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REMINISCENCES OF SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE AND ROBERT SOUTHEY
by JOSEPH COTTLE
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It is with a solemnized feeling that I enter on these Reminiscences. Except one, I have survived all the associates of my earlier days. The young, with a long life in perspective, (if any life can be called long, in so brief an existence) are unable to realize the impressions of a man, nearer eighty than seventy, when the shadows of evening are gathering around, and, in a retrospective glance, the whole field of past vision appears, in all its complexities, like the indistinct tumults of a dream. The acute reasoner—the fiery politician—the eager polemic—the emulous aspirant after fame; and many such have I known, where are they? and how mournful, if any one of them should be found, at last, to have directed his solicitudes, alone, to material objects;—should have neglected to cultivate his own little plot of earth, more valuable than mines! and have sown no seeds for eternity. It is not a light motive which could have prompted me, when this world of "Eye and Ear" is fast receding, while grander scenes are opening, and so near! to call up almost long-forgotten associations, and to dwell on the stirring, by-gone occurrences that tend, in some measure, to interfere with that calm which is most desirable, and best accords with the feelings of one who holds life by such slender ties. Yet through the goodness of the Almighty, being at the present moment exempt from many of the common infirmities of age, I am willing, as a last act, to make some sacrifice to obtain the good which I hope this recurrence to the past is calculated to produce.
With respect to Mr. Coleridge, it would be easy and pleasant to sail with the stream; to admire his eloquence; to extol his genius; and to forget his failings; but where is the utility, arising out of this homage paid to naked talent? If the attention of posterity rested here, where were the lessons of wisdom to be learnt from his example? His path through the world was marked by strong outlines, and instruction is to be derived from every feature of his mind, and every portion of his eventful and chequered life. In all the aspects of his character, he was probably the most singular man that has appeared in this country during the preceding century, and the leading incidents of whose life ought to stand fairly on record. The facts which I have stated are undeniable, the most important being substantiated by his own letters; but higher objects were intended by this narrative than merely to elucidate a character, (however remarkable), in all its vicissitudes and eccentricities. Rising above idle curiosity, or the desire of furnishing aliment for the sentimental;—excitement the object, and the moral tendency disregarded, these pages take a wider range, and are designed for the good of many, where if there be much to pain the reader, he should moderate his regrets, by looking through the intermediate to the end.
There is scarcely an individual, whose life, if justly delineated, would not present much whence others might derive instruction. If this be applicable to the multitude, how much more essentially true is it, in reference to the ethereal spirits, endowed by the Supreme with a lavish portion of intellectual strength, as well as with proportionate capacities for doing good? How serious therefore is the obligation to fidelity, when the portraiture of a man is to be presented, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in whom such diversified and contrary qualities alternately predominated! Yet all the advantages to be derived from him, and similar instructors of mankind, must result from a faithful exhibition of the broad features of their earthly conduct and character, so that they might stand out as landmarks, and pharos-towers, to guide, or warn, or encourage, all succeeding voyagers on the Ocean of Life.
In preparing the following work, I should gladly have withheld that one letter of Mr. Coleridge to Mr. Wade, had not the obligation to make it public been imperative. But concealment would have been injustice to the living, and treachery to the dead. This letter is the solemnizing voice of conscience. Can any reflecting mind, deliberately desire the suppression of this document, in which Mr. Coleridge, for the good of others, generously forgets its bearing on himself, and makes a full and voluntary confession of the sins he had committed against "himself, his friends, his children, and his God?" In the agony of remorse, at the retrospection, he thus required that this his confession should hereafter be given to the public. "AFTER MY DEATH, I EARNESTLY ENTREAT, THAT A FULL AND UNQUALIFIED NARRATIVE OF MY WRETCHEDNESS, AND ITS GUILTY CAUSE, MAY BE MADE PUBLIC, THAT AT LEAST SOME LITTLE GOOD MAY BE EFFECTED BY THE DIREFUL EXAMPLE." This is the most redeeming letter Samuel Taylor Coleridge ever penned. A callous heart could not have written it. A Christian, awaking from his temporary lethargy, might. While it powerfully propitiates the reader, it almost converts condemnation into compassion.
No considerate friend, it might be thought, would have desired the suppression of this letter, but rather its most extended circulation; and that, among other cogent reasons, from the immense moral lesson, enforced by it, in perpetuity, on all consumers of opium; in which they will behold, as well as in some of the other letters, the "tremendous consequences," (to use Mr. Coleridge's own expressions) of such practices, exemplified in his own person; and to which terrible effects, he himself so often, and so impressively refers. It was doubtless a deep conviction of the beneficial tendencies involved in the publication, that prompted Mr. C. to direct publicity to be given to this remarkable letter, after his decease.
The incidents connected with the lives of Mr. Coleridge and Mr. Southey, are so intimately blended, from relationship, association, and kindred pursuits, that the biography of one, to a considerable extent, involves that of the other. The following narrative, however, professes to be annals of, rather than a circumstantial account of these two remarkable men.
Some persons may be predisposed to misconstrue the motive for giving publicity to the following letter, but others, it is hoped, will admit that the sole object has been, not to draw the reader's attention to the writer, but to confer credit on Southey. Many are the individuals who would have assisted, to a greater extent than myself, two young men of decided genius, like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey, who required, at the commencement of their literary career, encouragement, and a little assistance. Few however, would have exhibited the magnanimity which Southey displayed, in seasons of improved circumstances, by referring to slender acts of kindness, long past, and scarcely remembered but by himself. Few are the men, who, after having surmounted their difficulties by honourable exertion, would have referred to past seasons of perplexity, and have desired—that occurrences "might be seen hereafter," which little minds would sedulously have concealed, as discredit, rather than as conferring conspicuous honour.
Ten years after the incidents had occurred to which the following letter refers, in writing to Mr. Southey, among other subjects, I casually expressed a regret, that when I quitted the business of a bookseller, I had not returned him the copy-rights of his "Joan of Arc;" of his two volumes of Poems; and of his letters from Spain and Portugal. The following was his reply.
"Wednesday evening, Greta Hall, April 28, 1808.
My dear Cottle,
... What you say of my copy-rights affects me very much. Dear Cottle, set your heart at rest on that subject. It ought to be at rest. They were yours; fairly bought, and fairly sold. You bought them on the chance of their success, what no London bookseller would have done; and had they not been bought, they could not have been published at all. Nay, if you had not published 'Joan of Arc,' the poem never would have existed, nor should I, in all probability, ever have obtained that reputation which is the capital on which I subsist, nor that power which enables me to support it.
But this is not all. Do you suppose, Cottle, that I have forgotten those true and most essential acts of friendship which you showed me when I stood most in need of them? Your house was my house when I had no other. The very money with which I bought my wedding ring, and paid my marriage fees, was supplied by you. It was with your sisters that I left my Edith, during my six months' absence; and for the six months after my return, it was from you that I received, week by week, the little on which we lived, till I was enabled to live by other means. It is not the settling of our cash account that can cancel obligations like these. You are in the habit of preserving your letters, and if you were not, I would entreat you to preserve this, that it might be seen hereafter. Sure I am, that there never was a more generous, nor a kinder heart than yours, and you will believe me when I add, that there does not live that man upon earth, whom I remember with more gratitude, and more affection. My heart throbs, and my eyes burn with these recollections. Good night my dear old friend and benefactor.
Gratitude is a plant indigenous to Heaven. Specimens are rarely found on Earth. This is one.
Mr. Southey, on previous occasions had advised me to write my "Recollections of Persons and Things," and it having been understood that I was about to prepare a memoir of Mr. Coleridge, (1836) Mr. S. renewed his solicitation, as will appear by the following extracts.
"Keswick, April 14, 1836.
My dear Cottle,
There is I hope, time enough for you to make a very interesting book of your own 'Recollections,' a book which will be of no little value to the history of our native city, and the literature of our times. Your prose has a natural ease which no study could acquire. I am very confident you could make as delightful a book on this subject as Isaac Walton has in his way. If you are drawing up your 'Recollections of Coleridge,' you are most welcome to insert anything of mine which you may think proper. To be employed in such a work, with the principles and frame of mind wherewith you would engage in it, is to be instructing and admonishing your fellow-creatures; it is employing your talents, and keeping up that habitual preparation for the enduring inheritance in which the greater part of your life has been spent. Men like us, who write in sincerity, and with the desire of teaching others so to think, and to feel, as may be best for themselves and the community, are labouring as much in their vocation as if they were composing sermons, or delivering them from the pulpit....
God bless you, my dear old friend. Always yours most affectionately,
On another occasion Mr. S. thus wrote.
"My dear Cottle,
I both wish and advise you to draw up your 'Reminiscences', I advise you for your own sake, as a valuable memorial, and wish it for my own, that that part of my life might be faithfully reported by the person who knows it best...." "You have enough to tell which is harmless, as well as interesting, and not harmless only, but instructive, and that ought to be told, and which only you can tell."
It may be proper to notice that the title here adopted, of "REMINISCENCES" is to be understood as a general, rather than as a strictly applicable phrase, since the present miscellaneous work is founded on letters, and various memoranda, that for the most part, have lain in a dormant state for many years, and which were preserved as mementos of past scenes, personally interesting, but without, in the first instance, the least reference to ultimate publication.
I cannot withhold a final remark, with which my own mind is greatly affected; from revolving on a most unexpected, as it is a singular fact,—that these brief memorials of Mr. Coleridge, and Mr. Southey, should be written by the same individual who, more than half a century before, contributed his humble efforts to assist, and encourage them, in their first entrance on a literary life. The whole of the events thus recorded, appear through the dim vista of memory, already with the scenes before the flood! while all the busy, the aspiring, and the intellectual spirits here noticed, and once so well known, have been hurried off our mortal stage!—Robert Lovell!—George Burnet!—Charles Lloyd!—George Catcott!—Dr. Beddoes!—Charles Danvers!—Amos Cottle!—William Gilbert!—John Morgan!—Ann Yearsley!—Sir H. Davy!—Hannah More!—Robert Hall!—Samuel Taylor Coleridge!—Charles Lamb!—Thomas Poole!—Josiah Wade!—Robert Southey!—and John Foster!—confirming, with fresh emphasis,
"What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue!"
