Samuel Taylor Coleridge (STC) had not opened himself up so much to the complaints of Shelley and Byron against Wordsworth; he had always owned up to (and exhibited for all to see) his weaknesses and insecurities. Also, he’d dropped poetry shortly after “Dejection” when he announced that he couldn’t write it anymore. There was no vast mass of second-rate, later poems to testify to the accuracy of his self-analysis or to try to prove a point. Finally, he took a stand in the press over the years against Tory policies like the corn laws (a duty that protected producers but caused starvation among the poor) and the use of children as factory laborers. This writing was important to reformers and STC was much admired for it.
Byron and Shelley probably assumed that “Dejection” was simply an inspired whine, an attempt to extract sympathy from his “lady,” rather than a “scream of agony by torture lengthened out,” and that STC was capable of returning to poetry. After all, there is a fundamental contradiction in “Dejection.” If “afflictions” have “suspended” STC’s imagination, and if imagination is “the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception,” then STC has identified himself as incapable of any serious thought never mind the writing of poetry. He has pronounced his mind to be anaesthetized. That, judging by the quality of his political journalism and literary criticism, couldn’t be the case.
At any rate, the experiment with STC’s son, Hartley Coleridge, started to wind down in 1802 when STC claimed his imagination had been suspended, and was over by 1804-5, when STC went to Malta and Wordsworth finished “Intimations.” It ended in the sense that STC and Wordsworth were entertaining serious doubts that their plans for Hartley’s education were sound, and were feeling that they themselves were in no position to judge its success. It also ended in the sense that STC was contemplating another set of lessons for Hartley, lessons meant to correct his evidently hypersensitive, hyperactive and dreamy personality.
STC was worried now about Hartley’s survival. Though STC had determined that Hartley was a poet, which meant he was intact morally, there was still the question of whether Hartley’s education had prepared him for real life, whether he would be helpless before the afflictions that could bow him down, suspend his Imagination and end his vocation even more quickly than STC’s had ended.
Hartley couldn’t have been aware, between the ages of six and eight, of much of this. His glad animal movements may over the years have been interrupted by awareness of his father’s long absences and by the anxiety they caused in his mother, by at least one fatherly whipping, and by the sense that his father when he was around was increasingly casting a more critical eye on him. But any serious anxiety and frustration on Hartley’s part seems unlikely. He was secure in the Southey/Coleridge extended family, cared for and taught his lessons by his mother and his uncle and aunt Southey. Mr. Jackson had acquired the status of Hartley’s godfather, and the Jacksons’ housekeeper, Mrs. Wilson, seemed determined to spoil all the kids.
That sense of security would’ve ended shortly after STC got back from Malta in September 1806, when Hartley turned ten. At that point, his father became a big part of his life, and for a short time it appeared that this would be a permanent situation. Unfortunately, STC was in even less of a position to carry out plans for Hartley than he had been when he wrote “Frost.” In Malta, he’d found opium even more accessible, and there’d been no one around to hold him back. He returned to England bloated and disoriented. He was too sick and ashamed to go home, so he stopped over in London with the Charles Lambs and his sister Mary.
He had determined to separate from Sara. To the Lambs he complained bitterly about her. She was unsympathetic and demanding, ignorant of his needs as a genius. This line worked with the Wordsworths, but not with the Lambs. They were sympathetic but saw the real problem: STC was afraid to go home, to confront his guilt and his responsibility to free himself from opium. Like a child, he was deflecting his anger at himself onto a wife who, as everyone but the Wordsworths knew by now, was an absolute model of a mother and household manager, a wife of infinite patience.
The Lambs understood STC’s fears because guilt and nightmare were no strangers to them, though in no way could their problems be said to be self-inflicted. This is why Lamb appreciated “Mariner” so much. Mary Lamb, Charles’ sister, was insane, and in 1797 had murdered their mother. The courts had no problem letting Mary off — so long as Charles put a straightjacket on her and got her quickly to the asylum whenever she showed signs of cracking. Their usual response when STC turned up was to pour him a stiff drink and try to divert him, and at this they were both very good. Mary was sociable and witty, and Charles was turning into one of the great comic writers of the age.
