THE POLITICS OF POETRY
(The Coleridge Bulletin New Series No 4 (Autumn 1994), pp 23-44)
When beginning to write today’s lecture several weeks ago, I was naturally mindful of the fact that I would be speaking in the presence of my friend Nicholas Roe — one of the foremost experts on John Thelwall and his influence on Coleridge and Wordsworth. Noone knows more about this subject than Nick, and I hasten to say at the outset that I intend neither to dispute any of his conclusions, nor to qualify them. Like all those who work on the first generation romantics, I am profoundly indebted to his researches, and can hope in, this short paper only to embellish what he has already said. I’m grateful also to the editor of the excellent Coleridge Bulletin for publishing ‘Coleridge and John Thelwall: Medical Science, Politics, and Poetry’, the lecture Nick delivered here in July 1993 — when, alas, I was detained in a tutorial role at the Department for Continuing Education in Oxford. I have decided to assume that most of you were present when Nick delivered that lecture; to those of you who were not, I earnestly recommend you to consult the Coleridge Bulletin New Series No. 3, Spring. 1994, in which it was published.
In his compelling critical biography of Coleridge (1969), Walter Jackson Bate argued that Coleridge’s early poetry displays two conventional eighteenth–century styles, one of which had completely faded by the time he was 25, the other of which persisted to the end of his life. The first Bate identified as the ‘declamatory modal style that descends from Dryden’; the second was ‘ the reflective mode of the
late eighteenth century — familiar, casual, uninvolved, often elegiac in tone’. In a footnote, Bate adds an important qualification. He observes that the second, reflective mode can be found
...In most of the sonnets and poems in short stanzas, but principally in the blank verse ‘effusions’,of which ‘ Religious Musings: a Desultory Poem...’(1794–96) is the first important example, followed by ‘ The Destiny of Nations’ (1796), ‘To a Friend[Lamb]’(1796), and the conversation poems generally. ‘Religious Musings’ and ‘The Destiny of Nations’, probably because they are more pretentious in aim, also incorporate some of the props and stiff brocade of the declamatory style, which are then shed, almost permanently, in the conversation poems. 
It’s hard to resist observing that this is the kind of shrewd, informed writing that underlines the utter redundancy of much recent literary discourse. Concerned with the mechanics of Coleridge’s literary style, and what it reveals of his rhetorical affiliations — the very nuts and bolts of poetry, Bate takes us straight to the central question concerning Coleridge’s poetic development. Why did Coleridge change from being the advocate of the somewhat formal Drydenesque manner employed in much of his early verse to the more confessional one of the conversation poems? Or, to put it another way, how was it that the author of ‘Frost at Midnight’ was responsible, only two years previously, for such phrases as ‘Truth of subliming import!’, ‘Ye petrify th’imbrothelled atheist’s heart’(of which more later) and such passages as this, from Religious Musings, in which Coleridge looks forward to the millennium:
The SAVIOUR comes! While as to solemn strains
The THOUSAND YEARS lead up their mystic dance,
And soft gales wafted from the haunts of Spring
Melt the primaeval North! The mighty Dead
Rise to new life, whoe’er from earliest time
With conscious zeal had urg’d Love’s wond’rous plan
Coadjutors of God To MILTON’s trump
The odorous groves of earth reparadis’d
Unbosom their glad echoes: inly hush’d
Raises to heaven: and he of mortal kind
Wisest, he first who mark’d the ideal tribes
Down the fine fibres from the sentient brain
Roll subtly–surging. Pressing on his steps
Lo! Priestley there, Patriot, and Saint, and Sage,
Whom that my fleshly eye hath never seen
A childish pang of impotent regret
Hath thrill’d my heart. Him from his native land
Statesmen blood-stain’d and Priests idolatrous
By dark lies mad’ning the blind multitude
Drove with vain hate: calm, pitying he retir’d,
And mus’d expectant on these promised years. 
Those lines illustrate Bate’s
observation that certain passages of Religious
Musings ‘incorporate some of the props and stiff brocade of the declamatory
style’. They sound antiquated enough to us, but its inflated manner is
calculated to remind us of Biblical visions of apocalypse, with the implication
that Coleridge might be a latter-day prophet; ‘Lo!’ is particularly redolent of
the scriptures. The invocation of
Him from his native land
Statesmen blood–stain’d and Priests idolatrous
By dark lies mad’ning the blind multitude
Drove with vain hate...
