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Ch. 2: Coleridge, Bowles, and the Pope Controversy

While Scott was busy collecting the fragments of Border minstrelsy and translating German ballads,[1] two other young poets, far to the south, were preparing their share in the literary revolution. In those same years (1795-98) Wordsworth and Coleridge were wandering together over the Somerset downs and along the coast of Devon, catching glimpses of the sea towards Bristol or Linton, and now and then of the skeleton masts and gossamer sails of a ship against the declining sun, like those of the phantom bark in "The Ancient Mariner." The first fruits of these walks and talks was that epoch-making book, the "Lyrical Ballads"; the first edition of which was published in 1798, and the second, with an additional volume and the famous preface by Wordsworth, in 1800. The genesis of the work and the allotment of its parts were described by Coleridge himself in the "Biographia Literaria" (1817), Chapter XIV.

"During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbours our conversations turned frequently on the two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination. . . . The thought suggested itself that a series of poems might be composed of two sorts. In the one, the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; . . . for the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life. . . . It was agreed that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic. . . . With this view I wrote 'The Ancient Mariner,' and was preparing, among other poems, 'The Dark Ladie' and the 'Christabel,' in which I should have more nearly realized my ideal than I had done in my first attempt."

Coleridge's contributions to romantic poetry are few though precious. Weighed against the imposing array of Scott's romances in prose and verse,[2] they seem like two or three little gold coins put into the scales to balance a handful of silver dollars. He stands for so much in the history of English thought, he influenced his own and the following generation on so many sides, that his romanticism shows like a mere incident in his intellectual history. His blossoming time was short at the best, and ended practically with the century. After his return from Germany in 1799 and his settlement at Keswick in 1800, he produced little verse of any importance beyond the second part of "Christabel" (written in 1800, published in 1816). His creative impulse failed him, and he became more and more involved in theology, metaphysics, political philosophy, and literary criticism.

It appears, therefore, at first sight, a little odd that Coleridge's German biographer, Professor Brandl, should have treated his subject under this special aspect,[3] and attributed to him so leading a place in the romantic movement. Walter Scott, if we consider his life-long and wellnigh exclusive dedication of himself to the work of historic restoration—Scott, certainly, and not Coleridge was the "high priest of Romanticism." [4] Brandl is dissatisfied with the term Lake School, or Lakers, commonly given to Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, and proposes instead to call them the Romantic School, Romanticists (Romantiker), surely something of a misnomer when used of an eclectic versifier like Southey, or a poet of nature, moral reflection, and humble life like Wordsworth. Southey, in casting about him for a theme, sometimes became for the nonce and so far as subject goes, a romancer; as in "Joan of Arc" (1799), "Madoc" (1805), and "Roderick the Goth" (1814); not to speak of translations like "Amadis of Gaul," "Palmerin of England," and "The Chronicle of the Cid." But these were not due to the compelling bent of his genius, as in Scott. They were miscellaneous jobs, undertaken in the regular course of his business as a manufacturer of big, irregular epics, Oriental, legendary, mythological, and what not; and as an untiring biographer, editor, and hack writer of all descriptions. Southey was a mechanical poet, with little original inspiration, and represents nothing in particular. Wordsworth again, though innovating in practice and theory against eighteenth-century tradition, is absolutely unromantic in contrast with Scott and Coleridge.

But it will be fair to let the critic defend his own nomenclature; and the passage which I shall quote will serve not only as another attempt to define romanticism, but also to explain why Brandl regards the Lake poets as our romantic school par excellence. "'Lake School' is a name, but no designation. This was felt in England, where many critics have accordingly fallen into the opposite extreme, and maintained that the members of this group of poets had nothing in common beyond their personal and accidental conditions. As if they had only lived together, and not worked together! In truth they were bound together by many a strong tie, and above all by one of a polemical kind, namely, by the aversion for the monotony that had preceded them, and by the struggle against merely dogmatic rules. Unbending uniformity is death! Let us be various and individual as life itself is. . . . Away with dry Rationalism! Let us fight it with all the powers we possess; whether by bold Platonism or simple Bible faith; whether by enthusiastic hymns, or dreamy fairy tales; whether by the fabulous world of distant times and zones, or by the instincts of the children in the next village. Let us abjure the ever-recommended nostrum of imitation of the old masters in poetry, and rather attach ourselves to homely models, and endeavour, with their help, lovingly and organically to develop their inner life. These were the aims of Walter Scott and his Scotch school, only with such changes as local differences demanded. Individuality in person, nationality, and subject, and therefore the emphasis of all natural unlikeness, was the motto on both sides of the Tweed. And, as these men, when confronted by elements peculiar, rare, and marvellous, designated such elements as 'romantic,' so may they themselves be justly called the 'Romantic School.' But the term is much misused, and requires a little elucidation. Shakespeare is usually called a romantic poet. He, however, never used the expression, and would have been surprised if any one had applied it to him. The term presupposes opposition to the classic style, to rhetorical deduction, and to measured periods, all of which were unknown in the time of the Renaissance, and first imported in that of the French Revolution. On the other hand, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Lamb, and Walter Scott's circle all branched off from the classical path with a directness and consistency which sharply distinguish them from their predecessors, contemporaries, and successors. Their predecessors had not broken with the Greek and Latin school, nor with the school of Pope; Chatterton copied Homer; Cowper translated him; Burns in his English verses, and Bowles in his sonnets, adhered to what is called the 'pig-tail period'! The principal poems composed in the last decennium of the eighteenth century . . . adhered still more to classic tradition. In London the satires of Mathias and Gifford renewed the style of the 'Dunciad,' and the moral poems of Rogers that of the 'Essay on Man.' Landor wrote his youthful 'Gebir' in the style of Virgil, and originally in Latin itself. The amateur in German literature, William Taylor of Norwich, and Dr. Sayers, interested themselves especially for those works by Goethe which bear an antique character—for 'Iphigenia,' 'Proserpina,' 'Alexis and Dora.' Only when the war with France drew near was the classical feeling interrupted. Campbell, the Scotchman, and Moore, the Irishman, both well schooled by translations from the Greek, recalled to mind the songs of their own people, and rendered them popular with the fashionable world—though only by clothing them in classic garb. How different to the 'artificial rust' of 'Christabel'; to the almost exaggerated homeliness of 'We Are Seven'; and to the rude 'Lay of the Last Minstrel'! When at last, with the fall of Napoleon, the great stars—Byron, Shelley, Keats, and later the mature Landor—rose in the hemisphere, they had all imbibed from the Romantic school a warmer form of thought and feeling, and a number of productive impulses; though, Euphorion-like, they still regarded the antique as their parent. They expressed much appreciation of the Romantic school, but their hearts were with Aeschylus and Pindar. They contended for national character, but only took pleasure in planting it on classic soil. Byron's enthusiasm for Pope was not only caprice; nor was it mere chance that Byron should have died in Greece, and Shelley and Keats in Italy. Compared with what we may call these classical members of the Romantic school, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Scott . . . may be said to have taken nothing, whether in the form of translation or imitation, from classical literature; while they drew endless inspiration from the Middle Ages. In their eyes Pope was only a lucid, able, and clever journeyman. It is therefore fair to consider them, and them alone, as exponents of the Romantic school." [5]

As to Byron and Shelley this criticism may do; as to Chatterton and Keats it is misleading. Wordsworth more romantic than Chatterton! More romantic than Keats, because the latter often, and Wordsworth seldom, treats subjects from the antique! On the contrary, if "the name is graven on the workmanship," "Michael" and "The Brothers" are as classical as "Hyperion" or "Laodamia" or "The Hamadryad"; "bald as the bare mountain-tops are bald, with a baldness full of grandeur." Bagehot expressly singles Wordsworth out as an example of pure or classic art, as distinguished from the ornate art of such poets as Keats and Tennyson. And Mr. Colvin hesitates to classify him with Landor only because of his "suggestive and adumbrative manner"—not, indeed, he acknowledges, a romantic manner, and yet "quite distinct from the classical"; i.e., because of the transcendental character of a portion of his poetry. But whatever may be true of the other members of the group, Coleridge at his best was a romantic poet. "Christabel" and "The Ancient Mariner," creations so exquisite sprung from the contact of modern imagination with mediaeval beliefs, are enough in themselves to justify the whole romantic movement.

