LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Reminiscences of a Literary Life

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It was on a glorious autumnal evening, late in October, 1838, that I drove from Mr. Wordsworth’s at Rydal Mount down to the village of Grasmere, following the shore of that beautiful little lake, which was shining in the setting sun like a gilded mirror with a veil or crape of amber and rose colours spread over it. I very soon reached the church and quiet churchyard where now lie Wordsworth and poor Hartley, and easily found out the humble stone-built cottage, close to the church, where the junior of the two poets then, long before, and for years after, resided. He was not at home; but a rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed little maiden told me that I should be sure to find him at the village inn. Thither I went, and there, in the kitchen, by the side of a crackling wood fire, and in the midst of a group of waggoners and statesmen, for the most part drinking beer and smoking pipes, I found the object of my search, the always original, always vivacious, always interesting Hartley. The reader must not be misled by the word “statesmen,” or for one moment imagine that these companions of the bard were men like Mr. Canning, the Earl of Liverpool, or Sir Robert Peel; still less that personages like Lord John Russell or Viscount Palmerston, whose society would not have been very acceptable to the poet, were drinking beer and smoking with waggoners in the kitchen of that rustic inn. A “statesman” in Cumberland or Westmorland is merely a small freeholder or landed proprietor
who cultivates his own acres and farms his own land. I made my bow to the poet. There was no mistaking which was he, for his very small frame was delicate and scholar-like, contrasting strongly with those Anaks who were with him; and though his black coat might be rather “seedy,” he was dressed as gentlemen dress, and as statesmen and waggoners don’t. Besides knowing his father, I had once or twice met his brother
Derwent, in Pall Mall, at Charles Knight’s; but Hartley himself I had never seen before, and therefore the bard of Rydal Mount had furnished me with a slip of paper on which he had written my name, and little more—a very little more—yet still “more than delicacy suffers me to write.”

I handed the slip to Hartley, who told me that he revered Wordsworth, but that I had no need of any such introduction to him, that my name was enough, that he knew of me through some of my books, and through Matthew Davenport Hill, and other friends. He and I were fast friends in five minutes, or in less time. We sallied out to the margin of the lake, only a few paces from the inn door; but we did not stay there long, for the sunset and twilight came on with a chilling autumnal breeze which drove us back to the kitchen fire, where we sat with the statesmen until a more private room was prepared. I was hungry as well as cold, for I had ridden since the early morning all the way from Penrith and Brougham Hall. I had been too much occupied by Ullswater, the other waters, and all that beautiful scenery, to think of eating or drinking, and I had taken only a glass of sherry and a biscuit at Mr. Wordsworth’s. I was really famishing and impatient for my dinner. Hartley said he would see to that, and vanished out of the kitchen like a little sprite.

I had scarcely seen so very small and yet so compact and active a man; my “maximum” in littleness had been Crofton Croker, author of those admirable
Irish tales and fairy legends; but
Hartley appeared in my eyes to be even smaller than he, though he afterwards assured me he was nearly an inch taller. He was presently back with the soothing intelligence that some good warm soup, some fresh trout, and other comforts, would be ready “in no time,” and that a good capon was already spitted and roasting at another kitchen fire. “Coleridge,” said I, “I hope you haven’t dined; but whether you have or not, you will keep me company?” Putting on a semi-serious face, but having comedy in his eye and about his mouth, he replied: “I can’t say that I have not eaten to-day; but as for dining—regularly dining—that’s a fault I am seldom guilty of.” “The more’s the pity, poet!” said one of the statesmen. “Let me see,” said Hartley, “I think the last time I sat down to a regular dinner was some four or five weeks ago, when your friend H. and his wife were here, and put up for a day or two at this house.” “Then,” said I, “you will dine to-day?” “With all my heart,” said he, “and I can assure you of a good dinner. Homely as the house may seem, it affords good provend, and the host has some tip-top port in the cellar! Do you drink port?” “Any port in a storm, or any port that comes under the lee,” said I. “Then I’ll order a magnum, and see the chill taken off it,” said the poet, and so saying the bibulous little sprite vanished again for a few minutes. “That’s a wonderful gentleman,” said one of the statesmen, “a very wonderful gentleman! Some do say that he has more book-learning than Mr. Wordsworth, or than Professor Wilson, and that he can beat them hollow at verse-making. We all love him, sir, for he is so good and kind, and so fond of our children. We would do anything for our poet, that we would! But it’s a great pity that he is not more steady and more regular at his meals, for tippling, though only with this small ale, is bad on an empty stomach, and when he gets queer in the
head he doesn’t always know what he’s about; more’s the pity, for he’s a gentleman, every inch of him, and would not hurt a worm.”