Bristol, April 20, 1847.
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Pantisocracy and Robert Lovell
Mr. Southey and Mr. Burnet arrive in Bristol
Mr. Coleridge arrives in Bristol
Fears for the Pantisocritans dissipated
A London bookseller offers Mr. Coleridge six guineas for the copyright of his Poems
Mr. Coleridge and Mr. Southey each sells his 1st volume of Poems, for thirty guineas
Mr. Southey sells his Joan of Arc for fifty guineas
Mr. Coleridge begins his lectures in Bristol
Specimen of Mr. C.'s lecture
Liberty's letter to Famine
Mr. C.'s political lectures, &c.
Death of Robert Lovell
Mr. Southey's course of historical lectures
Mr. Coleridge disappoints his audience
Excursion to Tintern Abbey
Dissension between Mr. Coleridge and Mr. Southey
Incidents connected with Mr. Coleridge's volume of Poems
Mr. Coleridge married to Miss Sarah Fricker
Household articles required
Notices of Wm. Gilbert, Ann Yearsley, H. More, and Robert Hall
Mr. Coleridge removes, first to Bristol and then to Stowey
—- ————- again to Bristol
—- ————- woeful letter
Mr. Coleridge's Poems now published
—- ————- projects his "Watchman"
—- ————- seven letters, while on his journey to collect subscribers to the "Watchman"
—- ————- inaugural sermon at Bath
Mr. Lloyd domesticates with Mr. Coleridge
Mr. Coleridge's melancholy letter
Mr. Coleridge's views of Epic Poetry
Quarrel between Mr. Coleridge and Mr. Southey. Reconciled
Mr. Coleridge's letter to Miss Cruikshanks
—- ———— diagram of the second bottle
—- ———— Theological letter
Mr. Coleridge prepares for a second edition of his Poems
Mr. Coleridge's letter to George Catcott
—- ———— on hexameters, &c.
—- ———— Foster-mother's tale (extract)
—- ———— ludicrous interview with a country woman
—- ———— Poem relating to Burns
—- ———— character of Mr. Wordsworth
Herbert Croft and Chatterton (Note)
Coleridge's character of Thelwall
Letters from Charles Lamb
Mr. Coleridge's lines to Joseph Cottle
Sara's lines to the same
Three Sonnets, by Nehemiah Higginbotham
Coleridge, Lloyd, and Lamb, quarrel
Lamb's sarcastic Theses to Mr. Coleridge
Coleridge goes to Shrewsbury on probation
Mr. Coleridge receives an annuity of L150 from the Messrs. Thomas and Josiah Wedgewood
Letters from Mr. Wordsworth,—Lyrical Ballads
Mr. Wordsworth caballed against
Disasters attending a dinner with Mr. Wordsworth
Mr. Coleridge and Mr. Wordsworth depart for Germany
Mr. Coleridge's character of Mr. Southey
Mr. Southey marries Miss Edith Fricker
Three letters of Mr. Southey, from Falmouth and Portugal
Sundry letters from Mr. Southey to Joseph Cottle
George Dyer, and a ludicrous incident
Mr. Southey's rhyming letter from Lisbon
Mr. Churchey, and incidents concerning him
Mr. Southey in danger from an enraged author
Mr. Southey and Wat Tyler
Mr. Foster explains how Wat Tyler came to be published
J. Morgan's ruined circumstances. Mr. S.'s proposal for a subscription
List of Mr. Southey's contributions to the Quarterly
Discovery of first edition of Pilgrim's Progress
Mr. Coleridge's letter on travelling in Germany
Slow sale at first of Mr. Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads
Mr. Humphrey Davy arrives in Bristol
Dr. Beddoe and the Pneumatic Institution
Mr. Davy's dangerous experiments with the gases
Mr. Coleridge's and Mr. Davy's anecdotes
Mr. Coleridge relates his military adventures
Mr. Coleridge's Epigrams from the German
Character of Coleridge, by Professor Wilson, Mr. Sergeant Talfourd, Dr. Dibdin, Mr. Justice Coleridge, Rev. Archdeacon Hare, Quarterly Review, Rev. C. V. Le Grice
Mr. Coleridge's letter to Mr. Cottle on his return from Malta, 1807
Rev. J. Foster's letter concerning Coleridge
Mr. Coleridge's singular escape from Italy
—- —————- letter on the Trinity
—- —————- views of Unitarianism
—- —————- character of Sir H. Davy
Sir H. Davy's rebuke of an Infidel
Mr. Coleridge's character of Holcroft, the Atheist
Rev. J. Foster's letter respecting his Essay on Doddridge
Mr. Coleridge's letter to Mr. G. Fricker
Mr. De Quincey presents Mr. Coleridge with L300
Mr. Coleridge's letter on Narrative Poems
Reasons why Mr. Coleridge's opium habits should not be concealed
Mr. Coleridge ill in Bath
Mr. Coleridge engages to Lecture in Bristol, 1814. Disappoints his Audience, by an excursion into North Wales
Mr. Coleridge's lines for a transparency at the capture of Buonaparte
Mr. Coleridge's approval of Infant Schools
Mr. Cottle's letter of remonstrance respecting opium
Mr. Coleridge's distressing letters in reply
Mr. Coleridge wishes to be placed in an Asylum
Mr. Southey's letters respecting Mr. Coleridge
Mr. Coleridge's contrivance to cheat the doctor
Mr. Coleridge leaves Bristol for Calne
Letters of Mr. Southey respecting Mr. Coleridge
Letter of Mr. Coleridge from Calne
Mr. Coleridge's letter, requiring the truth to be told of his opium habits, after his death
Mr. Coleridge's letter to his god-son, Kinnaird
Letters from Mr. Southey concerning Mr. Allsop, and the scheme of Pantisocracy, and Mr. Coleridge
Letters from Mr. Southey concerning "Early Recollections"
Letter from Mr. Southey: his Western journey
Letter from Mr. Southey. Melancholy foreboding
Mr. Southey's mental malady
Letter from Mr. Foster, relating to Mr. Southey
Mr. Cottle's letter to Mr. Foster, respecting Mr. Southey
Sixteen letters from Mr. Coleridge to Thomas and Josiah Wedgewood, Esqs.
List of works promised by Mr. Coleridge, but not written
Mr. Coleridge sound in health, in 1800
—- ————- his health undermined by opium soon after
Dr. Carlyon, relating to Mr. Coleridge (Note)
Extracts from Mr. Poole's letters, respecting Mr. Coleridge
Dr. Adam's letter to Mr. Gillman, respecting Mr. Coleridge
Mr. Coleridge domesticates with Mr. Gillman
Letter of Mr. Foster, respecting Mr. Coleridge
Prayer of Mr. Coleridge, 1831
Mr. Coleridge's Epitaph on himself
Mr. Coleridge's monument
Character of John Henderson
Controversy of Rowley and Chatterton
The Weary Pilgrim, a Poem
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Ten years ago I published "Recollections of S. T. Coleridge." This work I have revised, and embodied in the present "Reminiscences of S. T. Coleridge, and Robert Southey." My views and motives have been explained in the Introduction.
If some Readers should consider that there are occasional documents introduced into the following work, too unimportant and derogatory to legitimate biography, I would observe, that it was designed that nothing should be admitted which was not characteristic of the individual; and that which illustrates character in a man of genius, cannot well be esteemed trifling and deserving of rejection.—In preparing those Reminiscences, some effort has been required. I have endeavoured to forget the intervening space of forty or fifty years, and, as far as it was practicable, to enter on the scenes and circumstances described with all the feelings coincident with that distant period. My primary design has been to elucidate the incidents referring to the early lives of the late Mr. Coleridge and Mr. Southey: yet I purposed, in addition, to introduce brief notices of some other remarkable characters, known in Bristol at this time.
To account for my introduction to all the persons subsequently noticed, it is necessary to apprise the Reader that I was a bookseller in Bristol from the year 1791 to 1798; from the age of 21 to 28: and having imbibed from my tutor and friend, the late John Henderson, (one of the most extraordinary of men) some little taste for literature, I found myself, during that period, generally surrounded by men of cultivated minds. With these preliminary remarks I shall commence the narrative.
At the close of the year 1794, a clever young man, of the Society of Friends, of the name of Robert Lovell, who had married a Miss Fricker, informed me that a few friends of his from Oxford and Cambridge, with himself, were about to sail to America, and, on the banks of the Susquehannah, to form a Social Colony, in which there was to be a community of property, and where all that was selfish was to be proscribed. None, he said, were to be admitted into their number, but tried and incorruptible characters; and he felt quite assured that he and his friends would be able to realize a state of society free from the evils and turmoils that then agitated the world, and to present an example of the eminence to which men might arrive under the unrestrained influence of sound principles. He now paid me the compliment of saying that he would be happy to include me in this select assemblage who, under a state which he called PANTISOCRACY, were, he hoped, to regenerate the whole complexion of society; and that, not by establishing formal laws, but by excluding all the little deteriorating passions; injustice, "wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking," and thereby setting an example of "Human Perfectibility."
Young as I was, I suspected there was an old and intractable leaven in human nature that would effectually frustrate these airy schemes of happiness, which had been projected in every age, and always with the same result. At first the disclosure so confounded my understanding, that I almost fancied myself transported to some new state of things, while images of patriarchal and pristine felicity stood thick around, decked in the rain-bow's colours. A moment's reflection, however, dissolved the unsubstantial vision, when I asked him a few plain questions.
