Samuel Taylor
Coleridge

Biographia
Literaria
by
Samuel
Taylor
Coleridge

Chapter XXIV [of
XXIV]                                                     [To
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CONCLUSION
It sometimes happens that we are punished for our faults by incidents,
in the causation of which these faults had no share: and this I have
always felt the severest punishment. The wound indeed is of the same
dimensions; but the edges are jagged, and there is a dull underpain
that survives the smart which it had aggravated. For there is always a
consolatory feeling that accompanies the sense of a proportion between
antecedents and consequents. The sense of Before and After becomes
both intelligible and intellectual when, and only when, we contemplate
the succession in the relations of Cause and Effect, which, like the
two poles of the magnet manifest the being and unity of the one power
by relative opposites, and give, as it were, a substratum of
permanence, of identity, and therefore of reality, to the shadowy flux
of Time. It is Eternity revealing itself in the phaenomena of Time:
and the perception and acknowledgment of the proportionality and
appropriateness of the Present to the Past, prove to the afflicted
Soul, that it has not yet been deprived of the sight of God, that it
can still recognise the effective presence of a Father, though through
a darkened glass and a turbid atmosphere, though of a Father that is
chastising it. And for this cause, doubtless, are we so framed in
mind, and even so organized in brain and nerve, that all confusion is
painful. It is within the experience of many medical practitioners,
that a patient, with strange and unusual symptoms of disease, has been
more distressed in mind, more wretched, from the fact of being
unintelligible to himself and others, than from the pain or danger of
the disease: nay, that the patient has received the most solid
comfort, and resumed a genial and enduring cheerfulness, from some new
symptom or product, that had at once determined the name and nature of
his complaint, and rendered it an intelligible effect of an
intelligible cause: even though the discovery did at the same moment
preclude all hope of restoration. Hence the mystic theologians, whose
delusions we may more confidently hope to separate from their actual
intuitions, when we condescend to read their works without the
presumption that whatever our fancy, (always the ape, and too often
the adulterator and counterfeit of our memory,) has not made or cannot
make a picture of, must be nonsense,--hence, I say, the Mystics have
joined in representing the state of the reprobate spirits as a
dreadful dream in which there is no sense of reality, not even of the
pangs they are enduring--an eternity without time, and as it were
below it--God present without manifestation of his presence. But these
are depths, which we dare not linger over. Let us turn to an instance
more on a level with the ordinary sympathies of mankind. Here then,
and in this same healing influence of Light and distinct Beholding, we
may detect the final cause of that instinct which, in the great
majority of instances, leads, and almost compels the Afflicted to
communicate their sorrows. Hence too flows the alleviation that
results from "opening out our griefs: "which are thus presented in
distinguishable forms instead of the mist, through which whatever is
shapeless becomes magnified and (literally) enormous. Casimir, in the
fifth Ode of his third Book, has happily [85] expressed this thought.
Me longus silendi
Edit amor, facilesque luctus
Hausit medullas. Fugerit ocyus,
Simul negantem visere jusseris
Aures amicorum, et loquacem
Questibus evacuaris iram.
Olim querendo desinimus queri,
Ipsoque fletu lacryma perditur
Nec fortis [86] aeque, si per omnes
Cura volat residetque ramos.
