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Coleridge And Opium-Eating
by [?]

What is the deadest of things earthly? It is, says the world, ever forward and rash–‘a door-nail!’ But the world is wrong. There is a thing deader than a door-nail, viz., Gillman’s Coleridge, Vol. I. Dead, more dead, most dead, is Gillman’s Coleridge, Vol. I.; and this upon more arguments than one. The book has clearly not completed its elementary act of respiration; the systole of Vol. I. is absolutely useless and lost without the diastole of that Vol. II., which is never to exist. That is one argument, and perhaps this second argument is stronger. Gillman’s Coleridge, Vol. I., deals rashly, unjustly, and almost maliciously, with some of our own particular friends; and yet, until late in this summer, Anno Domini 1844, we–that is, neither ourselves nor our friends–ever heard of its existence. Now a sloth, even without the benefit of Mr. Waterton’s evidence to his character, will travel faster than that. But malice, which travels fastest of all things, must be dead and cold at starting, when it can thus have lingered in the rear for six years; and therefore, though the world was so far right, that people do say, ‘Dead as a door-nail,’ yet, henceforward, the weakest of these people will see the propriety of saying–‘Dead as Gillman’s Coleridge.’

The reader of experience, on sliding over the surface of this opening paragraph, begins to think there’s mischief singing in the upper air. ‘No, reader, not at all. We never were cooler in our days. And this we protest, that, were it not for the excellence of the subject, Coleridge and Opium-Eating, Mr. Gillman would have been dismissed by us unnoticed. Indeed, we not only forgive Mr. Gillman, but we have a kindness for him; and on this account, that he was good, he was generous, he was most forbearing, through twenty years, to poor Coleridge, when thrown upon his hospitality. An excellent thing that, Mr. Gillman, till, noticing the theme suggested by this unhappy Vol. I., we are forced at times to notice its author, Nor is this to be regretted. We remember a line of Horace never yet properly translated, viz:–

‘Nec scutica dignum horribili sectere flagello.’

The true translation of which, as we assure the unlearned reader, is– ‘Nor must you pursue with the horrid knout of Christopher that man who merits only a switching.’ Very true. We protest against all attempts to invoke the exterminating knout; for that sends a man to the hospital for two months; but you see that the same judicious poet, who dissuades an appeal to the knout, indirectly recommends the switch, which, indeed, is rather pleasant than otherwise, amiably playful in some of its little caprices, and in its worst, suggesting only a pennyworth of diachylon.

We begin by professing, with hearty sincerity, our fervent admiration of the extraordinary man who furnishes the theme for Mr. Gillman’s coup-d’essai in biography. He was, in a literary sense, our brother–for he also was amongst the contributors to Blackwood— and will, we presume, take his station in that Blackwood gallery of portraits, which, in a century hence, will possess more interest for intellectual Europe than any merely martial series of portraits, or any gallery of statesmen assembled in congress, except as regards one or two leaders; for defunct major-generals, and secondary diplomatists, when their date is past, awake no more emotion than last year’s advertisements, or obsolete directories; whereas those who, in a stormy age, have swept the harps of passion, of genial wit, or of the wrestling and gladiatorial reason, become more interesting to men when they can no longer be seen as bodily agents, than even in the middle chorus of that intellectual music over which, living, they presided.

Of this great camp Coleridge was a leader, and fought amongst the primipili; yet, comparatively, he is still unknown. Heavy, indeed, are the arrears still due to philosophic curiosity on the real merits, and on the separate merits, of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge as a poet–Coleridge as a philosopher! How extensive are those questions, if those were all! and upon neither question have we yet any investigation–such as, by compass of views, by research, or even by earnestness of sympathy with the subject, can, or ought to satisfy, a philosophic demand. Blind is that man who can persuade himself that the interest in Coleridge, taken as a total object, is becoming an obsolete interest. We are of opinion that even Milton, now viewed from a distance of two centuries, is still inadequately judged or appreciated in his character of poet, of patriot and partisan, or, finally, in his character of accomplished scholar. But, if so, how much less can it be pretended that satisfaction has been rendered to the claims of Coleridge? for, upon Milton, libraries have been written. There has been time for the malice of men, for the jealousy of men, for the enthusiasm, the scepticism, the adoring admiration of men, to expand themselves! There has been room for a Bentley, for an Addison, for a Johnson, for a wicked Lauder, for an avenging Douglas, for an idolizing Chateaubriand; and yet, after all, little enough has been done towards any comprehensive estimate of the mighty being concerned. Piles of materials have been gathered to the ground; but, for the monument which should have risen from these materials, neither the first stone has been laid, nor has a qualified architect yet presented his credentials. On the other hand, upon Coleridge little, comparatively, has yet been written, whilst the separate characters on which the judgment is awaited, are more by one than those which Milton sustained. Coleridge, also, is a poet; Coleridge, also, was mixed up with the fervent politics of his age–an age how memorably reflecting the revolutionary agitations of Milton’s age. Coleridge, also, was an extensive and brilliant scholar. Whatever might be the separate proportions of the two men in each particular department of the three here noticed, think as the reader will upon that point, sure we are that either subject is ample enough to make a strain upon the amplest faculties. How alarming, therefore, for any honest critic, who should undertake this later subject of Coleridge, to recollect that, after pursuing him through a zodiac of splendors corresponding to those of Milton in kind, however different in degree–after weighing him as a poet, as a philosophic politician, as a scholar, he will have to wheel after him into another orbit, into the unfathomable nimbus of transcendental metaphysics. Weigh him the critic must in the golden balance of philosophy the most abstruse–a balance which even itself requires weighing previously, or he will have done nothing that can be received for an estimate of the composite Coleridge. This astonishing man, be it again remembered, besides being an exquisite poet, a profound political speculator, a philosophic student of literature through all its chambers and recesses, was also a circumnavigator on the most pathless waters of scholasticism and metaphysics. He had sounded, without guiding charts, the secret deeps of Proclus and Plotinus; he had laid down buoys on the twilight, or moonlight, ocean of Jacob Boehmen; [Footnote: ‘JACOB BOEHMEN.’ We ourselves had the honor of presenting to Mr. Coleridge, Law’s English version of Jacob–a set of huge quartos. Some months afterwards we saw this work lying open, and one volume at least overflowing, in parts, with the commentaries and the corollaries of Coleridge. Whither has this work, and so many others swathed about with Coleridge’s MS. notes, vanished from the world?] he had cruised over the broad Atlantic of Kant and Schelling, of Fichte and Oken. Where is the man who shall be equal to these things? We at least make no such adventurous effort; or, if ever we should presume to do so, not at present. Here we design only to make a coasting voyage of survey round the headlands and most conspicuous seamarks of our subject, as they are brought forward by Mr. Gi
llman, or collaterally suggested by our own reflections; and especially we wish to say a word or two on Coleridge as an opium-eater.