ePub 版

little other acquaintance with literary characters, than what may be implied in an accidental introduction, or casual meeting in a mixed company. And as far as words and looks can be trusted, I must believe that, even in these instances, I had excited no unfriendly disposition. Neither by letter, nor in conversation, have I ever had dispute or controversy beyond the common social interchange of opinions. Nay, where I had reason to suppose my convictions fundamentally different, it has been my habit, and I may add, the impulse of my nature, to assign the grounds of my belief, rather than the belief itself; and not to express dissent, till I could establish some points of complete sympathy, some grounds common to both sides, from which to commence its explanation.

Still less can I place these attacks to the charge of envy. The few pages which I have published, are of too distant a date, and the extent of their sale a proof too conclusive against their having been popular at any time, to render probable, I had almost said possible, the excitement of envy on their account; and the man who should envy me on any other, verily he must be envy-mad!


Lastly, with as little semblance of reason, could I suspect any animosity towards me from vindictive feelings as the cause. have before said, that my acquaintance with literary men has been limited and distant; and that I have had neither dispute nor controversy. From my first entrance into life, I have, with few and short intervals, lived either abroad or in retirement. My different essays on subjects of national interest, published at different times, first in the Morning Post and then in the Courier, with my courses of Lectures on the principles of criticism as applied to Shakspeare and Milton, constitute my whole publi

* ["Mr. Coleridge's courses of Lectures on literary and other subjects between 1800 and 1819 were numerous, but the Editor is unable to record them accurately. They were delivered at the Royal Institution, the Crown and Anchor, the Surrey Institution, the London Philosophical Society, Willis's Rooms, and, it is believed, in several other places in London. The subjects were Shakspeare, and the Drama generally, particular plays of Shakspeare, the history of English and Italian Literature, the history of Philosophy, Education of Women, connexion of the Fine Arts with edu

city; the only occasion on which I could offend any member of the republic of letters. With one solitary exception in which my words were first misstated and then wantonly applied to an individual, I could never learn that I had excited the displeasure of any among my literary contemporaries. Having announced my intention to give a course of Lectures on the characteristic merits and defects of English poetry in its different eras; first, from Chaucer to Milton; second, from Dryden inclusively to Thomson; and third, from Cowper to the present day; I changed my plan, and confined my disquisition to the former two periods, that I might furnish no possible pretext for the unthinking to misconstrue, or the malignant to misapply my words, and having stamped their own meaning on them, to pass them as current coin in the marts of garrulity or detraction.

Praises of the unworthy are felt by ardent minds as robberies of the deserving; and it is too true, and too frequent, that Bacon, Harrington, Machiavel, and Spinoza, are not read, because Hume, Condillac, and Voltaire are. But in promiscuous company no prudent man will oppugn the merits of a contemporary in his own supposed department; contenting himself with praising in his turn those whom he deems excellent. If I should ever deem it my duty at all to oppose the pretensions of individuals, I would oppose them in books which could be weighed and answered, in which I could evolve the whole of my reasons and feelings, with their requisite limits and modifications; not in irrecoverable conversation, where, however strong the reasons

cation and improvement of the mind, and many others, of which the Editor can learn nothing certain. The most remarkable of his contributions to the newspapers mentioned in the text, were the character of Mr. Pitt in the Morning Post in 1800, and the Series of Letters on the Spanish War in the Courier in 1809. What the Author says as to these exertions. constituting his whole publicity, must not be taken too strictly; for besides The Friend, The Remorse, Christabel, and his other Poems published before the date of this work, Mr. Coleridge had made his name well known long before by his courses of Lectures at Bristol on the French Revolution, Christianity, Slavery, and other subjects, some of which were printed. Ed.]

5 [This alludes to the Lectures at the London Philosophical Society, which began on the 18th of November, 1811. Ed.]

might be, the feelings that prompted them would assuredly be attributed by some one or other to envy and discontent. Besides I well know, and, I trust, have acted on that knowledge, that it must be the ignorant and injudicious who extol the unworthy; and the eulogies of critics without taste or judgment are the natural reward of authors without feeling or genius. Sint unicuique sua præmia.

How then, dismissing, as I do, these three causes, am I to account for attacks, the long continuance and inveteracy of which it would require all three to explain? The solution seems to be this, I was in habits of intimacy with Mr. Wordsworth and Mr. Southey! This, however, transfers, rather than removes the difficulty. Be it, that, by an unconscionable extension of the old adage, noscitur a socio, my literary friends are never under the water-fall of criticism, but I must be wet through with the spray; yet how came the torrent to descend upon them?

