1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Isaac Clark Pray, "English Bards: Samuel Taylor Coleridge" Prose and Verse, from the Port Folio of an Editor (1836) 54-56.



There is no one of the English Bards, if we except Southey, who makes us wonder so much, or one who stands out in so conspicuous a light, as the author of Genevieve, Christabel, and the Ancient Mariner. It has been the fortune, or rather misfortune of Coleridge, that he has turned his attention to politics. In his earlier years, he was an enthusiast in the Utopian schemes of his brother "Lakers," and nothing had a charm which did not associate itself with the woods of America, happiness and liberty. Soon, however, the bright bubble, in which was painted every thing poetical and romantic, burst, and the scheme was abandoned as useless and visionary. It was at this time, that Coleridge paid much attention to poetry, besides writing much political matter.

He has written several prose works of rare merit, and his Aids to Reflection, and The Friend, are works which every student should have on his table. He has also written much in the political newspapers, but which no one thinks of but himself, and it is said, he considers those ephemera the best portion of his works.

The sentiments of Coleridge are mixed, and somewhat indefinite; and with his theology, politics and poetry, he may be considered the most remarkable genius of the age. His conversational powers are said to be the greatest of any man in England, and to this acquirement he has sacrificed much, which would have been more lasting to his reputation.

His greatest friend is Wordsworth, on the merits of whose writings he loves to dwell. Wordsworth in many respects is like him; but Coleridge is more wild, and his thoughts more eagle like and untamed; still he can describe the most pathetic sentiments, and in his own words, can fasten our attention,

E'en like some sweet, beguiling melody,
So sweet, we know not we are listening to it.

Or he can make us shudder and tremble, in describing the terrific scenes in his Ancient Mariner.

Coleridge is now [1832] fifty-nine years old, and his hair is white; — in body he is large; his face is full, and lighted up by an exquisite black eye. He is now living in the family of Mr. Gilman, of Highgate, England, to whom his "Friend" is dedicated; "a friendly family," says one of his contemporaries, "who have sense and kindness enough to know that they do themselves an honor by looking after the comfort of such a man. His room looks upon a delicious prospect of wood and meadow, with colored gardens under the window, like an embroidery to the mantle. Here he cultivates his flowers, and has a set of birds for his pensioners, who come to breakfast with him. He may be seen taking his daily stroll up and down, with his black coat and white locks, and a book in his hand. His main occupation is reading."

We have said that Coleridge is a wonderful genius. He is — whether we observe him as a mere man, or whether we look upon him as a literary character. His mind is great and capacious, and though he has, been censured for his indolence — it can only be indolence as respects his physical powers. His mind forms a perpetual motion of thought; — sleeping or waking, it is exercised, and he has actually composed a poem while sleeping, a part of which he was able to transcribe. It is to be lamented, that one who could take his place in the highest hierarchy of poets, should content himself with scribbling opinions on the unsettled notions of politics — should degrade his genius for poetry, and deprive the world of the conceptions of a mind which might have been and may still be, the admiration of future ages.