A Coleridge Companion: An Introduction to the Major Poems by John Spencer Hill

By John Spencer Hill

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The lines which follow (49-64) constitute a palinode in which 28 A Coleridge Companion metaphysics is rejected in favour of orthodox fideism. Overwhelmed by a conviction of original sin (cf. CL, 1396) and daunted by his wife's reproving eye, he descends timorously and thankfully back to Sara and their pastoral cottage. These closing lines, which Coleridge doubtless intended to be climactic, are felt by most readers to be a decided blot upon the poem. They have been much discussed, and there are two major difficulties associated with them: first, the dramatic function of the poet's wife, and, second, the problem of what precisely is being rejected in these lines, and why.

After he returned from Germany, Coleridge suggested to Southey in December 1799 that, if 'Johnson should mean to do nothing more' (CL, I 550) with the three poems, they might find a place in Southey's projected Annual Anthology. Southey was interested, and Coleridge wrote back five days later: 'I will speak to Johnson about the Fears in Solitude - if he give them up, they are your's' (CL, 1552)_ Johnson, however, would not relinquish his right to the poems, and in February 1800 Coleridge told Southey that 'The fears in Solitude, 1 fear, is not my Property - & 1 have no encouragement to think, it will be given The Conversation Poems 39 up' (CL, I 573).

The story of the years 1812-16 is largely that of a struggle with opium. Placing himself under the care of a succession of physicians, Coleridge tried to conquer his habit, but without success. Through sheer force of will he managed to complete some work: lectures on Shakespeare in London and Bristol, three essays 'On the Principles of Genial Criticism Concerning the Fine Arts' published in Felz'x Farley's Bristol Journal (August-September 1814), and most significantly the composition of Bt'ographt'a Lt'terarz'a from June to September 1815.

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