A more prosaic but less confusing
version might read: maddening the blind multitude by dark lies, blood-stained
statesmen and idolatrous priests drove him with vain hate from his native land.
But such literary spring-cleaning (much beloved of textual editors) misses the
point. Coleridge reproduces
These brief remarks lend emphasis to the question I posed earlier. Why did Coleridge make the enormous technical and imaginative leap that enabled him to develop the more relaxed and confessional poetic of Frost at Midnight and This Lime-tree Bower my Prison? Why, indeed, should he have wanted to do so?
In his lecture here last July, Nicholas Roe demonstrated how Thelwall’s ‘Lines Written at Bridgwater’, composed 27 July 1797, just after his visit to Nether Stowey, emulated ‘the blank verse idiom of Coleridge’s ‘Effusion XXXV’ and ‘This Lime-Tree Bower’. He went on to note series of verbal echoes of Religious Musings.  What I want to suggest is that these similarities and borrowings are part of an evolving artistic relationship.
During his twenties, Coleridge seemed constantly to be
seeking mentors. Nick has described in his exemplary study of the political
youth of the first-generation romantics, Wordsworth
and Coleridge: The Radical Years, how Coleridge and Thelwall came to know
each other. In The Plot Discovered, a
political pamphlet published at
multitudes’. Thelwall seems to have taken offence at some part of Coleridge’s pamphlet, prompting Coleridge to write to him, protesting that The Plot Discovered was intended to offer Thelwall ‘a Tribute of deserved praise’.  Nick’s account of these contacts concentrates, with good cause, on their political dimension. I wish to turn to an element in this relationship which has attracted little notice — perhaps because it appears, on the face of it, unrelated to the ideological similarities which Nick has documented in such detail.
That first, explanatory letter from Coleridge to Thelwall, composed in late April 1796, bears no address — merely the name of the recipient, ‘John Thelwall’. This is because it was folded into a copy of Coleridge’s Poems (1796), sent to Thelwall at the same time. In other words, Coleridge’s declaration of political kinship was presented within a literary context. And the concluding paragraph of Coleridge’s important letter goes on to elucidate it:
I beg your acceptance of my Poems - you will find much to blame in them - much effeminacy of sentiment, much faulty glitter of expression. I build all my poetic pretensions on the Religious Musings — which you will read with a POET’s Eye, with the same unprejudicedness, I wish, I could add, the same pleasure, with which the atheistic Poem of Lucretius. A Necessitarian, I cannot possibly disesteem a man for his religious or anti–religious Opinions — and as an Optimist, I feel diminished concern. — I have studied the subject deeply & widely — I cannot say, without prejudice: for when I commenced the Examination, I was an Infidel.
I am obliged to conclude abruptly — I should be happy to
hear from you, & if you ever visit
have a Bed at your service—
With esteem/ I am / Your’s &c
As an atheist, Coleridge suggests, Thelwall may take an unprejudiced pleasure in Lucretius’ De rerum natura; he pleads that, in spite of their religious differences, his correspondent adopt the same unprejudiced approach to the necessitarian poetry of Religious Musings. If this sentiment is not purely literary, it is not purely religious either. After all, Thelwall’s atheism was the natural concomitant to his attachment to Godwinian rationalism; Coleridge was definitely not of this camp, chiefly because of his fervent attachment to Priestleyan Unitarianism.  In this light his parting shot to Thelwall is presumptuous, to say the least: ‘I have studied the subject [that is, theology] deeply & widely — I cannot say, without prejudice: for when I commenced the Examination, I was an Infidel’ (my stress). Coleridge claims that a close study of the issues converted him from his former atheism; the suggestion is that Thelwall too, perhaps through a close reading of Religious Musings, might come to believe both in Priestley’s Unitarian God, and his distinctive brand of millenarian radicalism.
Coleridge’s concluding remarks in this initial letter to Thelwall are revealing: he tacitly acknowledges, by reference to Religious Musings, the beliefs that distinguish him from Thelwall. He notes Thelwall’s atheism and, by implication, espousal of Godwinism, but adds that ‘as an Optimist, I feel diminished concern’. In other words, in spite of their differences, he wishes to find common ground with Thelwall in literary matters, and even looks forward to the day when he might be converted to his own religious and political faith. This is all the more significant when one reflects that, only a few weeks before extending the hand of friendship to Thelwall, Coleridge wrote in The Watchman that ‘ I do
consider Mr. Godwin’s Principles as vicious; and his book as a Pander to Sensuality’.  What will bring him and Thelwall together, however, is a shared interest in poetry. Indeed, Coleridge’s hope that he will read Religious Musings with ‘a POET’s Eye’ indicates a familiarity with Thelwall’s Poems Written in Close Confinement in the Tower and Newgate Upon a Charge of Treason (1795). That reading may have led Coleridge to desire a literary brotherhood with Thelwall similar to the one he sought with Southey. Admittedly, he had more differences with Thelwall than with Southey, but the expectation that Thelwall might succumb to the beliefs expressed in Religious Musings reveals a surprising confidence, at least on Coleridge’s part, in their essential compatibility.
Thelwall did not take long to write back. On 10 May he replied to Coleridge in a letter that survives in the British Library, and I have included it in my Romanticism: An Anthology. At first glance, Thelwall’s first letter to Coleridge may seem like a curious item for inclusion in such a book, but I believe it to be of vital importance in our understanding of Coleridge’s poetical development. At least, its attention to literary matters should not beguile us into thinking that it does not also acknowledge some crucial political and religious distinctions. This is what Thelwall has to say about Religious Musings:
Of your favourite poem, I fear I shall speak in terms that will disappoint you. There are passages most undoubtedly in the Religious Musings of very great merit, and perhaps there is near half of the poem that no poet in our language need have been ashamed to own. But this praise belongs almost exclusively to those parts that are not at all religious. As for the generality of those passages which are most so, they are certainly anything in the world
rather than poetry (unless indeed the mere glowing rapidity of the blank verse may entitle them to that distinction).
They are the very acme of abstruse, metaphysical, mystical rant, and all ranting abstraction, metaphysics and mysticism are wider from true poetry than the equator from the poles. The whole poem also is infected with inflation and turgidity....’a vision shadowy of truth’,’wormy grave’, and a heap of like instances might be selected worthy of Blackmore himself.(‘Ye petrify th’imbrothelled atheist’s heart’ is one of those illiberal and unfounded calumnies with which Christian meekness never yet disdained to supply the want of argument — but this by the way.) ‘Lovely was the death of him whose life was love’ is certainly enough to make any man sick whose taste has not been corrupted by the licentious (I mean ‘pious’) nonsense of the conventicle.
may, if you please, ‘lay the flattering unction to your soul’ that my
irreligious principles dictate the severity of this criticism, and, though it
may strengthen you in the suspicion, I must confess that your religious verses
approach much nearer to poetry than those of
Before I wipe the gall from my pen, I must notice an affectation of the Della Crusca school which blurs almost every one of your poems - mean the frequent accent upon the adjectives and
weak words.... ‘For chiefly in the oppressed good man’s face’ etc.
dwelt thus largely upon the defects, I shall .proceed to prove my
qualifications to set up for a critic by running very slightly over the numerous
beauties with which it abounds. ‘The thought-benighted sceptic’ is very happy,
as is also ‘Mists`dim–floating of idolatry - misshaped the omnipresent`sin’.
(The word ‘
At the outset of his assessment, Thelwall takes care to reject Coleridge’s religiosity: ‘There are passages most undoubtedly in the Religious Musings of very great merit, and perhaps there is near half of the poem that no poet in our language need have been ashamed to own. But this praise belongs
almost exclusively to those parts that are not at all religious. As for the generality of those passages which are most so, they are certainly anything in the world rather than poetry’. Thelwall firmly establishes his independence from Coleridge by reaffirming the most important distinction between them: far from being converted to Coleridge’s faith through Religious Musings, he identifies that faith with the poem’s artistic failure. In fact, he argues that the fervently religious verse of Coleridge’s 1796 volume, of the kind I began with this afternoon, is inherently unpoetical. This has an important bearing on their respective ideologies, amounting to a rejection not just of Coleridge’s aesthetics but of his radical and religious convictions.
Thelwall goes on to elucidate his objections to the poem by
describing the religious passages (which must include the millennial vision
with which I began this lecture) as ‘the very acme of abstruse, metaphysical,
mystical rant, and all ranting abstraction, metaphysics and mysticism are wider
from true poetry than the equator from the poles’. Once again, the distinction
is, on the surface, an aesthetic one. Metaphysics and mysticism are a fit
subject not for poetry, but prose; however, Thelwall was well aware that the
ranting abstractions of Religious Musings
were inextricably related to Coleridge’s political and religious beliefs. This
is the poem in which Joseph Priestley — Unitarian preacher, radical reformer,
scientist — stands alongside
Before confronting the home truths that underlie his criticisms, Thelwall turns to stylistic matters. The adjective–
laden rhetoric which Coleridge himself was to ridicule in the Nehemiah Higginbottom sonnets gets a timely knock in Thelwall’s notice of such phrases as ‘ a vision shadowy of truth’ and ‘wormy grave’. It may be significant that ‘a vision shadowy of truth’ takes us to the heart of Coleridge’s belief system, which was founded on the Berkeleyan conviction that the material world was a mere shadow of the higher realm generated by the mind of God. However, Thelwall is careful to restrict his remarks at this point to matters of style. In this regard by the way, it is worth recalling that Thelwall was nearly eight years older than Coleridge, and by far the more experienced writer. In her 1801 memoir of him, Thelwall’s widow wrote of how, even as a tailor, he ‘devoured with insatiable avidity Pope’s translation of Homer, and committed several hundred verses to memory’.  And in 1812, he was to publish a treatise on metre. In short, Thelwall was no amateur. He had for years worked as a professional man of letters, and was a shrewd critic. He was correct to warn Coleridge of the proliferation of adjectives in his verse - a feature common among young poets, and one that was to attract the hostile attentions of Keats’s early reviewers.
Thelwall then proceeds to open up the real area of distinction between him and his young correspondent:
(‘Ye petrify th’ imbrothelled atheist’s heart’ is one of those illiberal and unfounded calumnies with which Christian meekness never yet disdained to supply the want of argument — but this by the way.)’Lovely was the death of him whose life was love’ is certainly enough to make any man sick whose taste has not been corrupted by the licentious (I mean’ pious’) nonsense of the conventicle.
By the age of 32, Thelwall had known imprisonment and lived under the threat of execution for his politics (he was,
of course, one of the chief defendants at the treason trials of 1794); he was not about to be swayed by upstarts like the 24 year-old Coleridge. It would have been difficult for him not to have read Coleridge’s reference to ‘ th’imbrothelled atheist’s heart’ as an attack on his own beliefs. After all, that passage occurs in the midst of a passage which, as Ian Wylie puts it, attacks ‘Godwin’s notion of the independent man, who has the veneer of civilisation, but sensuous and vicious principles.’  The ‘imbrothelled atheist’ refers,in fact, to Godwin, and, by extension, his disciples- which included Thelwall. By underlining the phrase, he acknowledges both its ham-fisted morality and infelicitous manner.
Suspecting that his parenthetical remarks have registered his objections sufficiently, Thelwall steps back for a moment, perhaps remembering Coleridge’s plea for an unprejudiced reading:
You may, if you please,’ lay the flattering unction to your soul’ that my irreligious principles dictate the severity of this criticism, and, though it may strengthen you in the suspicion, I must confess that your religious verses approach much nearer to poetry than those of Milton on the same subject. In short, while I was yet a Christian, and a very zealous one(i.e., when I was about your age), I became thoroughly convinced that Christian poetry was very vile stuff — that religion was a subject which none but a rank infidel could handle poetically.
With that momentary retreat from textual analysis, Thelwall deftly turns the tables on his young correspondent. In his initial letter, Coleridge had implied that Thelwall’s reading of Religious Musings might persuade him to abandon the imbrothelled atheism espoused by rationalists like Godwin -
‘for when I commenced the
Examination, I was an Infidel’. In return, Thelwall does a little condescending
of his own; having suggested that Coleridge has beaten
While he is at it, Thelwall puts Coleridge firmly in his place - most tellingly with the reminder of his greater years and wisdom: ‘... while I was yet a Christian, and a very zealous one (i.e. when I was about your age)...’ Christianity, it seems, is for the green and hot-headed.
