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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. IV. 1801-1803
Samuel Taylor Coleridge to William Godwin, 25 March 1801

Contents Vol. I
Ch. I. 1756-1785
Ch. II. 1785-1788
Ch. III. 1788-1792
Ch. IV. 1793
Ch. V. 1783-1794
Ch. VI. 1794-1796
Ch. VII. 1759-1791
Ch. VII. 1791-1796
Ch. IX. 1797
Ch. X. 1797
Ch. XI. 1798
Ch. XII. 1799
Ch. XIII. 1800
Contents Vol. II
Ch. I. 1800
Ch. II. 1800
Ch. III. 1800
Ch. IV. 1801-1803
Ch. V. 1802-1803
Ch. VI. 1804-1806
Ch. VII. 1806-1811
Ch. VIII. 1811-1814
Ch. IX. 1812-1819
Ch. X. 1819-1824
Ch. XI. 1824-1832
Ch. XII. 1832-1836
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Greta Hall, Keswick, March 25, 1801.

Dear Godwin,—I fear your tragedy will find me in a very unfit state of mind to sit in judgment on it. I have been, during the last three months, undergoing a process of intellectual exsiccation. In my long illness I had compelled into hours of delight many a sleepless, painful hour of darkness by chasing down metaphysical game—and since then I have continued the hunt, till I found myself unaware at the root of Pure Mathematics—and up that tall, smooth tree, whose few poor branches are all at its very summit, am I climbing by pure adhesive strength of arms and thighs, still slipping down, still renewing my ascent. You would not know me! all sounds of similitude keep at such a distance from each other in my mind that I have forgotten how to make a rhyme. I look at the mountains (that visible God Almighty that looks in at all my windows), I look at the mountains only for the curves of their outlines; the stars, as I behold them, form themselves into triangles; and my hands are scarred with scratches from a cat, whose back I was rubbing in the dark in order to see whether the sparks in it were refrangible by a prism. The Poet is dead in me. My imagination (or rather the Somewhat that had been imaginative) lies like a cold snuff on the circular rim of a brass candlestick, without even a stink of tallow to remind you that it was once clothed and mitred with flame. That is past by! I was once a volume of gold leaf, rising and riding on every breath of Fancy, but I have beaten myself back into weight and density, and now I sink in quicksilver, yea, remain squat and square on the earth, amid the hurricane that makes oaks and straws join in one dance, fifty yards high in the element.

“However I will do what I can. Taste and feeling have I none, but what I have give I unto thee. But I repeat that I am unfit to decide on any but works of severe logic. I write now to beg, that if you have not sent your tragedy, you may remember to send Antonio with it, which I have not yet seen, and likewise my Campbell’sPleasures of Hope,’ which Wordsworth wishes to see.

“Have you seen the second volume of the ‘Lyrical Ballads,’ and the preface prefixed to the first? I should judge of a man’s heart and intellect, precisely according to the degree and intensity of the admiration with which he read these poems. Perhaps instead of heart, I should have said Taste, but when I think of the Brother, of Ruth, and of Michael, I recur to the expression, and am enforced to say heart. If I die, and the booksellers will give
you anything for my life, be sure to say; ‘
Wordsworth descended on him like the Γνωθι σεαυτόν from heaven, by showing to him what true poetry was, he made him know that he himself was no Poet.”

“In your next letter you will perhaps give me some hints respecting your prose plans. God bless you,—

S. T. Coleridge.

“I have inoculated my youngest child, Derwent, with the cowpox. He passed through it without any sickness. I myself am the slave of rheumatism—indeed, though in a certain sense I am recovered from my sickness, yet I have by no means recovered it. I congratulate you on the settlement of Davy in London. I hope that his enchanting manners will not draw too many idlers round him, to harass and vex his mornings.”