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Romanticism on the Net

Numéro 17, février 2000

After Romantic Ideology

Sous la direction de Michael John Kooy

Direction : Michael Eberle-Sinatra (directeur)

Éditeur : Université de Montréal

ISSN : 1467-1255 (numérique)

DOI : 10.7202/005900ar

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Article

Coleridge's Discursive "Monody on the Death of Chatterton" [*]

Paul Magnuson

New York University


1

Prompted, in part, by a wide-spread skepticism with maps of totalizing history, literary historians now focus on particular material conditions of production, publication, and authorship. They have turned their attention from schools and families of writers traced in a genealogical descent in the long sweep of literary history to local knowledge and particular circumstances for several reasons. Particulars seem less vulnerable to skeptical inquiry than general accounts of historical movements and can stand as the ground for a materialist criticism. The significance of a literary work appears stabilized by being fixed to historical facts, the moment of creation, the means of production, and organs of reception. For some critics, a materialist criticism of particulars thus aims to install history and society at a work's origin and to anchor it in such a way that its boundaries are not violated and its figuration is not dispersed among the codes of language.

2

The focus on historical specificity is evident in a number of critical methods. Jerome McGann has outlined the topics for a historical criticism: the "originary textual moment" of authorship and collaborative authorship; the "secondary moments of textual production and reproduction," the reprinting of works; and "the immediate moment of textual criticism," its reception by reviewers whose tendentious purposes enter into the account. Jack Stillinger, along with other editors of Romantic literature, has called for a theory of versions of a work. Since many authors revised their works in republication, a poem may exist in many versions. No one version, Stillinger argues, can be preferred over another, not a first nor a final version supervised in the author's lifetime: "I suggest ... that we drop the concept of an ideal single text fulfilling an author's intentions and put our money instead on some theory of versions." More recently, James Chandler has argued that the turn to history in literary studies is a return to "dated specificity." He describes literature "concerned with its place in England in 1819—concerned, that is, with a national operation of self-dating, or -redating, that is meant to count as a national self-making, or -remaking." I have recently offered another approach to historical and textual specificity by practicing a criticism that reads a version of a work in the paratextual frame of its original publication, which links the Romantic lyric to public debates and the discourse of politics, morality, law, and aesthetics. [1]

3

Historical specificity, however, raises a number of problems. Locating a work in relation to its printing, its versions, its date, or its paratext determines its significance, and that determination severely limits significance, since a work is reprinted with different contexts, dates, and paratexts. Poems are republished and therefore repeated in different locations; dated contexts are not repeatable. Poems are iterable; dates are not. Strict historical specificity limits a work's significance in practical criticism, so that one date or version provides one meaning. As Kelvin Everest argued at the 1998 Coleridge Conference, "Some texts plainly also live both independently of this context, as it might be in the modern classroom, study, beach, fireside, or aeroplane." We must acknowledge that a work worth rereading is always in excess of its historical moment. To practice a critical method that relies exclusively on an originary moment, version, date, or paratext is to entomb a work in a paratextual memorial. Some editors of poetry place two dates after each poem. On the left, the date of composition, or birth; on the right, the date of publication, or death. The most important dates for poems, as for people, then become those on a tombstone. Locating a work within its originating context may explain its field of reference or its illocutionary force, but as Everest argues, has little to say about its formal properties or its affective power.

4

Everest also argues that "if the meaning of a text lies in its lost unity" with an originating context, "then the reconstitution of that lost unity" requires the reconstitution of an original textual form." Historical meaning depends on unique versions, and different meanings depend on differing versions. Everest concludes this "implies a very narrow view of poetic meaning." [2] And so it does, if the originary moment is conceived as a stable unity of context and version. Originary moments, however, are often neither unitary nor stable. Both creative and productive moments contain contrary impulses obscured by our historical distance from them. As an example of the instability of origins, I will explore the originary moment of Coleridge's "Monody on the Death of Chatterton" as it was printed in Poems (1796). The originary moment for the "Monody" in 1796 is not the date of its composition. It could have been written any time from October 1794 to early 1796. The moment of its origin is March 1796 when Coleridge composed the volume and wrote the notes. [3] Coleridge constructed a paratext for "Monody on the Death of Chatterton" to encourage the reader to read it as his personal expression of melancholy. At the same time, however, he wrote, and then canceled, a note for the poem, which, had it been published, would have changed the "Monody" from an effusion of melancholy to a bitter denunciation of class, wealth, and ecclesiastical power. The complex paratext of the originary moment does not determine a single or stable reading. Differing readings, based upon the differing illocutonary acts involved in publication, are present from the very beginning. The text's instability resides, not primarily in questions of meaning or representation, but in the utterance as illocutionary act. Coleridge's "Monody" is either an individual effusion of Coleridge's sensibility, as in a traditional reading of Romantic lyrics; or it is a discursive utterance, alluding, echoing, and responding to other utterances and entering public debates. In this instance a historical method that locates a work by version, date, and paratext does not limit the text to a single meaning or affect. I will first describe the paratext of the "Monody" and then turn to readings of the poem as it actually appeared to contrast that reading with the issues raised in the canceled note.

5

Published as the first work in Poems on Various Subjects (1796) "Monody on the Death of Chatterton" followed a Preface, which justified the poems' emotional egotism. The "Monody" is a self-portrait of the melancholy poet in which Coleridge identifies himself with Chatterton. James Averill has commented that Coleridge introduced later volumes with poetic self-portraits: the political prophet in "Ode on the Departing Year" in Poems (1797) and the imaginative prophet in "The Ancient Mariner" in Lyrical Ballads (1798). [4] If one reads the poem with the paratext as finally printed in the 1796 volume, the "Monody" is primarily an expression of Coleridge's identification with Chatterton and a protest against society's neglect of poets and literature, which serves Coleridge's own search for financial support.