"How do you go?" said I. My young and ardent friend instantly replied, "We freight a ship, carrying out with us ploughs, and other implements of husbandry." The thought occurred to me, that it might be more economical to purchase such articles in America; but not too much to discourage the enthusiastic aspirant after happiness, I forebore all reference to the accumulation of difficulties to be surmounted, and merely inquired who were to compose his company? He said that only four had as yet absolutely engaged in the enterprise; Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from Cambridge; (in whom I understood the plan to have originated;) Robert Southey and George Burnet, from Oxford, and himself. "Well," I replied, "when do you set sail?" He answered, "Very shortly. I soon expect my friends from the Universities, when all the preliminaries will be adjusted, and we shall joyfully cross the blue waves of the Atlantic." "But," said I "to freight a ship, and sail out in the high style of gentlemen agriculturists, will require funds. How do you manage this?" "We all contribute what we can," said he, "and I shall introduce all my dear friends to you, immediately on their arrival in Bristol."
Robert Lovell (though inexperienced, and constitutionally sanguine) was a good specimen of the open frankness which characterizes the well-informed members of the Society of Friends; and he excited in me an additional interest, from a warmth of feeling, and an extent of reading, above even the ordinary standard of the estimable class to which he belonged. He now read me some of the MS. poems of his two unknown friends, which at once established their genius in my estimation.
My leisure having been devoted for many years to reading and composition, and having a small volume of Poems at that time in the press, I anticipated great pleasure from an introduction to two poets, who superadded to talents of a high order, all the advantages arising from learning, and a consequent familiarity with the best models of antiquity. Independently of which, they excited an interest, and awakened a peculiar solicitude, from their being about so soon to leave their father land, and to depart permanently for a foreign shore.
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One morning shortly after, Robert Lovell called on me, and introduced Robert Southey. Never will the impression be effaced, produced on me by this young man. Tall, dignified, possessing great suavity of manners; an eye piercing, with a countenance full of genius, kindliness, and intelligence, I gave him at once the right hand of fellowship, and to the moment of his decease, that cordiality was never withdrawn. I had read so much of poetry, and sympathized so much with poets in all their eccentricities and vicissitudes, that, to see before me the realization of a character, which in the abstract most absorbed my regards, gave me a degree of satisfaction which it would be difficult to express.
I must now make a brief reference to George Burnet, who, in this epidemic delusion, had given his sanction to, and embarked all his prospects in life on this Pantisocratical scheme. He was a young man, about the age of twenty; the son of a respectable Somersetshire farmer, who had bestowed on him his portion, by giving him an University education as an introduction to the Church, into which he would probably have entered but for this his transatlantic pursuit of happiness. His talents were not conspicuous, but his manners were unpresuming, and honesty was depicted on his countenance. He possessed also that habitual good temper, and those accommodating manners, which would prove a desirable accession in any society; and it soon appeared, without indicating any disrespect, that his was a subordinate part to act in the new drama, and not the less valuable for its wanting splendour.
After some considerable delay, it was at length announced, that on the coming morning Samuel Taylor Coleridge would arrive in Bristol, as the nearest and most convenient port; and where he was to reside but a short time before the favouring gales were to waft him and his friends across the Atlantic. Robert Lovell at length introduced Mr. C. I instantly descried his intellectual character; exhibiting as he did, an eye, a brow, and a forehead, indicative of commanding genius. Interviews succeeded, and these increased the impression of respect. Each of my new friends read me his productions. Each accepted my invitations, and gave me those repeated proofs of good opinion, ripening fast into esteem, that I could not be insensible to the kindness of their manners, which, it may truly be affirmed, infused into my heart a brotherly feeling, that more than identified their interests with my own.
I introduced them to several intelligent friends, and their own merits soon augmented the number, so that their acquaintance became progressively extended, and their society coveted. Bristol was now found a very pleasant residence; and though the ship was not engaged, nor the least preparation made for so long a voyage, still the delights and wide-spreading advantages of Pantisocracy formed one of their everlasting themes of conversation; and, considering the barrenness of the subject, it was in no common degree amusing, to hear these young enthusiasts repel every objection to the practicability of their scheme, and magnify the condition to which it was to introduce them; where thorns and briars were, no doubt, to be expelled, and their couch to be strewed with down and roses.
It will excite merely an innocent smile in the reader at the extravagance of a youthful and ardent mind, when he learns that Robert Lovell stated with great seriousness, that, after the minutest calculation and inquiry among practical men, the demand on their labour would not exceed two hours a day; that is, for the production of absolute necessaries. The leisure still remaining, might be devoted, in convenient fractions, to the extension of their domain, by prostrating the sturdy trees of the forest, where "lop and top," without cost, would supply their cheerful winter fire; and the trunks, when cut into planks, without any other expense than their own pleasant labour, would form the sties for their pigs, and the linnies for their cattle, and the barns for their produce; reserving their choicest timbers for their own comfortable log-dwellings. But after every claim that might be made on their manual labour had been discharged, a large portion of time, would still remain for their own individual pursuits, so that they might read, converse, and even write books.
Cowper, in an unpublished letter now before me, says, "I know well that publication is necessary to give an edge to the poetic turn, and that what we produce in the closet, is never a vigorous birth, if we intend that it should die there. For my own part I could no more amuse myself with writing verse, if I did not print it when written, than with the study of tactics, for which I can never have any real occasion." But our young and ardent friends seemed to entertain a strong impression that the mere pleasure of writing, that is, like virtue, writing for its own sake, was all the mental and rational gratification wise men could desire. Views and times alter, and these richly-endowed young men, in after life, were prompt, and amongst the first to confess the fallacious schemes of their youth; but at this time the pleasurable alone occupied their field of vision, and confidence never stood more unencumbered with doubt.
If any difficulties were now started, and many such there were, a profusion of words demonstrated the reasonableness of the whole design; impressing all who heard, with the conviction that the citadel was too strong for assault. The Mercury at these times was generally Mr. Coleridge, who, as has been stated, ingeniously parried every adverse argument, and after silencing his hardy disputants, announced to them that he was about to write and publish a quarto volume in defence of Pantisocracy, in which a variety of arguments would be advanced in defence of his system, too subtle and recondite to comport with conversation. It would then, he said, become manifest that he was not a projector raw from his cloister, but a cool calculating reasoner, whose efforts and example would secure to him and his friends the permanent gratitude of mankind.
From the sentiments thus entertained, I shall represent Mr. Coleridge, in the section of his days which devolves on me to exhibit, just as he was, and that with a firm belief that by so doing, without injuring his legitimate reputation, I shall confer an essential benefit on those to come, who will behold in Mr. C. much to admire and imitate; and certainly some things to regret. For it should be remembered, Mr. Coleridge, from universal admission, possessed some of the highest mental endowments, and many pertaining to the heart; but if a man's life be valuable, not for the incense it consumes, but for the instruction it affords, to state even defects, (in one like Mr. C. who can so well afford deduction without serious loss) becomes in his biographer, not optional, but a serious obligation.
It is proper additionally to remark, that some apology or propitiation may be necessary toward those who regard every approximation to poverty, not as a misfortune, but a crime. Pecuniary difficulties, especially such as occur in early life, and not ascribable to bad conduct, reflect no discredit on men of genius. Many of them, subsequently, surmounted their first embarrassments by meritorious exertion; and some of our first men (like travellers, after having successfully passed through regions of privation and peril) delight even to recall their former discouragements, and, without the shame that luxuriates alone in little minds, undisguisedly to tell of seasons, indelible in their memories, when, in the prostration of hope, the wide world appeared one desolate waste! but they ultimately found, that these seasons of darkness, (however tenaciously retained by memory) in better times often administer a new and refreshing zest to present enjoyment. Despair, therefore ill becomes one who has follies to bewail, and a God to trust in. Johnson and Goldsmith, with numerous others, at some seasons were plunged deep in the waters of adversity, but halcyon days awaited them: and even those sons of merit and misfortune whose pecuniary troubles were more permanent, in the dimness of retrospection, only stand out invested in softer hues.
Cervantes is not the less read, because the acclamations of praise were heard by him in his abode of penury. Butler, Otway, Collins, Chatterton, and Burns, and men like them, instead of suffering in public estimation from the difficulties they encountered, absolutely challenge in every generous mind an excess of interest from the very circumstances that darkened the complexion of their earthly prospects.
In corroboration of this remark, in our own day, the son of Crabbe, who must have cherished the deepest solicitude for his father's reputation, has laid bare to general inspection his parent's early perplexities, by which impartial disclosures we behold the individual in his deepest depressions; worth enriched by trial, and greatness, by a refining process, struggling successfully with adversity. Does the example of such a man nobly bearing up against the pressures that surrounded him inflict obduracy on our hearts? On the contrary, while we feelingly sympathize with the poet, and deplore the tardy hand of deliverance, we pause only to transfer a reflex portion of praise to him whose magnanimous conduct has furnished so ample a scope for the tenderest emotions of our nature. This reflection will induce me not to withhold from false delicacy, occurrences, the disclosure of which none but the inconsiderate will condemn; and by which all the features of Mr. Coleridge's character will be exhibited to the inspection of the inquisitive and philosophical mind.
I proceed, therefore, to state that the solicitude I felt lest these young and ardent geniuses should in a disastrous hour, and in their mistaken apprehensions, commit themselves in this their desperate undertaking, was happily dissipated by Mr. Coleridge applying for the loan of a little cash,—to pay the voyager's freight? or passage? No,—LODGINGS. They all lodged, at this time, at No. 48, College-Street. Never did I lend money with such unmingled pleasure, for now I ceased to be haunted day and night with the spectre of the ship! the ship! which was to effect such incalculable mischief! The form of the request was the following:
My dear Sir,
Can you conveniently lend me five pounds, as we want a little more than four pounds to make up our lodging bill, which is indeed much higher than we expected; seven weeks, and Burnet's lodging for twelve weeks, amounting to eleven pounds.
