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with a deep and anxious wish, to elevate that which it feels belongs only to human nature,--all that is mere intellect or sensation, into something that more peculiarly attaches to spirit. It loses sight of the objects of reflection, which come from the things about it, that it draws in and lays up for subjects and data, on which the mind is to dwell, and contemplates higher and purer sources, where, though there is no distinct consciousness, and all is shadowy and speculative, yet seem to be the proper position, the natural if not the necessary orbit, for the movements of these daring and aspiring souls. It is that they feel the advantage, if not the necessity, of withdrawing from the world of matter to the world of spirits,---of leaving the actual and the real, for that which thought cannot embody or language express. Perhaps this mysticism, this awakening of intelligence, beyond the regions of common knowledge, is an essential in the poet's character, if not the basis of all immortal verse. If we foreclose it, and require that every thing should be reduced to the simplicity and distinctress of a sum in arithmetic, we should do one of two bad things, reduce all poetry to the dull regulations of art, or destroy the fineness and the beauty of the feelings that dictate it. Let one take Wordsworth's noble ode, “ Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood," and try to give it the clearness of mathematics; and to what would he bring the music that breathes in every line, the surpassing power with which each thought is arrayed, the splendour that radiates through the whole, the majesty and dignity that swell simply and grandly through each verse? If it were attempted, it would be found, “that there hath past away a glory from the earth ;" and success would involve little but the assassin's selfish gratification.
But we are not sure that Coleridge is open to the charge of mysticism in its strongest and worst sense, such as would apply to a religious enthusiast. His obscurity is the result of delicate and indistinct association ; and this was an intellectual habit, arising partly from an original bias of the mind, and in an equal, if not greater degree, from the nature of his studies. The student's pedantry, and the metaphysician's ultra nicety of definition, made more obscure that which was already peculiar for its depth and distance from the usual modes of thinking. We will illustrate this by a passage from a note in his Aids to Reflection, where he speaks of the spirit that rules the church of England :-“Instead of a catholic (universal) spirit, it may be truly described as a spirit of particularism, counterfeiting catholicity by a negative totality, and heretical self-circumscription;" which is well said, though to all appearance, jargon, and undeniably enveloped in very harsh and repulsive language; and this habit of making use of uncommon words, seems at last to have become inveterate, and extended not only where they were unnecessary and uncalled for, but where they destroyed the pleasure of reading, by concealing and making difficult of discovery the beauty and tenderness of the sentiment.
But in attempting to offer an apology for Coleridge's style, we will bring to our aid his great cotemporary, Sir James Mackintosh ; a man in some respects similar, whose mind was engaged in speculations as indefinite in degree, but more generally useful, though in no way of so lofty an intellectual character. He is speaking of the “Friend," a series of essays first published in a newspaper, where they were as misplaced as diamonds on a dunghill, and must have shone with a very peculiar lustre from the mass around them. They were the elements of his philosophy, and were afterwards embodied in his more continued works, though these again were still elements, parts of some great unfinished whole, which he was ever approaching but never nearing, as it grew with his contemplations, and widened its limit with the increasing vastness of his irregular and boundless conceptions. There are passages, however, in the “Friend,” that remind us of the deep drawn splendour of Milton in his prose writings; though as a whole, they illustrate the truth of a remark one cannot help deriving from them, that a man may think well, and write badly. But we will give Mackintosh's opinion, which will be taken as true or not, according to the degree of admiration one may have for Coleridge.
“It (“The Friend”) is a refutation of the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people. It is not without ideas of great value: but it is impossible to give a stronger example of a man whose talents are beneath his understanding, and who trusts to his ingenuity to atone for his ignorance. Talents are, in my sense, habitual powers of execution; they may be very disproportioned to mind. Coleridge has either so aimed at objects naturally beyond his reach, or, what I rather believe, he has so fluctuated between various objects, that he has never mastered his subjects, and matured his ideas in such a degree, as to attain the habitual power of expressing himself with order and clearness. Shakspeare and Burke are, if I may venture on the expression, above talent, but Coleridge is not."
From having given what we think the mental causes for Coleridge's inefficiency, we will offer two of his own, indolence and ill-health. They will, to some extent, account for the quality and quantity of his labours; though only the initiated in these two evils can appreciate their full influence. Indolence is a fearful enemy to contend with, even where necessity compels exertion. It will always lessen the energy of the will, whatever be the capacity or the desire of success, or however terrible the terms on which we labour. There is a love of repose, a sweetness in inaction, after the mind has traversed a
wide circle of thought, though there appear no result, and though the sole trace is left upon the tablets of the brain, and the only record is in our own remembrance. Where the imagination is active, we are allowed to follow it. It carries us along over the far track of the past, and opens to us the long vista of the future. Splendid scenes and novel incidents rise as we course along, and pain too, and melancholy and doubt; all are represented with their various features of exaggeration, and all stand like realities for the moment. It is the same as a romance or a drama, where, though all is fiction, we cannot rid ourselves of the feeling of the existence of every character. There is no necessity for the hands recording what we have done, or seen, or felt; memory has fixed and infused it among the unfading sources of mental action; and it becomes an enduring record of the mind's vitality. What matters it if we have nothing to show after this long abstracted dream. There may be an increase in the power of reflection, and more food laid by for its future purposes. It is not as if we had dreamed, and the moment of our awaking destroyed the illusion, and showed how unsubstantial was the whole of that we had enjoyed, and of that too which gave us pain. It is not as if the senses had slumbered in the midst of day, nor is it like madness, when time and life bring nothing but the body's decay, and the agony imagination brings from our hearts, and the pleasure it creates, are the constant existence of past impression, wrought indelibly upon our minds, and coming forth with the vivid intensity of an incident of the moment. We are pursued by no phantom, shapeless, ghostly, and unreal; but that which stands before us is the spirit, in its living lifelike form, of that which has been, and though no more, is ever near us, in all the deep torture of an undying remembrance.
The state of strong reflection to which we allude, is like none of these; but the mind, though it show not nor put into form its creations or its conclusions, has still exerted equal power, and feels weary of its effort. It is not indolent, but it shows a want of active industry, in thus allowing its gleanings to be thrown away. This appears to have been one of the bad propensities of Coleridge. He thought, and studied, and his mind was ever powerfully exerted; but there was a want of object that gave a rambling character to his thoughts, and his indolence did not admit of his fixing, with determined and persevering energy, on some one design. There is a great difference between thinking, and the attempt to make our conclusions available by giving them the form of manuscript. The one is a necessity with all-not cursed with the very spirit of vacancy, for no mind can live without action; it is a law of its nature, and as imperative as any to which we submit. But, where one is
VOL. XVIII.- No. 37.
compelled to reduce to shape the various ideas reason and imagination suggest, to form a living being, the image that exists only in the recesses of the mind, is an arduous and exhausting task-one far greater than the labour of thinking, the mere passive attention to our ideas as they rise, shapeless, chaotic, and crude.
We do not mean to disparage Coleridge so far as to accuse him of yielding to this intellectual idleness, though there was an approach to it, in the want of arrangement, and the obscurity displayed in his writings; and it appeared, too, the origin of a dislike of manual toil, and of a habit of loose thinking, that made him prefer conversation to every other mode of making known his peculiar opinions. It was a faculty and habit the most congenial to his disposition; it allowed him to give all the wild wanderings of his mind and imagination, without the toil of condensing his thoughts, and concentrating their power in expression. By its means he brought the whole mass of his great erudition into play, with all the variety of topic and illustration it suggested, and found in this way a ready venit for the multitude of ideas that thronged and crowded his intellect. But there were few to whom he was intelligible; they could not follow, when the guide had lost himself and thrown away the clue to the tortuous windings of his fancy, and cast all connection into intricacy and confusion. It was not that he was vague or abstract-for there were minds near him that could keep by his side, in the most profound and difficult matters--but that the law of association was peculiar with him, that he saw analogies from dwelling more minutely on his thoughts, and that relations, even the most distant, were familiar to him, which others could not readily perceive : and thus there seemed no link between the folds that he had uncoiled---no consecutive series of ideas--but a disunited mass of great compass and depth-a fountain whose source was indistinct and obscure. For this reason, his conversation was like the firmament of heaven, filled with bright orbs, that rolled through the deep distance and fathomless obscurity of the sky, and clouded and remote to those in an inferior sphere, but which were regulated by the governing influence of his mind, and clear both in use and design to him, but to him alone.
But we must listen to his other excuse, of ill health, as a cause of inaction-a matter of which no one is a judge, who has not suffered; yet it has, like other evils, a compensating power-for, with all, there is at times the disposition to look in upon themselves, and even those most engaged in the toils and anxieties of the business of life, are often led to meditate on things that involve higher relations than their personal interests and welfare. Misfortune generally concentrates the
thoughts on self; and there is none greater than the disabled condition of physical debility.
There is no severer torment to the active spirit, than the consciousness of being unable to carry through what it undertakes, or of wanting more time for the execution of its labours, than others. But ill health causes a cowardly shrinking from labour. The mind may be active and vigorous, but it is subdued by the inertia of the body; it not only has to bear the weight of its own exertions, but to support a quickly exhausted frame. The living and the dead are bound together, and the soul ever feels its burden. But disease, which oppresses the spirits, and gives a despairing view of the importance of life, and its complete nothingness, keeps constantly before us the possibility of death, and withers the hope of action by enfeebling the desire. We ask the utility of commencing a work, when the chances are against our finishing it. We question the advantage of all or any exertion, when it may only shorten life. These demands show the morbid state of the mind, but they are the common and unhappy reaction of physical ill on our intellectual energies. But there is a self-contenplation from bad health, that seems to make us better acquainted with ourselves. From the ambitious wish to be at work, and the sense of total disqualification for exertion, arises a habit of meditating on our minds. There is a repeated examination of their capacity, a balancing of their energies, a fathoming of all they are fit for, and all they can do, that leads to a self-knowledge, which in itself is action; though while we are searching our souls to their depths, we meet with nothing to cheer, but much to depress in the physical weakness that incapacitates, much to unnerve and produce a disheartening and self-depreciating state. Through the death of the body, we thus are made to know the life of the mind; and through the decay of our strength, to appreciate our intellectual powers; and in this way we are, to some extent, compensated for our misery. But there is another way in which the want of health makes up for its unhappy influence: all sensation becomes more vivid, and pain and pleasure vibrate over the nerves with more intensity; and thus there is given a wider and more various play of feeling, and as the heart expands, the sphere for the movements of the intellect deepens and enlarges. It is this state of strong internal life and depressed animal spirits, that seems favourable to the observation of the poet, in endowing him with a finer perception, if it does not heighten his admiration for the beauty of nature, and opening every sense to the ready reception of a more powerful impression, by increasing the spirit of universal benevolence and good feeling that closes in over the humiliation and contempt for self.