6

On the title page of the volume, Coleridge printed a quotation from Statius as a motto:

Felix curarum, cui non Heliconia cordi

Serta, nec imbelles Parnassi e vertice laurus !

Sed viget ingenium, et magnos accinctus in usus

Fert animus quascunque vices.—Nos tristia vitae

Solamur cantu.

["Happy thou in thy labours, who carest not for the chaplets of Helicon nor for the unwarlike bays from Parnassus' summit, but thy intellect is keen and thy mind girt up for mighty deeds endures whatever may befall; we beguile a melancholy life with song"] [5]

When Coleridge quotes for mottoes, epigraphs, and the like, he often changes or adapts the original, as he does here. Statius had written that the poet beguiles a "leisured life," otia vitae, which Coleridge changed to a "melancholy life," tristia vitae. Coleridge wished to avoid the class associations implied by the otia vitae at a time when he felt the financial pressure of supporting a growing family and the political pressure of increasing intolerance of dissent. A motto on the title page is a form of signature, as the word "motto" originally indicated writing on a scroll or heraldic device that identified the bearer. Coleridge changes the quotation to deny his association with a leisured life. His title on the title page is "S. T. Coleridge, Late of Jesus College, Cambridge."

7

Although the volume includes the political "Sonnets on Eminent Characters" and "Religious Musings," Coleridge's Preface echoes the motto's rejection of the higher genres of poetry for the expression of individual feeling:

Compositions resembling those of the present volume are not unfrequently condemned for their querulous egotism. But egotism is to be condemned then only when it offends against time and place, as in an History or an Epic Poem. To censure it in a Monody or Sonnet is almost as absurd as to dislike a circle for being round. Why then write Sonnets or Monodies? Because they give me pleasure when perhaps nothing else could. After the more violent emotions of Sorrow, the mind demands solace and can find it in employment alone; but full of its late sufferings it can endure no employment not connected with those sufferings.

The "Monody" expresses Coleridge's private melancholy. The public is no more than an aggregate of sympathetic individuals: "how are the Public interested in your sorrows or your description? ... What is the Public but a term for a number of scattered individuals of whom as many will be interested in these sorrows as have experienced the same or similar?" Coleridge chose the title "Monody" rather than ode, although as I. A. Gordon points out, the first, 1790 version is an "irregular Pindaric." [6] In Greek the word "monody" defined a lyric spoken by a single voice, as opposed to a choral ode. Coleridge's choice of "monody," rather than elegy or ode, emphasizes his personal reaction to Chatterton's death.

8

With the motto, preface, and title indicating that the poem is an effusion of individual melancholy, and with Coleridge's later classification of it as a "juvenile poem," one is tempted to read it as a youthful imitation of the literature of sensibility, an exercise in a style Coleridge soon abandoned and to read its rhetoric as reminiscent of the odes of Collings and Gray. The "Monody" is a highly allusive poem, but its allusions and quotations are not random appropriations from a pool of poetic conventions. They are commentaries on their original contexts. By including some in quotation marks, Coleridge indicates that the poem should be read through its references. The "Monody" challenges eighteenth-century progress poetry and issues a counter-statement. Gray's "Progress of Poetry" and Thomson's "Liberty," for examples, argued that liberty and literature originated in Greece, but migrated through Europe to England, although Gray's poem raises some doubt that his contemporary writers were the equal of their Greek and earlier English originals. Similarly, while Gray's "The Bard" relates the legend of an English King killing Welsh bards, it concludes with the prophecy of a Welsh monarch ascending to the British throne.

9

For Coleridge, liberty and literature cannot reside in repressive English culture. England has neglected its writers, and the only recourse is emigration, to leave England for America, a point Coleridge announced in the Preface: "Some of the verses allude to an intended emigration to America on the scheme of an abandonment of individual property." The 1796 version of the "Monody" adds a Miltonic turn from the melancholy of Chatterton's death. "Hence, gloomy thoughts," echoes "Hence loathed melancholy," which opens Milton's "L'Allegro." The turn introduces the octave of a sonnet sent to Southey September 8, 1794:

Hence, gloomy thoughts ! no more my soul shall dwell

On joys that were ! No more endure to weigh

The shame and anguish of the evil day,

Wisely forgetful ! O'er the ocean swell

Sublime of Hope I seek the cottag'd dell

Where Virtue calm with careless step may stray;

And, dancing to the moon-light roundelay,

The Wizard passions weave an holy spell! [7]

The poem concludes with a fantasy of Chatterton's joining them in America where "we, at sober eve, would round thee throng, / Hanging, enraptur'd on thy stately song! / And greet with smiles the young-eyed Poesy / All deftly mask'd, as hoar Antiquity" (ll. 130-33). Coleridge's gesture toward emigration, in 1796 no more than dream of an ideal state, since the pantisocracy plan ended in August 1795 with his break with Southey, echoes Berkeley's "Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America" (1752): "There shall be sung another golden age, / The rise of empire and of arts ... Westward the course of empire takes its way" (ll. 13-14, 21). It also echoes the conclusion of Goldsmith's "Deserted Village" (1770) where the "rural virtues leave the land" (l. 398) and "sweet Poetry ... Still first to fly where sensual joys invade" (ll. 407-408) leaves for the Americas to avoid sensuality and the "rage of gain" (l. 424).

