Imágenes de página


What is the deadest of things earthly? It is, says the world, ever forward and rash—" a doornail!" But the world is wrong. There id a thing deader than a door-nail, viz., Gifiman's Coleridge, Vol. I. Dead, more dead, most dead, is Gillman's Coleridge, Vol. I.; and this upon more arguments than one. The book has clearly not completed its elementary act of respiration; the systole of Vol. I. is absolutely useless and lost without the diastole of that Vol. II., which is never to exist. That is one argument, and perhaps this second argument is stronger. GiUman's Coleridge, Vol. I., deals rashly, unjustly, and almost maliciously, with some of our own particular friends; and yet, until late in this summer, Anno Domini 1844, we —that is, neither ourselves nor our friends—ever heard of its existence. Now a sloth, even without the benefit of Mr Waterton's evidence to his character, will travel faster than that. But malice, which travels fastest of all things, must be dead and cold at starting, when it can thus have lingered in the rear for six years; and therefore, though the world was so far right, that people do say, "Dead as a door-nail," yet, henceforwards, the weakest of these people will see the propriety of saying—" Dead as GiUman's Coleridge."

The reader of experience, on sliding over the surface of this opening paragraph, begins to think there's mischief singing in the upper air. No, reader— not at all. We never were cooler in our days. And this we protest, that, were it not for the excellence of the subject, Coleridge and Opinm-Eating, Mr Gillman would have been dismissed by us unnoticed. Indeed, we not only forgive Mr Gillman, but we have a kindness for him; and on this account, that he was good, he was generous, he was most forbearing, through twenty years, to poor Coleridge, when thrown upon his hospitality. An excellent

thing tliat, Mr Gillman, and one sufficient to blot out a world of libels on ourselves! But still, noticing the theme suggested by this unhappy Vol. I., we are forced at times to notice its author. Nor is this to be regretted. We remember a line of Horace never yet properly translated, viz:—

"Nee scutici dignum horribili sectere nagello." The true translation of which, as we assure the unlearned reader, is— "Nor must you pursue with the horrid knout of Christopher that man who merits only a switching." Very true. Wc protest against all attempts to invoke the exterminating knout; for that sends a man to the hospital for two months; but you see that the same jndicious poet, who dissuades an appeal to the knout, indirectly recommends the switch, which, indeed, is rather pleasant than otherwise, amiably playful in some of its little caprices, and in its worst, suggesting only a pennyworth of diachylon.

We begin by professing, with hearty sincerity, our fervent admiration of the extraordinary man who furnishes the theme for Mr Gillman's coupdessai in biography. He was, in a titerary sense, our brother—for he also was amongst the contributors to Blackwood—and will, we presume, take his station in that Blackwood gallery of portraits, which, in a century hence, will possess more interest for intellectual Europe than any merely martial series of portraits, or any gallery of statesmen assembled in congress, except as regards one or two leaders; for defunct major-generals, and secondary diplomatists, when their date is past, awake no more emotion than last year's advertisements, or obsolete directories; whereas those who, in a stormy age, have swept the harps of passion, of genial wit, or of the wrestling and gladiatorial reason, become more interesting to men when they can no longer be seen as bodily agents,

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

than even in the middle chorus of that intellectual music over which, living, they presided.

Of this great camp Coleridge was a leader, and fought amongst the primipili; yet, comparatively, he is .still unknown. Heavy, indeed, are the arrears still due to philosophic curiosity on the real merits, and on tne separate merits, of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge as a poet— Coleridge as a philosopher! How extensive are those questions, if those were all! and upon neither question have we yet any investigation—such as, by compass of views, by research, or even by earnestness of sympathy with the subject, can, or ought to satisfy, a philosophic demand. Blind is that man who can persuade himself that the interest in Coleridge, taken as a total object, is becoming an obsolete interest. We are of opinion that even Milton, now viewed from a distance of two centuries, is still inadeqnately jndged or appreciated in his character of poet, of patriot and partisan, or, finally, in his character of accomplished scholar. But, if so, how much less can it be pretended that satisfaction has been rendered to the claims of Coleridge? for, upon Milton, libraries have been written. There has been time for the malice of men, for the jealousy of men, for the enthusiasm, the scepticism, the adoring admiration of men, to expand themselves! There has been room for a Bentley, for an Addison, for a Johnson, for a wicked Lander, for an avenging Douglas, for an idolizing Chateaubriand; and yet, after all, little enough has been done towards any comprehensive estimate of the mighty being concerned. Piles of materials have been gathered to the ground; but, for the monument which should have risen from these materials, neither the first stone has been laid, nor has a qualified architect yet presented his credentials. On the other hand, upon Coleridge little, compara

