We have been talking of the contemporary mass; but this is not all; a great original writer of a philosophic turn—especially a poet—will almost always have the fashionable world also against him at first, because he does not give the sort of pleasure expected of him at the time, and because, not contented with that, he is sure, by precept or example, to show a contempt for the taste and judgment of the expectants. He is always, and by the law of his being, an idoloclast. By and by, after years of abuse or neglect, the aggregate of the single minds who think for themselves, and have seen the truth and force of his genius, becomes important; the merits of the poet by degrees constitute a question for discussion; his works are one by one read; men recognize a superiority in the abstract, and learn to be modest where before they had been scornful; the coterie becomes a sect; the sect dilates into a party; and lo! after a season, no one knows how, the poet’s fame is universal. All this, to the very life, has taken place in this country within the last twenty years. The noblest philosophical poem since the time of Lucretius was, within time of short memory, declared to be intolerable, by one of the most brilliant writers in one of the most brilliant publications of the day. It always puts us in mind of Waller— no mean parallel—who, upon the coming out of the “Paradise Lost,” wrote to the duke of Buckingham, amongst other pretty things, as follows:— “Milton, the old blind schoolmaster, has lately written a poem on the Fall of Man—remarkable for nothing but its extreme length!” Our divine poet asked a fit audience, although it should be but few. His prayer was heard; a fit audience for the “Paradise Lost” has ever been, and at this moment must be, a small one, and we cannot affect to believe that it is destined to be much increased by what is called the march of intellect.
Can we lay down the pen without remembering that Coleridge the poet is but half the name of Coleridge? This, however, is not the place, nor the time, to discuss in detail his qualities or his exertions as a psychologist, moralist, and general philosopher. That time may come, when his system, as a whole, shall be fairly placed before the world, as we have reason to hope it will soon be; and when the preliminary works— the “Friend,” the “Lay Sermons,” the “Aids to Reflection,” and the “Church and State,”—especially the last two—shall be seen in their proper relations as preparatory exercises for the reader. His “Church and State, according to the Idea of Each”—a little book—we cannot help recommending as a storehouse of grand and immovable principles, bearing upon some of the most vehemently disputed topics of constitutional interest in these momentous times. Assuredly this period has not produced a profounder and more luminous essay. We have heard it asked, what was the proposed object of Mr. Coleridge’s labours as a metaphysical philosopher? He once answered that question himself, in language never to be forgotten by those who heard it, and which, whatever may be conjectured of the probability or even possibility of its being fully realized, must be allowed to express the completest idea of a system of philosophy ever yet made public.