Like all good critics, Thelwall then returns to the text; although his professed aim is to praise certain phrases, his commendation is combined with further criticism of Coleridge’s style: namely, ‘the frequent accent upon the adjectives and weak words’; ‘affected and pedantic’ phrasing; and ‘mysticism and turgidity’. Everything after line 364 — including the millennial passage with which I began - ‘hangs like a dead weight upon the poem’. With these observations, Thelwall was on safer ground; in his letter, Coleridge had confessed to ‘ much effeminacy of sentiment, much faulty glitter of expression’, and Thelwall elucidates that self-criticism. These comments, important in the context of Coleridge’s subsequent development, may be illustrated by one of Thelwall’s own poems. I have already. indicated Coleridge’s familiarity with Thelwall’s Poems Written in Close Confinement in the Tower and Newgate (1795). One of the most important is the Stanzas on hearing for certainty that we were to be tried for high treason:
Short is perhaps our date of life,
But let us while we live be gay—
To those be thought and anxious care
Who build upon the distant day.
Though in our cup tyrannic power
Would dash the bitter dregs of fear,
We’ll gaily quaff the mantling draught,
While patriot toasts the fancy cheer.
Sings not the seaman, tempest-tossed,
When surges wash the riven shroud—
Scorning the threat’ning voice of fate,
That pipes in rocking winds aloud?
Yes, he can take his cheerful glass,
And toast his mistress in that storm,
While duty and remembered joys
By turns his honest bosom warm.
And shall not we, in storms of state,
At base oppression’s fury laugh,
And while the vital spirits flow,
To freedom fill, and fearless quaff?
Short is perhaps our date of life,
But let us while we live be gay—
To those be thought and anxious care
Who build upon the distant day.
Tower, 28 September 1794 
Thelwall’s poetics are shaped by his radicalism: this poem’s language and metrics are those of the popular ballad or hymn; the reprise of the opening verse is typical of folk song , as
is the appeal against political oppression. It is designed to be accessible and comprehensible to all, from working men and women upwards — though it is arguable that in 1795 such populist aesthetics implied a corresponding disdain for the patronage of the well-heeled classes who at that moment were buying Erasmus Darwin’s ornate, neo–Popean couplet poem, The Botanic Garden, in large numbers. To Charles James Fox, the Whig leader, Wordsworth remarked in January 1801 that Michael and The Brothers ‘were written with a view to shew that men who do not wear fine cloaths can feel deeply.’ 
In fact, Thelwall was making the same point five years before with his Poems Written in Close Confinement: it is not just the content of a poem, but its form and style, that reveal its political subtext.
Having invoked Wordsworth, I find it difficult to ignore the similarities between the principles advocated by Thelwall and those adumbrated in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads: he closely anticipates Wordsworth’s attack on the ‘ gaudiness and inane phraseology of many modern writers’.  I hesitate to nominate Thelwall as yet another godfather of the celebrated Preface, but he ought at least to be acknowledged as a formative influence on Coleridge’s conversation poems. Although his strictures had no effect on Coleridge’s attachment to mysticism and metaphysics, they did affect the quality of his poetry — rather a telling fact, I think. Coleridge understood that he and Thelwall were separated by their religious views, but that what they had in common was an intense desire to use poetry as a means of communication with a wide audience. More importantly, he realised that he did not have to become an atheist to adopt the rhetorical simplicity advocated by his correspondent. Religion was Thelwall’s blind spot - but that did not need to prevent Coleridge from using his techniques.
Thelwall’s hard-nosed and not very compromising critique can’t have made easy reading. After all, Coleridge had told Thelwall that ‘I build all my poetic pretensions on the Religious Musings’  —an opinion corroborated in a letter to Benjamin Flower a few weeks before: ‘I rest for all my poetical credit on the Religious Musings’.  Coleridge’s reply, however, which is dated 13 May just three days after Thelwall ‘s letter was written—suggests, at least on the surface, that there were no hard feelings:
Your remarks on my Poems are, I think, just in general - there is a rage, & affectation of double Epithets -’Unshuddered, unaghasted’ is indeed truely ridiculous - But why so violent against metaphysics in poetry? Is not Akenside’s a metaphysical poem? Perhaps, you do not like Akenside—well—but I do—& so do a great many others.... 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... 
