Изображения страниц

of Marat and Robespierre, and he fled from the hell that existed in Paris to the quietness of his own country. He was changed; he had at last seen Republicanism and Revolution in their true, if most dreadful, forms, and gradually he renounced all sympathy with such movements, and fell into the peaceful stillness of Toryism. It was not done at once ; the agitation for liberty and equality had been too great not to produce a firm impression on him, but the influence of his sister Dorothy, and the quiet of his native mountains at length brought him back to an orderly state of mind. The morbid fancies which had dwelt within him for the last seven or eight years slowly passed away, and left him free to devote more time and thought to the prosecution of his poetic studies.

In 1795, Raisley Calvert, a man who was one of Words. WORTH's best and most intimate friends, died, and left the poet £900, in order that he might devote his time to the

WORDSWORTH was not rich, his father had died intestate, and there is very little doubt that the money necessary for his continental and other tours had been ad. vanced—or rather given to him by Calvert. The legacy came in at a very opportune moment. The poet was un. settled; the heat of his slowly dying Republican sentiments unfitted him for any profession, and his prospects looked dark and gloomy. His friend's legacy, however, made things seem brighter; it afforded him, in fact, the means of living. “Upon the interest of this £900,” he says, £400 being laid out in annuity, with £200 deducted from the principal, and £100 a legacy of my sister, and £100 more which the Lyrical Ballads brought me, my sister and I contrived to live for nearly eight years." А sum of £ 1000 came to him sometime afterwards as part of his father's estate.


[ocr errors]

In the autumn of 1795 the poet and his sister went to live at Racedown Lodge, near Crewkerne, on the borders of Wilts. There they became acquainted with that strange character and wonderful man, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was just then staying at the house of his friend, Mr. Poole, of Stowey, some twenty miles away. Coleridge was endeavouring in these districts to forget the disastrous fate of his journal, The Watchman, which had just died a natural death, after a fitful existence of a few weeks. He had made Mr. Poole's acquaintance while wandering about Somersetshire, and had come to stay with him after having resided for various short periods of time at Clevedon, at Redcliff Hill, and at Kingsdown. Mr. Poole introduced the disappointed one to the poet who was then living at Racedown, and thus was commenced a most remarkable friendship, not only in social, but in literary respects. Soon after the introduction, Coleridge accepted an invitation from his new friend to stay at Racedown.

WORDSWORTH was just then busy with a tragedy, of which he himself had formed great ideas, but of which one never hears anything now. He fancied it was to make him famous, for he considered it to be good. And yet anyone who has made a study of WORDSWORTH and his work, knows that very few more unsuitable people could be found to write a tragedy than he. His mind was too immoveable, his genius was too stately to fall in with anything in which poetry and thought would have necessarily to be fettered by stage directions and dramatic conventionalities. But like many other poets, WORDSWORTH thought he could write a tragedy, and besides this, he had an overweening desire to see it produced on the boards of a London theatre. Coleridge seemed a most suitable person to give an opinion as to its chances of acceptance by a

manager, and to him, accordingly, The Borderers was submitted.

It happened that when WORDSWORTH told Coleridge of the work on which he was then engaged, the latter informed his host that he too was writing a tragedy, and hastened to lay the manuscript before him. Thus both bards were simultaneously examining each other's work. Coleridge was struck with WORDSWORTH's dramatic venture, and in writing to Cottle, the bookseller at Bristol, eulogized it in high terms. “I speak,” said he, “ with absolute sincerity, and, I think, unblinded judgment, when I tell you that I feel myself a little man by his side, and yet I do not feel myself a less man than I formerly thought myself.” After this glowing tribute it does not surprise one to hear that Coleridge got an introduction for WORDSWORTH's work to Harris, the manager of the Covent Garden Theatre, who promised to give its production his early and best attention. The Borderers, however, was rejected by the managers, and we hear very little more about it.

The uneasy Samuel Taylor removed to Stowey in 1797, and there located himself with his wife--for he was already married-in a little cottage surrounded by flowers and covered with ivyand jasmine. WORDSWORTH wished to be near him, for the two men suited each other, and he accordingly went with his sister to Alsoxden, a pretty village close by. It is probable that this period of Coleridge's life was the happiest he ever knew. He was passionately attached to his wife, to his child, the boy Hartley, and he had all the friends that he cared for close to him. Charles Lamb and Charles Lloyd, then young men, were often with him, and William and Dorothy Wordsworth were constantly by his fireside. Thither, too, came Cottle, the bookseller,

of Bristol, who, in his reminiscences, has left some record of the happiness that hung over that company, one of whom, at least, was afterwards a prey to much mental anguish and misery. Writing long after, he says :“While the dappled sunbeams played on our table through the umbrageous canopy, (they were sitting, Cottle, Wordsworth, Lamb, Lloyd, &c., with Coleridge, in his garden), the very birds seemed to participate in our felicities, and poured forth their selectest anthems. As we sat in our sylvan hall of splendour, a company of the happiest mortals, the bright blue heavens, the sporting insects, the balmy zephyrs, the feathered choristers, the sympathy of friends, all augmented the pleasurable to the highest point this side the celestial. While thus elevated in the universal current of our feelings, Mrs. Coleridge approached with her fine Hartley; we all smiled, but the father's eye beamed transcendental joy. But all things have an end! Yet pleasant it is for memory to treasure up in her choicest depository a few such scenes (those sunny spots in existence) on which the spirit may repose when the rough adverse winds shake and disfigure all besides.”

WORDSWORTH and Coleridge were strange characters in the eyes of the rustics by whom they were surrounded. They were regarded by the illiterate portion of the community as smugglers, or, at any rate, as persons who required the eye of the law keeping on them. The better class considered them to be Jacobins, and a neighbouring magistrate employed a detective, who was the possessor of a very prominent nose, to watch them. One day the two poets were seated near the sea conversing on congenial subjects, all unaware that the detective was close behind them, hidden by an overhanging bank, and eagerly listen. ing to every word that fell from their lips. Coleridge

[ocr errors]

happened to speak of Spinoza. The detective,-spy, he would be called in those days, -always on the qui vive, and specially sensitive as to his personal appearance, imagined that he was discovered, and that these two conspirators had bestowed on him the appellation of “Spy Nosy." He grew furious to think that his importance should be set at so little value, but he calmed down on discovering that Spinoza was a man who "lived many a year ago and wrote books.” He could find nothing to accuse the poets of, and therefore reported favourably to the gentleman who had retained his services, and who was intensely disgusted at this poor outcome of his patriotic schemes. The two men, WORDSWORTH and Coleridge, however, were so much distrusted by the neighbouring magnates, that the landlord of Alfoxden House refused to allow the former, on the expiration of his lease, to live there longer.

During all these political adventures, which were no doubt very amusing to the iwo suspects, Wordsworth and Coleridge had been engaged on the Lyrical Ballads. Their intention was to give to the world a collection of poems of two orders,--the first devoted to supernatural incidents and relations; the second to things of ordinary lise. Coleridge was, of course, to undertake the supernatural division; WORDSWORTH looked after the more common-place, and, perhaps, less attractive part of the work. Cottle had had various parts of the book read to him while in manuscript, and he earnestly advised its publication. He had published a volume of Southey's, and he no doubt thought he would make himself somewhat famous by ushering so excellent a triumvirate of bards before the world. WORDSWORTH did not care for publication, he rather objected ; but at last he consented, and the putting forth of the Lyrical Ballads was arranged under the

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »