(The Coleridge Bulletin  No 1, Summer 1988, pp 26-36)



When The Friend came to a temporary halt after the first two numbers, Coleridge wrote to one of his Quaker subscribers, Thomas Woodruffe Smith, to thank him for his approbation of "the Principle” on which he had based his periodical. This principle was his opposition to the prudential and utilitarian ethics of “Hume, Paley and their Imitators”.


Believe me, nothing but a deep and habitual conviction of it's Truth absolutely, and of it's particular Importance in the present generation could have roused me from that dream of great internal activity, and outward inefficience, into which ill health and a wounded spirit had gradually lulled me. Intensely studious by Habit, and languidly affected by motives of Interest or Reputation, I found in my Books and my own meditations a sort of high walled Garden, which excluded the very sound of the World without. But the Voice within could not be thrust out   the sense of Duty unperformed, and the pain of Self dissatisfaction, aided and enforced by the sad and anxious looks of Southey, and Wordsworth, and some few others most beloved by me and most worthy of my regard and affection. [1]


The profound and troubled interconnection at the time between Coleridge's intellectual and emotional life can be clearly beard in the twofold emphasis of this passage, moving as it does from an assertion of the great contemporary importance of The Friend to an admission of the personal obstacles which made the performance of this public task so difficult. This interconnection of public and private life informed Coleridge's first conception of The Friend, and is central to our understanding of his work in the troubled years after Malta.

Coleridge's earliest thinking about The Friend can be traced to a project called 'Comforts and Consolations', mentioned amongst a number of planned works in a notebook entry of November 1803 (CN i.1646). This entry also includes a memorandum about a work on 'My life & Thoughts', generally believed to refer to the Biographia Literaria. [2] That The Friend and the Biographia should be linked together in their earliest origins is not surprising, for



both are intellectual biographies, offshoots of a general decision taken by Coleridge at that time:


Seem to have made up my mind to write my metaphysical works, as my Life, & in my Life - intermixed with all the other events/or history of the mind & fortunes of S.T. Coleridge. (CN i. 1515)


In keeping with the spirit of this decision, Col eridge 's notebook memoranda for 'Comforts and Consolations’ are given over to recording his thoughts , and feelings and transcriptions from his voluminous reading. [3] Five years later, self-observation is presented in The Friend’s Prospectus as the inspiration of the new project. It was, Coleridge writes, his habit of recording 'all the Flux and Reflux of [his] Mind within itself' which first encouraged him to undertake the periodical. Miscellaneous as these notices were, they all tended ‘to one common End’ – ‘what we are and what we are born to become’. (TF i i 17)


Patterns of thought and behaviour, familiar to us from recent and excellent studies of Coleridge in the 1790s, [4] will re-emerge in these middle years to remind us of the fact that, for all the inner contradictions, there is an extraordinary consistency in Coleridge's life and thought. But the Coleridge we see in 1806 to 1810 is also the friend whom the Wordsworths could hardly recognize upon his return from Malta, a man ‘utterly changed’ by his two years abroad. Heavily addicted to opium, suffering acutely in mind and body, he had wi thdrawn so far into the 'high walled Garden' that there were times when his friends despaired of reclaiming him for active life. The Wordsworths' commitment to Coleridge never wavered during these years, although their hopes for him flickered as he moved with alarming frequency in and out of engagement with life, sometimes sunk in stupefying illness and depression, sometimes springing back to life and spinning ambitious and impracticable plans.

The Friend was one such plan, and any understanding of how the work came into existence must take account of Coleridge's relationship with Sara Hutchinson, Coleridge made many things of Sara. Most important of all, she




was his conscience, the external embodiment of 'the Voice within'; as such it was her task to rouse him to the work and restore him to a much needed sense of connection with the world. But this idealized conception of Sara, in so far as it sprang from a need to believe in the moral impeccability of his feelings, had to vie so strenuously with his sexual passion that the relationship which was supposed to bring his whole being into harmony became a deep source of confusion guilt, and instability. The failure of Coleridge's idealistic language of love anticipates the struggle of his political idealism to transcend pressures inimical to its moral integrity and forcefulness.