Vires amicis perdit in auribus,
Minorque semper dividitur dolor,
Per multa permissus vagari
Pectora.--
I shall not make this an excuse, however, for troubling my readers
with any complaints or explanations, with which, as readers, they have
little or no concern. It may suffice, (for the present at least,) to
declare, that the causes that have delayed the publication of these
volumes for so long a period after they had been printed off, were not
connected with any neglect of my own; and that they would form an
instructive comment on the chapter concerning authorship as a trade,
addressed to young men of genius in the first volume of this work. I
remember the ludicrous effect produced on my mind by the fast sentence
of an auto-biography, which, happily for the writer, was as meagre in
incidents as it is well possible for the life of an individual to be--
"The eventful life which I am about to record, from the hour in which
I rose into existence on this planet, etc." Yet when, notwithstanding
this warning example of self-importance before me, I review my own
life, I cannot refrain from applying the same epithet to it, and with
more than ordinary emphasis--and no private feeling, that affected
myself only, should prevent me from publishing the same, (for write it
I assuredly shall, should life and leisure be granted me,) if
continued reflection should strengthen my present belief, that my
history would add its contingent to the enforcement of one important
truth, to wit, that we must not only love our neighbours as ourselves,
but ourselves likewise as our neighbours; and that we can do neither
unless we love God above both.
Who lives, that's not
Depraved or depraves? Who dies, that bears
Not one spurn to the grave of their friends' gift?
Strange as the delusion may appear, yet it is most true, that three
years ago I did not know or believe that I had an enemy in the world:
and now even my strongest sensations of gratitude are mingled with
fear, and I reproach myself for being too often disposed to ask,--Have
I one friend?--During the many years which intervened between the
composition and the publication of the CHRISTABEL, it became almost as
well known among literary men as if it had been on common sale; the
same references were made to it, and the same liberties taken with it,
even to the very names of the imaginary persons in the poem. From
almost all of our most celebrated poets, and from some with whom I had
no personal acquaintance, I either received or heard of expressions of
admiration that, (I can truly say,) appeared to myself utterly
disproportionate to a work, that pretended to be nothing more than a
common Faery Tale. Many, who had allowed no merit to my other poems,
whether printed or manuscript, and who have frankly told me as much,
uniformly made an exception in favour of the CHRISTABEL and the poem
entitled LOVE. Year after year, and in societies of the most different
kinds, I had been entreated to recite it and the result was still the
same in all, and altogether different in this respect from the effect
produced by the occasional recitation of any other poems I had
composed.--This before the publication. And since then, with very few
exceptions, I have heard nothing but abuse, and this too in a spirit
of bitterness at least as disproportionate to the pretensions of the
poem, had it been the most pitiably below mediocrity, as the previous
eulogies, and far more inexplicable.--This may serve as a warning to
authors, that in their calculations on the probable reception of a
poem, they must subtract to a large amount from the panegyric, which
may have encouraged them to publish it, however unsuspicious and
however various the sources of this panegyric may have been. And,
first, allowances must be made for private enmity, of the very
existence of which they had perhaps entertained no suspicion--for
personal enmity behind the mask of anonymous criticism: secondly for
the necessity of a certain proportion of abuse and ridicule in a
Review, in order to make it saleable, in consequence of which, if they
have no friends behind the scenes, the chance must needs be against
them; but lastly and chiefly, for the excitement and temporary
sympathy of feeling, which the recitation of the poem by an admirer,
especially if he be at once a warm admirer and a man of acknowledged
celebrity, calls forth in the audience. For this is really a species
of animal magnetism, in which the enkindling reciter, by perpetual
comment of looks and tones, lends his own will and apprehensive
faculty to his auditors. They live for the time within the dilated
sphere of his intellectual being. It is equally possible, though not
equally common, that a reader left to himself should sink below the
poem, as that the poem left to itself should flag beneath the feelings
of the reader.--But, in my own instance, I had the additional
misfortune of having been gossiped about, as devoted to metaphysics,
and worse than all, to a system incomparably nearer to the visionary
flights of Plato, and even to the jargon of the Mystics, than to the
established tenets of Locke. Whatever therefore appeared with my name
was condemned beforehand, as predestined metaphysics. In a dramatic
poem, which had been submitted by me to a gentleman of great influence
in the theatrical world, occurred the following passage:--
"O we are querulous creatures! Little less
Than all things can suffice to make us happy:
And little more than nothing is enough
To make us wretched."