Among the literary influences which gave shape to Coleridge's poetry, Percy's ballads and Chatterton's "Rowley Poems" are obvious and have already been mentioned. In his first volume of verse (1796), there is manifest a still stronger impulse from the sonnets of the Rev. William Lisle Bowles. We have noticed the reappearance of this discarded stanza form in the work of Gray, Mason, Edwards, Stillingfleet, and Thomas Warton, about the middle of the last century.[6] In 1782 Mrs. Charlotte Smith published a volume of sonnets, treating motives from Milton, Gray, Collins, Pope's "Eloisa" and Goethe's "Werther." But the writer who—through his influence upon Wordsworth more especially—contributed most towards the sonnet revival, was Bowles. In 1789 he had published a little collection of fourteen sonnets,[7] which reached a second edition with six pieces additional, in the same year. "His sonnets came into Wordsworth's hands (1793)," says Brandl, "just as he was leaving London with some friends for a morning's excursion; he seated himself in a recess on Westminster Bridge, and was not to be moved from his place till he had finished the little book. Southey, again, owned in 1832 that for forty years, he had taken the sweet and artless style of Bowles for a model." [8] In the first chapter of his "Biographia Literaria" (1817) Coleridge tells how, when he had just entered on his seventeenth year, "the sonnets of Mr. Bowles, twenty in number and just then published in a quarto pamphlet, were first made known and presented" to him by his school-fellow at Christ's Hospital, Thomas Middleton, afterwards Bishop of Calcutta. "It was a double pleasure to me . . . 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 presents I could offer to those who had in any way won my regard. And with almost equal delight did I receive the three or four following publications of the same author." To Bowles' poems Coleridge ascribes the credit of having withdrawn him from a too exclusive devotion to metaphysics and also a strengthened perception of the essentially unpoetic character of Pope's poetry. "Among those with whom I conversed there were, of course, very many who had formed their taste and their notions of poetry from the writings of Pope and his followers; or, to speak more generally, in that school of French poetry, condensed and invigorated by English understanding, which had predominated from the last century. I was not blind to the merits of this school, yet . . . they gave me little pleasure. . . . I saw that the excellence of this kind consisted in just and acute observations on men and manners in an artificial state of society, as its matter and substance; and in the logic of wit, conveyed in smooth and strong epigrammatic couplets, as its form. . . . The matter and diction seemed to me characterized not so much by poetic thoughts as by thoughts translated into the language of poetry." Coleridge goes on to say that, in a paper written during a Cambridge vacation, he compared Darwin's "Botanic Garden" to a Russian ice palace, "glittering, cold, and transitory"; that he expressed a preference for Collins' odes over those of Gray; and that in his defence of the lines running into each other, instead of closing at each couplet; and of natural language . . . such as "I will remember thee," instead of

". . . Thy image on her wing
Before my fancy's eye shall memory bring"

he had continually to appeal to the example of the older English poets from Chaucer to Milton. "The reader," he concludes, "must make himself acquainted with the general style of composition that was at that time deemed poetry, in order to understand and account for the effect produced on me by the sonnets, the 'Monody at Matlock' and the 'Hope' of Mr. Bowles; for it is peculiar to original genius to become less and less striking, in proportion to its success in improving the taste and judgment of its contemporaries. The poems of West, indeed, had the merit of chaste and manly diction, but they were cold, and, if I may so express it, only dead-coloured; while in the best of Warton's, there is a stiffness which too often gives them the appearance of imitations from the Greek. Whatever relation, therefore, of cause or impulse, Percy's collection of ballads may bear to the most popular poems of the present day, yet in the more sustained and elevated style of the then living poets, Cowper and Bowles were, to the best of my knowledge, the first who combined natural thoughts with natural diction; the first who reconciled the heart with the head." Coleridge adds in a note that he was not familiar with Cowper's "Task" till many years after the publication of Bowles' sonnets, though it had been published before them (1785).

It would be hard to account for the effect of Bowles' sonnets on Coleridge, did we not remember that it is not necessarily the greatest literature that comes home to us most intimately, but that which, for some reason, touches us where we are peculiarly sensitive. It is a familiar experience with every reader, that certain books make an appeal to him which is personal and individual, an appeal which they make to few other readers—perhaps to no other reader—and which no other books make to him. It is something in them apart from their absolute value or charm, or rather it is something in him, some private experience of his own, some occult association in depths below consciousness. He has a perfectly just estimate of their small importance in the abstract, they are not even of the second or third rank. Yet they speak to him; they seem written to him—are more to him, in a way, than Shakspere and Milton and all the public library of the world. In the line of light bringers who pass from hand to hand the torch of intelligential fire, there are men of most unequal stature, and a giant may stoop to take the precious flambeau from a dwarf. That Scott should have admired Monk Lewis, and Coleridge reverenced Bowles, only proves that Lewis and Bowles had something to give which Scott and Coleridge were peculiarly ready to receive.

Bowles' sonnets, though now little read, are not unreadable. They are tender in feeling, musical in verse, and pure in diction. They were mostly suggested by natural scenery, and are uniformly melancholy. Bowles could suck melancholy out of a landscape as a weasel sucks eggs. His sonnets continue the elegiac strain of Shenstone, Gray, Collins, Warton, and the whole "Il Penseroso" school, but with a more personal note, explained by a recent bereavement of the poet. "Those who know him," says the preface, "know the occasions of them to have been real, to the public he might only mention the sudden death of a deserving young woman with whom

"Sperabat longos heu! ducere soles,
Et fido acclinis consumuisse sinu. . . .

"This is nothing to the public; but it may serve in some measure to obviate the common remark on melancholy poetry, that it has been very often gravely composed, when possibly the heart of the writer had very little share in the distress he chose to describe. But there is a great difference between natural and fabricated feelings even in poetry." Accordingly while the Miltonic group of last-century poets went in search of dark things—grots, caverns, horrid shades, and twilight vales; Bowles' mood bestowed its color upon the most cheerful sights and sounds of nature. The coming of summer or spring; the bells of Oxford and Ostend; the distant prospect of the Malvern Hills, or the chalk cliffs of Dover; sunrise on the sea, touching "the lifted oar far off with sudden gleam"; these and the like move him to tears equally with the glimmer of evening, the sequestered woods of Wensbeck, the ruins of Netley Abbey,[9] or the frowning battlements of Bamborough Castle, where

"Pity, at the dark and stormy hour
Of midnight, when the moon is hid on high,
Keeps her lone watch upon the topmost tower."