The uneasiness of Coleridge's relationship with Sara, and with the wider circle at Allan Bank, increased his awkwardness and self-consciousness as an author. The lack of confidence his close friends displayed affected The Friend directly by provoking him to vindicate the value and integrity of his inner life. To the Quaker, Smith, he claimed that his motive for writing The Friend lay in the hope that a few of his readers might learn to fix their attention on the concept of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’, on what men ‘are instead of merely what they do’ (CL iii.26), a Kantian doctrine which was both an oblique challenge to his friends and a much needed form of self defence. Kant's emphasis on the quality of intentions rather than of actions was extremely important to Coleridge in this period; and Kant's concept of the moral law, as it was developed in the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (1785), can be seen at every point of The Friend's moral and political argument. On one level, the sublime concept of acting, not out of inclination or self-interest but solely for duty's sake, accorded well with Coleridge's half mystical reverence for man's spiritual and moral potential; on a political level, however, the very sublimity of Kant's categorical imperative lent authority to Coleridge's cautious distinction between the duties owed by an individual to his conscience, and the duties owed to his country.

Coleridge's anxiety at the potential conflict between the two spheres of religion and politics gains a new significance when we consider the number of




Dissenters amongst his subscribers, many of whom were old friends from The Watchman period. Much has been said of the literary Angst generated in the early nineteenth century by the new impersonal conditions of writing for the public at large, but we see a very different set of constraints at work in the case of a journal. Unlike a one-off production, such as a poem or essay, a journal is necessarily open to reader influence, for it seeks to create an audience which will stay faithful over time. But it is a matter for speculation as to how far Coleridge was aware of the very special conditions governing periodical publication. He was highly susceptible to the pressure of audience, the desire to please and to avoid controversy often leading him to tell his listeners what he imagined they wanted to hear. Yet he also held to a strictly authoritarian view of the intellectual superiority of the writer over his readers. and as The Friend began to fail, bitterly inveighed against the intellectual laziness of his subscribers. Although fascinated by the reading process, and forever conscious of the actual men and women who financially supported his journal, he seems to have failed to realize (or perhaps refused to admit to himself) that The Friend was not simply a vehicle for his own views, but that it belonged in several important ways to his subscribers.

It was on the subject of politics that he ran the greatest risk of alienating his more liberal readers, for his conservatism was such that he would not venture any criticism of the Government. Unlike Wordsworth, he was 'decidedly against reform’ (MY I 359), [5] and The Friend makes no reference whatsoever to the nation's social and economic problems, topics which had recently been taken up by Southey with extraordinary power in his Letters from England (1807). Southey's attack on the manufacturing system, complete with horrific descriptions of the pitiable living conditions of Birmingham's industrial workers, infuriated Coleridge, who complained bitterly that his friend had deprived him ‘of at least a 100 Subscribers’ in that city (CL iii 165). Nettled by Southey's claim that the wealth of the country did not




circulate equally and healthfully, but collected in fatal aneurisms ‘which starve and palsy the extremities', [6] Coleridge replaced the metaphor of aneurism with a less invidious one from the natural world, and then went on to celebrate the national debt as a cause of great national unity and health (TF ii,159-60), With his approval of all aspects of the Government's war policy, and his determination to ignore controversial subjects, it is not surprising that his old friend Peter Crompton wrote to warn him that some believed he was writing solely to please those in power and to 'get a good berth' for himself. [7]

