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however, put it into my head to compose verses from the impulse of my own mind, and I wrote, while yet a
No jarring monks, to gloomy cell confined,
schoolboy, a long poem running upon my own adventures, and the scenery of the country in which I was brought up. The only part of that poem which has been preserved is the conclusion of it, which stands at the beginning of my collected Poems. I
In the month of October, 1787, I was sent to St. John's College, Cambridge, of which my uncle, Dr. Cookson, had been a fellow. The master, Dr. Chevallier, died very soon after?; and, according to the custom of that time, his body, after being placed in
Join to the rigours of the sires of Rome
So shall thy sire, whilst hope his breast inspires,
“I look'd obedience : the celestial Fair Smiled like the morn, and vanish'd into air."
1 “Dear Native Regions,” &c., vol. i. p. 1.
the coffin, was removed to the hall of the college, and the pall, spread over the coffin, was stuck over by copies of verses, English or Latin, the composition of the students of St. John's. My uncle seemed mortified when upon inquiry he learnt that none of these verses were from my pen,“because,” said he, “it would have been a fair opportunity for distinguishing yourself.” I did not, however, regret that I had been silent on this occasion, as I felt no interest in the deceased person, with whom I had had no intercourse, and whom I had never seen but during his walks in the college grounds.
When at school, I, with the other boys of the same standing, was put upon reading the first six books of Euclid, with the exception of the fifth ; and also in algebra I learnt simple and quadratic equations; and this was for me unlucky, because I had a full twelvemonth's start of the freshmen of my year, and accordingly got into rather an idle way; reading nothing but classic authors according to my fancy, and Italian poetry. My Italian master was named Isola, and had been well acquainted with Gray the poet. As I took to these studies with much interest, he was proud of the progress I made. Under his correction I translated the Vision of Mirza, and two or three other papers of the Spectator, into Italian. In the month of August, 1790, I set off for the Continent, in companionship with Robert Jones, a Welshman, a fellow-collegian. We went staff in hand, without knapsacks, and carrying each his needments tied up in a pocket handkerchief, with about twenty pounds apiece in our pockets. We crossed from Dover and landed at Calais on the eve of the day when the king was to swear fidelity to the new constitution: an event which was solemnised
with due pomp at Calais. On the afternoon of that day we started, and slept at Ardres. For what seemed best to me worth recording in this tour, see the Poem of my own Life.'
After taking my degree in January, 1791, I went to London, stayed there some time, and then visited my friend Jones, who resided in the Vale of Clwydd, North Wales. Along with him I made a pedestrian tour through North Wales, for which also see the Poem.2
In the autumn of 1791 I went to Paris, where stayed some little time, and then went to Orleans, with a view of being out of the way of my own countrymen, that I might learn to speak the language fluently. At Orleans, and Blois, and Paris, on my return, I passed fifteen or sixteen months. It was a stirring time. The king was dethroned when I was at Blois, and the massacres of September took place when I was at Orleans. But for these matters see also the Poem. I came home before the execution of the king, and passed the subsequent time among my friends in London and elsewhere, till I settled with my only sister at Racedown in Dorsetshire, in the
Here we were visited by Mr. Coleridge, then residing at Bristol ; and for the sake of being near him when he had removed to Nether-Stowey, in Somersetshire, we removed to Alfoxden, three miles from that place. This was a very pleasant and productive time of my life. Coleridge, my sister, and I, set off on a tour to Linton and other places in Devon| Prelude, book vi.
2 Ibid. book xiv. 3 This is not quite correct; the time of his absence did not exceed thirteen months.
and in order to defray his part of the expense, Coleridge on the same afternoon commenced his poem of the Ancient Mariner; in which I was to have borne my part, and a few verses were written by me, and some assistance given in planning the poem;
but our styles agreed so little, that I withdrew from the concern, and he finished it himself.
In the course of that spring I composed many poems, most of which were printed at Bristol, in one volume, by my friend Joseph Cottle, along with Coleridge's Ancient Mariner, and two or three other of his pieces.
In the autumn of 1798, Mr. Coleridge, a friend of his Mr. Chester, my sister, and I, crossed from Yarmouth to Hamburgh, where we remained a few days, and saw, several times, Klopstock the poet. Mr. Coleridge and his friend went to Ratzburg, in the north of Germany, and my sister and I preferred going southward; and for the sake of cheapness, and the neighbourhood of the IIartz Mountains, we spent the winter at the old imperial city of Goslar. The winter was perishingly cold — the coldest of this century; and the good people with whom we lodged told me one morning, that they expected to find me frozen to death, my little sleeping room being immediately over an archway. However, neither my sister nor I took
harm. We returned to England in the following spring, and went to visit our friends the Hutchinsons, at Sockburn-on-Tees, in the county of Durham, with whom we remained till the 19th of December. We then came, on St. Thomas's Day, the 21st, to a small cottage at Town-end, Grasmere, which, in the course of a tour some months previously with Mr.