Attributed to Joseph Sortain Haven, Attributed to John Abraham Heraud Haven, Attributed to John Herman Merivale see No. By John Wilson reprinted in his Essays Critical and Imaginative— — ; this sympathetic essay differs sharply from his review of Biographia Literaria see Vol. In the second edition of , some of the offending matter was removed. Earl Leslie Griggs Oxford —71 , vi, — The polarization of philosophical types had been anticipated to some extent by Jeffrey No.
Nor was he alone in rallying to the defence of Coleridge.
Robson et al. Toronto and London —91, xviii, The question of plagiarism is taken up more sympathetically by Merivale No. Alan G. Hill et al. Oxford — , v, Attributed to Anstey Haven, For the attribution see Haven, Biographia Literaria CC , i, cxiv—cxxvii, sums up the evidence as far as that book is concerned; the case for Coleridge as a deliberate plagiarist is made in Norman Fruman, Coleridge, the Damaged Archangel Foakes ed.
A number of modern studies have drawn attention to it, however; see, for instance, James D. Boulger, Coleridge as Religious Thinker , J.
Signed review, Westminster Review, cxlv May , — Allsop Literary Remains ed. I Literary Remains ed. Coleridge , Vol. III Aids to Reflection ed. Coleridge Literary Remains ed. Coleridge Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit ed. Coleridge Poems ed. Coleridge Dramatic Works ed. Coleridge Notes, Theological, Political, and Miscellaneous ed.
Coleridge Aids to Reflection ed. Payne Collier Letters, Conversations and Recollections ed. Coleridge Letters, Conversations and Recollections ed. Rossetti Aids to Reflection ed. Shepherd Poetical and Dramatic Works ed. Shepherd Lectures and Notes on Shakspere ed. Traill, Coleridge Table Talk ed. Ashe Poetical Works ed. Taylor Poetical Works ed. Coleridge Letters ed. Haven 90—1 attributes this unsigned review to Merivale — He was a barrister who wrote a number of pamphlets concerning legal reforms; he was also an accomplished classical scholar, a translator, and a minor poet.
He had visited Coleridge in Highgate. It is remarkable that so many distinguished poets appear, at an early period of their lives, to have abandoned for a time the career into which their genius had led them; and that a long interval of silence has frequently elapsed between their youthful efforts and the production of the great performances on which their fame chiefly rests. If Milton had been surprised by death before the publication of his Paradise Lost, his name would only survive in the annals of English literature as that of an author of great early promise, who had deserted the paths of the Muses for political and religious controversy.
Probably the truth is, that a strong poetical temperament, after giving way at first to its own irresistible impulses, subsides often into languor and inactivity, when the judgment, more tardy in its development, whispers how far all that has been already done falls short of that ideal model of 27 COLERIDGE excellence which early aspirations had framed.
True genius is ever distinguished by this peculiar craving and seeking after something more elevated than it has been able to attain, or than has been attained by others.
It is also too easily discouraged by such disappointment; and either falls into inactivity, or turns its energies into a new direction. There is a precise point in the life of most writers of this higher class, at which the actual effort of composition ceases to be a pleasure, and becomes a toil; and this period generally coincides with that in which the mind becomes conscious of the imperfection of its own powers. With them, consequently, the poetical faculty appears after a time to become stationary; and whether it receives in after-life a fresh impulse or no, depends in great measure upon the course of external discipline into which the mind is thrown, and also upon its own powers of steadiness and concentration.
If ever the second crop comes to maturity, it may realize far more than the first had promised. But with many it never comes to maturity at all. In some the engrossing occupations of a busy age, or an increased devotion to other and exclusive pursuits—in others, as was pre-eminently the case with the author from whose Conversations the work before us is compiled, mere indolence and infirmity of purpose—may have the effect of silencing for ever the voice which had once given birth to such bold and hopeful melody.
John Webster: The Critical Heritage (The Collected Critical Heritage : Jacobean Dramatists)
The name of Coleridge is amongst the most distinguished of those who, in our days, have obtained a wide and early celebrity; and he retained, for many years afterwards, a dubious reputation as a poet, moralist, and metaphysician, rather in posse than in actual and public notoriety. Beautiful as his early poetical essays were, and much as his readers have regretted that they are so few and so brief, yet all of them have the same purposeless and fragmentary character, which is equally perceptible in his prose compositions. In all, the writer appears, as was probably the case, to have had some distant and indistinct principle in view, which he sought to illustrate rather by the projection of dark hints and allusions, always approaching, but never wholly realizing the production of a distinct and finite idea.
During all his life he had great and noble aims to compass. The science of psychology, its connexion with religion, poetry, and the social life of man, was the chief object of his contemplation, which he sought to reduce into a complete system. All his latter years were spent, for the most part, in that purposeless and hopeless exertion depicted in his own melancholy lines. Slugs leave their lair: The bees are stirring—birds upon the wing— And winter, slumbering in the open air, Wears on his smiling face a dream of spring.
