Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

HIS MOTIVE FOR PUBLICATION.

241

was the beloved associate and the cliosen counsellor, Cottle took care of Coleridge and Southey, when to take care of these men meant nourishing and sustaining glorious spirits in the bleak hour of poverty, obscurity, and neglect. The claim upon our gratitude can never be forgotten. The reader must remember it when he grows angry with the biographer for revealing so much that is ugly of that friend from whom the world has gathered so much that is beautiful; and, moreover, let him bear in mind, that the Octogenarian is without one spark of malice in his whole composition. “It is not a light motive," he tells us, “which could have prompted him, when this world of eye and ear' is fast receding, while grander scenes are opening, and so near! to call up almost long forgotten associations, and to dwell on the stirring by-gone occurrences that tend, in some measure, to interfere with that calm which is most desirable, and best accords with the feelings of one who holds life by such slender ties." What that motive is, we have already said. We can hardly allow it to justify all that it would excuse; but it absolves the writer at least of a malicious intent, which, in truth, is simply impossible in the case of Joseph Cottle. The utter absence of anything approaching cruelty, or even worldly-mindedness, is marvellous throughout his long career. His was the weakness of being too easy. We shall proceed to give instances of the failing, at all times and in all men amiable. Meanwhile, to guard our author against wholesale condemnation at the outset, let us afford him the benefit secured by the poet for the farmer of Tilsbury Vale :

VOL. I.

“ You lift up your eyes, but I guess that you

frame
A judgment too harsh of the sin and the shame;
In him it was scarcely a business of art,
For this he did all in the ease of his heart."

The introduction of Coleridge and Southey to their present biographer, fifty-seven years ago, is amusing in the extreme. To ny of our readers the circumstances connected with it must be well-known. For the sake of the ignorant we will more particularly refer to them. At the close of the year 1794, Mr. Cottle, then living in Bristol, informs us that a clever young Quaker, of the name of Lovell, just then married to a certain Miss Fricker (whose sisters, by the way, became afterwards respectively the wives of Coleridge and Southey), waited upon him with the intelligence that a few friends from Oxford and Cambridge were about to sail with him to the banks of Susquehannah, in America, for the purpose of forming a social colony, in which there was to be a community of property, and where all selfishness was to be proscribed. The adventurers were to be tried and incorruptible characters, and, as Joseph Cottle fulfilled both conditions, he was affectionately invited by his visitor to become one of the immaculate society of Pantisocritans. The party already engaged in the enterprise were four-Lovell, the quaker; Coleridge, from Cambridge ; and Southey and George Burnet, from Oxford. Bristol was the point of embarcation, and the youthful founders of the new system were expected shortly to arrive there. Joseph had a humble opinion of his merits, and expressed himself unworthy to join the sacred brotherhood; but, to use his own words," he had read so much of poetry, and sympathised so much with poets in all their eccen

HIS INTRODUCTION TO COLERIDGE AND SOUTHEY. 243

tricities and vicissitudes, that to see before him the realisation of a character which in the abstract most absorbed his regards gave him a degree of satisfaction which it would be difficult to express.” Accordingly, he requested Lovell to introduce his friends as soon as they should appear; and, before they appeared, gratified his love for poets in the abstract by perusing the verses which had already fallen from the pens of the unfledged enthusiasts. Southey was the first to arrive. “Never," says Cottle, “will the impression be effaced produced on me by this young man. Tall, dignified, possessing great suavity of manners, an eye piercing, with a countenance full of genius, kindliness, and intelligence, I gave him at once the right hand of fellowship, and to the moment of his decease the cordiality was never withdrawn.” Next came Coleridge ; his eye, brow, and forehead indicating at once the commanding genius of the man. Interview rapidly followed interview, only to increase the first impression of admiration and respect. А touching proof of the perfect self-denial of these young men, who were bent upon nothing short of the regeneration of the world, is given by Cottle at starting. It will be seen that their whole intercourse with the bookseller was directed by a benevolent wish to increase his intellectual and social enjoyments. “Each of my new friends," he naively informs us, “read me his productions. Each accepted my invitations (!), and gave me those repeated proof: of good opinion, ripening fast into esteem, that I could not be insensible to the kindness of their manners, which it may truly be affirmed infused into my heart a brotherly feeling, that more than

identified their interests with my own.Poor Cottle!

The bookseller introduced his new acquaintances to several friends, and we are not surprised to learn from him that the philosophers found Bristol “a very pleasant residence," and, gratified by his invitations and attention, contented themselves with preaching of the delights of Pantisocracy, without taking any steps whatever to put their sermons into practice. The inquisitive and philosophic mind takes pleasure in following the career of the purely philanthropic and humane. It will be pleased to trace the course of the Pantisocritans. Cottle grew uneasy as the period arrived for the sailing of the ship, which was not yet engaged, and for the departure of the adventurers, who were resolved to go, having no means to set out. In the height of his apprehension and distress, however, a letter reached him from one of the regenerators of the society, strikingly characteristic of all modern reformers, which brought tears of joy and gratitude to the eyes of the bookseller, and assured him that he was not yet to be robbed of the society of those from whom he had learned to derive so much of his happiness. The letter was as follows:

“My dear Sir,-Can you conveniently lend me five pounds, as we want a little more than four pounds to make up our lodging bill, which is indeed much higher than we expected; seven weeks, and Burnet's lodging for twelve weeks, amounting to eleven pounds.

Yours affectionately,

“ S. T. COLERIDGE." “Never," exclaims the good Cottle, "did I lend

HE PURCHASES THEIR POEMS.

245

money with such unmingled pleasure, for now I ceased to be haunted day and night with the spectre of the ship! the ship! which was to effect such incalculable mischief !” The money given, the giver waited

upon

the receiver. The Pantisocritan was in a desponding mood. Cottle, "to keep up his spirits," recommended him to publish a volume of his poems. The regenerator answered with a smile of scorn. He had offered his poems to the booksellers in London, and the majority would not even look at them. One, after diligently reading them, offered six guineas for the copyright. “Poor as I was,” said the reformer, “I refused to accept the offer.” Cottle offered twenty guineas at once. “It was very pleasant," says the guileless old gentleman, “ to observe the joy that instantly diffused itself over his countenance." It was, in fact, too much for Cottle. “Come, I will make it thirty,” said the enthusiastic tradesman, “and you may have the money when you will." “ The silence and the grasped hand,” says our dear friend, "showed that at that moment one person was happy.” But Cottle is by no means content to make one person happy at a time. Off he goes to the other Pantisocritan, and, out of breath, tells him he has given his friend thirty guineas for one volume of poems, and he will give him the like sum for another. The effect of the offer may be anticipated. “He cordially thanked me, and instantly acceded to my proposal.”

Before the tangible advantages of Mr. Cottle's friendship the hairbrained scheme of the Susquehannah banks faded gradually away. Moreover, the learned youths who proposed to establish peace all

« НазадПродовжити »