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Mr. Coleridge and Mr. Southey.
The Examiner  No. 484  (6 April 1817)  211.
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No. 484. SUNDAY, APRIL 6, 1817.

Mr. Coleridge and Mr. Southey.


Sir,—With every liberal mind, a conscientious attachment to principle is still respectable, even although associated with error: with an illiberal mind, difference of opinion in politics and religion are objects of malevolent dislike and calumnious reproach; but the worst sort of illiberality is that which, with broad unblushing effrontery, imputes to the worst motives those very principles which the revilers, before their new illumination, themselves professed and propagated. It is amusing to observe the bustle of alarm which Mr. W. Smith’s remarks on the Renegades of the present free and happy era have excited among them. They are all bristling like wasps (keen for revenge), and smarting and agonizing at every pore! The Courier has put forth a defence of this worst and basest sort of illiberality; which is, we are told, only the natural result of an honest conversion, looking back with abhorrence on former mischievous delusions; and any fair allowance for similar errors, supposing them to be errors, in others, any feeling of candour or charity or compassion or respect, is compared, with equal elegance and justice, to the sympathy which a reformed rake might be required to feel for the dicers and harlot-mongers with whom he once consorted. Admirable reasoner! So, Sir, the debauchee, who games and haunts the brother, (if we may borrow the Courier’s delicate flowers of style) really imagines that he is promoting the cause of human improvement in freedom and knowledge! or he who resists tyranny with Hampden, or who worships the One God and Father with the Christian philosopher Locke, is conscious of being one of the vilest of reprobates! Either, Sir, the man who writes thus, must confess that he himself never had any principles whatever, and, sensible of his own former bad motives, imputes them to all who now think as he once professed to think, or he must own himself a base and shameless libeller of honest men. Whoever this Defender of Mr. Southey may be, he is evidently sore on the subject, from an alarmed fellow-feeling and a wounded vanity. Proximus ardel Ucalegon. This hack writer of the Courier has a spell upon him, which denies him the happy power of invisibility. From the forced and quaint images, the vile puns, the uncouth and floundering attempts at humour, the bloatedness of the eloquence, and the slang of the blackguardism, we cannot be mistaken in the writer of this effusion of disinterested generosity. This sympathy is natural. The author of “The Conciones ad Populum,” and the author of “The Wat Tyler,” are sworn brothers in the same cause of righteous apostasy. They both, with meanness and insolence, revile men of the soundest patriotic views, the clearest intentions, and the most enlightened constitutional knowledge; they both raise the old and execrable cry of “Church and King;” they both echo the phrases of “the swinish multitude” and “the enemies of the Church;” they both would tie down the reason and consciences of men with the rusty fetters of the dark ages of superstition; they both set the brand of disaffection on all without the pale of political theology; and both would hunt the Dissenters out of the land, and set a Unitarian in the pillory. Here is then a sufficient affinity of sentiment to account for the appearance of Mr. Coleridge in the character of Pythias, without resorting to the motives of real admiration, of private gratitude, or the recollections of long friendship. How far these had influence, I may perhaps sow.

The memory of great metaphysicians may be treacherous, like that of common men. The author of “The Friend” is troubled at times and seasons with a treacherous memory: but perhaps he may remember a visit to Bristol. He may remember (I allude to no confidential whisperings—no unguarded private moments—but to facts of open and ostentatious notoriety): he may remember publicly, before several strangers, and in the midst of a public library, turning into the most merciless ridicule “The dear Friend” whom he now calls Southey the philologist—Southey the historian—Southey the poet of the Thalaba, the Madoc, and the Roderic! Mr. Coleridge recited an Ode of his dear Friend in the hearing of these persons, with a tone and manner of the most contemptuous burlesque, and accused him of having stolen from Wordsworth images which he knew not how to use. Does Mr. Coleridge forget this? Does he remember, that he also took down “The Joan of Arc,” and recited in the same ridiculous tone (I do not mean his usual tone, but one which he meant should be ridiculous) more than a page of the poem, with the ironical comment,—“This, Gentlemen, is poetry!” Does he remember that he then recited, by way of contrast, some forty lines of his own contributions to the same poem, in his usual bombastic manner; and that after this disgusting display of egotism and malignity, he observed, “Poor fellow, he may be a Reviewer, but Heaven bless the man if he thinks himself a Poet!”

Mr. W. Smith will perhaps oblige the author of “The Friend,” by returning to him the quotation from Horace, after filling up the blanks:—

Absentiam qui rodit amicum,
Qui non defendit alio culpente: solutos
Qui captat risus hominum, famamque dicacis,
hic niger est: hunc tu, Romane, caveto!

You will perceive, Sir, that I do not speak of the author of the Watchman, or of the Ode to the departing Year, or of the Ode to Sara, or of the Sonnet to Dr. Priestly, or of the Religious Musings: these are only the settings of the gem, not the gem itself: I speak of “The Man.”

Bristol, March 20.