And I, the while, the sole unbusied thing, Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing. Yet well I ken the haunts where amaranths blow— Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow: Bloom, O ye amaranths! For me ye bloom not! Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve, And hope without an object cannot live. It was in this habitually dejected frame of mind, and under the pressure of severe bodily infirmities, that he began to acquire that celebrity as a converser, or rather a discourser, which rendered him, during the latter years of his life, again an object of public curiosity and interest.
The unfixed, excursive character of mind, which grew wearied and impatient under the trammels of composition, found scope enough for its wanderings in the freedom of unrestrained discussion. Those who were admitted to the small society in which he lived, spread every where the fame of his extraordinary fluency and variety of conversation, and that eccentric bias of mind which gave a peculiar flavour and zest even to the most ordinary topics, when illustrated by his fancy. Thus it became a sort of fashion, to attend occasionally at the evening reunions which took place at his retired dwelling.
Many were attracted by his eloquent expositions of metaphysical theory; and discovered, or imagined that they discovered, some links of that connected system of philosophy which he was always announcing as about to be given to the world; but of which these Platonic fragments furnished the only specimen. Those who took less interest in these exalted speculations, or who candidly confessed their inability to comprehend them, found nevertheless much delight and instruction, when the course of his hurrying thoughts 29 COLERIDGE led him to touch on subjects of more general attraction; —on history, literature in which his critical tact was of the most exquisite character , or on a thousand topics of every day discussion.
Conversation, in the ordinary sense of the word, was not to be met with in his company. His visitors came only for the purpose of hearing the dissertations of a lecturer. But his hesitation was not produced, like hers, by the real or affected timidity of a person about to make a display. A few casual remarks on the occurrences or books of the day were, perhaps, hazarded by some member of the company; as soon as any of these had thrown his mind into its peculiar track, or connected itself by association with the course of ideas which had accumulated in his brain during the day, his mysterious grey eye seemed to light up, his countenance to expand into an expression of eagerness, as if labouring to communicate more than his utterance was able to embody; and the whole contents of his fancy were then poured out in one uninterrupted flow of eloquence, in which the transitions from one subject to another were scarcely 30 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE marked, even by a difference of tone or cadence.
Those who were most frequently in his company, and most accustomed to his peculiarities of thought and expression, were seldom able to follow the tortuous ramifications of his discourse. It was amusing to see the field of listeners, if we may so express ourselves, successively distanced—some, unaccustomed to such exhibitions, thrown out at once, and content to gaze with a comic expression of mixed admiration and perplexity; —others maintaining their attention, and some few their argument, for a shorter or longer period, with occasional remarks dwindling at last to an inarticulate signification of assent, until their faculties were fairly bewildered by the strange succession of ideas thus forced upon them.
But all were held alike by an inexplicable fascination of voice and manner, which seemed, while the display continued, to influence them as if they were in the presence of actual inspiration; although upon reflection they might not unfrequently conclude, that they had been deceived into imagining a transcendental meaning, where the speaker was in fact carried out of the sphere of meaning altogether by the force and rapidity of his own conceptions.
This was more particularly the case, when from any other of the miscellaneous subjects which his fertile fancy was wont to illustrate, or his reason to discuss, he retreated into his own favourite region—that half explored, but singularly attractive province, which lies on the intermediate confine between physiological science and metaphysical speculation; which connects the philosophy of matter with the philosophy of the spirit; and in which the phenomena of experience whether observed in natural history, or in the common occurrences of life are illustrated by the laws imposed a priori on the human mind.
The theory of dreams and apparitions; the doctrines of phrenology, animal magnetism, and similar semi-medical questions; the singular forms in which enthusiasm or other disturbing causes has influenced the passive faculties of the mind; —all these topics, so attractive from their mysterious character, so much inviting and yet defying investigation, afforded a frequent exercise to his wandering fancy.
On such subjects, and on the Platonic, or Kantian theory of the mind, to which they invariably led him, he would hold forth to his audience, mazed and half entranced, forgetting time, place, and company, in his eagerness to 31 COLERIDGE unburden himself of the strange contents of his imagination, until his physical powers were exhausted, and his hearers dismissed at last through the ivory gate of his philosophical limbo.
We do not deny, that the editor of these volumes has acquitted himself in a manner highly creditable. We do not quarrel with the affectionate feelings of a relative and a disciple, although occasionally vented in unnecessary eulogy. He has endeavoured to reduce to the form of aphorisms the sayings of one of the most eloquent, but least concise and definite of reasoners; and has extracted in this manner, in unconnected fragments, much which was evidently wrapt up in the texture of some fine-spun but continuous theory. There was nothing dramatic in his mode of conveying instruction.
