Coleridge’s Watchman Tour

Nicholas Roe


(Coleridge Bulletin, New Series 21, Spring 2003, pp.35-46)



COLERIDGE’S Watchman ran for ten numbers. It was published by Coleridge himself, printed at Bristol by Nathaniel Biggs, and appeared every eight days (to avoid tax) between 1 March and 13 May 1796. A meeting of ‘sundry Philanthropists’ at the Rummer Tavern, Bristol, in December 1795 had encouraged Coleridge—who had just turned twenty-three—to begin ‘a periodical work’. He had already planned a ‘Provincial Magazine’ in collaboration with Robert Southey, to raise funds for the Pantisocracy scheme. This new venture seemed more promising, and it attracted the support of the unitarian businessman Josiah Wade, to whom Coleridge would write some of his lively letters about The Watchman.  Coleridge quickly drew-up a ‘flaming Prospectus’ to advertise the new periodical.


       The Prospectus likens Britain to ‘an enslaved State’ in which ‘Rulers form and supply the opinions of the People’.  The Watchman’s task would be to detect and expose Ministerial ‘calumnies’ and ‘false statements’ circulated in newspapers, enabling the ‘PEOPLE’ to ‘FORM THEIR OWN OPINIONS’. Like other political associations of the day, especially the Corresponding Societies (though Coleridge does not acknowledge the similarity), The Watchman would ‘supply or circulate political information’ by publishing a ‘History’ of domestic and foreign news; speeches in both Houses of Parliament; Original essays and poetry. It would cooperate with the ‘WHIG CLUB’ to repeal the Gagging Acts (passed into law, December 1795) and with the ‘PATRIOTIC SOCIETIES’ to secure ‘a Right of Suffrage general and frequent’. And there would be no advertisements. The Prospectus concludes:


[W]hatever powers or acquirements the Editor possesses, he will dedicate entirely to this work; and (which is of more importance to the Public) he has received promises of occasional assistance from literary men of eminence and established reputation. With such encouragement he offers himself to the Public as a faithful




to proclaim the State of the Political Atmosphere, and preserve Freedom and her Friends from the attacks of Robbers and Assassins!![1]




The upbeat, confident tone of the Prospectus was to some extent a cover, or compensation for, Coleridge’s lack of journalistic experience; it represented a wishful encounter with a public he hadn’t yet identified. Echoing Jesus’s words in John 8, 32, ‘ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’, the biblical motto ‘That All may know the TRUTH; And that the TRUTH may make us FREE!!’ deflected seditious implications, and contributed an evangelical buzz.  So did the periodical’s title, The Watchman. It echoes Isaiah and Ezekiel:


Isaiah 21: 6

For thus hath the LORD said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.


Isaiah 21: 11

Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night?


Isaiah 21: 12

The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will enquire, enquire ye


Ezekiel 3: 17

Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me.


Ezekiel 33: 6

if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity…


Ezekiel 33: 7

I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.


There are numerous other references to the ‘Watchman’ in Samuel, Kings, the Psalms, and Hosea, where the word gathers rather less intensity:


And the watchman said, Me thinketh the running of the foremost is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok. And the king said, He is a good man… (2 Samuel 27)


Proclaiming the state of the Political Atmosphere; preserving Freedom from attack, Coleridge assumes the role of a political ‘watchman’ armed with biblical authority.[2]




       It seemed an auspicious beginning. Coleridge had been a prominent spokesman for the Friends of Liberty in Bristol. He was well-known there and elsewhere as an author and lecturer on politics, religion, and the slave trade. The moment was right, in that the government’s attempt to muzzle opinion and free speech with the Two Acts had rallied opposition; the war with France continued to cause misery. After the Rummer Tavern meeting, some 270 subscriptions for The Watchman had been collected at Bristol. The same level of support might be forthcoming elsewhere.