In "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers" Byron calls Bowles "the maudlin prince of mournful sonneteers," whose

". . . muse most lamentably tells
What merry sounds proceed from Oxford bells." [10]

Bowles' attitude had thus something more modern than that of the eighteenth-century elegiacs, and in unison with Coleridge's doctrine, that

". . . we receive but what we give, And in our life alone does nature live: Ours is her wedding garment, ours her shroud." [11]

A number of Bowles' sonnets were addressed to rivers, the Tweed, the Cherwell at Oxford, the Wensbeck, and the Itchin near Winton, poems which stand midway between Thomas Warton's "To the River Lodon" and Coleridge's "To the River Otter," with Wordsworth's sonnet sequence, "On the River Duddon." A single sonnet of Bowles will be enough to give a taste of his quality and to show what Coleridge got from him.[12]

Bowles was a disciple in the "School of Warton." He was "one of Joseph Warton's Winchester wonders," says Peter Cunningham, in a note in the second edition of Campbell's "Specimens of the British Poets"; "and the taste he imbibed there for the romantic school of poetry was strengthened and confirmed by his removal to Trinity College, Oxford, when Tom Warton was master there." Bowles was always prompt to own that he had learned his literary principles from the Wartons; and among his poems is a monody written on the death of his old teacher, the master of Winchester College. His verses abound in Gothic imagery quite in the Wartonian manner; the "castle gleaming on the distant steep"; "the pale moonlight in the midnight aisle"; "some convent's ancient walls," along the Rhine. Weak winds complain like spirits through the ruined arches of Netley Abbey:

"The beam
Of evening smiles on the gray battlement,
And yon forsaken tower that time has rent."

His lines on Shakspere recall Collins in their insistence upon the "elvish" things in the plays; "The Tempest," "Midsummer Night's Dream," the weird sisters in "Macbeth," Ophelia's songs, the melancholy Jacques. The lines to Burke on his "Reflections on the Revolution in France," echo his celebrated dirge over fallen chivalry:

"Though now no more proud chivalry recalls
The tourneys bright and pealing festivals;
Though now on high her idle spear is hung,
Though time her mouldering harp has half unstrung," etc.[13]

The "Hymn to Woden" alludes to Gray's "Fatal Sisters." "St. Michael's
Mount" summons up the forms of the ancient Druids, and sings how Fancy,

"Sick of the fluttering fancies that engage
The vain pursuits of a degenerate age, . . .
Would fain the shade of elder days recall,
The Gothick battlements, the bannered hall;
Or list of elfin harps the fabling rhyme;
Or, wrapt in melancholy trance sublime,
Pause o'er the working of some wondrous tale,
Or bid the spectres of the castle hail!"

Bowles' influence is traceable in Coleridge's earliest volume of verse (1796) in a certain diffused softness and gentle sensibility. This elegiac tone appears particularly in effusions like "Happiness," "The Sigh," "To a Young Ass," "To the Autumnal Moon," "Lines on an Autumnal Evening," "To the Nightingale"; in "Melancholy: A Fragment" and "Elegy; imitated from Akenside," both in the "Sibylline Leaves" (1797); and in numerous "lines," "monodies," "epitaphs," "odes," and "stanzas." [14] Coleridge soon came to recognise the weakness of his juvenile verses, and parodied himself—and incidentally Bowles—in three sonnets printed at the end of Chapter I. of the "Biographia Literaria," designed to burlesque his own besetting sins, a "doleful egotism," an affected simplicity, and the use of "elaborate and swelling language and imagery." He never attained much success in the use of the sonnet form. A series of twelve sonnets in his first collection opens with one to Bowles:

"My heart has thanked thee, Bowles! for those soft strains
Whose sadness soothes me, like the murmuring
Of wild bees in the sunny showers of spring," etc.

More important to our inquiries than the poetry of Bowles is the occasion which he gave to the revival, under new conditions, of the Pope controversy. For it was over the body of Pope that the quarrel between classic and romantic was fought out in England, as it was fought out in France, a few years later, over the question of the dramatic unities and the mixture of tragedy and comedy in the drame. In 1806, just a half century after Joseph Warton published the first volume of his "Essay on Pope," Bowles' edition of the same poet appeared. In the life of Pope which was prefixed, the editor made some severe strictures on Pope's duplicity, jealousy, and other disagreeable traits, though not more severe than have been made by Pope's latest editor, Mr. Elwin, who has backed up his charges with an array of evidence fairly overwhelming. The edition contained likewise an essay on "The Poetical Character of Pope," in which Bowles took substantially the same ground that had been taken by his master, Joseph Warton, fifty years before. He asserted in brief that, as compared with Spenser, Shakspere, and Milton, Pope was a poet of the second order; that in his descriptions of nature he was inferior to Thomson and Cowper, and in lyrical poetry to Dryden and Gray; and that, except in his "Eloisa" and one or two other pieces, he was the poet of artificial manners and of didactic maxims, rather than of passions. Bowles' chief addition to Warton's criticism was the following paragraph, upon which the controversy that ensued chiefly hinged: "All images drawn from what is beautiful or sublime in the works of nature are more beautiful and sublime than any images drawn from art, and they are therefore per se (abstractedly) more poetical. In like manner those passions of the human heart, which belong to nature in general, are per se more adapted to the higher species of poetry than those derived from incidental and transient manners."

The admirers of Pope were not slow in joining issue with his critic, not only upon his general estimate of the poet, but upon the principle here laid down. Thomas Campbell, in his "Specimens of the British Poets" (1819), defended Pope both as a man and a poet, and maintained that "exquisite descriptions of artificial objects are not less characteristic of genius than the description of simple physical appearances." He instanced Milton's description of Satan's spear and shield, and gave an animated picture of the launching of a ship of the line as an example of the "sublime objects of artificial life." Bowles replied in a letter to Campbell on "The Invariable Principles of Poetry." He claimed that it was the appearances of nature, the sea and the sky, that lent sublimity to the launch of the ship, and asked: "If images derived from art are as beautiful and sublime as those derived from nature, why was it necessary to bring your ship off the stocks?" He appealed to his adversary whether the description of a game of ombre was as poetical as that of a walk in the forest, and whether "the sylph of Pope, 'trembling over the fumes of a chocolate pot,' be an image as poetical as that of delicate and quaint Ariel, who sings 'Where the bee sucks, there lurk (sic) I.'" Campbell replied in the New Monthly Magazine, of which he was editor, and this drew out another rejoinder from Bowles. Meanwhile Byron had also attacked Bowles in two letters to Murray (1821), to which the indefatigable pamphleteer made elaborate replies. The elder Disraeli, Gifford, Octavius Gilchrist, and one Martin M'Dermot also took a hand in the fight—all against Bowles—and William Roscoe, the author of the "Life of Lorenzo de Medici," attacked him in an edition of Pope which he brought out in 1824. The rash detractor of the little Twitnam nightingale soon found himself engaged single-handed against a host; but he was equal to the occasion, in volubility if not in logic, and poured out a series of pamphlets, covering in all some thousand pages, and concluding with "A Final Appeal to the Literary Public" (1825), followed by "more last words of Baxter," in the shape of "Lessons in Criticism to William Roscoe" (1825).