S. T. COLERIDGE.
Till this time, not knowing what the resources of my young friends were, I could not wholly divest myself of fear; but now an effectual barrier manifestly interposed to save them from destruction. And though their romantic plan might linger in their minds, it was impossible not to be assured that their strong good sense would eventually dissipate their delusions.
Finding now that there was a deficiency in that material, deemed of the first consequence in all civilized states, and remembering Burgh's feeling lamentation over the improvidence, or rather the indifference with which many men of genius regard the low thoughts that are merely of a pecuniary nature, I began to revolve on the means by which the two poets might advantageously apply their talents.
Soon after, finding Mr. Coleridge in rather a desponding mood, I urged him to keep up his spirits, and recommended him to publish a volume of his poems. "Oh," he replied, "that is a useless expedient." He continued: "I offered a volume of my poems to different booksellers in London, who would not even look at them! The reply being, 'Sir, the article will not do.' At length, one, more accommodating than the rest, condescended to receive my MS. poems, and, after a deliberate inspection, offered me for the copy-right, six guineas, which sum, poor as I was, I refused to accept." "Well," said I, "to encourage you, I will give you twenty guineas." It was very pleasant to observe the joy that instantly diffused itself over his countenance. "Nay," I continued, "others publish for themselves, I will chiefly remember you. Instead of giving you twenty guineas, I will extend it to thirty, and without waiting for the completion of the work, to make you easy you may have the money as your occasions require." The silence and the grasped hand, showed that at that moment one person was happy.
Every incident connected with the lives of literary men, especially at the commencement of their career, always excites interest. I have been, therefore, the more particular in detailing this circumstance, (except for its connexion, of no consequence) and proceed further to state, that now, meeting Mr. Southey, I said to him, "I have engaged to give Mr. Coleridge thirty guineas for a volume of his poems; you have poems equal to a volume, and if you approve of it, I will give you the same." He cordially thanked me, and instantly acceded to my proposal.
I then said to him, "you have read me several books of your 'Joan of Arc' which Poem I perceive has great merit. If it meet with your concurrence, I will give you fifty guineas for this work, and publish it in quarto, when I will give you, in addition, fifty copies to dispose of amongst your friends." Without a moment's hesitation, to this proposal also he acceded.
I could say much of Mr. Southey at this time; of his constitutional cheerfulness; of the polish of his manners; of his dignified, and at the same time, of his unassuming deportment; as well as of the general respect which his talents, conduct, and conversation excited. But before reference be made to more serious publications, some notice will be taken of other objects of pursuit.
Mr. Coleridge and Mr. Southey, now determined by their best efforts, in other ways than those detailed, to raise money for their projected expedition. They resolved therefore, to give the citizens of Bristol individual lectures, or series of lectures, on different subjects. Mr. Coleridge chose Political and Moral subjects; Mr. Southey chose History. On examining my old papers, I find most of the notices or prospectuses relating to these subjects.
Mr. Coleridge's first two lectures were delivered in the Corn Market in Wine-Street.
Mr. Coleridge's next two lectures were delivered the latter end of February, 1795, and afterwards were thrown into a small pamphlet, printed under the title of "Conciones ad Populum, or Addresses to the people." After this he consolidated two other of his lectures, and published them under the title of "The Plot Discovered." Two detached lectures were given at the Corn Market, and one at a room in Castle Green. All these lectures were anti-Pitt-ite.
The next lecture given by Mr. Coleridge was in reprobation of the Slave Trade. The following was the prospectus:—
"To-morrow evening, June 16th, 1795, S. T. Coleridge, of Jesus College, Cambridge, will deliver, (by particular desire) a lecture on the Slave Trade, and the duties that result from its continuance.
To begin at eight o'clock in the evening, at the Assembly Coffee House, on the Quay. Admission, One shilling."
His next lecture was (it is believed) on the Hair Powder Tax, in which his audience were kept in good feeling, by the happy union of wit, humour, and argument. Mr. C.'s lectures were numerously attended, and enthusiastically applauded.
It may amuse and gratify the reader, to receive a specimen of a lecture, descriptive of Mr. C.'s composition and reasoning, delivered at this time, and by which it will appear that his politics were not of that inflammable description which would set a world in flames.
"... But of the propriety and utility of holding up the distant mark of attainable perfection, we shall enter more fully toward the close of this address. We turn with pleasure to the contemplation of that small but glorious band, whom we may truly distinguish by the name of thinking and disinterested patriots. These are the men who have encouraged the sympathetic passions till they have become irresistible habits, and made their duty a necessary part of their self-interest, by the long-continued cultivation of that moral taste, which derives our most exquisite pleasures from the contemplation of possible perfection.
Accustomed to regard all the affairs of man as a process, they never hurry, and they never pause. Theirs is not the twilight of political knowledge, which gives us just light enough to place one foot before the other: as they advance, the scene still opens upon them, and they press right onward, with a vast and varied landscape of existence around them. Calmness and energy mark all their actions. Benevolence is the silken thread that runs through the pearl-chain of all their virtues. The unhappy children of vice and folly, whose tempers are adverse to their own happiness, as well as to the happiness of others, will at times awaken a natural pang, but he looks forward with gladdened heart to that glorious period when justice shall have established the universal fraternity of love. These soul-ennobling views bestow the virtues which they anticipate. He whose mind is habitually impressed with them, soars above the present state of humanity, and may be justly said to dwell in the presence of the Most High. Regarding every event, as he that ordains it, evil vanishes from before him, and he views the eternal form of universal beauty."
At one of his lectures, Mr. Coleridge amused his audience by reciting the following letter from Liberty to his dear friend Famine; the effect of which was greatly heightened by Mr. C.'s arch manner of recitation. It should be understood that there was at this time a great scarcity in the land.
You will doubtless be surprised at receiving a petitionary letter from a perfect stranger, but, Fas est vel ab hoste. All whom I once supposed my unalterable friends, I have found unable, or unwilling to assist me. I first applied to GRATITUDE, entreating her to whisper into the ear of Majesty, that it was I who had placed his forefathers on the throne of Great Britain. She told me that she had frequently made the attempt, but had as frequently been baffled by FLATTERY: and, that I might not doubt the truth of her apology, she led me (as the Spirit did the prophet Ezekiel) "to the door of the COURT, and I went in and saw—and behold! every form of creeping things." I was however somewhat consoled, when I heard that RELIGION was high in favour there, and possessed great influence. I myself had been her faithful servant, and always found her my best protectress: her service being indeed perfect freedom. Accordingly, in full confidence of success, I entered her mansion, but, alas! instead of my kind mistress, horror-struck, I beheld a painted, patched-up old ——. She was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, and on her forehead was written "MYSTERY." I shrieked, for I knew her to be the dry-nurse of that detested Imp, DESPOTISM.
I next addressed myself to PRUDENCE, and earnestly besought her to plead my cause to the Ministers; to urge the distresses of the lower orders, and my fears lest, so distressed, they should forget their obedience. For the prophet Isaiah had informed me "that it shall come to pass, that when the people shall be hungry, they shall fret themselves and curse the King." The grave matron heard me, and, shaking her head, learnedly replied, "Quos Deus vult perdere dementat." Again I besought her to speak to the rich men of the nation, concerning Ministers, of whom it might soon become illegal even to complain—of long and ruinous wars, and whether they must not bear the damage. All this quoth PRUDENCE, I have repeatedly urged, but a sly imposter named EXPEDIENCE has usurped my name, and struck such a panick of property, as hath steeled the hearts of the wealthy, and palsied their intellects. Lastly I applied to CONSCIENCE. She informed me that she was indeed a perfect ventriloquist, and could throw her voice into any place she liked, but that she was seldom attended to unless when she spoke out of the pocket.
Thus baffled and friendless, I was about to depart, and stood a fearful lingerer on the isle which I had so dearly loved—when tidings were brought me of your approach. I found myself impelled by a power superior to me to build my last hopes on you. Liberty, the MOTHER of PLENTY, calls Famine to her aid. O FAMINE, most eloquent Goddess! plead thou my cause. I in the mean time, will pray fervently that heaven may unstop the ears of her Vicegerent, so that they may listen to your first pleadings, while yet your voice is faint and distant, and your counsels peaceable.
"I remain your distressed suppliant,
The following is the prospectus of Mr. Coleridge's series of Political lectures.
S. T. Coleridge proposes to give, in Six Lectures, a comparative view of the English Rebellion under Charles the First, and the French Revolution.
The subjects of the proposed Lectures are,
FIRST. The distinguishing marks of the French and English character, with their probable causes. The national circumstances precursive to—1st, the English Rebellion.—2nd, the French Revolution.
SECOND. The Liberty of the Press. Literature; its Revolutionary powers. Comparison of the English, with the French Political Writers, at the time of the several Revolutions. Milton. Sydney. Harrington.—Brissot. Sieyes. Mirabeau. Thomas Paine.
THIRD. The Fanaticism of the first English and French Revolutionists. English Sectaries. French Parties. Feuillans. Girondists. Faction of Hebert. Jacobins. Moderants. Royalists.
FOURTH. 1st, Characters of Charles the First, and Louis the Sixteenth. 2nd, of Louis the Fourteenth and the present Empress of Russia. 3rd, Life and Character of Essex and Fayette.
FIFTH. Oliver Cromwell, and Robespierre.—Cardinal Mazarine, and William Pitt.—Dundas, and Barrere.
SIXTH. On Revolution in general. Its moral causes, and probable effects on the Revolutionary People, and surrounding nations.
It is intended that the Lectures should be given once a week; on Tuesday Evenings, at eight o'clock, at the Assembly Coffee House, on the Quay. The First Lecture, on Tuesday, June 23d, 1795. As the author wishes to ensure an audience adequate to the expenses of the room, he has prepared subscription tickets for the whole course, price Six Shillings, which may be had at the Lecture Room, or of Mr. Cottle, or Mr. Reed, Booksellers.
Mr. Coleridge's Theological lectures succeeded, of which the following is the prospectus.
