March 1807

As concerns the Order by Thomas Beddoes, physician—

Description of Articles: 4 cases (24 pints), Laudanum—

Articles requested by Sara Hutchinson at Dove Cottage, Grasmere, Cumbria; please re-send by ship; address: S.T. Coleridge, Valletta, Malta.

 

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March 23, 1807

Dear Sara,

The linens you laid out for me I have left here, clean. My apologies, please, for the nightmares. I take them far from you.

Please tell your brother not to follow me.  But he would sooner choose to face himself with a festering, man-sized boil.

Perhaps it is the cold—this cursed wind and wet we shoulder all the dread year round. My bones are turned to fibrous, fiery pain. But I take them far from you.

My wife knows where I go. Assure her I am well.

A kiss for your sister Mary; strong legs to John, Thomas, and Dora. My heart to your dear brother.

All joy to you,

S. T. Coleridge

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March 30, 1807

Dear Sara,

I stood with the mates upon the forecastle today. You would marvel to see a ship’s hull in this new age. It is a small cave filled full of wondrous, minute mazes, though the ship itself seem large and hollow from the docks.

I fear my knees are most afflicted now. Twenty-five, even thirty drops of wicked dram do not relieve them. The sea air proves malignant as England’s cold.             I have embarked in error.

But from England’s shore dear William’s voice comes softly as a dove’s: “Friend, on the sea is where your pen glides best; you cannot claim otherwise; I will hear no further complaint.” Days aboard a ship are long, William, and pain in the knees breeds sour couplets.

Aboard a ship, William, the air is forever indolent, and the gulls forever calling overhead, forever bickering over endless fishes—no magpie’s chirrup heard here, and never, never a kind breeze! And I grow idle with the sea. I write it down, or try, but Sara, William, dear friends, I wrinkle. Someday another fish will flick its golden tail for me, idly, in the depths, but I will protrude no further after it than an eel in a sea of grain, and it soon swims out of sight.

With submission,

S. T. Coleridge

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April 1, 1807

Dear Sara,

One has his times of melancholy, Sara, and then the morning comes, and he looks aright at what he’s said and done in the blackening fog, and he remembers to himself the climate of Germany—always treacherous! always foul!—and he hears through the cloudbreak the chapel bells of his child-love’s voice, those soft lunchtime prayers filled with brötchen and fleisch, apfeln and milch; Danke, danke, Herr Gott, für alles dieses Welt. My love took me out to the forest and we cut our flesh on thorns, like brother Hansel and sister Gretel; he spoke of aught but sunlight. Sunlight on that briny water’s edge! on the rotting lily pads! on the heads of the urchins playing—die Kinder, he was forever pointing for me, Bruder und Schwester! Siehst du nicht dein Sohn darin? The sunlight, William; the rot—where? Where do you see my son?

William knows his German but he has no words for these things, no words for my knees swelling up like old oak knots. And my words—the words I would have used, the words given me by God; what have I done with them? I have drowned them forever, sent them diving down in the muck for worm-riddled fish. Have I not said grace enough?

S. T. Coleridge

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April 1, 1807

Dear Sara,

I lie stiff in my moldy bed and fail to write you a proper letter. I hurt, Sara. Does William know? I regret having written such. I am near the shore of Malta, and I suppose the clouds grow light. Lovely Malta. Pretty scene.

S. T. Coleridge

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April 10, 1807

Dear Sara,

I ache today. Malta is well despite. I wander her streets like a sea-starved sailor. She glows for me, flashes her lace, invites me into hidden corners—There is much to be admired. Now the summer approaches, the harbor grows fat with ships. The streets are filled with loving couples taking the airs at night. Ah, William has termed me a “city man,” and were I not so bound to the memory of my boyhood, of that life spent in neighborless solitude, he would perhaps be right again. Good Sara, there is so much of color and light in these days, yet I grope for it, a blind wretch, numb to all these charms!

Do not tell him that I suffer here, for he is of unswerving moral mind, and should he come here, he will find me destitute of warm and friendly feeling, for daily grows my pain and, with it, surpassing anger. William has seen me idle and knows how I behave. Caution him from me, if you can.

All the same, Sara, I would have your face again by my bedside and your comforting hand on my wrist. I think how carefree you must be without my phantom forever moaning, stretched out upon the bed. Sleep well while I am gone. I conjure you, dream of the fanciest tea, served with candies, layered cakes; for despite her thousand failures by me, Malta boasts the most lovely and delectable sweets.