The opponents of Bowles maintained, in general, that in poetry the subject is nothing, but the execution is all; that one class of poetry has, as such, no superiority over another; and that poets are to be ranked by their excellence as artists, and not according to some imaginary scale of dignity in the different orders of poetry, as epic, didactic, satiric, etc. "There is, in fact," wrote Roscoe, "no poetry in any subject except what is called forth by the genius of the poet. . . . There are no great subjects but such as are made so by the genius of the artist." Byron said that to the question "whether 'the description of a game of cards be as poetical, supposing the execution of the artists equal, as a description of a walk in a forest,' it may be answered that the materials are certainly not equal, but that the artist who has rendered the game of cards poetical is by far the greater of the two. But all this 'ordering' of poets is purely arbitrary on the part of Mr. Bowles. There may or may not be, in fact, different 'orders' of poetry, but the poet is always ranked according to his execution, and not according to his branch of the art." Byron also contended, like Campbell, that art is just as poetical as nature, and that it was not the water that gave interest to the ship but the ship to the water. "What was it attracted the thousands to the launch? They might have seen the poetical 'calm water' at Wapping or in the London lock or in the Paddington Canal or in a horse-pond or in a slop-basin." Without natural accessories—the sun, the sky, the sea, the wind—Bowles had said, the ship's properties are only blue bunting, coarse canvas, and tall poles. "So they are," admits Byron, "and porcelain is clay, and man is dust, and flesh is grass; and yet the two latter at least are the subjects of much poesy. . . . Ask the traveller what strikes him as most poetical, the Parthenon or the rock on which it stands. . . . Take away Stonehenge from Salisbury plain and it is nothing more than Hounslow Heath or any other unenclosed down. . . . There can be nothing more poetical in its aspect than the city of Venice; does this depend upon the sea or the canals? . . . Is it the Canal Grande or the Rialto which arches it, the churches which tower over it, the palaces which line and the gondolas which glide over the waters, that render this city more poetical than Rome itself? . . . Without these the water would be nothing but a clay-coloured ditch. . . . There would be nothing to make the canal of Venice more poetical than that of Paddington."

There was something futile about this whole discussion. It was marked with that fatally superficial and mechanical character which distinguished all literary criticism in Europe before the time of Lessing in Germany, and of Wordsworth and Coleridge in England. In particular, the cardinal point on which Pope's rank as a poet was made to turn was really beside the question. There is no such essential distinction as was attempted to be drawn between "natural objects" and "objects of artificial life," as material for poetry. In a higher synthesis, man and all his works are but a part of nature, as Shakspere discerned:

"Nature is made better by no mean
But nature makes that mean: so over that art
Which you say adds to nature, is an art
That nature made: the art itself is nature."

Shakspere, as well as Pope, dealt with artificial life, i.e., with the life of man in society, but how differently! The reason why Pope's poetry fails to satisfy the heart and the imagination resides not in his subjects—so far Campbell and Byron were right—but in his mood; in his imperfect sense of beauty and his deficiency in the highest qualities of the poet's soul. I may illustrate this by an arrow from Byron's own quiver. To prove how much poetry may be associated with "a simple, household, 'indoor,' artificial, and ordinary image," he cites the famous stanza in Cowper's poem to Mrs. Unwin:

"Thy needles, once a shining store,
For my sake restless heretofore.
Now rust disused and shine no more,
My Mary."

Let us contrast with this a characteristic passage from "The Rape of the
Lock," which also contains an artificial image:

"On her white breast a sparkling cross she wore
Which Jews might kiss and infidels adore."

What is the difference? It is in the feeling of the poet Pope's couplet is very charming, but it is merely gallantry, a neatly turned compliment, playful, only half sincere, a spice of mockery lurking under the sugared words; while in Cowper's lines the humble domestic implement is made sacred by the emotions of pity, sorrow, gratitude, and affection with which it is associated. The reason why Pope is not a high poet—or perhaps a poet at all in the best sense of the word—is indicated by Coleridge with his usual acuteness and profundity in a sentence already quoted; that Pope's poetry both in matter and diction was "characterised not so much by poetic thoughts, as by thoughts translated into the language of poetry."

Bowles, on the whole, had hold of the right end of the controversy; his instinct was correct, but he was a wretched controversialist. As a poet in the minor key, he was tolerable, but as a prose writer, he was a very dull person and a bore. He was rude and clumsy; he tried to be sarcastic and couldn't, he had damnable iteration. Lowell speaks of his "peculiarly helpless way," and says: "Bowles, in losing his temper, lost also what little logic he had, and though, in a vague way, aesthetically right, contrived always to be argumentatively wrong. Anger made worse confusion in a brain never very clear, and he had neither the scholarship nor the critical faculty for a vigorous exposition of his own thesis. Never was wilder hitting than his, and he laid himself open to dreadful punishment, especially from Byron, whose two letters are masterpieces of polemic prose." Indeed, the most interesting feature of the Pope controversy is Byron's part in it and the light which it sheds on his position in relation to the classic and romantic schools. Before the definite outbreak of the controversy, Byron had attacked Bowles for his depreciation of Pope, in "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers" (1809), in a passage in which he wished that Bowles had lived in Pope's time, so that Pope might have put him into the "Dunciad."

It seems at first sight hard to reconcile Byron's evidently sincere admiration for Pope with the ultra-romantic cast of his own poetry—romantic, as Pater says, in mood if not in subject. In his early fondness for Ossian, his intense passion, his morbid gloom, his exaltation in wild and solitary places, his love of night and storm, of the desert and the ocean, in the careless and irregular outpour of his verse, in his subjectivity, the continual presence of the man in the work—in all these particulars Byron was romantic and would seem to have had little in common with Pope. But there was another side to Byron—and William Rossetti thinks his most characteristic side—viz., his wit and understanding; and this side sympathised heartily with Pope. It is well known that when Byron came back from the East he had in his trunk besides the manuscript of "Childe Harold," which he thought little of, certain "Hints from Horace" which the world thinks less of, but which he was eager to have published, while Dallas was urging him to print "Childe Harold." "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers" is a thoroughly Popeian satire, and "The Vision of Judgment," though not in couplets but in ottava rima, is one of the best personal satires in English. It has all of Pope's malicious wit, with a sweep and glow, which belonged to Byron as a poet rather than as a satirist, and which Pope never had. Lowell thinks, too, that what Byron admired in Pope was "that patience in careful finish which he felt to be wanting in himself and in most of his contemporaries."

