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EDINBURGH MAGAZINE.

No XXXI.

OCTOBER 1819.

VOL. VI.

ESSAYS ON THE LAKE SCHO0L OF POETRY.

No III.--Coleridge.

There is no question many of our saying, that in regard to this and a readers will think we are doing a very very great number of subjects besides, useless, if not a very absurd thing, in they stand quite in a different situawriting, at this time of day, any thing tion from our English readers. The like a review of the poetry of Mr reading-public of England (speaking Coleridge. Several years have elapsed largely) have not understood Mr Colesince any poetical production, entitled ridge's poems as they should have to much attention, has been published done—The reading-public of Scotland by him-and of those pieces in which are in general ignorant that any such the true strength and originality of poems exist, and of those who are his genius have been expressed, by far aware of their existence, the great the greater part were presented to the majority owe the whole of their inworld before any of the extensively formation concerning them to a few popular poetry of the present day exist reviews, which, being written by men ed. In the midst, however, of the many of talent and understanding, could new claimants which have arisen on not possibly have been written from every hand to solicit the ear and the fa any inotives but those of malice, or vour of the readers of poetry, we are not with any purposes but those of inissure that anyone has had so much rear representation.son to complain of the slowness and indo The exercise of those unfair, and dequacy of the attention bestowed upon indeed wicked arts, by which the suhim as this gentleman, who is, com- perficial mass of readers are so easily paratively speaking, a veteran of no swayed in all their judgments, was, inconsiderable standing. It is not in this instance, more than commonly easy to determine in what proportions easy, by reason of the many singular the blame of his misfortunes should eccentricities observable in almost all be divided between himself and his the productions of Mr Coleridge's countrymen. That both have con: muse. What was already fantastic, it ducted themselves very culpably—at could not be no difficult matter for least very unwisely-begins at length, those practised wits, to represent, as we believe, to be acknowledged by most utterly unmeaning, senseless, and abof those whose opinion is of any con- surd. But perhaps those who are sequence. As for us, we can never accustomed to chuckle over the ludi. suppose ourselves to be ill employed crous analysis of serious poems, so when we are doing any thing that may common in our most popular reviews, serve in any measure to correct the might not be the worse for turning to errors of the public judgment on the the Dictionnaire Philosophique, and one hand, or to stimulate the efforts seeing with what success the same of il-requited, and thence, perhaps, weapons have been employed there, desponding or slumbering genius on (by much greater wits, it is true) to the other. To our Scottish readers transform and degrade into subjects we owe no apology whatever; on the of vulgar merriment all the beautiful contrary, we have no hesitation in narratives of the sacred books-their VOL. VI.

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sublime simplicity and most deep always, at least, retain the wish to tenderness. It is one of the most please it by the effect of his piecesmelancholy things in human nature, even while he may differ very widely to see how often the grandest mys from common opinions, with regard teries of the meditative soul lie at the to the means to be employed. This mercy of surface-skimming ridicule, is a truth which has unfortunately and self-satisfied rejoicing ignore been very inadequately attended to by ance-It is like seeing the most so several of the most powerful geniuses lemn gestures of human dignity mim- of our time; but we know of none icked into grotesque absurdity by upon whose reputation its neglect monkeys. Now, to our mind, the im- has been so severely visited as on that propriety of the treatment which has of Mr Coleridge. It is well, that in been bestowed upon Mr Coleridge, is spite of every obstacle, the native mightily increased by the very facili- power of his genius has still been ties which the peculiarities of the able to scatter something of its image poet himself afforded for its infliction. upon all his performances—it is well, It is a thing not to be denied, that, above all things, that in moods of even under the most favourable of more genial enthusiasm he has created circumstances, the greater part of the à few poems, which are, though short, readers of English poetry could never in conception so original, and in have been expected thoroughly and execution so exquisite, that they canintimately to understand the scope of not fail to render the name of Colethose extraordinary productions--but ridge co-extensive with the language this ought only to have acted as an ad- in which he has written-and to asditional motive with those who professsociate it for ever in the minds of all to be the guides of public opinion, to feeling and intelligent men, with those make them endeavour, as far as might of the few chosen spirits that have in them lie, to render the true mer touched in so many ages of the world its of those productions more visible to the purest and most delicious chords the eye of the less penetrating or less of lyrical enchantment. reflective. Unless such be the duty Those who think the most highly of professional critics on such occa of the inborn power of this man's sions and one, too, of the very genius, must now, perhaps, be connoblest duties they can ever be called tented, if they would speak of him to upon to discharge--we have erred the public with any effect, to suppress very widely in all our ideas concern their enthusiasm in some measure ing such matters.

