« AnteriorContinuar »
more effective idea of the work of the great German dramatist. This version was made from a copy which the author himself afterwards revised and altered, and t e translator subsequently republished his version in a more correct form, with the additional passages and alterations of Schiller. This translation will long remain as the most effective which has been achieved of the works of the German dramatists in the British tongue.
The censure which has been cast upon our poet for not writing more which is worthy of his reputation, has been met by his enumeration of what he has done in all ways and times; and, in truth, he has written a vast deal which has passed unnoticed, upon fleeting politics, and in newspaper columns, literary as well as political. To the world these last go for nothing, though their author calculates the thought and labour they cost him at full value. He concedes something, however, to this prevailing idea respecting him, when he says, - On my own account, I may perhaps have had sufficient reason to lament my deficiency in self-control, and the neglect of concentrating my powers to the realization of some permanent work. But to verse, rather than to prose, if to either, belongs ‘the voice of mourning,' for
In another part of his works, Coleridge says, speaking of what in poetry he had written, as to myself, I have published so little, and that little of so little importance, as to make it almost ludicrous to mention my name at all.” It is evident, therefore, that a sense of what he might have done for fame, and of the little he has done, is felt by the poet; and yet, the little he has produced has among it genus of the purest lustre, the brilliancy of which time will not deaden until the universal voice of nature be heard no longer, and poetry perish beneath the dull load of life's hacknied realities.
The poem of a Christabel,” Coleridge says,
was composed in consequence of an agreement
with Mr Wordsworth, that they should mutually produce specimens of poetry which should contain • the power of exciting the sympa
thy of the reader, by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination. The sudden charm, which accidents of light and shade, which moon-light or sun-set diffused over a known and familiar landscape, appeared to represent the practicability of coinbining both." Further he observes on this thought, a that a series of poems might be composed of two sorts. In the one, the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the excellence to be aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real, etc. For the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life.” Thus, it appears, originated the poems of the Ancient Mariner, w and • Christabel,” by Coleridge, aud the . Lyrical Ballads” of Wordsworth. Perhaps there is no Fnglish writer living who understood better than Coleridge the elements of poetry, and the way in which they may be best combined to produce certain impressions. His definitions of the merits and differences in style and poetic genius, between the earliest and latest writers of his country, are superior to those which any one else has it in his power to make; for, in truth, he long and deeply meditated upon them, and no one can be dissatisfied by the reasons he gives, and the examples he furnishes to bear out his theories and opinions. These things he does as well or better in conversation than in writing. His conversational powers are indeed unrivalled, and it is to be feared that, to excel in these, he has sacrificed what are more durable; and that he has resigned, for the pleasure of gratifying an attentive listening circle, and pleasing thereby his self-love by its applause, much that would have delighted the world. His flow of words, delivery, and variety of information are so great, and he finds it so captivating to enchain his auditors to the car of his triumphant eloquence, that he has sacrificed to this gratification what might have sufficed to confer upon him a celebrity a thousand times more to be coveted by a spirit akin to his own. It is equally creditable to the taste and judgment of Coleridge, that he was one of the first to point out, with temper and sound reasoning, the fallacy of a great portion of Wordsworth's poetic theory, namely, that which relates to low life. Wordsworth contends that a proper poetic diction is a language taken from the mouths of men in general, in their natural conversation under the influence of natural feelings. Coleridge wisely asserts, that philosophers are the authors of the best
parts of language, not clowns; and that Milton's language is more that of real life than the language of a cottager. This subject he has most ably treated in chapter 17 of his Biographia Literaria. Two years after he had abandoned the Morning Post, he set off for Malta, where he most unexpectedly arrived on a visit to his friend Dr Stodart, then king's advocate in that island, and was introduced by him to the Governor, Sir Alexander Ball, who appointed him his secretary. He remained in the island fulfilling the duties of his situation, for which he seems to have been but indifferently qualified, a very short period. One advantage, however, he derived from his official employ: that of the pension granted by Government to those who have served in similar situations. On his way home he visited Italy; entered Rome, and examined its host of ancient and modern curiosities, and added fresh matter for thought to his rapidly accumulating store of ideas. Of this visit he gives several anecdotes; among them one respecting the horns of Moses on Michael Angelo's celebrated statue of that lawgiver, intended to elucidate the character of Frenchmen. Coleridge has been all his life a hater of France and Frenchmen, arising from his belief in their being completely destitute of moral or poetical feeling. A Prussian, who was with him while looking upon the statue, observed that a Frenchman was the only animal, in the human shape, that by no possibility can lift itself up to religion or poetry." A foolish and untrue remark on the countrymen of Fenelon and Pascal, of Massillon and Corneille. Just then, however, two French officers of rank happened to enter the church, and the Goth from the Elbe remarked that, the first things they would notice would be the horns and beard" (upon which the Prussian and Coleridge had just been rearing theories and quoting his– tory), and that the associations the Frenchmen would connect with them a would be those of a he-goat and a cuckold." It happened that the Prus-Goth was right: the officers did pass some such joke upon the figure. Hence, by inference, would the poet have his readers deduce the character of a people, whose literature, science, and civilization are perhaps only not the very first in the world Another instance of his fixed and absurd dislike of every thing French, occurred during the delivery of a course of Lectures on Poetry, at the Royal Institution, in the spring of 1808; in one of which he astonished his auditory by thanking his Maker, in the most serious manner, for so ordering events, that he was totally ignorant of a single word of - that frightful jargon, the French language!" And yet, notwithstand
