1797
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

To Mr. C—ge.

Monthly Magazine 7 (April 1799) 231-32.

Anna Laetitia Barbauld


An allegorical verse character, not signed, in which Anna Laetitia Barbauld bids young Coleridge beware the lurking dangers of a bower of metaphysic bliss: "Scruples here, | With filmy net, most like the autumnal webs | Of floating gossamer, arrest the foot | Of generous enterprise; and palsy hope | And fair ambition with the chilling touch | Of sickly hesitation and blank fear. | Nor seldom Indolence these lawns among | Fixes her turf-built seat." In Barbauld's Works (1825) the poem appears with the title "To Mr. S. T. Coleridge: 1797."

This verse character hits its target with deadly accuracy; Barbauld's imagery, invented out of James Thomson's Castle of Indolence, is far more Spenserian than that of her more ostensible (and much duller) imitations of Spenser. Coleridge at this time had adopted the sobriquet "Satyrane," which may have invited this Spensrian mode of adress. Compare Wordsworth's "Stanzas written in my Pocket-Copy of Thomson's Castle of Indolence" (1802). The advice-giving posture was common in Spenserian verse by women poets of this era; compare "To a young Friend, who in early life was thrown into a dangerous Society" by Elizabeth Trefusis, posthumously published in 1808, Anne Hunter's "To my Son, aged 23" in Poems (1802), and Anna Seward's Anna Seward's "To Miss Catherine Mallet" (1805 ca.).

Robert Southey to Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "I write rapidly and unthinkingly, to be in time for the post. Why have you not made Lamb declare war upon Mrs. Bare-bald? He should singe her flaxen wig with squibs, and tie crackers to her petticoats till she leapt about like a parched pea for very torture. There is not a man in the world who could so well revenge himself" 14 March 1804; Life and Correspondence (1849-50) 2:275.

William Hazlitt: "But the disease, we fear, was in the mind itself; and the study of poetry, instead of counteracting, only gave force to the original propensity; and Mr. Coleridge has ever since, from the combined forces of poetic levity and metaphysic bathos, been trying to fly, not in the air, but under ground — playing at hawk and buzzard between sense and nonsense, — floating or sinking in fine Kantean categories, in a state of suspended animation 'twixt dreaming and awake, — quitting the plain ground of "history and particular facts" for the first butterfly theory, fancy-bred from the maggots of his brain, — going up in an air-balloon filled with fetid gas from the writings of Jacob Behmen and the mystics, and coming down in a parachute made of the soiled and fashionable leaves of the Morning Post, — promising us an account of the Intellectual System of the Universe, and putting us off with a reference to a promised dissertation on the Logos, introductory to an intended commentary on the entire Gospel of St. John" Review of Coleridge, Biographia Literaria; Edinburgh Review 28 (August 1817) 491.

Hannah More: "I greatly admire her talents and taste; but our views, both political and religious, run so very wide of each other, that I lose the great pleasure that I might have otherwise found in her society, which is very intellectual" in Russell, Book of Authors (1860) 319.

Eric S. Robertson: "Lastly, we may include among our selections a poem designedly written in imitation of Addison's manner. It was originally inscribed to S. T. Coleridge. How strangely descriptive of Coleridge'sl later mind the first portion of the poem is!" English Poetesses, a Series of Critical Biographies (1883) 95.



Midway the hill of science, after steep
And rugged paths that tire the unpracticed feet,
A grove extends; in tangled mazes wrought,
And filled with strange enchantment: — dubious shapes
Flit through dim glades, and lure the eager foot
Of youthful ardour to eternal chase.
Dreams hang on every leaf: unearthly forms
Glide through the gloom; and mystic visions swim
Before the cheated sense. Athwart the mists,
Far into vacant space, huge shadows stretch
And seem realities; while things of life,
Obvious to sight and touch, all glowing round,
Fade into the hue of shadows — Scruples here,
With filmy net, most like the autumnal webs
Of floating gossamer, arrest the foot
Of generous enterprise; and palsy hope
And fair ambition with the chilling touch
Of sickly hesitation, and blank fear.
Nor seldom Indolence these lawns among,
Fixes her turf-built seat; and wears the garb
Of deep philosophy, and museful sits,
In dreamy twilight of the vacant mind,
Soothed by the whispering shade; for soothing soft
The shades; and vistas lengthening into air,
With moonbeam rainbows tinted. — Here each mind
Of finer mould, acute and delicate,
In its high progress to eternal truth
Rests for a space, in fairy bowers entranced;
And loves the softened light and tender gloom;
And, pampered with most unsubstantial food,
Looks down indignant on the grosser world,
And matter's cumbrous shapings. Youth beloved
Of science — of the muse beloved, — not here,
Not in the maze of metaphysic lore,
Build thou thy place of resting! lightly tread
The dangerous ground, on noble aims intent;
And be this Circe of the studious cell
Enjoyed, but still subservient. Active scenes
Shall soon with healthful spirit brace thy mind:
And fair exertion, for bright fame sustained,
For friends, for country, chase each spleen-fed fog
That blots the wide creation—
Now heaven conduct thee with a parent's love!

[pp. 231-32]