« VorigeDoorgaan »
XV. COLERIDGE AND HIS CHILDREN
I would fain leave the narrative to work its own impression on the mind of the reader. If its somewhat fuller and more orderly presentment of what I honestly believe to be the truth, be not found to tend, on the whole, to raise Coleridge in the eyes of men, I shall, I confess, feel both surprised and disappointed. It is neither by glossing over his failings, nor by fixing an exclusive eye on them, that a true estimate of any man is to be arrived at. A better way is to collect as many facts as we can, set them in the light of the circumstances in which they were born, sort them fairly into the opposing scales, and weigh them in an atmosphere as free as possible from cant and prejudice. To my own mind it seems that Coleridge's failings are too obvious to require either all the insistence or all the moralising which have been lavished on them ; and that his fall is less wonderful than his recovery. His will was congenitally weak, and his habits weakened it still farther ; but his conscience, which was never allowed to sleep, tortured him ; and, after many days, its workings stimulated the paralysed will, and he was saved.
A brief dawn of unsurpassed promise and achievement; "a trouble' as of clouds and weeping rain’; then, a long summer evening's work done by the setting sun's pathetic light'-such was Coleridge's day, the after-glow of which is still in the sky. I am sure that the temple, with all the rubble which combined with its marble, must have been a grander whole than any we are able to reconstruct for ourselves from the stones which lie about the field. The living Coleridge was ever his own apologymen and women who neither shared nor ignored his shortcomings, not only loved him, but honoured and followed him. This power of attraction, which might almost be called universal, so diverse were the minds and natures attracted, is itself conclusive proof of very rare qualities. We may read and re-read his life, but we cannot know him as the Lambs, or the Wordsworths, or Poole, or Hookham Frere, or the Gillmans, or Green knew him. Hatred as well as love may be blind, but friendship has eyes, and their testimony may wisely be used in correcting our own impressions.
Coleridge left three children. Hartley, his eldest born, was also a poet and a man of letters. Not a few of his sonnets have taken a place in permanent literature, and as a critic and essayist he is remarkable for lucidity of style, and balance of thought and judgment. He was a gentle, simple, humble-minded man, but his life was marred and broken by intemperance. He lies, in death as in life, close to the heart of Wordsworth, and his name still lingers in affectionate remembrance by those ‘lakes and sandy shores 'beside which he was, as his father had prophesied, to wander like a breeze.' The career of Derwent, both as to the conduct of life and its rewards, was in marked contrast to his brother's. His bent was to be a student, but he was forced into action, partly by circumstance, partly by an honourable ambition. During a long and useful life, more than twenty years of which were spent as Principal of St. Mark's College, Chelsea, he did signal service to the cause of national education. He cannot be said to have left his mark on literature, but his chief work, The Scriptural Character of the English Church, won the admiration of F. D. Maurice for its calm scholar-like tone and careful English style. He was appointed a Prebendary of St. Paul's in 1846, and Rector of Hanwell in 1863. The leisure of his later years was devoted to linguistic and philological studies, in which his attainments were remarkable. At rare intervals, to the inner circle of his friends, he would talk by the hour, and though in these conversational monologues' he resembled rather than approached his father, he delivered himself with a luminous wisdom all his own. He edited the works of his father, his brother, and of his two friends, Winthrop Mackworth Praed and John Moultrie. Of his sister Sara, it has been said that her father looked down into her eyes, and left in them the light of his own.' Her beauty and grace were as remarkable as her talents, her learning, and her accomplishments; but her chief characteristic was “the radiant spirituality of her intellectual and imaginative being.' This, with other rare qualities of mind and spirit, is indicated in Wordsworth's affectionate appreciation in The Triad, and conspicuous in her fairy-tale Phantasmion, and in the letters which compose the bulk of her Memoirs.
Maid of my Love, sweet Genevieve !