and take that power alone for granted However well he might have been which has been actually shown to treated by the critics-nay, however exist. Were we to speak of him largely he might have shared in the without regard to this prudential rule sweets of popularity—there is no -and hazard the full expression of doubt Mr Coleridge must still have our own belief in his capacities--there continued to be a most eccentric is no question we should meet with author. But the true subject for re many to acknowledge the propriety, gret is, that the unfavourable recep- to use the slightest phrase, of all that tion he has met with, seems to have we might say—but these, we appreled him to throw aside almost all re- hend, would rather be found among gard for the associations of the multi- those who have been in the society tude and to think, that nothing of Mr Coleridge himself, and wit could be so worthy of a great genius, nessed the astonishing effects which, sounworthily despised, as to reject in his according to every report, his elosubsequent compositions every standard quence never fails to produce upon save that of his own private whims. those to whom it is addressed than Now it was a very great pity that this among men who have (like ourselves) remarkable man should have come so been constrained to gather their only hastily to such a resolution as this ideas of him from the printed proand by exaggerating his own original ductions of his genius. We are very peculiarities, thus widened the breach willing to acknowledge, that our own every day between himself and the excess of admiration may have been public. A poet, although he may in some measure the result of peculiar have no great confidence in the public circumstances--that it may have arisen taste, as a guide to excellence, should out of things too minute to be ex

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plained and which, if explained, indeed, may be said to be heaped up
would be regarded by many as merely to superfluity-and so it is the lan-
fantastic and evanescent. What, ac- guage to be redundant and the nare
cording to our belief, Mr Coleridge rative confused. But surely those
might have been-what, according to who cavilled at these things, did not
the same belief, he may yet be these consider into whose mouth the poet
are matters in regard to which it may has put this ghastly story. A guest
be wise to keep silence. We have no is proceeding to a bridal--the sound
desire, had we the power, to trouble of the merry music is already in his
our readers with any very full exposi« ears and the light shines clearly
tion of our opinions, even concerning from the threshold to guide him to
what he has done in poetry. Our the festival. He is arrested on his
only wish for the present, is to offer a way by an old man, who constrains
few remarks in regard to one or two him to listen-he seizes him by the
of his individual productions, which hand--that he shakes free but the
may perhaps excite the attention of old man has a more inevitable spell,
such of our readers as have never yet and he holds him, and will not be
paid any considerable attention to any silent.
of them and this, more particularly, He holds him with his glittering eye,
as we have already hinted, with a
view to our own countrymen in Scot- And listens like a three-years child :

The wedding-guest stood still,
land.

The mariner hath his will.
The longest poem in the collec
tion of the Sibylline Leaves, is the The wedding guest sat on a stone,

He cannot ehuse but hear
Rime of the Ancient Mariner-and to
our feeling, it is by far the most won-

And thus spake on that ancient man,

The bright-eyed mariner.
derful also the most originalmand
the most touching of all the produc- The bride hath paced into the hall,
tions of its author. From it alone, we

Red as a rose is she:
are inclined to think an idea of the Nodding their heads before her goes
whole poetical genius of Mr Coleridge The merry minstrelsy.
might be gathered, such as could
scarcely receive any very important