When STC finally dragged himself to Keswick, he was a shock to look at. He stayed two months, making it clear that he would be leaving soon. This upset Sara, who argued and pleaded with him. However, he was determined. He and Hartley would from now on live with the Wordsworths, who had for some time wanted to try to help and were confident they could succeed where Sara had failed. Impressed by Hartley’s progress in Greek, STC during this visit wrote him a grammar, 93 pages long, put a dedication in it, signed that, and dated it 4 November 1806. Hartley kept this manuscript for the rest of his life.
The study of grammar, STC tells Hartley in the dedication, teaches “habits of attention, and the power of self-control.” These, it seems, were things that Hartley now needed or was about to need, and evidently the ones that STC was about to teach him. When he finished the grammar, STC told his wife that she had done a magnificent job of home-schooling the boys and that she could keep the Wedgwood annuity. Then he left Keswick, with Hartley.
For Southey it was a blessing. Things had been going along pleasantly for the past couple of years. Even Sara had to admit that life was generally better without STC around. She did continue to agitate for Hartley (and Derwent) to be sent to school, but she likely didn’t worry too much about Hartley, figuring that he would be back in Keswick in short order. For Hartley too it was a blessing. He father was, at last, around. It was the start of ten months of close contact with him, a time he later referred to as his “annus mirabilis,” a time that tied him to his father as his brother Derwent and sister Sara were never to be tied.
And as it turned out too there were no real lessons in self-control, though Hartley must have had a close look at the “crazies” (De Quincey’s term) of his father’s life. When his father finally betrayed him, shoving him out into the world with nothing, memories of this time sustained him. He was always, unlike Derwent and Sara, confident that his father loved him, and he was much more aware than them of how difficult it was for STC to demonstrate this love in any pragmatic way. When Hartley refused, through the last decade of STC’s life, to see or write his father, and when he declined to attend his father’s funeral, it was partly out of solidarity with Derwent, who set hard against STC partly on Hartley’s account.
The Wordsworths had moved out of their cottage and acquired a large house, Coleorton, loaned to them by the local aristocrat Sir George Beaumont. There was plenty of space: STC and Hartley had a room together, Wordsworth and Mary had another room, and Dorothy and Asra yet another. The Wordsworths were lax in their domestic routines and easy-going in their habits. Hartley was going though a time when he feared the dark, so STC always left him a candle when he put him to bed. Also he noted that Hartley talked endlessly about his brother and sister. STC seems to have understood, perhaps remembering how much he missed his sister when he was sent to Christ’s Church. Finally he noted that Hartley had invented a fantasy world called Ejuxria, to which he flew on a great bird. STC recognized borrowings from Arabian Nights and was accordingly impressed with the range and sophistication of Hartley’s reading. However, he never wondered why Hartley was so deeply involved in this world.
It wasn’t just escapism. Ejuxria, along with other fanciful narratives that were to come, was, for Hartley, a literary accomplishment. Sara had encouraged him in this. In his later years he remembered how his mother had served as his amanuensis and copied down a part of the story as he’d dictated it to her. He kept this manuscript to the end of his life, the only sample he had of her handwriting: “Never may I forget her, seated before the old desk, the very desk I now possess, patiently performing the part of an amanuensis, while I, stamping about the room, dictated with all the importance of an unfledged authorling. Heaven bless her, and grant me the grace to heal the wound which my folly has inflicted in her heart.”
The Wordsworths were able to fit around STC’s odd ways, though his protestations of love, addressed to Asra, were a strain on her. He missed meals, usually dining at odd hours in his room, a nuisance to the servants. He usually went out in the evening to drink at the local inn, the Queen’s Head, a favorite spot, later, for Hartley. Usually he returned after midnight. And the illnesses, dreams and hallucinations continued.