Yours in humble admiration,

S. T. Coleridge

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May 18, 1807

Dear Sara,

Today I tore up a journal that did me offense. All day I have lain covered by its shreds. Most idle and quiet I was for many hours.

Yours,

S. T. Coleridge

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July 29, 1807

Dear Sara,

William has told you, likely, that I linger still by the sea. True, the sea stretches her brackish fingers all the way up to the alleys beyond my window. Malta, though lovely, has breath that smells of salted hog hung up to dry in a barn. My room stifles with her smell, and turns all food to acid in my stomach.

So I take only supper and a long walk ere I sleep—a sleep, I fear, that comes only with a draught of the doctor’s good deathly drink. For there are demons, Sara, all over the world, and nowhere so otherwise pleasant as Malta. Were William here, he would mark the impossibility of being despondent in such a place, but sickness knows no poison like a lovely landscape. He knows not how all the fools he takes to be our prophets—that innkeep there, that grainsman yonder—reside now, mouths agape with bloody curses, turning beds and grinding flour in my monstrous, heathen dreams. I deny myself, William, like you say; like one of your galloping motherless colts abandoned ere they are weaned, and like them in my privation I lie down to sleep in a gray, prickling field; like them, I fall asleep only to be leapt upon by monsters.

William is not your brother, Sara, but the husband of your sister. You owe him no integral loyalty. Tell him I can’t sleep.

Your admiring,

S. T. Coleridge

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September 1, 1807

Dear Sara,

Today I discovered that I have neglected to send my recent letters. What is the last you received?

I have started on a new regimen; it gave me most good fortune today. A most happy and pain-free day I have spent here in my room. Good Malta; in her rain and my pleasant lethargy I cannot go out to see her, so she stretches herself before me, her treefruit ripe and golden. She grows bold and buxom like a whore.

S. T. Coleridge

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September 1, 1807

Dear Sara,

Malta! What a change befalls our girl when the wind tears through her tresses! All week it has showered, and ever the pat of rain sounds over my head. Malta gives herself to me and I drink her sea salt in; at last I understand what she is made of, and what she offers to her invalids. For everyone in Malta is one sort or another of sick; so many wander the streets white in the hands, dewed on the lip, flushed in the cheeks, liver-grown, phlegmy, out of work, melancholic. And hypochondriack me—! I select from what I fancy; a little of the tympany, a little of the gout.

So much better it is for us idle sick to be inside, to work, to make a poultice and take our draughts. As Malta quenches her thirst, so I drink my balmy milk all through the day; all day a little vial at my table. Such curious stuff! It warms and freezes at once, all up and down the body, till at last it fills the heart, the heart then o’erspilling with every good feeling and kind wish. I long for you here, Sara, for you to see what a good pet Malta has made me. You may scritch behind the ears now and never, never fear my yelp! Tell your brother I do so well.

Meantime, pass on to my wife, if you can, or your sister meanwhile, my urging to all mothers to send their boys to Malta in the rainy season. For so much of England is made to coop a boy up, to stunt his legs; Malta grows pregnant with rivers in autumn; her children fall down from the sky. A boy most becomes a man just seeing it, he sees his progeny in the leaf of a tree or the crook of an alley, and without having to play that cruelest of roles that Nature holds in store for him.

Yours resplendent,

S. T. Coleridge

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September 21, 1807

Today begins my notes on dreams—what cravings of the heart may be expressed by them and what physical events they may portend.

There is a Beast, feline, who figures central in all of my dreams of late; its fur is common tabby, and its eyes manifest an eternal glow within the darkness. In these eyes, in fact, is the creature distinguished from its alley-trudging brother; they remind not a little of Blake’s Tyger, and take to following wherever one treads. I find the creature forever glancing to make sure I follow, forever leading me in my walk—for, in all these nighttime visions, I walk without the ache that follows me thro’ my waking, and thus achieve in sleep a great deal more of exercise than I otherwise accomplish in a day.

Often my illusory walks lead me to gentle riversides, or rolling hills, or flowered balconies, all of such beauty and airy fragrance that, on waking, I imagine that I have been transported to the climes of my dream, and such joy, I confess, pulses through my appendages that I find myself panting for breath beneath the confines of my covers, drenched in balmy sweat. And after these dreams extends a period of five minutes or more, in which I discover my many parts to be numb to all sensation, and thus more fit to be in the world than in any of my years previous.

