« AnteriorContinuar »
began this scrawl, a friend reminded me of a letter I wrote him many years ago, on the improvement of the mind, by the habit of commencing our inquiries with the attempt to construct the most absolute or perfect form of the object desiderated, leaving its practicability, in the first instance, undetermined. An essay, in short, de emendatione intellectus per ideas-the beneficial influence of which, on his mind, he spoke of with warmth. The main contents of the letter, the effect of which, my friend appreciated so highly, were derived from conversation with a great man, now ho more. And as I have reason to regard that conversation as an epoch in the history of my own mind, I feel myself encouraged to hope that its publication may not prove useless to some of your numerous readers, to whom Nature has given the stream, and nothing is wanting but to be led into the right channel. There is one other motive to which I must plead conscious, not only in the following,
but in all of these, my preliminary contributions; viz. That by the reader's agreement with the principles, and sympathy with the general feelings, which they are meant to impress, the interest of my future contributions, and still more, their permanent effect, will be heightened; and most so in those, in which, as narrative and imaginative compositions, there is the least shew of reflection, on my part, and the least necessity for it,—though I flatter myself not the least opportunity on the part of my readers.
It will be better too, if I mistake not, both for your purposes and mine, to have it said hereafter, that he dragged slow and stiff-knee'd up the first hill, but sprang forward as soon as the road was full before him, and got in fresh; than that he set off in grand stylebroke up midway, and came in brokenwinded. Finis coronat opus. Your's, &c.
To a Junior Soph, at Cambridge.
OFTEN, my dear young friend! often, and bitterly, do I regret the stupid prejudice that made me neglect my mathematical studies, at Jesus. There is something to me enigmatically attractive and imaginative in the generation of curves, and in the whole geometry of motion. I seldom look at a fine prospect or mountain landscape, or even at a grand picture, without abstracting the lines with a feeling similar to that with which I should contemplate the graven or painted walls of some temple or palace in Mid Africa,-doubtful whether it were mere Arabesque, or undecyphered characters of an unknown tongue, framed when the language of men was nearer to that of nature a language of symbols and correspondences. I am, therefore, far more disposed to envy, than join in the laugh against your fellow-collegiate, for amusing himself in the geometrical construction of leaves and flowers.
Since the receipt of your last, I never take a turn round the garden without thinking of his billow-lines and shell-lines, under the well-sounding names of Cumäids and Conchoids; they have as much life and poetry for me, as their elder sisters, the Naids, Nereids, and Hama-dryads. I pray you, present my best respects to him,
S. T. COLERIDGE.
and tell him, that he brought to my recollection the glorious passage in Plotinus," Should any one interrogate Nature how she works? if graciously she vouchsafe to answer, she will say, It behoves thee to understand me (or better, and more literally, to go along with me) in silence, even as I am silent, and work without words ;”—but you have a Plotinus, and may construe it for yourself.-(Ennead 3.1. S. c. 3.). attending particularly to the comparison of the process pursued by Nature, with that of the geometrician. And now for your questions respecting the moral influence of W.'s minor poems. Of course, this will be greatly modified by the character of the recipient. But that in the majority of instances it has been most salutary, I cannot for a moment doubt. But it is another question, whether verse is the best way of disciplining the mind to that spiritual alchemy, which communicates a sterling value to real or apparent trifles, by using them as moral diagrams, as your friend uses the oak and fig-leaves as geometrical ones. To have formed the habit of looking at every thing, not for what it is relative to the purposes and associations of men in general, but for the truths which it suited to represent-to contemplate objects as words
and pregnant symbols-the advantages of this, my dear D., are so many, and so important, so eminently calculated to excite and evolve the power of sound and connected reasoning, of distinct and clear conception, and of genial feeling, that there are few of W.'s finest passages-and who, of living poets, can lay claim to half the number?-that I repeat so often, as that homely quatrain,
O reader! had you in your mind
You did not know my revered friend and patron; or rather, you do know the man, and mourn his loss, from the character I have lately given of him.The following supposed dialogue actually took place, in a conversation with him; and as in part, an illustration of what I have already said, and in part as text and introduction to much I would wish to say, I entreat you to read it with patience, spite of the triviality of the subject, and mock-heroic of the title.
SUBSTANCE OF A DIALOGUE, WITH A COMMENTARY ON THE SAME.