STC was visibly proud of his son, and the Wordsworths liked him, Dorothy recording at the time that he was a dreamer but very sweet-tempered. He was a hero to the Wordsworths’ kids just as he’d been to Southey’s, entertaining them with his stories. He was dedicated to his studies, and made good progress in Latin and Greek. About much else, however, he was a procrastinator like his father and, also like his father, covered up with fibs and excuses. But STC indulged him in this and actually was proud that his son was so much like him. He remarked in one of his letters about how proficient Hartley was in using “logical false dice in the game of excuses.” Hartley was going through a religious phase, too, so he and his father had yet another topic to discuss. STC by this time was a firm member of the Anglican Church. And Hartley took up his father’s and Wordsworth’s habit of going on long walks by himself.
But there were tensions. Hartley came to dislike the adult Wordsworths because they openly spoke against his mother. He especially disliked Asra, realizing that his father was in love with her. This was unfair, as she’d never given STC the least encouragement, and Hartley’s anger at Asra caused some awkward scenes.
On 27 December 1806, something happened. STC ran out of the house early in the morning, went to the Queen’s Head, and filled his notebook with writing in Greek about what he much later called a “phantasm,” something to do with Wordsworth having sex with his sister-in-law. One line read, “beautiful breasts uncovered.” It’s hard to say whether Hartley even noticed his absence, and the next day things were back to normal. Likely, STC had decided that it was all a dream, a compound of frustration over Asra, jealousy of Wordsworth who was now by far the better-known poet, and opium. But what he knew never obliterated what he felt. He was to go over the “phantasm,” often, in his notebooks. In an entry a couple of years later he wrote: “That dreadful Saturday morning . . . did I believe it? Did I not even know that it was not so, could not be so . . . ?”
Early in 1807, Hartley’s stalwart and long-suffering uncle George wrote, asking his brother to come south to teach at his school that he and another brother, Edward, ran. The job would start in September. Hartley was told that the family would go together. When STC wrote George to accept the job, he told him that he was living separately from his wife, and was planning to stay separated. George immediately wrote to tell his brother that, if such were the case, he was not welcome. But that letter went to Nether Stowey. Sara, Derwent and little Sara were to arrive there in April, on their way to George’s, for a protracted visit to Poole, Cottle and Sara’s family. STC and Hartley were to go to London with the Wordsworths to launch Wordsworth’s Poems in Two Volumes. They were to spend a month in London, arriving at Stowey in late May.
In preparing Hartley for his new life among his conservative uncles, STC wrote a letter of advice that he told Hartley to keep so that he could continually refer to it:
The power which you possess of shoving aside all disagreeable reflections, or losing them in a labyrinth of daydreams, which saves you from some present pain, has on the other hand interwoven into your nature habits of procrastination, which unless you correct them in time . . . must lead to lasting unhappiness . . . . PS: I have not spoken about your mad passions and frantic looks and pout-mouthing because, I trust, that is over.
Hartley’s visit to London was wonderful; he never forgot it. He met many of his father’s writer-friends, and was particularly impressed by a visit to the theatre. He totally enjoyed the play and was upset when Asra remarked that it was silly. They had an argument, Hartley concluding from it that she was stupid and insensitive. In May, Hartley and STC hooked up with the family in Bristol. For some reason, STC never opened George’s letter when it was given to him. Likely he feared what it might contain. Like his son, he preferred to avoid all “disagreeable reflections.” He waited two whole months.
But George’s letter was finally opened, and in July 1807 Hartley returned to Keswick with mother, brother and sister, his annus mirabilis over. Sara was confused and angry. For her the prospect of the family being together, STC working at a regular job and kept on track by his stolid older brothers, was immensely attractive. STC was, or pretended to be, devastated. But just then the family had a piece of luck. Before they left Nether Stowey, De Quincey showed up, a young fan of STC and Wordsworth, looking to meet his heroes. He secretly, through Cottle, gave STC a £300 “loan” that cleared all the family’s debts, and he offered to chaperone the family back to Keswick, an offer that was gladly accepted. He said he had decided to find a place in the Lakes District. De Quincey became a great favorite with the three kids, yet another vice-father for them. And Sara liked him.
