Germany and the Lakes

Arrival in Germany with the Wordsworths and John Chester

We have dropped anchor in the middle of the Stream, 30 miles from Cuxhaven, where we arrived this morning at eleven o'clock, after an unusually fine passage of only 48 hours –. The Captain agreed to take all the passengers up to Hamburgh for ten guineas – / my share amounted only to half a guinea. We shall be there if no fogs intervene tomorrow morning. – Chester was ill the whole voyage, Wordsworth shockingly ill, his Sister worst of all – vomiting, & groaning, unspeakably! And I neither sick or giddy, but gay as a lark. The sea rolled rather high; but the motion was pleasant to me. The stink of a sea cabbin in a packet, what from the bilge water, & what from the crowd of sick passengers, is horrible. I remained chiefly on deck.

Letter to Tom Poole, 18 September 1798

 

Enjoys the social life in Göttingen

Gottingen, the UniversitySuch an Evening I never passed before – roaring, kissing, embracing, fighting, smashing bottles & glasses against the wall, singing –- in short, such a scene of uproar I never witnessed before, no, not even at Cambridge. – I drank nothing – but all, except two of the Englishmen, were drunk – & the party broke up a little after one o/clock in the morning. I thought of what I had been at Cambridge, & of what I was – of the wild & bacchanalian Sympathy with which I had formerly joined similar Parties, & of my total inability now to do aught but meditate -- & the feeling of the deep alteration in my moral Being gave the scene a melancholy interest to me! – There were two Customs which I had never seen before – the one they call Smollets [Schmollis], & consists in two men drinking a glass of wine under each other's arm, & then kissing & embracing each other – after which they always say Thou to each other. The other custom was this – when all were drunk & all the Bottles smashed, they brought a huge Sword, sung a Song round it, then each fixed his Hat on the sword, Hat over Hat, still singing – & then all kissed & embraced each other, still singing. – This Kissing is a most loathsome Business – & the English are known to have such an aversion to it, that it is never expected of them.

Letter to Sara Coleridge, Göttingen, 12 March 1799

 

Learns of the death of his son Berkeley after a smallpox inoculation

It is one of the discomforts of my absence, my dearest Love! that we feel the same calamities at different times – I would fain write words of consolation to you; yet I know that I shall only fan into new activity the pang which was growing dead and dull in your heart – Dear little Being! – he had existed to me for so many months only in dreams and reveries, but in them existed and still exists so livelily, so like a real Thing, that although I know of his Death, yet when I am alone and have been long silent, it seems to me as if I did not understand it. – Methinks, there is something awful in the thought, what an unknown Being one's own Infant is to one! – a fit of sound – a flash of light – a summer gust, that is as it were created in the bosom of the calm Air, that rises up we know not how, and goes we know not whither! – But we say well; it goes! it is gone! – and only in states of Society in which the revealing voice of our most inward and abiding nature is no longer listened to, (when we sport and juggle with abstract phrases, instead of representing our feelings and ideas) only then we say it ceases! I will not believe that it ceases – in this moving stirring and harmonious Universe I cannot believe it!

Letter to Sara Coleridge, 8 April 1799


Harz MountainsReluctance to return home to Nether Stowey

On Saturday next I go to the famous Harz Mountains – about 20 english miles from Gottingen – to see the mines & other curiosities. On my return I will write you all that is writable. – God bless you, my dear dear dear Love!

Letter to Sara Coleridge, 6 May 1799

 

Justifies his long time away from his family in Germany

What have I done in Germany? – I have learnt the language, both high & low German / I can read both, & speak the former so fluently, that it must be a torture for a German to be in my company – that is, I have words enough & phrases enough, & I arrange them tolerably; but my pronunciation is hideous. – 2ndly, I can read the oldest German, the Frankish and the Swabian. 3dly – I have attended the lectures on Physiology, Anatomy, & Natural History with regularity, & have endeavoured to understand these subjects. – 4th – I have read & made collections for an history of the Belles Lettres in Germany before the time of Lessing – & 5thly – very large collections for a Life of Lessing; – to which I was led by the miserably bald & unsatisf[act]ory Biographies that have been hitherto given, & by my personal acquaintance with two of Lessing's Friends.

