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Motives to the present work-Reception of the Author's first publication
Discipline of his taste at school—Effect of contemporary writers on youthful minds—Bowles's Sonnets-Comparison between the poets before and since Pope.
It has been my lot to have had my name introduced both in conversation and in print more frequently than I find it easy to explain, whether I consider the fewness, unimportance, and limited circulation of my writings, or the retirement and distance, in which I have lived, both from the literary and political world. Most often has it been connected with some charge which I could not acknowledge, or some principle which I had never enter. tained. Nevertheless, had I had no other motive or incitement, the reader would not have been troubled with this exculpation. What my additional purposes were, will be seen in the following pages. It will be found that the least of what I have written concerns myself personally. I have used the narration chiefly for the purpose of giving a continuity to the work, in part for the sake of miscellaneous reflections suggested to me by particular events, but still more as introductory to a statement of my prin. ciples in Politics, Religion, and Philosophy, and an application of the rules, deduced from philosophical principles, to poetry and criticism. But of the objects which I proposed to myself, it was not the least important to effect, as far as possible, a settlement of the long continued controversy concerning the true nature of poetic diction; and at the same time to define with the utmost impartiality the real poetic character of the poet, by .whose writings this controversy was first kindled, and has been since fuelled and fanned.'
In the spring of 1796, when I had but little passed the verge of manhood, I published a small volume of juvenile poems.' They were received with a degree of favor, which, young as I was, I well know was bestowed on them not so much for any positive meril, as because they were considered buds of hope, and promises of better works to come. The critics of that day, the most flattering, equally with the severest, concurred in objecting to them obscurity, a general turgidness of diction, and a profusion of new coined double epithets. The first is the fault
1 [The first volume of the Lyrical Ballads was published in the sumn.er of 1798, by Mr. Joseph Cottle, of Bristol, who purchased the copyright for thirty guiness. That copyright was afterwards transferred with others to Messrs. Longman and Co. And it is related by Mr. Cottle, that in estimating the value, the Lyrical Ballads were reckoned as nothing by the head of that firm. This copyright was subsequently given back to Mr. Cottle, and by him restored to Mr. Wordsworth. Would that he and his might hold it for ever!
The second volume, with Mr. Wordsworth’s Preface, appeared in 1800. Ed.]
2 [This volume was published by Mr. Cottle at Bristol in the Spring of 1796, in conjunction with the Messrs. Robinson in London. It contained fifty-one small pieces, of which the best known at the present day are the Religious Musings, Monody on Chatterton, Song of the Pixies, and the exquisite lines written at Clevedon, beginning, “ My pensive Sara, &c.” To this poem Mr. Coleridge many years afterwards added the magnificent passage
O the one life within us and abroad,
and the mute still air Is Music slumbering on her instrument.
Poet. Works, i., p. 191. He was then twenty-three years and a half old. Ed.]
3 The authority of Milton and Shakspeare may be usefully pointed out to young authors. In the Comus and other early poems of Milton there is a superfluity of double epithets; while in the Paradise Lost we find very few, in the Paradise Regained scarce any. The same remark holds almost equally true of the Love's Labor Lost, Romeo and Juliet, Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece, compared with the Lear, Macbeth, Othello, and
which a writer is the least able to detect in his own compositions: and my mind was not then sufficiently disciplined to receive the authority of others, as a substitute for my own conviction. Satisfied that the thoughts, such as they were, could not have been expressed otherwise, or at least more perspicu ously, I forgot to inquire, whether the thoughts themselves did not demand a degree of attention unsuitable to the nature and objects of poetry. This remark however applies chiefly, though not exclusively, to the Religious Musings. The remainder of the charge I admitted to its full extent, and not without sincere acknowledgments both to my private and public censors for their friendly admonitions. In the after editions, I pruned the double epithets with no sparing hand, and used my best efforts to tame the swell and glitter both of thought and diction; though in truth, these parasite plants of youthful poetry had insi.
Hamlet of our great Dramatist. The rule for the admission of double epithets seems to be this : either that they should be already denizens of our language, such as blood-stained, terror-stricken, self-applauding; or when a new epithet, or one found in books only, is hazarded, that it, at least, be one word, not two words made one by mere virtue of the printer's hyphen. A language which, like the English, is almost without cases, is indeed in its very genius unfitted for compounds. If a writer, every time a compounded word suggests itself to him, would seek for some other mode of expressing the same sense, the chances are always greatly in favor of his finding a better word. Ut tanquam scopulum sic fugias insolens verbum, is the wise advice of Cæsar to the Roman Orators,* and the precept applies with double force to the writers in our own language. But it must not be forgotten, that the same Cæsar wrote a Treatiset for the purpose of reforming the ordinary language by bringing it to a greater accordance with the principles of logic or universal grammar. * [The second edition appeared in May, 1797, with the same publishers'
Upwards of twenty of the pieces contained in the first edition were omitted in this, and ten new poems were added. Amongst these latter were the Dedication to his brother, the Reverend George Coleridge, the Ode on the Departing Year, and the Reflections op having left a place of Retirement. (Poet. Works, i.) The volume comprised poems by Lamb and Lloyd, and on the title page was printed the prophetic aspiration :Duplex novis vinculum, et amicitiæ junctarumque Camænarum ;-quoa utinam neque mors solvat ; neque temporis longinquitas! Ed ]
*[The expression is so given by A. Gellius (Noct. Att. i., 10). Macrobius says, infrequens atque insolens verbum. (Saturn. i., 5.) Ed.]
