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93 ‘R.’ in Edinburgh Review 1821

93 ‘R.’ in Edinburgh Review 1821

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THE Friend

speculations which form the greater proportion of the work; but, after

offering a very few remarks on the objects which Mr. Coleridge has

had in view, I shall endeavour to win the attention of your readers to

the Friend, by bringing under their notice some of the less abstruse,

and, at present, more generally interesting discussions, with which Mr.

C. has relieved, and rendered more palatable, the weightier matter

which it has been his principal purpose to bring forward for the

benefit of mankind. If, Mr. Editor, in what I shall offer, I may seem

to you to speak of Mr. Coleridge’s book in hyperbolical terms, I trust

that you will not, on that account, deem my remarks unworthy of a

place in your Miscellany. I give my fair and candid sentiments, and

these, of course, are open to the animadversion of all those who may

differ in opinion with me.

The Friend, Sir, appears to me to be the only work published in

modern times which breathes the same lofty and profound spirit of

philosophy, and is distinguished by the same originality and depth of

speculation on the powers and destinies of the soul of man, as were

ushered to the world in the brightest days of our literature. In addition

to this, it is written with all the majesty and power of expression—with

all the free and fearless vigour of language—and with all the

copiousness of illustration, and beauty of imagery, which characterize

the genuine old English style of our Taylors, and Miltons, and Hookers,

and which were so lamentably frittered away into the cautious and

nerveless neatness and timid simplicity of the Popes and Addisons of

an after generation. It is not little to the credit of Mr. Coleridge, that,

with so many temptations in his way, he has scorned to court mere

popularity, which he might with the greatest ease have obtained, if he

could so far have done violence to his natural propensities, as to have

confined himself more to the surfaces of things, and endeavoured only

to awaken our sensibilities and kindle our sympathies, by doling forth

to us some eloquent pictures of passion, or some sparkling

declamations upon themes of transitory interest. He has, happily for

himself and for us, taken a higher stand, and pursued a prouder aim. He

deals with severe but lofty themes. His object is to arouse the sleeping

energies of the heart and soul to the contemplation of great and eternal

truths, to lead us to ponder on the scope and destinies of our being, and

to find our own scale in the universe, to seek out, by communing with

our inner selves, those fixed and immutable laws of thought and action

which Heaven has permitted our minds to perceive and know, to bring

these to bear upon the different branches of knowledge, and thus lead


‘R.’ IN Edinburgh Magazine 1821

to the ‘formation of fixed principles in politics, morals, and religion’.

These are great and difficult themes, possessing few attractions, for

those who are contented to live and move in this world with the least

possible trouble to themselves, and who are very little disposed to

pester themselves with matters requiring the deepest thought and the

severest self-examination. The consequence has been (as Mr. Coleridge

himself must clearly have anticipated), that his book has been read by

few, and has produced but little effect upon most of those who have

given themselves the trouble of perusing it. It is not to this age, nor to

such men, that Mr. Coleridge must look for his reward, yet he must

even now feel a proud consciousness, that there are individuals capable

of appreciating and of profiting by his labours, and that by these his

name will never be pronounced without a feeling of reverence and


These brief and imperfect remarks cannot be better illustrated than

by the following eloquent passage from Mr. Coleridge’s first volume,

where he notices that class of readers who hunger after the excitement

of mere novelty, and who must have something quite new, and ‘quite

out of themselves, for whatever is deep within them must be old as the

first dawn of human reason’.

