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LITTELL'S LIVING AGE.-NO. 1128.-13 JANUARY, 1866.
From the North British Review.
saw Physical Science attain its highest triumph in the Newtonian discoveries; History studied after a certain manner by votaries more numerous than ever before; and the new science of Political Economy MORE than enough has perhaps been said created. But while these fields were in disparagement of the eighteenth century. thronged with busy inquirers, and though It is not therefore to speak more evil of that Natural Theology was much argued and much-abused time, but merely to note an discussed, yet from the spiritual side of all obvious fact, if we say that its main ten- questions, from the deep things of the soul, dency was towards the outward and the from men's living relations to the eternal finite. Just freed from the last ties of world, educated thought seemed to turn feudalism, escaped too from long religious instinctively away. The guilds of the conflicts which had resulted in war and learned, as by tacit consent, either eschewed revolution, the feelings of the British people these subjects altogether, or, if they were took a new direction: the nation's energies constrained to enter on them, they had laid were wholly turned to the pacific working down for themselves certain conventional out of its material and industrial resources. limits, beyond which they did not venture. Let us leave those deep, interminable ques- On the other side of these lay mystery, entions, which lead only to confusion, and let thusiasm, fanaticism spectres abhorred of us stick to plain, obvious facts, which can- the wise and prudent. How entirely the not mislead, and which yield such comfort- mechanical philosophy had saturated the able results. This was the genius and tem- age, may be seen from the fact that Wesley, per of the generation that followed the the leader of the great spiritual counterglorious Revolution. Nor was there want-, movement of last century, the preacher of ing a man to give definite shape and ex- divine realities to a generation fast bound pression to this tendency of the national in sense, yet in the opening of his sermon mind. Locke, a shrewd and practical man, on faith indorses the sensational theory, and who knew the world, furnished his country- declares that to man in his natural condimen with a way of thinking singularly in tion sense is the only inlet of knowledge. keeping with their then temper; a philoso- The same spirit which pervaded the philphy which, discarding abstruse ideas, fash-osophy and theology of that era is apparent ioned thought mainly out of the senses; an ethics founded on the selfish instincts of pleasure and pain; and a political theory which, instead of the theocratic dreams of the Puritans, or the divine right of the High-Churchmen, or the historic traditions of feudalism, grounded government on the more prosaic but not less unreal phantasy - these are the prevailing characteristics. of an original contract. This whole philos- Doubtless the higher truth was not even ophy, however inconsistent with what is then left without its witnesses, Butler and noblest in British history, was so congenial Berkeley in speculation, Burns and Cowper a growth of the British soil, that no other in poetry, Burke in political philosophy, has ever struck so deep a root, or spread so these were either the criers in the wilderwide and enduring an influence. But this ness against the idols of their times, or the process, introduced by Locke for the pur- prophets of the new truth that was being pose of moderating the pretensions of hu- born. Men's thoughts cannot deal earnestman thought, came to be gloried in by his ly with many things at once; and each age followers as its highest achievement. The has its own work assigned it; and the work half century after Locke was no doubt full of the eighteenth century was mainly one of mental activity in certain directions. It of the utilitarian understanding, one of acTHIRD SERIES. LIVING AGE. VOL. XXXII. 1446.
not less in its poetry and literature. Limitation of range, with a certain perfectness of form, contentment with the surface-view of things, absence of high imagination, repression of the deeper feelings, man looked at mainly on his conventional side, careful descriptions of manners, but no open vision,
tive but narrow intelligence, divorced from imagination, from deep feeling, from reverence, from spiritual insight. And when this one-sided work was done, the result was isolation, individualism, self-will; the universal in thought lost sight of, the universal in ethics denied; everywhere, in speculation as in practice, the private will dominant, the Universal Will forgotten. To exult over the ignorant past, to glory in the wonderful present, to have got rid of all prejudices, to have no strong beliefs except in material progress, to be tolerant of all things but fanaticism, this was its highest boast. And though this self-complacent wisdom received some rude shocks in the crash of revolution with which its peculiar era closed, and though the soul and spirit that are in man, long unheeded, then once more awoke and made themselves heard, that one-sided and soulless intelligence, if weakened, was not destroyed. It was carried over into this century in the brisk but barren criticism of the early Edinburgh Review. And at this very moment there are symptoms enough on every side that the same spirit, after having received a temporary repulse, is again more than usually alive.