       I want now to turn to the wider public Coleridge sought to identify as readers for his periodical, and to his  tour of the Midlands and industrial North of England to raise subscriptions.  I’m going to follow his itinerary, identifying individuals and groups he met, and explore the problems he encountered in drawing subscribers from different sections of urban society. Drumming-up support for The Watchman brought out all of Coleridge’s eloquence as an extempore talker (literally, in this case, a travelling salesman), but also disclosed some of the difficulties he would face in putting together material for publication.  Rosemary Ashton describes The Watchman as a ‘highly readable miscellany’.[3]  But who was the Watchman intended for; what did they expect as readers, and what did Coleridge offer them; and why did he target the north country?

       On Saturday 9 January 1796 Coleridge boarded the coach for Worcester, crammed inside with five others including a man who was so obese, STC reported to Wade, he would need ‘elbow room if he was walking on Salisbury Plain’. This ‘Citizen Squelch-guts was a most violent Aristocrat’ but also, Coleridge found, ‘a pleasant humorous Fellow… and remarkably well informed in agricultural Science’.[4]  Coleridge’s agreeably mixed impression of the ‘Aristocrat’ foreshadows other complicated encounters on his tour, and in some ways also takes us to the heart of the problems confronting him in finding a readership for the Watchman.  Aristocrats could prove pleasant, humorous, well-informed; some of the radicals he had set out to meet would prove cold, irritable, bigoted—and, worst of all, stubbornly reluctant to hand over a subscription.

       The journey from Bristol passed ‘pleasantly enough’, taking the coach through Gloucester, Tewksbury, and arriving at Worcester at 2.30 in the afternoon (60 miles). His contact here was Martin Barr of the porcelain manufacturer ‘Flight and Barr’, and although warmly received in the city he quickly saw that ‘there is no chance of doing any thing in Worcester—the Aristocrats are so numerous and the influence of the Clergy so extensive, that Mr. Barr thinks that no bookseller will venture to publish THE work’ (CL i 175). Robin Whittaker gave an excellent, detailed account of Coleridge’s visit to Worcester at the Coleridge Summer Conference 2002 [Available online: See Coleridge Bulletin NS 21, Spring 2003, pp47-54]




pointing out that the Congregational Chapel Barr attended (and to which he introduced Coleridge) was by no means consistent or uniform in dissenting beliefs and opinions. Coleridge was to come across a similarly varied community in Birmingham, but this was an early warning (if he wasn’t aware of this circumstance already) that he couldn’t assume a consistent outlook in groups that appeared united by dissent.

       On Tuesday 12 January Coleridge set off for Birmingham (25 miles) where his ‘exertions’ were ‘incessant’—despite two days laid low by ‘a violent cold in [his] head and limbs’ (CL i 177).  In Biographia STC recalled his first ‘attack’ on a prospective subscriber, a Calvinist and tallow-chandler, a ‘tall, dingy man’… ‘I argued, I described, I promised, I prophecied; and beginning with the captivity of nations I ended with the near approach of the millennium, finishing the whole with some of my own verses describing that glorious state out of the Religious Musings’:


And what, Sir! (he said after a short pause) might the cost be? Only FOUR-PENCE (O! how I felt the anti-climax, the abysmal bathos of that four-pence!) only four-pence, Sir, each number, to be published on every eighth day. That comes to a deal of money at the end of a year. And how much did you say there was to be for the money? Thirty-two pages, Sir! large octavo, closely printed. Thirty and two pages? Bless me, why except what I does in a family way on the Sabbath, that’s more than I ever reads, Sir! all the year round.  I am as great a one, as any man in Brummagem, Sir! for liberty and truth and all that sort of things, but as to this (no offence, I hope, Sir!) I must beg to be excused.[5]


A more responsive Birmingham contact was the Unitarian minister John Edwards, who later contributed to the Watchman reports about the trials of Binns and Jones. On Sunday 17 January STC preached twice at Edwards’s ‘society’, ‘peppering’ his sermons with politics.  A revealing observation in one of Coleridge’s letters mentions that the Birmingham congregation was made up of ‘all sorts—Arians, Trinitarians &c’, so that he had to negotiate ‘a multitude of prejudices’ (CL i 180).  This indicates the complexity of the culture of dissent in the mid-1790s, showing that groups overlapped—or fragmented—and that while ‘a political Lecturer in [Edwards’s] pulpit’ might impress one group, it might also ‘injure’ Edwards’s reputation with others in the same congregation (CL i 180). Lucy Newlyn has uncovered Coleridge’s anxiety about audience and reception with reference to The Friend and later works.[6]  The intricacies of The Watchman tour foreshadow this negotiation of diverse audiences: to protect Edwards’s reputation, Coleridge allowed himself to be ‘overpersuaded’ to wear the black gown of an orthodox clergyman (CL i 176, 180). At Birmingham he




raised ‘double’ the number of subscriptions he had expected, and reported ‘about an hundred subscribers’.