10

The long central section of the poem (ll. 23-117), which places Chatterton in a tradition of neglected poets who commit suicide or die in poverty, opens with an allusion to Warton's "The Suicide. An Ode." Coleridge asks

Is this the land of song-ennobled line?

Is this the land, where Genius ne'er in vain

Pour'd forth his lofty strain?

ll. 23-25

Warton at first sympathized with the poet who committed suicide:

"Is this," mistaken Scorn will cry,

"Is this the youth, whose genius high

Could build the genuine rhyme?"

ll. 37-39

Yet Warton's poem ends with a warning against excessive sympathy with the religious guilt of suicide, yet still retains some feeling for the poet. Coleridge forsakes a conventional moral stance and blames, not the poet, but the culture that neglected Chatterton and, as legend had it, permitted Spenser to die of hunger. Otway suffered a similar fate: "While 'mid the pelting of that merciless storm,' / Sunk to the cold earth Otway's famished form!" (ll. 31-32). Coleridge's quotation marks call attention to King Lear: "Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are / That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm" (III, iv, 27-28) and to Charles Churchill's "The Prophecy of Famine" (1763): "Safe from the pelting of this perilous storm" (l. 345). Coleridge was reading Churchill in 1796, since he quoted him in the Preface to Poems (1796). Lear is a closer verbal source, since the 1794 version of the "Monody" had "pitiless storm" for the later "merciless storm." Shakespeare's storm is the natural parallel to the storm within Lear, while Churchill's storm, which confines Scottish shepherds to their cave, is the storm of poverty and hunger. Churchill's phrase is thus closer to Coleridge's use of the storm for Otway, who died, as Theophilus Cibber reported, of hunger, dunned by creditors, and starved by indifferent patrons: "From the example of Mr. Otway, succeeding poets should learn not to place any confidence in the promises of patrons," [8] precisely Chatterton's error.

11

Coleridge portrays Chatterton as a patriotic poet, who sings of Ella's battles with the Danish. [9] Yet Coleridge redefines Chatterton's patriotism as sympathy with the oppressed. Chatterton "Pours the bright blaze of Freedom's noon-tide ray: / And now, indignant, 'grasps the patriot steel,' / And her own iron rod he makes Oppression feel." [10] Coleridge quotes Collings's "Ode to Fear" where Collings praises the fear defined in Aristotle's Poetics, just as his "Ode to Pity" praises Aristotle's pity. Collings cites Aeschylus as a patriot who fought against the Persians at Marathon and Salamis. [11] "Patriot," in the 1790's, came to mean "revolutionary," and Coleridge enlists Chatterton in the ranks of democrats and Jacobins. He similarly transforms Collings' dramatic emotions of pity and fear into the social sympathies of benevolence, charity, and philanthropy.

12

Toward the end of the 1794 version, Coleridge invokes Gray. Coleridge describes the Avon near Bristol as Chatterton's haunt: "Ye woods! that wave o'er Avon's rocky steep, / To fancy's ear sweet is your murm'ring deep!" (ll. 92-93), which alludes to Gray's "The Progress of Poetry": "Woods that wave o'er Delphi's steep, / Isles that crown the Aegean deep" (ll. 66-67). Gray's lines, however, introduce the silence of corrupt Greece and the muses' safe harbor in England:

     the sad Nine in Greece's evil hour

Left their Parnassus for the Latian plains.

Alike they scorn the pomp of tyrant-power,

And coward Vice that revels in her chains.

When Latium had her lofty spirit lost,

They sought, oh Albion! next thy sea-encircled coast.

ll. 77-82

Chatterton assumes the position of the prophet in Gray's "The Bard": he "upon some rough rock's fearful brow / Would pause abrupt—and gaze upon the waves below," which echoes Gray's

On a rock, whose haughty brow

Frowns o'er cold Conway's foaming flood,

Robed in the sable garb of woe,

With haggard eyes the poet stood;

ll. 15-18

Having prophesied civil chaos following Edward I's invasion of Wales and the murder of the bards, the bard also prophesies the reign of Tudor kings and English grandeur. No such consolation is available to Chatterton. His gazing on the waters below recalls the suicide of Gray's bard and foretells his own.

13

Yet even with Coleridge's criticisms of England's neglect of poets, the "Monody," as printed in 1796, remains a personal expression of sorrow, a work of the literature of sensibility, which takes its place among other complaints of impoverished poets. Thelwall thought Coleridge's versification typical of the "Della Crusca school which blurs almost every one of your poems—I mean the frequent accent upon adjectives and weak words—'Escap'd the sore wounds' [l. 11]—'Sunk to the cold earth' [l. 32]—'Love glittering, thro' the high tree branching wide' [l. 99]—'When most the big soul feels' [l. 101]—'Anon upon some rough rock's fearful brow' [l. 106]—'But dare no longer on the sad theme muse' [l. 112]—all occur in the first 8 pages." [12] Coleridge admitted that Thelwall's criticisms were just: "Your remarks on the Della-crusca place of Emphasis are just in part—where we wish to point out the thing, & the quality is mentioned merely as a decoration, this mode of emphasis is indeed absurd—therefore I very patiently give up to critical vengeance high tree, sore wounds and rough rock" (CL 1, 216). Both versification and allusions link Coleridge's "Monody" to the literature of sensibility.