To find no contradiction in the union of old and new, to contemplate the

ANCIENT OF DAYS with feelings as fresh, as if they then sprang forth at his

own fiat, this characterizes the minds that feel the riddle of the world, and may

help to unravel it! To carry on the feelings of childhood into the powers of

manhood, to combine the child’s sense of wonder and novelty, with the

appearances which every day, for perhaps forty years, had rendered familiar,

With sun, and moon, and stars, throughout the year,

And man and woman. ——

This is the character and privilege of genius, and one of the marks which

distinguish genius from talents. And so to represent familiar objects as to awaken

the minds of others to a like freshness of sensation concerning them, (that constant

accompaniment of mental, no less than of bodily convalescence,) —to the same

modest self-questioning of a self-discovered and intelligent ignorance, which, like

the deep and massy foundations of a Roman bridge, forms half of the whole

structure, (prudens interrogatio, dimidium scientiœ, says Lord Bacon,) —this is

the prime merit of genius, and its most unequivocal mode of manifestation. Who

has not a thousand times seen it snow upon water? Who has not seen it with a

new feeling since he has read Burns’s comparison of Sensual Pleasure,

To snow that falls upon a river,

A moment white—then gone forever!


THE Friend

In philosophy, equally as in poetry, genius produces the strongest impressions

of novelty, while it rescues the stalest and most admitted truths from the

impotence caused by the very circumstance of their universal admission.

Extremes meet—a proverb, by the bye, to collect and explain all the instances

and exemplifications of which, would constitute and exhaust all philosophy.

Truths, of all others, the most awful and mysterious, yet being, at the same

time, of universal interest, are too often considered as so true, that they lose all

the powers of truth, and lie bedridden in the dormitory of the soul, side by side

with the most despised and exploded errors.

I have, perhaps, already dwelt long enough on these matters, yet I

cannot help making a single observation in some degree connected with

the labours of Mr. Coleridge, and one which seems to me to be of

considerable importance. I allude to the incalculable benefit which

would accrue to literature alone by the general adoption of one system

of fixed principles, which should encompass and bind together, as links

of one chain, all its different parts. The greatest and most important

defect of our literature, in the present time, is its want of connection

throughout its different branches. It resembles rather a number of

separate sketches or portraits, than a complete picture, where every

single component part goes to make up one grand impression, and

where the impression conveyed by the whole reflects light upon all the

different parts. We have theories here, and hypotheses there; we have

essays, lectures, and periodical criticisms; some written under one

supposed system, some under another, and many under none; and the

consequence is, that any one who is disposed to examine the literature

of the times with a view to its peculiar character and value, finds

himself perplexed and confounded amongst opposite and conflicting

opinions, and after giving up his mind successively to a hundred

different impressions, sits down perfectly bewildered, and can give no

reasonable account of the nature or tendency of what he has been

endeavouring to understand.

The truth of this remark will, I think, be admitted (to a certain extent

at least) by all who have paid any degree of attention to the criticism

of the present day. Among all the multifarious periodical works and

reviews which are so plentifully showered forth upon us, where shall

we find one, in which any general principles or canons of criticism

have been even attempted to be laid down, by which judgment was to

be pronounced upon the different works to be criticised, and by which

the merits or defects of every work were to be measured, in order to

discover wherein, and to what degree, they existed? Is there ever any


‘R.’ IN Edinburgh Magazine 1821

attempt to refer to any principle of our mental constitution, the causes

of our admiration or dislike of the beauties or faults of any work? It

may do very well for a mere reader to be ‘pleased he knows not why,

and cares not wherefore’; but this will hardly do for a critic, whose

very office it is to ‘tell us the manner of our being pleased’. Were it not

that it would trespass far too long on your time, and on that of your

readers, I have no doubt that I should easily be able to shew, that this

total carelessness about principles is the besetting sin not merely of

modern criticism, but of modern literature generally, and that it has

introduced a ‘dangerous influx of paltry and superficial compositions,

alike hostile to soundness of judgment and purity of taste, a sea of

frothy conceits and noisy dullness, upon which the spirit of the age is

tossed hither and thither, not without great and frequent danger of

entirely losing sight of the compass of meditation, and the polar star of

truth’. (F.Schlegel.)

In some future paper I may make an attempt to trace the various

causes which have contributed to bring about this state of things. I shall

merely say at present, that I conceive the only adequate remedy would

be, the general adoption of one great set of fixed principles, which

should shape into form, and amalgamate together these confused and

complicated materials—which should create symmetry and beauty out

of this rudis indigestaque moles, this chaos of conflicting atoms, and

present to us, in all its concentrated power and grandeur, the true spirit

of British genius.

