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COLERIDGE, “ the most imaginative of modern poets," was the youngest son of a vicar of St Mary Ottery, Devonshire. Losing his father in early life, he obtained, through the kindness of a friend, a presentation to Christ Church Hospital. His reputation at Christ Church promised a brilliant career at Cambridge University, which he entered in hs nineteenth year. But his addiction to speculation and reading, instead of vigorous application to those exercises which are the tangible tests of scholarship, and the Socinian opinions into which his speculations seduced him, precluding the prospect of university honours, he fied in a species of despair from his college, and enlisted in London into a horse regiment. Discovered and rescued by his friends, he returned to Cambridge, which he subsequently left without a degree. On quitting the university, he associated himself with Southey and another young poet, Lovel, in a Utopian scheme of founding a Pantisocracy, or republic of pure freedom, in America : all the youthful enthusiasm of Britain had at that period (1795) run mad with the doctrines promulgated by the French revolution. The project of the poets evaporated very harmlessly in marriages with three sisters at Bristol ; their republicanism vanished ; Southey went to Portugal, and Coleridge attempted to procure bread by his pen. In the south of England he became acquainted with Mr Wordsworth, to whose experiment in poetry, in the Lyrical Ballads, he contributed some share, and enjoyed an adequate proportion of the criticism they incurred, from the dignified rod of the leading reviews down to the juvenile lash of Byron (see “ English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.") The subsequent settlement of Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge amidst the northern lakes gave origin to the soubriquet “ Lakers," with which their opponents stigmatized the apparent adherents of their supposed school.” Coleridge had travelled with Mr Wordsworth in Germany, and, by his study of the metaphysics of that country, injured, it is alleged, his poetical genius. His habits of mind and of business rendered his lectures and his publications un profitable to himself and disastrous to his publishers. Opium-eating, into which he had been seduced by its alleged medicinal effects, had gradually unbinged the structure of his mind; he became an exile from his family and his dearest friends, and lived a species of hap-hazard life, till he had firmness enough to place himself (1816), for the cure of his unfortunate habit, under the charge of Mr Gilman, surgeon, Highgate. In the bosom of that gentleman's affectionate family he lived till his death, delighting “ troops” of admiring friends by the miracles of his conversation. During this period his most important works were published ; he was overcoming his infirmity ; his shattered nature was restored to a wholesome religious tone ; his philosophy was tempering into tangibleness and utility ; but the poet died in 1834. The great beauty of his mind, both in its error and its orthodoxy, was its simplicity of religious earnestness, and the single eye with which through much error it panted after truth. His capital defect was want of energetic will, which inflicted misery on his family, and on himself heart-rending remorse (see, “ To Wordsworth,' p. 410); see also Cottle's “ Reminiscences," and Talfourd's Memoirs of C. Lamb.
The intellect of Coleridge is to be estimated rather by that of which it was capable, which it contemplated, and which it suggested, than by that
I Though his conduct to his relations, which may be attributed to what we may well term a disease, displayed many of the results of want of affection; though the same cause led bin into acts and declarations which in other men would be termed meanness and dishonesty, yet the fascination of his amiableness and the charm of his conversation produced and reproduced in him the tenderest and deepest aftections of friendship.See Talfourd's Memoirs of Charles Lainb.
which it achieved. His prose works embrace many of the subjects most interesting to mankind-theology, history, politics, the principles of society: another sphere of his labours, partly oral and partly written, was literature and its criticism: a third comprebended logic and the transcendental metaphysics. Independently of his lectures, and contributions to periodicals, Coleridge's opinions are conveyed chiefly in “ The Friend," " Lay Sermons," “ Biographia Literaria," “ Aids to Reflection,” “ Constitution of Church and State," &c. Most of these works are fragmentary, or at least they exhibit collectively, only part of his system of opinions, for the poet all his life lived upon the future. His poetical works, consisting of “ Juvenile Poems," “Sybilline Leaves," odes, ballads, dramas, translations, &c., exhibit the same feature of splendid incompleteness. The whole labours of Coleridge present the appearance of an unfinished city : the outline of the streets exhibits only how splendid they might have proved ; the basement of a pillar shows how gorgeous might have been its capital. A small, compact, complete beauty of poesy or of thought pains with the reflection that it stands surrounded by mere fragments of similar promise. His works might be compared to a Californian valley, out of which may be dug solid lumps of price less gold from among materials useless or inappreciable. He was capable of immense services to poetry, and his intentions were magnificent, but Coleridge's future was a bad bank on which to draw ; its bills were perpetually dishonoured. The conspicuous features of his poetry are its exquisite and original melody of versification, whose very sound chains the ear and soul ; the harmonious grouping and idealized colouring of its pictures ; statuesqueness and purity of taste in its living figures ; and truth, in luxuriance or in simplicity, in majesty or in smallness, in its descriptions of nature. In sentiment, he opens with charming artlessness his own bosom in sorrow and in joy. There exists in general a decided contrast between the simplicity and lucidness of Coleridge's poetical style of expression, and the involved cloudlike fashion of his prose. In his poetry, as already observed, we lament incompleteness of design : “ Christabel" is unfinished ; the “ Ancient Mariner" is huddled up with an insufficient moral ; but how exquisite in their perfectness are the “ Hymn to Mount Blanc,"\ “ Love," the “ Odes," and many lesser jewels ! He often expends his genius on trifles. His dramatic pieces, like most modern efforts in that department of literature, exhibit rather scenery, joetry, and sentiment, than character. The best tribute to Coleridge's genius consists in its admiration-nay, imitation-by the highest minds among his cotemporaries, Byron and Scott, while it is evident that his phraseology and his melody still murmur in the finest strains which emanate from the present age
TO WILLIAM WORDSWORTH.2
O great bard!
Have all one age, and from one visible space 1 This, however, is one of the pieces implicated in the accusations of plagiarism against Coleridge. The accusations will be found in Tait's Magazine, September 1834; Black. wood, April 1840 ; Sir W. Hamilton's edition of Reid's Works, p. 89). The chief defence of Coleridge is seen in the preface to a recent edition of the " Biographia Literaria," by his nephew, the late Rev. H. N. Coleridge; see also Encyclop. Brit., art. Coleridge.
2"Composed on the night after his recitation of a poem on the growth of an individual mind."
Shed influence! They, both in power and act,
FROM “ CHRISTABEL."
I See the notice of Wordsworth, supra.
FROM "THE ANCIENT MARINER."
AN EQUATORIAL CALM.
The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
All in a hot and copper sky,
Day after day, day after day,
Water, water, every where,
The very deep did rot :-0 Christ!
YOUTA AND AGE.
Verse, a breeze 'mid blossoms straying,
When I was young!
1 Navigators have frequently described similar phenomena.
This breathing house not built with hands,
Flowers are lovely ; love is flower-like;
Ere I was old!
Dew-drops are the gems of morning,
When we are old :
HYMN BEFORE SUN-RISE, IN THE VALE OF CHAMOUNI.
Hast thou a charm to stay the morning star