14

Shortly before publication of the volume, Coleridge composed a long note to the "Monody," which for political reasons he and Cottle finally canceled. The note changes the "Monody" from an individual effusion to a public poem on England's cultural state. The note was set in print for pages 177-78, revised to exclude the more incendiary comments, and finally canceled. In transcribing the note, I have included in brackets those passages that Coleridge deleted and two spelling corrections he made before the cancellation of the entire note:

Poor Chatterton! Herbert Croft has written with feeling concerning him; and Vicesimus Knox has attempted to write with feeling.—Hayley [who (so future Antiquarians will inform our posterity) has written sundry things in the reign of King George the Third,] describes [the death of] Chatterton in his Essay on Poetry—as tearing the strings of his lyre in the agonies of death! !—By far the best poem on this subject is "Neglected Genius or Tributary Stanzas to the Memory of the unfortunate Chatterton," written by Rushton, a blind Sailor.

Walpole writes thus. "All the house of Forgery are relations. Although it be but just to Chatterton's memory to say, that his poverty never made him claim kindred with the more enriching branches yet he who could so ingeniously counterfeit styles and (the asserter believes) hands, might easily have been led to the more facile imitation of prose promissory notes!"—[O ye, who honor the name of Man, rejoice that this Walpole is called a Lord!]

Miles [corrected to Milles] too, the Editor of his Poems—a Priest who though only a Dean, in dullness and malignity was most episcopally eminent, fouly [corrected to foully] calumniated him—

     An Owl mangling a poor dead Nightingale!—

     Most inspired Bard!

     To him alone in this benighted age

     Was that divine Inspiration given,

     Which glows in Milton's and in Shakespeare's page,

     The pomp and prodigality of heaven. [13]

Cottle informed Coleridge that a Captain Blake, the son-in-law of Dean Milles, was a member of the Bristol Corporation: " 'What,' said Mr. Coleridge, 'the man with the great sword?' 'The same,' I answered. 'Then,' said Mr. C. with an assumed gravity, 'I will suppress this note to Chatterton; the fellow might have my head off before I am aware!'" [14] With this note, Coleridge's "Monody" becomes one utterance among many, one voice in the discourse over Chatterton's memory; the place of literature in society; and the problems of class, the established church, morality, money, and patronage. In short, the "Monody" becomes a discursive utterance. The paratextual variations, the product of both Coleridge's and Cottle's intentions, lead, not to a single, limited, and reductive historical reading of the poem, but rather to a complex play of multiple meanings, affects, and illocutionary intentions.

15

The latest possible date for Coleridge's writing the note is late March 1796 when he wrote to Cottle that "I will write out the whole of the notes & Preface." [15] The volume was published April 16, 1796 and the notes reflect Coleridge's political and social views of late 1795 and early 1796, when he was on a tour to the Midlands to collect subscribers for the Watchman, and when he was completing the text and notes of "Religious Musings." The note addresses two major issues. The is first Chatterton's character, his reputation, not as the author of the Rowley poems, but as the freethinking libertine of the satires. This Chatterton is not the marvelous boy but the partisan of patriots of the 1770s and the literary heir of Charles Churchill. The second is the question of class and patronage. Without leisure and education could Chatterton aspire to become a poet without patronage? The issue of the authenticity of the Rowley poems is, in the discourse cited by Coleridge's note, secondary; both the note and the poem assume that Chatterton himself is the author.

16

Coleridge's note relies heavily on Edward Rushton's Neglected Genius: or, Tributary Stanzas to the Memory of the Unfortunate Chatterton (1787), printed for J. Phillips in London. I have been able to locate only two copies: one in the Library of Congress and the other, without boards, in the British Library. It was reprinted as "To the Memory of the Unfortunate Chatterton" in Rushton's Poems (1806), but the later version was greatly toned down. It is certain that Coleridge saw the 1787 version and more than likely that he had a copy at hand in composing his own note. Coleridge's quotation from Walpole comes almost exactly from a two-page preface to Rushton's 1787 poem, which was omitted in the 1806 version. While Coleridge's quotation is very close to the Preface, both his quotation and the Preface differ significantly from Walpole's actual prose. [16] Rushton's Preface also states, "A Croft, A Hayley, and a Knox have moistened many an Eye on this subject," and Coleridge mentions the same three as sympathetic to Chatterton, although he has some disparaging comments on Hayley. Coleridge also copied Rushton's closing comment in the Preface: "Here then, ye sober scholars, or rather ye formal owls, who have thus fallen upon a poor dead Nightingale, and with the sharp Talons of Invective have endeavour'd to mangle him in so cruel a manner."

17

In addition, there are three stanzas omitted in the 1806 version that attack Walpole, Wharton, and Milles. The fifth stanza of the 1787 version interrogates Walpole for belittling Chatterton's forgeries when his Castle of Otranto was a forgery:

Compassion, o'er thy much-lov'd Clay,

    Shall duly drop the briny tear;

Shall duly brush the Weeds away

Which Pride and Envy scatter there:

    Say, Walpole, Honourable Sage!

What Right hadst thou to brand the Page?

Why reprobate the great Design?

Was not Otranto's Forgery thine?

But, tell me, what wouldst thou have thought,

Had some rude Soul, with Venom fraught,

   For that Offence attack'd thy Name, and cry'd

   Beware the Felon's Fate, All Forgeries are ally'd.

