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COMUS THE SORCERER.
THYRSIS tells the Brothers of a Lady, that their Sister has fallen inte the hands of the Sorcerer COMUS, dwelling in a wood.
Within the navel of this hideous wood,
Immur'd in cypress shades, a sorcerer dwells,
By sly enticement gives his baneful cup,
With many murmurs mix'd, whose pleasing poison
In their obscurèd haunts of inmost bowers;
And stole upon the air, that even Silence
Was took ere she was ware, and wish'd she might Deny her nature, and be never more
Still to be so displac'd. I was all ear,
And took in strains that might create a soul
Lean on it safely; not a period
Shall be unsaid for me: against the threats
Of malice, or of sorcery, or that power
Which erring men call chance, this I hold firm ;
Virtue may be assail'd, but never hurt,—
Surpris'd by unjust force, but not enthrall'd;
Yea, even that, which mischief meant most harm,
But evil on itself shall back recoil,
And mix no more with goodness: when at last
27"The chewing flocks," &c.—— "The supper of the sheep," says Warton," is from a beautiful comparison in Spenser,-
As gentle shepherd, in sweet eventide
When ruddy Phoebus gins to welk (decline) in west,
Faerie Queene, i., s. 23.
"Chewing flocks" is good, but not equal to "biting their hasty supper." It is hardly dramatical, too, in the speaker to stop to notice the sweetness and dewiness of the sheep's grass, while he had a story to tell, and one of agitating interest to his hearers.
BORN, 1793-DIED, 1834.
COLERIDGE lived in the most extraordinary and agitated period of modern history; and to a certain extent he was so mixed up with its controversies, that he was at one time taken for nothing but an apostate republican, and at another for a dreaming theosophist. The truth is, that both his politics and theosophy were at the mercy of a discursive genius, intellectually bold but educationally timid, which, anxious, or rather willing, to bring conviction and speculation together, mooting all points as it went, and throwing the subtlest glancing lights on many, ended in satisfying nobody, and concluding nothing. Charles Lamb said of him, that he had "the art of making the unintelligible appear intelligible." He was the finest dreamer, the most eloquent talker, and the most original thinker of the day; but for want of complexional energy, did nothing with all the vast prose part of his mind but help the Germans to give a subtler tone to criticism, and sow a few valuable seeds of thought in minds worthy to receive them. Nine-tenths of his theology would apply equally well to their own creeds in the mouths of a Brahmin or a Mussulman.
His poetry is another matter. It is so beautiful, and was so quietly content with its beauty, making no call on the critics, and receiving hardly any notice, that people are but now beginning to awake to a full sense of its merits. Of pure poetry, strictly so called, that is to say, consisting of nothing but its essential self, without conventional and perishing helps, he was the greatest master of his time. If you would see it in a phial, like a distillation of roses (taking it, I mean, at its best), it would be found without a speck. The poet is happy with so good a gift,
and the reader is "happy in his happiness." Yet so little, sometimes, are a man's contemporaries and personal acquaintances able or disposed to estimate him properly, that while Coleridge, unlike Shakspeare, lavished praises on his poetic friends, he had all the merit of the generosity to himself; and even Hazlitt, owing perhaps to causes of political alienation, could see nothing to admire in the exquisite poem of Christabel, but the description of the quarrel between the friends! After speaking, too, of the Ancient Mariner as the only one of his poems that he could point out to any one as giving an adequate idea of his great natural powers, he adds, "It is high German, however, and in it he seems to conceive of poetry but as a drunken dream, reckless, careless, and heedless of past, present, and to come. This is said of a poem, with which fault has been found for the exceeding conscientiousness of its moral! O, ye critics, the best of ye, what havoc does personal difference play with your judgments! It was Mr. Hazlitt's only or most unwarrantable censure, or one which friendship found hardest to forgive. But peace, and honor too, be with his memory! If he was a splenetic and sometimes jealous man, he was a disinterested politician and an admirable critic and lucky were those whose natures gave them the right and the power to pardon him.
Coleridge, though a born poet, was in his style and general musical feeling the disciple partly of Spenser, and partly of the fine old English ballad-writers in the collection of Bishop Percy. But if he could not improve on them in some things, how he did in others, especially in the art of being thoroughly musical! Of all our writers of the briefer narrative poetry, Coleridge is the finest since Chaucer; and assuredly he is the sweetest of all our poets. Waller's music is but a court-flourish in comparison; and though Beaumont and Fletcher, Collins, Gray, Keats, Shelley, and others, have several as sweet passages, and Spenser is in a certain sense musical throughout, yet no man has written whole poems, of equal length, so perfect in the sentiment of music, so varied with it, and yet leaving on the ear so unbroken and single an effect.