In style and content, The Friend appears to mark a break with The Watchman, for whereas the earlier periodical was predominantly a work of political journalism, The Friend advertised itself as an apolitical and ambitious work of moral and political philosophy. But despite Coleridge's projection of himself as a second Burke, ‘an Authority equally respected by both of the opposite parties’ (TF ii.21), and his repeated insistence that he would avoid controversial topics for the sake of national unanimity, The Friend is not disinterested, and was never intended to be. Southey predicted that it would prove ‘a tremendous battery’ if successful (Warter, ii.114), and it is clear from Coleridge's letters that he intended to swim with the party in power and not in 'the muddy yet shallow stream' of the Whigs (CL iii.195). Like the Quarterly Review whose first issue appeared in February 1809, The Friend formed part of a Tory reaction against those who questioned the need to continue the war, a doubt aired in what Southey described as the 'base and cowardly politics' of the Edinburgh Review (Warter, ii.107). [8] Coleridge shared Southey’s contempt for the doubters, and in an article written soon after the last number of The Friend, attacked the very stance of independence and impartiality which he had officially adopted for his own journal. The Whigs and Edinburgh Reviewers who stationed themselves on an 'Isthmus' of neutrality and moderation, far removed from the strife, were contemptible for looking down upon ‘the agitation of the vessel of state, and the conflict of




hostile factions with ‘a sort of tranquil delight arising from a consciousness of security' (EOT ii.1023).

Fearing the present 'stupor of Despondence' (TF ii.85), it was Coleridge's hope to rekindle the nation's 'animal spirits' and give 'a sort of muscular strength to the public mind' (TF ii.305). Exhausted by the long years of war, the country's enthusiasm for the fight had evaporated, and whatever energy remained was dissipated by party faction. The years 1807 to 1809 were ‘unrelenting and fearful' ones for the country, [9] a time when patriotism was a light 'in danger of being blown out' rather than a fire which needed to be fanned ‘by the winds of party spirit' (TF ii.328). The rising of the Spaniards against the French in 1808 had, for a brief moment, united all parties and given a fillip to the nation's flagging energies, but the signing shortly afterwards of the Convention of Cintra, removing French troops from the war zone, only strengthened the Opposition's case against continuing the Peninsular War. Thus, with a large section of the nation clamouring for peace and for a withdrawal of troops from the Continent, the lacklustre and unpopular Portland ministry found itself working in 'a new atmosphere of criticism'. [10] Coleridge's conviction that such criticism was dangerous at times of crisis led to his emphasis in The Friend upon the urgent need for national consensus, but the air of independence and impartiality which accompanied his rejection of party wrangling and division fitted conveniently with his partisanship: his support for the status quo and the Tory government.

An oscillation between political involvement and religious withdrawal, similar to that of the 1790’s, can be seen again in 1809, for Coleridge's uneasiness with politics as a realm of contingency, calculation, and expedience, only increased over the years. Full of self-doubt, and conscious of inner weakness, he is more anxious than ever to refer, in all subjects, ‘to some grand and comprehensive Truth' (Lects. 1795, p.6). The quest for a single, unchanging principle which would resolve all difficulties was a deep seated need of his nature, manifesting itself in his writing as a




reaching outwards for something, or some person, higher than self:


our nature imperiously asks a summit, a resting place - it is with the affections in Love, as with the Reason in Religion we cannot diffuse & equalize - we must have a SUPREME - a One the highest. All languages express this sentiment. (Marginalia i.752)


But this striving for absolutes or principles, and its accompanying rhetorical expansiveness, coexists with a more cautious rhetoric, and an intense dislike of abstractions. Such caution is particularly evident in his writing on politics. the realm presided over by the Understanding, or 'the faculty of suiting Measures to Circumstances' (TF ii.103).

The tension between these two rhetorics goes under many names in The Friend: it is the tension between principle and prudence, between Reason and Understanding, between private and public life. The problem first reveals itself in Coleridge's equivocal commitment to principle, and then ultimately in his failure to spell out what these principles are. [11] The equivocation can be seen in his letters advertising The Friend, for it is a curious feature of their argument that, whereas they begin by setting up an opposition between principles and prudence, they end with a bid to rescue prudence from the darkness into which it has been cast. The pattern emerges clearly in a letter to Sir George Beaumont as Coleridge's denunciation of utilitarianism in the form of the 'prudential understanding' gets modified towards the end of the letter by an admission that he listens 'with gladness and an obedient ear to Prudence, while it remains subordinate to, and in harmony with, a loftier and more authoritative Voice   that of PRINCIPLE' (CL iii. 147).

