London and Highgate

Coleridge's room in the Gillmans' house at Highgate














At Highgate

The letters of this period present a vivid contrast between the unhappy personal life of Coleridge during his middle years and his career as lecturer, political philosopher, journalist, playwright, and critic. From the year 1807, when he spoke of himself as 'penniless, resourceless, in heavy debt – ... [his] health & spirits absolutely broken down. In 1819, when he was faced with the bankruptcy of his publisher, he suffered many disappointments and misfortunes. For more than nine years he was a wanderer, living at Coleorton, London, Stowey, Bristol, Bury St. Edmunds, Grasmere, Keswick, Ashley, and Calne, never fixed for long in any one place. Finally, he found a refuge at Highgate in April 1816 with the surgeon James Gillman, where he stayed until his death in 1834.

The first half hour, I was with you, convinced me that I should owe my reception into your family exclusively to motives not less flattering to me than honorable to yourself. I trust, we shall ever in matters of intellect be reciprocally serviceable to each other. Men of sense generally come to the same conclusions; but they are likely to contribute to each other's enlargement of View in proportion to the distance, or even opposition of the points from which they set out. Travel and the strange variety of situations and employments on which Chance has thrown me in the course of my Life might have made me a mere man of Observation, if Pain and Sorrow and Self-miscomplacence had not forced my mind in on itself, and so formed habits of meditation. It is now as much my nature to evolve the fact from the Law, as that of a practical man to deduce the Law from the Fact.

Letter to James Gillman, 13 April 1816, Norfolk St, The Strand, London


William Hazlitt launched a series of  attacks on Coleridge, beginning with a devastating review of the Christabel volume in the Examiner of 2 June 1816. On 2 August he reprinted in the Morning Chronicle a passage from Fears in Solitude to reveal the contrast between Coleridge's earlier and later views concerning the war. He attacked The Statesman's Manual in the Edinburgh Review of December 1816, and he savagely reviewed the Biographia Literaria in the issue of August 1817.

There has appeared a most brutal attack, as unprovoked as it is even to extravagance false, on me both as a man and an author, in the Examiner 0û written by a man named William Hazlitt, whom I befriended for several years with the most improvident kindness when he was utterly friendless and whom Southey and myself at our own hazard saved from infamy and transportation in return for his having done his best by the most loathsome conduct (known to all the neighbourhood of Keswick & Grasmere but ourselves and the Wordsworths) to bring disgrace on our names and families. We should have been obliged, of course, to desist from our attempts to serve him, even if he had not been compelled to run away, but we never expressed any resentment, only avoided his name. Every one particular which he has put down he knows to be false. But what can one do? I could not condescend to give publicity to Guilt and Baseness, the excess of which would perplex Belief while the Detail outraged Modesty. Better submit to the annoyance as the appropriate punishment of that weak good nature and that disposition to overvalue Talent, which put it in the power of such a Wretch to sign and seal all his other vices with ingratitude.

Letter to Hugh J Rose, 1816


Mrs Gillman and the Servants
(Coleridge compares his rustic upbringing with that of the more genteel Mrs Gillman.)

After the manner, in which you broke away from me, I have striven in vain to force away my thoughts from the subject. It is but waste of time and an injurious retention of disturbing feelings to attempt it. I must draw the swarm out of the Hive and see them settle and cluster before I can remove them out of sight.