       Friday 22 January saw Coleridge up early to catch the 4 am coach to Derby (CL i 176) a journey of some 30 miles.  Here stayed over the weekend and did ‘tolerably well’ (CL i 177); ‘I may count on forty or fifty’ (CL i 177).  He met Joseph Wright the painter and Erasmus Darwin, describing him as an atheistical ‘curiosity’ who ‘bantered incessantly on the subject of Religion’ (CL i 178). The industrialist and entrepreneur Jedediah Strutt (successor to Richard Arkwright in developing mechanised spinning machines) gave an introduction to the silk merchant John Fellowes at Nottingham, and Coleridge moved there on Monday 25 January (10 miles).  He joined the local Whig Club at a dinner to celebrate Charles James Fox’s birthday, and wrote excitedly:


I have got among all the first families in Nottingham, and am marvellously caressed… I was at the Ball last night—and saw the most numerous collection of handsome men & Women, that I ever did in one place… (CL i 179)


The ‘first families in Nottingham’ and a fashionable Ball seem unlikely arenas for recruiting subscribers.  It was at Nottingham—perhaps at the Ball—that a local aristocrat scoffed at Coleridge’s ‘Prospectus’:


… he glanced his eye on the motto ‘That All may know the Truth, and that the Truth may make us free’.—A Seditious beginning! quoth he—. Sir! said Mr Fellowes—the motto is quoted from another Author—Poo! quoth the Aristocrat—what Odds is it whether he wrote it himself or quoted it from any other seditious Dog? Please (replied Mr. F.) to look into the 32nd Chapter of St. John, and you will find, Sir! that that seditious Dog was—JESUS CHRIST!

(CL i 179-80)


‘This is one proof among thousands’, Coleridge concluded, ‘that Aristocrats do not read their Bible’.

       There’s evidence that in Nottingham Coleridge’s exertions were being distracted in other ways; his thoughts were elsewhere, ‘home-sick… and far from my comfortable little cottage’ (CL i 179).  And he was ‘distressed & sorely agitated about Mrs. Coleridge’s state of Health’ (CL i 180) Still, he believed he was ‘likely to do a good deal of Business here’, and on Sunday 31 January preached a charity sermon, this time in the blue ‘coloured Cloths’ of a dissenter, ‘to very good purpose, as far as the plate went’ (CL i 182). The change from black gown to blue suggests Coleridge casting around for an identity before the public, trying out different guises and voices while also insisting on a singularity of purpose.

       Next day he left Nottingham in the mail coach for Sheffield—a journey of some 30 miles—arriving there late in the evening (CL i 180).  At this point he




was projecting his tour to Liverpool, and a return to Bristol via London, where he would negotiate with publishers.  Sheffield was another centre of dissent, and here he met with unitarian ministers Benjamin Naylor, Astley Meanly, and Radcliffe Scholefield. Promising contacts, one would have thought, except that Naylor promptly ‘declined interesting himself in [The Watchman] or even procuring… a Publisher’ (CL i 182).  By Naylor and others at Sheffield he was warned that The Watchman might ‘injure the sale’ of James Montgomery’s radical paper the Sheffield Iris. As Coleridge already knew, ‘poor Montgomery’ had just been imprisoned for six months following a so-called libel on a ‘bloody-minded magistrate’ (CL i 184).  Naylor had funded Montgomery and the Iris so had a close personal interest in the matter, and Coleridge took the point.  Nevertheless, the Sheffield bookseller John Smith agreed to dispose of ‘20 or 30’ copies of the Watchman ‘Prospectus’ among friends (CL i 183).

