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to himself, mystified and confused by brooding over obscure philosophical speculations, it could hardly be supposed that he would produce any effect, or be even remotely felt, amid the heat and violence of political excitement. England was at war with herself; for the only time in her annals, except partially during the reign of James the Second, she was contending with the most dangerous and powerful external foe she ever had; and at the same time, with faction, intrigue, and a revolutionary spirit within her bosom. If this should be denied, and the opposition to government be attributed to patriotic and liberal views, there was still enough admiration of France and her ruler, and their destructive principles, and a sufficiently open expression of this feeling among its leaders, to authorise that most fearful condition of things, where it extends over a country, and invades, as a part of necessary policy, the quiet obscurity of private life--the gloomy tyranny of suspicion. Even Coleridge, who began life like many young men, possessing the ardour of the poetical temperament, with a very fiery zeal for liberty, in the abstract, had attracted the notice of the government. He had retired to a distant part of the coast of England, impoverished by the bad fortune of his literary prospects, and broken by disappointment; yet he was hunted to this retreat, and a spy placed over him by the jealousy of those in power.
As illustrative of the times, and of the modest and even depreciating opinion a man of the best powers may form of himself, we will extract his own account from that most remarkable self-revelation, his Biographia Literaria.
“ Conscientiously an opponent of the first revolutionary war, yet with my eyes thoroughly opened to the true character and importance of the favourers of revolutionary principles in England-principles which I held in abhorrence; (for it was part of my political creed, that whoever ceased to act as an individual by making himself a member of any society not sanctioned by his government, forfeited the rights of a citizen,) a vehement anti-ministerialist, but after the invasion of Switzerland a more vehement anti-gallican, and still more intensely an anti-jacobin, I retired to a cottage at Stowey, and provided for my scanty maintenance by writing verses for a London morning paper. I saw plainly, that literature was not a profession by which I could expect to live; for I could not disguise from myself, that whatever my talents might or might not be, in other respects, yet they were not of the sort that could enable me to become a popular writer : and that whatever my opinions might be in themselves, they were almost equi-distant from all the three prominent parties, the Pitlites, Foxites, and the democrats."
Yet at this time, suffering all the crushing influence of despair and despondency, from the apparent ruin of his prospects in the profession that from natural inclination he had chosen, as the most likely to gratify his ambition, and devoting himself, in his retreat, to “poetry, and the study of ethics, and psychology,"
the government sent a spy to watch his motions, as a dangerous plotter against the tranquillity of the realm. "Yet neither my retirement nor my utter abstraction from all the disputes of the day could secure me, in those jealous times, from suspicion and obloquy.” But the spy was fortunately a goodnatured person, and not sufficiently of the atrabilious temperament to suspect, without cause, or to blacken the conduct of his unsuspecting victim, or to traduce, to please his employer, one whose habits and pursuits were obviously too simple and studious to be those of an intriguer and traitor.
“After three weeks of truly Indian perseverance in tracking us, during all which time seldom were we out of doors, but he contrived to be within hearing-he declared his belief that both my friend and myself were as good subjects, for aught he could discover to the contrary, as any in his majesty's dominion. He had repeatedly hid himself for hours together behind a bank at the sea-side, and overheard our conversation. At first he fancied that we were aware of our danger: for he often heard me talk of one spy Nozy, which he was inclined to interpret of himself and of a remarkable feature belonging to him; but he was speedily convinced that it was the name of a man who made a book and lived long ago."
His talking to the people of the village was regarded as exciting to discontent--though, as the landlord of the village inn replied to the magistrate, “If what I have heard be true, your honour ! they would not have understood a word he said." And his walking with his books and papers was supposed to be with the design of taking charts and maps.
It was at this period of hopelessness and perplexity, that the generous and munificent patronage of two English gentlemen enabled him to finish his education in Germany, and to fix his already too strong inclination for philosophical speculation, by a residence among a people who seem ever roving through the labyrinth of metaphysics, and tracking their subtlety, till they are lost in the shadow of their own thoughts. He says of himself, " At a very premature age, even before my fifteenth year, I had bewildered myself in metaphysics and theological controversy ;'----and in his instance circumstances seemed to confirm his disposition, the child was father of the man" far more than is permitted to those who are compelled to make the world a scene of active struggle and contention. It was this peculiar bent of mind that unfitted Coleridge for all pursuits leading to or necessary for worldly advancement. There are not many instances of philosophers possessing what is called a business talent, that is, a tact for active exertion in the practical affairs of life. Bacon seems almost the only instance of a great mind so far acted on by ambition and necessity as to subdue the speculative disposition; and, it was with him, in the after part of life, a source of regret, that he had deserted the more
spacious and noble field, as well as more congenial, of philosophy, for the bitter excitement, the heated contention, of the courts of law. But to all minds the least disposed to observation and philosophic speculation, there is an interest and a novelty in every scene of life. Whatever regards man in general, his feelings, pursuits, passions, must be to such, and should be to all, a matter of study and thought.