With all this there probably mingled something of perversity and exaggeration in Byron's praises of Pope. He hated the Lakers, and he delighted to use Pope against them as a foil and a rod. He at least was everything that they were not. Doubtless in the Pope controversy, his "object was mainly mischief," as Lowell says. Byron loved a fight; he thought the Rev. W. L. Bowles an ass, and he determined to have some fun with him. Besides the two letters to Murray in 1821, an open letter of Byron's to Isaac Disraeli, dated March 15, 1820, and entitled "Some Observations upon an article in Blackwood's Magazine," [15] contains a long passage in vindication of Pope and in denunciation of contemporary poetry—a passage which is important not only as showing Byron's opinions, but as testifying to the very general change in taste which had taken place since 1756, when Joseph Warton was so discouraged by the public hostility to his "Essay on Pope" that he withheld the second volume for twenty-six years. "The great cause of the present deplorable state of English poetry," writes Byron, "is to be attributed to that absurd and systematic depreciation of Pope in which, for the last few years, there has been a kind of epidemical concurrence. Men of the most opposite opinions have united upon this topic." He then goes on to praise Pope and abuse his own contemporaries, especially the Lake poets, both in the most extravagant terms. Pope he pronounces the most perfect and harmonious of poets. "Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge," he says, "had all of them a very natural antipathy to Pope . . . but they have been joined in it by . . . the whole heterogeneous mass of living English poets excepting Crabbe, Rogers, Gifford, and Campbell, who, both by precept and practice, have proved their adherence; and by me, who have shamefully deviated in practice, but have ever loved and honoured Pope's poetry with my whole soul." There is ten times more poetry, he thinks, in the "Essay on Man" than in the "Excursion"; and if you want passion, where is to be found stronger than in the "Epistle of Eloisa to Abelard"? To the sneer that Pope is only the "poet of reason" Byron replies that he will undertake to find more lines teeming with imagination in Pope than in any two living poets. "In the mean time," he asks, "what have we got instead? . . . The Lake school," and "a deluge of flimsy and unintelligible romances imitated from Scott and myself." He prophesies that all except the classical poets, Crabbe, Rogers, and Campbell, will survive their reputation, acknowledges that his own practice as a poet is not in harmony with his principles, and says; "I told Moore not very long ago, 'We are all wrong except Rogers, Crabbe, and Campbell.'" In the first of his two letters to Murray, Byron had taken himself to task in much the same way. He compared the romanticists to barbarians who had "raised a mosque by the side of a Grecian temple of the purest architecture"; and who were "not contented with their own grotesque edifice unless they destroy the prior and purely beautiful fabric which preceded, and which shames them and theirs for ever and ever. I shall be told that amongst those I have been (or it may be still am) conspicuous—true, and I am ashamed of it. I have been amongst the builders of this Babel . . . but never among the envious destroyers of the classic temple of our predecessor." "Neither time nor distance nor grief nor age can ever diminish my veneration for him who is the great moral poet of all times, of all climes, of all feelings, and of all stages of existence. The delight of my boyhood, the study of my manhood, perhaps he may be the consolation of my age. His poetry is the Book of Life." [16]

Strange language this from the author of "Childe Harold" and "The Corsair"! But the very extravagance of Byron's claims for Pope makes it plain that he was pleading a lost cause. When Warton issued the first volume of his "Essay on Pope," it was easy for leaders of literary opinion, like Johnson and Goldsmith, to pooh-pooh the critical canons of the new school. But when Byron wrote, the aesthetic revolution was already accomplished. The future belonged not to Campbell and Gifford and Rogers and Crabbe, but to Wordsworth and Scott and Coleridge and Shelley and Keats; to Byron himself, the romantic poet, but not to Byron the laudator temporis acti. The victory remained with Bowles, not because he had won it by argument, but because opinion had changed, and changed probably once and for all.[17]

Coleridge's four contributions to the "Lyrical Ballads" included his masterpiece, "The Ancient Mariner." This is the high-water mark of romantic poetry; and, familiar as it is, cannot be dismissed here without full examination. As to form, it is a long narrative ballad in seven "fyts" or parts, and descends from that "Bible of the romantic reformation," Bishop Percy's "Reliques." The verse is the common ballad stanza—eights and sixes—enriched by a generous use of medial rhyme and alliteration:

"The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew,
The furrow followed free:
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea";

varied and prolonged, moreover, by the introduction of additional lines with alternate riming, with couplets and sometimes with triplets. There are many five-lined and six-lined stanzas, and one—the longest in the poem—of nine lines. But these metric variations are used with temperance. The stanza form is never complex; it is built up naturally from the ballad stanza upon which it rests and to which it constantly returns as its norm and type. Of the one hundred and forty-two stanzas in the poem, one hundred and six are the ordinary four-lined stanzas of popular poetry. The language, too, is not obtrusively archaic as it is in Chatterton and some of the Spenserians; at most an occasional "wist" or "eftsoons"; now and then a light accent, in ballad fashion, on the final syllable of a rime-word like mariner or countrie. There is no definite burden, which would have been out of place in a poem that is narrative and not lyrical; but the ballad habits of phrase repetition and question and answer are sparingly employed.[18] In reproducing the homely diction of old popular minstrelsy, Coleridge's art was nicer than Scott's and more perfect at every point. How skilfully studied, e.g. is the simplicity of the following:

"The moving moon went up the sky And nowhere did abide: Softly she was going up."

"Day after day, day after day We stuck."

"The naive artlessness of the Middle Ages," says Brandl, "became in the hands of the Romantic school, an intentional form of art." The impression of antiquity is heightened by the marginal gloss which the poet added in later editions, composed in a prose that has a quaint beauty of its own, in its mention of "the creatures of the calm"; its citation of "the learned Jew Josephus and the Platonic Constantinopilitan, Michael Psellus," as authorities on invisible spirits; and in passages like that Dantesque one which tells how the mariner "in his loneliness and fixedness yearneth towards the journeying moon, and the stars that still sojourn, yet still move onwards; and everywhere the blue sky belongs to them, and is their appointed rest, and their native country, and their own natural homes, which they enter unannounced, as lords that are certainly expected, and yet there is a silent joy at their arrival."

In "The Ancient Mariner" there are present in the highest degree the mystery, indefiniteness, and strangeness which are the marks of romantic art. The period is not strictly mediaeval, for mariners in the Middle Ages did not sail to the south polar regions or lie becalmed in the equatorial seas. But the whole atmosphere of the poem is mediaeval. The Catholic idea of penance or expiation is the moral theme enwrought with the story. The hermit who shrives the mariner, and the little vesper bell which biddeth him to prayer are Catholic touches, and so are the numerous pious oaths and ejaculations;

"By him who died on cross":

"Heaven's mother send us grace":

"The very deep did rot. O Christ
That ever this should be!"

The albatross is hung about the mariner's neck instead of the crucifix, and drops off only when he blesses the creatures of the calm and is able to pray. The sleep which refreshes him is sent by "Mary Queen" from heaven. The cross-bow with which he shoots the bird is a mediaeval property. The loud bassoon and the bride's garden bower and the procession of merry minstrels who go nodding their heads before her are straight out of the old land of balladry. One cannot fancy the wedding guest dressed otherwise than in doublet and hose, and perhaps wearing those marvellous pointed shoes and hanging sleeves which are shown in miniature paintings of the fifteenth century. And it is thus that illustrators of the poem have depicted him. Place is equally indefinite with time. What port the ill-fated ship cleared from we do not know or seek to know; only the use of the word kirk implies that it was somewhere in "the north countree"—the proper home of ballad poetry.

Coleridge's romances were very differently conceived from Scott's. He wove them out of "such stuff as dreams are made on." Industrious commentators have indeed traced features of "The Ancient Mariner" to various sources. Coleridge's friend, Mr. Cruikshank. had a dream of a skeleton ship. Wordsworth told him the incident, which he read in Shelvocke's voyages, of a certain Captain Simon Hatley who shot a black albatross south of Terra del Fuego, in hopes that its death might bring fair weather. Brandl thinks that the wedding banquet in Monk Lewis' "Alonzo the Brave and the Fair Imogene," furnished a hint; and surmises—what seems unlikely—that Coleridge had read a certain epistle by Paulinus, a bishop of the fourth century, describing a vessel which came ashore on the coast of Lucania with only one sailor on board, who reported that the ship had been deserted, as a wreck, by the rest of the crew, and had since been navigated by spirits.

But all this is nothing and less than nothing. "The Ancient Mariner" is the baseless fabric of a vision. We are put under a spell, like the wedding guest, and carried off to the isolation and remoteness of mid-ocean. Through the chinks of the narrative, the wedding music sounds unreal and far on. What may not happen to a man alone on a wide, wide sea? The line between earthly and unearthly vanishes. Did the mariner really see the spectral bark and hear spirits talking, or was it all but the phantasmagoria of the calenture, the fever which attacks the sailor on the tropic main, so that he seems to see green meadows and water brooks on the level brine? No one can tell; for he is himself the only witness, and the ship is sunk at the harbour mouth. One conjectures that no wreckers or divers will ever bring it to the top again. Nay, was not the mariner, too, a spectre? Now he is gone, and what was all this that he told me, thinks the wedding guest, as he rises on the morrow morn. Or did he tell me, or did I only dream it? A light shadow cast by some invisible thing swiftly traverses the sunny face of nature and is gone. Did we see it, or imagine it? Even so elusive, so uncertain, so shadowy and phantom-like is the spiriting of this wonderful poem. "Poetry," says Coleridge, "gives most pleasure when only generally and not perfectly understood. It was so by me with Gray's 'Bard' and Collins' odes. 'The Bard' once intoxicated me, and now I read it without pleasure." [19] There is no danger that his own poem will ever lose its attractiveness in this way. Something inexplicable will remain to tease us, like the white Pater Noster and St. Peter's sister in Chaucer's night-spell.[20]

Pater subtly connects Coleridge's poetic method with his philosophical idealism. "The too palpable intruders from a spiritual world, in almost all ghost literature, in Scott and Shakespeare even, have a kind of coarseness or crudeness, . . . 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' has the plausibility, the perfect adaptation to reason and life, which belongs to the marvellous, when actually presented as part of a credible experience in our dreams. . . . The spectral object, so crude, so impossible, has become plausible, as 'the spot upon the brain that will show itself without,' and is understood to be but a condition of one's own mind, for which—according to the scepticism latent at least in so much of our modern philosophy—the so-called real things themselves are but spectra after all. It is this finer, more delicately marvellous supernaturalism, the fruit of his more delicate psychology, which Coleridge infuses into romantic narrative, itself also then a new or revived thing in English literature; and with a fineness of weird effect in 'The Ancient Mariner' unknown in those old, more simple, romantic legends and ballads. It is a flower of mediaeval, or later German romance, growing up in the peculiarly compounded atmosphere of modern psychological speculation, and putting forth in it wholly new qualities."

In "The Ancient Mariner," as in most purely romantic poetry, the appeal is more to the imagination than to the heart or the conscience. Mrs. Barbauld complained that it was improbable and had no moral. Coleridge admitted its improbability, but said that it had too much moral; that, artistically speaking, it should have had no more moral than a fairy tale. The lesson of course is that of kindness to animals—"He prayeth well who loveth well," etc. But the punishment of the mariner, and still more of the mariner's messmates, is so out of proportion to the gravity of the offence as to be slightly ludicrous when stated by Leslie Stephen thus: "People who approve of the unnecessary killing of an albatross will die a lingering death by starvation." The moral, as might be guessed, was foisted upon the poem by Wordsworth, and is identical with that of "Hart-Leap Well." Wordsworth and Coleridge started to write "The Ancient Mariner" jointly; and two or three lines in the poem, as it stands, were contributed by Wordsworth. But he wanted to give the mariner himself "character and profession"; and to have the dead seamen come to life and sail the ship into port; and in other ways laid so heavy a hand upon Coleridge's airy creation that it became plain that a partnership on these terms was out of the question, and Wordsworth withdrew altogether. If we must look for spiritual sustenence in the poem, we shall find it perhaps not so much in any definite warning against cruelty to creatures, as in the sentiment of the blessedness of human companionship and the omnipresence of God's mercy; in the passage, e.g.,

"O wedding guest! this soul hath been
Alone on a wide, wide sea," etc.—

where the thought is the same as in Cowper's "Soliloquy of Alexander Selkirk," even to the detail of the "church-going bell."

The first part of "Christabel" was written in 1797; the second in 1800; and the poem, in its unfinished state, was given to the press in 1816. Meanwhile it had become widely known in manuscript. Coleridge used to read it to literary circles, and copies of it had got about. We have seen its influence upon Scott. Byron too admired it greatly, and it was by his persuasion that Coleridge finally published it as a fragment, finding himself unable to complete it, and feeling doubtless that the public regarded him much as the urchins in Keats' poem regarded the crone

"Who keepeth close a wondrous riddle book,
As spectacled she sits in chimney nook."

"Christabel" is more distinctly mediaeval than "The Ancient Mariner," and is full of Gothic elements: a moated castle, with its tourney court and its great gate

. . . "ironed within and without,
Where an army in battle array had marched out":

a feudal baron with a retinue of harpers, heralds, and pages; a lady who steals out at midnight into the moon-lit oak wood, to pray for her betrothed knight; a sorceress who pretends to have been carried off on a white palfrey by five armed men, and who puts a spelt upon the maiden.

If "The Ancient Mariner" is a ballad, "Christabel" is, in form, a roman d'aventures, or metrical chivalry tale, written in variations of the octosyllabic couplet. These variations, Coleridge said, were not introduced wantonly but "in correspondence with some transition, in the nature of the imagery or passion." A single passage will illustrate this:

"They passed the hall that echoes still,
Pass as lightly as you will.
The brands were flat, the brands were dying
Amid their own white ashes lying;
But when the lady passed, there came
A tongue of light, a fit of flame;
And Christabel saw the lady's eye,
And nothing else saw she thereby,
Save the boss of the shield of Sir Leoline tall,
Which hung in a murky old niche in the wall.
O softly tread, said Christabel,
My father seldom sleepeth well."

When, after the hurrying anapaests, the verse returns to the strict iambic measure in the last couplet, the effect is a hush, in harmony with the meaning of the words.[21]

"Christabel" is not so unique and perfect a thing as "The Ancient Mariner," but it has the same haunting charm, and displays the same subtle art in the use of the supernatural. Coleridge protested that it "pretended to be nothing more than a common fairy tale." [22] But Lowell asserts that it is "tantalising in the suggestion of deeper meanings than were ever there." There is, in truth, a hint of allegory, like that which baffles and fascinates in Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market"; a hint so elusive that the comparison often made between Geraldine and Spenser's Duessa, is distressing to a reader of sensitive nerves. That mystery which is a favourite weapon in the romanticist armoury is used again here with consummate skill. What was it that Christabel saw on the lady's bosom? We are left to conjecture. It was "a sight to dream of, not to tell," [23] and the poet keeps his secret. Lamb, whose taste was very fine in these matters, advised Coleridge never to finish the poem. Brandl thinks that the idea was taken from the curtained picture in the "Mysteries of Udolpho"; and he also considers that the general situation—the castle, the forest, the old father and his young daughter, and the strange lady—are borrowed from Mrs. Radcliffe's "Romance of the Forest"; and that Bürger's "Lenore," Lewis' "Alonzo," and some of the Percy ballads contributed a detail here and there. But Quellenforschungen of this kind are very unimportant. It is more important to note the superior art with which the poet excites curiosity and suspends—not simply, like Mrs. Radcliffe, postpones—the gratification of it to the end, and beyond the end, of the poem. Was Geraldine really a witch, or did she only seem so to Christabel? The angry moan of the mastiff bitch and the tongue of flame that shot up as the lady passed—were they omens, or accidents which popular superstition interprets into omens? Was the malignant influence which Geraldine exerted over the maiden supernatural possession, or the fascination of terror and repugnance? Did she really utter the words of a charm, or did her sweet bedfellow dream them? And once more, what was that upon her breast—"that bosom old—that bosom cold"? Was it a wound, or the mark of a serpent, or some foul and hideous disfigurement—or was it only the shadows cast by the swinging lamp?

