« SebelumnyaLanjutkan »
rious disappearances which it will be necessary to chronicle in traversing his life. What had now become of Coleridge? He had fled to London. With little money in his purse, and in no mood to indulge ordinary comforts, he began his career there by spending a whole night on a doorstep in Chancery Lane. To the beggars who accosted even him in his desolation he emptied his slender purse.
Next morning he enlisted in a regiment of dragoons. He gave the name of Silas Titus Comberbach, which represented at least his own initials. Probably he made the most awkward member of the awkward squad. His horsemanship was so bad that he thought his horse would sympathize with his cognomen. He made a poor dragoon, but a good messmate. At cleaning his horse and accoutrements his abilities were not conspicuous, but he was a past-master at telling stories in the messroom, at writing love-letters for his illiterate comrades, and at nursing the sick in the hospital. Hence he was a favourite in the regiment. Four months passed, the regiment was stationed at Reading, and the missing undergraduate remained a tolerably happy dragoon. But the thought of wasted opportunities and of hopes defeated was not to be put away. With a piece of chalk Coleridge wrote on his stall a Latin legend which means that he is doubly wretched who has once been happy. This bit of scholarship betrayed him. An officer chanced to see the legend, and learning that Coleridge was the riter he made him his orderly. It was part of Coleridge's new function to walk behind his officer in the streets. At this duty he was one day recognized by a student from the University, and the end of it all was that
Coleridge's friends procured his discharge. He had joined the regiment at Reading on December 3, 1793 ; he left it at Hounslow on April 4, 1794.
Stories are current to show that this rather silly episode was the result of a period of dissipation. The idea of enlistment is said to have been suggested to Coleridge by the casual sight of a poster announcing that a "few smart lads” were wanted for the “15th Elliot's Light Dragoons;” and the impulse to enlistment is said to have been nothing more serious than the reflection that he had all his life had "a violent antipathy to soldiers and horses," and that “the sooner he cured himself of these absurd prejudices the better." This is needless, and perhaps offensive trifling. The episode is an exhibition of weakness and folly at the best; let us not go out of our way to make it an exhibition of debauchery and idiocy also. It may be that in certain poems Coleridge appears to favour the notion that dissipation played a part in the unaccountable misadventure, and it is certain that the incident could be intelligible to the minds of some of his acquaintances only in the light of excess. But in solemn moods Coleridge was wont to repudiate the immoralities that his family, among others, laid to his charge in this connection. “Were I,” he says, “to fix on that week of my existence on which my moral being would have presented to a pitying guardiin angel the most interesting spectacle, it would be that very week in London in which I was believed by my family to have abandoned myself to debauchery of all kinds, and thus to have involved myself in disreputable pecuniary embarrassments.” Obviously the debts were at the root of the family difference,
and the groundless accusations of the folk at Ottery St. Mary were calculated to widen the breach. Coleridge's spirit never humbled itself in this regard. His sensibilities had indeed been grievously wounded. He may have known "just so much of folly” as made maturer years
more wise.” More probably he was of a nature untroubled by sensual temptations. He never entirely forgave the mistake of his family. No importunities could prevail with him to go back and join hands. He stood aside proudly, letting his heart bleed at the thought that he was most a stranger in his native place, where his brother's children climbed his mother's knee. It has been worth while to dwell on this estrangement. Without a proper sense of its importance in the record of Coleridge's early manhood, much of his subsequent depression of soul seems to be no better than a conscious attempt to suck the eggs of melancholy.
OLERIDGE returned to Cambridge. He does
not appear to have borne himself after his ludicrous misadventure like a creature with its tail between its legs. A poet who would have been grateful if Providence had made him a shoemaker, could not be humbled by the reflection that fate had nearly made him a soldier. Save for the wound it brought to his affections, his brief career as a dragoon was almost as much lost to his consciousness as if it had never been. On the life of such a man as Bunyan or Burns it must have left an impression that nothing could remove. The sympathies of Coleridge were all but untouched by it. Coleridge lived in a world apart wherein such an incident was little more than a passing accident. The realities of life were at all times less real to him than the workings of the mind. He was soon immersed in fresh forms of intellectual activity.
Towards the middle of 1793 Coleridge met with Wordsworth's first publication,"Descriptive Sketches," then newly issued. The old admiration of Bowles was now in large part transferred to Wordsworth. "Seldom, if ever," says Coleridge, was the emergence of an original poetic genius above the literary horizon more
evidently announced.” This ardour of discipleship was to bear fruit in the future, but meantime another accident was to lead to immediate issues. It will be remembered that the schoolfellow with whom Coleridge at sixteen spent the "hours of Paradise” in escorting the young milliners home on Saturday nights, after “pillaging the flower gardens within six miles from town,” was a kindred sad soul named Allen. Now when Allen left Christ's Hospital he went to Oxford, and thither Coleridge, in his last year at Cambridge, made his way on a visit to the companion of former days. One of Allen's friends at Oxford was Southey, and naturally enough Coleridge and Southey met. Robert Southey was a Bristol man two years Coleridge's junior. He was a notable person at the University. His views were heterodox as to theology, and republican as to politics, and he was a poet with sympathies at one with the new school of Cowper. He had been expelled from Westminster for writing in The Flagellant an article against flogging, and by reason of that disgrace he had been refused admission at Christ's Church. Balliol had taken him, and when Coleridge and he came together he was an undergraduate who dared to appear in hall with unpowdered wig. The meeting was auspicious. It was like the magnet to the steel, or, say, tinder to the match. These inflamed spirits lost no time in setting each other afire. "Allen is with us daily," writes Southey, “and his friend from Cambridge, Coleridge. ... He is of most uncommon merit-of the strongest genius, the clearest judgment, the best heart.” This is sufficiently indicative of the way the wind blew, but a bigger straw