Coleridge does not jettison prudence because it is itself a principle of his political thought. In The Friend he describes himself as 'a zealous Advocate for deriving the origin of all Government from human Prudence, and of deeming that to be just which Experience has proved to be expedient'; thus, 'every Institution of national origin needs no other Justification than a proof, that under the particular circumstances it is EXPEDIENT'. While unlocking Coleridge's political creed, these statements involve (as he admits




himself) an embarrassing avowal, exposing him to the charge of 'inconsistency’  for up until this point he had spoken 'with something like contempt and reprobation' of prudence and expedience (TF ii.103 4).

This book charts a curve of affirmation and reserve as Coleridge moves in and out of adherence to principle or prudence, depending upon his treatment of man as a creature of God or as a citizen of a political state. The movement between a religious or private perspective, and a political or public one, is clearly discernible in The Friend, despite Coleridge's repeated emphasis upon the inseparability of the two spheres. His understanding of an incompatibility between the claims of public and private life is clear from his vow early on in The Friend that he will not refer to politics 'except as far as they may happen to be involved in some point of private morality' (TF ii. 27). His failure to abide by the resolution is manifest later in the periodical where he is obliged to distinguish between writing as a 'Christian Moralist' and writing as a 'Statesman' (TF ii.200),

Uneasy at the tendency of religion and politics to spring apart, Coleridge devised two ways of resolving the problem: either he pretended he was not talking about politics, or he tried to redeem his political writing by harnessing to it a rhetoric of religious fervour and intensity. The latter resulted in a rapturous nationalism which reads very much like an extension of his religious feeling. Recourse to a religious idealization of politics cannot surprise us in an author as ‘enthusiastic' as Coleridge, [12] and historical circumstances certainly legitimized it, the war against France being easily represented as a clash between the forces of good and evil. But the elevated and sacramental ambience of his political writing has led some critics to overlook areas of tension, [13] especially the difficulties generated by The Friend's commitment to the primacy of national self-survival. The difficulty of reconciling England's security with both individual liberty and international morality is one which dogs the pages of Coleridge's periodical.

Nationalism suffuses The Friend. At the level of private morality the




dictates of conscience give way to the higher imperatives of public duty. An illiberal aspect of Coleridge's nationalism can be seen in his sneering at the Quakers' pacifism. Their refusal to adapt religious principles to the exigencies of political life, and their tendency to regard the inner Light as the sole authority in all matters, disturbed Coleridge's Kantian belief in a necessary distinction between the realms of Morality (Ethics) and Politics (Ius). At the level of international morality, Coleridge suggests that the strict requirements of virtue must sometimes be overruled by the broader requirements of justice or right. Although he is at pains to point out that nations and individuals are bound by the same spirit of morality, he none the less holds that the circumstances of political action give rise to wholly different duties from those attaching to private life. It was no easy task in 1809 to strike a balance between the journalist's attention to the current political climate and the religious minister's concern for the larger moral issues lying behind political action, but the circumstances were such that Coleridge felt obliged to attempt it: the urgent issue of national survival would not permit him, to enter the desert of St John.

Coleridge was not blind to the rights which inhere in the dignity of all men, nor did his acute sense of human weakness exclude a vision of the possible sublimity of our moral nature. This poetic openness to human potential, coexisting with a firmly pragmatic, even Machiavellian, grasp of the realities of political life [14] has its attractions, leading the most recent editor of Essays on his Times to speak admiringly of Coleridge as both Jacobin and anti-Jacobin, Radical and Tory (EOT, vol. i, p.lxv), But the ability to think on both sides of an issue can also be a disability, as Coleridge was well aware, for he saw the fault exemplified in the writings of his revered Burke: 'the principle of becoming all Things to all men if by any means he might save any ... thickened the protecting Epidermis of the Tact-nerve of Truth into something too like a Callus' (CL iii. 541). Coleridge himself falls into this trap; on more than one occasion in The Friend we see him as Hazlitt




saw him: a man who, rather than enter one or other of the two camps before him, pitches his tent upon the barren waste without, 'having no abiding Place nor city of refuge’ [15]


*This paper is taken from Deirdre Coleman's Coleridge and The Friend (1809 1810), to be published by Oxford University Press in 1988. We are grateful for permission to print this excerpt in advance of publication.



