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these necromantic eulogies with a just contempt; but it requires no small forbearance to refrain from bestowing something heavier than contempt upon the meddling wouldbe moralist, who gnaws about the feet of greatness-who throws down the statue by nibbling at the toe.
The character of a great man is sacred to posterity; for, in our estimate of his character, lies, in great measure, the force and value of his works. When a demagogue wishes to stop the progress of a statesman or a reformer, he makes a public exposition of his vices and follies. We read attentively and fervently the works of a man whose character we respect, and we throw by, and neglect, those works of whose authors we make an unfavorable estimate. Biography is therefore a more important and delicate department of letters, than even history itself, and demands a more absolutely impartial and humane disposi
tion in the author.
Can it be estimated how many hundreds of persons have laid aside the writings of Lord Bacon, after reading the unjust criticism of his character by Macaulay; or how much of abstract political opinion is created by a personal regard for, or dislike of the characters of political leaders? The malignity of his early defamers has condemned Plato to a learned obscurity. A sarcasm on the moral character of Socrates, from the lips of a learned professor in one of our leading Universities, repeated year after year, in the lecture room, keeps an entire University, year after year, in ignorance of Greek philosophy. It is unnecessary to adduce other instances, and we have mentioned these only to call attention to the importance of biography as a department of literature.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the reviver of philosophy in England, was born in 1773, at Ottery, St. Mary, in Devonshire: his father was a clergyman with a numerous family, whose poverty compelled him to place Samuel, his youngest son, at the school of Christ's Hospital, a charitable institution for education in London. From this period he seems to have been neglected by his relatives, or to have lost sight of them; for we find his correspondent, Cottle, reproaching him with the separation. The intensely imaginative character of his
mind may have assisted this result. school boy who could read at his leisure hours, though subject at other times to a severe school discipline, "a whole circulating library, folios and all," without other sympathy than his own thoughts, would very naturally discover none of those qualities which would have endeared him to his relatives. The insatiable ambition of knowledge, and the propensity of converting all knowledge into food for speculation, possessed him early and with extraordinary force, and remained, in after life, the master passions of his nature. His imagination absorbed the energy of his body and of his will; and he never acquired more than a transient command over his impulses. Having, when a child, but a weak resolution and a moderate pride, he was easily moulded and directed by his instructor, and received from him, under the constant stimulus of the ferule, an excellent education in the learned languages.
In his nineteenth year he entered Jesus College at Cambridge, and after an eccentric irregular course, always illustrating the predominance of imagination, we find him, at the unfortunate conclusion of a love adventure, enlisted in the horseguards, and showing very little aptitude for military exercises. He admits that he never got beyond the awkward squad; and he seems never to have enjoyed any species of exercise except walking in this, however, he was indefatigable; and Hazlitt relates of him that his gait was irregular and vascillating, suitable with the irregu larity of his thoughts.
The anecdotes of the life of Coleridge, and his own account of his travels turn always upon conversations, moods of thought, observations of a speculative character upon life and manners, and betray, also, the indulgence of strong, though not malignant, national prejudices; and though endowed with the most exalted universality of intellect, his passions were nationalized, and even narrowed, by a blind partiality for his native country-a fault which we are compelled to honor, even in a narrow and contracted spirit. His hatred for the French literature-a hatred grounded, for the most part, on an ignorance which he did not pretend to conceal -was carried to a ridiculous height: and yet, to this day, England has reason to
revere the prejudices and even the bigotry of Coleridge; for with him began that literary, and theological reaction which rescued English literature from French atheism and German mysticism.
The influence of imagination appears in his inconsiderate and unstable marriage. So powerfully did imagination work upon him at this time, although every advantage that an author can desire was held out to him by his publisher, Cottle, the energy of his spirit was consumed in mighty projects, which were laid aside as soon as they were commenced. Finding many friends who were ready to extend to him pecuniary aid, his life became one of almost entire dependance. The receipts from his works were very moderate from one of his friends he even accepted an annuity, and, as his disposition was amiable and his conversation always delightful, he was never at a loss for a home.
