Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

question is whether it should be written in prose or verse, or if the latter, in what metre—stanzas or eight-syllabled iambics with rhymes (for in rhyme it must be) now in couplets and now in quatrains, in the manner of Cooper's admirable translation of the Lament of Gresset.' (N.B.-Not the Cowper.)

“ Another thought has struck me of a school-book in two octavo volumes of Lives' in the manner of Plutarch's, but instead of comparing and coupling Greek with Roman, Dion with Brutus, and Cato with Aristides, of placing ancient and modern together, Hume with Alfred, Cicero with Bacon, Hannibal with Gustavus Adolphus, and Julius Cæsar with Buonaparte. Or, which perhaps might be at once more interesting and more instructive, a series of Lives,' from Moses to Buonaparte, of all those great men who in states, or in the mind of man, had produced great revolutions, the efects of which still remain, and are more or less distant causes of the present state of the world.

.

The Same to the Same.

March 29, 1811. DEAR GODWIN, My chief motive in undertaking the first mariner' is merely to weave a few tendrils around your destined walking stick, which, like those of the wood-bine (that, serpent-like climbing up, and with tight spires embossing the straight hazel, rewards the lucky school-boy's search in the hazel-copse), may remain on it when the wood-bine, root and branch, lies trampled in the earth. I shall consider the work as a small plot of ground given up to you to be sown at your own hazard with your own seed (gold grains would have been but a bad pun, and besides have spoiled the metaphor). If the increase should more than repay your risk and labour, why then let me be one of your guests at Harvest Home.

“Your last letter impressed and affected me strongly. Ere I had yet read or seen your works, I, at Southey's recommendation, wrote a sonnet in praise of the author. When I had read them, religious bigotry, the but half-understanding of your principles, and the not half-understanding my own, combined to render me a warm

COLERIDGE ON GODWIN.

225

and boisterous anti-Godwinist. But my warfare was open; my unfelt and harmless blows aimed at an abstraction I had christened with your name ; and you at that time, if not in the world's favour, were among the captains and chief men in its admiration. I became your acquaintance when more years had brought somewhat more temper and tolerance; but I distinctly remember that the first turn in my mind towards you, the first movements of a juster appreciation of your merits, was occasioned by my disgust at the altered tone and language of many whom I had long known as your

admirers and disciples. Some of them, too, were men who had made themselves a sort of reputation in minor circles as your acquaintance, and were therefore your echoes by authority, themselves aided in attaching an unmerited ridicule to you and your opinions by their own ignorance, which led them to think the best settled thoughts, and indeed everything in your · Political Justice,' whether ground, or deduction, or conjecture, to have been new thoughts, downright creations. Their own vanity enabled them to forget that everything must be new to him that knows nothing. Others again, who though gifted with high talents had yet been indebted to you, and the discussions occasioned by your wish for much of their development, who had often and often styled you the Great Master, written verses in your honour, and, worse than all, had brought your opinions with many good and worthy men into as unmerited an odium as the former class had into contempt by the attempt, equally unfeeling and unwise to realise them in private life, to the disturbance of domestic peace. And lastly, a third class; but the name of

spares me the necessity of describing it. In all these there was such a want of common sensibility, such a want of that gratitude to an intellectual benefactor which even an honest reverence for their great selves should have secured, as did then, still does, and ever will disgust me.

“ As for I cannot justify him ; but he stands in no one of the former classes. When he was young he just looked enough into your books to believe you taught republicanism and stoicism; ergo, that he was of your opinion and you of his, and that was all.