       On Friday 5 February (the projected publication day for the first Watchman) Coleridge was up early to take the 6 am coach to Manchester, a journey of some 48 miles over the Pennines: ‘the coach will not arrive there till 10 o’clock at night… a tortoise would out-gallop us! (CL i 183). Coleridge’s experience here was not encouraging.  He called on a bookseller with his ‘Prospectus’, only to be told that he was already ‘Over-stocked with these Articles’:  ‘ “People always setting up some new thing or other”. “I read the Star and another Paper: What can I want with this paper, which is nothing more?” ’ (CL i 184).  Still, he did identify a publisher in Manchester, as he had done at Birmingham and Nottingham.  By 10 February STC had turned south to Lichfield, where he reported he had ‘succeeded very well’.  The longer tour to Liverpool and then London was cut short by Sara Coleridge’s illness, and by 13 February he had rejoined her at her mother’s house on Redcliffe Hill, Bristol.  Despite his protestations that he would dedicate himself ‘entirely’ to The Watchman, he now prepared reluctantly to commence ‘ “Author by Trade”… forced to write for bread… when every minute I am hearing a groan of pain from my Wife—groans, and complaints & sickness!’ (CL i 185).

       Raising subscriptions for the Watchman had taken a month-long tour to the centres of radicalism and dissent in the Midlands and North of England, on a journey of around 400 miles.  He had encountered aristrocrats, industrialists, clergymen, dissenters of all kinds, scientists, booksellers, intellectuals, fashionables, printers, and would-be authors. It had quickly become apparent that ‘a Miscellany… under the name of The Watchman’ would have to appeal to a remarkably miscellaneous audience, even among the radicals and dissenters where he might have expected to discover shared aims and expectations.

       Coleridge’s notion of the Watchman as a ‘miscellany’ probably reflected his familiarity with other publications such as the Gentleman’s Magazine, the European Magazine, and Joseph Johnson’s dissenting Analytical Review. A gathering of miscellaneous items on a variety of topics might have a broad appeal, and would also serve as a mask for controversial, and possibly seditious contents.  A few months earlier, William Wordsworth had projected a journal,




 The Philanthropist, which would be a ‘monthly miscellany’ and (like The Watchman) a ‘lantern’ to guide the friends of freedom through a period of national crisis ‘and establish freedom with tranquillity’.[7]  Much as Coleridge’s Unitarian sermons ‘spread a sort of sanctity over [his] Sedition’ (CL i 179), the miscellaneous contents of The Watchman would clothe his treason in motley.

       Across the ten numbers of the periodical we find explicitly political material such as the ‘Introductory Essay’, a history of ‘the diffusion of truth’; the ‘Essay on Fasts’, attacking the alliance of church and state power; two anti-Godwinian items, ‘Modern Patriotism’ and ‘To Caius Gracchus’; ‘To the Editor of the Watchman’ reporting the trials of friends of freedom John Gale Jones and John Binns; and an extract from Coleridge’s lecture ‘On the Slave Trade’.  This material appears among less controversial matter—poems, digests of recent news, summaries of parliamentary proceedings, William Ireland’s Shakespeare manuscripts, epigrams, and so on.  The notion of a ‘miscellany’, sometimes associated with ‘muddle’ and ‘deformity’, seems at odds with the singular purpose Coleridge had undertaken: ‘That All may know the TRUTH; And that the TRUTH may make us FREE!!’. In other respects, however, the Watchman’s miscellanousness was characteristic of Coleridge’s distracted concentration, of the ‘irresolved doubleness’ of his thought.[8]

