April 3 1815: Coleridge: These Are Awful Times

On April 3 1815, Samuel Taylor writes to Lady Beaumont. 

April 3, 1815.
Dear Madam, — Should your Ladyship still have among your papers those lines of mine to Mr. Wordsworth after his recitation of the poem on the growth of his own spirit, which you honoured by wishing to take a copy, you would oblige me by enclosing them for me, addressed — ” Mr. Coleridge, Calne, Wilts.” Of “The Excursion,” excluding the tale of the ruined cottage, which I have ever thought the finest poem in our language, comparing it with any of the same or similar length, I can truly say that one half the number of its beauties would make all the beauties of all his contemporary poets collectively mount to the balance : — but yet — the fault may be in my own mind — I do not think, I did not feel, it equal to the work on the growth of his own spirit. As proofs meet me in every part of ” The Excursion ” that the poet’s genius has not flagged, I have sometimes fancied that, having by the conjoint operation of his own experiences, feelings, and reason, himself convinced himself of truths, which the generality of persons have either taken for granted from their infancy, or, at least, adopted in early life, he has attached all their own depth and weight to doctrines and words, which come almost as truisms or commonplaces to others. From this state of mind, in which I was comparing Wordsworth with himself, I was roused by the infamous ” Edinburgh ” review of the poem. If ever guilt lay on a writer’s head, and if malignity, slander, hypocrisy, and self-contradictory baseness can constitute guilt, I dare openly, and openly (please God !) I will, impeach the writer of that article of it.

These are awful times — a dream of dreams! To be a prophet is, and ever has been, an unthankful office. At the Illumination for the Peace I furnished a design for a friend’s transparency — a vulture, with the head of Napoleon, chained to a rock, and Britannia bending down, with one hand stretching out the wing of the vulture, and with the other clipping it with shears, on the one blade of which was written Nelson, on the other Wellington. The motto —

We ‘ve fought for peace, and conquer’d it at last ;
The ravening Vulture’s leg is fetter’d fast.
Britons, rejoice ! and yet be wary too !
The chain may break, the dipt wing sprout anew.

And since I have conversed with those who first returned from France, I have weekly expected the event. Napoleon’s object at present is to embarrass the Allies, and to cool the enthusiasm of their subjects. The latter he unfortunately will be too successful in. In London, my Lady, it is scarcely possible to distinguish the opinions of the people from the ravings and railings of the mob; but in country towns we must be blind not to see the real state of the popular mind. I do not know whether your Ladyship read my letters to Judge Fletcher. I can assure you it is no exaggerated picture of the predominance of Jacobinism. In this small town of Calne five hundred volunteers were raised in the last war. I am persuaded that five could not be raised now. A considerable landowner, and a man of great observation, said to me last week, ” A famine, sir, could scarce have produced more evil than the Corn Bill has done under the present circumstances.” I speak nothing of the Bill itself, except that, after the closest attention and the most sedulous inquiry after facts from landowners, farmers, stewards, millers, and bakers, I am convinced that both opponents and advocates were in extremes, and that an evil produced by many causes was by many remedies to have been cured, not by the universal elixir of one sweeping law.

My poems will be put to press by the middle of June. A number adequate to one volume are already in the hands of my friends at Bristol, under conditions that they are to be published at all events, even though I should not add another volume, which I never had so little reason to doubt. Within the last two days I have composed three poems, containing 500 lines in the whole.

Mr. and Mrs. Morgan present their respective compliments to your Ladyship and Sir George.

I remain, my Lady, your Ladyship’s obliged humble servant,

S. T. Coleridge.

(The image above is by John Tenniel: War and Glory, plate 3)

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