That isolation and remoteness, that preparation of the reader's mind for the reception of incredible things, which Coleridge secured in "The Ancient Mariner" by cutting off his hero from all human life amid the solitude of the tropic sea, he here secured—in a less degree, to be sure—by the lonely midnight in Sir Leoline's castle. Geraldine and her victim are the only beings awake except the hooting owls. There is dim moonlight in the wood, dim firelight in the hall, and in Christabel's chamber "the silver lamp burns dead and dim."

The second part of the poem was less successful, partly for the reason, as the reviewers pointed out, that it undertakes the hardest of tasks, "witchery by daylight." But there were other reasons. Three years had passed since the poem was begun. Coleridge had been to Germany and had settled at Keswick. The poet had been lost in the metaphysician, and he took up his interrupted task without inspiration, putting force upon himself. The signs of effort are everywhere visible, and it is painfully manifest that the poet cannot recover the genial, creative mood in which he had set out. In particular it is observable that, while there is no mention of place in the first part, now we have frequent references to Windermere, Borrowdale, Dungeon Ghyll, and other Lake Country localities familiar enough in Wordsworth's poetry, but strangely out of place in "Christabel." It was certainly an artistic mistake to transfer Sir Leoline's castle from fairyland to Cumberland.[24] There is one noble passage in the second part, the one which Byron prefixed to his "Farewell" to Lady Byron:

"Alas! they had been friends in youth," etc.

But the stress of personal emotion in these lines is not in harmony with the romantic context. They are like a patch of cloth of gold let into a lace garment and straining the delicate tissue till it tears.

The example of "The Ancient Mariner," and in a still greater degree of "Christabel," was potent upon all subsequent romantic poetry. It is seen in Scott, in Byron, and in Keats, not only in the modelling of their tales, but in single lines and images. In the first stanza of the "Lay" Scott repeats the line which occurs so often in "Christabel"—"Jesu Maria shield her well!" In the same poem, the passage where the Lady Margaret steals out of Branksome Tower at dawn to meet her lover in the wood, gliding down the secret stair and passing the bloodhound at the portal, will remind all readers of "Christabel." The dialogue between the river and mountain spirits will perhaps remind them of the ghostly antiphonies which the "Mariner" hears in his trance. The couplet

"The seething pitch and molten lead
Reeked like a witch's caldron red."

is, of course, from Coleridge's

"The water, like a witch's oils,
Burned green and blue and white."

In "The Lord of the Isles" Scott describes the "elvish lustre" and "livid flakes" of the phosphorescence of the sea, and cites, in a note, the description, in "The Ancient Mariner," of the sea snakes from which

"The elvish light
Fell off in hoary flakes."

The most direct descendant of "Christabel" was "The Eve of St. Agnes." Madeline's chamber, "hushed, silken, chaste," recalls inevitably the passage in the older poem:

"The moon shines dim in the open air,
And not a moonbeam enters here.
But they without its light can see
The chamber carved so curiously,
Carved with figures strange and sweet,
All made out of the carver's brain,
For a lady's chamber meet:
The lamp with twofold silver chain
Is fastened to an angel's feet."

The rest of Coleridge's ballad work is small in quantity and may be dismissed briefly. "Alice du Clos" has good lines, but is unimportant as a whole. The very favourite poem "Love" is a modern story enclosing a mediaeval one. In the moonshine by the ruined tower the guileless Genevieve leans against the statue of an armed man, while her lover sings her a tale of a wandering knight who bore a burning brand upon his shield and went mad for the love of "The Lady of the Land." [25]

The fragment entitled "The Dark Ladie" was begun as a "sister tale" to "Love." The hero is a "knight that wears the griffin for his crest." There are only fifteen stanzas of it, and it breaks off with a picture of an imaginary bridal procession, whose "nodding minstrels" recall "The Ancient Mariner," and incidentally some things of Chatterton's. Lines of a specifically romantic colouring are of course to be found scattered about nearly everywhere in Coleridge; like the musical little song that follows the invocation to the soul of Alvar in "Remorse":

"And at evening evermore,
In a chapel on the shore,
Shall the chanters sad and saintly—
Yellow tapers burning faintly—
Doleful masses chant for thee,
Miserere Domine!"

or the wild touch of folk poesy in that marvellous opium dream, "Kubla Khan"—the "deep romantic chasm":

"A savage place, as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon lover."

Or the well-known ending of "The Knight's Grave":

"The knight's bones are dust,
And his good sword rust;
His soul is with the saints, I trust."

In taking account of Coleridge's services to the cause of romanticism, his critical writings should not be overlooked. Matthew Arnold declared that there was something premature about the burst of creative activity in English literature at the opening of the nineteenth century, and regretted that the way had not been prepared, as in Germany, by a critical movement. It is true that the English romantics put forth no body of doctrine, no authoritative statement of a theory of literary art. Scott did not pose as the leader of a school, or compose prefaces and lectures like Hugo and Schlegel.[26] As a contributor to the reviews on his favourite topics, he was no despicable critic; shrewd, good-natured, full of special knowledge, anecdote, and illustration. But his criticism was never polemic, and he had no quarrel with the classics. He cherished an unfeigned admiration for Dryden, whose life he wrote and whose works he edited. Doubtless he would cheerfully have admitted the inferiority of his own poetry to Dryden's and Pope's. He had no programme to announce, but just went ahead writing romances; in practice an innovator, but in theory a literary conservative.

Coleridge, however, was fully aware of the scope of the new movement. He represented, theoretically as well as practically, the reaction against eighteenth-century academicism, the Popean tradition[27] in poetry, and the maxims of pseudo-classical criticism. In his analysis and vindication of the principles of romantic art, he brought to bear a philosophic depth and subtlety such as had never before been applied in England to a merely belletristic subject. He revolutionised, for one thing, the critical view of Shakspere, devoting several lecture courses to the exposition of the thesis that "Shakspere's judgment was commensurate with his genius." These lectures borrowed a number of passages from A. W. von Schlegel's "Vorlesungen über Dramatische Kunst und Litteratur," delivered at Vienna in 1808, but engrafted with original matter of the highest value. Compared with these Shakspere notes, with the chapters on Wordsworth in the "Biographia Literaria," and with the obiter dicta, sown through Coleridge's prose, all previous English criticism appears crude and superficial, and the contemporary squabble over Pope like a scolding match in the nursery.

Coleridge's acute and sympathetic insight into the principles of Shaksperian drama did not save him from producing his abortive "Zapolya" in avowed imitation of the "Winter's Tale." What curse is on the English stage that men who have done work of the highest grade in other departments, as soon as they essay playwriting, become capable of failures like "The Borderers" and "John Woodville" and "Manfred" and "Zapolya"? As for "Remorse," with its Moorish sea-coasts, wild mountains, chapel interiors with painted windows, torchlight and moonlight, dripping caverns, dungeons, daggers and poisoned goblets, the best that can be said of it is that it is less bad than "Zapolya." And of both it may be said that they are romantic not after the fashion of Shakspere, but of those very German melodramas which Coleridge ridiculed in his "Critique on Bertram." [28]


[1] For Coleridge's relations with German romance, see vol. i., pp. 419-21. For his early interest in Percy, Ossian, and Chatterton, ibid., pp. 299, 328, 368-70.