       In a few places we can see Coleridge seeking to bring together different kinds of material, drawing a narrative from seemingly miscellaneous contributions.  A good example is in the first number.  His poem ‘To a Young lady, with a Poem on the French Revolution’ is effectively a poet’s history, surveying Coleridge’s development from ‘the echoing cloisters pale’ of Christ’s Hospital, through the storms of the French Revolution, to become the poet of natural passion, ‘as he feels, he sings’ (Watchman, 27-29).  One of the voices in the poem develops a retrospective idiom, associated with friendship, ‘sad sympathies’, ‘evening’, ‘the pensive twilight gloom’, ‘suff’ring Nature’, and ‘soften’d SENSE’. Private, elegiac, this idiom of the ‘heart’ and ‘wearied thought’ is set against a more sublime vocabulary associated with the French Revolution: ‘giant fury’, ‘disdain’, ‘the blasting Dog-star’, ‘a midnight Meteor’,  ‘celestial forms’, ‘patriot fire’, ‘ghastly horror’, and ‘guilt’. So the poem articulates two voices for the poet, two modes of seeing, two kinds of patriotism: the vigorous Alcaean music of revolution, ‘celestial forms’, and apocalypse—all are characteristics of Religious Musings and Coleridge’s millenarian enthusiasm in the mid-1790s; and the voice of feeling retrospection, friendship, and domesticity will carry through into the poetry of ‘This Lime-Tree Bower’ and ‘Frost at Midnight’.  Offering us two kinds of patriot-poet, ‘To a Young Lady’ also relates to the next article in The Watchman, Coleridge’s review of Edmund Burke’s Letter to a Noble Lord.  Here Coleridge expresses his admiration for Burke’s ‘vigor of intellect’ and ‘warmth of




emotions’, but suggests that Burke’s pamphlet (like his recent career) is flawed by an imbalance between the kinds of patriotic feeling Coleridge had explored in his poem. Burke has allowed the ‘softened heart’ of domestic grief, and ‘private and lonely feelings’ to be overset by the ‘throb and tempest of political fanaticism’.  Hence the ‘fierceness and vulgarity’ of his attacks on the friends of freedom (Watchman, 30-39). Representing a moment when Coleridge was still able to keep both voices in play, this second number of The Watchman also points a direction for Coleridge’s future development.

       The review of Burke is followed by a digest of ‘Foreign Intelligence’ condensed from different newspaper sources, so that the developing argument in poem and review about kinds of patriotism, and the role of the writer, is lost to the Watchman’s miscellaneousness.

       Turning next to some of The Watchman’s contexts, we can identify a symbolic correspondence between a benighted city, or state, awaiting the break of dawn, and England in 1796.  In The Watchman Coleridge could ‘give warning’ of the enemies of freedom and, when the hour came round, cry ‘the morning cometh’.  That ‘morning’ might be the reform of the political system, achieving ‘a Right of Suffrage general and frequent’ and an end to the war with France.  It might also be the ‘blest Future’ of the millennium, expected by the unitarian dissenting community, and anticipated in the extract from ‘Religious Musings’ included in the second issue of The Watchman (Watchman, 64-7). But to what extent was it possible for Coleridge, in ‘a periodical work’, to continue, every eight days, denouncing the oppressiveness of the political atmosphere and, as regularly, promising a millenarian ‘morning’ that hadn’t dawned in the preceding week and showed no signs of doing so in the next? Or to reformulate that dilemma, using examples from his Watchman tour, every time he recited sublime passages from Religious Musings would come the thought of the ‘little cottage’ at Clevedon.

       Seamus Perry has shown how the millennium that refused to happen affected the formal features of Coleridge’s poetry. Put briefly, the confident sense of resolution in earlier poems gave place to to a poetry of non-endings, for example in the ‘dawdling or lingering’ farewells of ‘The Nightingale’.[9] Coleridge’s earlier poem, ‘To the Nightingale’, had contrasted the  ‘MINSTREL of the MOON’ with the ‘Bard’ labouring ‘in city garret pent’, and ‘drowsy Watchmen,/(Those hoarse unfeather’d Nightingales of TIME!)’. (Intriguingly, this is one of only two uses of the word ‘watchman’ in Coleridge’s poems, the other appearing in the Death of Wallenstein). Amid the darkling verdure and ‘deepening twilights’ of Coleridge’s ‘Conversation Poem’ the poet-watchman no longer wears out the night, but, wisely forgetful, responds to nature’s melodious ‘influxes’—‘loitering long and pleasantly’ as Seamus says, ‘unsure of what is going to happen next’.  Which is exactly what one might expect of a ‘drowsy Watchman’, but surely not the vigilant watchman in The Watchman.