Six Lectures will be given by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, on Revealed Religion, its Corruptions, and its Political Views.
These Lectures are intended for two classes of men, Christians and Infidels; to the former, that they be able to give a reason for the hope that is in them; to the latter, that they may not determine against Christianity, from arguments applicable to its corruptions only.
The subjects of the FIRST LECTURE, are—The Origin of Evil. The Necessity of Revelation deduced from the Nature of man. An Examination and Defence of the Mosaic Dispensation.
SECOND.—The Sects of Philosophy, and the Popular Superstitions of the Gentile World, from the earliest times to the Birth of Christ.
THIRD.—Concerning the Time of the Appearance of Christ. The Internal Evidences of Christianity. The External Evidences of Christianity.
FOURTH.—The External Evidences of Christianity continued. Answers to Popular and Philosophical objections.
FIFTH.—The Corruptions of Christianity, in Doctrines. Political Application.
SIXTH.—The grand Political Views of Christianity—far beyond other Religions, and even Sects of Philosophy. The Friend of Civil Freedom. The probable state of Society and Governments, if all men were Christians.
Tickets to be had of Mr. Cottle, Bookseller.
Sometimes a single Lecture was given. The following is an Advertisement of one of them.
To-morrow Evening, Tuesday, June 16th, 1795, S. T. Coleridge will deliver (by particular desire) a Lecture on the Slave Trade, and the duties that result from its continuance.
To begin at 8 o'clock, at the Assembly Coffee House, on the Quay. Admittance, One Shilling.
It may be proper to state that all three of my young friends, in that day of excitement, felt a detestation of the French war then raging, and a hearty sympathy with the efforts made in France to obtain political ameliorations. Almost every young and unprejudiced mind participated in this feeling; and Muir, and Palmer, and Margarot, were regarded as martyrs in the holy cause of freedom. The successive enormities, however, perpetrated in France and Switzerland by the French, tended to moderate their enthusiastic politics, and progressively to produce that effect on them which extended also to so many of the soberest friends of rational freedom. Mr. Coleridge's zeal on these questions was by far the most conspicuous, as will appear by some of his Sonnets, and particularly by his Poem of "Fire, Famine, and Slaughter;" though written some considerable time after. When he read this Poem to me, it was with so much jocularity as to convince me that, without bitterness, it was designed as a mere joke.
In conformity with my determination to state occurrences, plainly, as they arose, I must here mention that strange as it may appear in Pantisocritans, I observed at this time a marked coolness between Mr. Coleridge and Robert Lovell, so inauspicious in those about to establish a "Fraternal Colony;" and, in the result, to renovate the whole face of society! They met without speaking, and consequently appeared as strangers. I asked Mr. C. what it meant. He replied, "Lovell, who at first, did all in his power to promote my connexion with Miss Fricker, now opposes our union." He continued, "I said to him, 'Lovell! you are a villain!'" "Oh," I replied, "you are quite mistaken. Lovell is an honest fellow, and is proud in the hope of having you for a brother-in-law. Rely on it he only wishes you from prudential motives to delay your union." In a few days I had the happiness of seeing them as sociable as ever.
This is the last time poor Robert Lovell's name will be mentioned in this work, as living. He went to Salisbury, caught a fever, and, in eagerness to reach his family, travelled when he ought to have lain by; reached his home, and died! We attended his funeral, and dropt a tear over his grave!
Mr. Coleridge, though at this time embracing every topic of conversation, testified a partiality for a few, which might be called stock subjects. Without noticing his favorite Pantisocracy, (which was an everlasting theme of the laudatory) he generally contrived, either by direct amalgamation or digression, to notice in the warmest encomiastic language, Bishop Berkeley, David Hartley, or Mr. Bowles; whose sonnets he delighted in reciting. He once told me, that he believed, by his constant recommendation, he had sold a whole edition of some works; particularly amongst the fresh-men of Cambridge, to whom, whenever he found access, he urged the purchase of three works, indispensable to all who wished to excel in sound reasoning, or a correct taste;—Simpson's Euclid; Hartley on Man; and Bowles's Poems.
In process of time, however, when reflection had rendered his mind more mature, he appeared to renounce the fanciful and brain-bewildering system of Berkeley; whilst he sparingly extolled Hartley; and was almost silent respecting Mr. Bowles. I noticed a marked change in his commendation of Mr. B. from the time he paid that man of genius a visit. Whether their canons of criticisms were different, or that the personal enthusiasm was not mutual; or whether there was a diversity in political views; whatever the cause was, an altered feeling toward that gentleman was manifested after his visit, not so much expressed by words, as by his subdued tone of applause.
The reflux of the tide had not yet commenced, and Pantisocracy was still Mr. Coleridge's favourite theme of discourse, and the banks of the Susquehannah the only refuge for permanent repose. It will excite great surprise in the reader to understand that Mr. C.'s cooler friends could not ascertain that he had received any specific information respecting this notable river. "It was a grand river;" but there were many other grand and noble rivers in America; (the Land of Rivers!) and the preference given to the Susquehannah, seemed almost to arise solely from its imposing name, which, if not classical, was at least poetical; and it probably by mere accident became the centre of all his pleasurable associations. Had this same river been called the Miramichi or the Irrawaddy, it would have been despoiled of half its charms, and have sunk down into a vulgar stream, the atmosphere of which might have suited well enough Russian boors, but which would have been pestiferous to men of letters.
The strong hold which the Susquehannah had taken on Mr. Coleridge's imagination may be estimated by the following lines, in his Monody on Chatterton.
"O, Chatterton! that thou wert yet alive; Sure thou would'st spread the canvass to the gale, And love with us the tinkling team to drive O'er peaceful freedom's UNDIVIDED dale; And we at sober eve would round thee throng, Hanging enraptured on thy stately song! And greet with smiles the young-eyed POSEY All deftly masked, as hoar ANTIQUITY. Alas, vain phantasies! the fleeting brood Of woe self-solaced in her dreamy mood! Yet I will love to follow the sweet dream, Where Susquehannah pours his untamed stream, And on some hill, whose forest-frowning side Waves o'er the murmurs of his calmer tide; And I will build a cenotaph to thee, Sweet harper of time-shrouded minstrelsy! And there soothed sadly by the dirgeful wind, Muse on the sore ills I had left behind."
In another poem which appeared only in the first edition, a reference is again made to the American "undivided dell," as follows:
TO W. J. H.
While playing on his flute.
Hush! ye clamorous cares! be mute. Again, dear Harmonist! again, Through the hollow of thy flute, Breathe that passion-warbled strain:
Till memory each form shall bring The loveliest of her shadowy throng; And hope that soars on sky-lark whig, Carol wild her gladdest song!
O skill'd with magic spell to roll The thrilling tones, that concentrate the soul! Breathe through thy flute those tender notes again, While near thee sits the chaste-eyed maiden mild; And bid her raise the poet's kindred strain In soft empassioned voice, correctly wild.
"In freedom's UNDIVIDED DELL Where toil and health, with mellowed love shall dwell, Far from folly, far from men, In the rude romantic glen, Up the cliff, and through the glade, Wand'ring with the dear-loved maid, I shall listen to the lay, And ponder on thee far away."
Mr. Coleridge had written a note to his Monody on Chatterton, in which he caustically referred to Dean Milles. On this note being shown to me, I remarked that Captain Blake, whom he occasionally met, was the son-in-law of Dean Milles. "What," said Mr. Coleridge, "the man with the great sword?" "The same," I answered. "Then," said Mr. C. with an assumed gravity, "I will suppress this note to Chatterton; the fellow might have my head off before I am aware!" To be sure there was something rather formidable in his huge dragoon's sword, constantly rattling by his side! This Captain Blake was a member of the Bristol Corporation, and a pleasant man, but his sword, worn by a short man, appeared prodigious!—Mr. C. said, "The sight of it was enough to set half a dozen poets scampering up Parnassus, as though hunted by a wild mastodon."
In examining my old papers I found this identical note in Mr. Coleridge's hand writing, and which is here given to the reader; suggesting that this note, like the Sonnet to Lord Stanhope, was written in that portion of C.'s life, when it must be confessed, he really was hot with the French Revolution. Thus he begins:
By far the best poem on the subject of Chatterton, is, "Neglected Genius, or Tributary Stanzas to the memory of the unfortunate Chatterton." Written by Rushton, a blind sailor.
Walpole writes thus. "All the House of Forgery are relations, although it be but just to Chatterton's memory to say, that his poverty never made him claim kindred with the more enriching branches; yet he who could so ingeniously counterfeit styles, and the writer believes, hands, might easily have been led to the more facile imitation of Prose Promissory Notes!" O, ye who honor the name of man, rejoice that this Walpole is called a Lord! Milles, too, the editor of Rowley's Poem's, a priest; who (though only a Dean, in dulness and malignity was most episcopally eminent) foully calumniated him.—An Owl mangling a poor dead nightingale! Most injured Bard!
"To him alone in this benighted age Was that diviner inspiration given Which glows in Milton's, and in Shakspeare's page, The pomp and prodigality of heaven!"
Mr. Southey's course of Historical Lectures, comprised the following subjects, as expressed in his prospectus.
Robert Southey, of Baliol College, Oxford, proposes to read a course of Historical Lectures in the following order.
1st. Introductory: on the origin and Progress of Society. 2nd. Legislation of Solon and Lycurgus. 3rd. State of Greece, from the Persian War to the Dissolution of the Achaian League. 4th. Rise, Progress, and Decline of the Roman Empire. 5th. Progress of Christianity. 6th. Manners and Irruptions of the Northern Nations. Growth of the European States. Feudal System. 7th. State of the Eastern Empire, to the Capture of Constantinople by the Turks; including the Rise and Progress of the Mahommedan Religion, and the Crusades. 8th. History of Europe, to the Abdication of the Empire by Charles the Fifth. 9th. History of Europe, to the Establishment of the Independence of Holland. 10th. State of Europe, and more particularly of England, from the Accession of Charles the First, to the Revolution, in 1688. 11th. Progress of the Northern States. History of Europe to the American War. 12th. The American War.
