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126 LIFE OF SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE.
as well have sent a helluo librorum for cure to the Vatican. God keep him inviolate among the traps and pitfalls !” Coleridge sank lower and lower. “Had I but a few hundred pounds, but £200," he had written, "half to send to Mrs. Coleridge, and half to place myself in a private madhouse, where I could procure nothing but what a physician thought proper, . . . then there might be hope. Now there is none.” But there was hope, and the hope came, whence it might have been least expected, from the slave himself. Early in 1816 Coleridge put himself under the care of Dr. Gillman, of the Grove, Highgate, and took up his residence in the doctor's house. From that time dated the beginnings of his emancipation. It was a slow and gradual liberation, but it was complete at length. Long, painful, and toilsome years had passed before the slave threw off his slavery, but his face was always toward the dark pillar of hope now turning once again.
When Coleridge left Bristol after his unsuccessful lecturing tour of 1813-14, a strong effort was made by Cottle, at Southey's suggestion, to induce him to return to Keswick. The Southey-Cottle correspondence of 1814 is interesting, as showing how ignorant of the facts of Coleridge's life it was possible for his friends to be. Cottle had newly learned that Coleridge was under the dominion of opium. Coleridge had then been an habitual opium.eater at least ten years. Southey believed that Coleridge had "sources of direct emolument open to him in The Courier, and in The Eclective Review." "No advantage,” says Cottle, “would arise from recording dialogues with Mr. Coleridge; it is sufficient to state that Mr. C.'s repugnance visit Greta Hall, and to apply his talents in the way suggested by Mr. Southey, was invincible.” My strong conviction is that the chief bugbear for Coleridge at Greta Hall was none other than Southey himself.
FEW days before Coleridge settled at Highgate he
wrote a letter to Mr. Gillman, in which he detailed with frankness the temptations to which his besetting weakness exposed him of acting a deception which prior habits of rigid truthfulness made it impossible for him to speak. “I have full belief,” he wrote, “that your anxiety need not be extended beyond the first week, and for the first week I shall not, I must not, be permitted to leave the house, except with you. Delicately or indelicately, this must be done, and both your servants and the assistant must receive absolute commands from you.” A more resolute determination could not have been made by a man whose will had never been sapped by disease. We have no reason to doubt its sincerity, and only the idlest gossip to question its faithful observance. It is true that De Quincey said that Coleridge never conquered his evil habit; true, too, that irresponsible persons have alleged that down to his death Coleridge continued to obtain supplies of laudanum surreptitiously from a chemist in the Tottenham Court Road. But the burden of proof is in favour of Mr. Gillman's clear assurance that the habit was eventually overcome.
In that first letter to Mr. Gillman, Coleridge stated in these terms the conditions on which he became an inmate of his house : “With respect to pecuniary remuneration, allow me to say, I must not at least be suffered to make any addition to your family expenses, though I cannot offer anything that would be in any way adequate to my sense of the service; for that indeed there could not be a compensation, as it must be returned in kind by esteem and grateful affection.” We have no good reason to fear that Coleridge ever ceased, during the eighteen years in which he remained under Mr. Gillman's roof, to regard his domesticity in the same light of pecuniary independence.
When he arrived at Highgate he brought with him the proof sheets of as much as was written of his “Christabel.” The poem was published towards June of the same year, 1816, and met with a curious reception. Since its production in the years 1797 and 1800, it had enjoyed an extraordinary celebrity in manuscript among Coleridge's private friends. Almost every leading poet of the age had read it or heard it read. Two poets had given it a kind of public recognition. Byron had quoted from it, and Scott had adopted its metrical peculiarity, the substitution of accentual for syllabic scansion. Most of the leading critics were familiar with it. Hazlitt knew it intimately, and Leigh Hunt remembered it so well that in its printed form he was able to point out the omission of a line. Many copies had existed in manuscript, and Coleridge had been repeatedly importuned, at gatherings of literary people, to read it or recite from it. The verdict of his auditors on occasions when he yielded
to the solicitation had, so far as he knew, been more than favourable ; it had been enthusiastic. Thus when Coleridge printed his poem, it was natural that he should look for a public reception from his friends corresponding, if not commensurate, with their private comments. In this he was grievously disappointed. Hardly a good word was said for "Christabel" by any leading review in 1816–17. The Edinburgh Review said that the poem was "the most notable piece of impertinence of which the press had lately been guilty," and "one of the boldest experiments” that had yet been tried on “the patience and understanding of the public.” This review was written by Hazlitt, and The Anti-Facobin Review, Blackwood's Magazine, and The Examiner, among others, were no less virulent in their censures. The public verdict seems to have been more favourable. At least two editions of the volume containing “Christabel” were published in the first year. The satisfactory evidences of sale may, however, have indicated no more than that public interest which is always excited in a book that is intemperately condemned.
Coleridge felt the material as well as the critical injury inflicted upon him. But less than the avowed enmity of his outspoken critics he felt the utter silence and detractive compliments of other writers. The Quarterly Review, of which Southey was the main support, did not notice “Christabel” even at the moment when its influential rivals were attacking the poem, and its author, with equal injury and injustice. Not wholly discouraged, and now once again actively at work, Coleridge published two Lay Sermons in 1816 and 1817, and in the latter year he
brought out his “ Biographia Literaria." This book was written mainly at Calne, in 1815, a period in which, according to the letters of certain of his friends, he was wholly given up to the sensual indulgence of opium, and the idle talk that was supposed to pay for his board. The "Biographia Literaria” was, as its title indicates, designed to be a record of his literary career. It fulfils its avowed function very indifferently. A narrative more inconsequential was perhaps never put forth. It is not a matter for surprise that a mind like Coleridge's, having charged itself with the task of narrating material incidents, should find itself engrossed in such spiritual issues as arise out of them. And yet Coleridge had in a high degree the faculty of direct and vigorous narrative. The letters that he wrote from Germany afford abundant evidence of his art as a narrator, and indeed the “Biographia Literaria” contains passages-such as the account of the canvassing tour in the interests of The Watchman—which show that Coleridge had nearly every natural quality of the storyteller. Nevertheless, the “Biographia Literaria” is inconclusive as a record of the author's literary life. It gives few facts, and omits many leading incidents. Not a word does it contain that relates to the important first period at Bristol ; and of the journalistic career in London it affords only a general account. Instead of such matters of fact, it gives exhaustive explanations of the workings of the author's mind. Naturally enough these explanations are often germane to the first business of the book, as where the principles are expounded on which the “Lyrical Ballads” were written. Less proper to such a work are certain philosophical expositions of the Hart