Abbildungen der Seite

for London with a party of collegians, and passed a short time in the gaieties of the metropolis. On his return to Cambridge he remained but a few days, and then left it for ever. He again came to London, and after wandering about the streets in a state of mind approaching to frenzy, enlisted in the 15th Dragoons, under the name of Comberback. Of this singular incident in the life of our poet, the following authentic account, by the poet Bowles, appeared in The Times of August 13th, 1834.

“Sir,-In your paper of the 5th instant, the following passage occurs, quoted from a literary journal (The Athenæum), respecting a singular incident in the early life of the late Mr. Coleridge.

“We have reason to believe that during the early part of his life he enlisted as a common soldier in the dragoons. Of course he did not remain long in the service. Perhaps his then democratical feelings made his officers willing to get rid of him ; perhaps, which is a fact, he could not be taught to ride.'

• Upon this singular fact, or what might be called, in the metaphysician's own language, psychological curiosity,' I trespass for a minute on your time and paper, as I am, perhaps, the only person now living who can explain all the circumstances from Mr. Coleridge's own mouth, with whom I became acquainted after a sonnet addressed to me in his poems; moreover, being intimate from our school days, and at Oxford, with the very officer in his regiment who alone procured his discharge, from whom also I heard the facts after Coleridge became known as a poet.

“ The regiment was the 15th, Elliot's Light Dragoons; the officer was Nathaniel Ogle, eldest son of Dr. Newton Ogle, Dean of Winchester, and brother of the late Mrs. Sheridan; he was a scholar; and leaving Merton College,

[ocr errors]

he entered this regiment as a cornet. Some years afterwards, I believe he was then captain of Coleridges' troop, going into the stables, at Reading, he remarked, written on the white wall, under one of the saddles, in large pencil characters, the following sentence, in Latin

'Eheu! quam infortunii miserimum est fuisse felicem !'

Being struck with the circumstance, and himself a scholar, Captain Ogle inquired of a soldier whether he knew to whom the saddle belonged. Please your honour, to Comberback,' answered the dragoon, Comberback!' said the captain, “send him to me.'

Comberback presented himself, with the inside of his hand in front of his cap. His officer mildly said, Comberback, did you write the Latin sentence which I have just read under your saddle ?—Please your honour,' answered the soldier, 'I wrote it.'— Then, my lad, you are not what you appear to be. I shall speak to the commanding officer, and you may depend on my speaking as a friend.' The commanding officer, I think, was General Churchill. Comberback* was examined, and it was found out, that having left Jesus College, Cambridge, and being in London without resources, he had enlisted in this regiment. He was soon discharged—not from his democratical feelings, for whatever those feelings might be, as a soldier he was remarkably orderly and obedient, though he could not rub down his own horse. He was discharged from respect to his friends and his station. His friends having been informed of his situation, a chaise was soon at the door of the Bear Inn, Reading, and the officers of the 15th cordially shaking his hands, particularly the officer who had been the means of his discharge, he drove off, not without a tear in his eye, whilst his old companions of the tap-room* gave him three hearty cheers as the wheels.rapidly rolled away along the Bath road to London and Cambridge.

* When he enlisted he was asked his name. He hesitated, but saw the name of Comberback over a shop door near Westminsterbridge, and instantly said his name was “Comberback."-Note by Bowles.

“Having seen the extract mentioned, I communicate this more correct account, which you may publish with or without a name; and I am, &c.

WILLIAM L. Bowles." In 1794, Coleridge published a small volume of poems; they were praised by the critics of the day.