Tickets for the whole course, 10s. 6d. to be had of Mr. Cottle, bookseller, High-Street.
These Lectures of Mr. Southey were numerously attended, and their composition was greatly admired; exhibiting as they did a succinct view of the various subjects commented upon, so as to chain the hearers' attention. They at the same time evinced great self-possession in the lecturer; a peculiar grace in the delivery; with reasoning so judicious and acute, as to excite astonishment in the auditory that so young a man should concentrate so rich a fund of valuable matter in lectures, comparatively so brief, and which clearly authorized the anticipation of his future eminence. From this statement it will justly be inferred, that no public lecturer could have received stronger proofs of approbation than Mr. S. from a polite and discriminating audience.
Mr. Coleridge had solicited permission of Mr. Southey, to deliver his fourth lecture, "On the Rise, Progress, and Decline of the Roman Empire," as a subject to which he had devoted much attention. The request was immediately granted, and at the end of the third lecture it was formally announced to the audience, that the next lecture would be delivered by Mr. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, of Jesus College, Cambridge.
At the usual hour the room was thronged. The moment of commencement arrived. No lecturer appeared! Patience was preserved for a quarter, extending to half an hour!—but still no lecturer! At length it was communicated to the impatient assemblage, that a circumstance, exceedingly to be regretted! would prevent Mr. Coleridge from giving his lecture that evening, as intended. Some few present learned the truth, but the major part of the company retired not very well pleased, and under the impression that Mr. C. had either broken his leg, or that some severe family affliction had occurred. Mr. C's rather habitual absence of mind, with the little importance he generally attached to engagements, renders it likely that at this very time he might have been found at No. 48, College-Street; composedly smoking his pipe, and lost in profound musings on his divine Susquehannah!
Incidents of the most trifling nature must sometimes be narrated; when they form connecting links with events of more consequence.
Wishing to gratify my two young friends and their ladies elect with a pleasant excursion, I invited them to accompany me in a visit to the Wye, including Piercefield and Tintern Abbey; objects new to us all. It so happened the day we were to set off was that immediately following the woeful disappointment! but here all was punctuality. It was calculated that the proposed objects might be accomplished in two days, so as not to interfere with the Friday evening's lecture, which Mr. Southey had now wisely determined to deliver himself.
The morning was fine. The party of five all met in high spirits, anticipating unmingled delight in surveying objects and scenery, scarcely to be surpassed in the three kingdoms. We proceeded to the Old Passage; crossed the Severn, and arrived at the Beaufort Arms, Chepstow, time enough to partake of a good dinner, which one of the company noticed Homer himself had pronounced to be no bad thing: a sentiment in which we all concurred, admiring his profound knowledge of human nature! But prior to our repast, we visited the fine old Castle, so intimately connected with by-gone days; and as soon as possible we purposed to set off toward the Abbey, distant about six or seven miles; taking Piercefield in our way.
Proceeding on my principle of impartial narration, I must here state, that, after dinner, an unpleasant altercation occurred between—no other than the two Pantisocritans! When feelings are accumulated in the heart, the tongue will give them utterance. Mr. Southey, whose regular habits scarcely rendered it a virtue in him, never to fail in an engagement, expressed to Mr. Coleridge his deep feelings of regret, that his audience should have been disappointed on the preceding evening; reminding him that unless he had determined punctually to fulfil his voluntary engagement he ought not to have entered upon it. Mr. C. thought the delay of the lecture of little or no consequence. This excited a remonstrance, which produced a reply. At first I interfered with a few conciliatory words, which were unavailing; and these two friends, about to exhibit to the world a glorious example of the effects of concord and sound principles, with an exemption from all the selfish and unsocial passions, fell, alas! into the common lot of humanity, and in so doing must have demonstrated, even to themselves, the rope of sand to which they had confided their destinies!
In unspeakable concern and surprise I retired to a distant part of the room, and heard with dismay the contention continued, if not extending; for now the two young ladies entered into the dispute, (on adverse sides, as might be supposed) each confirming or repelling the arguments of the belligerents. A little cessation in the storm afforded me the opportunity of stepping forward and remarking that, however much the disappointment was to be regretted, it was an evil not likely again to occur, (Mr. S. shook his head) and that the wisest way, was to forget the past and to remember only the pleasant objects before us. In this opinion the ladies concurred, when placing a hand of one of the dissentients in that of the other, the hearty salutation went round, and with our accustomed spirits, we prepared once more for Piercefield and the Abbey.
Being an indifferent walker (from a former dislocation of my ancle, arising out of a gig accident) I had engaged a horse, while the four pedestrians set forward, two on each side of my Rosinante. After quitting the extensive walks of Piercefield, we proceeded toward that part of the road, where we were to turn off to the right, leading down to Tintern Abbey. We had been delayed so long at Chepstow, and afterward, by various enchanting scenes, particularly that from the Wind-cliff, that we were almost benighted, before we were aware. We recalled all our minute directions. Every object corresponded. A doubt expressed, at a most unlucky moment, whether we were to turn to the right, or to the left, threw ice into some hearts; but at length we all concurred, that it was to the right, and that this must be the road.
These complicated deliberations, allowed the night rapidly to advance, but the grand preliminaries being settled, we approached the "road" and strove to penetrate with our keenest vision into its dark recesses. A road! this it could not be. It was a gross misnomer! It appeared to our excited imaginations, a lane, in the tenth scale of consanguinity to a road; a mere chasm between lofty trees, where the young moon strove in vain to dart a ray! To go or not to go, that was the question! A new consultation was determined upon, what proceeding should be adopted in so painful a dilemma. At length, with an accession of courage springing up as true courage always does in the moment of extremity, we resolutely determined to brave all dangers and boldly to enter on the road, lane, or what it was, where perchance, Cadwallader, or Taliesen, might have trodden before!
On immerging into the wood, for such it was, extending the whole downward way to Tintern, we all suddenly found ourselves deprived of sight; obscurity aggravated almost into pitchy darkness! We could see nothing distinctly whilst we floundered over stones, embedded as they appeared in their everlasting sockets, from the days of Noah. The gurgling of the unseen stream, down in the adjacent gully, (which we perchance might soon be found, reluctantly to visit!) never sounded so discordant before. Having some respect for my limbs (with no bone-setter near) I dismounted, resolving to lead my steed who trembled as though conscious of the perilous expedition on which he had entered. Mr. Coleridge who had been more accustomed to rough riding than myself, upon understanding that I through cowardice had forsaken the saddle, without speaking a word put his foot in the stirrup and mounting, determined to brave at all hazards, the dangers of the campaign.
Our General on his charger floundered on before us over channels that the storms had made, and the upstarting fragments of rocks that seemed confederated to present an insurmountable barrier to every rash and roving wight. We were in a forlorn condition! and never before did we so feelingly sympathize with the poor babes in the wood; trusting, in the last extremity, (should it occur) a few kind robins with their sylvan pall, would honour also our obsequies. This kind of calming ulterior hope might do very well for poets, but it was not quite so consolatory to the ladies, who with all their admiration of disinterested pity, wished to keep off the dear tender-hearted robins a little longer.
These desponding thoughts were of short continuance, for whether the moon had emerged from clouds, or that our sight had become strengthened by exercise, we rejoiced now in being able to see a little, although it might be to reveal only sights of woe. Mr. Southey marched on like a pillar of strength, with a lady pressing on each arm, while the relator lagged in the rear, without even a pilgrim's staff to sustain his tottering steps. Our condition might have been more forlorn, had not Mr. Coleridge from before cheered on his associates in misfortune; and intrepidity produces intrepidity.
The deepest sorrow often admits of some alleviation, and at present our source of beguilement was to invent some appropriate name, in designation of this most[*] horrible channel of communication between man and man. Various acrimonious epithets were propounded, but they all wanted an adequate measure of causticity; when Mr. Southey censuring in us our want of charity, and the rash spirit that loaded with abuse objects which if beheld in noon-day might be allied even to the picturesque, proposed that our path-way, whatever it was, should simply be called—"Bowling-green-lane."
[* Transcriber's note: Corrected from original 'mot'.]
We should have smiled assent, but we had just arrived at a spot that overshadowed every countenance with ten-fold seriousness! This was no moment for gratuitous triflings. We had arrived at a spot, where there was just light enough to descry three roads, in this bosom of the wood, diverging off in different directions! two of them must be collaterals; and to fix on the one which was honest, where all had equal claims to bad pre-eminence, exceeded our divining power. Each awhile ruminated in silence; reflecting that we were far from the habitations of man, with darkness only not intense around us! We now shouted aloud, in the faint hope that some solitary woodman might hear, and come to our relief. The shrill voices of the ladies, in the stillness of night, formed the essence of harmony. All was silence! No murmur! No response! The three lanes lay before us. If we pursued one, it might by the next morning, conduct us safe back to Chepstow; and if we confided in the other, it might lead us in due time, half-way toward Ragland Castle! What was to be done? One in the company now remarked, "Of what service is it to boast a pioneer, if we do not avail ourselves of his services?" Mr. Coleridge received the hint, and set off up one of the lanes at his swiftest speed, namely, a cautious creep; whilst we four stood musing on the wide extent of human vicissitudes! A few hours before, surrounded by a plethora of enjoyments, and now desponding and starving in the depth of what appeared an interminable forest. To augment our trouble, fresh anxieties arose! From Mr. Coleridge's long absence, we now almost feared whether hard necessity might not force us to go in search of our way-bewildered or quagmired companion!
