invaded the murky Platonists with his boyish rush-light.
the floggings whe Yet prodigy he accepted-accepte through a whole cir (his account of whic caves of the third-center Truth there must be passage-Come back in. fancies, with hope like a fie Samuel Taylor Coleridge-i casual passer through the clois weighed the disproportion betwe to hear thee unfold, in thy deep or Plotinus (for even in those years thou waxedst not pale at such philosophic draughts), or reciting Homer in his Greek, or Pindar-while the walls of the old Grey Friars re-echoed to the accents of the inspired charity boy !'2
en something of fact, however, in Lamb's famous ry, like as thou wert in the dayspring of thy before thee-the dark pillar not yet turnedMetaphysician, Bard!-How have I seen the 'still, entranced with admiration (while he peech and the garb of the young Mirandula), sweet intonations, the mysteries of Jamblichus,
We hear nothing of games, but Coleridge enjoyed bathing excursions in the summer holidays. Once, as he told Gillman, he swam across the New River in his clothes, and let them dry on his back, with the consequence, apparently, that 'full half his time from seventeen to eighteen was passed in the sick - ward of Christ's Hospital, afflicted with jaundice and rheumatic fever.' 3 Coleridge was doubtless rendered the more susceptible by the effects of his runaway adventure eight years before. If the tradition that Genevieve was addressed to the daughter of his school nurse,' the attachment may have been formed during this illness
When sinking low the sufferer wan
I've seen thy breast with pity heave,
He has dated the poem 'at. 14,' and the illness '17-18,' but Coleridge was never sure of his own age, and such figures are, as a rule, untrustworthy. According, however, to his own statement he was about sixteen (1788) when he made the acquaintance of the Evans family—a connection destined to exercise an important influence on his career.
About this time he became acquainted with a widow lady, whose son,' says he, I, as upper boy, had protected, and who therefore looked up to me, and taught me what it was to have a mother. I loved her as such. She had three daughters, and, of course, I fell in love with the eldest [Mary]. | From this time to
1 Presumably by way of Thomas Taylor's translations (which he once described as 'difficult Greek transmuted into incomprehensible English'), though he unblushingly asserts (Biog. Lit. i. 249) that he had translated the eight vmns of Synesius from the Greek into English reontics before his fifteenth year!
2 'Christ's Hospital five-and-thirty years ago,' in Essays of Elia.
3 Gillman's Life, p. 33.
4 Gillman's Life, p. 28.
5 Afterwards a fellow-clerk with Lamb in the India House.
nineteenth year, when I quitted school for Jesus, Cambridge, was the era of Pentry and love.' In 1822 he said in a letter to Allsop1: 'And oh! from sixteen th nineteen what hours of paradise had Allen and I in escorting the Miss Evanses nome on a Saturday, who were then at a milliner's, . . . and we used to carry thither, on a summer morning, the pillage of the flower-gardens within six miles of town with sonnet or love-rhyme wrapped round the nosegay.'
The latter reminiscence reflects more accurately than the former the earlier relations between Coleridge and the Evans sisters. Of the letters he wrote to the family from Cambridge-which doubtless were numerous-five have been preserved, the latest being dated Feb. 10, 1793.' They are all strictly family letters, such as a son and brother would write, and are addressed indifferently to Mrs. Evans, Anne, and Mary. The only exception noticeable is that it is to Mary he addresses all his rhymes. But there have been preserved also two letters addressed to Mary towards the end of 1794, in one of which Coleridge first declares himself her lover, a passion which he says he has for four years endeavoured to smother.' These letters will receive notice in their proper place-here it is enough to show that in all probability Coleridge was fancy-free until the end of 1790. As Mrs. Evans was as a mother or an aunt, so were her daughters as his sisters or cousins. Unless we are to believe implicitly the date and occasion of Genevieve, it is clear that 'Poetry' (or, at all events, verse) preceded 'Love' in Coleridge's development, for the contributions to Boyer's album begin with 1787; and the dates attached to these are the only ones which can be depended on. But it was not until the end of 1789 that the poetical faculty in Coleridge was quickened. The school exercises were regarded by him strictly as such, and at this particular period poetry had become insipid,' and everything but metaphysics distasteful.
