LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. VIII. 1811-1814
Samuel Taylor Coleridge to William Godwin, 29 March 1811

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
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
March 29, 1811.

Dear Godwin,—My chief motive in undertaking ‘the first mariner’ is merely to weave a few tendrils around your destined walking stick, which, like those of the wood-bine (that, serpent-like climbing up, and with tight spires embossing the straight hazel, rewards the lucky school-boy’s search in the hazel-copse), may remain on it when the wood-bine, root and branch, lies trampled in the earth. I shall consider the work as a small plot of ground given up to you to be sown at your own hazard with your own seed (gold grains would have been but a bad pun, and besides have spoiled the metaphor). If the increase should more than repay your risk and labour, why then let me be one of your guests at Harvest Home.

“Your last letter impressed and affected me strongly. Ere I had yet read or seen your works, I, at Southey’s recommendation, wrote a sonnet in praise of the author. When I had read them, religious bigotry, the but half-understanding of your principles, and the not half-understanding my own, combined to render me a warm
and boisterous anti-Godwinist. But my warfare was open; my unfelt and harmless blows aimed at an abstraction I had christened with your name; and you at that time, if not in the world’s favour, were among the captains and chief men in its admiration. I became your acquaintance when more years had brought somewhat more temper and tolerance; but I distinctly remember that the first turn in my mind towards you, the first movements of a juster appreciation of your merits, was occasioned by my disgust at the altered tone and language of many whom I had long known as your admirers and disciples. Some of them, too, were men who had made themselves a sort of reputation in minor circles as your acquaintance, and were therefore your echoes by authority, themselves aided in attaching an unmerited ridicule to you and your opinions by their own ignorance, which led them to think the best settled thoughts, and indeed everything in your ‘
Political Justice,’ whether ground, or deduction, or conjecture, to have been new thoughts, downright creations. Their own vanity enabled them to forget that everything must be new to him that knows nothing. Others again, who though gifted with high talents had yet been indebted to you, and the discussions occasioned by your wish for much of their development, who had often and often styled you the Great Master, written verses in your honour, and, worse than all, had brought your opinions with many good and worthy men into as unmerited an odium as the former class had into contempt by the attempt, equally unfeeling and unwise to realise them in private life, to the disturbance of domestic peace. And lastly, a third class; but the name of —— spares me the necessity of describing it. In all these there was such a want of common sensibility, such a want of that gratitude to an intellectual benefactor which even an honest reverence for their great selves should have secured, as did then, still does, and ever will disgust me.

“As for ——, I cannot justify him; but he stands in no one of the former classes. When he was young he just looked enough into your books to believe you taught republicanism and stoicism; ergo, that he was of your opinion and you of his, and that was all.
Systems of philosophy were never his taste or forte. And I verily believe that his conduct originated wholly and solely in the effects which the trade of reviewing never fails to produce at certain times on the best minds,—presumption, petulance, callousness to personal feelings, and a disposition to treat the reputations of their contemporaries as playthings placed at their own disposal. Most certainly I cannot approve of such things; but yet I have learned how difficult it is for a man who has from earliest childhood preserved himself immaculate from all the common faults and weaknesses of human nature, and who, never creating any small disquietudes, has lived in general esteem and honour, to feel remorse, or to admit that he has done wrong. Believe me, there is a bluntness of conscience superinduced by a very unusual infrequency, as well as by a habit of frequency of wrong actions. ‘Sunt, quibus cecidisse prodesset,’ says
Augustine. To this add that business of review-writing, carried on for fifteen years together, and which I have never hesitated to pronounce an immoral employment, unjust to the author of the books reviewed, injurious in its effects on the public taste and morality, and still more injurious in its influences on the head and heart of the reviewer himself. The pragustatores among the luxurious Romans soon lost their taste; and the verdicts of an old praigustator were sure to mislead, unless when, like dreams, they were interpreted into contraries. Our Reviewers are the genuine descendants of these palate-scared taste dictators.

“I am still confined by indisposition, but intend to step out to Hazlitt’s, almost my next door neighbour, at his particular request. It is possible that I may find you there.

“Yours, dear Godwin, affectionately,

S. T. Coleridge.”