1833 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

William Maginn, "Gallery of Literary Characters: Samuel Taylor, Esq." Fraser's Magazine 8 (July 1833) 64.



Sorry are we to present "The noticeable man with large grey eyes" — the worthy old Platonist — the founder of the romantic school of poetry — the pourer-forth of wisdom multifarious, in language as mellifluous as that of Nestor himself — the good honest old thoroughgoing Tory — even Samuel Taylor Coleridge himself — in an attitude of suffering. But so it is. He is at this present writing under the sheltering roof of worthy Mr. Gillman, on the summit of Highgate hill, labouring under sciatica, jaundice, and other of those ills that afflict mankind. He has come to the third step of the animal who formed the subject of the Sphinx's riddle, and walks hobblingly upon three legs; and more the pity.

Coleridge has himself told us all the more material parts of his life in that queer and pleasant book his Biographia Literaria, and it is needless for us now to tell how he was an Unitarian preacher, but soon abandoned that pestilent and cold-hearted heresy — how he was a newspaper editor — how he wrote the Friend — how he stirred up wars against Napoleon Buonaparte, late of the island of St. Helena, deceased — how the Emperor wished very particularly to take him under his kind protection, and patronise the editor of the Morning Post as he patronised Palm — how he wrote all manner of fine verses, and generally forgot to publish them — how Christabel having been recited to Sir Walter Scott, and a thousand others, was the acknowledged parent of the Lay of the Last Minstrel — how Lord Byron, having made free with a passage of it in his Siege of Corinth, it was at length produced — how Jeffery, or some of his scrubs, foully abused it in the Edinburgh Review — how he valiantly brought Jeffery to the scratch, and made the little fellow apologise — how, in short, he has lectured, talked, preached, written, dogmatised, philosophised, dreamed, promised, begun, never-ended, and so forth, are all written by himself, and of course well known to the reader.

What he has done is exquisite, but it is nothing to what he could have done. [Greek characters], has been unluckily his motto, and the morrow never has come. Procrastination, that thief of time — the quotation is old, though the author is Young — has beguiled him onward in comparative idleness; and his best ideas have been suffered so often to lie unused, that they have at last appeared as the property of others. His graceful Christabel is a flagrant instance of this. It remained twenty years unpublished, but not unknown; and when its example had reared the ballad epic, or poetical novel, to its highest and most magnificent state, it made its appearance, in the eyes of the general reading public an imitation of its own progeny. We do not remember any worse luck in all literary history.

But Coleridge cared for none of these things. On he went, holding the even tenour of his way, conversing with all and sundry. Many a critic deemed original has lived exclusively by sucking Coleridge's brains. The late William Hazlitt was one of the most conspicuous thieves. There was not an observation — not a line — in all Hazlitt's critical works, which was worth reading, or remembering, that did not emanate directly from our old friend the Platonist; other spoliators, more or less known, were as barefaced. It was always worse done than if Coleridge had done it, and sometimes vilely perverted in spirit; but still the seed was good, and he has thus strongly acted upon the public mind of his day. We fear that his Lay Sermons, abounding as they do in brilliant and eloquent passages, have not found a very enlarged audience; but what he has spoken and suggested is now diffused throughout the literature of England, and forms part and parcel of every mind worth containing it in the country.

Would that we could see him drinking everlasting glasses of brandy and water in coffee-houses various — or carousing potations, pottle-deep, as of old, in the western world of Bristol — or making orations to barmaids and landladies, and holding them by his glittering eye and suasive tongue; and, above all, we most ardently hope to witness the publication of the conclusion of

The lovely Lady Christabel,
Finished by Coleridge hale and well!