To Bowles

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"To Bowles" was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and published in the 26 December 1794 Morning Chronicle as part of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters series. William Lisle Bowles's poetry was introduced to Coleridge in 1789 and Bowles had an immediate impact on Coleridge's views of poetry. The sonnet celebrates Bowles's status as a poet. It also discusses Bowles's political beliefs, which helped shape Coleridge's ideas on government and politics.

Contents

Background

Bowles had an important part in Coleridge's early poetry; he served as a model Coleridge. [1] This influence can be traced to when Coleridge was given a copy of Bowles's Sonnets, Written Chiefly on Picturesque Spots, During a Tour in 1789. Later, Coleridge dedicated a poem to Bowles in order to praise him. [2] The poem "To Bowles" was the seventh of his Sonnets on Eminent Characters series. It was first printed on 26 December 1794 in the Morning Chronicle and rewritten for Coleridge's 1796 collection of poems. [3]

As a footnote, Coleridge explained that Bowles was "Author of Sonnets and other Poems, published by Dilly. To Mr. Bowles's Poetry I have always thought the following remark, from Maximus Tyrius, peculiarly applicable [...] 'I am not now treating of that Poetry, which is estimated by the pleasure it affords to the ear—the ear having been corrupted and the judgment-seat of the perceptions; but of that which proceeds from the intellectual Helicon, that which is dignified, and appertaining to human feelings, and entering into the soul."—The 13th Sonnet [...] the 19th [...] and the 25th [...] are compositions of, perhaps, unrivalled merit. Yet, while I am selecting these, I almost accuse myself of causeless partiality; for surely never was a Writer so equal in excellence!" [3] Coleridge's quoting of Maximus Tyrius leaves out part of Maximus's quote that suggests the sentence is describing music. [4]

Poem

The original version reads: [5]

My heart has thank'd thee, Bowles! for those soft strains,
  That, on the still air floating, tremblingly
  Wak'd in me Fancy, Love, and Sympathy!
For hence, not callous to a Brother's pains

Thro' Youth's gay prime and thornless paths I went;
  And, when the darker day of life began,
  And I did roam, a thought-bewilder'd man!
Thy kindred Lays an healing solace lent,

Each lonely pang with dreamy joys combin'd,
  And stole from vain Regret her scorpion stings;
  While shadowy Pleasure, with mysterious wings,
Brooded the wavy and tumultuous mind,

Like that great Spirit, who with plastic sweep
Mov'd on the darkness of the formless Deep! [6]

lines 1–14

The 1796 version of the poem reads: [5]

My heart has thank'd thee, Bowles! for those soft strains,
  Whose sadness soothes me, like the murmuring
  Of wild-bees in the sunny showers of spring!
For hence not callous to the mourner's pains
...
  And I did roam, a thought-bewilder'd man,
Their mild and manliest melancholy lent

A mingled charm, such as the pang consign'd,
  To slumber, though the big tear it renew'd;
  Bidding a strange mysterious Pleasure brood
Over the wavy and tumultuous mind,

As that great Spirit erst with plastic sweep
Mov'd on the darkness of the formless deep. [6]

lines 1–4, 7–14

Themes

The sonnet praises Bowles's abilities as a poet while comparing him to other poets. This occurred in many of Coleridge's works including a comparison of Bowles with William Cowper in a December 1796 letter to John Thelwall: [7] "But do not let us introduce an act of Uniformity against Poets—I have room enough in my brain to admire, aye & almost equally, the head and fancy of Akenside, and the heart and fancy of Bowles, the solemn Lordliness of Milton, & the divine Chit chat of Cowper." [7] This was followed in Biographia Literaria with a claim that the two poets that were, "the first who combine natural thoughts with natural diction; the first who reconciled the heart with the head". [7]

Most of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters is devoted to those Coleridge considered heroes. Although Coleridge praises Bowles for "soft Strains", Coleridge was to turn to flashy type of poetic model as he developed as a poet. [8] However, the sonnets as a whole were not just about poetry but about Coleridge's political beliefs. [9] Coleridge emphasizes Bowles within the poem in political terms because, as Coleridge claimed, the other poet influenced Coleridge's political beliefs. In particular, Bowles provided Coleridge with the ideas of a universal brotherhood. [4]

Notes

  1. Mays 2001, p. 161.
  2. Ashton 1997, p. 29.
  3. 1 2 Mays 2001, p. 161–162.
  4. 1 2 Mays 2001, p. 162.
  5. 1 2 Mays 2001, p. 163.
  6. 1 2 Coleridge 1921, pp. 84-85.
  7. 1 2 3 Ashton 1997, p. 30.
  8. Ashton 1997, p. 60-61.
  9. Holmes 1989, p. 81.

