October 22 1815: Coleridge Responds to Byron

On October 22 1815, Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes to Lord Byron a long, long letter. Coleridge discusses how he came to write Christabel. He also refers, in his words, to “another Poem entitled, the Wanderings of Cain – of which, however, as far as it was written, I have unfortunately lost the only Copy – and can remember no part distinctly but the first stanza.”  He favours Byron with the first stanza.

My Lord The Christabel, which you have mentioned in so obliging a manner, was composed by me in the 1797 – I should say, that the plan of the whole poem was formed and the first Book and half of the second were finished – and it was not till after my return from Germany in the year 1800 that I resumed it – and finished the second and a part of the third Book. – This is all that Mr. W. Scott can have seen. Before I went to Malta, I heard from Lady Beaumont, I know not whether more gratified or more surprized, that Mr Scott had recited the Christabel and expressed no common admiration. – What occurred after my return from Italy, and what the disgusts were (most certainly not originating in my own opinion or decision) that indisposed me to the completion of the Poem, I will not trouble your Lordship with. – It is not yet <whole> {a Whole:} and as it will be 5 Books, I meant to publish it by itself: or with another Poem entitled, the Wanderings of Cain – of which, however, as far as it was written, I have unfortunately lost the only Copy – and can remember no part distinctly but the first stanza: –

Encinctur’d with a twine of Leaves,
That leafy Twine his only Dress!
A lovely Boy was plucking fruits
In a moon-light Wilderness.
The Moon was bright, the Air was free,
And Fruits and Flowers together grew
On many a Shrub and many a Tree:
And all put on a gentle Hue
Hanging in the shadowy Air
Like a Picture rich and rare.
It was a Climate where, they say,
The Night is more belov’d than Day.
But who that beauteous Boy beguil’d,
That beauteous Boy to linger here?
Alone, by night, a little Child,
In place so silent and so wild –
Has he no Friend, no loving Mother near?

Sir G. Beaumont, I remember, thought it the most impressive of my compositions – & I shall probably compose it over again. – A Lady is now transcribing the Christabel, in the form and as far as it existed before my voyage to the Mediterranean<:> I hope to inclose it for your Lordship’s gracious acceptance tomorrow or next day. I have not learnt with what motive Wordsworth omitted the original avertisement prefixed to his White Doe, that the peculiar metre and mode of narration he had imitated from the Christabel. For this is indeed the same metre, as far as the Law extends – the metre of the Christabel not being irregular, as Southey’s Thalaba {or} Kehama, or Scott’s Poems, but uniformly measured by four Beats in each Line. In other words, I count by Beats or accents instead of syllables – in the belief that a metre might be thus produced {sufficiently} uniform & far more malleable to the Passion & Meaning. I was much gratified, I confess, by what your Lordship has said of this Poem, the Love, and the Ancient Mariner, but I was far more affected, and received a far deeper & more abiding pleasure from the kindness with which in the following ∫∫ you have conveyed to me the Regrets of many concerning “the want of Inclination and Exertion which prevented me from giving full scope to my mind.” Before God & my own Consci{ence} I dare judge myself by no other rule, than the nihil actum si quid agendum – the limit of our faculties is the limit of our Duties. But by men I ought to be judged comparatively, i.e. with others possessing {at least} equal powers & acquirements. To think of myself at all except representatively & for psychological purposes was new to me; but to think of myself comparatively was not only new but strange. Yet the Report had done me such exceeding Injury, such substantial Wrong – and had besides been published in the broadest language in the Ed. Annual Register, the Ed. Review, the Quarterly Review, and other minors of the same family, that I felt myself bound in duty to myself and my children to notice & approve it’s falsehood. This I have done at full in the Autobiography now in the Press: as far as delicacy permitted. – But what I could or at least would not discuss in public, ought to have been taken into consideration by those who have circulated the opinion in private. – No one of my bitterest Censors have ever charged my writings with triviality; but on the contrary, they have been described as over elaborate, obscure, paradoxical, oversubtle &c – and I know myself, that I have written nothing without as much effort as I should or could have employed whatever had been the Subject –. Yet if my published Works, omitting too all that is merely temporary, were collected, they would amount to at least 8 considerable Octavo Volumes – if I should have any moderate Success at Drury Lane, the ensuing year will at least give a proof of what I have been doing for the last 10 years, exclusive of what I have done. My Logosophia may be confuted or confirmed, valued or deemed useless; but I dare affirm, that no intelligent judge will deny that the Treatises must have been the product of intense and continued Effort both in Thought and in systematic Reading. – Still however the question returns – why has not some one Work already been produced, some thing that may be referred to? – And it is this, my Lord! which delicacy forbad me to answer in a public work – But in private & to my friends I would ask in return: Has there been {during} the {whole} of my Life since my return from Germany in 1800 a single half year, nay, any three months, in which I possessed the means of devoting myself exclusively to any one of many works, that it would have been my Delight & hourly pleasure to have executed? So help me God! never one! – At all times I have been forced in bitterness of Soul to turn off from the pursuits of my choice to earn the week’s food by the week’s Labor for the Newspapers & the like.169 At this very time I should have had not only the Tragedy ready for presen-tation, but two other pieces, the one a musical opera on a most interesting plot & characters, and which I had framed and (as far as I have gone) executed con amore, and in the belief that if there be any one quality in which I could excel, it would be in the sweetness of lyrical metres as adapted to vocal music – the other, I cannot call it a Pantomime but a Hemimime – a sort of splendid speaking Pantomime. – Now, my Lord! were it known what I have been obliged to do weekly, now writing Sermons, now articles for a provincial Paper – in short, almost any thing that is {not dis}honorable – (for I write no Reviews) – it would be in a kind mind rather {exceed} than fall short of expectation that I have done even what I have done, towards something less temporary. My Lord! I will honestly tell you, that at this very time within a fortnight of this very date, instead of sending Mr Kinnaird the first act of my intended Merchant King, or the King & the Beggar, I could send the whole Play – & Mr Kinnaird’s kind Communication of his Plan & my Confidence in his Candor, would strongly dispose me to remit it entire with the reasons, which long reflection has suggested to me, why I entertain fears concerning the success of his Plan – several parts of which had occurred to me, & some had been begun upon, but afterwards rejected. – But in the mean time I am almost compelled to write as much in point of paper at least, on the Duke of Wellington, Mr —— Picture Gallery, & the Lord knows what, in order to procure 15£,170 as the completion of my engagement, and it’s ultimate reward! – even if I could procure as much as fifteen pound. – Excuse my apparent Warmth, my Lord! – but I felt a desire to let you know the whole truth in proportion as your kindness inspired a wish to gain your esteem of me as a man. If, my Lord! you were not yourself a Committee–man, I should have ventured to say to the Committee of D[rury]. L[ane]. – Simply enable me to do it – & I will pledge my Honor & my Existence, that, if I live, I will present to you a Tragedy by the beginning of December, and a Romantic Comic Opera by February – and in the interim correspond with Mr Dibdin on the subject of a sort of Pantomime, on which I long ago conversed with him. – But at all events, I will rest your Lordship’s opinion on the ground{ed}ness of this Self-defence on the presentation of {the} Tragedy by the beginning of December –. I have written to Miss Hudson; but merely as from myself – not exciting Hopes which may not be gratified – I trust, your Lordship will excuse this I myself I Scrawl from your Lordship’s obliged S.T.Coleridge

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