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AMERICAN QUARTERLY REVIEW.
ART. I.-Specimens of the Table Talk of the late SAMUEL
Taylor COLERIDGE. New York: 1835.
Coleridge is one instance among the many remarkable and melancholy examples of a man of genius throwing away his opportunities. With the finest faculties- we believe them to have been of the first order, though this is denied by those who do not appreciate or respect the kind of mind he possessed, yet certainly with power and capacity to achieve far more than he has done, the question recoils upon us—what has he effected? What record is before the world, commensurate with the acknowledged greatness of his talents, a long life, and favourable circumstances? It is at all times a dangerous question to ask, whether time and talents have been well employed, even as to those with very inferior endowments to Coleridge; for there is but little doubt, most men can perform more than is really done; but, when it is demanded as to those of extraordinary powers, and no reference can be made to memorials of their efforts, but the response is returned only as an echo, there is something painful, something mortifying, something that speaks the nothingness of the human intellect, in the silent rebuke of time thus misspent. And how many are there, with the best abilities, who make life a dream? Who, with no stimulus from necessity, or with an unawakened ambition, or, if roused, making but feeble effort, are subdued by the love of ease, and drop into the idle calm of indolence? But the friends of Coleridge may, and with much truth, declare that his life was not thrown away; that his labours were constant, and not
VOL. XVIII.—NO. 37. 1
inefficient; and that, if he has not attained to all the reputation he should have, the reason may be found rather in the character of the age, and its declining taste for works of such depth. And it is true, whether this be the real cause or not, that his writings are not familiarly known, and do not possess the celebrity which can make them generally useful, and entitle the autho; to all the respect and admiration he deserves from the world. We fear, that among those called literary, and which now form an immense body, his works are little read. The all-pervading, and all-consuming taste for light reading, has done much towards quenching the spirit of philosophy, and deterring those the most strongly possessing it from venturing an opposition to the prevailing inclination. Though no sticklers for the constant predominance of any particular talent, we still think it unfortunate, that that which is the most likely to be generally useful, should not possess the widest doininion. But, for several years, imagination has usurped an authority, and ruled with so easy a power, as to clearly display it to be the most in harmony with the feelings, and the best liked by the mass of men. By the side of war, anarchy, and revolution, it has secured its place, and kept pace with the march of armies, and downfall of states; sharing the elation of the victor, and triumphing in the desolation and despair of the con-. quered. As poets are generally claimed as liberals, and from the analogy of the same talent, we presume, too, their prose brethren, imagination, though in itself a despot, must have a strong disposition to produce republicanism. Without intending to be jocular, the serious meaning we wish to impress, is, that no prevailing taste among men should be neglected, scorned, or derided. We may, as opposed to the bias of our own inclination, regret that so much genius has been bestowed-we are tempted to say, wasted-on an inferior order in literature. Lest this remark should produce dispute or reproach, we will shelter ourselves beneath the opinion of Scott himself, who, as the first and greatest agitator in that department, has a right to be considered a judge of its value. It may be asked, would you wish, then, that the mind which creates so much pleasure and amusementwhich, in its line, achieves greatness, and is perhaps only capable of great effort in that should be dormant and idle? And this demand meets the point we were approaching--that all intellectual activity, its bold, free, untrammelled exertion, is a splendid sight, and of noble promise for the future. Whatever may be the character of its attempts, if they do not tend to the moral ruin of men, they are to be cherished and admired for it is the enlargement of the province of intel
lect, it offers new realms for thought, and in the general dif· fusion gives new energy, and a deeper power, to all which can