Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
By William Hazlitt (1778–1830)
From English Poets

IT remains that I should say a few words of Mr. Coleridge, and there is no one who has a better right to say what he thinks of him than I have. “Is there here any dear friend of Cæsar? To him I say, that Brutus’s love to Cæsar was no less than his.” But no matter. His Ancient Mariner is his most remarkable performance, and the only one that I could point out to any one as giving an adequate idea of his great natural powers. It is high German, however, and in it he seems to “conceive of poetry but as a drunken dream, reckless, careless, and heedless of past, present, and to come.” His tragedies (for he has written two) are not answerable to it; they are, except a few poetical passages, drawling sentiment and metaphysical jargon. He has no genuine dramatic talent. There is one fine passage in his Christabel, that which contains the description of the quarrel between Sir Leoline and Sir Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine, who had been friends in youth—

        Alas! they had been friends in youth,
But whispering tongues can poison truth;
And constancy lives in realms above;
And life is thorny; and youth is vain;
And to be wroth with one we love,
Doth work like madness in the brain:
And thus it chanc’d, as I divine,
With Roland and Sir Leoline.
  Each spake words of high disdain
And insult to his heart’s best brother,
And parted ne’er to meet again!
But neither ever found another
To free the hollow heart from paining—
  They stood aloof, the scars remaining,
Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;
A dreary sea now floats between,
But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,
Shall wholly do away I ween
The marks of that which once hath been.
Sir Leoline a moment’s space
Stood gazing on the damsel’s face;
And the youthful lord of Tryermaine
Came back upon his heart again.

It might seem insidious if I were to praise his ode entitled “Fire, Famine, and Slaughter,” as an effusion of high poetical enthusiasm and strong political feeling. His “Sonnet to Schiller” conveys a fine compliment to the author of the Robbers, and an equally fine idea of the state of youthful enthusiasm in which he composed it—

        Schiller! that hour I would have wish’d to die,
  If through the shudd’ring midnight I had sent
  From the dark dungeon of the tower time-rent,
That fearful voice, a famish’d father’s cry—
That in no after moment aught less vast
  Might stamp me mortal! A triumphant shout
  Black horror scream’d, and all her goblin rout
From the more with’ring scene diminish’d pass’d.
Ah! Bard tremendous in sublimity!
  Could I behold thee in thy loftier mood,
Wand’ring at eve, with finely frenzied eye,
  Beneath some vast old tempest-swinging wood!
  Awhile, with mute awe gazing, I would brood,
Then weep aloud in a wild ecstacy!
  His “Conciones ad Populum” “Watchman,” etc. are dreary trash. Of his “Friend” I have spoken the truth elsewhere. But I may say of him here, that he is the only person I ever knew who answered to the idea of a man of genius. He is the only person from whom I ever learnt anything. There is only one thing he could learn from me in return, but that he has not. He was the first poet I ever knew. His genius at that time [1798] had angelic wings, and fed on manna. He talked on for ever. His thoughts did not seem to come with labour and effort, but as if borne on the gusts of genius, and as if the wings of his imagination lifted him from off his feet. His voice rolled on the ear like the pealing organ, and its sound alone was the music of thought. His mind was clothed with wings; and, raised on them, he lifted philosophy to heaven. In his descriptions, you then saw the progress of human happiness and liberty in bright and never-ending succession, like the steps of Jacob’s Ladder, with airy shapes ascending and descending, and with the voice of God at the top of the ladder. And shall I, who heard him then, listen to him now? Not I!… That spell is broken; that time is gone for ever; that voice is heard no more; but still the recollection comes rushing by with thoughts of long-past years, and rings in my ears with never-dying sound.  2

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