**** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE **** **** ROTATE ****

Find this Story

Print, a form you can hold

Wireless download to your Amazon Kindle

Look for a summary or analysis of this Story.

Enjoy this? Share it!


Coleridge And Opium-Eating
by [?]

Amongst all the anecdotes, however of this splendid man, often trivial, often incoherent, often unauthenticated, there is one which strikes us as both true and interesting; and we are grateful to Mr. Gillman for preserving it. We find it introduced, and partially authenticated, by the following sentence from Coleridge himself:–‘From eight to fourteen I was a playless day-dreamer, a helluo librorum; my appetite for which was indulged by a singular incident. A stranger, who was struck by my conversation, made me free of a circulating library in King’s Street, Cheapside.’ The more circumstantial explanation of Mr. Gillman is this: `The incident indeed was singular. Going down the Strand, in one of his day-dreams, fancying himself swimming across the Hellespont, thrusting his hands before him as in the act of swimming, his hand came in contact with a gentleman’s pocket. The gentleman seized his hand, turning round, and looking at him with some anger–“What! so young, and yet so wicked?” at the same time accused him of an attempt to pick his pocket. The frightened boy sobbed out his denial of the intention, and explained to him how he thought himself Leander swimming across the Hellespont. The gentleman was so struck and delighted with the novelty of the thing, and with the simplicity and intelligence of the boy, that he subscribed, as before stated, to the library; in consequence of which Coleridge was further enabled to indulge his love of reading.’

We fear that this slovenly narrative is the very perfection of bad story-telling. But the story itself is striking, and, by the very oddness of the incidents, not likely to have been invented. The effect, from the position of the two parties–on the one side, a simple child from Devonshire, dreaming in the Strand that he was swimming over from Sestos to Abydos, and, on the other, the experienced man, dreaming only of this world, its knaves and its thieves, but still kind and generous –is beautiful and picturesque. Oh! si sic omnia!

But the most interesting to us of the personalities connected with Coleridge are his feuds and his personal dislikes. Incomprehensible to us is the war of extermination which Coleridge made upon the political economists. Did Sir James Steuart, in speaking of vine-dressers, (not as vine-dressers, but generally as cultivators,) tell his readers, that, if such a man simply replaced his own consumption, having no surplus whatever or increment for the public capital, he could not be considered a useful citizen? Not the beast in the Revelation is held up by Coleridge as more hateful to the spirit of truth than the Jacobite baronet. And yet we know of an author–viz., one S. T. Coleridge–who repeated that same doctrine without finding any evil in it. Look at the first part of the Wallenstein, where Count Isolani having said, ‘Pooh! we are all his subjects,’ i. e., soldiers, (though unproductive laborers,) not less than productive peasants, the emperor’s envoy replies–‘Yet with a difference, general;’ and the difference implies Sir James’s scale, his vine-dresser being the equatorial case between the two extremes of the envoy. Malthus again, in his population-book, contends for a mathematic difference between animal and vegetable life, in respect to the law of increase, as though the first increased by geometrical ratios, the last by arithmetical! No proposition more worthy of laughter; since both, when permitted to expand, increase by geometrical ratios, and the latter by much higher ratios. Whereas, Malthus persuaded himself of his crotchet simply by refusing the requisite condition in the vegetable case, and granting it in the other. If you take a few grains of wheat, and are required to plant all successive generations of their produce in the same flower-pot for ever, of course you neutralize its expansion by your own act of arbitrary limitation. [Footnote: Malthus would have rejoined by saying–that the flowerpot limitation was the actual limitation of nature in our present circumstances. In America it is otherwise, he would say, but England is the very flowerpot you suppose; she is a flowerpot which cannot be multiplied, and cannot even be enlarged. Very well, so be it (which we say in order to waive irrelevant disputes). But then the true inference will be–not that vegetable increase proceeds under a different law from that which governs animal increase, but that, through an accident of position, the experiment cannot be tried in England. Surely the levers of Archimedes, with submission to Sir Edward B. Lytton, were not the less levers because he wanted the locum standi. It is proper, by the way, that we should inform the reader of this generation where to look for Coleridge’s skirmishings with Malthus. They are to be found chiefly in the late Mr. William Hazlitt’s work on that subject: a work which Coleridge so far claimed as to assert that it had been substantially made up from his own conversation.] But so you would do, if you tried the case of animal increase by still exterminating all but one replacing couple of parents. This is not to try, but merely a pretence of trying, one order of powers against another. That was folly. But Coleridge combated this idea in a manner so obscure, that nobody understood it. And leaving these speculative conundrums, in coming to the great practical interests afloat in the Poor Laws, Coleridge did so little real work, that he left, as a res integra, to Dr. Alison, the capital argument that legal and adequate provision for the poor, whether impotent poor or poor accidentally out of work, does not extend pauperism–no, but is the one great resource for putting it down. Dr. Alison’s overwhelming and experimental manifestations of that truth have prostrated Malthus and his generation for ever. This comes of not attending to the Latin maxim–‘Hoc age’–mind the object before you. Dr. Alison, a wise man, ‘hoc egit:’ Coleridge ‘aliud egit.’ And we see the result. In a case which suited him, by interesting his peculiar feeling, Coleridge could command