The same manner of thought which we have attempted to describe as it existed in our own country, dominated in others during the same period. So well is it known in Germany that they have a name for it, which we want. They call it by a term which means the Illumination or Enlightenment, and they have marked the notes by which it is known. Some who are deep in German lore tell us that Europe has produced but one power really counteractive of this Illumination, or tyranny of the mere understanding, and that is, the philosophy of Kant and Hegel. And they affect no small scorn for any attempt at reaction, which has originated elsewhere. Nevertheless, at the turn of the century, there did arise nearer home men who felt the defect in the thought of the preceding age, and did much to supply it; who strove to base philosophy on principles of universal reason; and who, into thought and sentiment dwarfed and starved by the effects of Enlightenment, poured the inspiration of soul and spirit. The men who mainly did this in England were Wordsworth and Coleridge. These are the native champions of spiritual truth against the mechanical philosophy of the Illumination. Of the former of the two we took occasion to speak not long since in this Review. In something of the same way we propose to place now be
fore our readers some account of the friend of Wordsworth, whom his name naturally recalls, a man not less original nor remarkable than he- Samuel Taylor Coleridge. And yet, though the two were friends, and shared together many mental sympathies, between the lives and characters of the philosophic poet and the poetic philosopher there was more of contrast than of likeness. The one, robust and whole in body as in mind, resolute in will, and single in purpose, knowing little of books and of other men's thoughts, and caring less for them, set himself, with his own unaided resources, to work out the great original vein of poetry that was within him, and stopped not, nor turned aside, till he had fulfilled his task, had enriched English literature with a new poetry of the deepest and purest ore, and thereby made the world for ever his debtor. The other, master of an ampler and more varied, though not richer field, of quicker sympathies, less self-sustained, but touching life and thought at more numerous points, eager to know all that other men had thought and known, and working as well on a basis of wide erudition as on his own internal resources, but with a body that did him grievous wrong, and frustrated, not obeyed, his better aspirations, and a will faltering and irresolute to follow out the behests of his surpassing intellect, he but drove in a shaft here and there into the vast mine of thought that was in him, and died leaving samples rather of what he might have done, than a full and rounded achievement, yet samples so rich, so varied, so suggestive, that to thousands they have been the quickeners of new intellectual life, and that to this day they stand unequalled by anything his country has since produced. In one point, however, the friends are alike. They both turned aside from professional aims, devoted themselves to pure thought, set themselves to counterwork the mechanical and utilitarian bias of their time, and became the great spiritualizers of the thought of their countrymen, the fountain-heads from which has flowed most of what is high and unworldly and elevating in the thinking and speculation of the succeeding age.
It is indeed strange, that of Coleridge's philosophy, once so much talked of, and really so important in its influence, no comprehensive account has been ever attempted. The only attempt in this direction that we know of, is that made six years after Coleridge's death, and now more than twenty years ago, by one who has since become the chief expounder of that philosophy which
touches our common nature more closely than any gifts of genius.
The vicarage of Ottery St. Mary's, Devonshire, was the birthplace and early home of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. As in Wordsworth, we said that his whole character was in keeping with his native Cumberland the robust northern yeoman, only touched with genius- so the character of Coleridge, as far as it had any local hue, seems more native to South England. Is it fanciful to imagine that there was something in that character which accords well with the soft mild air, and the dreamy loveliness that rests on the blue coombes and sea-coves of South Devon? He was born on the 21st of October, 1772, the youngest child of ten by his father's second marriage with Anne Bowdon, said to have been a woman of strong practical sense, thrifty, industrious, very ambitious for her sons, but herself without any "tincture of letters." Plainly not from her, but wholly from his father, did Samuel Taylor take his temperament. The Rev. John Coleridge, sometime head-master of the Free Grammar School, afterwards vicar of the parish of Ottery St. Mary's, is described as, for his age, a great scholar, studious, immersed
Coleridge laboured all his life to refute. In his well-known essay, Mr. Mill, while fully acknowledging that no other Englishman, save only his own teacher Bentham, had left so deep an impress on his age, yet turns aside from making a full survey of Coleridge's whole range of thought, precluded, as he confesses, by his own radical opposition to Coleridge's fundamental principles. After setting forth clearly the antagonistic schools of thought which, since the dawn of philosophy, have divided opinion as to the origin of knowledge, and after declaring his own firm adhesion to the sensational school, and his consequent inability to sympathize with Coleridge's metaphysical views, he passes from this part of the subject, and devotes the rest of his essay mainly to the consideration of Coleridge as a political philosopher. This, however, is but one, and that by no means the chief department of thought, to which Coleridge devoted himself. Had Mr. Mill felt disposed to give to the other and more important of Coleridge's speculations, his views on metaphysics, on morals, and on religion, as well as to his criticisms and his poetry, the same masterly treatment which he has given to his politics, any further attempt in that direction might have been spared. But it is characteristic of Mr. Mill, that, though in books, altogether unknowing and regifted with a power which no other writer of his school possesses, of entering into lines of thought, and of apparently sympathizing with modes of feeling, most alien to his own, he still, after the widest sweep of appreciation, returns at last to the ground from which he started, and there entrenches himself within his original tenets as firmly as it he had never caught a glimpse of other and higher truths, with which his own principles are inconsistent.
gardless of the world and its ways, simple in nature and primitive in manners, heedless of passing events, and usually known as "the absent man." In a Latin grammar which he wrote for his pupils, he changed the case which Julius Cæsar named, from the ablative to the Quale-quare-quidditive, just as his son might have done had he ever taken to writing grammars. He wrote dissertations on portions of the Old Testament, showing the same sort of discursiveBefore we enter on the intellectual re- ness which his son afterwards did on a sult of Coleridge's labours, and inquire larger scale. In his sermons, he used to what new elements he has added to British quote the very words of the Hebrew Scripthought, it may be well to pause for a mo- tures, till the country people used to exment, and review briefly the well-known claim admiringly, "How fine he was! He circumstances of his life. This will not gave us the very words the Spirit spoke only add a human interest to the more ab- in." Of his absent fits and his other eccenstract thoughts which follow, but may per- tricities many stories were long preserved haps help to make them better understood. in his own neighbourhood, which Coleridge And if, in contrast with the life of Words- used to tell to his friends at Highgate, till worth, and with its own splendid promise, the tears ran down his face at the rememthe life of Coleridge is disappointing even brance. Among other well-known stories, to sadness, it has not the less for that a mournful interest; while the union of transcendent genius with infirmity of will and irregular impulses, the failure and the penitential regret, lend to his story a humanizing, even a tragic, pathos, which
it is told that once when he had to go from home for several days, his wife packed his portmanteau with a shirt for each day, charging him strictly to be sure and use them. On his return, his wife, cn opening the portmanteau, was surprised to find no