At this time the recent French Revolution had intoxicated most of the enthusiastic minds of Europe. Coleridge did not escape the infection. He had, in 1792, become acquainted with Southey, who, with a third poet and Utopian, Mr. R. Lovell, were equally full of enthusiasm in the cause of ideal freedom, and the regeneration of mankind. They proposed founding a society in the wilds of America, under the name of “ Pantisocracy,” where all the evils of European society were to be remedied, property was to be in common, and every man a legislator. To forward these views, Coleridge, in the winter of 1794-5, delivered, at Bristol, a course of lectures on the French Revolution ; they were well received and much applauded. About the same time Southey and he wrote a drama, entitled, The Fall of Robespierre; they began it one evening at 7 o'clock, finished by 12 o'clock noon the following day, and got it printed and published on the next day. In 1795, Coleridge published two pam

* It should be mentioned, that by far the most correct, sublime, chaste, and beautiful of his poems, meo judicio," Religious Musings,' was written, non inter sylvas academi, but in the tap-room at Reading. A fine subject for a painting by Wilkie.-Note by Bowles.

phlets; one, Conciones ad Populum, or Addresses to the People; and, A Protest against certain Bills (then pending) for Suppressing Seditious Meetings. To further their scheme of emigration, the three poets married three sisters of the name of Fricker: however, the project was abandoned ; Southey quietly settled himself as law-student in Gray's Inn; and Coleridge and his wife went to reside at Nether Stowey; where he first became acquainted with Wordsworth.

When Coleridge married Miss Sarah Fricker, he was without a profession, or means adequate to support a wife and family. To procure this, and diffuse the political principles then held by him and his friends, he was persuaded, while residing at Nether Stowey, in 1796, to start a magazine. Of this ill-judged and ruinous speculation, he has given an amusing account in his Literary Life. “ Toward the close of the first year from the time, that, in an inauspicious hour, I left the friendly cloisters, and the happy grove of quiet, ever honoured Jesus College, Cambridge, I was persuaded by sundry philanthropists and anti-polemists to set on foot a periodical work, entitled The Watchman, that (according to the general motto of the work) all might know the truth, and that the truth might make us free! In order to exempt it from the stamp-tax, and likewise to contribute as little as possible to the supposed guilt of a war against freedom, it was to be published on every eighth day, thirty-two pages, large octavo, closely printed, and price only FOURPENCE. Accordingly, with a flaming prospectus, •Knowledge is Power,' &c. to try the state of the political atmosphere, and so forth, I set off on a tour to the north, from Bristol to Sheffield, for the purpose of procuring customers ; preaching by the way in most of the great towns, as a hireless volunteer, in a blue coat and white

[ocr errors]

waistcoat, that not a rag of the woman of Babylon might be seen on me. For I was at that time, and long after, though a Trinitarian (i. e. ad norman Platonis) in philosophy, yet a zealous Unitarian in religion ; more accurately, I was a Psilanthropist, one of those who believe our Lord to have been the real son of Joseph, and who lay the main stress on the resurrection rather than on the crucifixion. O! never can I remember those days with either shame or regret. For I was most sincere, most disinterested! My opinions were indeed, in many, and most important points, erroneous; but my heart was single. Wealth, rank, life itself then seemed cheap to me, compared with the interests of (what I believed to be) the truth, and the will of my Maker. I cannot even accuse myself of having been actuated by vanity; for in the expansion of my enthusiasm I did not think of myself at all.

“My campaign commenced at Birmingham; and my first attack was on a rigid Calvinist, a tallow-chandler by trade. He was a tall, dingy man, in whom length was so predominant over breadth, that he might almost have been borrowed for a foundry poker. O, that face! a face xar' Ejepaow! I have it before me at this moment. The lank, black, twine-like hair, pingui-nitescent, cut in a strait line above the black stubble of his thin gunpowder eye-brows, that looked like a scorched after-math from a last week's shaving. His coat collar behind in perfect unison, both of colour and lustre, with the coarse, yet glib cordage, that I suppose he called his hair, and which with a bend inward at the nape of the neck, (the only approach to flexure in his whole figure) slunk in behind his waistcoat; while the countenance lank, dark, very hard, and with strong perpendicular furrows, gave me a dim notion of some one looking at me through a used

« ZurückWeiter »