It is to the accomplishment of this, among other great ends, that the

labours of Mr. Coleridge are directed, and in which he deserves the

cordial co-operation of every true lover of the literature of his country.

He himself has afforded an admirable and eloquent specimen of

philosophical criticism in the examination of Mr. Wordsworth’s poetry,

which is contained in his ‘Literary Life’, and a few more of such

treatises would go a great way in eradicating the prevailing vices of the

criticism of the times.‚

I have said so much more on this subject than I had intended, that it


Mr. Hume justly remarks, in speaking of ‘polite letters’, that ‘an artist must be

better qualified to succeed in this undertaking; who, besides a delicate taste and quick

apprehension, possesses an accurate knowledge of the internal fabric— the operations of

the understanding—the workings of the passions, and the various species of sentiment

which discriminate vice and virtue’, &c. ‘The anatomist presents to the eye the most

hideous and disagreeable objects; but his science is highly useful to the painter in

delineating even a Venus or an Helen’, &c. Inquiry into the Human Understanding.


THE Friend

will be impossible for me, in this communication, to direct the attention

of your readers to the delightful essays which Mr. Coleridge has

interposed between his more profound speculations. I must, therefore,

defer this till another period; though I cannot resist filling up the rest

of my paper with the following beautiful and affecting tribute which he

pays to the memory of a nameless friend.

A lady once asked me if I believed in ghosts and apparitions. I answered, with

truth and simplicity, No, Madam! I have seen far too many myself: I have,

indeed, a whole memorandum book filled with records of these phenomena,

many of them interesting as facts and data for psychology, and affording some

valuable materials for a theory of perception and its dependance on the memory

and imagination. ‘In omnem actum perceptionis imaginatio influit efficienter’.

Wolfe. But HE is no more, who would have realized this idea, —who had

already established the foundations and the law of the theory, —and for whom

I had so often found a pleasure and a comfort, even during the wretched and

restless nights of sickness, in watching and instantly recording these experiences

of the world within us, of the ‘gemina natura, quæ fit et facit, et creat, et

creatur!’ He is gone, my friend! my munificient co-patron, and not less the

benefactor of my intellect! He who, beyond all other men known to me, added

a fine and ever-wakeful sense of beauty to the most patient accuracy in

experimental philosophy, and the profounder researches of metaphysical science;

he who united all the play and spring of fancy with the subtlest discrimination

and an inexorable judgment; and who controlled an almost painful exquisiteness

of taste by a warmth of heart, which, in the practical relations of life, made

allowances for faults as quick as the moral taste detected them; a warmth of

heart, which was indeed noble and pre-eminent, for, alas! the genial feelings of

health contributed no spark, toward it! Of these qualities I may speak, for they

belonged to all mankind. The higher virtues, that were blessings to his friends,

and the still higher that resided in and for his own soul, are themes for the

energies of solitude—for the awfulness of prayer! —virtues exercised in the

barrenness and desolation of his animal being; while he thirsted with the full

stream at his lips, and yet with unwearied goodness poured out to all around

him, like the master of a feast among his kindred in the day of his own

gladness! Were it but for the remembrance of him alone, and of his lot here

below, the disbelief of a future state would sadden the earth around me, and

blight the very grass in the field.