Hartley and I were soon seated in a cosy little room—and I know no room so cosy as the best parlour of a country inn of that sort—with a good sea-coal fire burning, a table nicely spread and well covered, and the magnum of port glowing in a couple of decanters, one placed by the poet’s plate and one by mine. Soup, fish, fowl, wine, and everything were excellent, and no doubt all the more so from the keen appetite I had brought to table with me. I was in little humour to talk till after the removal of the trout, by which time poor Hartley had told a dozen amusing anecdotes, and had nearly emptied his decanter, much applauding the wine at every glass he took, and getting into such a full flow of spirits as I had seldom witnessed. After the capon, we had potted char, biscuits, and rather a nice dessert, and the poet began proposing toasts to this friend or that, to this man of genius or that other—personally known or unknown did not signify—beginning with Wordsworth as “the greatest poet since Milton,” and then passing to John Wilson as the “heartiest and best fellow that ever lived and wrote a rhyme,” and so on to others and others. The formula was this: he would mention the name of some living writer, or I would do so, then he would ask me if I knew him, and on my affirmation he would fill a bumper and say: “Suppose we drink his health!” His own bottle was soon finished; and mine, with two pulls upon it, did not last long. The bell was rung for more wine. Fearing for the effect on him, and thinking of to-morrow morning for myself, I ordered a single bottle, but his logic presently turned this order into one for another magnum. He knew that the port in the magnum bottles was by far the best in the house, and he was rather decidedly of opinion that an extra quantity of such good, sound, whole-
some, cheering drink could do us no harm. “John Wilson,” said he, “would take a couple of magnums to his own share, and be all the better for them!” I thought of Wilson’s sturdy, massy, tall, capacious frame, his almost constant hard exercise, and his robust constitution, and felt that I, and still less poor little Hartley, could never do what the author of the “
Noctes” might have done with impunity; but the second magnum, nicely warmed and decanted, was there; and, as Mrs. Quickly says, “when one has a cask close at one’s elbow——”

From authors we fell upon authoresses, most of whom he quizzed as “affectatious”—a pet word with him—and as “précieuses ridicules,” but speaking with genial, glowing praise of three or four of them. I chanced to mention old Miss H. M. “What! do you know her too?” said Hartley. “Only by sight,” was my reply. “Then,” said he, filling his glass to the brim, “suppose we drink d——n to her! I abhor the woman as a woman, and I detest her rampant irreligion and all her principles!” The second magnum was telling on him; but he continued to talk, and to talk admirably, consecutively, logically, and with a vast deal of originality and spirit, about books, poetry, history, men, and politics, uttering many an admirable specimen of table talk; this he continued till nearly the midnight hour, when the wine was all gone, and when, quite suddenly, his senses went too.

“Never mind, sir!” said the landlord, who came in with a servant and chamber-candlesticks, “we know his ways; we are used to him; we will put him to bed upstairs; his landlady won’t expect him at home, and he will be all right to-morrow morning.”

So upstairs they carried the little poet, a featherweight, and as unconscious as an unborn babe.

