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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. I. 1800
Samuel Taylor Coleridge to William Godwin, 22 September 1800

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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Produced by CATH
Monday, Sep. 22, 1800.

Dear Godwin,—I received your letter, and with it the enclosed note, which shall be punctually re-delivered to you on the 1st October.

“Your tragedy to be exhibited at Christmas! I have indeed merely read your letter, so it is not strange that my heart still continues beating out of time. Indeed, indeed, Godwin, such a stream of hope and fear rushed in on me, when I read the sentence, as you would not permit yourself to feel. If there be anything yet undreamed of in our philosophy; if it be, or if it be possible, that thought can impel thought out of the visual limit of a man’s own skull and heart; if the clusters of ideas, which constitute our identity, do ever connect and unite with a greater whole; if feelings could ever propagate themselves without the servile ministrations of undulating air or reflected light—I seem to feel within myself a strength and a power of desire that might dart a modifying, commanding impulse on a whole theatre. What does all this mean? Alas! that sober sense should know no other to construe all this, except by the tame phrase, I wish you success. . . .”

[In a previous letter not here given he had begged Godwin to stand godfather to his child. The compliment was of course declined.]

“Your feelings respecting Baptism are, I suppose, much like mine! At times I dwell on Man with such reverence, resolve all his follies and superstitions into such grand primary laws of intellect, and in such wise so contemplate them as ever-varying incarnations of the Eternal Life—that the Llama’s dung-pellet, or the cow-tail which the dying Brahmin clutches convulsively, become sanctified and sublime by the feelings which cluster round them. In that mood I exclaim, my boys shall be christened! But then another fit of moody philosophy attacks me. I look at my doted-on Hartley—he moves, he lives, he finds impulses from within
and from without, he is the darling of the sun and of the breeze. Nature seems to bless him as a thing of her own. He looks at the clouds, the mountains, the living beings of the earth, and vaults and jubilates! Solemn looks and solemn words have been hitherto connected in his mind with great and magnificent objects only: with lightning, with thunder, with the waterfall blazing in the sunset. Then I say, shall I suffer him to see grave countenances and hear grave accents, while his face is sprinkled? Shall I be grave myself, and tell a lie to him? Or shall I laugh, and teach him to insult the feelings of his fellow-men? Besides, are we not all in this present hour, fainting beneath the duty of Hope? From such thoughts I stand up, and vow a book of severe analysis, in which I will tell all I believe to be truth in the nakedest language in which it can be told.

“My wife is now quite comfortable. Surely you might come and spend the very next four weeks, not without advantage to both of us. The very glory of the place is coming on. The local Genius is just arranging himself in his highest attributes. But above all, I press it, because my mind has been busied with speculations that are closely connected with those pursuits which have hitherto constituted your utility and importance; and ardently as I wish you success on the stage, I yet cannot frame myself to the thought that you should cease to appear as a bold moral thinker. I wish you to write a book on the power of the words, and the processes by which the human feelings form affinities with them. In short, I wish you to philosophize Horne Tooke’s system, and to solve the great questions, whether there be reason to hold that an action bearing all the semblance of pre-designing consciousness may yet be simply organic, and whether a series of such actions are possible? And close on the heels of this question would follow, Is Logic the Essence of Thinking? In other words, Is Thinking impossible without arbitrary signs? And how far is the word ‘arbitrary’ a misnomer? Are not words, &c., parts and germinations of the plant? And what is the law of their growth? In something of this sort I would endeavour to destroy the old antithesis of Words and Things; elevating, as it were, Words into
Things, and living things too. All the nonsense of vibrating, &c., you would of course dismiss. If what I have written appear nonsense to you, or commonplace thoughts in a harlequinade of outré expressions, suspend your judgment till we see each other.—Yours sincerely,

S. T. Coleridge.

“I was in the country when Wallenstein was published. Longman sent me down half-a-dozen. The carriage back, the book was not worth.”