Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 11.djvu/305

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
Coleridge
Coleridge
299

19 Sept. 1796. From a very early age he gave evidence of uncommon endowments, and a temperament still more unusual, first, by a fondness for abstractions and a power of metaphysical analysis startling at such tender years ; subsequently, by a faculty for weaving endless imaginative romances, which he appeared unable to distinguish from fact He is the subject of two most beautiful passages in his father's poems, ' The Nightingale ' and ' Frost at Midnight ; ' and of an exquisite but painfully prophetic address from Wordsworth, who read his character and divined the misfortunes of his after life. After the separation of his parents he was brought up in Southey's family at Greta Hall, and was greatly influenced, not altogether for his benefit, by the indulgence of Mr. Robert Jackson and his housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson, who occupied part of the house. He was educated principally at Ambleside school, where, says his brother, he never played, but passed the time he could spare from school tasks ' reading, walking, dreaming to himself, or talking his dreams to others.' Intensely sensitive, impatient of control, shy and awkward to excess, insignificant in personal appearance, and infirm of will, it would be difficult to conceive one less calculated to battle with the world. His intellectual promise, however, was such as to justify a university career, and he proceeded to Oxford with means contributed by his well-to-do relatives at the urgent solicitation of Southey. Alexander Dyce remembered him at Oxford as a young man of great simplicity of character and considerable oddity of manner, but in conversation, or rather declamation, second to his father alone. It is hinted that the freedom of his opinions on politics and church endowments offended the authorities, and disposed them to take a harsher view than needful of his subsequent transgressions. However this may have been, his excitable temper, injuriously acted upon by disappointment at his failures to win the Newdigate prize, yielded to the seductions of Oxford wine-parties, and after having creditably gained an Oriel fellowship, he was at the end of a year's probation (1826) removed on the ground of intemperance. 'The sentence,' says his brother, 'might be considered severe, it could not be said to be unjust.' It may have been partly prompted by his incapacity to manage pupils, or in any way perform the ordinary duties of a fellow ; but in this case arrangements should have been made to allow him to resign. He received a gift of 300l. from the college, but the blow to one so sensitive destroyed any chance that might have existed of his taking a place in the world corresponding to his intellectual ability. For the rest of his life despondence, self-reproach, procrastination, and irregularity were his constant companions, and allowed him nothing but an occasional flash of mental energy, generally in the shape of a letter or a short poem.

After two years in London, spent in ineffectual aspirations rather than efforts to earn his bread by his pen, Hartley returned to Ambleside with the intention of taking pupils. He was subsequently associated with a schoolmaster named Suard, the successor of his old instructor, but failed from inability to control his boys. After abandoning the attempt (1830), he resided for some time in the family of Mr. F. E. Bingley, a publisher at Leeds, to whom he bound himself by contract to produce a biographical work on the worthies of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Three numbers, containing thirteen biographies, were actually printed, when the undertaking was interrupted by the bankruptcy of the publisher. The lives, republished under the title first of 'Biographia Borealis' (1833), and of ' Worthies of Yorkshire and Lancashire ' (1836), are, as Derwent Coleridge remarks, ' more than they profess to be.' The book was carefully read by the elder Coleridge, whose annotations were added to a subsequent edition. A small volume of poems containing some of his most beautiful sonnets, and 'Leonard and Susan,' reprinted from 'Blackwood's Magazine,' was also printed by Bingley in 1833. Returning to the Lake district, Hartley took up his residence at Grasmere, with a kind and hospitable lady, Mrs. Fleming, with whom and her successors in the house the remainder of his life was spent, so far as permitted by his roaming propensities, which, however, never carried him beyond the region of the Lakes. For two short intervals, in 1837 and 1838, he assisted in the management of Sedbergh grammar school, and, having to deal with a superior class of boys, acquitted himself surprisingly well. In general, however, his time was spent in study, reverie, and aimless wanderings about the country, with occasional lapses into dissipation. His kind host frequently had to go in search of him and bring him back from some remote vale. Wordsworth's celebrated description of the elder Coleridge seems to have been yet more applicable to the younger. Mingling on terms of perfect intimacy with the peasantry, noticeable for his diminutive stature, his prematurely white hair, and the singular gentleness of his manner, he became one of the characteristic figures of the Lake district, and his name is deeply associated with its characteristic scenery. ' Poet Hartley,' says one who knew him there, ' is much better known