STC returned to his journalistic career in London. He went deep into opium again, one excuse being George’s “betrayal,” but again he managed to succeed as a journalist and lecturer, sending money home though never much. His success was partly attributable to the fact that he’d met yet another caregiver, John Morgan, a lawyer and Unitarian, though like STC he’d lapsed into orthodoxy. He was well-off, married with no kids, and a great admirer of STC. He and his wife and sister were fun-loving and easy-going. Later, Hartley remembered them from various summer visits as “good, comfortable, unintellectual people in whose company I always thought STC more than usually pleasant.” Soon STC was living in their house. Whenever he ran off, they found him and brought him back. They nursed him and paid his bills, but they did not restrict his opium intake.
In June 1808, STC wrote Wordsworth an angry, paranoid letter, evidently about the “phantasm.” Wordsworth, guessing that STC was ill, destroyed the letter and responded calmly, advising STC to come “home” to Grasmere to sort things out and recover his spirits. Wordsworth still wanted to look after his friend.
STC arrived in September. He spent a week with his family at Keswick and made arrangements to start the eleven-year-old Hartley and his seven-year-old brother Derwent at boarding school in Ambleside, near Grasmere. Derwent, it seems, wasn’t going to get in as much wandering-like-a-breeze time as Hartley had, but he would be moved closer to his father. The idea was that the boys could be with STC at the Wordsworths’ on weekends, and spend holidays at Keswick. STC took little Sara, now six, with him to Grasmere and kept her for a month, hoping to get to know her. The Wordsworth’s were now living in another large house, Allan Bank.
Young Sara remembered her visit there as wonderful in that her father told her stories every night, though he would do it after midnight when he finally came to bed. He spoke lovingly of Asra, which puzzled her. She was homesick and wanted her mother, and STC accused her of not being as loving as the Wordsworth kids. In the memoirs she wrote near the end of her life she said that after one of STC’s jealous outbursts, “I slunk away and hid myself.” She was immensely relieved when her mother appeared to take her home.
STC started a magazine, The Friend, to bring in money, spending the entire winter setting up the finances, arranging for the printing, and writing it, mainly dictating the copy to Asra, who cooperated as a way of consoling STC and keeping him busy, as well keeping him at a distance. Hartley liked school and quickly became a kind of leader there. Derwent remembered him entertaining the boys after “lights out” with stories of an evil genius, Scauzan, whose plans were always thwarted by a father and son. The father was a giant (STC was about 5’ 10”) and the son a dwarf (Hartley finally topped up at 5’), and the son was often a disappointment to the father. The brothers enjoyed being with STC and the Wordsworths on weekends, Hartley especially as the bigger boys bullied him at school. According to Derwent, Hartley spent a lot of time in Wordsworth’s library: “he carried on his English studies there,” Derwent said later. This pattern continued when Wordsworth moved to Rydal.
Hartley started writing poetry at school. “The Ass” is one of his school exercises:
The ass, as it played in the African wild
At a time when the air was balsamic and mild
Heard the fierce lion’s loud roar
And thought he should never hear more . . . .
In February 1809, STC took Hartley to visit some friends and there is a glimpse of them in the pages of a journal kept by the family’s 17-year-old daughter. She noted that STC was very fond of Hartley but said, “I do not wonder at his being a very trying husband.” “Hartley,” she noted, “is painfully out of the common way in both mind and constitution.” Hard words from a slightly older girl for a boy becoming aware of girls; it’s lucky Hartley never saw them. Doubtless the reference to Hartley’s unusual “constitution” was a reference to his pronounced features, his raven black, long hair, his bushy eyebrows and his shortness. It’s no wonder that Hartley came to think it best to approach girls primarily through poetry. It’s also interesting in showing that when it came to the question of STC’s marriage troubles, people tended to sympathize with Sara.
