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“ in attempting any other, I should only torment “ myself in order to disappoint my auditors“ torment myself during the delivery, I mean ; “ for in all other respects it would be a much “ shorter and easier task to deliver them from “ writing. I am anxious to preclude any sem“ blance of affectation ; and have therefore “ troubled you with this lengthy preface before I “ have the hardihood to assure you, that you “ might as well ask me what my dreams were in “ the year 1814, as what my course of lectures “ was at the Surrey Institution. Fuimus Troes."
The following anecdote will convey to my readers a more accurate notion of Coleridge's powers, when called upon to lecture, even without previous notice. Early one morning he received two letters, which he sent me to read; one to inform him that he was expected that same evening to deliver a lecture at the rooms of the London Philosophical Society, where it was supposed that four or five hundred persons would be present : the other contained a list of the gentlemen who had already given a lecture in the course; to which was added, the subject on which each had addressed the audience. I well knew that Coleridge, not expecting this sudden appeal, would be agitated, as he was always excited before delivering a lecture, and that this would probably bring on a return of his inward
suffering. After consulting together, we determined to go to town at seven o'clock in the evening, to make some enquiries respecting this unexpected application, and arrived at the house of the gentleman who had written the letter. His servant informed us that he was not at home, but would return at eight o'clock, the hour fixed for the commencement of the lecture. We then proceeded to the society's room, which we found empty. It was a long one, partitioned off by a pole, the ends of which were fastened to the sidewalls, and from this pole was nailed a length of baize which reached the floor, and in the centre was fixed a square piece of board to form a desk. We passed under this baize curtain to observe the other arrangements, from whence we could easily discern the audience as they entered. When we looked over the pole which formed the partition, we saw rows of benches across the room, prepared for about four or five hundred persons -on the side were some short ones, one above the other, intended for the committee. The preparations looked formidable--and Coleridge was anxiously waiting to be informed of the subject on which he was to lecture. At length the committee entered, taking their seats—from the centre of this party Mr. President arose, and put on a president's hat, which so disfigured him that we could scarcely refrain from laughter. He thus addressed the company :-“ This evening, Mr. Coleridge will deliver a lecture on the “Growth of the Individual Mind.'” Coleridge at first seemed startled, and turning round to me whispered, “a pretty stiff subject they have chosen “ for me.” He instantly mounted his standing. place, and began without hesitation ; previously requesting me to observe the effect of his lecture on the audience. It was agreed, that, should he appear to fail, I was to clasp his ancle, but that he was to continue for an hour if the countenances of his auditors indicated satisfaction. If I rightly remember his words, he thus began his address :-“ The lecture I am about to give “ this evening is purely extempore. Should you “ find a nominative case looking out for a verb “ --or a fatherless verb for a nominative case, " you must excuse it. It is purely extempore, “ though I have thought and read much on this “subject.” I could see the company begin to smile, and this at once seemed to inspire him with confidence. This beginning appeared to me a sort of mental curvetting, while preparing his thoughts for one of his eagle flights, as if with an eagle's eye he could steadily look at the mid-day sun. He was most brilliant, eloquent, and logically consecutive. The time moved on so swiftly, that on looking at my watch, I found an hour and a half had passed away, and therefore waiting only a desirable moment to use his own playful words ;) I prepared myself to
“punctuate his oration.” As previously agreed, I pressed his ancle, and thus gave him the hint he had requested-when bowing graciously, and with a benevolent and smiling countenance he presently descended.
The lecture was quite new to me, and I believe quite new to himself, at least so far as the arrangement of his words were concerned. The floating thoughts were most beautifully arranged, and delivered on the spur of the moment. What accident gave rise to the singular request, that he should deliver this lecture impromptu, I never learnt; nor did it signify, as it afforded a happy opportunity to many of witnessing in part the extent of his reading, and the extraordinary strength of his powers.
At this time an intimate and highly accomplished friend of my wife's, who was also a very sensible woman, a fine musician, and considered one of the best private performers in the country, came on a visit. The conversation turned on music, and Coleridge, speaking of himself, observed, “I believe I have no ear for music, but “ have a taste for it.” He then explained the delight he received from Mozart, and how greatly he enjoyed the dithyrambic movement of Beethoven ; but could never find pleasure in the fashionable modern composers. It seemed to him “playing tricks with music-like nonsense “ verses-music to please me,” added he, “must
“have a subject.” Our friend appeared struck with this observation, ". I understand you, sir,” she replied, and immediately seated herself at the piano. “Have the kindness to listen to the three following airs, which I played on a certain occasion extempore, as substitutes for wo Will you try to guess the meaning I wished to convey, and I shall then ascertain the extent of my success." She instantly gave us the first air,
-his reply was immediate. “That is clear, it “ is solicitation.”-“When I played this air,” observed the lady, “to a dear friend whom you know, she turned to me, saying, what do you want ?'— I told her the purport of my air was to draw her attention to her dress, as she was going out with me to take a drive by the seashore without her cloak.” Our visitor then called Coleridge's attention to her second air; it was short and expressive. To this he answered,“ that “is easily told-it is remonstrance.” “Yes,” replied she, “ for my friend again shewing the same inattention, I played this second extemporaneous air, in order to remonstrate with her.” We now listened to the third and last air. He requested her to repeat it, which she did.-" That,” said he, “I cannot understand.” To this she replied, -“it is I believe a failure,” naming at the same time the subject she had wished to convey. Coleridge's answer was-" That is a sentiment, “ and cannot be well expressed in music.”