« AnteriorContinuar »
unction of piety. A singular book published in 1835 without author's name, the work of some female follower, gives further samples of this in “ Letters, Conversations and Recollections;" samples that we might well have spared. A selection from his notes and remains, from his correspondence and the records of his “ Table-Talk,” even from such books as Cottle's and his anonymous disciples, would be of rare interest and value, if well edited, sifted and weeded of tares and chaff. The rare fragments of work done or speech spoken in bis latter years are often fragments of gold beyond price. His plastic power and flexible charm of verse, though shown only in short flashes of song, lose nothing of the old freshness and life. To the end he was the same whose “sovereign sway and masterdom ” of music could make sweet and strong even the feeble and tuneless form of metre called hexameters in English ; if form of metre that may be called which has neither metre nor form. But the majestic rush and roll of that irregular
" It contains however among others one elaborate letter of some interest and significance, in which Coleridge, not without a tone of contempt, falls foul of the orthodox vulgarity of Wordsworth's theism (“what Hartley,” his son,
presume, - calls the popping in of the old man with a beard ") in a fashion showing how far apart his own theosophic mysticism, though never so daintily dressed up in cast church-clothes, had drifted from the more clear and rigid views of a harder and sounder mind.
anapæstic measure used once or twice by this supreme master of them all, no student can follow without an exultation of enjoyment. The “Hymn to the Earth" has a sonorous and oceanic strength of harmony, a grace and a glory of life, which fill the sense with a vigorous delight.
Of such later work as the divine verses on “Youth and Age,” “ The Garden of Boccaccio," sunbright and honey-sweet, “ Work without Hope," (what more could be left to hope for when the man could already do such work ?)—of these, and of how many more! what can be said but that they are perfect, flawless, priceless ? Nor did his most delicate and profound power of criticism ever fail him or fall off. To the perfection of that rare faculty there were but two things wanting; self-command, and the natural cunning of words which bas made many lesser men as strong as he was weak in the matter of verbal emendation. In that line of labour his hand was unsure and infirm. Want of self-command, again, left him often to the mercy of a caprice which swept him through tangled and tortuous ways of thought, through brakes and byways of fancy, where the solid subject in hand was either utterly lost and thrown over, or so transmuted and transfigured that any recognition of it was as hopeless as any profit.
In an essay well worth translating out of jargon into some human language,
he speaks of “ the holy jungle of transcendental metaphysics." Out of that holy and pestilential jungle he emerged but too rarely into sunlight and clear air.
It is not depth of thought which makes obscure to others the work of a thinker; real and offensive obscurity comes merely of inadequate thought embodied in inadequate language. What is clearly comprehended or conceived, what is duly thought and wrought out, must find for itself and seize upon the clearest and fullest expression. That grave and deep matter should be treated with the fuency and facility proper to light and slight things, no fool is foolish enough to desire : but we may at least demand that whatever of message a speaker may have for us be delivered without impediment of speech. A style that stammers and rambles and stumbles, that stagnates here, and there overflows into waste marsh relieved only by thick patches of powdery bulrush and such bright flowerage of barren blossom as is bred of the fogs and the fens—such a style gives no warrant of depth or soundness in the matter thus arrayed and set forth. What grains of truth or seeds of error were borne this way or that on the perpetual tide of talk concerning
subject and object," “ reason and understanding," those 'who can or who care may at their leisure determine with the due precision. If to the man's great critical and philosophic faculty there had been added a formative power as perfect as was added to his poetic faculty, the fruit might have been as precious after its kind. As it is, we must judge of his poetic faculty by what is accomplished; of the other we must judge, not by what is accomplished, but by what is suggested. And the value
of this is great, though the value of that be small : so great indeed that we cannot weigh or measure its in. fluence and its work.
Our study and our estimate of Coleridge cannot now be discoloured or misguided by the attraction or repulsion to which all contemporary students or judges of a great man's work cannot but be more or less liable. Few men, I suppose, ever inspired more of either feeling than he in his time did. To us his moral or social qualities, his opinion on that matter and his action in that, are nothing except in so far as they affect the work done, the inheritance bequeathed us. With all fit admiration and gratitude for the splendid fragments so bequeathed of a critical and philosophic sort, I doubt his being remembered, except by a small body of his elect, as other than a poet. His genius was so great, and in its greatness so many-sided, that for some studious disciples of the rarer kind he will doubtless, seen from any possible point of view, have always something about him of the old magnetism and magic. The ardour, delicacy, energy of his intellect, his resolute desire to get at the roots of things and deeper yet, if deeper might be, will always enchant and attract all spirits of like mould and temper. But as a poet his place is indisputable. It is high among the highest of all time. An age that should forget or neglect him might neglect or forget any poet that ever lived. At least, any poet whom it did remember such an age would remember as something other than a poet; it would
prize and praise in him, not the absolute and distinctive quality, but something empirical or accidental. That may be said of this one which can hardly be said of any but the greatest among men ; that come what may to the world in course of time, it will never see his place filled. Other and stronger men, with fuller control and concentration of genius, may do more service, may bear more fruit ; but such as his was they will not have in them to give. The highest lyric work is either passionate or imaginative; of passion Coleridge's has nothing; but for height and perfection of imaginative quality he is the greatest of lyric poets. This was his special power, and this is his special praise.