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SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE. COLERIDGE, whose simple, unworldly character is as well known as his genius, seems to have inherited his particular disposition from his father. His father was the Rev. John Coleridge, the vicar of Ottery St. Mary, in Devonshire. He was a learned man, the head master of the free grammarschool at Ottery, as well as vicar. He had been previously head master of the school at South Molton, and was one of the persons who assisted Dr. Kennicott in his Hebrew Bible. “He was an exceedingly studious man,” says Gillman, on the authority of Coleridge himself, “pious, of primitive manners, and the most simple habits : passing events were little heeded by him, and therefore he was usually characterized as the absent man.'” Coleridge was born October 21st, 1772, the youngest of thirteen children, of which nine were sons, one of whom died in infancy. Of all these sons Coleridge is said to have most resembled his father in mind and habit. His mother was, except for edu
cation, in which she was deficient, a most fitting wife for such a man. She was an active, careful housekeeper and manager, looked well after worldly affairs, and was ambitious to place her sons well in the world. She always told them to look after good, substantial, sensible women, and not after fine harpsichord ladies. Coleridge used to relate many instances of his father's absence of mind, one or two of which we may quote. On one occasion, having to breakfast with his bishop, he went, as was the practice of that day, into a barber's shop to have his head shaved, wigs being then in common use. Just as the operation was completed, the clock struck nine, the hour at which the bishop 'punctually breakfasted. Roused as from a revery, he instantly left the barber's shop, and in his haste forgetting his wig, appeared at the breakfast-table, where the bishop and his party had assembled. The bishop, well acquainted with his absent manners, courteously and play"fully requested him to walk into an adjoining room, and give his opinion of a mirror which had arrived from London a few days previously, and which disclosed to his astonished guest the consequence of his haste and forgetfulness.
The old gentleman, Coleridge also related, had to take a journey on some professional business, which would detain him from home for three or four days: his good wife, in her care and watchfulness, had packed a few things in a small trunk, and gave them in charge to her husband, with strong injunctions that he was to put on a clean shirt every day. On his return home, his wife went to search for his linen, when, to her dismay, it was not in the trunk. A closer search, however, discovered that the vicar had strictly obeyed her injunctions, and had put on daily a clean shirt, but had forgotten to remove the one underneath. This might have been the pleasantest and most portable mode of carrying half-a-dozen shirts in winter, but not so in the dog-days.
The poor idolized him and paid him the greatest reverence; and among other causes, for the odd one of quoting the original Hebrew liberally in his sermons. They felt themselves particularly favored by his giving them “the very words the Spirit spoke in;" the agricultural population flocked in from the neighborhood with great eagerness to hear him on this account; and such an opinion did they acquire of his learning, that they regarded his successor with much contempt, because he addressed them in simple English. This worthy old man died when Coleridge was about seven years old only.
He seems to have been a delicate child, of timid disposition. Being so much younger than his brothers, he never came in to be a playfellow of theirs, and thus to acquire physical hardihood and activity. “I was,” he says, “in earliest childhood huffed away from the enjoyment of muscular activity in play, to take refuge at my mother's side, or on my little stool to read my book, and to listen to the talk of my elders. I was driven from life in motion, to life in thought and sensation. I never played except by myself, and then only acting over what I had been reading or fancying; or half one, half the other, with a stick cutting down weeds and nettles, as one of the seven champions of Christendom. Alas! I had all the simplicity, all the docility of a child, but none of the child's habits. I never thought as a child, never had the language of a child. I forget whether it was in my fifth or sixth year, but I believe the latter, in consequence of some quarrel between me and my brother, in the first week in October, I ran away from fear of being whipped, and passed the whole night—a night of rain and storm-on a bleak side of a hill on the Otter, and was there found at daybreak without the power of using my limbs, about six yards from the naked bank of the river."
This anecdote has been differently related by Cottle, and by the author of Pen and Pencil Sketches. They state that little Sammy Coleridge, as they call him, when between
three and four years of age, had got a thread and a crooked pin from his elder sister Ann, and, unknown to the family, had set out to fish in the Otter. That he had wandered on and on, till, overtaken by fatigue, he lay down and slept. That he continued out all night, to the consternation of the family, and was found by a wagoner the next morning, who, going along the road at four o'clock, thought he heard a child's voice. He stopped, and listened. He now heard the voice cry out, “ Betty! Betty! I can't pull up the clothes.” The wagoner went to the margin of the river, where he saw, to his astonishment, a little child with a withy bough in his hand, which hung over the stream, pulling hard, and on the very point of dragging himself into the water. The child when awakened, as well as frightened, could only say his name was Sammy, and the wagoner carrying him into Ottery, joy indescribable spread through the town and the parsonage.
Which version of this story is the more correct, who shall decide? Little Coleridge, at the age of ten, was placed in Christ's Hospital in London, through the influence of Judge Buller, who had been educated by his father. This school was then, it seems, conducted in a very miserable and unkind manner. Coleridge was half starved there, neglected and wretched. The first bitter experiences of children who have had tolerable homes, of such as have had a decent house over their heads, and decent parents or friends, is on going to school. There has, no doubt, been much improvement in these as in other respects of late years. Schoolmasters, like other men, have felt the growing influences of civilization and true feeling. But there is yet much to be done in schools. Let it be remembered that fagging and flogging still continue in our great public schools of Westminster, Eton, and others. Riding the other day on the top of an omnibus through London, we could, from that popular eminence, see the master of a naval and military school exercising his vocation with the
cane on one of his unhappy scholars. This I presume is a part of what the boys are systematically taught there—the preparatory initiation into the floggings that they are likely to get in the army or navy. That is bad and brutalizing enough, but that we are not yet advanced beyond the absurd idea of driving learning into our gentlemen with the cudgel and the birch, says very little indeed for our advance in true social philosophy. 'Southey gives a very lively idea of the school change in a boy's life, in his Hymn to the Penates.
" When first a little one I left my home,
I can remember the first grief I felt,
First wet with tears my pillow."
“ Corston, twelve years in various fortunes fled
Have passed in restless progress o'er my head,
I roamed an inmate of the village school." The place, he tells us, had been the ample dwelling of the lord of the manor, but— :
“ Here now in petty empire o'er the school,
The mighty master held despotic rule;
The hour when first with awe I viewed his face;
The deep remembrance of that wretched day.
The mistress's kind smile, the master's glee.