Letter to Josiah Wedgwood, 21 May 1799

 
From the leads on the housetop of Greta Hall, Keswick, Cumberland, at the present time in the occupancy and usufruct-possession of S. T. Coleridge, Esq., Gentleman-poet and Philosopher in a mist.
 
Keswick, courtesy Mike ThomasFriday, July 25, 1800. Yes, my dear Tobin, here I am, with Skiddaw behind my back; the Lake of Bassenthwaite, with its simple and majestic case of mountains, on my right hand; on my left, and stretching far away into the fantastic mountains of Borrowdale, the Lake of Derwent-water; straight before me a whole camp of giants' tents,—or is it an ocean rushing in, in billows that, even in the serene sky, reach halfway to heaven? When I look at the feathery top of this scoundrel pen, with which I am making desperate attempts to write, I see (in that slant direction) the sun almost setting,—in ten minutes it will touch the top of the crag; the vale of Keswick lies between us. So much for the topography of the letter; as to the chronology, it is half past seven in the evening.
 
Letter to James Webbe Tobin,
From Collected Letters, ed E L Griggs, I 612.
 
 
The room in which I write

Every thing, I promised myself in this country, has answered far beyond my expectation. The room in which I write commands six distinct Landscapes—the two Lakes, the Vale, River, & mountains, & mists, & Clouds, & Sunshine make endless combinations, as if heaven & Earth were for ever talking to each other.—Often when in a deep Study I have walked to the window & remained there looking without seeing, all at once the Lake of Keswic[k] & the fantastic Mountains of Borrodale at the head of it have entered into my mind with a suddenness, as if I had been snatched out of Cheapside & placed for the first time on the spot where I stood. — And that is a delightful Feeling — these Fits & Trances of Novelty received from a long known Object. The river Greta flows behind our house, roaring like an untamed Son of the Hills, then winds round, & glides away in the front — so that we live in a penins[ula.] — But besides this etherial Eye-feeding, we have very substantial Conveniences. We are close to the town, where we have a respectable & neighbourly acquainta[nce] and a sensible & truly excellent medical man. — Our Garden is part of a large nursery Garden / which is the same to us & as private as if the whole had been our own, & thus too we have delightful walks without passing our garden gate.
 
Letter to Josiah Wedgwood, Nov. 1. 1800.—Keswick.
From Collected Letters, Ed E L Griggs, I 644.
 

... and now the Rain Storm pelts against my Study Window.

Oct. 19. 1803.  The general Fast Day — and all hearts anxious concerning the Invasion. —  grey Day, windy — the vale, like a place in Faery, with the autumnal Colours, the orange, the red-brown, the crimson. the light yellow, the yet lingering Green, Beeches all & Birches, as they were blossoming Fire & Gold!—& the Sun in slanting pillars, or illuminated small parcels of mist, or single spots of softest greyish Light, now racing, now slowly gliding, now stationary/ — the mountains cloudy — the Lake has been a mirror so very clear, that the water became almost invisible — & and now it rolls in white Breakers, like a Sea; & the wind snatches up the water, & drifts it like Snow/— and now the Rain Storm pelts against my Study Window!  Σαρα Σαρα why am I not happy!  why have I not an unencumbered Heart! these beloved Books still before me, this noble Room, the very centre to which a whole world of beauty converges, the deep reservoir into which all these streams & currents of lovely forms flow — my own mind so populous, so active, so full of noble schemes, so capable of realizing them/this heart so loving, so filled with noble affections — O Ασρα! wherefore am I not happy! why for years have I not enjoyed one pure & sincere pleasure!—one full Joy!—one genuine Delight, that rings sharp to the Beat of the Finger! — all cracked, & dull with base Alloy!
 
CN I 1577
 

...my Books on the side shelves of the Room were lettered, as it were, on their Backs with Stars.