This dream, however, changes with the day, with direction of the wind, with tea ingested or mutton. Last evening, I was led into a closet, which turned then to a great gaping mouth. I dreamt I lived in such a mouth-closet with the poet William Wordsworth, surrounded by silent and yellowed teeth, and that my wife served us thick meat and hot honey-milk upon the bristling mass of tongue—I conjecture now that we were in the mouth of the Beast himself, for he was strangely out of sight—and my wife, she brought more and more delectables, until we were most glutted; when all of a sudden Wordsworth made a show of his bloated belly and said, quite echoing, “Enough!” He leaned his heavy frame against an obliging tooth and moved to clean his own with a finger. “Samuel,” he barked. “Come here.”

“Of course,” I said, or seemed to say. The mouth dripped with our voices; one great, wet, cavernous racket.

Wordsworth looked at me, then, down his nose; he seemed to have grown taller or rounder; his big hands lay folded atop the ledge of his belly, but his noble fingers slender as ever. “Well?” he asked.

“Well?” I returned, or the mouth did.

He slapped the back of his hand against the gums of our creature-turned-closet. “What a fine piece of workmanship, is a mouth,” he said. “What a palace for philosophy, what a sounding well for sighs.”

Under our feet, the tongue lifted gently. “Methinks we begin to gag our host,” I said, but the pulpy walls swallowed up the protestation.

“Think though, Samuel, think,” said Wordsworth; “were it not for these base accessories, for the passages of the nose, for that distant plunge of the throat, for the tongue laid out like a carpet; how precious little we would say, with our jaws aclick in futility!”

“‘Tis true enough,” I said.

“And if the mouth thus relies on such ignoble things as tongues and throats and cavernous, unkempt nostrils, who then shall say that the poet comes to write solely by means of that noble spirit which compels him, and not also by that hand that lifts the pen to page, that eye that squints and blears by candlelight, that stump of leg that hoists him to his chair?”

“Certainly,” I say. My wife, numb to our lofty talk, dusts the spaces between the Beast’s teeth.

“And what shall we make, then,” came Wordsworth toward me, fairly bellowing, “of a poet, whose leg transports him nowhere, whose eyes have grown over with sleep, whose hands even now hoist the milk of bedevilment, whose hoary beard grows thick with missed droplets, whose lips even now cry out for sweet forgetful rain? Who can be called ‘poet’ whose ink dries in the pot, whose mealy mouth floods with laudanum?”

“Yes, yes,” I say now to him. His roar circles the mouth and terrifies. The tongue of the Beast curls and uncurls under our feet as if pulled by invisible moons. My wife has tickled his gums with her brush.

Wordsworth abandons the waggling tongue for a molar. My wife is rolled along the tongue and swallowed—she is swallowed. She is gone from the dream, then. The dream expires.

[…]

I’d a mind to make a poem out of it, after writing it here—but a poem demands detail, and that I but little recall. The sketch I have made you does not communicate the peculiar quality of the stare of the Beast. As I tread further into waking, I begin to lose the particular effect of his wild eyes. The Tyger, yes; but the Tyger has already been written.

Parts of it may stand, parts of it may serve to trigger…Great tusks, silent and yellowed

The hairs on the Beast’s tongue were bristly—they were bristles—The dream expires, and pain—O pain! in its stead. Dear William, how I long again for your presence, for your vast store of words! I write, William, I write, I try, but I cannot recount the event. I cannot recall the sheen of the molar to which you so desperately clung.

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September 24, 1807

Dear Sara,

The Beast has taken to stalking in the waking world. As I fastened myself into trousers this morn a sensation swept across my shin, and, startled, I looked to see the Beast flash by my leg and quickly out of sight. It may be that he takes shelter in my bookcase; there have been mornings when I see the colors of his pelt stirring in the corner of my eye.

Malta grows cold, and I think of leaving. How does my wife? My son? Do you keep well in such a cold—Sara? William?

I dare not go near my books. I write, or try to, without reference.

My legs cry out as if from under a twelve years’ frost. It grows infernal cold everywhere.

I have spent better years than Malta, and she has seen better men than I.

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September 29, 1807

Dear William,

You auspicious child, you caterwauling son of Heaven, hear this:

When a German has a pain, he calls it schmerz;

When schmerz molests a German’s head, he calls it Kopfschmerz;

When a German sends for his doctor he may say that,

though it center itself in the head,

the schmerz attacks his entire being;

His doctor, a man charged to allay pain,

will not change his prescription between the Kopfschmerz

and a schmerz suffered in total;

He will come alongside and forego his thousand questions,

forego his mincing of the pain of all men into parts.