The sixth stanza dismisses the Bristol patrons and targets Wharton: "Ye Bristol Patrons! but the Muse / Disdains to brand a petty Train; / Disdains such Pigmies to accuse, / While Giant Wharton claims the Strain." Rushton's footnote complains of Wharton's calling Chatterton "unprincipled." Finally the seventh stanza is a more resentful outburst against Milles:

Thou, too, with antiquarian Eyes,

   Illiberal Critic, proudly mean;

Thou Pattern for unjust Surmise,

   Thou harsh, uncharitable Dean:

Great Judge of Diction Obsolete,

Say, could'st not thou of Rowley treat,

And lift his various Beauties high

Without traducing Bristol's Boy?

Why fling thy sacerdotal Dirt

On him who never did thee Hurt?

   On him, who spurn'd a World where Scoffs abound,

   Where Genius often droops, whilst Dulness lords it round.

The 1806 version, without the preface and these three stanzas, is a much milder poem although a few barbs against unnamed unsympathetic patrons remain. Most of Rushton's poem is a gothic staging of the suicide in which the figure of Suicide persuades Chatterton:

"Sweet bard—ah why does thou remain.

"On this vile orb, this scene of pain?

"Art not thou steeped in blackest woe?

"Hast thou a single patron? no.

"Or can thy sweetly sounding lyre,

"Make stern necessity retire?

   "If not, be firm, these sordid reptiles spurn,

   "(Oh Phoebus glowing son !) and to thy sire return." [17]

In 1782 Jeremiah Milles, Dean of Exeter, defended the authenticity of the Rowley poems on the grounds that the uneducated and rebellious Chatterton could not have conceived of the noble sentiments in the Rowley poems. His edition of Poems, Supposed to have been Written at Bristol, in the Fifteenth Century by Thomas Rowley, Priest, &c. With a Commentary, in which the Antiquity of them is Considered and Defended (1782) is a response to Thomas Tyrwhitt's third edition of 1778, which included "an Appendix, Containing some Observations upon the Language of these Poems; Tending to Prove, that They Were Written, Not by any Ancient Author, but Entirely by Thomas Chatterton." Coleridge borrowed Milles's edition from the Jesus College Library from January to May 1793, [18] and since he did not quote from it in 1796, he may not have seen it again when he attacked Milles, following Rushton's Preface, which described Milles as "a Preacher of that Mild Religion which censures all Uncharitableness," who "has taken every opportunity to stigmatise him as an illiterate Charity Boy, dissolute, profligate, and licentious." Milles's Preface noted that Rowley has "rectitude and purity in all his sentiments" (p. 22) and argued that Chatterton knew nothing of the "pleasures of virtue" or "rewards of religion" (p. 19). Milles asked

Could a youth, thus estranged from the pure principles of religion and morality, enslaved to his passions, stung with disappointment, disgusted both with himself and mankind, (could he, I say) recommend those precepts of benevolence, morality, and religion, which abound in these poems, unmixed with any indelicate sentiment or expression, which might wound the chastest ear, or offend the most religious heart?

Milles might have in mind Chatterton's "Happiness," published in Croft's Love and Madness (1780), which opens with the creed of the libertine and freethinker.

Since Happiness was not ordained for Man

Let's make ourselves as easy as we can

Possesst with Fame or Fortune Friend or Whore

But think it Happiness we want no more

   Hail Revelation Sphere-envelop'd Dame

To some Divinity to most a Name

Reason's dark Lanthorn Superstition's Sun

Who Cause mysterious and Effect are one

From thee Ideal Bliss we only trace

Fair as Ambitions' dream or Beauty's face

But in reality as Shadowy found

As seeming Truth in twisted Mysterys bound [19]

On Chatterton's political views, Milles may have had in mind "Resignation," a topical political satire on the resignation of Grafton, the first four hundred lines of which were published in the Freeholder's Magazine in April and May 1770, shortly before Chatterton's suicide. The published lines echo Churchill's "Prophecy of Famine" and its patriot attack upon Bute:

Hail Resignation, 'tis from thee we trace

The various Villanys of Power and Place.

When Rascals once but Infamy and Rags

Rich with a Nations ruin swell their bags

Purchase a Title, and a royal Smile

And pay to be distinguishably vile

When big with self-importance thus they shine

Contented with their gleanings they resign.

Chatterton 1, 468, 2, 1046-47

Coleridge's reference to Milles as a priest resonates with the notes to "Religious Musings." A note to line 235, which equates "Warriors, and Lords, and Priests", defines priest: "a name, after which any other term of abhorrence would appear an anti-climax. By a Priest I mean a man who holding the scourge of power in his right hand and a bible (translated by authority) in his left, doth necessarily cause the bible and the scourge to be associated ideas, and so produces that temper of mind that leads to Infidelity." At the end of this note Coleridge refers the reader to " 'Address to the People,' Page 57," a reference to his Conciones ad Populum where he notes that all the bishops but one had voted for war because religion was at stake. Coleridge responded:

Not the Religion of Peace, my Bretheren, not the Religion of the meek and lowly Jesus, which forbids to his Disciples all alliance with the powers of this World—but the Religion of Mitres and Mysteries, the Religion of Pluralities and Persecution, the Eighteen-Thousand-Pound-a-Year Religion of Episcopacy. [20]

For a reader willing to follow the direction of Coleridge's notes, the references to Milles as a priest who was "episcopally eminent" located Milles's abuse of Chatterton in a discourse on the established church. Coleridge's position of 1795 and 1796 is, like that of Priestley and other dissenters, opposed to the unity of church and state and in favor of a return to primitive Christianity before the unholy alliance of Christianity with secular power. In the 1796 volume, Milles' abuse of Chatterton is merely one example of the abuse of episcopal power. It is difficult to see Coleridge in sympathy with the libertine and freethinking Chatterton, but Milles's criticisms offered Coleridge a chance to attack the alliance of church and state.

