Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

ESSA Y

ON THE

LIFE AND WRITINGS OF COLERIDGE,

BY H. T. TUCKERMAN.*

COLERIDGE appears to have excelled all his contemporaries in personal impressiveness. Men of the highest talent and cultivation have recorded, in the most enthusiastic terms, the intellectual treat his conversation afforded. The fancy is captivated by the mere description of his fluent and emphatic, yet gentle and inspired language. We are haunted with these vivid pictures of the “old man eloquent," as by those of the sages of antiquity, and the renowned improvisatores of modern times. Hazlitt and Lamb seem never weary of the theme. They make us realize, as far as description can, the affectionate temper, the simple bearing, and earnest intelligence of their friend. We feel the might and interest of a living soul, and sigh that it was not our lot to partake directly of its overflowing gifts.

Though so invaluable as a friend and companion, unfortunately for posterity, Coleridge loved to talk and read far more than to write. Hence the records of his mind bear no proportion to its endowments and activity. Ill health early drew him from “ life in motion, to life

* Taken, by permission of the Author, from “ Thoughts on the Poets."

in thought and sensation.” Necessity drove him to literary labor. He was too unambitious, and found too much enjoyment in the spontaneous exercise of his mind, to assume willingly the toils of authorship. His mental tastes were not of a popular cast. In boyhood he “ waxed not pale at philosophic draughts,” and there was in his soul an aspiration after truth-an interest in the deep things of life—a “ hungering for eternity," essentially opposed to success as a miscellaneous writer. One of the most irrational complaints against Coleridge, was his dislike of the French. Never was there a more honest prejudice. In literature, he deemed that nation responsible for having introduced the artificial school of poetry, which he detested ; in politics, their inhuman atrocities, during the revolution, blighted his dearest theory of man; in life, their frivolity could not but awaken disgust in a mind so serious, and a heart so tender, where faith and love were cherished in the very depths of reflection and sensibility. It is indeed easy to discover in his works ample confirmation of the testimony of his friends, but they afford but an unfinished monument to his genius. We must be content with the few memorials he has left of a powerful imagination and a good heart. Of these his poems furnish the most beautiful. They are the sweetest echo of his marvellous spirit:

A song divine, of high and passionate thoughts,
To their own music chaunted.

The eye of the Ancient Mariner holds us, in its wild spell, as it did the wedding-guest, while we feel the truth that

He prayeth best, who loveth best

All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,

He made and loveth all.

The charm of regretful tenderness is upon us with as sweet a mystery, as the beauty of “the lady of a far

countrie,” when we read these among other musical lines of Christabel :

Alas! they had been friends in youth;
And whispering tongues can poison truth;
And constancy lives in realms above;
And life is thorny; and youth is vain,
And to be wroth with one we love,
Doth work like madness in the brain.

No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time a profound philosopher.'

True as this may be in one sense, we hold it an unfortunate rule for a poetical mind to act upon. It was part of the creed of Coleridge, and his works illustrate its unfavorable influence. His prose, generally speaking, is truly satisfactory only when it is poetical. The human mind is so constituted as to desire completeness. The desultory character of Coleridge's prose writings is often wearisome and disturbing. He does not carry us on to a given point by a regular road, but is ever wandering from the end proposed. We are provoked at this way. wardness the more, because, ever and anon, we catch glimpses of beautiful localities, and look down most inviting vistas. At these promising fields of thought, and vestibules of truth, we are only permitted to glance, and then are unceremoniously hurried off in the direction that happens to please our guide's vagrant humor. This desultory style essentially mars the interest of nearly all the prose of this distinguished man. Not only the compositions, but the opinions, habits, and experience of Coleridge, partake of the same erratic character. His classical studies at Christ's hospital were interwoven with the reading of a circulating library. He proposed to become a shoemaker while he was studying medicine. He excited the wonder of every casual acquaintance by his schoolboy discourse, while he provoked his masters by starting an argument instead of repeating a rule. He incurred a chronic rheumatism by swimming with his clothes on, and left the sick ward to enlist in a regiment of dragoons. He laid magnificent plans of į rimi

« НазадПродовжити »