He was fond of argument; but that sort of argument only in which he could display the vast resources of his own erratic talent. He overflowed far too much with metaphor and illustration, to be a disputant. He sought out, indeed, singular associates, and had a predilection for people of an extraordinary cast of opinion, especially if their sentiments widely differed from 32 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE his own; but we suspect that this was rather for the sake of conveying his own notions on their peculiar doctrines, than in order to confront them in logical controversy.
He said he had made most way with the disciple of Swedenborg, who might be considered as a convert; that he had perplexed the Jew, and put the Roman Catholic into a bad humour; but that upon the New Jerusalemite he had made no more impression than if he had been arguing with the man in the moon.
It was something of the same propensity which made him at one time select the late Mr Irving [Edward Irving — , fashionable preacher of the s] as a favourite, — partly from his strange religious opinions, partly from his imitations of the old English divines, with whom Coleridge himself was so conversant. Place, or company, seemed to make little or no difference to him.
There was nothing of local or temporary peculiarity, no apropos or mere conversation of the day, in the circle in which he presided. What the system of philosophy may be found to contain, if ever thrown into a form for publication, we cannot anticipate; but we are inclined to suspect, that the author had never made any great progress in deducing ulterior results from his fundamental principle—the difference between reason and understanding— which he derived from Germany; and which, by illustrating and enforcing it in a thousand ways, he succeeded in establishing, in the minds of a large class of students, in opposition to the reigning system of Scottish metaphysics.
It is pre-eminently the Gradus ad Philosophiam. But to investigate these comparisons would lead us far beyond the bounds of our present purpose, and the work is chiefly filled with less recondite matter. Many of these discourses relate to religious subjects, chiefly biblical criticism, and the history and peculiar doctrines of the Church of England. Of that Church Mr Coleridge was, during all the latter part of his life, a zealous advocate: but we are well convinced, from the tenor, both of his writings and conversation, that his attachment to her tenets and discipline was combined with a very unusual degree of candour, and freedom from sectarian prejudice.
But with the supporters of a church in the narrow and empirical sense of the word, with tenets rigidly fixed by subscriptions and articles, we do not think he had any great sympathy. His strong antipathy to the political opponents of the Establishment did, we suspect, occasionally lead him into maintaining its cause with an energy which was not so much displayed when he argued dispassionately on its general and philosophical theory. We are quite aware that, in discussion with a Whig, such opinions as these would not easily have been elicited from him; —not that he was either insincere, or really inconsistent, but that his fear and dislike of those who appeared to him to be endangering the establishments of the country, led him to side with a party whose principles, when fully stated, were widely different from his own.
To Catholicism he was strongly opposed, as fettering religious liberty; and to Unitarianism, as denying the elements of religious truth. But all sects between these two extremes were, in a religious sense, almost indifferent in his estimation. We refer, with the greater satisfaction, to his opinions respecting the controversies between Protestants, because there is at present growing up, in the bosom of the Anglican Church, a class of divines, the tendency of whose sentiments is to introduce a sort of modified Popery;—in whose minds the desire of unity in the Catholic Church works so strongly, 35 COLERIDGE as nearly to supersede the old and liberal rule of faith for which Protestants have combated, in the field as well as the pulpit, ever since their separation from Rome.
Such extreme opinions are not to be wondered at, in a country where perfect freedom of thought and argument must necessarily call into existence, and exaggerate by mutual opposition, those differences of doctrine which are founded, not on falsehood, but on that exclusive adherence to particular truths, which Pascal signalized as the principal cause of religious quarrels. Nor is there any real probability of such opinions gaining ground; arising, as they do, merely from the reaction produced by the prevalence of latitudinarian sentiments amongst others. But it is of some importance to show, that one whose high, and almost exaggerated, veneration for the Church, has been so widely cited, and who has had such extensive influence over the minds, especially of youthful and enthusiastic thinkers, differed thus far from many of his admirers and imitators, and entertained such temperate views on subjects regarded by them in a light distorted by enthusiasm.
On this account, we quote his remarks on the favourite divine of that School, whose exquisite literary beauties, and high devotional feeling, no one could better appreciate than he. Why, to nothing more or less than this, that—so much can be said for every opinion and sect, so impossible is it to settle any thing by reasoning or authority of scripture—we must appeal to some positive jurisdiction on earth, ut sit finis controversiarum.
In fact, the whole book is the precise argument used by the papists, to induce men to admit the necessity of a supreme and infallible head of the church on earth. It is one of the works which pre-eminently gives countenance to the saying of Charles II. Such a strange inconsistency would not be impossible; the Romish church has produced many such devout Socinians.
Compare him, in this particular, with Donne, and you will feel the difference in a moment. Such observations are not unworthy of attention, at a time when Jeremy Taylor appears to occupy the same post of honour on the extreme right of religious controversy, which is held by Jeremy Bentham on the extreme left in political discussion.