The habit he contracted, while a young man, of using opium to allay the irritation of his mind, seems to have remained with him through life. The effects are visible in the fewness and incompleteness of his works, and in the early extinction of his poetical fire and perhaps this habit may have increased that natural inaccuracy of mind which disqualified him to become a historian or narrator. As if aware of this imperfection, he seldom ventures to narrate. It is said that he sometimes deviated from the truth, in representing his own physical condition and habits to his friends; but those deviations were of the same class with the falsehoods of a convalescent, who will venture upon harmless lies to obtain a larger quantity of food. Coleridge's deceptions are much dwelt upon by Mr. Cottle; but they appear, on the most rigid scrutiny, to have arisen solely out of physical weakness and a desire to escape the surviellance of friends, and never from the least depravity of heart.
If it becomes necessary to record the despondencies, the weakness, and the vices of great men-not only humanity, but justice requires that they should be mentioned, if at all, in the same breath with the noble acts and great virtues by which they have exalted and benefitted mankind. They will then, while they inspire us with pity, never lessen our respect or cool our admiration. Every great power and admirable
work stands upon its own merits, and never upon the accidents which environ or bias it, however mean they be to appearance. In the mysterious order of the moral world the most important results flow from crooked and outwardly contemptible conditions; and the very vice of idleness which offends, may have been necessary to the production of the works which charm and instruct us. Nor is the contemplation of characters, in whom surprising imperfections appear, notwithstanding the blame with which we visit those who wantonly expose them-less useful than that of the more perfect order of men. The appearance of these faults in them is often through the inability to conceal-through a want of that art of secrecy which the generosity of their natures forbids them to cultivate. Greatness delights in a neglect of trivial circumstances; and this fault of greatness engages it in troubles unknown to characters of more shrewdness and cunning. Intensely occupied with great matters, and full of a generous confidence, they expose what meaner men adroitly conceal it is a part of their felicity that their defects are obvious--that the world knows the worst that is in them; their faults are magnified, indeed, by envy, the parent of scandal; but they can afford to lose a little reputation; they are hardly straitened by a loss that would bankrupt another; the calumnies which go before them only prepare a larger circle to be astonished with their fame; and when the common props of respectability-wealth, rank, family, name, a good face, a prudent morality, are struck away, men are amazed to find that the grandeur of what is left makes these losses insignificant and easily borne.
The works of those masters, in whom great excellencies are joined with defects, inspire a stronger desire of imitation than such as seem to have reached ideal perfection: the difficult and the easily attained lie so near together in them, it looks like only a step from one to the other; and by this delusion we are hurried on: encouraged by the faults of our superiors we seem, in bringing them down to us, to have risen also to their level; and thus the happiest results arise. A thousand efforts tend toward the accessible, for one that is stimulated by the sight of perfection.
That the faults of Coleridge were not of a nature to breed any sentiment but pity and regret in those who knew him best there is abundant evidence: that they even had the effect to draw him into closer sympathy with many and force a nearer acquaintance with his virtue might be easily shown.
trayed no meanness, even when he allowed himself to be dependent; and he diffused through society, by his presence and conversation, feelings of the most delightful and elevating kind. His companionship was courted, and his opinions quoted by the best; and even those who declared him mad, admitted that his madness was of a most wonderful character. It is with this madness, the same which has infected great minds from the beginning, that we are at present interested; a madness which reconciles man to God, by making clear to him the image of Deity in himself; that divine image by which he becomes a moral being, by which, for it is not merely an image but an infinite and irresistible power, the person of one man comes to represent, not only the system of his own actions, but those of other men living with and after him, and thus creating nations, societies, and faiths.
