Political Essays (1819)/England in 1798, by S. T. Coleridge
ENGLAND in 1798.
By S. T. Coleridge.
August 2, 1817.
"The Monthly Magazine tells us that this country has occasioned the death of 5,800,000 persons in Calabria, Russia, Poland, Germany, France, Spain, and Portugal. This country, reader, England! our country, our great, our glorious, our beloved country, according to this Magazine, has been the guilty cause of all this carnage!"—So says Mr. Southey apud the Quarterly Review, 1817. Thus sings Mr. Coleridge, in his "Fears in Solitude," 1798:—
"We have offended, oh! my countrymen!
We have offended very grievously,
And been most tyrannous.
———Thankless too for peace;
(Peace long preserv'd by fleets and perilous seas)
Secure from actual warfare, we have lov'd
To swell the war-whoop, passionate for war!
Alas! for ages ignorant of all
Its ghastlier workings (famine or blue plague,
Battle, or siege, or flight through wintry snows),
We, this whole people, have been clamorous
For war and bloodshed; animating sports,
The which we pay for as a thing to talk of,
Spectators and not combatants! No guess
Anticipative of a wrong unfelt,
No speculation on contingency,
However dim and vague, too vague and dim
To yield a justifying cause; and forth
(Stuff'd out with big preamble, holy names,
And adjurations of the God in Heaven),
We send our mandates for the certain death
Of thousands and ten thousand! Boys and girls,
And women, that would groan to see a child
Pull off an insect's leg, all read of war,
The best amusement for our morning's meal!
The poor wretch, who has learnt his only prayers
For curses, who knows scarcely words enough
To ask a blessing from his Heavenly Father,
Becomes a fluent phraseman, absolute
And technical in victories and defeat,
And all our dainty terms for fratricide;
Terms which we trundle smoothly o'er our tongues,
Like mere abstractions, empty sounds to which
We join no feeling and attach no form!
As if the soldier died without a wound;
As if the fibres of this godlike frame
Were gored without a pang; as if the wretch
Who fell in battle, doing bloody deeds,
Pass'd off to heaven, translated, and not killed;—
As though he had no wife to pine for him—
No God to judge him! Therefore, evil days
Are coming on us, O my countrymen!
And what if all-avenging Providence,
Strong and retributive, should make us know
The meaning of our words; force us to feel
The desolation and the agony
Of our fierce doings!
I have told,
O Britons! O my brethren! I have told
Most bitter truth, but without bitterness.
Nor deem my zeal or factious or mistimed:
For never can true courage dwell with them,
Who playing tricks with conscience, dare not look
At their own vices. We have been too long
Dupes of a deep delusion!—Others, meanwhile,
Dote with a mad idolatry; and all
Who will not fall before their images,
And yield them worship, they are enemies
Even of their country!
Such have I been deem'd."— S. T. C.
- That he might be deemed so no longer, Mr. Coleridge soon after became passionate for war himself; and "swell'd the war-whoop" in the Morning Post. "I am not indeed silly enough," he says, "to take as any thing more than a violent hyperbole of party debate, Mr. Fox's assertion that the late war (1802) was a war produced by the Morning Post; or I should be proud to have the words inscribed on my tomb."—Biographia Literaria, vol. i. p. 212.