Review: The Bristol Connection

The Bristol Connection

a celebration in words and music of the first meeting of Coleridge and Wordsworth in Bristol 1795

St. George's Brandon Hill Bristol, Saturday 14th October 1995


Reviewed by Michael Birtchnell


(The Coleridge Bulletin  New Series No 6 (Autumn 1995), pp 53-55)


This was an evening of fact and entertainment held together by Reggie Watters, who provided a framework of biography particularly related to this area. The "first meeting" referred to might have been in Wordsworth's lodging across the road from the church, the Pinney house.


We were reminded that 200 years ago Coleridge spoke out against slavery here in the financial centre of the slave trade, and that 1795 was a politically troubled time. Coleridge came to Bristol from his home at Clevedon, in November, for the politics of the place, and finally we followed his coach on its way down St. Michael's Hill with him and his family, through Bedminster and thence away.




If the relationship between Coleridge and Wordsworth developed mainly in Nether Stowey rather than in Bristol itself, well, the Quantocks are fairly local too. It was pleasant, vaguely flattering for us local residents, and delivered with panache (and a hint of period costume). I felt very much drawn to a family affair.


If the setting was biography, the jewels were the music.


It included Haydn's The Wanderer, Haydn himself having visited "Pristol" in 1794, and The English Sonata. The songs were settings of lyrical romantic pieces, mostly by Coleridge, contemporary and later, reminding us that such pieces continue to be written, played, and enjoyed. They were sung by Charles Gibbs and richly appreciated.



The climax of the evening was the first public performance of Nigel Dodd's setting of Wordsworth's Lucy poems. The word "setting" is appropriate, since the music allowed the poems to speak for themselves and sensitively complemented the direct and moving simplicity of the lyrics.


The self-styled anti-climax of the evening followed. Another first public performance: of a doggerel, written by Coleridge, describing his journey by coach out of Bristol and supplied by Professor Jim Mays from his forthcoming collected edition. It was amusing and entertaining for a local audience, and pleasant for us to know that we in Bristol were, appropriately enough, the first public audience to hear it since its discovery.


St. George's was of course an excellent choice of location, with the Georgian House, where Wordsworth certainly stayed in 1795, and where he and Coleridge may have met, just across the road. But it did have a limitation. It is rather too




large and too public a place for an occasion which needed more intimacy. One would have liked to be nearer the performers.


The evening ended, as a soiree should, with a supper. All in all the evening was a most imaginative and creative mix.