tively, has yet been written, whilst the separate characters on which the jndgment is awaited, arc more by one than those which Milton sustained. Coleridge, also, is a poet; Coleridge, also, was mixed up with the fervent politics of his age—an age how memorably reflecting the revolutionary agitations of Milton's age ridge, also, was an extensive and brilliant scholar. Whatever might be the separate proportions of the two men in each particular department of the three here noticed, think as the reader will upon that point, sure we are that either subject is ample enough to make a strain upon the amplest faculties. How alarming, therefore, for any honest critic, who should undertake this later subject of Coleridge, to recollect that, after pursuing him' through a zodiac of splendours corresponding to those of Milton in kind, however different in degree—afterj weighing him as a poet, as a pkilosophic politician, as a scholar, he will j have to wheel after him into another \ orbit, into the unfathomable nimbus I of transcendental metaphysics. Weigh i him the critic must in the golden balance of philosophy the most abstruse—a balance which even itself requires weighing previously, or he will have done nothing that can be received for an estimate of the composite Coleridge. This astonishing man, be it again remembered, besides being an exquisite poet, a profound political speculator, a philosophic stndent of literature through all its chambers and recesses, was also a circumnavigator on the most pathless waters of scholasticism and metaphysics. He had sounded, without giodmg charts, the secret deeps of Proclus and Plotinus; he had laid down buoys on the twilight, or moon-light, ocean of Jacob Boehmen ;* he had cruised over the broad Atlantic of Kant and Schelling, of Fichte and Oken. Where is the man who shall be equal to these things?

[ocr errors]

Yi'e at least make no such adventurous effort; or, if ever we should presume to do so, not at present. Here we design only to make a coasting voyage of survey round the headlands and most conspicuous sea-marks of our subject, as they are brought forward by Mr Gillman, or collaterally suggested by our own reflections; and especially we wish to say a word or two on Coleridge as an opinmeater.

Naturally the first point to which we direct our attention, is the history and personal relations of Coleridge. Living with Mr Gillman for nineteen ye*ars as a domesticated friend, Coleridge ought to have been known intimately. And it is reasonable to expect, from so much intercourse, some additions to our slender knowledge of Coleridge's adventures, (if wo may use so coarse a word,) and of the secret springs at work in those early struggles of Coleridge at Cambridge, London, Bristol, which have been rndely told to the world, and repeatedly told, as sb,owy romances, but never rationally explained.

The anecdotes, however, which Mr Gillman has added to the personal history of Coleridge, are as little advantageous to the effect of his own book as they are to the interest of the memorable character which he seeks to illustrate. Always they are told without grace, and

fenerally are suspicious in their details. Ir Gillman we believe to be too npright a man for countenancing any untruth. He has been deceived. For example, will any man believe this? A certain "excellent equestrian" falling in with Coleridge on horseback, thus accosted him—"Pray, sir, did you meet a tailor along the road?" "A tailor!" answered Coleridge; "7 did meet a person answering sitch a description, who told me he had dropped his goose; tfiat if I rode a little furiker I should find it; and 1 guess he must have meant you." In Joe Miller this story would read, perhaps, sufferably. Joe has a privilege; and we do not look too narrowly into the monthofaJoe-MillerLsiu. But Mr Gillman, writing the life of a philosopher, and no jest-book, is under a different law of decorum. That retort, however, which silences the jester, it may seem, mnst be a good one. And we are desired to believe that, in this case, the

baffled assailant rode off in a spirit of benign candour, saying alond to himself, like the excellent philosopher that he evidently was, "Caught a Tartar!"