To our great joy, we now faintly heard, in the stillness of night, the horse's hoofs sliding over the loose stones! The sound drew nearer. Mr. Coleridge approached and pensively said, that could not be the way, for it led to an old quarry which the quick sight of his steed discovered just in time to save both their necks! Mr. C. was next ordered instantly to explore one of the other two ominous lanes; when like a well-disciplined orderly man, he set off gallantly on his new commission. After waiting a time, which in our state of suspense might almost be called a period, he leisurely returned, significantly saying, that neither man nor beast could pass that way! rubbing his thorn-smitten cheek. Now came the use of the syllogism, in its simplest form. "If the right road must be A, B, or C, and A and B were wrong, then C must be right." Under this conviction, we marched boldly on, without further solicitude or exploration,' and at length joyfully reached—Tintern Abbey!
On arriving at this celebrated place, to which so many travellers resort, (thanks now to his Grace of Beaufort for a better road than ours) the first inquiry that hunger taught us to make of a countryman, was for the hotel. "Hotel! Hotel! Sir? Oh, the sign of the Tobacco Pipe! There it is over the way." Rusticity and comfort often go together. We entered the inn, homely as it was, quite certain that any transition must be paradisaical, compared with our late hopeless condition.
After supper, I proposed to avail ourselves of the darkness, and to inspect the Abbey by torch-light. This being acceded to, we all set off to view the beautiful but mouldering edifice, where, by an artificial light, the ruins might present a new aspect, and, in dim grandeur, assist the labouring imagination. At the instant the huge doors unfolded, the horned moon appeared between the opening clouds, and shining through the grand window in the distance. It was a delectable moment; not a little augmented by the unexpected green sward that covered the whole of the floor, and the long-forgotten tombs beneath; whilst the gigantic ivies, in their rivalry, almost concealed the projecting and dark turrets and eminences, reflecting back the lustre of the torch below. In this season, which ought to have been consecrated to reflection and silence, the daws, nestling in their abodes of desolation, aroused from their repose by the unusual glare, sailed over our heads in sable multitudes that added depth to the darkness of the sky, while, in their hoarsest maledictions, they seemed to warn off the intruders on "their ancient solitary reign."
On returning late to the Inn, I informed my companions, that there was at no great distance a large iron foundry, never seen to perfection but at night, and proposed our visiting it. Mr. Coleridge felt downright horror at the thought of being again moved; considering that he had had quite enough exercise for one day, and infinitely preferring the fire of his host to the forge of the Cyclops. The ladies also rather shrunk from encountering a second night expedition; but Mr. Southey cordially approved the suggestion, and we ushered forth, in the dreariness of midnight, to behold this real spectacle of sublimity! Our ardour indeed, was a little cooled when, by the glimmering of the stars, we perceived a dark expanse stretched by our path,—an ugly mill-pond, by the side of which we groped, preserving, as well as we could, a respectful distance, and entering into a mutual compact that if (after all) one should fall in, the other should do all that in him lay to pull him out.
But I leave further extraneous impositions on the reader's attention,—the Wye, and other etceteras, briefly to remark, that we safely returned the next day, after an excursion where the reality exceeded the promise: and it may be added, quite in time to enable Mr. Southey to prepare for, and deliver his Lecture, "on the Rise, Fall, and Decline of the Roman Empire." Mr. Coleridge was not present.
The publication of Mr. C.'s volume of Poems having been attended with some rather peculiar circumstances, to detail them a little may amuse the reader. On my expressing to him a wish to begin the printing as early as he found it convenient, he sent me the following note.
"My dear friend,
The printer may depend on copy on Monday morning, and if he can work a sheet a day, he shall have it.
S. T. C."
A day or two after, and before the receipt of the copy, I received from Mr. C. the following cheerful note.
By the thick smoke that precedes the volcanic eruptions of Etna, Vesuvius, and Hecla, I feel an impulse to fumigate, at [now] 25, College-Street, one pair of stairs room; yea, with our Oronoko, and if thou wilt send me by the bearer, four pipes, I will write a panegyrical epic poem upon thee, with as many books as there are letters in thy name. Moreover, if thou wilt send me "the copy book" I hereby bind myself, by to-morrow morning, to write out enough copy for a sheet and a half.
God bless you!
July 31st, 1795.
S. T. C."
This promising commencement was soon interrupted by successive and long-continued delays. The permission I had given to anticipate payment was remembered and complied with, before the work went to the press. These delays I little heeded, but they were not quite so acceptable to the printer, who grievously complained that his types, and his leads, and his forms, were locked up, week after week, to his great detriment.
Being importuned by the printer, I stated these circumstances to Mr. Coleridge in a note, expressed in what I thought the mildest possible way, but which excited, it appeared, uncomfortable feelings in his mind, never in the least noticed to or by myself, but evidenced to my surprise, by the following passage in a note to Mr. Wade.
"My very dear Friend,
... Mr. Cottle has ever conducted himself towards me with unbounded kindness, and one unkind act, no, nor twenty, can obliterate the grateful remembrance of it. By indolence, and frequent breach of promise, I had deserved a severe reproof from him, although my present brain-crazing circumstances, rendered this an improper time for it....
S. T. C."
I continued to see Mr. Coleridge every day, and occasionally said to him, smiling, "Well, how much copy;" "None, to day," was the general reply, "but to-morrow you shall have some." To-morrow produced, if any, perhaps a dozen lines; and, in a favourable state of mind, so much, it might be, as half a dozen pages: and here I think I can correctly state, that Mr. C. had repeated to me at different times nearly all the poems contained in his volume, except the "Religious Musings," which I understood to be wholly a new poem. It may amuse the reader to receive one or two more of Mr. C.'s little apologies.
"My dear Friend,
The Printer may depend on copy by to-morrow.
S. T. C."
"My dear Cottle,
The Religious Musings are finished, and you shall have them on Thursday.
S. T. C."
Sometimes sickness interfered.
A devil, a very devil, has got possession of my left temple, eye, cheek, jaw, throat, and shoulder. I cannot see you this evening. I write in agony.
Your affectionate Friend and Brother,
S. T. C."
Sometimes his other engagements were of a pressing nature.
Shall I trouble you (I being over the mouth and nose, in doing something of importance, at Lovell's) to send your servant into the market, and buy a pound of bacon, and two quarts of broad beans; and when he carries it down to College St. to desire the maid to dress it for dinner, and tell her I shall be home by three o'clock. Will you come and drink tea with me, and I will endeavour to get the etc. ready for you.
S. T. C."
Whatever disappointments arose, plausible reasons were always assigned for them, but when ingenuity was fairly taxed with excuses, worn out, Mr. C. would candidly admit, that he had very little "finger industry," but then, he said, his mind was always on "full stretch."—The Herculean labour now appeared drawing to a close; as will be clear from the following letter.
"My dear, very dear Cottle,
I will be with you at half past six; if you will give me a dish of tea, between that time and eleven o'clock at night, I will write out the whole of the notes, and the preface, as I give you leave to turn the lock and key upon me.
I am engaged to dine with Michael Castle, but I will not be one minute past my time. If I am, I permit you to send a note to Michael Castle, requesting him to send me home to fulfil engagements, like an honest man.
S. T. C."
Well knowing that it was Mr. Coleridge's intention to do all that was right, but aware at the same time that, however prompt he might be in resolving, he had to contend, in the fulfilment, with great constitutional indecision, I had long resolved to leave the completion of his work wholly to himself, and not to urge him to a speed which would render that a toil, which was designed to be a pleasure.
But we must instantly leave, alike excuses, and printer, and copy, to notice a subject of infinitely more importance!
It was now understood that Mr. Coleridge was about to be married. Aware of his narrow circumstances, and not doubting the anxieties he must necessarily feel, in the prospect of his altered condition, and to render his mind as easy in pecuniary affairs, as the extreme case would admit; I thought it would afford a small relief to tell him that I would give him one guinea and a-half, (after his volume was completed,) for every hundred lines he might present to me, whether rhyme or blank verse. This offer appeared of more consequence in the estimation of Mr. C., than it did in his who made it; for when a common friend familiarly asked him "how he was to keep the pot boiling, when married?" he very promptly answered, that Mr. Cottle had made him such an offer, that he felt no solicitude on that subject.
Mr. Coleridge, in prospect of his marriage, had taken a cottage at Clevedon, a village, happily on the banks not of the Susquehannah, but the Severn. He was married to Miss Sarah Fricker, October the 4th, 1795, and immediately after set off for his country abode.
The following is a copy of the certificate:—
"ST. MARY REDCLIFFE CHURCH, BRISTOL.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, to Sarah Fricker, Oct. 4th, 1795.
Benj. Spry, Vicar.
Witnesses,—Martha Fricker, Josiah Wade."
It happened in this case, as it often does where a duty devolves equally on two; both neglect it. The cottage at Clevedon, it appeared, had walls, and doors, and windows; but only such furniture as became a philosopher who was too well disciplined to covet inordinately, non-essentials. Beside which there might have been more of system in this deliberate renunciation of luxury. For would it have been consistent in those who anticipated a speedy location on the marge of one of the great American rivers, to intrench themselves in comforts that must so soon be exchanged for little more than primeval supplies and the rugged privations of the desert? (For even at this time Mr. C. still fondly dwelt on the joys of the Susquehannah.)
Two days after his marriage, I received a letter from Mr. Coleridge (which now lies before me) requesting the kindness of me to send him down, with all dispatch, the following little articles.
"A riddle slice; a candle box; two ventilators; two glasses for the wash-hand stand; one tin dust pan; one small tin tea kettle; one pair of candlesticks; one carpet brush; one flower dredge; three tin extinguishers; two mats; a pair of slippers; a cheese toaster; two large tin spoons; a bible; a keg of porter; coffee; raisins; currants; catsup; nutmegs; allspice; cinnamon; rice; ginger; and mace."
With the aid of the grocer, and the shoemaker, and the brewer, and the tinman, and the glassman, and the brazier, &c., I immediately sent him all that he had required, and more; and the next day rode down to pay my respects to the new-married couple; being greeted, not with the common, and therefore vulgar, materials of cake and wine, but with that which moved the spirit, hearty gratulations!