The wedding-guest he beat his breast,

Yet he cannot chuse but hear
addition either of extent or of dis-
tinctness, from a perusal of the

whole And thus spake on that ancient man,

The bright-eyed mariner.
of his other works. To speak of it
at all is extremely difficult; above all In the beginning of the mariner's
the poems with which we are ac- narrative, the language has all the im-
quainted in any language it is a petus of a storm-and when the ship
poem to be felt cherished-mused is suddenly locked among the polar
upon--not to be talked about not ice, the change is as instantaneous as
capable of being described analyzed it is awful.
or criticised. It is the wildest of
all the creations of genius-it is not The ice was here, the ice was there,
like a thing of the living, listening, It cracked and growled, and roared and
moving worldthe very music of
its words is like the melancholy Like noises in a swound !

how'd,
mysterious breath of something sung
to the sleeping ear its images have

At length did cross an Albatross :
the beauty--the grandeur--the inco- Thorough the fog it came;
herence of some mighty vision.

As if it had been a Christian soul,
The

We hailed it in God's name.
loveliness and the terror glide before
us in turns-with, at one moment, the It ate the food it ne'er had eat,

And round and round it few.
awful shadowy dimness--at another,
the yet more awful distinctness of a

The ice did split with a thunder-fit;

The helmsman steer'd us through ! majestic dream.

Dim and shadowy, and incoherent, And a good south wind sprung up behind however, though it be--how blind, The Albatross did follow, how wilfully, or how foolishly bliná And every day, for food or play, muśt they have been who refused to

Came to the Mariner's hollo ! see any meaning or purpose in the In mist or cloud, or mast or shroud, Tale of the Mariner ! The imagery, It perch'd for vespers nine ;

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THERE is no question many of our saying, that in regard to this and a readers will think we are doing a very very great number of subjects besides, useless, if not a very absurd thing, in they stand quite in a different situawriting, at this time of day, any thing tion from our English readers. The like a review of the poetry of Mr reading-public of England (speaking Coleridge. Several years have elapsed largely) have not understood Mr Colesince any poetical production, entitled ridge's poems as they should have to much attention, has been published done–The reading-public of Scotland by him and of those pieces in which are in general ignorant that any such the true strength and originality of poems exist, and of those who are his genius have been expressed, by far aware of their existence, the great the greater part were presented to the majority owe the whole of their inworld before any of the extensively formation concerning them to a few popular poetry of the present day exist reviews, which, being written by men ed. In the midst, however, of the many of talent and understanding, could new claimnnts which have arisen on not possibly have been written from every hand to solieit the ear and the fa any motives but those of malice, or vour of the readers of poetry, we are not with any purposes but those of inissure that anyone has had so much reas representation. son to complain of the slowness and ina The exercise of those unfair, and dequacy of the attention bestowed upon indeed wicked arts, by which the suhim as this gentleman, who is, com- perficial mass of readers are so easily paratively speaking, a veteran of no swayed in all their judgments, was, inconsiderable standing. It is not in this instance, more than commonly easy to determine in what proportions easy, by reason of the many singular the blame of his misfortunes should eccentricities observable in almost all be divided between himself and his the productions of Mr Coleridge's countrymen. That both have con.

What was already fantastic, it ducted themselves very culpably at could not be no difficult matter for least very unwisely—begins at length, those practised wits, to represent, as we believe, to be acknowledged by most utterly unmeaning, senseless, and abof those whose opinion is of any con- surd. But perhaps those who are sequence. As for us, we can never accustomed to chuckle over the ludisuppose ourselves to be ill employed crous analysis of serious poems, so when we are doing any thing that may common in our most popular reviews, serve in any measure to correct the might not be the worse for turning to errors of the public judgment on the the Dictionnaire Philosophique, and one hand, or to stimulate the efforts seeing with what success the same of ill-requited, and thence, perhaps, weapons have been employed there, desponding or slumbering genius on (by much greater wits, it is true) to the other. To our Scottish readers transform and degrade into subjects we owe no apology whatever; on the of vulgar merriment all the beautiful contrary, we have no hesitation in narratives of the sacred books--their Vol. VI.

A 2

muse.

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