       The Watchman started out confidently, albeit three weeks late, to ‘proclaim’. It  paused, after ten weeks, in a mood of hesitation and irresolution not unlike the close of The Nightingale.  Coleridge’s  ‘Address to the Readers of the Watchman’ begins: ‘This is the last Number of the WATCHMAN.—Henceforward I shall cease to cry the State of the political Atmosphere’ (as if ‘Henceforward I shall cease’ was an ongoing process, rather than an end). ‘The reason’, Coleridge goes on, ‘is short and satisfactory—the Work does not pay its expenses’.  Then follows a list of other reasons: too much, or too little original composition, when compared with The New Monthly Magazine; its inadequacy as ‘a mere Journal of weekly events’, in comparison with the Cambridge Intelligencer. ‘To return to myself’, Coleridge continues, ‘—I have endeavoured to do well’; yet this valediction isn’t quite a parting ‘farewell’, and his final words—like the Conversation Poem’s—seek to defer closure:


And it must be attributed to defect of ability, not of inclination or effort, if the words of the Prophet be altogether applicable to me, ‘O Watchman! thou hast watched in vain!’ (Watchman, 374-5)


In this sense as well, then, The Watchman reflected other developments in Coleridge during the mid-1790s, showing how his voice of prophetic assurance gradually admitted the chanciness of things.

       The quotidien and the mundane constantly impeded the Watchman’s mission, much as STC had found himself crowded by an aristocrat in the coach to Worcester.  This was due in large part to events in his personal life; Sara Coleridge was ‘dangerously ill’ during this spring, and on 12 March ‘expected hourly to miscarry’ (CL i 188).  Coleridge was now ‘on the contra side of happiness’; he was ‘taking Laudanum almost every night’ (CL i 188), and one of his eyes was ‘alarmingly inflamed’ (CL i 189).  There is plenty of evidence of Coleridge’s ongoing ‘inclination’ and ‘effort’ to make the Watchman succeed, and his letters from spring 1796 reveal the hectic, demanding pace of his life. He was preparing his Poems on Various Subjects for publication with Cottle, and trying to finish his poem Religious Musings. At the same time he was ‘obliged to publish extempore as well as compose’ (CL i 191), and pressed by the need to write, or find, copy for his periodical.  Rather than detecting signs of a ‘blest Future’ in current events, the periodical was leading him into complicated business entanglements: about the price of paper; about whether to despatch The Watchman ‘with half a dozen copies of Joan of Arc on sale or return’ as a sweetener to booksellers; about how to distribute The Watchman, as in this complicated account about delivery to Birmingham:


With regard to the carriage, concerning which Mr Clark has written to me, would it be too heavy a tax on his profits, if for every forty numbers he sold, he paid sixpence towards the Carriage—thus—the Carriage to Birmingham of all the parcels included in one wrapper will be 3s-6d—Now supposing Mr Clark sells 120 numbers in




Birmingham he should charge me two shillings for carriage—if 160, eighteen pence—if 220, one shilling & so on—?—Now supposing he should sell 160 numbers, this would leave him a profit of eleven shillings and four pence every eight days—. If I had said sixpence in every thirty instead of 40, surely I had not been unreasonable—. (CL i 188)


But Coleridge’s attempt to beat down expenses didn’t work.  Although at one point he could tell Thomas Poole that The Watchman ‘succeeds so as to yield a bread-and-cheesish profit’, by 5 May he admitted to Poole, ‘my tradesmen’s Bill[s] for the Watchman, including what Paper I have bought since the seventh number, the Printing, &c.—amount to exactly five pounds more than the whole amount of my receipts—Meantime Mrs Coleridge asks about baby-linen & anticipates the funeral expences of her poor mother’ (CL i 208).  This is all a long way from being ‘marvellously caressed’ by the first families of Nottingham, a reminder that Coleridge was happiest as an indulged guest, visiting lecturer or roving correspondent, not as an editor or anchor-man, a husband and parent.

