1852 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Mary Russell Mitford, in "Authors Associated with Places. Thomas Chatterton — Robert Southey — Samuel Taylor Coleridge — William Wordsworth" Recollections of a Literary Life; or Books, Places, and People (1852) 394-97.



Every body has heard the often told story of Coleridge's enlisting in a cavalry regiment under a feigned name, and being detected as a Cambridge scholar in consequence of his writing some Greek lines, or rather, I believe, some Greek words, over the bed of a sick comrade, whom, not knowing how else to dispose of him, he had been appointed to nurse. It has not been stated that the arrangement for his discharge took place at my father's house at Reading. Such, however, was the case. The story was this. Dr. Ogle, Dean of Winchester, was related to the Mitfords, as relationships go in Northumberland, and having been an intimate friend of my maternal grandfather, had no small share in bringing about the marriage between his young cousin and the orphan heiress. He continued to take an affectionate interest in the couple he had brought together, and the 15th Light Dragoons, in which his eldest son had a troop, being quartered in Reading, he came to spend some days at their house. Of course Captain Ogle, between whom and my father the closest friendship subsisted, was invited to meet the Dean, and in the course of the dinner told the story of the learned recruit. It was the beginning of the great war with France; men were procured with difficulty, and if one of the servants waiting at table had not been induced to enlist in his place, there might have been some hesitation in procuring a discharge. Mr. Coleridge never forgot my father's zeal in the cause, for kind and clever as he was, Captain Ogle was so indolent a man, that without a flapper, the matter might have slept in his hands till the Greek kalends. Such was Mr. Coleridge's kind recognition of my father's exertions, that he had the infinite goodness and condescension to look over the proof-sheets of two girlish efforts, "Christina" and "Blanch," and to encourage the young writer by gentle strictures and stimulating praise. Ah! I wish she had better deserved this honoring notice!

I add one of his sublimest poems.

HYMN BEFORE SUNRISE IN THE VALE OF CHAMOUNI.
Hast thon a charm to stay the Morning Star
In his steep course? So long he seems to pause
On thy bald awful head, O sovran Blanc!
The Arve and Arveiron at thy base
Rave ceaselessly; but thou, most awful form
Risest from forth thy silent sea of pines
How silently! Around thee and above
Deep is the air and dark, substantial, black,
An ebon mass: methinks thou piercest it
As with a wedge! But when I look again
It is thine own calm home, thy crystal shrine,
Thy habitation from eternity!
O dread and silent Mount! I gazed upon thee
Till thou, still present to the bodily sense
Didst vanish from my thought: entranced in prayer
I worshiped the Invisible alone.

Yet like some sweet beguiling melody,
So sweet we know not we are listening to it,
Thou the meanwhile wast blending with my thought,
Yea with my life, and life's most secret joy;
Till the dilating soul, enwrapped, transfused,
Into the mighty vision passing — there
As in her natural form swelled vast to Heaven!

Awake, my soul! not only passive praise
Thou owest! not alone these swelling tears,
Mute tears and thrilling ecstasy. Awake!
Voice of sweet song! Awake, my heart, awake!
Green vales and icy cliffs, all join my hymn.
Thou first and chief, sole sovran of the vale!
Or struggling with the darkness all the night,
And visited all night by troops of stars,
Or when they climb the sky or when they sink
Companion of the Morning Star at dawn,
Thyself earth's rosy star, and of the dawn
Co-herald! wake, O wake, and utter praise
Who sank thy sunless pillars deep in earth?
Who filled thy, countenance with rosy light?
Who made thee parent of perpetual streams?

And you, ye five wild torrents, fiercely glad!
Who called you forth from night and utter death,
From dark and icy caverns called you forth,
Down those precipitous, black, jagged rocks,
Forever shattered and the same forever?
Who gave you your invulnerable life,
Your strength, your speed, your fury, and your joy,
Unceasing thunder and eternal foam?
And who commanded (and the silence came),
Here let the billows stiffen and have rest?

Ye ice-falls! ye that from the mountain's brow
Adown enormous ravines slope amain—
Torrents, methinks, that heard a mighty voice
And stopped at once amid their maddest plunge!
Motionless torrents! silent cataracts
Who made you glorious as the gates of heaven
Beneath the keen full moon? Who bade the sun
Clothe you with rainbows? Who, with living flowers
Of loveliest blue, spread garlands at your feet?—
God! let the torrents, like a shout of nations,
Answer! and let the ice-plains echo, God!
God! sing, ye meadow-streams, with gladsome voice!
Ye pine-groves, with your soft and soul-like sounds!
And they too have a voice, yon piles of snow,
And in their perilous fall shall thunder, God!
Ye living flowers, that skirt the eternal frost!
Ye wild goats, sporting round the eagle's nest!
Ye eagles, playmates of the mountain-storm!
Ye lightnings, the dread arrows of the clouds
Ye signs and wonders of the element!
Utter forth, God! and fill the hills with praise!

Once more, hoar mount, with thy sky-painting peaks,
Oft from whose feet the avalanche unheard
Shoots downward, glittering through the pure serene
Into the depth of clouds that vail thy breast—
Thou too again, stupendous Mountain! thou,
In adoration, upward from thy base
Slow traveling with dim eyes, suffused with tears,
Solemnly seemest like a vapory cloud
To rise before me — Rise, O ever rise;
Rise like a cloud of incense from the earth!
Thou kingly spirit throned among the hills,
Thou dread embassador from earth to heaven,
Great Hierarch! tell thou the silent sky,
And tell the stars, and tell yon rising sun,
Earth, with her thousand voices, praises God!