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[The article printed below was contributed anonymously to the St. James's Gazette (March 13, 1886) as part of a series of three—the other two 'Great Talkers' being Goethe and Luther (on March 20 and 30, 1886). They have been identified as Coventry Patmore's, and the first, with portions of the second and third, are reprinted now for the first time by kind permission of Mrs. Patmore.
If the date of the essay (1886) is borne in mind, it will be seen that the long series of quotations is intended to reflect and confirm Coventry Patmore's own political convictionsanti-Jacobin', anti-Liberal, anti-Gladstonian.)
The published 'Table Talk' of men like Coleridge, Goethe, Luther, Johnson, and Selden, makes us almost wish that they might have done nothing but talk, with some one by to take notes. In talk they poured forth their best ;
. uttering briefly, intelligibly, and with the animation of sympathy and sympathetic conflict, that which is repeated in their books, but there elaborated, often obscured, and often compromised by the process of connecting and harmonizing their ideas. This is signally true of Coleridge. Most of the thoughts which, in the Aids to Reflection, the Statesman's Manual, and other of his writings shine only as the more lustrous points of luminous nebulae, in his recorded conversations glitter as brightly and distinctly as stars in a frosty night. It only needs a perusal of the exquisite and now too rarely read volume of Coleridge's Table Talk to remind us that to him, more than to any other Englishman of the present century, we are indebted for such 'sweetness and light' as our present culture possesses. In everything in which he interested himselfand he interested himself in everything—he united depth and ardour with breadth and charity; and consequently was, and is, loved and hated as a man of genius and character should be. But haters are always more influential and wise in their generation than lovers, and those who in our day have felt themselves rebuked by his light have managed to damage by ignoring the fame which they could not hurt by attack. Coleridge's political and social sayings, uttered between fifty and sixty years ago and in or about the agitating times of Catholic Emancipation and the first Reform Bill, are full of the most living meaning for the present day. Here are a few of them :
You see how this House of Commons has begun to verify all the ill prophecies that were made of it-low, vulgar, meddling with everything, assuming universal competency, flattering every base passion, and sneering at everything refined and truly national.' (P. 226.)
'In a country of any religion at all, liberty of conscience can only be permanently preserved by means and under the shadow of a national Church-a political establishment connected with but distinct from the spiritual Church.' (P. 304.)
The ideal Tory and the ideal Whig (and some such there have really been) agreed in the necessity and benefit of an exact balance of the three estates; but the Tory was more jealous of the balance being deranged by the people, the Whig of its being deranged by the Crown. But this was a habit, a jealousy only; they both agreed in the ultimate preservation of the balance; and accordingly they might each, under certain circumstances, without the slightest inconsistency, pass from one side to the other as the ultimate object required it.' (P. 166.)
England I see as a country, but the English nation seems obliterated. What could redintegrate us again ? Must it be another threat of foreign invasion ?' (P. 291.)
'I have never known a trader in philanthropy who was not wrong in heart somewhere or other. Individuals so distinguished are usually unhappy in their family relations
-men not benevolent or beneficent to individuals, but almost hostile to them, yet lavishing money and labour and time on the race, the abstract notion. The cosmopolitism which does not spring out of, and blossom upon, the deeprooted stem of nationality or patriotism, is a spurious and rotten growth.' (P. 261.)
'Your modern political economists say that it is a principle in their science that all things find their level ;which I deny ; and say, on the contrary, that the true principle is, that all things are finding their level like water in a storm.' (P. 243.)
It is God's mercy to our age that our Jacobins are infidels and a scandal to all sober Christians. Had they been like the old Puritans, they would have trodden Church and King to the dust.' (P. 187.)
'See how triumphant in debate and in action O'Connell is! Why? Because he asserts a broad principle, and acts up to it, rests all his body on it, and has faith in it. Our ministers—true Whigs in that have faith in nothing but expedients de die in diem.' (P. 206.)
Now, after a long continuance of high national glory and influence, when a revolution of a most searching and general character is actually at work, and the old institutions of the country are all awaiting their certain destruction or violent modification--the people at large are perfectly secure, sleeping or gambolling on the very brink of a volcano.' (P. 245.)
The evils which Coleridge foresaw have been more tardy in coming than he expected. A nation in the heart of which there is so much vigour as there was in the England of fifty years ago takes a good while a-dying ; but the alarmingly diminished vitality of our present England more than justifies the forebodings of the philosophic politician.