From this preposterous pursuit' he was auspiciously withdrawn,' first by ‘an accidental introduction to an amiable family' (Evanses); next, and chiefly,' by another accidental introduction-to the poetry of Bowles. I had just entered on my seventeenth year [October 1789] when the Sonnets of Mr. Bowles, twenty in number, and just then published in a quarto pamphlet, were first made known and presented to me.' 8 The donor was his friend Middleton, who had left Christ's Hospital for Cambridge a year before. These mild sonnets stirred Coleridge. 'My earliest acquaintances will not have forgotten the undisciplined eagerness and impetuous zeal with which I laboured to make proselytes. . . . As my school finances did not permit me to purchase copies, I made within less than a year and a half more than forty transcriptions' as presents for friends. One cannot help regretting that the inspiration did not come more directly from Cowper or Burns, or from both; but I confess my inability to join in the expression of amused wonder which has so often greeted Coleridge's acknowledgments of his obligation to Bowles. Had he first met with Cowper, or with Burns, doubtless Coleridge would have been less strongly impressed by Bowles-certainly less strongly impressed by his novelty
1 Letters, etc., 1864, p. 170.
2 Now in the Fonthill Collection. See 'Note 31, p. 565.
3 He seems to have been called 'Brother Coly' by the Evanses.
4 A Wish, the two poems which follow it, and the Complaint of Ninathóma, pp. 19, 20.
5 The book into which the headmaster of Christ's caused his boys to transcribe their best
exercises. See 'Note 3,' p. 561.
edition, which con
7 Probably the second tained twenty-one sonnets. The first was anonymous Fourteen Sonnets, Elegiac and Descriptive, written during a Tour. Bath, MDCCLXXXIX. Quarto.
8 Bieg. Lit. i. 13.
or originality ; perhaps (but only perhaps) less influenced by his work as a whole. As a matter of fact, however, it happened that the first breath of Nature, unsophisticated by the classical tradition, came to Coleridge from Bowles's sonnets ; and he recognised it at once. Nor was he alone in this. Four years after, the same sonnets captivated Wordsworth. He first met with them as he was starting on a walk, and kept his brother waiting on Westminster Bridge until, seated of its recesses, he had read through the little quarto. Of course, much that Coleridge and Wordsworth saw in Bowles's sonnets cannot now be seen ; but surely, even to eyes looking across the century, they exhibit qualities, both positive and comparative, which explain sufficiently the influence they exercised.
How this influence affected Coleridge is set forth in the opening chapters of the Biographia, and is best illustrated by the youthful poems of 1790 and following years, which can now be read in something which approximates to chronological order. In one of the earliest, the Monody on Chatterton (1790), he passed beyond his master, but the new influence pervades others of the same year. The old leaven was not purged all at once, and throughout there is discernible more of the besetting weakness of the new, as represented by the model, and less of the individuality it helped to emancipate, than we could have wished or expected.
On the 12th January 1791 the Committee of Almoners of Christ's Hospital appointed Coleridge to an Exhibition at Jesus College, Cambridge, on the books of which he was entered as a sizar on the 5th February. llis discharge' from the school is dated September 7th, 1791, and he went into residence at Jesus in the following month. He became a pensioner on November 5, and matriculated on March 26, 1792. The Official List of [C.H.] University Exhibitioners' siates that Coleridge was sent to Jesus College, Cambridge, as the prospect of his preserment to the Church would be very favourable if he were preferred to that College.' His Exhibition from the Hospital (besides the usual allowance of £40) was fixed at £40 per annum for the first four years, and £30 for each of the three remaining years of the then usual period of C.H. Exhibition tenure. Mr. Leslie Stephen states,' on official authority, that Coleridge obtained one of the Rustat scholarships belonging to Jesus which are confined to the sons of clergymen. He received something from this source in his first term, and about £ 25 for each of the years 1792-94. He became also a Foundation scholar on 5th June 1794.'
There is no certainty that Coleridge's London school-life was ever broken by holiday visits to his old home. A letter to his mother of 1785 suggests a bare possibility that he went to Ottery in 1784; if we are to accept the family date of 1789 given to Life (p. 7), and that of 1790 to Inside the Coach and Devonshire Riants (p. 10), he must have spent some of the holidays of these years at Ottery. But these family dates seem little to be depended on. There is, however, no reasonable doubt that Coleridge went home in 1791, between school and college, or that Happiness was written at Ottery in that year. In some cancelled lines of that doleful poem he drew an unflattering portrait of himself, confessing to a heavy eye' and a “fat vacuity of face.'2 1 Dictionary of National Biography; Art. 'S. T. Coleridge.'
2 See ‘Note 29,' p. 564.