94. Unsigned article, ‘An Estimate of the Literary

Character and Works of Mr. Coleridge’

Monthly Magazine

December 1818, xlvi, 407–9

The man of genius, struggling with adverse circumstances, is one of the

most affecting subjects which can be presented to the imagination. We see

him first in remote and humble life, a delicate and ingenuous child, moved

to sorrow by the slightest chiding, and pining over the recollection of the

most trivial neglect; beloved, however, by his parents with a degree of

solicitude beyond the common affection which they feel for their other

children, persons of virtuous dispositions, their best efforts are employed

to give him an education that may fit him for some department of business

where hard labour is not required; and he is sent to a school among his

superiors in fortune, where his diffidence is regarded as sullenness, and his

thoughtfulness as stupidity. His progress is slow; and he retires from this

scene without leaving any favourable impression. His next appearance is

either in the office of a lawyer, or the shop of an apothecary, or perhaps

in the counting-house of a merchant. The bent of his mind lies not to his

business; and his parents, unable to discriminate the stirrings of awakening

genius from discontent, become anxious respecting him; and, ascribing the

change in his character to the profitless course of his reading, embitter the

little leisure that he can devote to study, by reproaching him with

misspending his time. By and by he acquires confidence in himself, and,

in defiance of the anger of his friends, ventures before the public as an

author. He has no literary associate to point out the indications of talent

scattered through his first imperfect essays, and his publication

consequently incurs contempt. Conscious, however, of possessing within

himself the springs of a force not yet excited, and instructed by his first

failure, he perseveres on towards the goal in view, and appears, at length,

a second time with a little more success. Thus, step by step, unknown,

uncheered, unpatronised, he gradually establishes a name; but his



privations, his mortifications, his anxieties, and his sufferings, unparticipated

and concealed, have, in the mean time, undermined his constitution, and he

dies. He is then missed by the public, his works become sought after, the

trade take up the question of his merits, and, about a century after his

decease, the public assign to him a place among the ornaments of his


Mr. Coleridge is professedly a man of genius, but we do not know in

what respects his career resembles that of the solitary whom we have

thus described. It is however well known, that, if he has not been duly

applauded in his own time, it has neither been owing to any lack of

endeavour on his part, nor to want of assistance from his friends. We

know not, indeed, a literary name oftener before the public than that of

Coleridge, and we have never ceased to wonder how it should happen to

be so. He has, it is true, occasionally sent forth lambent and luminous

indications of talent; and we have contemplated them, from time to time,

as the aurora of some glorious day, far out of the usual course of things.

But, instead of a reddening morn, brightening more and more, the

ineffectual phantom has as often been succeeded by a drizzle of nebulous

sensibility, or a storm of sound and fury signifying nothing.

It has been prettily observed, that the genius of Mr. Coleridge has

wings, but is without hands. It is not, however, in this respect only that

it resembles the cherub of a tomb-stone, for it has a marvellous

affection towards all the varieties of cadaveries, ghosts, and other

church-yard denizens and luminaries. But, to drop the metaphor, it

seems to us that this learned Theban possesses the faculty of rousing

but one class of intellectual associations, namely, those which are

connected with such superstitious sentiments as have a tendency to

excite the passion of insane fear. For, whenever he has tried to do any

thing else, his failures are among the most laughable extravagancies in

literature. While, therefore, we do admit that he is possessed of one

peculiar talent, and that one also in some degree ‘wildly original’, we

at the same time take leave to question whether such a faculty is not

more akin to genuine frenzy than to that sound and vigorous

intellectual power which transmits a portion of its own energy in the

impulse that it gives to the public mind.

‘The Antient Mariner’ of this poet is, in our opinion, the only one of

his productions which justifies his pretensions to the title of a man of

genius. It is full of vivid description, touches of an affecting simplicity,

and, above all, it exhibits in the best manner that peculiar talent which

may be considered as characteristic of his powers. It is, without doubt,


ARTICLE IN Monthly Magazine 1818

the finest superstitious ballad in literature, the ‘Lenora’ of Burger1 not

excepted; and as far superior to the ‘Thalabas’ and ‘Kehamahs’ of his

friend and reciprocal trumpeter, Southey, the poet-laureate, as the

incidents in those stories are remote from probability and common sense.