I was rejoiced to find that the cottage possessed every thing that heart could desire. The situation also was peculiarly eligible. It was in the western extremity, not in the centre of the village. It had the benefit of being but one story high, and as the rent was only five pounds per ann., and no taxes, Mr. Coleridge had the satisfaction of knowing, that by fairly "mounting his Pegasus," he could write as many verses in a week as would pay his rent for a year. There was also a small garden, with several pretty flowers; and the "tallest rose tree," was not failed to be pointed out, which "peeped at the chamber window," (and which has been honoured with some beautiful lines). I observed, however, that the parlour, from my perverted taste, looked rather awkward in being only whitewashed, and the same effected in rather the "olden time;" to remedy which fanciful inconvenience, on my return to Bristol, I sent an upholsterer down to this retired and happy abode with a few pieces of sprightly paper, to tarnish the half immaculate sitting-room walls.
Mr. Coleridge being now comfortably settled at Clevedon, I shall there for the present leave him to write verses on his beloved Sarah, while in the mean time, I introduce the reader to an ingenious young barrister whom I had known some years previously under the following peculiar circumstances.
William Gilbert, author of the "Hurricane," was the son of the eminent philanthropist, Nathaniel Gilbert, of Antigua, who is usually noticed as "The excellent Gilbert who first set an example to the planters, of giving religious instruction to the slaves." In the year 1787, a want of self-control having become painfully evident, he was placed by his friends in the Asylum of Mr. Richard Henderson at Hanham, near Bristol, when I first knew him. He occasionally accompanied John Henderson into Bristol, on one of which occasions he introduced him to my brother and myself, as the "Young Counsellor!" I spent an afternoon with them, not readily to be forgotten. Many and great talkers have I known, but William Gilbert, at this time, exceeded them all. His brain seemed to be in a state of boiling effervescence, and his tongue, with inconceivable rapidity, passed from subject to subject, but with an incoherence that was to me, at least, marvellous. For two hours he poured forth a verbal torrent, which was only suspended by sheer physical exhaustion.
John Henderson must have perceived a thousand fallacies in his impassioned harangue; but he allowed them all to pass uncommented upon, for he knew there was no fighting with a vapour. He continued in the Asylum about a year, when his mind being partially restored, his friends removed him, and he wholly absented himself from Bristol, till the year 1796, when he re-appeared in that city.
Being so interesting a character, I felt pleasure in introducing him to Mr. Coleridge and Mr. Southey, with whom he readily coalesced, and they, I believe, truly respected him, soon however perceiving there was "something unsound in Denmark;" but still there was so much general and obvious talent about him, and his manners were so conciliating, that they liked his company, and tolerated some few peculiarities for the sake of the much that was good. The deference he paid Mr. C. and Mr. S. was some evidence that reason had partly reassumed her seat in his mind, for when before them, he withheld many of his most extravagant notions, and maintained such a comparative restraint on his tongue, as evidently arose from the respect with which he was impressed.
At one time he very gravely told me, that to his certain knowledge there was in the centre of Africa, bordering on Abyssinia, a little to the south-east, an extensive nation of the Gibberti, or Gilberti, and that one day or other he intended to visit them, and claim kindred.
One morning, information was brought to us that W. Gilbert, at an early hour, had departed precipitately from Bristol, without speaking to any one of his friends. We felt great concern at this unexpected movement, and by comparing recent conversations, we thought it highly probable that, in obedience to some astrological monition he had determined, forthwith, to set off on a visit to his relatives in Africa. So convinced was Mr. Southey that this long-cherished design had influenced poor Gilbert in his sudden withdrawment, that he wrote to Mr. Roscoe, at Liverpool, begging him to interfere, to prevent any African captain from taking such a person as Mr. S. described. Mr. Roscoe appeared to have taken much trouble; but after a vigilant inquiry, he replied, by saying that no such person had sailed from, or appeared in Liverpool. So that we remained in total uncertainty as to what was become of him; many years afterwards it appeared he had gone to Charleston, United States, where he died.
Mr. Southey thus refers to W. Gilbert in his "Life of Wesley."
"In the year 1796, Mr. G. published the 'Hurricane, a Theosophical and Western Eclogue,' and shortly afterwards placarded the walls of London with the largest bills that had at that time been seen, announcing 'the Law of Fire.' I knew him well and look back with a melancholy pleasure to the hours which I have passed in his society, when his mind was in ruins. His madness was of the most incomprehensible kind, as may be seen in the notes to his 'Hurricane;' but the Poem possesses passages of exquisite beauty. I have among my papers some memorials of this interesting man. They who remember him (as some of my readers will,) will not be displeased at seeing him thus mentioned, with the respect and regret which are due to a noble mind."
Mr. Wordsworth, also at the end of his "Excursion," has quoted the following note to the "Hurricane," with the remark that it "is one of the finest passages of modern English prose."
"A man is supposed to improve by going out into the world, by visiting London. Artificial man does, he extends with his sphere; but, alas! that sphere is microscopic; it is formed of minutiae, and he surrenders his genuine vision to the artist, in order to embrace it in his ken. His bodily senses grow acute, even to barren and inhuman pruriency; while his mental become proportionally obtuse. The reverse is the man of mind. He who is placed in the sphere of nature and of God, might be a mock at Tattersall's and Brookes's, and a sneer at St. James's: he would certainly be swallowed alive by the first Pizarro that crossed him; but when he walks along the river of Amazons; when he rests his eye on the unrivalled Andes: when he measures the long and watered savannah, or contemplates from a sudden promontory, the distant, vast Pacific, and feels himself in this vast theatre, and commanding each ready produced fruit of this wilderness, and each progeny of this stream—his exaltation is not less than imperial. He is as gentle too as he is great: his emotions of tenderness keep pace with his elevation of sentiment; for he says, 'These were made by a good Being, who, unsought by me, placed me here to enjoy them.' He becomes at once a child and a king. His mind is in himself; from hence he argues and from hence he acts, and he argues unerringly, and acts magisterially. His mind in himself is also in his God; and therefore he loves, and therefore he soars.'"
As these pages are designed, by brief incidental notices, to furnish a view of the Literature of Bristol during a particular portion of time; and having introduced the name of Ann Yearsley, I here, in reference to her, subjoin a few additional remarks.
* * * * *
I was well acquainted with Ann Yearsley, and my friendship for Hannah More did not blind my eyes to the merits of her opponent. Candour exacts the acknowledgment that the Bristol Milkwoman was a very extraordinary individual. Her natural abilities were eminent, united with which, she possessed an unusually sound masculine understanding; and altogether evinced, even in her countenance, the unequivocal marks of genius. If her education and early advantages had been favourable, there is no limiting the distinction to which she might have attained; and the respect she did acquire, proves what formidable barriers may be surmounted by native talent when perseveringly exerted, even in the absence of those preliminary assistances which are often merely the fret-work, the entablature, of the Corinthian column.
Ann Yearsley's genius was discoverable in her Poems, but perhaps the extent of her capacity chiefly appeared in her Novel, "The Man in the Iron Mask;" in itself a bad subject, from the confined limit it gives to the imagination; but there is a vigour in her style which scarcely appeared compatible with a wholly uneducated woman. The late Mr. G. Robinson, the bookseller, told me that he had given Ann Yearsley two hundred pounds for the above work, and that he would give her one hundred pounds for every volume she might produce. This sum, with the profits of her Poems, enabled her to set up a circulating library, at the Hot Wells. I remember, in the year 1793, an imposition was attempted to be practised upon her, and she became also involved in temporary pecuniary difficulties, when by timely interference and a little assistance I had the happiness of placing her once more in a state of comfort. From a grateful feeling she afterwards sent me a handsome copy of verses.
It has been too customary to charge her with ingratitude, (at which all are ready to take fire,) but without sufficient cause, as the slight services I rendered her were repaid with a superabundant expression of thankfulness; what then must have been the feelings of her heart toward Mrs. Hannah More, to whom her obligations were so surpassing?
The merits of the question involved in the dissension between Ann Yearsley and Mrs. H. More, lay in a small compass, and they deserve to be faithfully stated; the public are interested in the refutation of charges of ingratitude, which, if substantiated, would tend to repress assistance toward the humbler children of genius. The baneful effects arising from a charge of ingratitude in Ann Yearsley towards her benefactress, might be the proximate means of dooming to penury and death some unborn Chatterton, or of eclipsing the sun of a future Burns.
Hannah More discovered that the woman who supplied her family daily with milk, was a really respectable poetess. She collected her productions, and published them for her benefit, with a recommendatory address. The Poems, as they deserved, became popular; doubtless, in a great degree, through the generous and influential support of Mrs. H. More, and the profits of the sale amounted to some hundreds of pounds.
The money, thus obtained, the milkwoman wished, to receive herself: for the promotion of herself in life, and the assistance of her two promising sons, who inherited much of their mother's talent. Hannah More on the contrary, in conjunction with Mrs. Montague, thought it most advisable to place the money in the Funds, in the joint names of herself and Mrs. M. as trustees for Ann Yearsley, so that she might receive a small permanent support through life. In this, Hannah More acted with the purest intention. If any judicious friend had stated to her that Ann Yearsley, whom she had so greatly served, was a discreet woman and would not be likely to squander her little all: that she wanted to educate her two sons, and to open for herself a circulating library, neither of which objects could be accomplished without trenching on her capital, no doubt could have been entertained of her instantly acceding to it.
The great error on the part of the milkwoman, was in not prevailing on some friend thus to interfere, and calmly to state her case; instead of which, in a disastrous moment, she undertook to plead her own cause; and, without the slightest intention of giving offence, called on her patroness. Both parties meant well, but from the constitution of the human mind, it was hardly possible for one who had greatly obliged another in a subordinate station to experience the least opposition without at least an uncomfortable feeling. There must have existed a predisposition to misconstrue motives, as well as a susceptibility, in the closest alliance with offence. And now the experiment commenced.