Significantly, Coleridge accepts the overall justice of Thelwall’s comment, but rejects the argument that metaphysics is inherently unpoetical. His confidence is to be admired—and his instincts were sound. It was the desire for transcendence that, through such poems as ‘Frost at Midnight’ and ‘Tintern Abbey’, would define a new direction in poetry. The elements of romanticism that shaped the work of Keats, Shelley, Tennyson, Yeats, and, in our own time, Heaney, are circumscribed by the desire to communicate the sense of ‘something evermore about to be’. Thelwall was correct to criticise the young Coleridge’s attachment to debased poetic models—but his dislike of metaphysics blinded him to the value of what Coleridge had to say.
Furthermore, Coleridge had a secret weapon. In 1796, Thelwall could hardly be. expected to know who or what Coleridge was talking about when he noted, in the same letter, that
A very dear friend of mine, who is in my opinion the best poet of the age (I will send you his Poem when published) thinks that the lines [in Religious Musings] from 364 to 375 & from 403 to 428 the best in the Volume—indeed worth all the rest—And this man is a Republican & at least a Semi-atheist. 
Thelwall had remarked that
everything from line 364 onwards ‘hangs like a dead weight upon the poem’: he
would not have overlooked the fact that Coleridge’s card–carrying republican
and atheist friend is a particular admirer of those very passages. Who was this
republican and atheist? It was, rather intriguingly, William Wordsworth, and
this is the first known reference to him in Coleridge’s correspondence. It was
convenient for Coleridge to affirm Wordsworth’s credentials as a semi–atheist
because it put him on a similar footing as Thelwall, effectively disproving his
remarks about Coleridge’s metaphysical rant: if a semi–atheist like Wordsworth
can appreciate the millennial passages of Religious Musings, why can’t
Thelwall? What’s more, Wordsworth is described as ‘the best poet of the age’ -
rather a snub to the likes of Thelwall, who was no poetaster himself. Even to
those in the know, Wordsworth’s qualifications for this title must have looked
a little shaky. His only publications to date were the juvenile An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches, neither of which had sold; his pre-eminence
rested entirely on Adventures on
Salisbury Plain, the poem Coleridge says he will send Thelwall on
publication. Once again, Coleridge was exaggerating: there may have been talk in
published by the new Laureate. Wordsworth may not yet been the ‘very dear friend’ Coleridge calls him ( the two men had first met less than a year before), but the claim was a convenient one. It makes Thelwall seem out of touch—not just with the best poet of the day, but with his works and critical standards. With this early reference to Wordsworth, Coleridge relinquishes any lingering possibility of Thelwall becoming his poetic mentor.
But he did not reject Thelwall’s advice completely. Coleridge was confident about what he wanted his poetry to say, but he accepted Thelwall’s criticism of its sub-Miltonic style, and began to search for a mode of expression better suited to its radical aspirations. He had understood the connection between poetry and politics, and could continue the stylistic journey that would lead to the Lyrical Ballads two years later. It is an interesting coincidence that only a few months after this exchange Coleridge praised, in another letter to Thelwall, ‘the divine chit-chat of Cowper’  — for it was the relaxed, meditative blank verse of The Task that would provide the model for ‘This Lime–Tree Bower’ and ‘Frost at Midnight’.
I wish to conclude this afternoon’s talk with a conjecture and a poem — firstly, the conjecture. As he indicated in his response to Thelwall, Coleridge accepted that his general criticisms of the sub-Miltonic manner of Religious Musings were correct, and perhaps on those grounds, as well as their shared radicalism, he made a concerted attempt to remain in contact with Thelwall. There is little discussion of poetry in their subsequent correspondence, but Thelwall must have been pleased at the rapidity with which Coleridge’s poetic style developed in the following months; it was such that in November 1797 Coleridge published the Nehemiah Higginbottom sonnets in the Monthly Magazine, which parodied the stylistic excesses of Religious Musings, as well
as those of poems by Southey, Lamb, and Charles Lloyd.