Aye, here now! (exclaimed the critic) here come Coleridge's
metaphysics! And the very same motive (that is, not that the lines
were unfit for the present state of our immense theatres; but that
they were metaphysics [87]) was assigned elsewhere for the rejection
of the two following passages. The first is spoken in answer to a
usurper, who had rested his plea on the circumstance, that he had been
chosen by the acclamations of the people.--
"What people? How convened? or, if convened,
Must not the magic power that charms together
Millions of men in council, needs have power
To win or wield them? Rather, O far rather
Shout forth thy titles to yon circling mountains,
And with a thousand-fold reverberation
Make the rocks flatter thee, and the volleying air,
Unbribed, shout back to thee, King Emerick!
By wholesome laws to embank the sovereign power,
To deepen by restraint, and by prevention
Of lawless will to amass and guide the flood
In its majestic channel, is man's task
And the true patriot's glory! In all else
Men safelier trust to Heaven, than to themselves
When least themselves: even in those whirling crowds
Where folly is contagious, and too oft
Even wise men leave their better sense at home,
To chide and wonder at them, when returned."
The second passage is in the mouth of an old and experienced courtier,
betrayed by the man in whom he had most trusted.
"And yet Sarolta, simple, inexperienced,
Could see him as he was, and often warned me.
Whence learned she this?--O she was innocent!
And to be innocent is Nature's wisdom!
The fledge-dove knows the prowlers of the air,
Feared soon as seen, and flutters back to shelter.
And the young steed recoils upon his haunches,
The never-yet-seen adder's hiss first heard.
O surer than suspicion's hundred eyes
Is that fine sense, which to the pure in heart,
By mere oppugnancy of their own goodness,
Reveals the approach of evil."
As therefore my character as a writer could not easily be more injured
by an overt act than it was already in consequence of the report, I
published a work, a large portion of which was professedly
metaphysical. A long delay occurred between its first annunciation and
its appearance; it was reviewed therefore by anticipation with a
malignity, so avowedly and exclusively personal, as is, I believe,
unprecedented even in the present contempt of all common humanity that
disgraces and endangers the liberty of the press. After its
appearance, the author of this lampoon undertook to review it in the
Edinburgh Review; and under the single condition, that he should have
written what he himself really thought, and have criticised the work
as he would have done had its author been indifferent to him, I should
have chosen that man myself, both from the vigour and the originality
of his mind, and from his particular acuteness in speculative
reasoning, before all others.--I remembered Catullus's lines.
Desine de quoquam quicquam bene velle mereri,
Aut aliquem fieri posse putare pium.
Omnia sunt ingrata: nihil fecisse benigne est:
Immo, etiam taedet, taedet obestque magis;
Ut mihi, quem nemo gravius nec acerbius urget,
Quam modo qui me unum atque unicum amicum habuit.
But I can truly say, that the grief with which I read this rhapsody of
predetermined insult, had the rhapsodist himself for its whole and
sole object.
*     *     *     *     *     *
I refer to this review at present, in consequence of information
having been given me, that the inuendo of my "potential infidelity,"
grounded on one passage of my first Lay Sermon, has been received and
propagated with a degree of credence, of which I can safely acquit the
originator of the calumny. I give the sentences, as they stand in the
sermon, premising only that I was speaking exclusively of miracles
worked for the outward senses of men. "It was only to overthrow the
usurpation exercised in and through the senses, that the senses were
miraculously appealed to. REASON AND RELIGION ARE THEIR OWN EVIDENCE.
The natural sun is in this respect a symbol of the spiritual. Ere he
is fully arisen, and while his glories are still under veil, he calls
up the breeze to chase away the usurping vapours of the night-season,
and thus converts the air itself into the minister of its own
purification: not surely in proof or elucidation of the light from
heaven, but to prevent its interception."