Hast thou foreseen the Storm's impending
rage, When to the clouds the Waves ambitious
rise, And seem with Heaven a doubtful war
to wage, Whilst total darkness overspreads the
skies ; Save when the lightnings darting winged
Fate Quick bursting from the pitchy clouds
between In forked Terror, and destructive state 1 Shall shew with double gloom the horrid
To tempt the dangerous deep, too ven
turous youth, Why does thy breast with fondest wishes
glow? No tender parent there thy cares shall
sooth No much-lov'd Friend shall share thy
every woe. Why does thy mind with hopes delusive
burn? Vain are thy Schemes by heated Fancy
plannid : Thy promised joy thou’lt see to Sorrow turn Exild from Bliss, and from thy native
1 State, Grandeur. This school exercise written in the 15th year of my age does not contain a line that any clever schoolboy might not have written, and like most school poetry is a Putting of Thought into Verse ; for such Verses as strivings of mind and struggles after the Intense and Vivid are a fair Promise of better things.-S. T. C. ætat suæ 51. [1823.]
Shall dash thy mangled limbs with furious Should'st thou escape the fury of that day shock
A fate more cruel still, unhappy, view. And stain its craggy sides with human Opposing winds may stop thy luckless blood.
And spread fell famine through the sufYet not the tempest, or the whirlwind's roar
fering crew, Equal the horrors of a Naval Fight,
Canst thou endure th' extreme of raging When thundering Cannons spread a sea
Thirst of Gore
Which soon may scorch thy throat, ah ! And varied deaths now fire and now
thoughtless Youth ! affright :
Or ravening hunger canst thou bear which The impatient shout, that longs for closer
Onits own flesh hath fix’d the deadly tooth? Reaches from either side the distant shores;
Dubious and fluttering’twixt hope and fear Whilst frighten'd at His streams en- With trembling hands the lot I see thee sanguin'd far
50 Loud on his troubled bed huge Ocean Which shall, or sentence thee a victim roars. 1
To that ghaunt Plague which savage What dreadful scenes appear before my
knows no law : Ah ! see how each with frequent slaugh- Whilst each strong passion agitates thy
Or, deep thy dagger in the friendly heart, ter red,
breast : Regardless of his dying fellows' cries O'er their fresh wounds with impious Though oft with Horror back I see thee
start order tread !
Lo! Hunger drives thee to th' inhuman From the dread place does soft Com
feast. passion fly!
(mand; The Furies fell each alter'd breast com- These are the ills, that may the course Whilst Vengeance drunk with human
attendblood stands by
Then with the joys of home contented And smiling fires each heart and arms
40 Here, meek-eyed Peace with humble
Plenty lend 1 I well remember old Jemmy Bowyer, the Their aid united still, to make thee blest. 'plagosus Orbilius' of Christ's Hospital, but an
To ease each pain, and to increase each admirable educer no less than Educator of the
joy— Intellect, bade me leave out as many epithets as
61 would turn the whole into eight-syllable lines, and
Here mutual Love shall fix thy tender wife then ask myself if the exercise would not be Whose offspring shall thy youthful care greatly improved. How often have I thought of
employ the proposal since then, and how many thousand And gild with brightest rays the evening bloated and puffing lines have I read, that, by
of thy Life.
1787 this process, would have tripped over the tongue MS. excellently. Likewise, I remember that he told me on the same occasion-Coleridge! the con- NIL PEJUS EST CÆLIBE VITÂ nections of a Declamation are not the transitions of Poetry-bad, however, as they are they are
[IN CHRIST'S HOSPITAL BOOK] better than “Apostrophes ” and “O thou's,” for
I at the worst they are something like common The others are the grimaces of Lunacy.'
What pleasures shall he ever find ? --S. T. COLERIDGE.
What joys shall ever glad his heart?
See oth 7561
Or who shall heal his wounded mind, But soon emerging in her radiant might
If tortur'd by misfortune's smart ? She o'er the sorrow-clouded breast of Who Hymeneal bliss will never prove,
Care That more than friendship, friendship Sails, like a meteor kindling in its flight. mix'd with love.
And when thou lovest thy pale orb to She comes ! she comes! the meekshroud
eyed power I see Behind the gathered blackness lost on With liberal hand that loves to high;
bless; And when thou dartest from the wind- The clouds of sorrow at her presence rent cloud
flee; Thy placid lightning o'er the awakened Rejoice! rejoice! ye children of sky.
distress! Ah such is Hope ! as changeful and as The beams that play around her head fair !
Thro’ Want's dark vale their radiance Now dimly peering on the wistful sight ; spread: Now hid behind the dragon - winged The young uncultured mind imbibes the Despair :