18

The second issue in Coleridge's note is patronage. Walpole's Letter to the Editor of the Miscellanies of Thomas Chatterton (1779) defends himself against the accusations of the Miscellanies editor, John Broughton. Walpole cites Broughton's Preface:

One of his [Chatterton's] first efforts to emerge from a situation so irksome* to him, was an application to a gentleman well known in the republic of letters: which, unfortunately for the public and himself, met with a very cold reception: and which the disappointed author always spoke of with high degree of acrimony, whenever it was mentioned to him.

Walpole's note also quotes Broughton's Preface:

* He was bound apprentice to a lawyer, and "possessed," says the preface, "all the vices and irregularities of youth, and his profligacy was at least as conspicuous as his abilities. Although he was of a profession which might be said to accelerate his pursuits in antiquities, yet so averse was he to that profession that he could never overcome it." [21]

Walpole was particularly offended at Broughton's statement that Chatterton was treated with "neglect and contempt."

19

First, Walpole dismisses Chatterton's version of his application for patronage: "It is very seriously that I must ask you, whether it was the part of a wise man to credit the tales of an acrimonious and disappointed youth, and whose profligacy, you say, was so conspicuous?" (p. 191). Walpole's narrative of the events is simple:

A lad at Bristol, whom I never saw then, before, or since, sends me two or three copies of verses in old English, which he tells me had been found there, and were lent to him by another person; acquaints me that he is clerk to an attorney, but, having more inclination to poetry; wishes that I would procure him a place that would enable him to follow his propensity; I suspect the poetry to be modern; he is angry, re-demands it; I return it—and two years after, the youth is found dead ...

p. 191

On March 25, 1769 Chatterton first sent Walpole writing on English painting, which Chatterton claimed were by Rowley, to which Walpole politely responded. When Chatterton responded on March 30, he probably informed Walpole of his poverty and apprenticeship along with a request for a government position. In an early April letter, now lost, Walpole advised Chatterton to stick to his apprenticeship and "that when he should have made a fortune, he might unbend himself with the studies consonant to his inclinations" (Chatterton 2, 770). Chatterton responded on April 8 that "I am obliged to you, sir, for your advice, and will go a little beyond it, by destroying all my useless lumber of literature, and never using my pen again but in the law" (Chatterton 1, 271). To Walpole the cultivation of literature is the occupation of the otia vitae and for Chatterton and Coleridge it is the consolation of the tristia vitae. The final sentence on Walpole in Coleridge's note, "O ye, who honor the name of Man rejoice that this Walpole is called a Lord," was marked for deletion before the cancellation of the note. Coleridge quoted Walpole's equation of literary and financial forgery in which Walpole implies that Chatterton's claim for literary legitimacy is as fraudulent as his claim for financial support: "All the house of Forgery are relations."

20

Rosemary Ashton has aptly summarized Coleridge's own financial concerns at the time he composed the note to the "Monody": "Lack of money became an acute problem in the spring of 1796. Coleridge found himself responsible not only for his pregnant wife, but also for Mrs. Fricker and her son George, and for George Burnett too." [22] To add to his financial worries Mrs. Fricker was thought to be terminally ill, although she lived until 1809. Coleridge's letters in the late spring of 1796 make plain his financial needs and the results of the failure of the Watchman. He received aid from a number of sources. Cottle gave him thirty pounds for Poems (1796), when London publishers offered only five. Thomas Poole and the Rev. J. P. Estlin gathered seven or eight friends to promise Coleridge thirty-five to forty pounds a year (CL 1, 210). George Dyer made him a substantial grant for which he thanked him: "How deeply I am affected by your kindness, you will conceive better than I can express.—You have already sent a sum amply sufficient to extricate me from my difficulties" (CL 1, 218). Probably through Dyer's assistance Coleridge received a grant from the Royal Literary Fund, recorded on its books as "a donation of ten guineas ... to the author of a volume of poems, and several pieces in prose, on his being represented to the Committee as in a very distressed situation." [23] Finally, through the efforts of John Fellows of Nottingham, about twenty subscribers sent Coleridge a guinea each to compensate him for the failure of the Watchman. [24] One of Coleridge's purposes in printing his "Monody" as the first poem in the volume was to publicize his quest for income.

21

C. G. Martin ponders Coleridge's sarcastic tone on Hayley: "It is not immediately clear why Coleridge thought Hayley's lines on Chatterton so bad." Hayley's Essay on Epic Poetry anticipates Coleridge's complaint about England's neglect of writers. Hayley denies that literature and liberty are safe in England:

If changing times suggest the pleasing hope,

That Bards no more with adverse fortune cope;

That in this alter'd clime, where Arts increase,

And make our polished Isle a second Greece ...

look on Chatterton's disastrous end.

Martin explains that Coleridge's attitude results from Hayley's lack of "any quality of sympathetic feeling" (Martin 397). However, Hayley attributes Chatterton's death to a vague "malignant fate," and "pressing Want's calamitous controul, / And Pride, the fever of the ardent soul," [25] not the failure of patronage. Coleridge's note associates Hayley with aristocracy as a poet who "has written sundry things in the reign of King George the Third," a phrase that was deleted in proof as being excessively offensive. Hayley lived on an independent income and was offered, in 1790, the laureateship, although he declined it. It was not so much Hayley's lack of sympathy as it was his living the otia vitae among the ranks of wealthy patrons and poets acceptable to the crown that prompted Coleridge's sarcasm.