I was up the next morning, dressed and out by eight o’clock, but Hartley had been out more than an hour before me, and had been stretching his legs
on the hills which lie behind Grasmere Church. I found him, standing meditatingly, on the margin of the lake, only a few yards from our hostel. He was as fresh as a daisy, and as gay as a skylark in June. He made no allusion to the symposium beyond saying that he had passed a very pleasant evening. At breakfast his flow of spirits was quite astonishing. Being Sunday morning, we went to the village church, wherein a good number of his favourite “Dalesmen” were devoutly assembled. He himself was quite earnest in his devotions; and on his return towards the inn, he made several remarks on the surpassing beauty and sublimity of our Liturgy.

We were preparing to start for luncheon at Rydal Mount, when the considerate hostess said: “Mr. Coleridge, as you are going to Mr. Wordsworth’s, don’t you think you ought to put on a clean shirt, for you have been sleeping in this, you know?” “That is well thought of,” said the poet; “wait here, I will be back in five minutes, and will bring with me my manuscript poem I mentioned last night.” He was true to time; he was very rapid in his movements, rather running or trotting a short trot than walking; but when he felt in his pocket for his poems, they were not there. “That’s odd!” said he; “for I am almost certain that I took them from my lodgings with me!”

“I tell you what it is,” said our host, “you are always forgetting or dropping that book, and some day you will be losing it for good, and that will be a pity!” As Hartley and I were walking towards his lodging, he was accosted by a little peasant boy, who had just picked up the manuscript by the roadside, and who appeared very well to know its owner. It was a common schoolboy copybook, but the marble cover—if it had ever had one—had been replaced by a wrapper or cover of common brown paper; it was rolled up into the form of a baton, and tied with a piece of common string. But there were beautiful,
unpublished verses under that homely cover, some of which he recited in a most telling, striking manner, and some which I read as we walked onward for Rydal Mount.
Wordsworth and his wife received the little poet most cordially. Mrs. Wordsworth’s affection for him seemed to be quite maternal and caressant.

I had not the pleasure of seeing Miss Wordsworth. Dora was absent on a visit. Her two doves, of which she had several couples in large wicker cages, cooed harmoniously and most lovingly as we sat and talked cheerfully at our luncheon, where Hartley paid due homage to some brisk, sparkling table ale.

The senior poet conducted me again to the favourite culminating point of view in his circumscribed but beautiful domain to which he had led me on the preceding evening; and he stayed there some time, admiring the different aspect of the same scene—the same wooded banks, grassy margins, tranquil lake, and bold mountains—under a difference of light and shade, it being a bright afternoon instead of an evening sunset. Hartley had stayed in the library with Mrs. Wordsworth, who I believe employed part of the time in motherly, gentle admonitions. Wordsworth spoke of him to me with great admiration, and, I thought, with quite as much affection. All that I saw of the veteran bard certainly went against the too commonly received theory—a theory very earnestly and ungratefully propagated by De Quincey—that Wordsworth was a circumspect, cold-hearted man. He seemed to think that Hartley had been rather harshly treated at Oxford, and that that blow, that uprooting of him from the soil for which he was best adapted, had exercised an evil influence on all his after days. Poor fellow! He had gained distinction, of which he could never have failed—he had gained his fellowship, and with it either a provision for life or an
adytum in a good living or an advantageous station at the Bar; but during his first or probationary year he committed some indiscretions—not worse, I believe, than other men at that period committed with impunity—and in consequence had been deprived of his fellowship and driven from his Alma Mater, without money, without any means except such as he might derive from a few friends or from the precarious resources of poetry and general literature. I never knew it to be the fashion of one University to take up the quarrels or complaints of the other; but I have been told that the half-crazy conduct of
Hartley’s father at Cambridge weighed against him at Oxford, inflamed the heads of the “Heads,” and tended to his expulsion. If so, it surely was hard that the son should be visited for the offence of the father, who, some thirty years before, had “bolted” from classical Cam., and had enlisted in a regiment of dragoons as Silas Titus Comberbatch!

