Poems on Various Subjects (Coleridge)
ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS,
OF JESUS COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.
LATE OF JESUS COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.
Felix curarum, cui non Heliconia cordi
Serta, nec imbelles Parnassi e vertice laurus!
Sed viget ingenium, et magnos accinctus in usus
Fert animus quafcunque vices.——Nos tristia vitæ
Stat. Silv. Lib. iv. 4.
PRINTED FOR G. G. AND J. ROBINSONS, AND
J. COTTLE, BOOKSELLER, BRISTOL.
POEMS on various subjects written at different times and prompted by very different feelings; but which will be read at one time and under the influence of one set of feelings—this is an heavy disadvantage: for we love or admire a poet in proportion as he developes our own sentiments and emotions, or reminds us of our own knowledge.
Compositions resembling those of the present volume arc not unfrequently condemned for their querulous egotism. But egotism is to be condemned then only when it offends against time and place, as in an History or an Epic Poem. To censure it in a Monody or Sonnet is almost as absurd as to dislike a circle for being round. Why then write Sonnets or Monodies? Because they give me pleasure when perhaps nothing else could. After the more violent emotions of Sorrow, the mind demands solace and can find it in employment alone; but full of its late sufferings it can endure no employment not connected with those sufferings. Forcibly to turn away our attention to other subjects is a painful and in general an unavailing effort.
"But O how grateful to a wounded heart
The tale of misery to impart;
From others eyes bid artless sorrows flow
And raise esteem upon the base of woe!"
The communicativeness of our nature leads us to describe our own sorrows; in the endeavor to describe them intellectual activity is exerted; and by a benevolent law of our nature from intellectual activity a pleasure results which is gradually associated and mingles as a corrective with the painful subject of the description. True! it may be answered, but how are the Public interested in your sorrows or your description? We are for ever attributing a personal unity to imaginary aggregates. What is the Public but a term for a number of scattered individuals of whom as many will be interested in these sorrows as have experienced the same or similar?
"Holy be the Lay,
Which mourning soothes the mourner on his way!"
There is one species of egotism which is truly disgusting; not that which leads us to communicate our feelings to others, but that which would reduce the feelings of others to an identity with our own. The Atheist, who exclaims "pshaw!" when he glances his eye on the praises of Deity, is an Egotist; an old man, when he speaks contemptuously of love-verses, is an Egotist; and your sleek favorites of Fortune are Egotists, when they condemn all "melancholy discontented" verses.
Surely it would be candid not merely to ask whether the Poem pleases ourselves, but to consider whether or no there may not be others to whom it is well-calculated to give an innocent pleasure. With what anxiety every fashionable author avoids the word I!—now he transforms himself into a third person,—"the present writer"—now multiplies himself and swells into "we"—and all this is the watchfulness of guilt. Conscious that this said I is perpetually intruding on his mind and that it monopolizes his heart, he is prudishly felicitous that it may not escape from his lips.
This disinterestedness of phrase is in general commensurate with selfishness of feeling: men old and hackneyed in the ways of the world are scrupulous avoiders of Egotism.
Of the following Poems a considerable number are styled "Effusions," in defiance of Churchill's line
"Effusion on Effusion pour away,"
I could recollect no title more descriptive of the manner and matter of the Poems—I might indeed have called the majority of them Sonnets—but they do not posses that oneness of thought which I deem indispensable in a Sonnet—and (not a very honourable motive perhaps) I was fearful that the title "Sonnet" might have reminded my reader of the Poems of the Rev. W. L. Bowles—a comparison with whom would have sunk me below that mediocrity, on the surface of which I am at present enabled to float.
Some of the verses allude to an intended emigration to America on the scheme of an abandonment of individual property.
The Effusions signed C. L. were written by Mr. Charles Lamb, of the India House—independently of the signature their superior merit would have sufficiently distinguished them. For the rough sketch of Effusion XVI. I am indebted to Mr. Favell. And the first half of Effusion XV. was written by the Author of "Joan of Arc," an Epic Poem.