Indeed, common sense and probability have very little to do with any of

their poems; but, admitting the principles on which they have constructed

them, the fiction in the ‘Antient Mariner’ is far better sustained. His poem

of ‘Christabel’ is only fit for the inmates of Bedlam. We are not

acquainted in the history of literature with so great an insult offered to

the public understanding as the publication of that rapsody of delirium,

or with any thing so amusing as the sly roguery of those who, with such

matchless command of countenance, ventured to recommend it to

attention. It has, no doubt, here and there flashes of poetical expression,

as every thing from the pen of Mr. Coleridge cannot but possess. But of

coherency, and all that shows the superintendence of judgment or reason

in composition, it is void and destitute. The indited ravings of a genuine

madness would excite pity for the author, but the author of such a work

is beyond compassion.

Mr. Coleridge is justly celebrated for his translations of Schiller, and

it is much to be lamented that he has not been induced to favor the

public with a complete version of that great poet’s works. There is no

other writer of the present day qualified to perform the task half so

well. But, alas! he has taken to preaching Lay Sermons, demonstrating

that he is an apostate in politics, and that in his reasoning he can be as

absurd and unintelligible as in his rhyming. He has also delivered

lectures on Shakespeare, whose works he does not at all understand;

and he has published two anomalous volumes respecting himself, which

contain a few passages of good writing, but so interlarded with idealess

nonsense, that they only serve to show that the author has estimated his

stature by the length of his shadow in a sun-set of his understanding.

Some years ago he obtained a representation of a tragedy, called

Remorse, which was received with a respectable degree of attention;

but, as it contained no idea, either of incident or reflection, that showed

the author to be possessed of any knowledge of human nature, it has

sunk into oblivion, notwithstanding the beautiful fancies and elegant

frenzy with which it abounds. In a word, if Mr. Coleridge is really a

man of true genius, it is high time that he should give the world some

proof less equivocal than any thing he has yet done.


This poem had been adapted by Walter Scott as The Chase of William and Helen




95. J.G.Lockhart, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine

October 1819, vi, 3–12

This unsigned article in the series ‘Essays on the Lake School’ is

attributed to J.G.Lockhart (A.L.Strourt, op. cit, 112–13). Lockhart

(1794–1854), a member of the editorial staff of Blackwood’s, is

now best known for his biography of Sir Walter Scott.

There is no question many of our readers will think we are doing a

very useless, if not a very absurd thing, in writing, at this time of day,

any thing like a review of the poetry of Mr. Coleridge. Several years

have elapsed since any poetical production, entitled to much attention,

has been published by him, and of those pieces in which the true

strength and originality of his genius have been expressed, by far the

greater part were presented to the world before any of the extensively

popular poetry of the present day existed. In the midst, however, of the

many new claimants which have arisen on every hand to solicit the ear

and the favour of the readers of poetry, we are not sure that any one

has had so much reason to complain of the slowness and inadequacy

of the attention bestowed upon him as this gentleman, who is,

comparatively speaking, a veteran of no inconsiderable standing. It is

not easy to determine in what proportions the blame of his misfortunes

should be divided between himself and his countrymen. That both have

conducted themselves very culpably—at least very unwisely—begins at

length, we believe, to be acknowledged by most of those whose opinion

is of any consequence. As for us, we can never suppose ourselves to be

ill employed when we are doing any thing that may serve in any

measure to correct the errors of the public judgment on the one hand,

or to stimulate the efforts of ill-requited, and thence, perhaps,

desponding or slumbering genius on the other. To our Scottish readers

we owe no apology whatever; on the contrary, we have no hesitation

in saying, that in regard to this and a very great number of subjects

besides, they stand quite in a different situation from our English

readers. The reading-public of England (speaking largely) have not

understood Mr. Coleridge’s poems as they should have done. The


J.G.LOCKHART IN Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine 1819

reading-public of Scotland are in general ignorant that any such poems

exist, and of those who are aware of their existence, the great majority

owe the whole of their information concerning them to a few reviews,

which, being written by men of talent and understanding, could not

possibly have been written from any motives but those of malice, or

with any purposes but those of misrepresentation.