Those powerful traits which confer personal influence in affairs of state and business did not make their appearance in Coleridge. It was not for the conduct of difficult negotiations that he became important to his own, and, perhaps, to all succeeding ages, but for the conduct and expression of great and difficult thoughts; and though the picture of his life would be an interesting study for the moralist, we do not mean, on this occasion, to present its minuter features, or to give more than such a sketch of his character as is necessary to an understanding of his works. To the writings of his friends and relatives, His literary character did not establish and particularly to the Essays of Lamb itself, as in the writings of the Sidneys and and Hazlitt, we refer the curious reader, Shakspeares, by the exhibition of refined limiting our attention for the rest to those and delicate sentiments, carried to a chiactions of his life, which he himself intend-valrous height; nor as in the Washingtons ed for posterity, namely, his philosophical
When the list of his virtues and attainments is set off against his faults, these latter almost vanish in the comparison. Their sum is, that he lacked resolution ; he schemed far more than he accomplished. To have planned a work was with him enough. He projected many vast undertakings and completed few v; his works, with a few exceptions, were fragmentary; though the unity, not to say the monotony, of idea which prevails in his prose writings shows a thinker whose life was occupied with revolving a few great thoughts. To have resolved on the instant to break through an injurious habit seemed to him equivalent to a real abstinence; as the toper, who intermits a day, will on that day honestly swear that he is no toper. It must not however, be forgotten that Coleridge has never been charged with a deliberate wrong, or a malicious deceit; or with those vices-excepting one, injurious only to himself which so commonly beset men of genius. His aims were noble; his ambition took the highest flight; his friendships were sincere, judicious and enduring; he be
and Alfreds, by a knowledge of public justice and economy, but solely in those grand efforts of intellect, which abstract from human science the first principles and primal energies of existence. His place therefore, is with Bacon and Aristotle, with Kant and Plato. In the faculty of pure abstraction he was probably surpassed by none of those.
The Arabs, ridiculing the imbecility of certain mongrel tribes, call them men of one thought; but this title is more properly applicable to the most powerful than to the weakest of intellect. The original thinker, who labors to give a form and an expression to his faith, or to his unbelief whose continual effort is to accumulate knowledge and experience for the sustenance of some one idea, which is to dissolve and to recrystalize the aggregate into a system or image of the universe, is properly the man of one thought. In this lies all his power-that he has a thought, an idea, which is the lord and master of his meditations. This is his philosopher's stone, his universal solvent, his tincture of life, the mirror of his reflections, his arcanum, his principle of spiritual gravitation, the reason of his morality, his in
To know it, we must know what he knows, think his thoughts, refine with him in his subtleties, sink to his depths, and soar with him to his heights.
The thoughts of other men serve him only as a stimulus to the more lively action of his own. He is not content with knowing that Moses enunciated the law because God commanded him to do so, nor does it satisfy him to learn that the words of God are established by the experience of many centuries. His spirit yearns towards the original source; and even by the sacrifice of all else, he is ready to purchase the gift of self-seeing, of spiritual intuition. Know thyself," to him signifies only know intuitively, since the seeds and principles of all knowlege lie in thyself.'
His ideas are worded in conformity to his own, and to no other, experience; and as that experience is of necessity limited, his system is always defective in its members. But these defects cannot be rectified by an inferior genius; but only by the same order of genius which conceived them, assisted by a superior knowledge. The knowledge of Bacon enables him to correct the errors of Plato, and the scientific advantages of Coleridge carried him beyond both; but by the same law he was himself limited, and the science of our day would doubtless have carried him beyond himself.
In the essay entitled "Statesman's Manual," addressed to the educated and professional classes in England, Coleridge has given us the master key of his intellectual system; not in a definition scrupulously worded, or in a category of elements, but in broken expressions, glances of thought, efforts towards a development of ideas too vast for entire comprehension; and seeming vaster and more indistinct as the eye draws nearer to them, until their expansion becomes infinite, and their perception impossible. Thoughts of this order, viewed in the light of distant and inactive meditation, appear to have a form and a color; but as we approach and move into them, they disappear like sunset clouds, just when their tangible presence begins to be perceived.
In his efforts to convey at once, by mere discourse, without system, or any of
the aids of division and contrast, both the practicable and the meditated form of the idea, he falls often into an almost hopeless obscurity; and the reader is obliged to slide over long passages, or to rush through them with a breathless speed, lest while he considers a part of the meaning, the whole may escape.
His exactness in the use of compound words is the exactness of a scholar and logician; not that of one who speaks to the people and adheres rigidly to the conventional sense. His skill in the learned languages gave him a power of using words of Latin or Greek origin, as a Greek or a Latin would have used them, with a perception of their radical force. Yet he often wastes this facility aud power, in which he took a pedantic pride, in cumbrous circumlocutions, and vast shapes of expression, bearing up with the wings of an eagle the weight of a mouse.
The brilliancy and clearness of his paragraphs is too often marred by parentheti cal flaws; and the melody of their periods lost by complication, and the introduction of accidentals to the leading idea. He annoys the vanity of his reader by refering him to rare or inaccessible works; and supports theories and opinions with other theories and opinions still more in need of support.