*De Analogia Libri duo, the first of which contained the precept above mentioned
nuated themselves into my longer poems with such intricacy of union, that I was often obliged to omit disentangling the weed, from the fear of snapping the flower. From that pe. riod to the date of the present work I have published nothing, with my name, which could by any possibility have come before the board of anonymous criticism. Even the three or four poems, printed with the works of a friend,' as far as they were censured at all, were charged with the same or similar defects (though I am persuaded not with equal justice),—with an excess of ornament, in addition to strained and elaborate diction. I must be permitted to add, that, even at the early period of my juvenile poems, I saw and admitted the superiority of an aus. terer and more natural style, with an insight not less clear than I at present possess. My judgment was stronger than were my powers of realizing its dictates; and the faults of my language, though indeed partly owing to a wrong choice of subjects, and the desire of giving a poetic coloring to abstract and metaphysi. cal truths, in which a new world then seemed to open upon me, did yet, in part likewise, originate in unfeigned diffidence of my own comparative talent.--During several years of my youth and early manhood, I reverenced those who had re-introduced ihe manly simplicity of the Greek, and of our own elder poets, with such enthusiasm as made the hope seem presumptuous of writing successfully in the same style. Perhaps a similar cess has happened to others; but my earliest poems were marked
5 [This is certainly not strictly accurate, if the date of the publication of the Biographia (1817) be taken as the period intended. The Remorse appeared in 1813, and Christabel in 1816. Zapolya, the two Lay Sermons, and the Sibylline Leaves, all came out nearly contemporaneously with this work. I believe the fact to be, that Mr. Coleridge wrote the passage in the text several years before 1817, and never observed the mis-statement which the lapse of time had caused at the date of publication. The first Essays of The Friend, indeed, came out in 1809; but he probably did not consider them as constituting a published work in the ordinary sense of the term. Ed.]
6 See the criticisms on the Ancient Mariner, in the Monthly and Critical Reviews of the first volume of the Lyrical Ballads•*
('The first volume of the Lyrical Ballads contained The Ancient Mariner, Love, The Nightingale, and The Foster-Mother's Tale. Ed.
by an ease and simplicity, which I have studied, perhaps with inferior success, to impress on my later compositions.
At school (Christ's Hospital), I enjoyed the inestimable advantage of a very sensible, though at the same time, a very severe master, the Reverend James Bowyer." He early moulded my *aste to the preference of Demosthenes to Cicero, of Homer and Theocritus to Virgil, and again of Virgil to Ovid. He habituated me to compare Lucretius (in such extracts as I then read), Terence, and above all the chaster poems of Catullus, not only with the Roman poets of the, so called, silver and brazen ages; but with even those of the Augustan era: and on grounds of plain sense and universal logic to see and assert the superiority of the former in the truth and nativeness both of their thoughts and diction. At the same time that we were studying the Greek tragic poets, he made us read Shakspeare and Milton as lessons: and they were the lessons too, which required most time and trouble to bring up, so as to escape his censure. I learned from him, that poetry, even that of the loftiest, and, seemingly, that of the wildest odes, had a logic of its own, as severe as that of science; and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more and more fugitive causes. In the truly great poets, he would say, there is a reason assignable, not only for every word, but for the position of every word ; and I well remember that, availing himself of the synonymes to the Homer of Didymus, he made us attempt to show, with regard to each, why it would not have answered the same purpose ; and wherein consisted the peculiar fitness of the word in the original text.
In our own English compositions (at least for the last three years of our school education), he showed no mercy to phrase, metaphor, or image, unsupported by a sound sense, or where the same sense might have been conveyed with equal force and dignity in plainer words. Lute, harp, and lyre, Muse, Muses,
(See the Table Talk, p. 185, 2d edit,, and Lamb's exquisite essay, Christ's Hospital five and thirty years ago. Prose Works, ii. p. 26. Ed.]
8 This is worthy of ranking as a maxim (regula maxima) of criticism. Whatever is translatable in other and simpler words of the same language, without loss of sense or dignity, is bad. N.B. By dignity I mean the absence of ludicrous and debasing associations.