« 前へ次へ »
on his return home, he was unable to catch the thread of his narrative; consequently, the story is but half told. He offers no better apology for all the unfinished fragments contained in his poetic collections, entitled, Sybiline Leaves. Every one of Coleridge's productions has been left incomplete, through mere indolence. It unfortunately happened, that while he attended the German universities, his enthusiastic imagination imbibed the contagion of that philosophic and religious mysticism, which, like a cloud, envelopes the greater portion of his writings, and often renders the brilliant flashes of his genius less vivid than they would otherwise be. This obscurity is particularly remarkable in his prose. Coleridge is said to be the only man who has thoroughly understood Kant and Fichte ; but, it is to be regretted, that that advantage should sometimes have the effect of rendering his own writings unintelligible. Madame de Staël, while she has explained Kant, according to her own ideas, has, at least, written in a way to be understood; but Coleridge seems only to have added the impenetrable veil of his own theories to those of the German philosopher. Coleridge's reputation long rested on the hopes excited by his youthful genius, or on the exaggerated praises bestowed by his admirers on certain poems, which, it was affirmed, would astonish the world, but which, eventually, proved to be mere abortions. He is now praised, not for what he will do, but for what he might do. He has, however, now in his portfolio, a work on which high expectations are founded. This is, his Lectures on Shakspeare. Those who have read them, speak with contempt of Schlegel's lectures. Coleridge, it appears, possesses, in an eminent degree, the charm of extempore composition, and even his ordinary conversation displays beautiful effusions of eloquence. He should always have a shorthand writer at his side, to note down his brilliant inspirations. Henry B has had the good fortune to hear Coleridge preach (for he has travelled as a missionary), deliver lectures on poetry and political prophecies, and, in fine, he has been happy enough to hear him in familiar conversation. Coleridge had, at one time, a sort of disciple, who, unfortunately, was not a Boswell. Instead of the active admiration of Johnson's biographer, John Chester could only listen to his master and give him verbal assurances of ecstacy. I subjoin a quotation from another of his admirers. Pray do not suppose that I concur in the comparison between Madame Catalani's singing and Coleridge's eloquence. I never saw Catalani but once, and on that occasion, though a prince sent his ampassador to invite her to sing, I regret to say, that she repeated in simple prose, the following line from one of our comic operas.
“Non, non, je ne veux pas chanter.” "
* This happened at a splendid ball given by the French ambassador, at which all the principal English nobility were assembled. The ball was given in honour of the Prince and Princess of Denmark.
I should not, probably, be able to console myself for this disappointment, but that I have since heard the air which Catalani was requested to sing, executed by the divine voice of Mainville Fodor. But now for my quotation:
“I have heard Coleridge speak, and when a person has enjoyed that happiness, it seems here to be an understood thing, that he may be as enthusiastic as he pleases in his admiration of Coleridge's genius, without being accused of extravagance. In fact, the first evening passed in company with Coleridge, if he be in a humour for talking, (and when is he not so?) forms an epoch in a man's life. For my part, I had no idea of what is called the natural gift of eloquence, before I was present at that extraordinary spectacle, for it is literally a spectacle. You cannot speak yourself, or hear any one else speak. Where Coleridge is, all conversation is suspended. You listen to him, and to no other, and you can wish for nothing more.
“No comparison can be drawn between his written and his spoken prose. If what he says in the course of one evening could be noted down, it would surpass all the prose he has ever published, whether considered with respect to depth of ideas, happy images and allusions, extent and variety of knowledge, or richness, purity, and elegance of diction. His conversation is as extraordinary as the game of chess played by the automaton which was exhibited some years ago in Paris. You sit mute and motionless with admiration and surprise. It is quite impossible to embarrass him or put him out. One might almost say, that he is, like the automaton, wound up by a spring, and must go on to the end. But when will be the end ? That no one can guess; and thus the spectators often rise and go out in the midstof the game, not being able to foresee when it may come to a close. Coleridge, too, like the automaton, always wins. I have heard, that he never allowed any one to gain the slightest advantage over him. In fact, were it not evident that he feels all he says, at the very moment when he is speaking, he might be looked upon as a piece of machinery, which speaks and speaks on, because it cannot do otherwise. “But, perhaps, Coleridge's eloquence may more justly be compared to Catalani's singing. It is as rich, as brilliant, as dazzling, as inexhaustible. Catalani cannot be followed by the performers in the orchestra, whose business it is to accompany her and to fill up the pauses of her song ; and Coleridge's conversation may, perhaps, be full of mistakes and solecisms. But what matters that ? Who could detect false intonation in the singing of Catalani, or solecisms in the eloquence of Coleridge 2 Perhaps the magical charm of both the singer and the speaker, consists in the air of sincere feeling which accompanies every syllable they utter; and this, in a great measure, depends on the heavenly, though somewhat vague smile that plays upon their lips. However, it must be confessed, that in listening to them, one is in
clined to be very soon satisfied if not satiated. They surprise and delight for a time; but they are too much above our understanding; they, perhaps, touch our self-love too nearly to produce any lasting sympathy. Their exquisite simplicity, and the air of perfect good-nature and sincerity impressed on their countenances, are the charms which have rendered them so long supportable.”— (Soligny’s Letters.)" A remarkable characteristic of Coleridge's poetry, is, that its simplicity and ease are admirably blended with great richness of expression, and with continual harmony and elegance. Even the faulty metre of his verses seems to be calculated. It is music in which the rules of composition are violated, but which is, nevertheless, perfectly appropriate to the sentiment it is intended to express. There is something very fantastic in Coleridge's rhythm, when his subjects are borrowed from the phantasmagoria of his own dreams. His philosophic fragments have not the solemn and somewhat monotonous tone of Wordsworth; they present the energy of Milton, and the beauty of Shakspeare. The reveries of love are, in Coleridge's verses, described with captivating melancholy and simplicity. Few writers have better understood the delicacy of that pas
* The comparison of the automaton and Catalani, will, I dare say, be thought in very bad taste; but I wished to afford an idea of an affected style of criticism which has been brought into fashion in England, by Hazlitt. Soligny's letters are not all written in the above style,