Biblical learning furnished Coleridge with many favourite subjects for the exercise of ingenuity; and, although not particularly tolerant towards those who take critical liberties with the sacred text, he was liberal, even to daring, in discussion and interpretation. In this respect, there could not be a better guide, a more encouraging monitor, to that class of students—and we believe there are many such—who are doubtful and perplexed, between the rigorous adherence to the letter and doctrines of plenary inspiration, which prevails among the orthodox in this country, and that freedom of critical judgment which, on the continent, appears to be attended with so much laxity of belief.
With a mind deeply submissive to the mysteries of religion, he united a most fearless spirit of research, and never abandoned the only true canon of scriptural examination—that which pursues the truth without regard of consequences, and judges of every question simply by its evidence, undeterred by the contemplation of imaginary dangers to the good cause.
We do not believe that his knowledge of Hebrew was extensive: his opinions on the Old Testament, therefore, are to be regarded as adopted rather on philosophical than strictly critical grounds. But he was very extensively conversant with the history and opinions of the Jews, both ancient and modern; and his remarks on the object and character of their divine government—on the language of Moses and the Prophets—and on the distinction between miraculous and providential interposition, as evinced in their history—appear to us acute and impressive.
But he was sceptical as to the genuineness of great part of their scriptures, —especially the writings called by the name of Solomon, and the book of Daniel. Many other specimens of this line of criticism are scattered through these volumes, and all propounded in a learned and moderate spirit. And the following passage contains a summary of his opinions on the subject of inspiration, —a subject so harassing and perplexing to many a conscientious enquirer: — There may be dictation, without inspiration; and inspiration, without dictation.
They have been, and continue to be, grievously confounded. Balaam and his ass were the passive organs of dictation; but no one, I suppose, will venture to call either of these worthies inspired. It is my profound conviction that St. John and St. Paul were divinely inspired; but I totally disbelieve the dictation of any one word, sentence, or argument throughout their writings. Observe, there was revelation. All religion is revealed; revealed religion is, in my judgment, a mere pleonasm.
Revelations of facts were undoubtedly made to the prophets; revelations of doctrines were as undoubtedly made to John and Paul; but is it not a mere matter of our very senses, that John and Paul each dealt with those revelations, expounded them, insisted on them, just exactly according to his own natural strength of intellect, habit of reasoning, moral, and even physical temperament?
We receive the books ascribed to John and Paul as their books, on the judgment of men for whom no miraculous judgment is pretended; nay whom, in their admission and rejection of other books, we believe to have erred. Shall we give less credence to John and Paul themselves? Surely the heart and soul of every Christian give him sufficient assurance, that, in all things that concern him as a man, the words that he reads are spirit and truth, and could only proceed from Him who made both heart and soul.
Understand the matter so, and all difficulty vanishes. You read without fear, lest your faith meet with some shock from a passage here and there, which you cannot reconcile with immediate dictation by the Holy Spirit of God, without an absurd violence offered to the text.
You read the Bible as the best of all books, but still as a book; and make use of all the means and appliances which learning and skill, under the blessing of God, can afford towards rightly apprehending the general sense of it; not solicitous to find out doctrine in mere epistolary familiarity, or facts in clear ad hominem and pro tempore allusions to national traditions.
As in religious, so in political speculation, it was his fate through life to embrace with ardour extreme opinions, first on one, and then on 38 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE the other side, of the great controversy of modern times; but always to support his own conclusions, whatever they were, by arguments which appeared suspicious, and excited distrust among his own partisans. Throughout life he was the sincerest of men; but instead of joining with others in the pursuit of what was practically expedient, he sought only after results which might attach themselves to his own ruling ideas on government and society.
He wished to construct a state and a church on exalted principles of philosophy;—to build them up in practice, such as they existed in abstract conception, as the necessary conditions of perfect human society. Like most political visionaries, he either did not or would not see his own changes of opinion. In the long passages of self-justification which occur in so many of his works, he always treats his opponents as unable to comprehend or estimate his character; and never for a moment allows that his own versatility may have exposed him to such misunderstanding.
And, consistently with his own eccentric turn of mind, he attached himself most exclusively to whatever was impracticable and visionary in their speculations. Like theirs, his reasonings were of too refined and metaphysical a nature to suit the comprehension of the multitude. But they deceived themselves in imagining that the multitude might, at least in practice, be brought to understand them; he, whom the experience of two additional centuries had only imbued with fear and distrust, held, that the multitude must be wholly excluded—not admitted, even as proselytes of the gate, to the mysteries of government.
He altogether denied democracy as an active principle of the British Constitution; and had brought himself to the conclusion that the only true Commonwealth was one which experience warrants us in pronouncing impossible; —one where the people are wholly excluded from all active share in the management of their own interests, and yet exercise such influence from without as to cause those interests to be uniformly respected.
The idea of a state is undoubtedly a government ; an aristocracy. Democracy is the healthful life-blood which circulates through the veins and arteries, which supports the system, but which ought never to appear externally, and as the mere blood itself. A state, in idea, is the opposite of a church. But a church does the reverse of all this; disregards all external accidents, and looks at men as individual persons, allowing no gradations of ranks, but such as greater or less wisdom, holiness, and learning ought to confer.