22

Those whom Coleridge cites approvingly, Croft, Knox, and Rushton, answer the charges against Chatterton's freethinking and libertinism and deplore the contempt for Chatterton's class and poverty. Croft acknowledges Chatterton's profligacy, celebrates his genius, and is sharply critical of Walpole's social attitude. Croft says that when Chatterton requested that Walpole return manuscripts, considerable time elapsed before Walpole returned them, and then reports that Chatterton complained that Walpole "would not have dared to use him so ill, if he had not acquainted him with the narrowness of his circumstances." Croft relates Walpole's reply: "This Mr. W. calls 'singularly impertinent.' Let me ask what treatment Mr. W. would expect from an equal to whom he should tacitly refuse to return something which had been lent?" [26] Similarly Vicesimus Knox acknowledged Chatterton's poems as "the most remarkable productions in modern poetry and complained of the neglect of patrons:

There seems to be a general and inveterate dislike to the boy, exclusively of the poet; a dislike which many will be ready to impute, and, indeed, not without the appearance of reason, to that insolence and envy of the little great, which cannot bear to acknowledge so transcendent and commanding a superiority in the humble child of want and obscurity ... [27]

23

The originary moment of the "Monody" in 1796 is not its first version of 1790, nor even the probable date of its composition, which may be as early as September 1794. The moment is late March 1796 when its paratext was composed, the notes written, and the note to the "Monody" canceled. In 1796 the poem is both the private utterance of sorrow over Chatterton's death and England's neglect of poets and the public and discursive expression of Coleridge's political stand. As a private effusion of sympathy, it recognizes the common plight of impoverished genius. The Preface justifies the expression of personal sorrow on the grounds that others share it. The illocutionary force of private grief is to arouse sympathy for Chatterton and to earn patronage for Coleridge. The canceled note, on the other hand, defines the impoverished poet as a member of a class suppressed by ecclesiastical power and aristocratic pride. The reader is asked to share Coleridge's indignation at the abuse of those who wish to aspire beyond their station. The affective range from sympathy to indignation typifies much protest poetry in the 1790's. The historical specificity of the moment transforms Chatterton's patriotism. Shortly before his death, Chatterton published a letter to the Princess Dowager in the Middlesex Journal supporting Wilkes: "Mr. Wilkes stands now at the head of this opposition: in him you find an enemy, as long as you are an enemy to the constitution of this country; his enmity extends no further; it has nothing meanly personal" (Chatterton 1, 568). Coleridge's opposition to government is, in 1796, more precisely focused on church and state and more ideologically motivated. He changes Chatterton's patriotism from that associated with Churchill and Wilkes of the 1770s to that connected with Unitarian and Jacobin causes.

24

At stake in the paratextual complexity of the originary moment is more than the conflicting self presentations of the private and public selves, the textual instability, and the affective complexity. The poem in 1796 is not confined by a rigid paratextual frame because as paratext the note can be located in the volume but it cannot be bound by the volume. Its use of allusion and quotation extends the note to a discourse of the 1770s and 1780s, which the note transforms into the ideological battles of 1796. It is not a case of one paratext determining one limited meaning. The "Monody" exemplifies expressive practices and illocutionary intentions conditioned by the economics of patronage, ecclesiastical and aristocratic power, and legal trials as well as a literary tradition.


 

Notes

[*]

Parts of this paper were delivered at the 1999 NASSR Conference in a panel on "New Texts and Textual Scholarship," chaired by Anthony Harding. I am grateful to Professor Harding, the panelists, and the audience for helpful suggestions.

[1]

Jerome J. McGann, The Beauty of Inflections: Literary Investigations in Historical Method and Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985) pp. 82-83, my italics; Jack Stillinger, Multiple Authorship and the Myth of Solitary Genius (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) p. 200; James Chandler, England in 1819: The Politics of Literary Culture and the Case of Romantic Historicism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998) p. 5; and Paul Magnuson, Reading Public Romanticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).

[2]

Kelvin Everest, "Historical Reading and Editorial Practice," delivered at the 1998 Coleridge Conference, Somerset. See also Zachary Leader's protest against theories of versions and textual primitivism in Revision and Romantic Authorship (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).

[3]

The "Monody" was first written in 1790 at Christ's Hospital. For a comprehensive review of the various versions see, I. A. Gordon, "The Case-History of Coleridge's Monody on the Death of Chatterton," Review of English Studies 18 (1942): 49-71. Gordon provides the text of 1794 with the additions of 1796. For a recent discovery of an offset version of 1794 see Arthur Freeman and Theodore Hofmann, "The Ghost of Coleridge's First Effort: 'A Monody on the Death of Chatterton,' " The Library: Transactions of the Bibliographical Society, 6th series, 11 (1989): 328-335.

[4]

James H. Averill, "The Shape of Lyrical Ballads (1798)," Philological Quarterly, 60 (1981): 389-91.

[5]

Statius, Silvae, IV, iv, 46-50, trans. J. H. Mozley (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1932) vol. 1, pp. 232-33.

[6]

Gordon, "The Case-History of Coleridge's Monody on the Death of Chatterton," 50.

