Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 11.djvu/316

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Coleridge
Coleridge
310

ridge was infirm of will, a dreamer of great schemes never to be fulfilled, diverted at any moment by his marvellous versatility from every path which he entered, and as conspicuous from first to last for the absence of all business-like power as for the presence of other faculties. His incapacity for business is as marked in the 'Watchman' (1796) as in the 'Friend' (1809). Opium aggravated his weakness, but there is no proof of any abrupt transformation of character.

His domestic circumstances were uncomfortable. De Quincey makes the assertion, based on Coleridge's own statement long afterwards, that he had been forced into marriage by thoughtlessly going too far in a flirtation. A report is also given by De Quincey from a 'neutral spectator,' that he was ' desperately in love ' (De Quincey, xi. 63). The continued passion for Mary Evans is certainly in favour of the first statement. In any case Mrs. Coleridge, though a good mother and a conscientious wife, was unable to manage a most difficult husband. They seem to have gradually drifted apart. There are painful indications in unpublished letters of a complete alienation in later years. A remark reported by Allsop Allsop, ii. 154) to the effect that really affectionate though selfish women may make a grievance of their husbands leaving them in search of health is significant. Coleridge was impatient of domestic details (see Stuart in Gent. Mag. 1838, ii. 24), utterly careless of money till his debts became pressing, and, though always fond of his children, gradually came to leave much of his own burden to the steady, laborious, and overburdened Southey (see Mrs. Coleridge's letters to Miss Betham ; Fraser's Mag. July 1878).

Keswick continued to be Coleridge's headquarters for a time, though he made frequent excursions. Lamb visited him in 1802. In 1803 he accompanied the Wordsworths on a tour to Scotland (see Dora Wordsworth's Recollections, ed. by J. C. Shairp), but left them after a fortnight in bad health and spirits. Spite of his physical weakness Coleridge loved mountain Scenery, and describes occasional scramblings in the hills (a manuscript in possession of Mr. Ernest H. Coleridge describes an ascent of Scawfell at this time, 1802 ; see also Davy's Fragmentary Remains, p. 79). He plunged into metaphysics, and now for the first time made a serious study of Kant. In November 1802 he had made a tour in Wales with Thomas Wedgwood. Wedgwood^ whose health was breaking up and whose spirits were greatly depressed, talked of a journey abroad. Coleridge was suggested as a companion ; but hisi state of health made him a doubtful attendant for a sinking invalid. He desired, however, to travel on his own account, first intending a visit to Madeira. Four medical men had strongly urged the trial of an ' even and dry climate ' (to Sir G. Beaumont, 2 Feb. 1804). At the end of 1803 he started from Keswick, but was detained for a month with the Wordsworths at Grasmere by an illness ' induced by the use of narcotics ' (Meteyard, p. 222). The thrifty Wordsworth ' forced upon him ' a ' loan ' of 100Z. towards his expenses. His brothers were expected to advance another 1001., and he was able to leave his whole annuity to his wife (To Sir G. Beaumont, 30 Jan. 1804). He reached London at the end of January. A friend, Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Stoddart, Hazlitt's brother-in-law, at the time a judge at Malta, proposed to him to substitute Malta for Madeira. Coleridge sailed 2 April 1804, and reached Valetta 18 April. Here he became acquainted with the governor, Sir Alexander Ball [q. v.], whose secretaryship was vacant. Coleridge filled the place, which gave him incessant occupation for some months of a kind little suited to his habits. His health was very weak ; his breathing became laborious, a weakness which increased slightly until his death (Gillman, p. 167) ; he suffered severe pains, which could not be relieved by opium or other medicines. His heart was undergoing a slow organic change (Gillman, p. 268). De Quincey says (ii. 93) that his confinement ; at Malta to a narrow society induced him to resort more freely to opium. He left Malta on the arrival of a new secretary, 27 Sept. 1805 ; touched at Sicily ; was at Naples 15 Dec. 1805 ; and spent some months at Rome, where he made the acquaintance of Tieck. At Rome he received a warning from Wilhelm von Humboldt, then Prussian minister at Rome, that he was a marked man. Napoleon had an eye upon him for certain articles in the 'Morning Post' during the peace of Amiens. The pope sent him a passport, and after some delay he sailed from Leghorn in an American ship, whose captain he met by accident, and fascinated by his talk (Cottle, Reminiscences, p. 311). He was, it is said, chased by a French cruiser on the voyage, and Coleridge threw his papers overboard (Gillman, p. 181), thus losing his labours at Rome (ib. pp. 180-1 ; Siog. Lit. p. 212). The account has been ridiculed ; but Napoleon's conduct towards journalists does not tend to discredit it ; and Coleridge's connection with the 'Morning Post,' which was asserted by Fox in parliament to have caused the renewal of the war, was well known and probably exaggerated. Some boxes of papers shipped at Malta