"Wherever, therefore, similar circumstances co-exist with the same
moral causes, the principles revealed, and the examples recorded, in
the inspired writings, render miracles superfluous: and if we neglect
to apply truths in expectation of wonders, or under pretext of the
cessation of the latter, we tempt God, and merit the same reply which
our Lord gave to the Pharisees on a like occasion."
In the sermon and the notes both the historical truth and the
necessity of the miracles are strongly and frequently asserted. "The
testimony of books of history (that is, relatively to the signs and
wonders, with which Christ came) is one of the strong and stately
pillars of the church: but it is not the foundation!" Instead,
therefore, of defending myself, which I could easily effect by a
series of passages, expressing the same opinion, from the Fathers and
the most eminent Protestant Divines, from the Reformation to the
Revolution, I shall merely state what my belief is, concerning the
true evidences of Christianity.  1. Its consistency with right Reason,
I consider as the outer court of the temple--the common area, within
which it stands.  2. The miracles, with and through which the Religion
was first revealed and attested, I regard as the steps, the vestibule,
and the portal of the temple.  3. The sense, the inward feeling, in
the soul of each believer of its exceeding desirableness--the
experience, that he needs something, joined with the strong
foretokening, that the redemption and the graces propounded to us in
Christ are what he needs--this I hold to be the true foundation of the
spiritual edifice. With the strong a priori probability that flows in
from 1 and 3 on the correspondent historical evidence of 2, no man can
refuse or neglect to make the experiment without guilt. But, 4, it is
the experience derived from a practical conformity to the conditions
of the Gospel--it is the opening eye; the dawning light: the terrors
and the promises of spiritual growth; the blessedness of loving God as
God, the nascent sense of sin hated as sin, and of the incapability of
attaining to either without Christ; it is the sorrow that still rises
up from beneath and the consolation that meets it from above; the
bosom treacheries of the principal in the warfare and the exceeding
faithfulness and long-suffering of the uninteresting ally;--in a word,
it is the actual trial of the faith in Christ, with its accompaniments
and results, that must form the arched roof, and the faith itself is
the completing key-stone. In order to an efficient belief in
Christianity, a man must have been a Christian, and this is the
seeming argumentum in circulo, incident to all spiritual Truths, to
every subject not presentable under the forms of Time and Space, as
long as we attempt to master by the reflex acts of the Understanding
what we can only know by the act of becoming. Do the will of my
Father, and ye shall know whether I am of God. These four evidences I
believe to have been and still to be, for the world, for the whole
Church, all necessary, all equally necessary: but at present, and for
the majority of Christians born in Christian countries, I believe the
third and the fourth evidences to be the most operative, not as
superseding but as involving a glad undoubting faith in the two
former. Credidi, ideoque intellexi, appears to me the dictate equally
of Philosophy and Religion, even as I believe Redemption to be the
antecedent of Sanctification, and not its consequent. All spiritual
predicates may be construed indifferently as modes of Action or as
states of Being, Thus Holiness and Blessedness are the same idea, now
seen in relation to act and now to existence. The ready belief which
has been yielded to the slander of my "potential infidelity," I
attribute in part to the openness with which I have avowed my doubts,
whether the heavy interdict, under which the name of Benedict Spinoza
lies, is merited on the whole or to the whole extent. Be this as it
may, I wish, however, that I could find in the books of philosophy,
theoretical or moral, which are alone recommended to the present
students of theology in our established schools, a few passages as
thoroughly Pauline, as completely accordant with the doctrines of the
Established Church, as the following sentences in the concluding page
of Spinoza's Ethics. Deinde quo mens hoc amore divino, seu beatitudine
magis gaudet, eo plus intelligit, hoc est, eo majorem in affectus
habet potentiam, et eo minus ab affectibus, qui mali sunt, patitur;
atque adeo ex eo, quod mens hoc amore divino, seu beatitudine gaudet,
potestatem habet libidines coercendi; et quia humana potentia ad
coercendos affectus in solo intellectu consistit; ergo nemo
beatitudine gaudet, quia affectus coercuit, sed contra potestas
libidines coercendi ex ipsa beatitudine oritur.