A. I never found yet, an ink-stand that I was satisfied with.
B. What would you have an ink-stand to be? What qualities and properties would you wish to have combined in an ink-stand? Reflect! Consult your past experience; taking care, however, hot to desire things demonstrably, or self-evidently incompatible with each other; and the union of these desiderata will be your ideal of an ink-stand, A friend, perhaps, suggests some additional excellence that might rationally be desired, till at length the catalogue may be considered as complete, when neither yourself, nor others, can think of any desideratum not anticipated or precluded by some one or more of the points already enumerated; and the conception of all these, as realized in one and the same artéfact, may be fairly entitled, the
IDEAL of an Ink-stand.
That the pen should be allowed, without requiring any effort or interruptive act of attention from the writer, to dip sufficiently low, and yet be prevented, without injuring its nib, from dipping too low, or taking up too much ink: That the ink-stand should be of such materials as not to decompose the ink, or occasion a deposition or discolouration of its specific ingredients, as, froin what cause I know not, is the fault of the black Wedgewoodware ink-stands; that it should be so constructed, that on being overturned, the ink cannot escape; and so protect
ed, or made of such stuff, that in case of a blow or a fall from any common height, the ink-stand itself will not be broken;-that from both these qualities, and from its shape, it may be safely and commodiously travelled with, and packed up with books, linen, or whatever else is likely to form the contents of the portmanteau, or travelling trunk ;—that it should stand steadily and commodiously, and be of as pleasing a shape and appearance as is compatible with its more important uses;
and, lastly, though of minor regard, and non-essential, that it be capable of including other implements or requisites, always, or occasionally connected with the art of writing, as pen-knife, wafers, &c. without any addition to the size and weight, otherwise desirable, and without detriment to its more important and proper advantages.
Now, (continued B.) that we have an adequate notion of what is to be wished, let us try what is to be done! And my friend actually succeeded in constructing an ink-stand, in which, during the twelve years that have elapsed since this conversation, alas! I might almost say, since his death, I have never been able, though I have put my wits on the stretch, to detect any thing wanting that an ink-stand could be rationally desired to possess; or even to imagine any addition, detraction, or change, for use or appearance, that I could desire, without involving a contradiction.
HERE! (methinks I hear the reader
* In the 8th Number of the Friend, as first circulated by the post. I dare assert, that
it is worthy of preservation, and will send a transcript in my next.
exclaim) Here's a meditation on a broom-stick with a vengeance! Now, in the first place, I am, and I do not care who knows it, no enemy to meditations on broom-sticks; and though Boyle had been the real author of the article so waggishly passed off for his on poor Lady Berkley; and though that good man had written it in grave good earnest, I am not certain that he would not have been employing his time as creditably to himself, and as profitably for a large class of readers, as the witty dean was while composing the Draper's Letters, though the muses forbid that I should say the same of Mary Cooke's Petition, Hamilton's Bawn, or even the rhyming correspondence with Dr Sheridan. In hazarding this confession, however, I beg leave to put in a provided always, that the said Meditation on Broom-stick, or aliud quidlibet ejusdem farinæ, shall be as truly a meditation as the broomstick is verily a broom-stick-and that the name be not a misnomer of vanity, or fraudulently labelled on a mere compound of brain-dribble and printer's ink. For meditation, I presume, is that act of the mind, by which it seeks within either the law of the phenomena, which it had contemplated without, (meditatio scientifica,) or semblances, symbols, and analogies, corresponsive to the same, (meditatio ethicn.) At all events, therefore, it implies thinking, and tends to make the reader think; and whatever does this, does what in the present over-excited state of society is most wanted, though perhaps least desired. Between the think ing of a Harvey or Quarles, and the thinking of a Bacon or a Fenelon, many are the degrees of difference, and many the differences in degree of depth and originality; but not such as to fill up the chasm in genere between thinking and no-thinking, or to render the discrimination difficult for a man of
ordinary understanding, not under the same contagion of vanity as the wriBesides, there are shallows for the full-grown, that are the maximum of safe depth for the younglings. There are truths, quite common-place to you and me, that for the unconstructed many would be new and full of wonder, as the common day-light to the Lapland child at the re-ascension of its second summer. Thanks and honour in the highest to those stars of the first magnitude that shoot their beams downward, and while in their proper form they stir and invirtuate the sphere next below them, and natures pre-assimilated to their influence, yet call forth likewise, each after its own norm or model, whatever is best in whatever is susceptible to each, even in the lowest. But, excepting these, I confess that I seldom look at Harvey's Meditations or Quarle's Emblems, † without feeling that I would rather be the author of those books— of the innocent pleasure, the purifying emotions, and genial awakenings of the humanity through the whole man, which those books have given to thousands and tens of thousands-than shine the brightest in the constellation of fame among the heroes and Dii minores of literature. But I have a better excuse, and if not a better, yet a less general motive, for this solemn trifling, as it will seem, and one that will, I trust, rescue my ideal of an ink-stand from being doomed to the same slut's corner with the de tribus (apellis, or de umbra asini, by virtue of the process which it exemplifies; though I should not quarrel with the allotment, if its risible merits allowed it to keep company with the ideal immortalized by Rabelais in his disquisition inquisitory De Rebus optime abstergentibus.