At that time, too, Hartley and Derwent were fond of getting into arguments and fights. The fights were fair, in that Derwent was already bigger than Hartley, but they were noisy. Early in 1810, DeQuincey heard about one fight and asked Hartley about it. Hartley replied:
“Why, we had one rather violent difference . . . on the present state of agriculture in France. I am very sorry for it — but indeed Derwent is very tyrannical in his arguings.”
The Friend was a great success in one way; Southey, Lamb, DeQuincey, Wordsworth and other writers praised the essays and biographical studies. They were amazed that STC, in the midst of all his sickness, could write so well and stick with it for so long. But STC was often able to produce like this, whenever he was driven by some motivation more powerful than mere money. It this case it seems it was the harmonious contact with Asra. Also, opium was readily available after a day’s walk over the hills to Penrith, where the printer was. This was a walk that STC took on almost any pretense, showing amazing strength and endurance.
The Friend lasted fourteen months, but made no money, even though Wordsworth, by now acknowledged as England’s greatest poet, gave STC many new poems for it. The Friend wound down fairly quickly after May 1810, when Asra left to visit her family. Basically, keeping STC on track and at the same time batting away his increasingly desperate offers of affection had gotten to be too stressful. She needed a vacation, and without her STC couldn’t function.
STC, upset, went back to Keswick where he spent the summer. This was a surprising move, but he seemed remarkably calm. He walked and talked with Southey, entertained the usual round of literary admirers, bantered pleasantly with Sara who wanted him to stay but this time did not argue with him about it. Then he left for London, with yet another admirer, Basil Montagu and his wife, stopping for one night at Grasmere on the way. At that time he had a violent argument with Wordsworth that ended the friendship, though Wordsworth was to try to reconcile and to continue looking out for STC’s family. Wordsworth’s attempts at reconciliation were awkward but he and his family showed over many years incredible loyalty to the Coleridges. Sara, who for so long regarded them as enablers of her husband’s various indulgences came to like and trust them very much. Asra in particular she came to regard as a good friend.
There’s no record of what the fight between Wordsworth and STC was about. The Wordsworths had registered some relief at having him gone to Keswick, and this could’ve gotten back to him. This may have been the reason he spent the summer in Keswick. The argument might have been over Asra. It was aggravated on the road to London when Montagu disclosed something that Wordsworth had told him in confidence — basically, that STC was a nuisance to live with. As a result, the Montagus dropped him at a hotel rather than taking him to their home, which was the original idea. This may of course have been at STC’s insistence. STC was never to return to Grasmere, not even when he was in the area to see his boys at school or the two Saras at Keswick.
The Wordsworth/Coleridge split became the talk of literary London, partly because STC couldn’t resist blabbing, and partly because Wordsworth tried to enlist various literary friends to help him stage a reconciliation.
The Morgans rescued STC from the hotel and he was to stay with them for five happy and productive years. At STC’s request they invited Hartley for summer visits, and took him out regularly to the theatre.
Around that time Hartley, known now around Grasmere as “the black dwarf,” was getting into love poems. Here’s the second of “The Valentines:”
Oft I’ve determined to disclose
The torment of my mind.
Her heart is soft, — said I, who knows
But that she may be kind!
But when the time to speak is come,
(What can it be that ails me?)
Like any statue I am dumb,
My foolish heart so fails me.
Yet sure, from all I say and do,
Sweet maid, you may discern
That I do love, and that ‘tis you
For whom my heart does burn.
Oh, then, would Cupid fire thy breast
As he has kindled mine,
No swain on earth were half so blest
As thy fond Valentine.
