Imagens das páginas


SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, was born October the 20th, 1772, at Ottery St. Mary, in Devonshire. His father, the Rev. John Coleridge, was, for many years, vicar of that parish, having been an eminent schoolmaster at South Moulton. He was a person of considerable learning. He assisted Dr. Kennicot collecting his manuscripts for a Hebrew Bible; he also wrote several learned dissertations for fugitive publications, and an excellent Latin Grammar. He died in 1782, aged 62; much regretted by his family, friends, and parishioners; by whom he was much beloved and esteemed. He left eleven children, our poet being the youngest.

With so large a family, and but moderate living, his father could not be expected to leave much for the education of his youngest son; therefore, a presentation to Christ's Hospital, London, was procured for him from John Way, Esq., one of the governors; to which ex« cellent school he was admitted on the 18th of July, 1782. Here he soon distinguished himself as a boy of promising talents and eccentric habits. His own account of his master and early studies, given in his Biographia Literaria, is too interesting and important to be omitted. “At school I enjoyed the inestimable advantage of a very sensible, though at the same time, a very severe master. He * early moulded my taste to the preference of Demosthenes to Cicero, of Homer and Theocritus to Virgil, and again, Virgil to Ovid. He habituated me to compare Lucretius, (in such extracts as I then read,) Terence, and above all, the chaster poems of Catullus, not only with the Roman poets of the, so called, silver and brazen ages; but even those of the Augustan era ; and on grounds of plain sense and universal logic, to see and assert the supe. riority of the former, in the truth and nativeness both of their thoughts and diction. At the same time we were studying the Greek tragic poets, he made us read Shakspeare and Milton as lessons; and they were the lessons, too, which required most time and trouble to bring up, so as to escape his censure. I learnt from him, that poetry, even that of the loftiest, and seemingly that of the wildest odes, had a logic of its own, as severe as that of science; and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more and more fugitive

• In the truly great poets,' he would say, 'there is a reason assignable, not only for every word, but for the position of every word ;' and I well remember, that availing himself of the synonymes to the Homer of Didymus, he made us attempt to show, with regard to each, why it would not have answered the same purpose, and wherein consisted the peculiar fitness of the word in the original text.

'In our own English compositions (at least for the last three years of our school education) he showed no mercy to phrase, metaphor, or image, unsupported by a sound


[ocr errors]

* The Rev. James Bowyer, many years Head Master of the Grammar School, Christ's Hospital.

sense, or where the same sense might have been conveyed with equal force or dignity in plainer words. Lute, harp, and lyre, muse, muses, and inspirations, Pegasus, Parnassus, and Hipocrene, were all an abomination to him. In fancy I can almost hear him now exclaiming, Harp ? Harp? Lyre? Pen and ink, boy, you mean! Nurse, boy, nurse, your nurse's daughter, you mean! Pierian spring! oh! aye! the cloister pump, I suppose!' Nay, certain introductions, similies, and examples, were placed by name on a list of interdictions. Among the similies, there was, I remember, that of the Manchineel fruit, as suiting equally well with too many subjects, in which, however, it yielded the palm at once to the example of Alexander and Clytus, which was equally good and apt, whatever might be the theme. Was it ambition ?-Alexander and Clytus ! Flattery?-Alexander and Clytus! Anger? drunkenness! pride' friendship! ingratitude! late repentance! still, still, Alexander and Clytus. At length, the praises of agriculture having been exemplified in the sagacious observation, that had Alexander been holding the plough he would not have run his friend Clytus through with a spear; this tried and serviceable old friend was banished by public edict in secula seculorum. I have sometimes ventured to think that a list of this kind, or an index expurgatorius of certain well known and ever returning phrases, both introductory and transitional, including the large assortment of modest egotisms, and flattering illeiems, &c. &c. might be hung up in our law courts, and both houses of parliament, with great advantage to the public, as an important saving of national time, and an incalculable relief to his majesty's ministers, but above all, as insuring the thanks of country attorneys and their clients, who have private bills to carry through the house.


“Be this as it may, there was one custom of our master's which I cannot pass over in silence, because I think it imitable and worthy of imitation. He would often permit our theme exercises, under some pretext of want of time, to accumulate till each lad had four or five to be looked

Then, placing the whole number abreast on his desk, he would ask the writer, why this or that sentence might not have found as appropriate a place under this or that other thesis ; and if no satisfying answer could be returned, and two faults of the same kind were found in one exercise, the irrevocable verdict followed; the exercise was torn up; and another on the same subject to be produced, in addition to the tasks of the day. The reader will, I trust, excuse this tribute of recollection to a man, whose severities, even now,

not seldom furnish the dreams, by which the blind fancy would fain interpret to the mind, the painful sensations of distempered sleep; but neither lessen nor dim the deep sense of my moral and intellectual obligations. He sent us to the University excellent Latin and Greek scholars, and tolerable Hebraists; yet our classical knowledge was the least of the good gifts which we derived from his zealous and conscientious tutorage. He is now gone to his final reward, full of years, and full of honours, even of those honours which were dearest to his heart, as gratefully bestowed by that school, and still binding him to the interests of that school in which he had been himself educated; and to which, during his whole life, he was a dedicated thing." -Biog. Lit., Vol. I. pp. 7–11. While at school he was first “married to immortal

by having presented to him, by his friend Dr. Middleton, Bowles's Sonnets; he gives the following account of the effect they had on his mind and studies. " I had just entered my seventeenth year when the son-nets of Mr. Bowles, twenty in number, and just then published in a quarto pamphlet, were first made known and presented to me hy a school-fellow who had quitted us for the University, and who, during the whole time that he was in our first form (or, in our school language, a Grecian) had been my patron and protector. I refer to Dr. Middleton, the truly learned, and every way excellent Bishop of Calcutta. It was a double pleasure to me, and still remains a tender recollection, that I should have received from a friend so revered the first knowledge of a poet, by whose works, year after year, I was so enthusiastically delighted and inspired. My earliest acquaintances will not have forgotten the undisciplined eagerness and impetuous zeal, with which I laboured to make proselytes, not only of my companions, but of all with whom I conversed, of whatever rank, and in whatever place. As my school finances did not permit me to purchase copies, I made, within less than a year and a half, more than forty transcriptions, as the best present I could offer to those who, in any way, won my regard ; and with almost equal delight did I receive the three or four following publications of the same author.


“Though I have seen and known enough of mankind to be well aware that I shall, perhaps, stand alone in my creed, and that it will be well if I subject myself to no worse charge than that of singularity ; I am not, therefore, deterred from avowing, that I regard, and ever have regarded, the obligations of intellect among the most sacred of the claims of gratitude. A valuable thought, or a particular train of thoughts, gives me additional pleasure, when I can safely refer and attribute it to the conversation or correspondence of another. My obligations to Mr. Bowles were indeed important, and for radical good. At a very premature age, even before

« AnteriorContinuar »