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Page:Notes and Queries - Series 9 - Volume 11.djvu/179

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9* 8. XL FEB. 28, 1903.] NOTES AND QUERIES.


would have saved him. Mr. Birrell reprints, omitting a few paragraphs, 'My First Ac- quaintance with Poets,' as it appeared in the Liberal in 1823, adding a note to the effect that this essay was "first published in the Examiner, 12 January, 1817." In point oJ fact, what appeared under this date in the Examiner was not an essay at all, but a letter to the editor, containing the first paragraph, and no more, of the essay subsequently printed in the Liberal ; and the tribute which, in this opening paragraph, Hazlitt pays to Cole- ridge's genius is paid simply for the purpose of heightening the contrast between the in- spired philosopher-poet of 1798 and the drivel- ling renegade of 1817. "All the genius and eloquence of Coleridge is vox et prceterea nihil" so the letter proceeds, " for otherwise how is it so lost to all common sense upon paper?" In short, this letter, so far from being "the most eloquent tribute that one man of eminence could pay to another," is in truth a bitter attack upon Coleridge's cha- racter, holding him up to public scorn as a charlatan, a sanctimonious humbug. Thus the marked contrast in tone, which COL. PEIDEAUX, on the strength of Mr. Birrell's foot - note, conceives to exist between the "magnificent description" of January, 1817, and the virulent article on 'Christabel' of the foregoing September, in fact exists no- where but in that gentleman's imagination. Both letter and article, indeed, were penned with the selfsame object, namely, the dis- paragement and belittling of Coleridge as poet, philosopher, and man.

And now a word or two on the internal evidence of Hazlitt's authorship in the article on ' Christabel.'

1. The writer, whoever he was, knew that Coleridge was living under medical super- vision. Now Coleridge's residence with Dr. Gillman began on 15 April, 1816, and the article cannot have been written later than July or August following. What other con- tributor to the Edinburgh but Hazlitt was likely to possess this recent and intimate knowledge of the poet's situation ?

2. Coleridge's verse is said to be destitute of meaning. Compare Hazlitt's criticism in the ' Political Essays ' :

"If the author is caught in the fact of a single intelligible passage, we will be answerable for Mr.

C.'s loss of character It is just as impossible to

get at the meaning of his published, as of his unpub- lished compositions."

3. According to the Edinburgh reviewer the motif oi * Christabel' is the seduction of Sir Leoline's daughter by a man disguised in woman's apparel, This monstrous perversion

of the story already appears implicitly in a review of 'Christabel' printed in the Ex- aminer for 2 July, which bears evident marks such as the allusion to " nonsense- verses," the Hazlittian stock quotation from 'Junius' (" It is the keystone that makes up the arch "), the citation of a suppressed line from a tran- script of ' Christabel ' (Hazlitt's wife, Sarah Stoddart, possessed one) of Hazlitt's handi- work. Now we know that amongst Hazlitt's immediate circle of acquaintance the belief prevailed that Coleridge meant Geraldine to prove to be a man in disguise bent on the seduction of Christabel, and effecting it. D. G. Kossetti writes to Mr. Hall Caine in or about 1880 :

"An idea arose which I actually heard to have been reported as Coleridge's real intention by a member of contemporary circles (P. G. Patmore, father of Coventry P., who conveyed the report to me) viz., that Geraldine was to turn out to be a man ! "

The reader will bear in mind that Hazlitt and P. G. Patmore were intimates. Rossetti's evidence bears out Coleridge's account of the matter to Mudford, the assistant editor of the Courier :

"It was, I am given to understand, this same gentleman [i.e., Hazlitt] who, against his own know- ledge, set about the report that the Geraldine in my 'Christabel' was a man in disguise, and that the whole Poem had an obscene purpose, referring to me at the same time with a shrug of malicious anticipation Curse him ! hoiv he 'II stare !"

Compare the following from the Examiner critique of 2 July :

"The poet, like the witch in Spenser, is evidently 'busied about some wicked gin' There is some- thing disgusting at the bottom of his subject, which is but ill glossed over by a veil of Delia Cruscan sentiment and fine writing like moonbeams playing on a charnel-house, or flowers strewed on a dead body."

4. Again, the Edinburgh reviewer, amidst a torrent of abuse, bestows some qualified praise on a single passage of * Christabel ' that beginning "Alas ! they had been friends in youth," &c. And in the 'Spirit of the Age' ^1825) Hazlitt his hatred of Coleridge having somewhat abated allows that "in the 'Chris- babel ' there is one splendid passage on divided friendship."

5. The strongest evidence of Hazlitt's authorship, however, occurs in the closing paragraph of the article. There is a story which Hazlitt never tires of repeating, and which I will quote from ' My First Acquaint- ance,' &c., because it is there most briefly

old : "It was in this room [an "old-

'ashioned inn-parlour" at Linton] that we

ound a little worn-out copy of ' The Seasons '

ying in a window seat, whereupon Coleridge