As a poem to a girl this is perfect, a nicely turned sequence of non-threatening (familiar) and flattering clichés. It’s no wonder that STC regarded his son as a poet, and that the son was proud of his abilities.
In 1813 at age 16 Hartley wrote “Valentine: to a Fair Artiste,” for a local girl. It’s well turned, with a sensitively delivered message of love at the end. Though I prefer the earlier “Valentine 2,” I have to admit that this poem is more ambitious. It’s also, on the whole, successful. Hartley thought it a kind of milestone in the development of his talent: “These were the first verses in which I was able to express a preconceived thought in metre. The young lady to whom it was addressed is the eldest daughter of the late William Green, an artist of great merit, who possessed a true sense of the beautiful in nature. The lady is now a wife and mother, and probably regards the pictorial skill of her youth, and the compliments it may have gained her, as things that have been:”
O, MISTRESS of that lovely art
Which can to shadows form impart —
Can fix those evanescent tints,
Fainter by far than lovers’ hints,
And bring the scenes we love to mind,
When we have left them far behind, —
Thou seest an image in thy glass
Which does e’en Raphael’s art surpass,
But which Dan Cupid has been able
To copy in my heart’s soft table.
How proud ‘twould make a connoisseur
To have so beauteous a picture!
For me, I own it ill contents me;
To have a copy but torments me,
Unless I might possess, as well
That copy’s fair original.
In the spring of 1814, when Hartley was ready to matriculate, everyone, especially Hartley, was expecting STC to step in to do his duty by arranging for the university fees to be paid and taking Hartley up to be introduced. But STC stayed silent. This was at least partly because he’d crashed and was under the care of a doctor for addiction and suicidal depression, watched over by a man who kept him from opium. Sara and Southey had to write to STC’s brothers to raise money for Hartley’s registration at Merton College, Oxford. The brothers got him a job there, as postmaster, netting him £50/year. Plus they donated £40. Others paid in until the fund topped £120. Hartley would be able to pursue his studies, so long as he was frugal. Asra, Wordsworth and Lamb went up to the university with Hartley and spoke for him.
Derwent, in his outlandishly massive (but very useful) biography of Hartley at the start of his 1849, two-volume, posthumous edition of Hartley’s poems, says that STC’s negligence is what turned his brother into a sot and a wanderer. The matter of tuition was the first blow. But Derwent was always harder on STC than Hartley was and Hartley, as we’ve seen, was later to identify the Oxford poetry contests as the first blow. If Hartley harbored resentment against STC for his obvious dereliction of duty in connection with his going on to Oxford, he did not show it.
Hartley did well at Merton, apart from his troubles with the poetry contests. He was popular with his fellow undergraduates and his teachers, and his grades were good. He grew a beard, of which STC disapproved though he seems not to have said anything. Hartley enjoyed his summer visits to the Morgans — they were out of London at Calne (east of Bristol) at that time — and the Morgans enjoyed him.
In a nostalgic essay published years later about his first, 1815, visit Hartley said, “I used to dream my mornings away right pleasantly.” He stashed some of STC’s philosophy books in his room, studied them, and discussed them with his father. Some critics have seen a general influence of Hartley, as a kind of addressee, on Biographia Literaria. STC and the Morgans took him to the theatre — STC had had great success with his play “Remorse,” a mess of a play but one amenable to liberal adaptation by the producers — and was riding a wave of fame. In September 1815, when Hartley went back to Oxford, STC gave him £10 when it suddenly dawned on him that Hartley was penniless.
In August the Biographia and a collection of his poems, Sibylline Leaves, were sent to Bristol to be published. STC realized that due to his hectic literary life he was again indulging too much in opium. He was negotiating at the time, with Byron’s help, encouragement and financial assistance, the publication of a collection of the dream poems, “Christabel” and “Kubla Khan.” In his meetings with Byron, he confessed to his “daily habit of taking enormous quantities of opium.” He isolated himself, lodging for a time above an apothecary shop, Lamb commenting, “Nature . . . might as well have sent a bookworm for cure to the Vatican.” Finally he contacted Morgan and asked him to find a doctor who would accept him into what we would now call detox.