A church is, therefore, in idea, the only pure democracy. The church, so considered, and the state exclusively of the church, constitute together the idea of a state in its largest sense. As he reverenced the church far more as a spiritual mother than a political ally, and neither possessed nor affected any of the historical feeling of loyalty towards kings and hereditary monarchy see Vol.
For example, there is no principle more eloquently inculcated throughout his writings than the absolute sanctity of Truth, in political as well as individual morality. No favourite system, in his view, ought to be maintained, no defects palliated, by falsehood. To see clearly that the love of the good and the true is ultimately identical, is given only to those who love both sincerely, and without any foreign ends.
We have said already, that no man was more fully aware of the monstrous practical fallacy of assuming that revenues destined, in the idea of government, for affording the people such moral or physical means of improvement as they cannot procure themselves, are so employed, when spent on the maintenance of an establishment political, not spiritual, among a population of strangers to its doctrines. Yet who ever inveighed with more vehement reprobation against those who have the boldness to propose a remedy, while at the same time he refuted those who deny the defect?
Dislike, moreover, towards the governing party in the British Empire beginning with the advent of Mr Canning to power seems to have produced in Coleridge somewhat of that querulous discontent with Government itself—that proneness to flatter the poor in their prejudices against law and the constitution of society, 41 COLERIDGE which are so frequently discoverable in disappointed and gloomy politicians. There are passages in these volumes so inconsistent with the manlier and better views becoming an elevated mind, — so commonplace, moreover, so trivially false in morality, that we can only account them casual blotches, produced by an overflowing of political acrimony in the system.
Take for instance the following passage on smuggling: That legislation is iniquitous, which sets law in conflict with the common and unsophisticated feelings of our nature. If I were a clergyman in a smuggling town, I would not preach against smuggling. I would not be made a sort of clerical revenue officer. Let the Government which by absurd duties fosters smuggling, prevent it itself, if it can. How could I show my hearers the immorality of going twenty miles in a boat and honestly buying with their money a keg of brandy, except by a long deduction which they could not understand?
But were I in a place where wrecking went on, see if I would preach on any thing else! All duties are equally absurd in the eyes of the smuggler. It would be a singular rule of morality, which should make right or wrong depend on the correctness in political economy of the violated law. Yet the first step in such resistance leads in one direction to rebellion, in another to murder. And what has religion done, but add her stern and uncompromising sanction to the holiness of law, independent of the moral nature of its precepts? The preacher who enforces individual purity and private honesty has an easy task: all will commend his advice, whether they follow it or no.
Far more difficult is the duty of persuading men to abandon malpractices, which they justify by a convenient sophistry. It should be the great object of all, in whatever capacity, with whom the instruction of the people rests, to enforce the duty of subordination, not to their own wild principles of right and wrong, but to the essential Truth and Necessity which hold society together. They should show how infinitely the poor are indebted as well as the rich, whatever their flatterers may tell them, to the laws which alone prevent the cultivated earth from reassuming the garb of the wilderness; and 42 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE should endeavour, as far as possible, to extinguish that false morality, which in this country renders all, from the highest to the lowest, as careless of their positive duty to the state, as they are scrupulous in their private dealings with each other.
Who dares struggle with an invisible combatant? No space contains it; time promises no control over it; it has no ears for my threats; it has no substance that my hands can grasp, or my weapons find vulnerable: it commands, and cannot be commanded; it acts, and is unsusceptible of any reaction; the more I strive to subdue it, the more am I compelled to think of it; and the more I think of it the more do I find it to possess a reality out of myself, and not to be a phantom of my own imagination; that all but the most abandoned men acknowledge its authority, and that the whole strength and majesty of my country are pledged to support it; and yet that for me its power is the same with that of my own permanent self, and that all the choice which is permitted to me, consists in having it for my guardian angel, or my avenging fiend!
This is the spirit of law. The Friend, Vol. He does himself great injustice in one unmeaning saying, unworthily recorded in these volumes. He was easily led by impulse or prejudice; but most inaccessible to violent emotions of any kind, and especially of the malignant class; — partly from goodness of heart, partly from dreamy indolence of disposition. A thinker, whose tastes and feelings were so much coloured by his extensive acquaintance with the wits and divines of former days— who regarded the present as an age of sciolists and experimentalists—could not be expected to pronounce very favourable judgments on the writers, orators, or statesmen of his own times.
We have not found much valuable remark under this head, or, indeed, much of any kind, beyond slight and contemptuous notices of his principal contemporaries. If the world in some degree neglected the philosopher, he repaid its inattention by a very general scorn of the world and its opinion. He lived so much in the atmosphere of his own peculiar ideas, that we do not suppose there ever was a literary man of equal notoriety who was, in unfeigned truth, less solicitous of popularity.
