Wednesday, March 26, 2008

lime-tree bower

Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Robert Southey

July, 1797.

Dear Southey,

ou are acting kindly in your exertions for Chatterton's sister; but I doubt the success. Chatterton's or Rowley's poems were never popular. The very circumstance which made them so much talked of, their ancientness, prevented them from being generally read, in the degree, I mean, that Goldsmith's poems or even Rogers' thing upon memory has been. The sale was never very great. Secondly, the London Edition and the Cambridge Edition, which are now both of them the property of London booksellers, are still in hand, and these booksellers will "hardly exert their interest for a rival." Thirdly, these are bad times. Fourthly, all who are sincerely zealous for Chatterton, or who from knowledge of her are interested in poor Mrs. Newton, will come forwards first, and if others should drop in but slowly, Mrs. Newton will either receive no benefit at all from those her friends, or one so long procrastinated, from the necessity of waiting for the complement of subscribers, that it may at last come too late. For these reasons I am almost inclined to think a subscription simply would be better. It is unpleasant to cast a damp on anything; but that benevolence alone is likely to be beneficent which calculates.

If, however, you continue to entertain higher hopes than I, believe me, I will shake off my sloth, and use my best muscles in gaining subscribers. I will certainly write a preliminary essay, and I will attempt to write a poem on the life and death of Chatterton, but the Monody must not be reprinted. Neither this nor the Pixies' Parlour would have been in the second edition, but for dear Cottle's solicitous importunity. Excepting the last eighteen lines of the Monody, which, though deficient in chasteness and severity of diction, breathe a pleasing spirit of romantic feeling, there are not five lines in either poem which might not have been written by a man who had lived and died in the self-same St. Giles' cellar, in which he had been first suckled by a drab with milk and gin. The Pixies is the least disgusting, because the subject leads you to expect nothing, but on a life and death so full of heart-going realities as poor Chatterton's, to find such shadowy nobodies as cherub-winged Death, Trees of Hope, bare-bosomed Affection and simpering Peace, makes one's blood circulate like ipecacuanha. But so it is. A young man by strong feelings is impelled to write on a particular subject, and this is all his feelings do for him. They set him upon the business and then they leave him. He has such a high idea of what poetry ought to be, that he cannot conceive that such things as his natural emotions may be allowed to find a place in it; his learning therefore, his fancy, or rather conceit, and all his powers of buckram are put on the stretch. It appears to me that strong feeling is not so requisite to an author's being profoundly pathetic as taste and good sense. . .

I am as much a Pangloss as ever, only less contemptuous than I used to be, when I argue how unwise it is to feel contempt for anything. I had been on a visit to Wordsworth's at Racedown, near Crewkerne, and I brought him and his sister back with me, and here I have settled them. By a combination of curious circumstances a gentleman's seat, with a park and woods, elegantly and completely furnished, with nine lodging rooms, three parlours, and a hall, in the most beautiful and romantic situation by the seaside, four miles from Stowey, this we have got for Wordsworth at the rent of twenty-three pounds a year, taxes included. The park and woods are his for all purposes he wants them, and the large gardens are altogether and entirely his. Wordsworth is a very great man, the only man to whom at all times and in all modes of excellence I feel myself inferior, the only one, I mean, whom I have yet met with, for the London literati appear to me to be very much like little potatoes, that is, no great things, a compost of nullity and dullity.

Charles Lamb has been with me for a week. He left me Friday morning. The second day after Wordsworth came to me, dear Sara accidentally emptied a skillet of boiling milk on my foot, which confined me during the whole time of C. Lamb's stay and still prevents me from all walks longer than a furlong. While Wordsworth, his sister, and Charles Lamb were out one evening, sitting in the arbour of T. Poole's garden which communicates with mine, I wrote these lines, with which I am pleased. . .

I would make a shift by some means or other to visit you, if I thought that you and Edith Southey would return with me. I think indeed, I am almost certain that I could get a one-horse chaise free of all expense. I have driven back Miss Wordsworth over forty miles of execrable roads, and have been always very cautious, and am now no inexpert whip. And Wordsworth, at whose house I now am for change of air, has commissioned me to offer you a suite of rooms at this place, which is called "All-foxen;" and so divine and wild is the country that I am sure it would increase your stock of images, and three weeks' absence from Christchurch will endear it to you; and Edith Southey and Sara may not have another opportunity of seeing one another, and Wordsworth is very solicitous to know you, and Miss Wordsworth is a most exquisite young woman in her mind and heart. I pray you write me immediately, directing Stowey, near Bridgewater, as before. God bless you and your affectionate
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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