Dared I mention the name of my Idealizer, a name dear to science, and
"Verily, to ask, what meaneth this? is no Herculean labour. And the reader languishes under the same vain-glory as his author, and hath laid his head on the other knee of Omphale, if he can mistake the thin vocables of incogitance for the consubstantial words which thought begetteth and goeth forth in."Sir T. Brown, MSS.
+A full collection, a Bibliotheca Specialis, of the books of emblems and symbols, of all sects and parties, moral, theological, or political, including those in the Centennaries and Jubilee volumes published by the Jesuit and other religious orders, is a desideratum in our library literature that would well employ the talents of our ingenious masters in wood-engraving, etching, and lithography, under the superintendance of a Dibdin, and not unworthy of royal and noble patronage, or the attention of a Longman and his compeers. Singly or jointly undertaken, it would do honour to these princely merchants in the service of the muses. What stores might not a Southey contribute as notes or interspersed prefaces? I could dream away an hour on the subject.
consecrated by discoveries of far-extending utility, it would at least give a biographical interest to this trifling anecdote, and perhaps entitle me to claim for it a yet higher, as a trait in minimis, characteristic of a class of powerful and most beneficent intellects. For to the same process of thought we owe whatever instruments of power have been bestowed on mankind by science and genius; and only such deserve the name of inventions or discoveries. But even in those, which chance may seem to claim, "que homini obvenisse videantur potius quam homo menire in ea”—which come to us rather than we to them-this process will most often be found as the indispensable antecedent of the discovery-as the condition, without which the suggesting accident would have whispered to deaf ears, unnoticed; or, like the faces in the fire, or the landscapes made by damp on a white-washed wall, noticed for their oddity alone. To the birth of the tree a prepared soil is as necessary as the falling seed. A Daniel was present; or the fatal characters in the banquet-hall of Belshazzar might have struck more terror, but would have been of no more import than the trail of a luminous worm. In the far greater number, indeed, of these asserted boons of chance, it is the accident that should be called the condition-and often not so much, but merely the occasion-while the proper cause of the invention is to be sought for in the coexisting state and previous habit of the observer's mind. I cannot bring myself to account for respiration from the stimulus of the air, without ascribing to the specific stimulability of the lungs a yet more important part in the joint product. To how many myriads of individuals had not the rise, and fall of the lid in a boiling kettle been familiar, an appearance daily and hourly in sight? But it was reserved for a mind that understood what was to be wished and knew what was wanted in order to its fulfilment for au armed eye, which meditation had made contemplative, an eye armed from within, with an instrument of higher powers than glasses can give, with the
logic of method, the only true Orga num Flevristicum which possesses the former and better half of knowledge in itself as the science of wise questioning, and the other half in reversion, it was reserved for the Marquis of Worcester to see and have given into his hands, from the alternation of expansion and vacuity, a power mightier than that of Vulcan and all his Cyclops; a power that found its practical limit only where nature could supply no limit strong enough to confine it. For the genial spirit, that saw what it had been seeking, and saw because it sought, was it reserved in the dancing lid of a kettle or coffee-urn, to behold the future steam-engine, the Talus, with whom the Britomart of science is now gone forth to subdue and humanize the planet! When the bodily organ, steadying itself on some chance thing, imitates, as it were, the fixture of "the inward eye" on its ideal shapings, then it is that Nature not seldom reveals her close affinity with mind, with that more than man which is one and the same in all men, and from which
"the soul receives Reason and reason is her being !" Par. Lost.
