Matilda! I have heard a sweet tune
On a sweet instrument—thy Poesie,
it began; and went on to hope—
That our own Britain, our dear mother
May boast one Maid, a poetess indeed,
Great as th’ impassioned Lesbian, in sweet song,
And O! of holier mind, and happier fate.
That was what he called twining her vernal wreath around the brows of patriot Hope. He concluded with some cautionary lines whose epithets are irresistibly comic:
Be bold, meek Woman! but be wisely bold!
Fly, ostrich-like, firm land beneath thy feet.
And for her ultimate reward—
What nobler meed, Matilda! canst thou
Than tears of gladness in a Boughton’s eyes,
And exultation even in strangers’ hearts?
It is a wonderful thing indeed that, having composed The Ancient Mariner (1797), Love (1799), Christabel (1797-1800), and Kubla Khan (1798), he should slip back into this eighteenth-century flatulence—but Coleridge could do such things and not turn a hair.
Nevertheless, to a young poetess, a bad poem is still a poem, and means a reader. An acquaintance invited in such terms will thrive, and that of Miss Betham and the Stranger ripened into a friendship. She went to stay at Greta Hall, painted portraits of Mrs. Coleridge and Sara, and of some of the Southeys too. Through them she became acquainted with the Lambs, and if never one of their inner circle, was a familiar correspondent, and had relations with George Dyer, the Morgans, the Thelwalls, Montagues, Holcrofts and others. Altogether Lady Boughton’s bow at a venture brought down a goodly quarry for Miss Betham, but many waters were to flow under the restless philosopher before he could swim into her ken again.
It was in 1808, in fact, when he was living in London (at the Courier office, 348, Strand), and in the midst of his second course of lectures, that the intercourse was renewed—or rather it is there that A House of Letters enables us to pick it up. We find him then writing in this kind of strain to Matilda:—