With regard to the Unitarians, it has been shamelessly asserted, that
I have denied them to be Christians. God forbid! For how should I
know, what the piety of the heart may be, or what quantum of error in
the understanding may consist with a saving faith in the intentions
and actual dispositions of the whole moral being in any one
individual? Never will God reject a soul that sincerely loves him: be
his speculative opinions what they may: and whether in any given
instance certain opinions, be they unbelief, or misbelief, are
compatible with a sincere love of God, God can only know.--But this I
have said, and shall continue to say: that if the doctrines, the sum
of which I believe to constitute the truth in Christ, be Christianity,
then Unitarianism is not, and vice versa: and that, in speaking
theologically and impersonally, i.e. of Psilanthropism and
Theanthropism as schemes of belief, without reference to individuals,
who profess either the one or the other, it will be absurd to use a
different language as long as it is the dictate of common sense, that
two opposites cannot properly be called by the same name. I should
feel no offence if a Unitarian applied the same to me, any more than
if he were to say, that two and two being four, four and four must be
eight.
alla broton
ton men keneophrones auchai
ex agathon ebalon;
ton d' au katamemphthent' agan
ischun oikeion paresphalen kalon,
cheiros elkon opisso, thumos atolmos eon.
This has been my object, and this alone can be my defence--and O! that
with this my personal as well as my LITERARY LIFE might conclude!--the
unquenched desire I mean, not without the consciousness of having
earnestly endeavoured to kindle young minds, and to guard them against
the temptations of scorners, by showing that the scheme of
Christianity, as taught in the liturgy and homilies of our Church,
though not discoverable by human reason, is yet in accordance with it;
that link follows link by necessary consequence; that Religion passes
out of the ken of Reason only where the eye of Reason has reached its
own horizon; and that Faith is then but its continuation: even as the
day softens away into the sweet twilight, and twilight, hushed and
breathless, steals into the darkness. It is night, sacred night! the
upraised eye views only the starry heaven which manifests itself
alone: and the outward beholding is fixed on the sparks twinkling in
the awful depth, though suns of other worlds, only to preserve the
soul steady and collected in its pure act of inward adoration to the
great I AM, and to the filial WORD that re-affirmeth it from eternity
to eternity, whose choral echo is the universe.
THEO, MONO, DOXA.

[Here ends chapter 24.  To read other chapters of
Biographia Literaria, click here.]

* * * * * * * * * *

Footnotes by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

[85] Classically too, as far as consists with the allegorizing fancy
of the modern, that still striving to project the inward,
contradistinguishes itself from the seeming ease with which the poetry
of the ancients reflects the world without. Casimir affords, perhaps,
the most striking instance of this characteristic difference.--For his
style and diction are really classical: while Cowley, who resembles
Casimir in many respects, completely barbarizes his Latinity, and even
his metre, by the heterogeneous nature of his thoughts. That Dr.
Johnson should have passed a contrary judgment, and have even
preferred Cowley's Latin Poems to Milton's, is a caprice that has, if I
mistake not, excited the surprise of all scholars. I was much amused
last summer with the laughable affright, with which an Italian poet
perused a page of Cowley's Davideis, contrasted with the enthusiasm
with which he first ran through, and then read aloud, Milton's Mansus
and Ad Patrem.
[86] Flectit, or if the metre had allowed, premit would have supported
the metaphor better.
[87] Poor unlucky Metaphysicks! and what are they? A single sentence
expresses the object and thereby the contents of this science. Gnothi
seauton:
Nosce te ipsum,
Tuque Deum, quantum licet, inque Deo omnia noscas.
Know thyself: and so shalt thou know God, as far as is permitted to a
creature, and in God all things.--Surely, there is a strange--nay,
rather too natural--aversion to many to know themselves.