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February 15 , 2010

A Day With Samuel Taylor Coleridge


THE CREW OF THE SKELETON SHIP. "Are those her ribs through which the Sun Did peer, as through a grate? And is that Woman all her crew? Is that a Death? and are there two? Is Death that woman's mate? "Her lips were red, her looks were free, Her locks were yellow as gold: Her skin was as white as leprosy.... The naked hulk alongside came, And the twain were casting dice." (The Ancient Mariner). Image of original dropcap that begins paragraph. IN a beautiful part of beautiful Somerset, where the "soft orchard and cottage scenery" is dimpled between blue hillslopes, where meadows and woods and translucent streams compete with each Other in charm,—in the lovely region of the Quantock hills, lies the quiet little market-village of Nether Stowey. About sunrise on a May morning of 1790, a young man awoke in a little wayside cottage there: and, resolutely thrusting back his natural inclination to indolence, rose and dressed, and set himself to the performance of such humble duties as devolve upon a very poor householder with a wife and child. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was in his twenty-sixth year: pale, stoutish, black-haired: not an immediately attractive man. His face, according to himself, bore evidence of "great sloth and great, indeed almost idiotic, good nature: ... a mere carcase of a face; fat, flabby, and expressive chiefly of inexpressions," with a wide, thick-lipped, always-open mouth, and small feeble nose. Yet it was capable of being roused, on occasion, to something akin to nobility and beauty, and redeemed by the animation of his full, grey eyes. It was a face, in short, to match his general appearance, which he dismissed as that of "indolence capable of energies," and Carlyle characterised as "weakness under possibility of strength." For this was a man who was consistent in his faults as in his virtues: "always conscious of power, but also conscious of want of will to use his power." And it was therefore with re-doubled vigour, this particular morning, that he put on a spurt, and threw unusual force into his chopping of firewood,—his somewhat clumsy attempts to clean up the cottage, with its poor accommodation and few utensils,—and his valiant if ineffectual endeavours to have the fire lighted and the modest meal en route, whilst his wife, up the ladder stairs, attended to herself and the baby
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