Can it be sheer coincidence, I wonder, that the Nehemiah
Higginbottom sonnets were published only a matter of months after Thelwall’s
visit to Stowey in July 1797, when he and Coleridge must have continued their
discussions of poetry? In his ‘Lines Written at
The poem with which I would like to conclude is by Thelwall. To extend Nick’s argument from last year, it is evidently influenced by Coleridge’s ‘Eolian Harp’ and ‘This Lime–Tree Bower my Prison’ (the latter of which Thelwall must have read in MS). But, rather intriguingly, it also looks forward to ‘Frost at Midnight’. Thelwall’s poem is dated October 1797, and as he remained in touch with Coleridge after his visit to Stowey, it is quite possible that he sent it to Coleridge in MS before February 1798, when ‘ Frost at Midnight’ was written. Fascinating though Thelwall’s poem is, however, Coleridge reworks its central conceit to greater effect. Thelwall may have been more experienced than Coleridge, both as political agitator and poet, and there were things he could teach the younger man—but Coleridge’s poetry possesses a quality that Thelwall’s lacks, even at its best. Coleridge’s youthful confidence, in the face of his assured criticism, was justified. His convictions may have led him into ranting abstraction, but they led him also to
compose poetry of a calibre beyond
the skills of the older man. I hope that this is not unfair to either poet. The
republication of Thelwall’s To the Infant
Hampden. Written during a sleepless night.
Sweet babe, that on thy mother’s guardian breast
Slumberest unheedful of the autumnal blast
That rocks our lowly dwelling, nor dost dream
Of woes or cares or persecuting rage,
Or rendering passions, or the pangs that wait
On ill–requited services — sleep on,
Sleep, and be happy! ‘Tis the sole relief
This anxious mind can hope from the dire pangs
Of deep corroding wrong, that thou, my babe,
And the sweet twain (the firstlings of my love!)
As yet are blessed; and that my heart’s best pride
Who, with maternal fondness, pillows thee
Beside thy life’s warm fountain, is not quite
Hopeless or joyless, but with matron cares
And calm domestic virtues can avert
The melancholy fiend, and in your smiles
Read nameless consolations.
Ah, sleep on,
As yet unconscious of the patriot’s name
Or of a patriot’s sorrows, of the cares
For which thy name-sire bled. And,more unblessed,
Thy natural father in his native land
Wanders an exile, and of all that land
Can find no spot his home. Ill-omened babe,
Conceived in tempests, and in tempests born
What destiny awaits thee? Reekless thou.
Oh, blessed inapprehension - let it last!
Sleep on, my babe, now while the rocking wind
Pipes mournful, length’ning my nocturnal plaint
With troubled symphony! Ah, sleep secure
And may thy dream of life be ne’er disturbed
With visions such as mar thy father’s peace—
Visions (ah,that they were but such indeed!)
That show this world a wilderness of wrongs,
A waste of troubled waters, whelming floods
Of tyrannous injustice canopied
With clouds dark-louring, whence the pelting storms
Of cold unkindness the rough torrents swell
On every side resistless. There my ark
The scanty remnant of my deluged joys,
Floats anchorless, while through the dreary round,
Fluttering on anxious pinion, the tired foot
Of persecuted virtue cannot find
One spray on which to rest or scarce one leaf
To cheer with promise of subsiding woe.
Jackson Bate, Coleridge (
 Religious Musings 380–402; all
quotations from this poem are taken from the text in Coleridge, Poems (
and John Thelwall: Medical Science,Politics, and Poetry’. The Coleridge
 The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor
Coleridge ed. Earl Leslie Griggs (6 vols,
 Griggs i 205.
detailed discussion of Coleridge’s response to Godwin can be found in
 Griggs 1 199
 Romanticism: An Anthology (
Thelwall, Poems Chiefly Written in
Wylie,Coleridge and the Philosophers of
 Romanticism: An Anthology, pp.146-7.
 Letters of William & Dorothy Wordsworth:The
Early Years 1787-1805 ed. E. De Selincourt, rev.Chester L.Shaver (
 Advertisement to Lyrical Ballads(1798), as presented in Romanticism: An Anthology, p.166.
 Griggs i 205
 Griggs i 197
 Griggs i 215-16
 Griggs i 215-216
 Griggs i 279