First then, with regard to Mr. Southey. I well remember the general reception of his earlier publications; namely, the poems published by Mr. Lovell under the names of Moschus and Bion; the two volumes of poems under his own name, and the Joan of Arc. The censures of the critics by profession are extant, and may be easily referred to:-careless lines, inequality in the merit of the different poems, and (in the lighter works) a predi lection for the strange and whimsical; in short, such faults as might have been anticipated in a young and rapid writer, were indeed sufficiently enforced. Nor was there at that time wanting a party spirit to aggravate the defects of a poet, who with all the courage of uncorrupted youth had avowed his zeal for a cause, which he deemed that of liberty, and his abhorrence of oppression by whatever name consecrated. But it was as little objected by others, as dreamed of by the poet himself, that he preferred careless and prosaic lines on rule and of forethought, or indeed that he pretended to any other art or theory of poetic diction, except that which we may all learn from Horace, Quinc

6 [The joint volume appeared in 1795 Bion was Southey, Moschus, Lovell. It contained "The Retrospect," in its original form. Joan of Arc appeared in 1796-the "two volumes" in 1797-both published by Mr. Cottle. Ed.]

[ocr errors]

tilian, the admirable dialogue, De Oratoribus, generally attributed to Tacitus, or Strada's Prolusions; if indeed natural good sense and the early study of the best models in his own language had not infused the same maxims more securely, and, if I may venture the expression, more vitally. All that could have been fairly deduced was, that in his taste and estimation of writers Mr. Southey agreed far more with Thomas Wharton, than with Dr. Johnson. Nor do I mean to deny, that at all times Mr. Southey was of the same mind with Sir Philip Sidney' in preferring an excellent ballad in the humblest style of poetry to twenty indifferent poems that strutted in the highest. And by what have his works, published since then, been characterized, each more strikingly than the preceding, but by greater splendor, a deeper pathos, profounder reflections, and a more sustained dignity of language and of metre? Distant may the period be, but whenever the time shall come, when all his works shall be collected by some editor worthy to be his biographer, I trust that an appendix of excerpta of all the passages, in which his writings, name, and character have been attacked, from the pamphlets and periodical works of the last twenty years, may be an accompaniment. Yet that it would prove medicinal in after times. I dare not hope; for as long as there are readers to be delighted with calumny, there will be found reviewers to calumniate. And such readers will become in all probability more numerous, in proportion as a still greater diffusion of literature shall produce an increase of sciolists, and sciolism bring with it petulance and presumption. In times of old, books were as religious oracles; as literature advanced, they next became venerable preceptors; they then descended to the rank of instructive friends; and, as their numbers increased, they sank still lower to that of entertaining companions; and at present they seem degraded into culprits to hold up their hands at the bar of every self. elected, yet not the less peremptory, judge, who chooses to write from humor or interest, from enmity or arrogance, and to abide the decision "of him that reads in malice, or him that reads after dinner."

["I never heard the old song of Percie and Douglas that I found not my heart moved more than with a trumpet." Defence of Poesie. Ed.]

The same retrograde movement may be traced, in the relation which the authors themselves have assumed towards their readers. From the lofty address of Bacon: "these are the meditations of Francis of Verulam, which that posterity should be possessed of, he deemed their interest :" or from dedication to Monarch or Pontiff, in which the honor given was asserted in equipoise to the patronage acknowledged: from Pindar's

επ' άλλοι

-σί δ' ἄλλοι μεγάλοι: τὸ δ' ἔσχατον κορυ-
-φοῦται βασιλέυσι· Μηκέτι

πάπταινε πόρσιον.

εἴη σέ τε τοῦτον

ὑψοῦ χρόνου πατεῖν, ἐμέ

τε τοσσάδε νικαφόροις

ὁμιλεῖν, πρόφαντον σοφίαν καθ' Ελ

-λανας όντα παντᾶ.

OLYMP., OD. 1.

there was a gradual sinking in the etiquette or allowed style of pretension.

Poets and Philosophers, rendered diffident by their very number, addressed themselves to "learned readers;" then aimed to conciliate the graces of "the candid reader;" till the critic still rising as the author sank, the amateurs of literature collectively were erected into a municipality of judges, and addressed as the Town! And now, finally, all men being supposed able to read, and all readers able to judge, the multitudinous Public, shaped into personal unity by the magic of abstraction, sits nominal despot on the throne of criticism. But, alas! as in other despotisms, it but echoes the decisions of its invisible ministers, whose intellectual claims to the guardianship of the Muses seem for the greater part analogous to the physical qualifications which adapt their oriental brethren for the superintendence of the Harem. Thus it is said, that St. Nepomuc was installed t1· guardian of bridges, because he had fallen over one, and sunk out of sight; thus too St. Cecilia is said to have been first pro

8 [§ Franciscus de Verulamio sic cogitavit; talemque apud se rationem instituit, quam viventibus et posteris notam fieri, ipsorum interesse putavit. Nov. Org. ED.]

« 上一頁繼續 »