Systems of philosophy were never his taste or forte. And I verily believe that his conduct originated wholly and solely in the effects which the trade of reviewing never fails to produce at certain times on the best minds,-presumption, petulance, callousness to personal feelings, and a disposition to treat the reputations of their contemporaries as playthings placed at their own disposal. Most certainly I cannot approve of such things; but yet I have learned how difficult it is for a man who has from earliest childhood preserved himself immaculate from all the common faults and weaknesses of human nature, and who, never creating any small disquietudes, has lived in general esteem and honour, to feel remorse, or to admit that he has done wrong. Believe me, there is a bluntness of conscience superinduced by a very unusual infrequency, as well as by a habit of frequency of wrong actions. “Sunt, quibus cecidisse prodesset,' says Augustine. To this add that business of review-writing, carried on for fifteen years together, and which I have never hesitated to pronounce an immoral employment, unjust to the author of the books reviewed, injurious in its effects on the public taste and morality, and still more injurious in its influences on the head and heart of the reviewer himself. The prægustatores among the luxurious Romans soon lost their taste; and the verdicts of an old prægustator were sure to mislead, unless when, like dreams, they were interpreted into contraries. Our Reviewers are the genuine descendants of these palate-scared taste dictators.

“ I am still confined by indisposition, but intend to step out to Hazlitt's, almost my next door neighbour, at his particular request. It is possible that I may find you there.

“ Yours, dear Godwin, affectionately, S. T. COLERIDGE.”

CHAPTER IX.

FANNY'S DEATH-THE SHELLEYS. 1812--1819.

AFTER the subscription which had been made for the payment of his debts, which left him a considerable sum in hand, Godwin's circumstances were fairly comfortable for some years. They were not indeed wholly so, since having begun business without capital, the heavy payments required by that business at times, which did not always correspond with his receipts, necessitated frequent raising of money on bills, and some consequent anxiety. Yet, on the whole, there was no serious difficulty, and the daily life at Skinner Street was undisturbed. Godwin's reading became more and more devoted to past literature, the diaries from 1812 onwards make almost exclusive mention of old writers—Shakespeare, Bacon, Montaigne, &c. His mornings were given to study, his afternoons to writing, his evenings to society or the theatre; the old names occur, which have appeared in the Diaries for years—Mackintosh, Basil Montagu, the Lambs, but few new names—in fact old age was creeping on Godwin, though his powers of mind were quite undimmed. Charles Clairmont had found occupation for himself, but still lived mainly with the Godwins; Jane was with the Shelleys abroad, or afterwards at Binfield ; Fanny had more and more taken her place as a daughter at home, and, as she wrote to Mrs Shelley, "got on very well with Mamma, whose merits she could see, though she could not really like her.”

Two only, among the domestic letters of these years, possess any interest.

William Godwin to Mrs Godwin.

“ SKINNER St., July 10, 1815. " - I had a disagreeable dinner yesterday at Alexander's with a parcel of miserables, who seemed, so far as I could collect, to know nothing of the stranger who sat down with them, and to have no desire to hear anything from him : but I had a very pleasant walk home across the fields, to White's Conduit House.

“How happy should I be, if I could persuade you to look at human life through different optics ! There are persons, perhaps, so constituted that they must see all creation in sables : there is, too, a sort of refinement in regarding all the world with loathing and aversion, in which a sickly temper is too apt to indulge. But, separately from these two causes, almost all the lives of individuals are made up of a dark and a bright side ; and yours is not, in itself considered, the worst. We ought all to consider that we have but one life to make the best or the worst of, as imagination shall prompt us. But all prudence and all wisdom bids us make the best of it. You are surrounded with many comforts, you have a boy that you love, you have not the worst of husbands; our principal embarrassments are on the point of being cleared off, and we must then be very unlucky if we are not able to continue to supply our wants

"Tell Fanny I am very well, and have found no want as yet of her kind cares. Charles has taken the cook's account, and performed the offices of an able housekeeper and superintendent."

The Same to the Same.

66

Aug. 3, 1815. Miss Lamb has just called in to ask me to sup with them on Saturday evening at Mr Alsager's in the Borough, a clever man, she says, a bachelor, a whist player, and a new acquaintance

« НазадПродовжити »