Saturday, March 29, 2008

echoes the conceit

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Thomas Poole.

May 6, 1799, Monday morn.

My dear Poole, my dear Poole! I am homesick. Society is a burden to me; and I find relief only in labour. So I read and transcribe from morning till night, and never in my life have I worked so hard as this last month, for indeed I must sail over an ocean of matter with almost spiritual speed, to do what I have to do in the time in which I will do it or leave it undone! O my God, how I long to be at home! My whole Being so yearns after you, that when I think of the moment of our meeting, I catch the fashion of German joy, rush into your arms, and embrace you. Methinks my hand would swell if the whole force of my feeling were crowded there. Now the Spring comes, the vital sap of my affections rises as in a tree! And what a gloomy Spring! But a few days ago all the new buds were covered with snow; and everything yet looks so brown and wintry, that yesterday the roses (which the ladies carried on the ramparts, their promenade), beautiful as they were, so little harmonized with the general face of nature, that they looked to me like silk and made roses. But these leafless Spring Woods! Oh, how I long to hear you whistle to the Rippers! There are a multitude of nightingales here (poor things! they sang in the snow). I thought of my own verses on the nightingale, only because I thought of Hartley, my only Child. Dear lamb! I hope he won't be dead before I get home. There are moments in which I have such a power of life within me, such a conceit of it, I mean, that I lay the blame of my child's death to my absence. Not intellectually; but I have a strange sort of sensation, as if, while I was present, none could die whom I entirely loved, and doubtless it was no absurd idea of yours that there may be unions and connections out of the visible world.

Wordsworth and his sister passed through here, as I have informed you. I walked on with them five English miles, and spent a day with them. They were melancholy. W. was affected to tears at the thought of not being near me wished me of course to live in the North of England near Sir Frederick Vane's great library. I told him that, independent of the expense of removing, and the impropriety of taking Mrs. Coleridge to a place where she would have no acquaintance, two insurmountable objections, the library was no inducement to me for I wanted old books chiefly, such as could be procured anywhere better than in a gentleman's new fashionable collection. Finally I told him plainly that you had been the man in whom first and in whom alone I had felt an anchor! With all my other connections I felt a dim sense of insecurity and uncertainty, terribly incompatible. W. was affected to tears, very much affected; but he deemed the vicinity of a library absolutely necessary to his health, nay to his existence. It is painful to me, too, to think of not living near him; for he is a good and kind man, and the only one whom in all things I feel my superior and you will believe me when I say that I have few feelings more pleasurable than to find myself, in intellectual faculties, an inferior.

But my resolve is fixed, not to leave you till you leave me! I still think that Wordsworth will be disappointed in his expectation of relief from reading without society; and I think it highly probable that where I live, there he will live; unless he should find in the North any person or persons, who can feel and understand him, and reciprocate and react on him. My many weaknesses are of some advantage to me; they unite me more with the great mass of my fellow beings but dear Wordsworth appears to me to have hurtfully segregated and isolated his being. Doubtless his delights are more deep and sublime; but he has likewise more hours that prey upon the flesh and blood. With regard to Hancock's house, if I can get no place within a mile or two of Stowey I must try to get that; but I confess I like it not not to say that it is not altogether pleasant to live directly opposite to a person who had behaved so rudely to Mrs. Coleridge. But these are in the eye of reason trifles, and if no other house can be got in my eye, too, they shall be trifles.

O Poole ! I am homesick. Yesterday, or rather yesternight, I dittied the following horrible ditty; but my poor Muse is quite gone perhaps she may return and meet me at Stowey.

'Tis sweet to him who all the week
Through city-crowds must push his way,
To stroll alone through fields and woods,
And hallow thus the Sabbath-day.
And sweet it is, in summer bower,
Sincere, affectionate, and gay,
One's own dear children feasting round,
To celebrate one's marriage day.
But what is all to his delight,
Who having long been doomed to roam,
Throws off the bundle from his back,
Before the door of his own home?
Home-sickness is no baby pang
This feel I hourly more and more:
There 's only musick in thy wings,
Thou breeze that play'st on Albion's Shore.

The Professors here are exceedingly kind to all the Englishmen, but to me they pay the most flattering attentions, especially Blumenbach and Eichhorn. Nothing can be conceived more delightful than Blumenbach's lectures, and, in conversation, he is, indeed, a most interesting man. The learned Orientalist Tychsen has given me instruction in the Gothic and Theotuscan languages, which I can now read pretty well; and hope in the course of a year to be thoroughly acquainted with all the languages of the North, both German and Celtic. I find being learned is a mighty easy thing, compared with any study else. My God! a miserable poet must he be, and a despicable metaphysician, whose acquirements have not cost him more trouble and reflection than all the learning of Tooke, Person, and Parr united. With the advantage of a great library, learning is nothing methinks, merely a sad excuse for being idle. Yet a man gets reputation by it, and reputation gets money; and for reputation I don't care a damn, but money yes money I must get by all honest ways. Therefore at the end of two or three years, if God grant me life, expect to see me come out with some horribly learned book, full of manuscript quotations from Laplandish and Patagonian authors, possibly, on the striking resemblance of the Sweogothian and Sanscrit languages, and so on!

N. B. Whether a sort of parchment might not be made of old shoes; and whether apples should not be grafted on oak saplings, as the fruit would be the same as now, but the wood far more valuable? Two ideas of mine. To extract aquafortis from cucumbers is a discovery not yet made, but sugar from beet, oh! all Germany is mad about it. I have seen the sugar sent to Blumenbach from Achard the great chemist, and it is good enough. They say that an hundred pounds weight of beet will make twelve pounds of sugar, and that there is no expense in the preparation. It is the Beta altissima, belongs to the Beta vulgaris, and in Germany is called Runkelriibe. Its leaves resemble those of the common red beet. It is in shape like a clumsy nine pin and about the size of a middling turnip. The flesh is white but has rings of a reddish cast. I will bring over a quantity of the seed.

A stupid letter! I believe my late proficiency in learning has somewhat stupified me, but live in hopes of one better worth postage. In the last week of June, I trust, you will see me. Chester is well and desires love and duty to his family. To your dear Mother and to Ward give my kind love, and to all who ask after me. My dear Poole! don't let little Hartley die before I come home. That 's silly true and I burst into tears as I wrote it. Yours
S. T. Coleridge

-from Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge in Two Volumes (London: William Heinemann, 1895) vol. 1.

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