       Given The Watchman’s happy conception at the Rummer Tavern, and Coleridge’s success at raising subscriptions on his tour, why did it not prove viable as a periodical? There was no shortage of copy, and later issues do not show a decline in the quantity of Coleridge’s original material.  One reason was that Coleridge may have misjudged his readership.  Having set out to appeal to dissenters, and made numerous contacts on his tour, there is actually remarkably little in The Watchman that addressed dissenting issues and causes. In the ten numbers, there is just one reference to the Test Acts which barred dissenters from civil and political rights (Watchman, 53). Coleridge compounded this default in his ‘Essay on Fasts’ in the second number.  The epigraph from Isaiah, ‘Wherefore my Bowels shall sound like an Harp’—gives the keynote for a satirical exposure of the hypocrisy and silliness of fasting, especially a fast ordained by the Church of England for political reasons.  But joking about the scriptures was not calculated to impress many of his readers and, he recalled in Biographia, he lost ‘near five hundred … subscribers at one blow’ (BL i 184). Should we attribute this misjudgement to Coleridge’s high spirits? Or is it evidence of a failure to identify and accommodate the ‘prejudices’ of his diverse readership?  He followed the ‘Essay on Fasts’ with articles on ‘Modern Patriotism’ and his letter ‘To Caius Gracchus’, attacking the ‘viciousness’ of Godwin’s principes in Political Justice.  In doing so he was following an argument he had already used in his political and religious lectures, but to attack Godwin risked alienating the secular, intellectual coterie among his readership. The Watchman may indeed have been ‘highly readable’, but contributions like these would have inclined readers to read elsewhere. STC’s final ‘Address to Readers’ pointed out how The Watchman faced competition from other newspapers and journals, suggesting that ‘miscellaneousness’ meant that while The Watchman would potentially appeal to all readers, in actuality it




seems to have satisfied few of them.

       Perhaps it was typical of Coleridge that at the very moment when he should have been exerting himself to get The Watchman underway, he faltered, daunted by ‘a quickset hedge of embarrassments’; debilitated by ‘mismanaged sensibility’; distracted by his wife’s illness and the idea that the future was full of ‘cloud & thick darkness’—‘Poverty perhaps, and the thin faces of them that want bread looking up to me!’ (CL i 184, 185).  Eight years later, Leigh Hunt, also twenty-three, set about editing the Examiner.  Hunt was holding down a day job at the War Office, reviewing plays in the evening and overnight, courting the sickly Marian Kent, and struggling with physical and nervous disabilities which would afflict him throughout his life.  By December 1808 the Examiner was ‘getting on gloriously’.[10]

       The Examiner had a large subscription base in London, where the Hunt brothers were already well known for The News.  Perhaps Coleridge would have been more successful had he kept closer to his base in Bristol, and consolidated his local reputation.  The West Country had strong liberal and republican traditions, as was evident when John Marriott launched the Taunton Courier in 1808. Patterned on the Examiner, the Taunton Courier adopted an independent, impartial stance ‘above the considerations of party’ with which, twelve years earlier, Coleridge had been preoccupied in his ‘Prospectus’ and on his tour.[11] Although, as Hunt said, the Examiner’s ‘IMPARTIALITY’ quickly polarised towards the cause of reform, his stance of independence was calculated to avoid complex negotiations with his readership while also putting the mire of political in-fighting at a distance.  Paradoxically, Hunt’s carefully managed independence opened the way for his preferred mode of familiar, intimate address—of sharing confidences.

       We’ve seen how Coleridge was quickly caught up by the problems and expense of distributing the Watchman to its far-flung readership.  Leigh Hunt could count on the business acumen of his brother John, publisher of the Examiner, and we know that the paper circulated widely beyond London—even reaching the remote village of Ecclefechan in the Scottish borders, Thomas Carlyle’s birthplace.  John Marriott devised a team of despatch riders to deliver news from the London papers to Taunton within a matter of hours, and the Taunton Courier was as swiftly delivered to its readers.  In comparison, the logistics of publishing The Watchman proved difficult, and news matter in it was inevitably belated. Joseph Cottle gave financial support, helped with distributing copies, and seems to have covered some of the periodical’s financial loss. But Coleridge seems not to have wanted his assistance, or business know-how, in setting up his periodical (an early letter apologises to Cottle if he ‘felt hurt’ at Coleridge ‘not mentioning… the proposed “Watchman” ’ (CL i 174) ).




