Rev. John Moultrie

George Cookesley to Derwent Coleridge, 1875; Moultrie, Poems (1876) 1:xiv-xvi.

Tempsford Rectory, S. Neots,

March 19 1875.

My dear Derwent,

When I received your letter I intended to sit down and answer it at once, but on reflection I found it not quite so easy a matter as I imagined it would be: for although there is no one of whom, as a school-fellow, I have a more vivid, and, I may add with truth, a more pleasing remembrance than I retain of Moultrie, yet my ideas are so scattered and jointless that it is not easy to put them into harmonious shape on paper. He was three years older than myself, nor did he go to Eton until several years after I had been there. * * * * * * Moultrie came late to Eton; when he came, he seemed somewhat ungainly, nor did he seem built or physically fitted for such games and exercises as boys are fond of. I remember being surprised after some time that he came out as a good fast bowler at cricket; but he had a peculiarity which I never saw in anyone else; for he delivered the ball awkwardly, with his right leg forward, with which he stamped, or perhaps I should say slapped the ground. But, though not athletically disposed, he very soon made himself known among his school-fellows as a boy of great ability. All his school work was mere play to him. He composed with grace and facility in Latin — but he never seemed to have any desire or ambition to excel in such studies. The fact is his heart was elsewhere — he was essentially and naturally a poet. I cannot remember the time when he did not write English verse: and his verses were unlike those of other boys; for there was no glare, nothing artificial, no affectation, no straining after something greater than he could achieve; — all that he wrote was simple, natural, touching. I doubt whether anyone so young ever wrote purer, more genuine or faultless poetry. I ought to have profited more by his genius than I did; for he took a fancy to me: but he also invariably made me write out his poetry. He always dictated: I never remember his having given me anything written to copy. I well remember the afternoon — the after-four, as we used to call it — when he dictated "My Brother's Grave," and how deeply I was struck and affected by it. Nor has my boyish judgment of it been at all disturbed by the judgment of my riper years. For simple pathos and sweet purity of feeling, the poem appears to me to be a masterpiece. His description of his return home when his holidays came; of going to church on the following Sunday, when his father performed the service; and his concluding lines, expressive of excessive affection for his brother; — surely these, among other beauties in this exquisite poem, are almost perfect in their way. Moultrie never seemed to study, nor do I believe that he ever did study, but he was always thinking. I have often seen him walking up and down Long Chamber, hatching in his brain either a school exercise or some English poetry. Perhaps the reason why he was not really fond of talking — and it always seemed to me that talking was an effort to him — is to be found in the fact that he was much fonder of thinking. He had great powers of humour, and wrote many capital bits of fun, which appeared in a manuscript periodical circulated in Long Chamber. It was probably owing to the acute perception of the humorous, that he was fond of acting, and was in truth a most excellent comic actor. He was also admirable in parts that required a mixture of pathos and laughter. How vividly I can now see before me H. N. Coleridge as Captain Worthington, and Moultrie as Corporal Fox, in the "Poor Gentleman"! — a favourite stock piece in college. Moultrie's poem of Godiva first appeared in the Etonian, which was not published till after he had left school, but it was so shortly after, that it is possible he might have composed some of it when he was at Eton. I remember speaking to my godfather, W. Giffard, about the poem. He admired it greatly. He laughed — rather I should say chuckled, for I don't think I ever saw him laugh — and quoted the couplet:

Leofric thought he had perplexed her quite,
And grinned immensely at his own sagacity,

adding, "That is capital. Of course there can be no doubt of Moultrie's powers."
It is a very pleasant thought to me, that the friendship between us — this partiality began at school — lasted through life, without a check or cloud. I loved, admired, and honoured him whilst living, and cherish with the deepest affection the memory of him, now that death has taken him from us.
I fear my reminiscences are so scanty and poor as to be scarcely worth transcription, but you wished me to write something, and I cannot refuse any request of yours.
Believe me,
My dear Derwent,
Yours affectionately,