[7]

Lines 118-25. The full sonnet is printed in Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Earl Leslie Griggs, 6 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956-71), vol.1, p. 104; hereafter abbreviated CL and with the title "Pantisocracy" in Complete Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E. H. Coleridge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1912) vol. 1, pp. 68-69; hereafter abbreviated as PW. E. H. Coleridge incorrectly states in the Complete Poetical Works that he printed the 1794 version of the "Monody." Southey attributed these lines to Samuel Favell (The Life & Correspondence of the late Robert Southey, ed. Charles Cuthbert Southey [London, 1849] vol. 1, p. 224), and Derwent Coleridge repeated the attribution to Favell (The Poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Derwent and Sara Coleridge [London, 1869] p. 338). Coleridge's comment to Southey of Dec. 11, 1794 is probably nearer the truth: "I wrote the whole but the second & third Line" (CL 1, 134).

[8]

Theophilus Cibber, The Lives of the Poets (London, 1753) vol. 2, p. 334.

[9]

Chatterton uses "Dacyan" for "Danish."

[10]

Lines 46-48. The four preceding lines, "Friend to the friendless, to the sick man health, / With generous joy he views th' ideal wealth; / He hears the widow's heaven-breath'd prayer of praise; / He marks the shelter'd orphan's tearful gaze," were originally written of the Man of Ross (CL 1, 87; PW 1, 57) and do not fit Chatterton at all, as Charles Lamb noted: "the Man of Ross is scarce admissible as it now stands curtailed of its fairer half,—Reclaim its property from the Chatterton, which it does but encumber" (The Letters of Charles and Mary Anne Lamb, ed. Edwin W. Marrs, Jr. [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1975] vol. 1, p. 98).

[11]

The Poems of Thomas Gray, William Collings, and Oliver Goldsmith, ed. Roger Lonsdale (London: Longman, 1969) p. 420.

[12]

Warren E. Gibbs, "An Unpublished Letter from John Thelwall to S. T. Coleridge," Modern Language Review 20 (1930): 85-91.

[13]

The note is contained on ff 36r-37v of Ashley MS 408 in the British Library and has been reproduced in Coleridge's Poems: A Facsimile Reproduction, eds. J. D. Campbell and W. Hale White (Westminster, 1899) pp. 67-68. C. G. Martin reports a manuscript draft in the Rugby MSS ("Coleridge, Edward Rushton, and the Cancelled Note to the 'Monody on the Death of Chatterton'," Review of English Studies, N.S., 17 [1966] 27; hereafter abbreviated as Martin).

[14]

Joseph Cottle, Early Recollections; Chiefly Relating to the Late Samuel Taylor Coleridge (London, 1837) vol. 1, p. 34. Cottle reprints part of the canceled note without indicating that he omits all before the sentence on Rushton.

[15]

CL 1, 193. Martin suggests two other possible dates for the notes: between July and September 1795 when Coleridge borrowed the Sharpe edition and in October or November 1795 when he mentioned the notes in a letter to Cottle (CL 1, 162), but concludes that March 1796 is the more likely date (p. 396).

[16]

Coleridge could have found Walpole's letter in the Gentleman's Magazine April-July 1782, or in Herbert Croft's Love and Madness: A Story Too True (London, 1780) p. 136, where Croft quoted the same passage from Walpole's Letter. Coleridge's wording is closer to Rushton's than to Croft's. It is most likely that Croft quoted from Walpole; Rushton, from Croft; and Coleridge, from Rushton. Croft used lengthy extracts from Chatterton's letters and poems, borrowed from his mother, which later became a source of controversy about Croft's appropriation of them without adequate compensation to Chatterton's family. For a full account, see Brian Goldberg, "Romantic Professionalism in 1800: Robert Southey, Herbert Croft, and the Letters and Legacy of Thomas Chatterton,", ELH 63 (1996): 681-706.

[17]

Lines 77-84 in Rushton, Poems (London 1806) pp. 152-62.

[18]

J. C. C. Mays, "Coleridge's Borrowings from Jesus College Library, 1791-94", Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 8 (1985): 571.

[19]

The Complete Works of Thomas Chatterton, eds. Donald S. Taylor and Benjamin B. Hoover, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971) vol. 1, pp. 403-4; hereafter abbreviated as Chatterton. "Happiness" was most likely written in late 1769 (2, 1011-13) and was reprinted in Croft, Love and Madness, pp. 151-53.

[20]

Coleridge, Lectures 1795 On Politics and Religion, eds. Lewis Patton and Peter Mann (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971) pp. 66-67. Conciones was delivered as lectures in February and published November 1795.

[21]

Walpole's letter was reprinted in the Gentleman's Magazine, April to July 1782. I quote from the April number, p. 190. Walpole quotes from pp. xviii-xix of Broughton's Preface.

[22]

Rosemary Ashton, The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Critical Biography (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996) pp. 82-83.

[23]

Royal Corporation of the Literary Fund, Literary Fund (London, 1797) p. 25.

[24]

See my "Subscribers to Coleridge's Poems (1796), or Duckings and Drubbings in Nottingham," The Coleridge Bulletin (Winter 1998): 57-78.

[25]

Epistle IV, 211-14, 220, 224, 230-31 from William Hayley, An Essay on Epic Poetry (1782), ed. Sister M. Celeste Williamson, SSJ (Gainesville, Fla.: Scholars' Facsimiles, 1968) p. 81.

[26]

Croft, Love and Madness, pp. 169-70.

[27]

Vicesimus Knox, Essays Moral and Literary, 12th ed. (New York, 1793) pp. 239, 241. Knox's essays were first published in 1778.

Auteur : Paul Magnuson
Titre : Coleridge's Discursive "Monody on the Death of Chatterton"
Revue : Romanticism on the Net, Numéro 17, février 2000
URI : http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/005900ar
DOI : 10.7202/005900ar

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