It chafed and harassed his natural indolence of disposition to exert himself in any way to obtain applause; and applause thus became at last a matter of indifference. Many of his criticisms on others appear to us incorrectly raised upon right foundations; that is, he seldom failed to hit the weak point of a character; but through exclusive attention to that weakness, and by adopting a peculiar canon for judging of the relative importance of different mental qualifications, his general estimate is frequently biassed, and very rarely such as the public would adopt along with him.
His prejudices were lasting as well as rigorous. But his prejudices were not founded on politics only, although undoubtedly his strong sentiments and stronger fears on that subject tended to warp his judgment in some instances. Much less were they connected with religion: on that topic he was almost always candid with respect to men, even when intolerant of opinions. They were, as we have said, connected with his own solitary and eremitical habits of thinking. He rejected the vulgar idols of the market and the tribe, in order to fall down and worship his own idols of the den,3 which his proper hands had erected.
Burke is only mentioned, in these volumes, with general disparagement, as a shallow thinker. He is a most elegant converser. How well I remember his giving breakfast to me and Sir Humphrey Davy, at that time an unknown young man, and our having a very spirited talk about Newton and Locke, and so forth! He is uncommonly powerful in his own line; but it is not the line of a first-rate man. After all his fluency and brilliant erudition, you can rarely carry off any thing worth preserving.
He is deficient in power in applying his principles to the points in debate.
Full text of "Jonathan Swift The Complete Poems"
I remember Robert Smith had much more logical ability; but Smith aimed at conquest by any gladiatorial shift; whereas Mackintosh was uniformly candid in argument. I am speaking now from old recollections. He had little similarity of mind or taste with most of his fellow poets, except Wordsworth and Southey.
With these he was closely allied in the relations of life, as well as in the course of his mental education and progress. In fact, the only title to fame about which he seemed particularly anxious, was originality; and it was his undoubtedly in an eminent degree. If in that tempestuous period, when the exploding Revolution scattered its new-created store of feelings and ideas over the literary as well as the political world—when national genius was aroused from the indolent calm in which it had so long lain entranced—when The upper air burst into life, And an hundred fire-flags sheen, To and fro they were hurried about— many of these brilliant meteors encountered, and became confounded together in their casual wanderings, no one could justly affirm that either borrowed its light from a companion.
Coleridge learnt little from others, and wrought out the principles and elements of his composition, both in prose and poetry, from the stores of his own singular genius; although in details he was at times, like Lord Byron, an unconscionable plagiarist.
But the originality of the form of versification, first introduced to English readers by that poem, seems a little more questionable, although contended for by the admirers of the writer. If not, it is a curious coincidence that the two writers should have been each the first to produce, in his respective country, that singular metre now so fashionable, in which the verse is measured, not by syllables, but by cadences; and that both should have dedicated it to similar subjects of wild, unearthly interest.
In one point, Coleridge was not unnaturally severe in his criticisms on modern poets—that utter neglect of harmony in versification, so characteristic of some of the greatest amongst them, who seem to have imagined that verses are only meant for the eye; or that, provided the requisite number of syllables is closed by the requisite rhyme, the ear has no right to demand any farther pleasure. If any one were to construct such a scale for arranging the merits of our modern poets, whatever rank might be assigned to Coleridge in other respects, he ought to be placed far above the highest of his rivals as to the mechanical enchantments of versification.
The charm of his rhythm was like the charm of his voice—inexplicable in its depth, its sweetness, its continuity. Unrelieved by the artificial strength of rhyme, this most difficult of all our metrical forms requires to be diversified by breaks and irregularities. In lyrical melody, Campbell, perhaps, is the only writer who can be put in competition with him for accuracy of metrical tact [Thomas Campbell — ]. Some of the criticisms on earlier literature, interspersed throughout these volumes, are expressed with infinite taste and accuracy of perception.
Had his indolence permitted, he would have made an editor or a commentator of our chief British classics such as they never yet have found. His refined perception of beauty, and power of seizing the prevailing characteristics of the mind and style of an author, were almost unsurpassed; whilst his vast store of miscellaneous study would have furnished him with a fund of illustration to support a theory, or to enliven a subject.
His most valuable critical dissertations are, like the other beauties of his writings, so imbedded in a farrago of unconnected matter that it is no easy task to disinter them. While some maintain that their non-publication was one of the greatest losses recent literature has sustained, others affirm that they were total failures, —hastily compiled for the purpose of fulfilling his engagements with the subscribers, at a time when he was suffering under severe illness, and under the influence of that unfortunate indulgence to which so many years of his life were abandoned; —that they consisted of loose, trivial notes of his own, mixed up with reckless plagiarisms from others.