But another story of a sporting baronet, who was besides a Member of Parliament, is much worse, and altogether degrading' to Coleridge. This gentleman, by way of showing off before a party of ladies, is represented as insulting Coleridge by putting questions to him on the qualities of his horse, so as to draw the animal's miserable defects into public notice, and then closing his display by demanding what he would take for the horse "inclnding the rider." The supposed reply of Coleridge might seem good to those who understand nothing of true dignity; for, as an unpromptu, it was smart and even caustic. The baronet, it seems, was reputed to have been bought by the minister; and the reader will at once divine that the retort took advantage of that current belief, so as to throw back the sarcasm, by proclaiming that neither horse nor rider had a price placarded in the market at which any man could become their purchaser. But this was not the temper in which Coleridge either did reply, or could have replied. Coleridge showed, in the spirit of his manner, a profound sensibility to the .nature of a gentleman; and he felt too justly what it became a self-respecting person to say, ever to have aped the sort of flashy fencing which might seem fine to a theatrical blood.

Another story is self-refuted: "a hired partisan" had come to one of Coleridge's political lectures with the express purpose of bringing the lecturer into trouble; and most preposterously he laid himself open to his own snare by refusing to pay for admission. Spies must be poor artists who proceed thus. Upon which Coleridge remarked—"That, before the gentleman kicked up a dust, surely he would down with the dust." So far the story will not do. But what follows is possible enough. The xme "hired" gentleman, by way of giving unity to the tale, is described as having hissed. Upon this a cry anise of "turn him out!" But Coleridge interfered to protect him; he insisted on the man's right to hiss if he


tit; it was legal to hiss; it was natural to hiss; "for what is to be expected, gentlemen, when the cool waters of reason come in contact with red-hot aristocracy, but a hiss?" Euge!

Amongst all the aneedotes, however, of this splendid man, often trivial, often incoherent* often unauthenticated, there is one which strikes us ;is both true and interesting; and we are grateful to Mr Gillman for preserving it. We find it introduced, and partially authenticated, by the following sentence from Coleridge himself: —" From eight to fourteen I was a playless day-dreamer, a helluo librorum; my appetite for which was indulged by a singular incident. A stranger, who was struck by my conversation, made me free of a circulating library in King's Street, Cheapside." The more circumstantial explanation of Mr Gillman is this: "The incident indeed was singular. Going down the Strand, in one of his daydreams, fancying himself swimming across the Hellespont, thrusting his hands before him as in the act of swimming, his hand came in contact with a gentleman's pocket. The gentleman seized his hand, turning round, and looking at him with some anger —' What! so young, and yet so wicked?' at the same time accused him of an attempt to pick his pocket. The frightened boy sobbed out his denial of the intention, and explained to him how he thought himself Leander swimming across the Hellespont. The gentleman was so struck and delight':1 with the novelty of the thing, and v, ith the simplicity and intelligence of the boy, that he subscribed, as before stated^ to the library; in consequence of which Coleridge was further enabled to indulge his love of reading."

Wc fear that this slovenly narrative is the very perfection of bad storytelling. But the story itself is striking, and, by the very oddness of the incidents, not likely to have been invented. The effect, from the position of the two parties—on the one side, a simple child from Devonshire, dreaming in the Strand that he was swimming over from Sestos to Abydos, and, on the other, the experienced

man, dreaming only of this world, its knaves and its thieves, but still kind and generous—is beantiful and picturesque. Oh! si sic omnia!

But the most interesting to us of the personalities connected with Coleridge are his fends and his personal dislikes. Incomprehensible to us is the war of extermination which Coleridge made upon the political economists. Did Sir James Steuart, in speaking of vine-dressers, (not as vine-dressers, but generally as cultivators,) tell his readers, that, if such a man simply replaced his own consumption, having no surplus whatever or increment for the public capital, he could not be considered a useful citizen? Not the beast in the Revelation is held up by Coleridge as more hateful to the spirit of truth than the Jacobite baronet. And yet we know of an author—-viz. one S. T. Coleridge —who repeated that same doctrine without fmding any evil in it. Look at the first part of the Wallenstein, where Count Isolani having said, "Pooh! we are all his subjects," i". e. soldiers, (though uuproductive labourers,) not less than productive peasants, the emperor's envoy replies—" Yet with a difference, general;" and the difference implies Sir James's scale, his vinedresser being the equatorial case between the two extremes of the envoy. —Malthus again, in his populatioubook, contends for a mathematic difference between animal and vegetable life, in respect to the law of increase, as though the first increased by geometrical ratios, the last by arithmetical! No proposition more worthy of laughter; since both, when permitted to expand, increase by geometrical ratios, and the latter by much higher ratios. Whereas, Malthus persuaded himself of his crotchet simply by refusing the requisite condition in the vegetable case, and granting it in the other. If you take a few grains of wheat, and are required to plant all successive generations of their produce in the same flower-pot for ever, of course you neutralise its expansion by your own act of arbitrary limitation.* But so you would do, if you tried the case of animal increase by