Wordsworth, so intimately connected with Southey and his family, and with all the Southey-Coleridge connections, did not allude to that “tender passion” which I have been assured finished the unsettling of poor Hartley’s mind. He had been deeply, passionately, long in love with his charming cousin, Edith Southey; and, from first to last, he had loved without hope or a single gleam of hope. See his exquisite sonnet addressed to Edith. From the time of his awakening from that uneasy dream, he had had a strong aversion to female society. Fine ladies he particularly dreaded, and would say so twenty times a day. Except with Mrs. Wordsworth, Dora, and John Wilson’s homely, kind-hearted, sonsie, thoroughly Scottish wife, he did not feel at home with any woman.

Captain Hamilton, author of “Cyril Thornton,” and of a history of the Duke’s campaigns in the Peninsula, a very accomplished, agreeable gentleman,
had a pretty place in the Lakes not far from
John Wilson’s, and had Hartley rather frequently for his guest; but from the time the Captain married that fair widow, Lady Farquhar, the eccentric little poet ceased his visits, and never again went near that door. He told me that a “My Lady” was the very thing he could never face. There were few good houses within the Lake regions where his name would not have procured him a welcome; but he would visit only old bachelors, or widowers who had married off their daughters. He might often have been at Lord Lowther’s, where Wordsworth was on a friendly and even familiar footing, but he would not hear of such a visit; and I fancy that Wordsworth, fearing his indiscretions, which by this time were not always under control, be the place where it might, did not much press him. “It is a sad case,” said the sober, aged bard, “but I cannot help thinking his infirmities are strictly hereditary, and I sometimes think it better that he should drink as he does than take to opium like his father. He has positively no other vice; he is as innocent and guileless as a child, and as gentle, feeling, and compassionate as the gentlest of women. If he could only exercise a little self-control, and a little steadiness of purpose and application, he might yet do great things; he has far more learning than I am competent to judge of, and in poetry his ear, like his father’s, is faultless, perfect.”

I said that he had promised to send me some articles for which I was pretty sure to find a good market, to which Wordsworth replied that he only wished that he might adhere to his intention and keep his promise. It appeared that, for some time, Hartley had been entirely dependent on an annual fund of some £40 or £50 supplied by relatives—a bare sufficiency, but still, without his propensities, a sufficiency in that cheap, quiet nook. I could give full credit to Wordsworth when he said that, in spite of his poverty and all his irregularities, there was
nobody in all those vales or among all those mountains more cherished than Hartley Coleridge; that he was beloved by men, women, and children; and that the door of every farmhouse, of every peasant’s cottage, was open to him at all times, by day as well as by night. “A lucky thing,” added the bard, “as otherwise Hartley in his wanderings would have rather frequently to sleep in the open air.”

In returning to our inn at the end of the lake, Hartley took me into his lodging to show me some books. He had two plainly furnished, but clean and comfortable rooms, a very proper apartment for a recluse student. He had not many books: they were nearly all Greek or Roman classics, and most of them of large, excellent editions, and well bound. I took down several: their ample margins were postillated and in parts quite covered with notes in his own hand. If my memory do not betray me, the window of his sitting-room looked on or towards the quiet churchyard where, after ten more years of fitful existence, he was to be interred.