       Cottle was preoccupied in spring 1796 persuading Coleridge to complete his Poems on Various Subjects.  The book was published during April, and one of the presentation copies went to John Thelwall, political lecturer and poet, with a letter in which Coleridge said that he built all his ‘poetic pretensions on the Religious Musings’. A long, friendly argument (see David Fairer’s paper printed here) developed about the merits of Religious Musings, indicating how Coleridge’s interests, like Thelwall’s, were turning away from moral and political lectures and periodicals, to negotiate with readers, and the ‘political atmosphere’, through the controversial medium of poetry.  Thelwall’s path would take him to the West Country, where he met Coleridge at Stowey in July 1797. Eleven years later he was back again. The first number of Marriott’s Taunton Courier carried, top left on its front page, an announcement that ‘At the Assembly-Room, Angel-Inn. Tiverton, for One Night Only’ and at ‘The Theatre, Taunton, … for Two Nights Only’, 


Mr Thelwall (Professor of the Science and Practice of Elocution) Will deliver a LECTURE on SENATORIAL AND POPULAR ORATORY, And a PHILIPPIC Against the boundless ambititon of the oppressor of Europe; with an estimate of his character, moral, intellectual, and political; an invesitigation of the grounds of hope and apprehension, on the part of Spain; and a delineation of the genius and resources of the contending nations. To be preceded by AN ODE, Addressed to the Energies of Britain, in behalf of THE SPANISH PATRIOTS.[12]


A miscellany was on offer, and it would be delivered to a miscellaneous audience: ‘Boxes, 3s. 6d.; Social Ticket (admitting two Ladies and Two Gentlemen, or three ladies and one Gentleman), 10s. 6d.; Pit, 2s. Gallery, 1s.’ In a sense the Watchman was still touring, though prices had risen since Coleridge’s trek around the north.  And the original ‘flaming Prospectus’ he  carried with him had proved unexpectedly practical on the domestic scene. In the Biographia Coleridge recalls that he happened to rise one morning at an earlier hour than usual: ‘I observed [the servant girl] putting an extravagant quantity of paper into the grate in order to light the fire, and mildly checked her for her wastefulness; la, Sir! (replied poor Nanny) why, it is only “WATCHMEN.” (BL i 187).

[1]     The Watchman, ed. Lewis Patton, Collected Coleridge Series 2 (Routledge, London, and Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1970), 3–6. Hereafter Watchman in the text.

[2]     John Beer points to a dissenting pamphlet, ‘The Watchman’s Report and Advice’, published by Joseph Johnson in 1795. It may have been noticed by Coleridge. See ‘Coleridge’s Watchman’, Notes and Queries (1961), 217.

[3]     Rosemary Ashton, The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Oxford, 1996), 82.

[4]     Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E. L. Griggs (6 vols, Oxford, 1956–71), i 175, hereafter CL in the text.

[5]     Biographia Literaria, ed. James Engell and W. J. Bate, Collected Coleridge Series 7 (2 vols., Routledge, London, and Princeton University Press, Princeton), i 181–2, hereafter BL in the text.

[6]     See Lucy Newlyn, Reading, Writing, and Romanticism. The Anxiety of Reception (Oxford, 2000).

[7]     Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, ed. E. de Selincourt, 2nd edn, The Early Years, 1787–1805, rev. C. L. Shaver (Oxford, 1967), 123–9.

[8]     Seamus Perry, Coleridge and the Uses of Division (Oxford, 1999), 11.

[9]     See ‘Coleridge’s Millennial Embarrassments’, Essays in Criticism (January 2000),1–22.

[10]   Luther Brewer, My Leigh Hunt Library. The Holograph Letters (Iowa City, 1938), 17.

[11]   ‘Prospectus’, Taunton Courier (22 Sept 1808), 2. I thank Tom Mayberry for his help with researching the Taunton Courier.

[12]   Taunton Courier (22 Sept 1808), 1.