[2] "There is as much difference between Coleridge's brief poem 'Christabel' and all the narrative poems of Walter Scott . . . as between a precious essence and a coarse imitation of it got up for sale." (Leigh Hunt's "Autobiography," p. 197).

[3] "Samuel Taylor Coleridge und die Englische Romantik," Alois Brandl, Berlin, 1886.

[4] It is in view of his critical attitude, not of his poetry, that Saintsbury applies this title to Coleridge. "The attitude was that of a mediaevalism inspired by much later learning, but still more by that intermediate or decadent Greek philosophy which had so much influence on the Middle Ages themselves. This is, in other words, the Romantic attitude, and Coleridge was the high priest of Romanticism, which, through Scott and Byron, he taught to Europe, repreaching it even to Germany, from which it had partly come." ("A Short History of English Literature," by George Saintsbury, London, 1898, p. 656).

[5] "Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the English Romantic School," by Alois Brandl. Lady Eastlake's translation, London, 1887, pp. 219-23.

[6] See vol. i., pp. 160-61.

[7] "Fourteen Sonnets, written chiefly on Picturesque Spots." Bath, 1789.

[8] "Samuel Taylor Coleridge," p. 37. Cf. Wordsworth's Sonnets "Upon Westminster Bridge" (1802) and "Scorn Not the Sonnet."

[9] Cf. vol. i., p. 182.

[10] See Sonnet xvii., "On Revisiting Oxford."

See also Sonnet xi., "At Ostend:"

"The mournful magic of their mingled chimes
First waked my wondrous childhood into tears."

And Cf. Francis Mahony's "The Bells of Shandon"—

"Whose sounds so wild would, in the days of childhood,
Fling round my cradle their magic spells."

And Moore's "Those Evening Bells." The twang of the wind-harp also resounds through Bowles' Sonnets. See for the Aeolus' harp, vol. i., p. 165. and Cf. Coleridge's poem, "The Eolian Harp."

[11] "Dejection: An Ode" (1802).


November, 1792.

"There is strange music in the stirring wind
When lowers the autumnal eve, and all alone
To the dark wood's cold covert thou art gone
Whose ancient trees, on the rough slope reclined,
Rock, and at times scatter their tresses sear.
If in such shades, beneath their murmuring,
Thou late hast passed the happier hours of spring,
With sadness thou wilt mark the fading year;
Chiefly if one with whom such sweets at morn
Or eve thou'st shared, to distant scenes shall stray.
O Spring, return! return, auspicious May!
But sad will be thy coming, and forlorn,
If she return not with thy cheering ray,
Who from these shades is gone, gone far away."

[13] Cf. Scott's "Harp of the North, that mouldering long hast hung," etc. "Lady of the Lake," Canto I.

[14] "Shall gentle Coleridge pass unnoticed here,
To turgid ode and tumid stanza dear?"
—"English Bards and Scotch Reviewers."

[15] No. xxix., August, 1819, "Remarks on Don Juan."

[16] "Time was, ere yet in these degenerate days
Ignoble themes obtained mistaken praise.
When sense and wit with poesy allied,
No fabled graces, nourished side by side. . . .
Then, in this happy isle, a Pope's pure strain
Sought the rapt soul to charm, nor sought in vain;
A polished nation's praise aspired to claim,
And raised the people's, as the poet's fame. . . .
[But] Milton, Dryden, Pope, alike forgot,
Resign their hallowed bays to Walter Scott."
—"English Bards and Scotch Reviewers."

[17] For the benefit of any reader who may wish to follow up the steps of the Pope controversy, I give the titles of Bowles' successive pamphlets. "The Invariable Principles of Poetry: A Letter to Thomas Campbell, Esq.," 1819. "A Reply to an 'Unsentimental Sort of Critic,'" Bath, 1820. [This was in answer to a review of "Spence's Anecdotes" in the Quarterly in October, 1820.] "A Vindication of the Late Editor of Pope's Works," London, 1821, second edition. [This was also a reply to the Quarterly reviewer and to Gilchrist's letters in the London Magazine, and was first printed in vol. xvii., Nos. 33, 34, and 35 of the Pamphleteer.] "An Answer to Some Observations of Thomas Campbell, Esq., in his Specimens of British Poets" (1822). "An Address to Thomas Campbell, Esq., Editor of the New Monthly Magazine, in Consequence of an Article in that Publication" (1822). "Letters to Lord Byron on a Question of Poetical Criticism," London, 1822. "A Final Appeal to the Literary Public Relative to Pope, in Reply to Certain Observations of Mr. Roscoe," London, 1823. "Lessons in Criticism to William Roscoe, Esq., with Further Lessons in Criticism to a Quarterly Reviewer," London, 1826. Gilchrist's three letters to Bowles were published in 1820-21. M'Dermot's "Letter to the Rev. W. L. Bowles in Reply to His Letter to Thomas Campbell, Esq., and to His Two Letters to Lord Byron," was printed at London, in 1822.

[18] "With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
We could not laugh nor wail," etc.

"With throats unslaked, with black lips baked,
Agape they heard me call," etc.

"Are those her sails that glance in the sun
Like restless gossamers?
Are those her ribs," etc.

Cf. "Christabel":

"Is the night chilly and dark?
The night is chilly, but not dark."

And see vol. i., p. 271.

[19] "Anima Poetae," 1895, p. 5. This recent collection of marginalia has an equal interest with Coleridge's well-known "Table Talk." It is the English equivalent of Hawthorne's "American Note Books," full of analogies, images, and reflections—topics and suggestions for possible development in future romances and poems. In particular it shows an abiding prepossession with the psychology of dreams, apparitions, and mental illusions of all sorts.

[20] "Jesu Crist and Seint Benedight
Blisse this hous from every wicked wight,
Fro the nightes mare, the white Pater Noster;
Where wonest thou, Seint Peter's suster."
—"The Miller's Tale."

[21] Vide supra, p. 27.

[22] "Biographia Literaria," chap. xxiv.

[23] Keats quotes this line in a letter about Edmund Kean. Forman's ed., vol. iii., p. 4.

[24] Vide supra, p. 14.

[25] Brandl thinks that this furnished Keats with a hint or two for his "Belle Dame sans Merci." Coleridge's "Dejection: An Ode" is headed with a stanza from "the grand old ballad of Sir Patrick Spence."

[26] "The English Romantic critics did not form a school. Like everything else in the English Romantic movement, its criticism was individual, isolated, sporadic, unsystematised. It had no official mouthpiece, like Sainte-Beuve and the Globe; its members formed no compact phalanx like that which, towards the close of our period, threw itself upon the 'classiques' of Paris. Nor did they, with the one exception of Coleridge, approach the Romantic critics of Germany in range of ideas, in grasp of the larger significance of their own movement. It was only in Germany that the ideas implicit in the great poetic revival were explicitly thought out in all their many-sided bearing upon society, history, philosophy, religion; and that the problem of criticism, in particular, was presented in its full depth and richness of meaning. . . . As English Romanticism achieved greater things on its creative than on its critical side, so its criticism was more remarkable on that side which is akin to creation—in the subtle appreciation of literary quality—than in the analysis of the principles on which its appreciation was founded." (C. H. Herford: "The Age of Wordsworth," p. 50).

[27] See "Biographia Literaria." chap. i. "From the common opinion that the English style attained its greatest perfection in and about Queen Anne's reign, I altogether dissent." (Lecture "On Style," March 13, 1818).

[28] See vol. i., p. 421 ff.

Henry Augustin Beers