The dinner, the evening at the inn, went off much as the previous day, only rather more quietly; when bedtime came Hartley was not absolutely under the necessity of being carried upstairs. The next morning he was awake and up with the village cocks, and as cheery and crowy as they. But all the time I was with him I scarcely saw one sad or lasting expression on his countenance, or heard a melancholy word drop from his lips. He said he despised “lackadaisicals,” and had a contempt for the man who could not be cheerful whenever he had a congenial companion. Now and then, when I caught his mobile features and changeful countenance in repose, I could read in them the man who had deeply thought and deeply suffered, but this was but for a moment; some sudden thought, some odd conceit, would flash from him, and the whole man and countenance would be changed. He talked well always, but I
fancied he talked best when walking fast, or in going his trot. He had one peculiarity which much amused me at the time, and of which I have very often thought since. In mid-career of talk and walk, he would suddenly pull up, and stamp his little foot on the ground, much in the manner of a goat or young buck, as if to mark the emphasis or the point of his argument or story. When much excited he would stop and stamp his feet six or more several times. I rather think that while culminating his complaints against
Cottle, the Bristol bookseller, brother of Amos Cottle the writer of epics and the butt of Lord Byron, who had recently been bringing out what Hartley considered a very disrespectful book about his father, he must have stamped at least a dozen times. He seldom made use of hard words or of any improper language. I have given the one word of that sort which I heard from him, and that was given in frolic and not in anger.

On this Monday morning, after breakfast at our inn, I hired a chaise for Windermere, and Hartley gladly agreed to accompany me to Bowness, and be my cicerone on the lake. It was a splendid day; that fine, bright, brisk, autumnal weather still favouring and blessing me. We had a charming drive; but I rather think that we walked more than we rode, for we alighted at the foot of every hill, frequently diverged for the sake of some choice prospect, and loitered and sauntered along the high road whenever the scenery was particularly fine. The sere and yellow leaves had fallen and were fast falling, coming pattering down with every gust of wind. The road in places was quite thickly strewed with them, and they crumpled and rustled under our feet as we walked. I still see poor Hartley raising his small foot and kicking them before him, where they were so thick as to impede his progress. In the action, in his guilelessness and singleness of heart, he reminded me of the little Dauphin, the son
Louis XVI., who on an earlier day of autumn kicked the fallen leaves in the garden of the Tuileries, as he was being conveyed with his father and mother, his sister and aunt, from the beleaguered palace to the National Assembly, thence to pass to the Temple, to torture, horrors, and death.

It was yet early in the day when we descended at that most comfortable, cosy hotel at Bowness, where everybody seemed to be intimately acquainted with my comrade and to give him a cheering welcome. While I ordered dinner he went to hire a boat. He was as well known to all the boatmen and people along the bank as he was up at the inn; his arrival made quite a fête among them. We rowed for a couple of hours on that beautiful lake, which, with its neighbours, I could admire after all the lakes I had seen in Switzerland, Italy, and Asia Minor. We pulled up at that bowery, fairy little island facing Bowness, an island which, but for the public-house or inn on it, might have recalled the Douglas Isle in the “Lady of the Lake.” Hartley jumped out of the boat and ran away among the trees. I stood for a few minutes at the water’s edge to take in the opposite scenery; and by the time I went through the avenue and reached the house of entertainment, the poet was seated within the porch, with a bottle of port wine and glasses all ready.

He assured me that the port was almost as good as that in the magnums at Grasmere. Rather fearing such strong potations before dinner, I called up our two boatmen and gave them a full tumbler of the port, which diminished our mischief; but, with Hartley’s ready aid, the rest was drunk off in no time. When I stepped aside with the landlord he would not take my money, saying that the wine was paid for. As I shrewdly suspected the poet had not a sixpence, I concluded either that his credit was good, or that the host, for the poet’s own sake, or for the sake of Professor Wilson and other richer friends,
had felt happy to treat poor Hartley with a bottle. Returning to Bowness, we had merry talk about John Wilson, the universally acknowledged “Admiral” of the lake, who for many years presided at the regattas, and took an active part in every manly sport and pastime that was toward. All would have been well with my companion; but while I walked up to the inn, he must needs make a call on some old crony, and that worthy man, North-country fashion, could not let him go without a drink.

Thus the poor poet was a bit fuddled before we sat down to table; yet during the whole of the dinner, and for a good hour after it, his conversation was rich, racy, full of point and wit, and quite delightful.