His voice and manner, however attractive in company, were certainly not calculated to give external advantages to a lecture. The first was inexpressibly sweet, but wanted power and modulation for addressing an assembly; and the last was too inartificial and unformed. His thoughts too, ever returning back upon themselves, —diverging from their given point through a bewildering maze of illustrations and refinements only to come back again to some fixed idea round which he was ever irregularly revolving, —could scarcely have been disciplined into the order and steady march so necessary, where the object is to leave definite ideas impressed on the minds of an audience, assembled to learn, as well as wonder.
But whatever their general success may have been, undoubtedly they must have contained many a striking thought and happy expression, which, for our own parts, we confess we would willingly have purchased by the loss of ten times their mass in the shape of metaphysical dreams, or political speculations. We have only room on the present occasion, for the following remarks on Othello: — Othello must not be conceived as a negro, but as a high and chivalrous Moorish chief. Shakspeare learned the spirit of the character from the Spanish poetry which was prevalent in England in his time.
It was the struggle not to love her. It was a moral indignation and regret that virtue should so fall. Iago would not have succeeded but by hinting that his honour was compromised. There is no ferocity in Othello, his mind is majestic and composed. He deliberately determines to die; and speaks his last speech with a view of showing his attachment to the Venetian state, though it had superseded him. The condition of despairing anguish and wrath, in which feelings, high wrought by previous affection, are placed, when the unworthiness of the beloved object is, or appears to be demonstrated, is another state of the soul, deserving of a different name.
The author proceeds. I have often told you that I do not think there is any jealousy, properly so called, in the character of Othello. There is no predisposition to suspicion, which I take to be an essential term in the definition of the word. Desdemona very truly told Emilia that he was not jealous, —that is, of a jealous habit; and he says so as truly of himself. They do not correspond with any thing of a like nature previously in his mind. He could not act otherwise than he did with the lights he had; whereas, jealousy can never be strictly right.
The jealousy of the first proceeds from an evident trifle, and something like hatred is mingled with it; and the conduct of Leonatus in accepting the wager, and exposing his wife to the trial, denotes a jealous temper already formed. Yet with so exquisite a tact for the perception of literary beauties, and for explaining and developing the thoughts of others, Coleridge had very little acuteness in verbal criticism, or accurate taste in style: so at least we should be inclined to conclude from the attempts in 50 THE CRITICAL HERITAGE this line which are scattered here and there through these volumes.
Nor is this deficiency inconsistent with what we know of the prevailing characteristics of his mind. He had little power of noticing and grasping individual objects. His imagination always wandered from details to general principles. The same want of observation which made him, as he says of himself, have a dim perception of the relation of place—so that, in remembering a man or a tree, he could not recollect where he had seen them—rendered him, in literary criticism, little apt to fix the precise sense or collocation of individual words and passages in his memory; and hence, probably, arose a want of fine perception in dealing with those words and passages, and remarking small peculiarities of style and sense.
We do not cite this as a defect of importance. Few men of genius have been good verbal critics; and those who have been so Porson for example [Richard Porson — , regius professor of Greek at Cambridge], have but misplaced and wasted their genius on very trifling subjects. Nor should we mention it at all, were it not that the emendations suggested by Coleridge, in conversation, on the received text of authors, appear to us singularly unhappy. The first impression made on the eye by the appearance of the rolled pebbles on the sea-shore is that of cleanliness and polish. So, in Henry V. I confess I doubt the Homeric genuineness of It sounds to me much more like a prettiness of Bion and Moschus.
Such a figure, which the Greeks would have termed an Oxymoron, and the Italians a Concetto, is clearly inconsistent with the objective character of early poetry. We must observe, en passant, that Coleridge was a firm believer in the Wolfian theory; and contended that there was no more reason for ascribing the Iliad to a single composer, than the Scottish ballads, or romances of the Cid. We are not aware either of any passage in which is so used. But it is, nevertheless, employed by inferiors to superiors; — by the chorus of Phrygian women, both in the Hecuba and Andromache of Euripides, in addressing their captive princesses.
It seems occasionally to imply somewhat not of courtesy only, but even of reverence. A Roman Catholic, therefore, might easily meet on critical grounds this objection to the sacred character of the Virgin. How, for example, are we to reconcile the following dicta on a question which has given much occasion of dispute to Platonists and Anti-Platonists? Negatively, there may be more of the philosophy of Socrates in the Memorabilia of Xenophon than in Plato; that is, there is less of what does not belong to Socrates; but the general spirit of, and impression left by Plato, are more Socratic.
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Little that is positive is advanced in them. Socrates may be fairly represented by Plato in the more moral parts; but in all the metaphysical disquisitions it is Pythagoras.
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Socrates, as such, was only a poetical character to Plato, who worked upon his own ground. Unquestionably there never were minds more distinct, in the whole tenor of their composition, and practical tendency of their ideas, than those of Plato and Socrates. The same accidental causes made Plato first a disciple of the moral philosopher, and then, in name, a commentator on his ethical precepts, which made converts to the religion of Jesus among the learned of Antioch and Alexandria, and raised the visionary edifice of Gnosticism on the real foundations laid by the divine author of Christianity.