* Malthus would havo rejoined by saying—that the flower-pot limitation was the actual limitation of naturo in our present circumstances. In America it is slill exterminating all but one replacing couple of parents. This is not to try, but merely a pretence of trying, one order of powers against another. That was folly. But Coleridge combated this idea in a manner so obscure, that nobody understood it. And leaving these speculative conundrums, in coming to the great practical interests afloat in the Poor Laws, Coleridge did so little real work, that he left, as a res integra, to Dr Alison, the capital argument that legal and adequate provision for the poor, whether impotent poor or poor accidentally out of work, does not extend pauperism—no, but is the one great resource for putting it down. Dr Alison's overwhelming and experimental manifestations of that truth have prostrated Malthus and his generation for ever. This comes of not attending to the Latin maxim—" Hoc age"—mind the object before you. Dr Alison, a wise man, " hoc egit:" Coleridge " alind egit.'' And wo see the result. In a case which suited him, by interesting his peculiar feeling, Coleridge could command

"Attention fall ten times as much as there needs."

But search documents, value evidence, or thresh out bushels of statistical tables, Coleridge could not, any more than he could ride with Elliot's dragoons.

Another instance of Coleridge's inaptitnde for such stndies as political ceouomy is found in his fancy, by no means "rich and rare," but meagre and trite, that taxes can never injure public prosperity by mere excess of quantity; if they injure, we are to conclnde that it must be by their quality and mode of operation, or by their

false appropriation, (as, for instance, if they are sent out of the country and spent abroad.) Because, says Coleridge, if the taxes are exhaled from the country as vapours, back they come in drenching showers. Twenty pounds ascend in a Scotch mist to the Chancellor of the Exchequer from Leeds; but does it evaporate? Not at all: By return of post down comes an order for twenty pounds' worth of Leeds cloth, on account of Government, seeing that the poor men of the

th regiment want new gaiters.

True; but of this return twenty pounds, not more than four will be profit, t. t., surplus accruing to tho public capital; whereas, of the original twenty pounds, every shilling was surplus. The same unsound fancy has been many times brought forward; often in England, often in France. But it is curious, that its first appearance upon any stage was precisely two centuries ago, when as yet political economy slept with the pre-Adamites, viz. in the Long Parliament. In a quarto volume of the debates during 1644-5, printed as an independent work, will bo found the same identical doctrine, supported very sonorously by the same little love of an illustration from the see-saw of mist and rain.

Political economy was not Coleridge's forte. In politics he was happier. In mere personal politics, he (like every man when reviewed from a station distant by forty years) will often appear to have erred; nay, he will be detected and nailed in error. But this is the necessity of us all. Keen are the refutations of time. And m absolute results to posterity arc the fatal touchstone of opinions in the past. It is undeniable, besides, that

otherwise, he would say; but England t* the very flower-pot you suppose: sho is a Hower-pot which cannot be multiplied, and cannot even be enlarged. Very well; to be it: (Which we say in order to waive irrelevant disputes.) But then the true inference will be—not that vegetable increase proceeds under a different law from that which governs animal increase, but that, through an accident of position, the experiment cannot be tried in England. Surely the levers of Archimedes, with submission to Sir Edward B. Lytton, were not the less levers because he wanted the locum standi. It is proper, by the way, that we should inform the reader of this generation where to look for Coleridge's skirmishings with Malthus. They are to be found chiefly in the late Mr William Hazlitt's work on that subject: a work which Coleridge so far claimed as to assert that it had been substantially made up from his own conversation.

« AnteriorContinuar »