[1]             Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E.L. Griggs (6 vols.; Oxford, 1956-1), iii. 216; hereafter abbreviated to CL. Other abbreviations occurring in the text are as follows: CN: The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Kathleen Coburn (London, 1957 ); EOT: S.T. Coleridge, Essays On His Times ed. David V. Erdman (3 vols.; London and Princeton, 1978); Lects. 1795: S.T. Coleridge, Lectures 1795: On Politics and Religion, ed. Lewis Patton and Peter Mann (London and Princeton, 1971); Marginalia: S.T. Coleridge, Marginalia, ed. G Whalley (2 vols. published; London and Princeton, 1980); MY: Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Middle Years, 1806-11, ed. E. De Selincourt, rev. Mary Moorman and Alan G. Hill (2 vols.; Oxford, 1969 70); TF: S.T. Coleridge, The Friend, ed, Barbara E. Rooke (2 vols.; London and Princeton, 1969); Warter: Selections from the Letters of Robert Southey, ed. J.W. Warter (4 vols.; London, 1856).

[2]             See TF, vol. i, pp, xxxv-xxxvi, and CN i. l646 n.

[3]             From 1803 onward we see the work taking shape as a catch all of private meditations, ranging from reflections on narrowness of heart, the metaphysics of sleep, dreams, and violent weeping, the virtues connected with love of nature, and thoughts on childhood (CN ii. 2011, 2018, 2026, 3072); see also CN ii. 2458, 2541, 2638, 2648.

[4]             Kelvin Everest in Coleridge's Secret Ministry: The Context of the Conversation Poems, 1795 1798 (Brighton, 1979), Carl Woodring in Politics in English Romantic Poetry (Cambridge, Mass., 1970), and essays by E.P. Thompson and David Erdman in Power and Consciousness, ed. C.C. O'Brien and W.D. Vanech (London, 1969).

[5]             Wordsworth believed that without reform 'the destruction of the liberties of the Country is inevitable' (MY i. 345).

[6]             Letter XXVIII, 'The Manufacturing System', letters from England, ed. J. Simmons (Gloucester, 1984), 210.

[7]             Wordsworth Library, Grasmere; Alphabetical Sequence A/ Crompton/1.

[8]             Disgust with the politics of the Edinburgh Review came to a head in Oct, 1808, with the publication of a review of Don Pedro Cevallos's On the French Usurpation of Spain (ER xiii.215 34).

[9]             K.G. Feiling, The Second Tory Party 1714 1832, (London, 1938), 256.

[10]           Ibid. 257.

[11]           The failure of The Friend to spell out its principles was commented upon by Wordsworth (TF, vol. i, p.lxvi). The same fault was noted in 1795 by a critic of one of Coleridge's Bristol lectures (Lects. 1795, pp.lvii lviii).

[12]           Writing of the first two numbers of The Friend, Charles Lloyd commented that Coleridge's mind was one which ‘except in inspired moods, can do nothing’ (quoted in E.K. Chambers's Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Biographical Study (Oxford, 1938), 229).

[13]           Some critics tend to endorse Coleridge's rhetoric of unity automatically; see J.R. Barth, Coleridge and Christian Doctrine (Cambridge, Mass 1969), 3, and Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind, from Burke to Santayana (London, 1954), 125.

[14]           In 1803 Coleridge urged Southey to read through Machiavelli's historical and political works, adding that he preferred him greatly to Tacitus (CL ii. 936). References to Il Principe appear in the notebooks and in The Friend, and at one paint Coleridge toyed with the idea of analysing contemporary history in the light of Machiavelli's maxims (CN ii. 3015)

[15]           The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, ed. P.P. Howe (21 vols.; London, 1930-4), xi.38.


(c) The Author 1988 - 2004