Morgan arranged a meeting with Dr. James Gillman, who had a comfortable home with a beautiful garden in a suburb of London, Highgate. The meeting happened on April 10, 1816. The Gillmans liked STC immediately, and agreed to take him on. Over the next seventeen years their patience was severely tried, but overall they seemed to enjoy STC’s conversation and the prestige of having him there and of entertaining his many famous guests. Also, STC helped Gillman write his medical essays. Gillman was rigid about the opium, which was necessary, though STC did find a secret supply in case of any “emergency.” The only problem was that STC’s quarters, a single book-and-bed room, were small. Hartley spent part of his summers there, and these included visits to the seashore (STC loved swimming). But when Derwent too starting turning up, from Cambridge, things got awkward.
By the time he moved in with the Gillmans, STC’s reputation was huge. The dream poems especially made him famous — they are connected now not only with Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake (Scott had heard a recital of the poem in 1802), but also with Keats’ “La Belle Dame sans Merci” and “The Eve of St. Agnes” and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Shelley was reputed to have started her novel after Byron read “Christabel” to his circle at the Villa Diodati in Italy, and Shelley, imagining Geraldine’s breasts having eyes instead of nipples, ran from the room. Attacks on the poems by Thomas Moore and William Hazlitt, radical-oriented critics who had a grudge against STC for abandoning his early ideas, only added to the poems’ notoriety.
In the middle of Hartley’s undergraduate years, his father and Uncle Southey, both at the height of their fame, were engulfed in a public scandal that indicated to all the extent to which their ideas had changed. It was a foretaste of the criticisms that Shelley and Byron were to make, and it stirred up the acrimony of reform-minded writers, in particular Hazlitt. Hazlitt, from a Unitarian family (his father was a minister and had gone to America to set up the first Unitarian church in Boston), had been a friend when the Coleridges were in Nether Stowey. He’d painted a famous picture of STC and Hartley. Hazlitt was a stalwart republican and supporter of the French Revolution (including Napoleon), and by the time he started writing serious journalism (1813) he regarded Southey, STC and Wordsworth (everyone but Lamb, with whom he remained good friends) as turncoats and apostates.
Early in 1795, back when Pantisocracy was being planned, Southey had gone into London’s Newgate prison to meet a publisher who’d been put there for sedition. Southey had or thought he had an arrangement with the man to have his play Wat Tyler published. Tyler was the leader of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt, and Southey’s play about him was an open provocation to authorities in that it advocated rebellion. Southey believed that the play would make him famous and net him enough money to make Pantisocracy possible. At his meeting with the imprisoned publisher he agreed that once the play was published he would provide “more sedition,” as he put it (proudly) to his fiancé Edith Fricker. The manuscript, however, had never been published, had in fact disappeared. A Baptist preacher, jailed with the publishers for delivering libelous sermons, seems to have copied and walked off with it. Southey was soon very happy that Wat Tyler was out of sight. But in February 1817 he was surprised to find in a newspaper an announcement that the play was about to appear in print.
Southey realized that the reappearance of his play was a move by his enemies to discredit him. His writings as poet laureate (he was appointed in 1813 after Walter Scott turned the job down) were blatantly sycophantic and self-aggrandizing. Southey himself at the time indicated to friends that he was no longer a poet, but was stuck with producing poetry as a job. Southey tried to get an injunction against publication and then, when that didn’t work, tried to defend himself in the press. This only attracted censure against him in Parliament.