The exercise of those unfair, and indeed wicked arts, by which the

superficial mass of readers are so easily swayed in all their judgments,

was, in this instance, more than commonly easy, by reason of the many

singular eccentricities observable in almost all the productions of Mr.

Coleridge’s muse. What was already fantastic, it could not be no

difficult matter for those practised wits, to represent, as utterly

unmeaning, senseless, and absurd. But perhaps those who are

accustomed to chuckle over the ludicrous analysis of serious poems, so

common in our most popular reviews, might not be the worse for

turning to the Dictionnaire Philosophique, and seeing with what success

the same weapons have been employed there (by much greater wits, it

is true), to transform and degrade into subjects of vulgar merriment all

the beautiful narratives of the sacred books—their sublime simplicity

and most deep tenderness. It is one of the most melancholy things in

human nature, to see how often the grandest mysteries of the meditative

soul lie at the mercy of surface-skimming ridicule, and self-satisfied

rejoicing ignorance. It is like-seeing the most solemn gestures of human

dignity mimicked into grotesque absurdity by monkeys. Now, to our

mind, the impropriety of the treatment which has been bestowed upon

Mr. Coleridge, is mightily increased by the very facilities which the

peculiarities of the poet himself afforded for its infliction. It is a thing

not to be denied, that, even under the most favourable of circumstances,

the greater part of the readers of English poetry could never have been

expected thoroughly and intimately to understand the scope of those

extraordinary productions, but this ought only to have acted as an

additional motive with those who profess to be the guides of public

opinion, to make them endeavour, as far as might in them lie, to render

the true merits of those productions more visible to the eye of the less

penetrating or less reflective. Unless such be the duty of professional

critics on such occasions—and one, too, of the very noblest duties they

can ever be called upon to discharge—we have erred very widely in all

our ideas concerning such matters.

However well he might have been treated by the critics—nay,

however largely he might have shared in the sweets of popularity—



there is no doubt Mr. Coleridge must still have continued to be a most

eccentric author. But the true subject for regret is, that the

unfavourable reception he has met with, seems to have led him to

throw aside almost all regard for the associations of the multitude, and

to think, that nothing could be so worthy of a great genius, so

unworthily despised, as to reject in his subsequent compositions every

standard save that of his own private whims. Now it was a very great

pity that this remarkable man should have come so hastily to such a

resolution as this, and by exaggerating his own original peculiarities,

thus widened the breach every day between himself and the public. A

poet, although he may have no great confidence in the public taste,

as a guide to excellence, should always, at least, retain the wish to

please it by the effect of his pieces, even while he may differ very

widely from common opinions, with regard to the means to be

employed. This is a truth which has unfortunately been very

inadequately attended to by several of the most powerful geniuses of

our time; but we know of none upon whose reputation its neglect has

been so severely visited as on that of Mr. Coleridge. It is well, that

in spite of every obstacle, the native power of his genius has still been

able to scatter something of its image upon all his performances; it is

well, above all things, that in moods of more genial enthusiasm he

has created a few poems, which are, though short, in conception so

original, and in execution so exquisite, that they cannot fail to render

the name of Coleridge co-extensive with the language in which he has

written, and to associate it for ever in the minds of all feeling and

intelligent men, with those of the few chosen spirits that have touched

in so many ages of the world the purest and most delicious chords of

lyrical enchantment.

Those who think the most highly of the inborn power of this man’s

genius, must now, perhaps, be contented, if they would speak of him

to the public with any effect, to suppress their enthusiasm in some

measure, and take that power alone for granted which has been

actually shown to exist. Were we to speak of him without regard to

this prudential rule—and hazard the full expression of our own belief

in his capacities—there is no question we should meet with many to

acknowledge the propriety, to use the slightest phrase, of all that we

might say, but these, we apprehend, would rather be found among

those who have been in the society of Mr. Coleridge himself, and

witnessed the astonishing effects which, according to every report, his

eloquence never fails to produce upon those to whom it is addressed,


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