The Window of my Library at Keswick is opposite to the Fire-place, and looks out on the very large Garden that occupies the whole slope of the Hill on which the House stands. Consequently, the rays of Light transmitted through the Glass, (i.e. the Rays from the Garden, the opposite Mountains, and the Bridge, River, Lake, and Vale interjacent) and the rays reflected from it, (of the Fire-place, &c.) enter the eye at the same moment. At the coming on of Evening, it was my frequent amusement to watch the image or reflection of the Fire, that seemed burning in the bushes or between the trees in different parts of the Garden or the Fields beyond it, according as there was more or less Light; and which still arranged itself among the real objects of Vision, with a distance and magnitude proportioned to its greater or less faintness. For still as the darkness encreased, the Image of the Fire lessened and grew nearer and more distinct; till the twilight had deepened into perfect night, when all outward objects being excluded, the window became a perfect Looking-glass: save only that my Books on the side shelves of the Room were lettered, as it were, on their Backs with Stars, more or fewer as the sky was more or less clouded (the rays of the stars being at that time the only ones transmitted.) Now substitute the Phantom from the brain for the Images of reflected light (the Fire for instance) and the Forms of the room and its furniture for the transmitted rays, and you have a fair resemblance of an Apparition, and a just conception of the manner in which it is seen together with real objects.
 
The Friend II 117 (No.8. October 5, 1809)
 

Watch out below...

Wednesday Midnight ... I went to the window, to empty my Urine-pot, & wondered at the simple grandeur of the View/1. darkness & only not utter black undistinguishableness — 2. The grey-blue steely Glimmer of the Greta, & the Lake, 3./ The black, yet form preserving Mountains/ 4 the Sky, moon-whitened there, cloud-blackened here — & yet with all its gloominess & sullenness forming a contrast with the simplicity of the Landscape beneath.
    Over the black form-retaining Mountains the Horizon of Sky grey-white all round the whole Turn of my Eye the Sky above chiefly dark, but not nearly so black as the space between my eye & the Lake, which is one formless Black, or as the black nothing-but-form-& colour-Mountains beyond the grey-steely glimmery Lake & River/& this diminished Blackness mottled by the not-far-from-setting half-moon.—O that I could but explain these concentric Wrinkles in my Spectra!
 
CN1 1681 (Nov 23, 1803)
 

They shall not get me out — from Thee, Dear Study!

Thursday, Nov. 24th, 1803. — Lo! on this day we change Houses! — All is in a bustle/and I do not greatly like Bustle; but it is not that that depresses me/it is the Change! — Change! — O Change doth trouble me with Pangs untold! — But change, and change! change about! — But they shall not get me out — from Thee, Dear Study! — I must write a Poem on this.
 
CN1 1682 (in Perry's transcription)
The Coleridges were relocating to the other side of Greta Hall to make room for the Southey family who were moving in. Coleridge made sure he kept his dear study!
 
Something mother of pearlish, in the Sun gleams upon Ice

Borrowdale, courtesy of Claire RowlandTuesday ½ past 3. beautiful Sun set — the Sun setting behind Newlands across the foot of the Lake. The Sky cloud-less, save that there is a cloud on Skiddaw, one on the highest Mountain in Borrodale, some on Helvellin, and the Sun sets in a glorious Cloud/these Clouds are of various shapes, various Colours — & belong to their mountains, & have nothing to do with the Sky. — N.B. Something metallic, silver playfully & imperfectly gilt, & highly polished; or rather something mother of pearlish, in the Sun gleams upon Ice, thin Ice.
 
CN1 1701 (c. 6 Dec 1803)
 

“As I first sink on the pillow”—falling asleep on the pillow breasts of the study couch

When in a state of pleasurable & balmy Quietness I feel my Cheek and Temple on the nicely made up Pillow in Cælibe Toro meo, the fire-gleam on my dear Books, that fill up one whole side from ceiling to floor of my Tall Study — & winds, perhaps are driving the rain, or whistling in frost, at my blessed Window, whence I see Borrodale, the Lake, Newlands—wood, water, mountains, omniform Beauty — O then as I first sink on the pillow, as if Sleep had indeed a material realm, as if when I sank on my pillow, I was entering that region & realized Faery Land of Sleep — O then what visions have I had, what dreams — the Bark, the Sea, the all the shapes & sounds & adventures made up of the Stuff of Sleep & Dreams, & yet my Reason at the Rudder/O what visions, as if my Cheek & Temple were lying on me gale o' mast on—Seele meines Lebens!—& I sink down the waters, thro' Seas & Seas—yet warm, yet a Spirit —/Pillow = mast high.
 
CNI 1718 (c.6-13 Dec 1803)