STC leapt to his defense since their names were connected — in fact, one of the surviving manuscripts of the play had STC’s name on it as author. But STC’s defense, published in the Courier, was so obviously self-defensive and self-promoting that it embarrassed Southey. Hazlitt said in the Examiner: “Instead of applying for an injunction against Wat Tyler, Mr. Southey would do well to apply for an injunction against Mr. Coleridge.” Dorothy Wordsworth remarked in her journal, “If I were in Southey’s place I should be far more afraid of my injudicious defenders than my open enemies. Coleridge . . . does nothing in simplicity, and his praise is to me quite disgusting — his praise of the “Man” Southey in contradistinction to the “Boy” who wrote Wat Tyler.”
This controversy would’ve been greeted with great joy among Hartley’s fellow students at Oxford, with their sympathy generally being with the reformists. Southey and STC were now shown to have abandoned principles that were important to the new generation of reformers. It’s unlikely that Hartley would have suffered from the controversy; he liked attention, was vehement in expressing his moderately liberal opinions, and increasingly independent in his views of poetry, including the poetry of STC, Wordsworth and Southey. He also had his father’s reputation as a progressive conservative on his side. STC was at the time at the height of his campaign against child labor, accusing his fellow Tories of an “economic selfishness” that was destroying Britain, advising that “our manufacturers must consent to regulations.”
The controversy might, however, have indicated to Hartley the extent to which his name would be connected to his father’s, and to which he would be considered a “chip off the old block” in the sense of being not just a poet but also a person with an addiction problem and a tendency to what might be called “moral procrastination.”
In 1819 Hartley passed his exams with a second-class standing, which was considered good enough for graduate work. He was reluctant to apply but had nowhere else to go. His joke about being motivated by “duty, vanity, and the fear of being shipped off to Brazil” leaves out school teaching and being a pastor as obvious careers for a man with a good academic record. But Hartley had quickly passed through his religious phase and had no interest in preaching, and he feared teaching.
Luckily he was, in April 1819, elected to a probationary fellowship at Oriel College. This, if he survived the probationary period, would keep him alive for three or more years, after which if he did well he could become a professor. When the news of his fellowship was heard around Grasmere, Hartley’s old school had a day off. The family was ecstatic. STC, in a bragging letter of 29 April, quoted one of the judges saying that Hartley,
. . . was successful against Candidates of powerful Talents and after an examination MOST HIGHLY to his Credit, as a classic, a Logician, and a Theologian. In Logic, Moral Philosophy, and Theology his attainments were far beyond what his age authorized us to expect, and indeed generally where ever opportunity was given for the display of original Talent, and self-formed Views, his superiority was palpable.
Unfortunately Hartley, for all his accomplishments, couldn’t fit in at Oriel, one of the more conservative colleges. His year was a disaster. He was, according to the official report on the withdrawal of his fellowship, outspoken, irreverent, and irregular in his duties of attending chapel and participating in common-room discussions, debates and speeches. He hung out with his old crowd at Merton. Worst of all, he was often drunk, “and came home in a state in which it was not safe to trust him with a candle.” The authorities were not exaggerating. Later, candles were to become a problem for Hartley; he was always torching curtains and mattresses.
Through the summer of 1820 Hartley’s friends and family went up to Oxford to intercede for him. At first STC was ignored; the family seemed to agree he would be better kept out of it. When he heard the news he was, as Derwent reported it, devastated — shockingly so. Finally he went up himself to deliver an impassioned plea. Basically he argued that Hartley was being ejected merely because he was odd. Most of STC’s friends agreed with STC on this. The fact that the university finally agreed to give Hartley £300 pounds of the money that would have been spent on his graduate studies was taken by friends and family (including STC) as an admission of guilt on the university’s part, rather than as an act of charity. Southey proposed an appeal, but STC seems to have objected, worried about how the publicity would affect Hartley’s career chances. Hartley’s crimes would become public knowledge, and the reputation of radicalism, intoxication and irresponsibility pass on from father to son.
STC advised Hartley against accepting the money, saying it would be an admission of guilt. Hartley left Oxford destitute. He was too ashamed to go home to Keswick where everyone would know about his failure. In August 1820, he went to London looking for help from his father.