COLERIDGE AT HIGHGATE

 

Ann Vinall

 

(The Coleridge Bulletin  New Series No 1 (Winter 1992-93), p 24)

 

Coleridge came to Moreton House, 14, South Grove, a late Queen Anne house, in the hope of breaking his opium habit. Mr. Gillman, surgeon, who resided there had been initially hesitant about receiving an inmate, but at his interview Coleridge cast the spell all Coleridgeans know only too well. Famously, Coleridge arrived three evenings later, clutching the proof-sheets of Christabel A business-like beginning: Christabel, Kubla Khan, and The Pains of Sleep were published for the first time shortly after. Among other works, Coleridge published the Lay Sermons and finished writing Biographia Literaria while living in Moreton House. From the attic window one can still see St. Paul's: "Coleridge sat on the brow of Highgate Hill in those years looking down on London and its smoke tumult, like a sage escaped from the inanity of life's battle" (Thomas Carlyle).

 

From the very beginning of his stay In Highgate, a long stream of visitors wended their way up Highgate Hill to see Coleridge, and to hear his extraordinary talk, a prophet for younger men. Among the older and more famous, Charles Lamb and William Wordsworth visited Moreton House.

 

By December 1823, and no doubt partly because of the growing number of visitors, Coleridge and the Gillman household moved to 3, The Grove, a larger house than Moreton. Coleridge had only come for a month; he'd stayed on, and then the Gillmans had to move to a bigger house because of him! Here Coleridge had two rooms to himself: his attic "bed and book" room from where there's still a magnificent view over Hampstead Heath, and a parlour below, where he received his friends or dictated his Opus Maximum to his amanuensis and confidant Prof. J.H. Green.

 

It was Green, too, who introduced Keats to Coleridge in April 1819, legend has it in Millfield Lane, "Poets' Lane". Keats and Coleridge each left an account of this, their only meeting. Keats's: "After enquiring by a look whether it would be agreeable, I walked with him at his alderman-afterdinner pace for nearly two miles, I suppose. In those two miles he broached 1,000 things - let me see if I can give you a list - Nightingales-poetry-on poetic sensation-Metaphysics-Different genera and species of Dreams-Nightmare-a dream accompanied by a sense of touch-single and double touch-a dream related-first and second consciousness-The difference between Will and Volition-so my (many) metaphysicians from a want of smoking the second consciousness-monsters-The Kraken-Mermaids-Southey believes in them-Southey's belief too much diluted-a Ghost story-Good morning- I heard his voice as he came towards me- I heard it as he moved away- I heard it all the interval- if it may be called so."

 

The poor of Highgate: farmworkers, carpenters, shoemakers and launderers lived in cottages in alleyways off the High Street. Here by the side door, still there, and unknown to the Gillmans, Coleridge secured opium. Thanks to the account of Samuel Teulon Porter, apothecary's boy at Dunn's - "I was but a white-aproned youth of fifteen" - we have the detailed account of Coleridge's secret supply. In 1828, Anne Gillman stormed across the square to tackle Dunn. Porter, too, recounts how he and Coleridge watched Byron's funeral procession pass through Highgate in July, 1924, on its way to the family vault near Newstead, Nottinghamshire.

 

 

[NB: This is a 1992 announcement]: Ann Vinall leads conducted walks entitled "Coleridge at Highgate" on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays of each week. The walk lasts about 2 1/2: hours with 1/2 hour stop, and costs 5 per person; students, senior citizens and UB40s, 3.50. Meet at 10.15 a.m. at ticket barrier, Highgate under-ground station, on the Northern Line. Further information from:

Ann Vinall, "Coleridge at Highgate", 3 Shepherds Hill, Highgate, London N6 5QJ.