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and ocean, and the pleasant evenings, when each read to the other his growing poems; and they together discussed their ambitious schemes for the golden future, receiving the suggestions and approval of the eversympathetic sister and friend. Wordsworth has described this as a “very pleasant and productive time" of his life.
It was during one of the short tours of Wordsworth and Coleridge, with the bright and faithful Dorothy by their side, inspiring and stimulating (the expenses of which tour they desired to defray by writing a poem), that the story of “ The Ancient Mariner" was conceived. Wordsworth has said of it in a passage oftrepeated :
“In the autumn of 1797, Mr. Coleridge, my sister, and myself, started from Alfoxden pretty late in the afternoon, with a view of visiting Linton and the valley of stones near it; and as our united funds were very small, we agreed to defray the expense of the tour by writing a poem, to be sent to the new Monthly Magazine. In the course of this walk was planned the poem of “The Ancient Mariner,' founded on a dream, as Mr. Coleridge said, of his friend, Mr. Cruikshank. Much the greatest part of the story was Mr. Coleridge's invention ; but certain parts I suggested. For example, some crime to be committed, which was to bring upon the Old Navigator, as Coleridge afterwards delighted to call him, the spectral persecution, as a consequence of that crime and his own wanderings. I had been reading in ‘Shelvocke's Voyages,' a day or two before, that, while doubling Cape Horn, they frequently saw albatrosses in that latitude - the largest sort of sea-fowl, some extending their wings 12 or 13 feet. Suppose, said I, you represent him as having killed one of these birds on entering the South Sea, and that the tutelary spirits of these regions take upon them to avenge the crime. The incident was thought fitting for the purpose, and adopted accordingly. I also suggested the navigation of the ship by the dead men; but I do not recollect that I had any thing more to do with the scheme of the poem.”
It was about this time that the Wordsworths made the acquaintance of Hazlitt. He was then staying with Coleridge, who took him over to Alfoxden. Of this visit Hazlitt says:
“Wordsworth himself was from home; but his sister kept house, and set before us a frugal repast; and we had free access to her brother's poems, the lyrical ballads, which were still in manuscript, or in the form of sibylline leaves. I dipped into a few of these with great satisfaction, and with the faith of a novice. I slept that night in an old room, with blue hangings, and covered with the round-faced family portraits, of the age of George I. and II., and from the woody declivity of the adjoining park that overlooked my window, at the dawn of day,
Heard the loud stag speak.' “Next morning, as soon as breakfast was over, we strolled out into the park, and, seating ourselves on the trunk of an old ash tree, that stretched along the ground, Coleridge read aloud, with a sonorous and
musical voice, the ballad of 'Betty Foy. I was not critically or sceptically inclined. I saw touches of truth and nature, and took the rest for granted. But in • The Thorn,' 'The Mad Mother,' and “The Complaint of the Poor Indian Woman,' I felt that deeper power and pathos, which have been since acknowledged,
'In spite of pride, in erring reason's spite,'
as the characteristics of this author, and the sense of a new style and a new spirit in poetry, came over me. It had to me something of the effect that arises from the turning up of the fresh soil, or of the first welcome breath of spring,
“While yet the trembling year is unconfirmed.'
“Coleridge and myself walked back to Stowey that evening, and his voice sounded high,
• Of Providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate;
as we passed through the echoing groves, by fairy stream or waterfall, gleaming in the solemn moonlight. ... We went over to Alfoxden again the day following, and Wordsworth read us the story of Peter Bell' in the open air. There is a chant in the recitation, both of Coleridge and Wordsworth, which acts as a spell upon the hearer, and disarms the judgment. Perhaps they have deceived themselves by making
habitual use of this ambiguous accompaniment. Coleridge's manner is more full, animated, and varied ; Wordsworth's more equable, sustained, and internal. Coleridge has told me that he himself liked to compose in walking over uneven ground, or breaking through the straggling branches of a copsewood, whereas Wordsworth always composed walking up and down a straight gravel walk, or in some spot where the continuity of his verse met with no collateral interruptions. . . . Returning the same evening, I got into a metaphysical argument with Wordsworth, while Coleridge was explaining the different notes of the nightingale to his sister, in which we neither of us succeeded in making ourselves perfectly clear and intelligible.”
This year was also celebrated by an introduction to Charles Lamb (the quaint and gentle-hearted “ Elia") and his excellent sister Mary. Lamb was an old schoolfellow, and a close friend of Coleridge. They had been boys together at the Christ's Hospital, where the sympathy between them had been formed which became a life-long bond. A short emancipation from the toils of the East India House found Lamb and his sister spending a little time with Coleridge at Nether Stowey. From the time of the commencement of the acquaintance of Mary Lamb and Dorothy Wordsworth in this manner, their friendship was constant and their correspondence frequent. While, in temperament, they were totally unlike each other, there was that in the tenor of their lives, in the tender and helpful devotion of each of them to her brother — a devotion in both cases so warmly reciprocated — together with
much in common in their tastes and pursuits, which served to cement a friendship begun under such pleasurable circumstances.
The poem “To my Sister," written in front of Alfoxden, is suggestive of the happy rural life at this time enjoyed by the poet and his sister. What lover of Wordsworth does not remember how on “the first mild day of March," when, to the receptive spirit of the poet, each minute of the advancing, balmy day appeared to be lovelier than the preceding one, while, sauntering on the lawn, he wrote, desiring her to hasten with her household morning duties, and share his enjoyment of the genial sunshine?
“ It is the first mild day of March :
Each minute sweeter than before.
“There is a blessing in the air,
Which seems a sense of joy to yield
And grass in the green field.
“My sister! ('tis a wish of mine),
Now that our morning meal is done,
Come forth and feel the sun.
"" Edward will come with you — and, pray,
Put on with speed your woodland dress;
We'll give to idleness.