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Coleridge And Opium-Eating
by [?]

Naturally the first point to which we direct our attention, is the history and personal relations of Coleridge. Living with Mr. Gillman for nineteen years as a domesticated friend, Coleridge ought to have been known intimately. And it is reasonable to expect, from so much intercourse, some additions to our slender knowledge of Coleridge’s adventures, (if we may use so coarse a word,) and of the secret springs at work in those early struggles of Coleridge at Cambridge, London, Bristol, which have been rudely told to the world, and repeatedly told, as showy romances, but never rationally explained.

The anecdotes, however, which Mr. Gillman has added to the personal history of Coleridge, are as little advantageous to the effect of his own book as they are to the interest of the memorable character which he seeks to illustrate. Always they are told without grace, and generally are suspicious in their details. Mr. Gillman we believe to be too upright a man for countenancing any untruth. He has been deceived. For example, will any man believe this? A certain ‘excellent equestrian’ falling in with Coleridge on horseback, thus accosted him– ‘Pray, Sir, did you meet a tailor along the road?’ ‘A tailor!’ answered Coleridge; ‘I did meet a person answering such a description, who told me he had dropped his goose; that if I rode a little further I should find it; and I guess he must have meant you.‘ In Joe Miller this story would read, perhaps, sufferably. Joe has a privilege; and we do not look too narrowly into the mouth of a Joe-Millerism. But Mr. Gillman, writing the life of a philosopher, and no jest-book, is under a different law of decorum. That retort, however, which silences the jester, it may seem, must be a good one. And we are desired to believe that, in this case, the baffled assailant rode off in a spirit of benign candor, saying aloud to himself, like the excellent philosopher that he evidently was, ‘Caught a Tartar!’

But another story of a sporting baronet, who was besides a Member of Parliament, is much worse, and altogether degrading to Coleridge. This gentleman, by way of showing off before a party of ladies, is represented as insulting Coleridge by putting questions to him on the qualities of his horse, so as to draw the animal’s miserable defects into public notice, and then closing his display by demanding what he would take for the horse ‘including the rider.’ The supposed reply of Coleridge might seem good to those who understand nothing of true dignity; for, as an impromptu, it was smart and even caustic. The baronet, it seems, was reputed to have been bought by the minister; and the reader will at once divine that the retort took advantage of that current belief, so as to throw back the sarcasm, by proclaiming that neither horse nor rider had a price placarded in the market at which any man could become their purchaser. But this was not the temper in which Coleridge either did reply, or could have replied. Coleridge showed, in the spirit of his manner, a profound sensibility to the nature of a gentleman; and he felt too justly what it became a self-respecting person to say, ever to have aped the sort of flashy fencing which might seem fine to a theatrical blood.

Another story is self-refuted: ‘A hired partisan’ had come to one of Coleridge’s political lectures with the express purpose of bringing the lecturer into trouble; and most preposterously he laid himself open to his own snare by refusing to pay for admission. Spies must be poor artists who proceed thus. Upon which Coleridge remarked–‘That, before the gentleman kicked up a dust, surely he would down with the dust.’ So far the story will not do. But what follows is possible enough. The same‘hired’ gentleman, by way of giving unity to the tale, is described as having hissed. Upon this a cry arose of ‘Turn him out!’ But Coleridge interfered to protect him; he insisted on the man’s right to hiss if he thought fit; it was legal to hiss; it was natural to hiss; ‘for what is to be expected, gentlemen, when the cool waters of reason come in contact with red-hot aristocracy, but a hiss?’ Euge!