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I am sorry to feel obliged to press this point home more closely; but the attempt which has lately been made by some of Coleridge's intemperate eulogists, to uphold him, even in that metaphysical sophistry with which he has dared at times to invade the borders of plain sense, requires to be met by proofs from his own writings, that the state of mind in which he invoked the muses to aid him in his fierce Philippic against Pitt, must really have been what the impassioned words imply, and not the mere abstraction of a poetical and powerful, but playful genius, elaborating innoxious venom, as he would fain have it supposed, out of the milk of human kindness itself.
At the very moment of my revising my notes, a little book, published at Bristol in 1795, and entitled "Condones ad Populum," or " Addresses to the People, by S. T. Coleridge," was put into my hand. Copies of this little book are, I presume, scarce, for I find it alluded to in one only* of the numerous biographical notices of Coleridge; nor does he, as far as I know, allude to it in any of his own subsequent writings; but murder will out, and in bringing it here to light for the purpose of illustration, I only do society that justice to which it has a right.
Coleridge, in after life, showed, by the part he took, that his opinions, relative to the character of the French Revolutionary war, had undergone a complete change; and it could not have failed to occur to him, that he had done infinite injustice to "the Pilot who weathered the storm," by imputing to him motives of conduct worthy of none but the fiend, to whom he therefore likened him. It need not be said how much more he would have consulted his own future fame, had he pleaded guilty to this foul offence committed in his day of political frenzy, instead of attempting to fritter away its atrocity by mental fallacies and a sort of psychological special pleading, which essayed to set up the pretensions of ill-defined motives, and a licentious imagination, in opposition to the plainest letters of the law. He admits that " Poems calculated to give offence to good men, cannot well be justified ;" and that " their moral deformity is aggravated in proportion to the pleasure which they are capable of affording to vindictive, turbulent, and unprincipled readers." Yet so far is he from expressing due contrition, that he discharges his heart of all guilt, and after contending stoutly for the anomalous absurdity that we are not, in his case, to judge of the tree by the fruit, as if determined to try to what extent he might trifle with the common sense of mankind, he closes his defence by assuring us, that "if he knew his own heart, there was never a moment in his existence in which he would have been more ready, had Mr. Pitt's person been in hazard, to interpose his own body, and defend that minister's life at the risk of his own," than that in which he wrote the celebrated " War Eclogue."*
* Gent. Mag. Nov. 1834.
Now even if we had nothing but the evidence of the poem itself to guide us, we might deem this contemptible equivocation; but so far were the lines in question from being "neither more nor less than a sport of fancy," that we have the most conclusive proof in his "Addresses to the People" at that time, that the heart itself must have been the very fountain from whence the bitter waters flowed.
In the last of his " Condones ad Populum," in allusion to the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, he exclaims, "It is an insult to tell us that we cannot suffer death at the pleasure of a minister, as is the case under arbitrary governments. Suffer death! we can be torn from the bleeding breast of domestic affection; we can be thrown into foul and damp dungeons; we can hear of the death of a dearly-loved wife, heart-broken by our imprisonment, till, overpowered by disease and wounded sensibilities, we sink into the grave; or if we live, live only to wish, in bitterness of soul, that the 'Almighty had not placed his canon against self-murder.' And what if the Habeas Corpus Act be restored? O degenerate people, and bloated with the emptiness of recollected
* Sibylline Leaves, p. 97.
liberty! Sylla may resign the dictatorship, but alas! he will have given a tempting proof to Caesar, how much ye can endure.
"Who is this minister, to whom we have thus implicitly trusted every blessing? Are his qualities commensurate with the giant evils which he has occasioned? My mind may be jaundiced by my abhorrence of the man's actions; but whether truth or prejudice be the source of my failure, I must acknowledge that having investigated attentively the speeches and measures of William Pitt, I am as little able to discover genius in the one, as virtue in the other. I think of Edmund Burke's declamatory invectives with emotion; yet while T shudder at the excesses, I must admire the strength of this Hercules Furens of oratory. But our premier's harangues!—Mystery concealing meanness, as steam-clouds envelope a dunghill. To rouse the fears of the wealthy, and the prejudices of the ignorant, is an easy task for one who possesses the privilege of manufacturing royal eloquence and sticking up royal hand-bills. In the outset of his political career he did indeed utter some sentences which a man and a citizen might acknowledge; and that his present conduct might not lose the advantages of contrast, he ably-supported Mr. Fox's motion to facilitate a peace with America. "The war," he said, "was conceived in injustice and nurtured in folly; it was pregnant with every kind of mischief, and with every thing that constituted moral depravity and human turpitude. While in black revenge it meditated the destruction of others, the mischief recoiled upon the unhappy and deluded people of this country." William Pitt observed, that "by this iniquitous and unjust war, the nation was drained of its vital resources of men and money." William Pitt exclaimed, that "our expenses were enormous, while our victories were indecisive, and our defeats fatal— victories, celebrated with short-lived triumphs, over men struggling in the holy cause of freedom, and defeats which filled the land with mourning. All this—O calumniated Judas Iscariot!—all this William Pitt said."* *
And all this—O calumniated W. Pitt—did S. T. C. say of the man whose life he would have defended at the risk of his own!!!
"In opposing the Address to his Majesty, on the Speech delivered from the Throne after the capture of Lord Cornwallis, William Pitt observed, that 'in the better days of Parliament, the attempt to entrap the House into a countenance of assertions wholly unexplained and unexamined, on the mere authority of a minister, would have been treated with the indignation and severity it deserves.' 'The fact was,' he said, 'that the war was an appendage to the First
* Condones ad Populum, p. 54.