Before his evanescent turn, I spoke about the articles which he was to send me; and in as delicate a manner as I could manage, I extracted from him, not without difficulty, the confession that he was, at the moment, penniless. I had no money about me that I could spare, but I was happy in being able to give him a cheque upon a London banker, which he said he could easily get cashed. I would gladly have stayed a day or two longer at the Lakes, but my absence from home had already been longer than calculated at starting, and I was called back by work to do and by domestic considerations. On arriving at Bowness I had ordered a chaise to convey me to Staley Bridge, at the end of the lake, where I was sure of finding the public conveyance for Lancaster and Preston at an early hour next morning. The chaise came to the door about eight o’clock in the evening, and coincidently with its arrival was the retreat of Hartley to a sofa in the room, near a comfortable fire. The poet was past speech, and in a minute or two he was fast asleep. I called up the worthy landlord, thought it prudent to tell him about the cheque, and begged him to take care of the poet.

Like our host at Grasmere, he told me that he knew his ways, and that the people in the house were used
to him. “Every care will be taken of him,” continued the host, “and he will be all right to-morrow. I will cash the draft, but will take good care that he shall not have all that money at once. Bless you, sir! if he had, he would not get home, and would probably not be heard of for a month to come! He shall have what is necessary for his return to Grasmere, and I will send the rest of the money, by a safe hand, to
Mr. Wordsworth or to his landlady; so have no uneasiness about him.” I shook my recumbent and quite unconscious friend by the hand, left that warm fireside for my open chaise—and never saw him again.

The next morning I had for a companion in the stage-coach a young Cumbrian who was going up to Cambridge, and who, a year or two before, had been pupil in a school where Hartley had undertaken the drudgery of an under-master. According to the young man’s account, he was steady and quite exemplary for a time, but he then broke loose, and there was then hardly ever any chance of catching him again. The boys all loved him, would have done anything and everything for him; being so much liked and having such a way of engaging their attention, and such a happy knack in teaching, they learned more from him in three or four months than they would have done from any other master in thrice the time. The head-master and the good lady his wife did all they could to conceal his irregularities, and to amend them; but, unhappily, the last was not to be. Yet, at the very end, there was no dismissal, no weariness in their generous efforts on the part of that excellent pair; Hartley took himself off with a few shillings in his pocket, and returned no more. He had told me at Grasmere that he had once been a dominie, and found the life insupportable, but he had gone into no particulars.

Some six weeks after my return home I received, by coach, a queer little parcel done up in grocer’s
brown paper, and tied with a bit of twine, without any security in the way of sealing. It was from poor
Hartley. It contained, not the promised prose articles, but copies of some of the small poems which I had so much admired in his old copybook, with two quite new sonnets, one being that exquisite little piece on a Confirmation of young children. The letter which accompanied the MS. was short, and almost all about this Confirmation, with the sight of which he had been deeply and lastingly impressed. Although I knew poetry to be rather a drug in the market, I entertained some hopes, which were not realized, of being able to turn his beautiful verses to some account. I wrote to him for the more vendible articles in prose, and received no answer. Hard work, severe sickness, and increasing family cares, quite absorbed me, till it seemed too late to renew the correspondence. I was wrong; I ought to have written again and again. I ought to have made further efforts to be of use to him, and I now bitterly regret that I did not. There was, however, this additional impedimentum, or discouragement: the dear “Trade” would not hear of his name—“he was so poor, so unpunctual, so irregular, so never to be depended upon, etc., etc.” Poor dear Hartley Coleridge! Next to Shelley, and in degree scarcely inferior to him, he gave me the idea of what I understand by a “Man of Genius.” He was all over genius, and his father was conscious of it. The “old man eloquent” used to say that his son Derwent had his genius, but that his genius had Hartley. He was, in fact, possessed as by a spirit that was not to be cast out, or rebuked, or restrained. Derwent wrote pretty poetry in his earlier days; and is now, and long has been, a quiet, respectable, industrious, altogether reputable clergyman and schoolmaster.