My dearest Friend! To few indeed, if to any, is it given to hit the golden mean, on any point of Judgement in which the Feelings are concerned—: and it is cruel to be angry with each other, because we are a hair-breadth above or below the exact line. Sometimes, a few general and preparatory remarks are of use in tranquillizing the mind, and thus fitting it for the examination of the particular object, as you wipe your eye-glass before you use it. It not seldom happens, that difference in opinion between two friends may arise from innocent differences in their several natures: and often from the difference of their education, past circumstances, and the incidents and accidents of their Life. Now to apply this to judgements respecting Servants and our inferior Dependents generally. I reflect, that formerly and in places remote from the Metropolis even in my childhood, the distinction of ranks was so felt as in a much less degree than at present to require a distance of manner for it's preservation. Servants were more in awe and yet more familiar. In old times Familiars meant Servants. In Scotland still the children of the best families companion with the servants from childhood upwards—However, at 8 years old I was taken away, to be for eleven years together a poor, friendless Blue-coat Boy—and many a meal, and delightful Bason of hot Tea and Bread and Butter have I been thankful for by a Kitchen-fire with a Schoolfellow, whose Father or mother or Aunt were in service:—tho' at the very time when Judge Buller's Lady gave me half-a-crown and bid me go down to the Butler's Room, I left the money (which, however, I detected to be a bad one) on the Table in the Passage, opened the Door and never went there afterwards. During the latter years I was now with rich, and now with poor—conversing as an equal with all ranks indiscriminately.—Then came the Glow and Blaze of Democratic Notions—then the critical eruption of my six months' Light Dragoonery—and last, Pantisocracy, and perfect Equality on the banks of the Susquianna!!—And to all this add a certain laxness and facility of natural temper.—On the other hand, independent of Circumstance and education you, my dear friend! had a peculiar fineness of nature—and this by a gracious adjustment of events was matured into a genuine refinement in sentiment, manners, and address, Miss Dutton was ever before you like a future Self, a sort of magnifying Mirror, in gazing on which you became more gracious from the selfless complacency with which you contemplated and admired your own image already full-grown. Soon after this, in an opulent family in which you were treated as an elder Daughter, you undertook the charge of forming the minds and manners of three or four little girls destined for the higher ranks of society, and in a large house in which there was every convenience for preserving them from the influence of meaner manners and conversation. And this was at a time when the danger and ill-consequences of permitting Children to be in the company of servants was every where held up, as a first-rate Principle in education—and as all things will pass into extremes, in some instances left impressions not quite compatible with the dictates of Christianity. And even in minds and natures incapable of such result, as in your Sister Lucy's—nay, where as in your own case a more than ordinary tenderness and scrupulous considerateness & gentleness towards Servants were prominent & characteristic—still the tone and habit of feeling could not be altogether uninfluenced. You looked on them, as a Christian, and with Christian Benevolence; but at the same time looked down on them, with the alien-like feeling of a Gentle-woman, added to the inevitable inward with-drawing from the mere sense of diversity between them and your own born and innate character, all that which makes a Lady more than a Gentle-woman. Now when you compare your Life &c with mine, can you wonder that there should be some difference both in our notions and our feelings? For instance, of Powel's late conduct—I can readily believe that I think much too little: if you will allow me to imagine that you think a little too much—and unconsciously measure his distance from Maria without at the same moment measuring the immense moral and physical distance between yourself and him.—For the accident of sitting occasionally in the room, in which you are sitting, and his dining at the same table will not, I fear, lessen the latter distance, so as in any effectual degree to increase the former. The Attraction of inward Likeness is too strong to allow us to expect a better state of Feeling even where we are entitled, nay bound, to demand from the individual that he shall abstain from all manifestation of the Contrary—and that he shall behave and conduct himself agreeably to his situation in your family, whatever he may inwardly feel.—

Will you forgive me if I confess that there seems to me to be one little inconsistence in your mode of thinking on this case?

Letter, December 1822 (CL V 257ff.)

Coleridge’s Evening Walk
(The idea of beauty solves the problem of passive perception)

7 August, 1826, ½ past 7―beautiful Sunset…―as I was pacing alongside the ivied wall that divides our Garden from Mr. Nixon’s Kitchen Garden … and musing on the ordinary exclusive attribution of Reality to the phaenomena of the passive Sense … and on the impossibility that a Mind in this sensual trance should attach any practical lively meaning to the Gospel Designation of a Christian as living a life of Grace by Faith, in the present state and to pass to a life of Glory; as opposed to those, who live without God in the World; and (to comprize all in one) of the unmeaningness or dark superstition of the Eucharist to such men, and the consequent necessity of knowing and communing with an other world that now is, in order to an actual and lively Belief of another world to comei―the Question started up in my mind―but must such knowledge be explicit, and be conveyed in distinct conceptions. If so, what shall I think of such a Woman as Mrs Gillman? Can I deny that she lives with God?―At this moment my eyes were dwelling on the lovely Lace-work of those fair fair Elm-trees, so rich so softly black between me and the deep red Clouds & Light of the Horizon, with their interstices of twilight Air made visible―and I received the solution of my difficulty, flashlike, in the word BEAUTY! in the intuition of the Beautiful!―This too is spiritual―and the Goodness of God this is the short-hand, Hieroglyphic of Truth―the mediator between Truth and Feeling, the Head & the Heart―… Beauty is implicit knowledge―a silent communion of the Spirit with the Spirit in Nature not without consciousness, tho’ with the consciousness not successively unfolded! … Far other is the pleasure which the refined Sensualist, the pure Toutos-kosmos Man, received from a fine Landscape―for him it is what a fine specimen of Calligraphy would be to an unalphabeted Rustic―To a spritual Woman it is Music―the intelligible  Language of Memory, Hope, Desiderium/the rhythm of the Soul’s movements
    To whatever we attribute reality, with that we claim kindred: for reality is a transfer of our own sense of Being

From The Notebooks (CN IV 5428)