Let the schmerz in the head be ministered as the schmerz in the leg, in the arm, in the heart—

Let no strong-blooded man bend over the bed of him suffused with agony and say,

Nein, siehst du nicht; du hast keine Schmerz.

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September 29, 1807

Oh Sara!

Sara, you are so uncommon full of knowledge and good sense. When I die, and William tells you I have imagined with all the others this final pain that hastes me to my grave, you must say, “Then cut him open we shall, there across the umbilical, and there across the inner wrist, and we then shall see the mark of the pain that tormented him on waking, and the bruise of the beast that pummeled him in his sleep; then, dear brother, may we more rightly consider that which Samuel has done, in light of that he has failed to do.”

S. T. Coleridge

[…]

Blake, The Tyger

Blake, Infant Joy

Blake, Earth’s Answer

Cowper, Contentment

Donne, A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

Gray, Ode on the Pleasure Arising from Vicissitude

Smart, On a Lady Throwing Snow-Balls at Her Lover

Warton (T.), While Summer Suns O’er the Gay Prospect Play’d

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October 5, 1807

Dear William,

Most awful, excellent Dream—! From failure to combat thee

Sink I now, a man e’er waning in this sphere,

Who lost to light the cure his dreams begat

And lost to bane the sleep that brought them here—

Come Waker! Here my mantle, here my spear;

Lay arms to me and shatter out this fear.

This his epitaph, this his will

S. T. Coleridge

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This his three-weeks’ failure; this his last poem for the world. Bury the epitaph with him. His coffer serves well as its folio.

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October 20, 1807

Dear Sara,

These legs like sea serpents! I cannot go near my books, for my laudanum is out.

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October 25, 1807

Sara,

Take note to my wife and son—Tell them I come home in November.

S. T. Coleridge

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October 25, 1807

Dear William,

I return in November. I think to take my son Hartley to tour the Rhineland with your most generous sister. Kommen Sie mit?

I am sorry to tell you, friend—Malta charms much but changes nothing.

Please watch your post, as I am anticipating a vital order.

Yours in soberest friendship,

S. T. Coleridge

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October 25, 1807

My dear wife,

I come home in November. Look for me within the month.

How does Hartley?

I have not written you. I am, I assure you, ashamed of this. How mends thy foot?

You are a devoted wife and, I’m sure, a faithful mother to young Derwent and infant Sara. I anticipate that Hartley has become quite a young man.

Hartley is near the age when I should like to take him traveling. As I see it, travel is necessary for the growing creature. A country life altogether coddles a man, and Hartley, I fear, has spent far too long in your confines. Before you give way to your motherly restiveness, be reassured; your namesake, sister to the Wordsworths, has expressed most doting sentiments toward our Hartley, and I think she should take upon her very well all the duties of mother and darling friend for such a trip, providing all motherly love and tenderness. Hartley is very fond of her, recall.

There was my youthful excursion with William to Germany—what a mark it left on me; how distinctly it affected my work! What plans does young Hartley make? He shall never decide his direction without first observing the world in its variety. He may dream himself poet, priest, or physician to be, but travel will make it so.

I am well. I am exceeding well. I confess, the sea air has done much good; my nerves are uncontorted, my knees are fixed with a walk. I would remain in Malta—she is gentle and forgiving of my maladies—were it not for my son’s education. How well reads he in German?

My wife, we have not met now in near two years, have not exchanged an embrace in more. Yet I can say that you love me—were we to cross, your eyes would shine love for this suffering delinquent, and I can say I love you too, though my eyes may not shine—they grow dull, for I overuse them, and they fail continually to see all the things they used to see. We grow old, and it is time we relinquish our romantic visions. There are beasts that lurk this world; they attend our every movement. There are decisions we have needed to make. They will spring and feast upon us if we linger any more.

If you will not let me have him, send him in any case to visit me at the Wordsworths; these gentle friends offer exceeding comfort for me, but I long to see my family.

Dear Sara. How many there are of you in this world, across her reeling history—for Sarah there was that, with God’s help, became fertile, and bore a son; Sara there is who bore Hartley, and further, a daughter to bear the name forward; a Sara also William has, and a great friend she is to all; Sara there is to soothe each of our pains—for Hartley, too, there will be a Sara, one such as you who stands firm in her love and gives comfort to all whose hearts are rent by pain.

If you will not let me have him, please pass on my hope that he find a sturdy, devoted girl, a Sara like his mother. If I fail in this—or a Sara fail on him—I hope at least that he will find a William, as I did.

Most stalwart love,

S. T. Coleridge