Even Coleridge, Platonist as he was, must have been well aware how widely different were the methods and objects of the two philosophers. We conclude, therefore, that the first of these oracles was delivered in a hasty moment of argument, as it is clearly inconsistent with those which follow. In conclusion, we must find fault with the editor, while we acknowledge ourselves indebted to his care and judgment in many respects, for filling his pages too much with commonplace remarks, which are so very trivial that they cannot be said to derive any additional value even when stamped with the token of a man of genius.
The story of the King and John Kemble, for example Vol. These, and similar defects of execution, seem chiefly to arise out of a desire to make of the author of these conversations a sort of general oracle; —a compound of every thing that he was, with much that it was impossible for him, consistently with his nature, to be. He was not a man of the world; he was not a popular writer, because he never could describe superficial things in an intelligible and attractive manner; he was not deeply or critically learned, although a scholar; he was not a clear, although a forcible, logician.
jonathan swift the critical heritage volume 36 Manual
But he was gifted with a deep insight into the connexion which subsists between the material and the spiritual world; he had sounded the depths of metaphysical enquiry with an original and daring vigour; and, perhaps, wanted only steadiness and industry to have founded in England a new school of psychological science. Above all, religion and morality ever found in him a firm and uncompromising supporter, and yet one who brought to discussion a spirit of courtesy and catholic charity at once amiable and dignified. Any remains of such a man can hardly be without their value.
But we do not think that those who have the arrangement of his literary relics would be justified in withholding them on the score of imperfectness: no published work of Coleridge, during his lifetime, was any thing more than an incoherent collection of fragments; yet in all there is a vein of rich and genuine metal traversing the irregular matrix; and where that exists, the rudest mass will well repay the labour of its extraction from the mine.
There are sundry odd sayings in these volumes respecting love and women, which seem dictated half by gallantry and half by masculine contemptuousness. The following is more profound. It is far better expressed by Swift; and he, again, says he had it from some lady of quality and intrigue, we forget who.
Such women are, after all, the best judges of human nature. Bacon, Nov. Organ, Lib. Mackintosh — , an influential philosophical and political writer, was one of the most brilliant talkers of the age; he and Coleridge had met one another in But so portentous a misjudgment as this, and coming from such a quarter, cannot be passed over without notice. If Sir James Mackintosh had any talent more conspicuous and indisputable than another, it was that of appreciating the merits of eminent and original men.
His great learning and singular soundness of judgment enabled him to do this truly; while his kindness of nature, his zeal for human happiness, and his perfect freedom from prejudice or vanity, prompted him, above most other men, to do it heartily. As a proof, we would merely refer our readers to his admirable character of Lord Bacon in this Journal see No.
And then, as to his being a person from whose conversation little could be carried away, why the most characteristic and remarkable thing about it, was that the whole of it might be carried away—it was so lucid, precise, and brilliantly perspicuous! It can scarcely mean though that is the most obvious sense that the head was empty—as that is inconsistent with the rest even of this splenetic delineation. If it was intended to insinuate that it was ready for the indiscriminate reception of any thing which any one might choose to put into it, there could not be a more gross misconception; as we have no doubt Mr Coleridge must often have sufficiently experienced.
Why, by the very individual against whose own oracular and interminable talk the same complaint has been made, by friends and by foes, and with an unanimity unprecedented, for the last forty years. And this is the person who is pleased to denounce Sir James Mackintosh as an ordinary man; and especially to object to his conversation, that, though brilliant and fluent, there was rarely any thing in it which could be carried away!
An attack so unjust and so arrogant leads naturally to comparisons, which it could be easy to follow out to the signal discomfiture of the party attacking. Consulting little at any time with any thing but his own prejudices and fancies, he seems, in his later days, to have withdrawn altogether from the correction of equal minds, and to have nourished the assurance of his own infallibility, by delivering mystical oracles from his cloudy shrine, all day long, to a small set of disciples, from whom neither question nor interruption was allowed.
The result of this necessarily was, an exacerbation of all the morbid tendencies of the mind, a daily increasing ignorance of the course of opinions and affairs in the world, and a proportional confidence in his own dogmas and dreams, which must have been shaken, at least, if not entirely subverted, by a closer contact with the general mass of intelligence.
Unfortunately this unhealthful training peculiarly unhealthful for such a constitution produced not merely a great eruption of ridiculous blunders and pitiable prejudices, but seems at last to have brought on a confirmed and thoroughly diseased habit of uncharitableness, and misanthropic anticipations of corruption and misery throughout the civilized world.
Synopsis The Critical Heritage gathers together a large body of critical sources on major figures in literature. Each volume presents contemporary responses to a writer's work, enabling student and researcher to read the material themselves. Excerpt The reception given to a writer by his contemporaries and near-contemporaries is evidence of considerable value to the student of literature. Read preview Overview. Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Vol.
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