Having attained a clear intuition, but never made a successful exposition of his great ideas, they persecute his imagination, and press for utterance at unseasonable times; treating of political economy, he is snatched away to Philosophy, and thence to Theology. The passions, too, mingle in the train; until the course of his essay illustrates the return home of a heathen procession, where the images of all the gods, from Typho to the great Ammon, pass before us in a disorderly crowd.
He labors under a fear of the opinion of the visible Church. He ducks to the pride of reverend Hierarchs, though hiding at the same time a suffusion of shame. His heart is timid; his intellect vehement and free. He often conjures a dangerous idea into the leaden belly of a prejudice, and clapping on the magic seal of tradition, flings it into the sea.
He seems sometimes to be addressing a feeble and timid understanding; and with
immense assiduity develops a very simple comparison. His intense devotion to philosophy, and the difficulty he found in expression, is evident from his efforts to compel the theories of physical science into the service of moral dynamics; as when, in opposing English conservatism to the doctrines of progress, he calls them polar extremes, a comparison without value; for in spiritual matters it is the intermediary or reconciling energy which must be known, and not the mere opposition of unlikes. To illustrate a moral by a mechanical idea is to degrade it. The inferior may symbolize, but cannot explain the superior. In a mystical dialogue he declares that nature not merely exists, but also lives a heresy in philosophy; for life is but a phase of existence; and matter, in itself considered, is neither dead nor living, but moves only as it is moved, and on the instant.
The science of Coleridge, derived from Blumenbach, Davy, and Hunter, consisted of a few brilliant generalizations. If it were in the nature of scientific ideas to advance beyond their facts, he would probably have gone farther than his teachers; and had he with sufficient steadinesss devoted himself to science, it is not probable that either Goéthe or Schelling would have excelled him in the detection and arrangement of scientific analogies.
In conversation he is said to have "been easily interrupted and discouraged, but among those who could listen with a sustained attention, his monologue was delivered in an impressive strain, and with a richness and copiousness of elocution worthy of the greatest orators; yet, in his writings, the marks of heat, hurry, discouragement, and the fear of contradiction, are often painfully evident.
Posterity judges men by the delight which they have afforded, and the services which they have rendered to human society, not only by their acts and the example of their virtues, but by those secondary aids and consolations which virtue has received from their genius or their intelligence. The character of Coleridge has already become historical, his reputation is that of a poet and a philosopher; it is in this latter capacity that we are at present regarding him; first, in view of the more immediate services which he has rendered
to literature; and second, in regard of those ideas and opinions, of which he was the resuscitator and the advocate.
That Coleridge, more than any other ́ writer of English, carried the dialect and phrase of philosophy to its height, will hardly be denied by those who are acquainted with our philosophical literature. To appreciate the difficulties which he has overcome, let him be compared with Cudworth, or with Locke, or the translators of German metaphysics; he conveys the dialectic of Plato to a style perfectly pure and original; he throws out in a page, conceptions which have cost Cudworth a chapter or even a volume: he succeeds in uttering thoughts which the meagre Saxon of Locke or Hobbes has wholly failed under; he conveys the refinements of the Germans without that artificial and scholastic phraseology which proves fatal to the duration of their systems. His familiarity with Plato, Plotinus, and their commentators, a class of writers wonderfully copious, and most part tediously diffuse, gave him a flow of philosophical expression, checked, refined, and condensed by a feeling for Saxon simplicity, and a power of brevity which belonged to him as a poet and critic. His prose is never dilute or tumid; though often heated, dry, obscure, and labored; he is passionate and sublime, but never feebly enthusiastic; his use of epithet is excessive, but results from fulness, and never from weakness of conception. He discovers a great power of antithesis and of the rhetorical balance of a sentence, but is too much occupied with the matter to employ any other than instinctive art.
Everywhere his language shows the characters of strength and fulness; but except in verse, seems to have been too dry and cumbrous for picturesque description, or the expression of the softer shades of sentiment and social feeling.
Next to the services which he rendered to philosophy by inventing for it a dialect equally exact and magnificent, may be considered his services to classical literature, by rescuing Plato and his followers from the obscurity of Oxford pedantry. He added very few "notes and emendations" to the accumulated crust of those crudities, which hides the clear sense of the great classics from the eyes of modern scholars; but by drawing from them a great