ing this public avowal of his entire ignorance of the language, Mr C. is said to have been in the habit, while conversing with his friends, of expressing the utmost contempt for the literature of that country! Whelmed in the wild mazes of metaphysics, and for ever mingling its speculations with all he does or says, Coleridge has of late produced nothing equal to the power of his pen. A few verses in an annual, or a sonnet in a magazine, are the utmost of his efforts. He resides at Hampstead, in the house of a friend having a good garden, where he walks for hours together enwrapped in visions of new theories of theology, or upon the most abstruse of meditations. He goes into the world at times, to the social dinnerparty, where he gratifies his self-love by pouring out the stores of his mind in conversation to admiring listeners. Were he not apt to be too profound, he would make an excellent talker, or rather wn grand causeur for a second Madame de Sévigné, if such an accomplished female is to be found in the nineteenth century, either in England or France. The fluency of Coleridge's language, the light he throws upon his subjects, and the pleasure he feels in communicating his ideas, and his knowledge, innate or acquired, are equally remarkable to the stranger. He has been accused of indolence, not perhaps with reason: the misdirection of his distinguished talents would be a better explanation of that for which he has been blameable. He attempts to justify himself on the score of quantity, by asserting that some of his best things were published in newspapers. The world differs with him upon this question, and always will do so, when it is recollected what he has had the power to effect. It will not forgive him for writing upon party, and in support of principles that even now are pretty nearly exploded, - what was meant for mankind." Coleridge mistook his walk when he set up for a politician, and it is to be feared the public have a great deal to regret on account of it. He will not be known hereafter by his Morning Post articles, but by his verses. Whatever pains his political papers may have cost him, and from his own account they were laboriously composed, they will avail him nothing with posterity. The verses of Coleridge give him his claim to lasting celebrity, and it is in vain that he would have the world think otherwise. He says, “Would that the criterion of a scholar's utility were the number and moral value of the truths which he has been the means of throwing into the general circulation, or the number and value of the minds whom, by his conversation or letters, he has excited into activity, and supplied with the germs of
his moral character. His family have long resided with Mr Southey's in the north of England; the narrow pecuniary circumstances of our poet are assigned as the reason. It is arduously desired by all lovers of the Muses, that the author of the - Ancient Mariner,” and of . Geneviève,” may see life protracted to a green old age, and yet produce works which may rival those of his departed years.
* * ". - o -- - s o o - * * . . . . o - - * o
Compositions resembling those here collected are not unfrequently condemned for their querulous Egotism. But Egotism is to be condemned then only when it offends against time and place, as in a History or an Epic Poem. To censure it in a Monody or Sonnet is almost as absurd as to dislike a circle for being round. Why then write Sonnets or Monodies? Because they give me pleasure when perhaps nothing else could. After the more violent emotions of Sorrow, the mind demands amusement, and can find it in employment alone: but, full of its late sufferings, it can endure no employment not in some measure connected with them. Forcibly to turn away our attention to general subjects is a painful and most often an unavailing effort.
The communicativeness of our Nature leads us to describe our own sorrows; in the endeavour to describe them, intellectual activity is exerted; and from intellectual activity there results a pleasure, which is gradually associated, and mingles as a corrective, with the painful subject of the description. • True !” (it may be answered) a but how are the Public interested in your Sorrows or your Description?» We are for ever attributing personal Unities to imaginary Astoregates. What is the Public, but a term for a number of scattered individuals? Of whom as many will be interested in these sorrows, as have experienced the same or similar.
Holy be the lay Which mourning soothes the mourner on his way.
If I could judge of others by myself, I should not hesitate to affirm, that the most interesting passages are those in which the Author develops his own feelings? The sweet voice of Cona never sounds so sweetly, as when it speaks of itself; and I should almost suspect that man of an unkindly heart, who could read the opening of the third book of the Paradise Lost without peculiar emotion. By a Law of our Nature, he, who
labours under a strong feeling, is impelled to seek for sympathy; but a Poet's feelings are all strong. Quicquid amet valde amat. Akenside therefore speaks with philosophical accuracy when he classes Love and Poetry, as producing the same effects: Love and the wish of Poets when their tongue Would teach to others' bosoms, what so charms
There is one species of Egotism which is truly disgusting; not that which leads us to communicate our feelings to others, but that which would reduce the feelings of others to an identity with our own. The Atheist, who exclaims « pshaw!" when he glances his eye on the praises of Deity, is an Egotist: an old man, when he speaks contemptuously of Love-verses, is an Egotist: and the sleek Favourites of Fortune are Egotists, when they condemn all - melancholy, discontented - verses. Surely, it would be candid not merely to ask whether the poem pleases ourselves, but to consider whether or no there may not be others, to whom it is well calculated to give an innocent pleasure.
I shall only add, that each of my readers will, I hope, remember, that these Poems on various subjects, which he reads at one time and under the influence of one set of feelings, were written at different times and prompted by very different feelings; and therefore that the supposed inferiority of one Poem to another may sometimes be owing to the temper of mind in which he happens to peruse it.
MY poems have been rightly charged with a profusion of double-epithets, and a general turgidness I have pruned the double-epithets with no sparing hand; and used my best efforts to tame the swell and glitter both of thought and diction." This latter fault however had
without any feeling of anger, I may yet be allowed to expres some desiree of surprise, that after having run the critical gauntlet for a certain c of faults, which I had, viz. a too ornate, and elaborately poetic diction, and nothing having come before the judgment-seat of the Reviewers during the long interval, I should for at least seventeen years, quarter after quarter, have been placed by them in the foremost rank of the proscribed, and made to abide the brunt of abuse and ridicule for faults directly opposite, viz. bald and prosmic language, and an affected simplicity both of matter and manner—faults which assuredly did not enter into the character of my compositions.—Literary Life, i, 51. Published 1817.