Then it is, that Nature, like an individual spirit or fellow soul, seems to think and hold commune with us. If, in the present contempt of all mental analysis not contained in Locke, Hartley, or Condillac, it were safe to borrow from "scholastic lore" a technical term or two, for which I have not yet found any substitute equally convenient and serviceable, I should say, that at such moments Nature, as another subject veiled behind the visible object without us, solicits the intelligible object hid, and yet struggling beneath the subject within us, and like a helping Lucina, brings it forth for us into distinct consciousness and common light. Who has not tried to get hold of some half-remembered name, mislaid as it were in the memory, and yet felt to be there? And who has not experienced, how at length it seems given to us, as if some other unperceived had been employed
"Prudens questio dimidium scientiæ," says our Verulam, the second founder of the science, and the first who on principle applied it to the ideas in nature, as his great compeer Plato had before done to the laws in the mind.
in the same search? And what are the objects last spoken of, which are in the subject, (i. e. the individual mind) yet not subjective, but of universal validity, no accidents of a particular mind resulting from its individual structure, no, nor even of the human mind, as a particular class or rank of intelligences, but of imperishable subsistence; and though not things, (i. e. shapes in outward space,) yet equally independent of the beholder, and more than equally real-what, I say, are those but the names of nature? the nomina quasi voueva, opposed by the wisest of the Greek schools to phenomena, as the intelligible correspondents or correlatives in the mind to the invisible supporters of the appearances in the world of the senses, the upholding powers that cannot be seen, but the presence and actual being of which must be supposed-nay, will be supposed, in defiance of every attempt to the contrary by a crude materialism, so alien from humanity, that there does not exist a language on earth, in which it could be conveyed without a contradiction between the sense, and the words employed to express it!
Is this a mere random flight in etymology, hunting a bubble, and bringing back the film? I cannot think so contemptuously of the attempt to fix and restore the true import of any word; but, in this instance, I should regard it as neither unprofitable, nor devoid of rational interest, were it only that the knowledge and reception of the import here given, as the etymon, or genuine sense of the word, would Save Christianity from the reproach of
containing a doctrine so repugnant to the best feelings of humanity, as is inculcated in the following passage, among a hundred others to the same purpose, in earlier and in more recent works, sent forth by professed Christians. "Most of the men, who are now alive, or that have been living for many ages, are Jews, Heathens, or Mahometans, strangers and enemies to Christ, in whose name alone we can be saved. This consideration is extremely sad, when we remember how great an evil it is, that so many mil lions of sons and daughters are born to enter into the possession of devils to eternal ages."-Taylor's Holy Dying,p. 28. Even Sir T. Brown, while his heart is evidently wrestling with the dogma grounded on the trivial interpretation of the word, nevertheless receives it in this sense, and expresses most gloomy apprehensions "of the ends of those honest worthies and philosophers," who died before the birth of our Saviour: "It is hard," says he, "to place those souls in hell, whose worthy lives did teach us virtue on earth. How strange to them will sound the history of Adam, when they shall suffer for him they never heard of!" Yet he concludes by condemning the insolence of reason in daring to doubt or controvert the verity of the doctrine, or 66 to question the justice of the proceeding, which verity, he fears, the woeful lot of "these great examples of virtue must confirm.'
But here I must break off.
LETTER V. To the Same.
MY DEAR D.-The philosophic poet, whom I quoted in my last, may here and there have stretched his prerogative in a war of offence on the general associations of his contemporaries. Here and there, though less than the least of what the Buffoons of parody, and the 'Zanies of anonymous criticism, would have us believe, he may be thought to betray a preference of mean or trivial in stances for grand morals, a capricious predilection for incidents that contrast with the depth and novelty of the truths they are to exemplify. But still to the principle,
to the habit of tracing the presence of the high in the humble, the mysterious Dii Cabiri, in the form of the dwarf Miner, with hammer and spade, and week-day apron, we must attribute Wordsworth's peculiar power, his leavening influence on the opinions, feelings, and pursuits of his admirers, -most on the young of most promise
and highest acquirements; and that, while others are read with delight, his works are a religion. A case still more in point occurs to me, and for the truth of which I dare pledge myself. The art of printing alone seems to have