To this faculty of keen remark we may owe the secret source of Shakspeare's power. He probably never refused an acquaintance or avoided a scene where were to be viewed the workings of strong feelings. He felt, that in the volcanic turbulence of the bosom, human nature might not be able to withstand the violence it has not been habitually taught to restrain, nor escape the ruin that ensues from its eruption : and feeling this, he could excuse and show a forbearance to the universally pervading weakness of man, where he saw the agent was impulse, and not a cool, fiendish determination to gratify self. He looked on men as so many spiritual existences,-as emanations from some superior power, -as deriving all they have of good or evil from him who created them,--and for some mysterious end; not as mere incarnations, animated by a principle that dies with the dust in which they are embodied. With this love and admiration for human nature, which all must have who wish to know man, he could look on the exhibition of the most degrading depravity,--on all that was wild and fierce in the display of man's energy,--on all that was base, corrupt, and humiliating, in their character, with no sense of anger, disgust, or contempt; but with a compassionate sorrow, that pain we feel in viewing the perversion of faculties designed for other ends and higher destinies. The wider and more intense the affections, the less disposed to judge harshly. A knowledge of mankind makes us lenient; for we can feel within ourselves the struggle between passion and principle, the desire always to be that which it is very easy to seem. It was this acquaintance with the best and worst parts of man's nature, with all the extremes to which his passions could bear him, and all their terrible results, that gave him the power of portraying with such vividness the gentle and winning grace of female character, the subtle delicacy and refinement of female feelings, the generous intemperance of youth, the gloomy malignity and cowardly ferocity of the deliberate murderer, the impetuosity of over-wrought passion, and all the host of ill-regulated desires that spring in undisciplined bosoms. It was this knowledge that made him the practical philosopher, and relieved him from the dreamy abstraction that loses itself in the enjoyment of empty speculation.
This habit of receiving all the world offers, as a philosopher,
and not as an idle spectator,--of making every thing around us a matter of reflection, is the source of the reproducing energies of the mind. It is in this way the novelist and dramatist, by watching the display of passion and the movements of feeling, replace in their creations the various characters that come before them; and mould a fiction into the reality of a living being :--and thus, too, by attempting to discover the causes of conduct, we lay open the secret history of every bosom. But there are modes of association peculiar to the individual that require great penetration to detect. There are irregular impulses that seem without cause,-certain violent but transient influences, that agitate while they last, and act as if directed by some foreign power; and education, even if it does not alter the original structure of our minds, subdues or tempers, by the habitual control of its discipline; and then there are too dormant traits of character that circumstances have not developed to ourselves. The mere man of the world, who mingles with a society governed altogether by conventional rules, forms but a superficial idea of human nature in general, and knows but little of the secret workings and concealed impulses of those with whom he is apparently intimate ; it is but the surface over which he moves, while beneath it lie all the heated elements of character. From this ignorance, or rather confined view of man, arises the surprise that is expressed at the unexpected conduct of some one, who, to all appearance, was a submissive bondsman to the arbitrary regulations of those among whom he lived, and thence the imputation of eccentricity and madness.
In thus attempting to generalise some of the sources of peculiarity to be found among men, we are enabled to gain a probable clue to the intellectual elements of Coleridge. There is ever a feeling of awe, in trying to analyse the structure of any mind, and a sense of imposing mystery in striving to disclose the shadowy and fleeting sources of thought. But when it is one of great powers, we seem to be viewing the interior of some vast edifice, made venerable by age, and hallowed by the dim and distant associations of the past; there we see ac- . quired knowledge, the spoils of all time, brightened by the constant use, the daily polish of the individual's faculties, and the frequent impulses of sense, bringing from without, like the bird to its nest, the food that is to animate a new existence. Even if the soul, or whatever the power may be, which, as impalpable as air, gives life to intellect, that other unsubstantial element of man, should be but the inheritance from some former being, and all it gathers be but the renewal of former knowledge, still there is a daily accumulation that circumstances make fresh, and to appear, when reproduced in some
other form, as if the birth of a new principle. It seems not improbable, since there is nothing new under the sun, that all thought is but a renewal of that which has existed in other minds, and which now exists, though unawakened, in minds that possess none of what Coleridge calls a reflex consciousness. We are certainly not aware of any mental experience: all thought appears new to us, and as if born from the vitality of our own minds, until we compare it with that of others, and then it seems but a record of the past,--an instrument to be filed away for the use of succeeding generations; so that every new creation of the mind, like the human body, may be but a reproduction from the same elements cast in a new form. This is no disparaging view of human nature: though it may depreciate our admiration for an individual, yet certainly not for the general powers and results of the mind. It is thus we can associate all time by an intellectual chain, and the greatest intellect of antiquity becomes represented by some modern of equal power. In this view, the existence of a great mind is given to the world to continue out the chain of pre-existing thought, to raise the intellectual character of man above the level to which base pursuits depress him; to new open the reservoirs where all has become stagnant, and widen the realm of intellect. But if we can establish and estimate its use, there is still an imposing mystery in the creation and in all its modes of action, that raises our wonder. We regard it as an emblem of superior power,--as a sacred gift,--as the sole possession that reveals the elevation of our nature,—and, in its contemplation, when we throw by the lessening influence of familiarity, we feel subdued, as when our view is thrown towards the expanse of heaven, and our thoughts try to fathom its furthest abyss, and to find a use for, and the creating power which upholds, the spheres that rest upon its bosom. If the faculties are of a high order, and have been powerfully exerted, the attempt to measure them and assign to each its true extent and power, is a task of great difficulty. We enter boldly the wide and dark expanse of metaphysics, and choose, from its various obscure definitions, some guide that may lead to the interior of the structure we are examining. But such guide is of very doubtful truth.
It confuses us like the morning memory of a dream. There is no reality in its assertions, no intelligibility in its explanations; but we are amazed, and for the moment overwhelmed as when we enter one of England's great cathedrals; when our emotions kindle at its sublimity, and we are overawed and confused, but cannot account for the effect. The glare of day suddenly sinks to the subdued light of evening; the sun's rays, struggling through the painted windows, create the quiet light VOL. XVIII.-NO. 37.