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To Erskine

"To Erskine" or "To the Hon Mr Erskine" was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in November 1794. The subject of the poem is Thomas Erskine, a lawyer and member of the Whig party, who successfully served in the defense of three political radicals during the 1794 Treason Trials. Coleridge admired Erskine's defense and praised his refusal to accept money for his service. The poem was published in the 1 December 1794 Morning Chronicle as part of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters series. It was later included in various collections of Coleridge's poetry published later.

To Burke

"To Burke" is a sonnet by Samuel Taylor Coleridge first published in the 9 December 1794 Morning Chronicle. Unlike most of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters, "To Burke" describes a person whom Coleridge disagreed with; he felt Edmund Burke abused the idea of freedom within various speeches and turned his back on liberty.

To Priestley

"To Priestley" is a sonnet by Samuel Taylor Coleridge first published in the 11 December 1794 Morning Chronicle. Like most of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters, "To Priestley" addresses an individual Coleridge particularly admired; Joseph Priestley held many political and theological beliefs that Coleridge adopted during this time.

To Fayette

"To Fayette" was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and published in the 26 December 1794 Morning Chronicle as part of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters series. Coleridge, like other Romantic poets, viewed Gilbert du Motier, marquis de Lafayette as a hero of liberty for his part in the American and French revolutions. The poem coincides with Fayette's imprisonment in Austria, and he is treated as a martyr for liberty. The language Coleridge uses within the poem to describe Fayette and revolutions appears in many of his later works.

To Kosciusko

"To Kosciusko" is the name shared by three sonnets written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Leigh Hunt, and John Keats. Coleridge's, the original, was written in December 1794 and published in the 16 December 1794 Morning Chronicle as the fifth of his Sonnets on Eminent Characters series. Hunt and Keats were inspired to follow his poem with their own versions in November 1815 and December 1816, respectively. The sonnets were dedicated to heroism of Tadeusz Kościuszko, leader of the 1794 Polish rebellion against Prussian and Russian control.

To Pitt

"To Pitt" is a political poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and published in the 26 December 1794 Morning Chronicle as part of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters series. Describing William Pitt the Younger and his role as Prime Minister of Great Britain, the poem is one of the few in the series that is not about a hero of Coleridge. Instead, Pitt is described as Judas, the betrayer of Christ, because of, among other issues, his treatment of political dissidents.

To Godwin

"To Godwin" or "To William Godwin" was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and published in the 10 January 1795 Morning Chronicle as part of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters series. William Godwin was admired by Coleridge for his political beliefs. However, Coleridge did not support Godwin's atheistic views, which caused tension between the two. Although the poem praises Godwin, it invokes an argument that the two shared over theological matters. After the poem was written, the relationship between Coleridge and Godwin cooled and the poem was not reprinted.

To Southey

"To Southey" or "To Robert Southey" was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and published in the 14 January 1795 Morning Chronicle as part of his Sonnets on Eminent Characters series. Robert Southey became a close friend of Coleridge during the summer of 1794 and the two originally formed a plan to start an ideal community together. Although the plan fell apart, Coleridge dedicated the poem to his friend and emphasized Southey's poetic abilities. Following the poem, Coleridge further drifted from Southey and the poem was not republished.

To Sheridan

"To Sheridan" or "To Richard Brinsley Sheridan" was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and published in the 29 January 1795 Morning Chronicle. As the last poem running as part of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters series, it describes Coleridge's appreciation of Richard Brinsley Sheridan and his theatre talents. Coleridge, unlike most, preferred Sheridan's somber works over his comedies and emphasizes them within the poem. Coleridge also respects Sheridan's political actions.

To Lord Stanhope

"To Lord Stanhope" is a poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It was published in his 1796 collection of poems. The subject, Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope, had originally shared political views with Coleridge, but as time passed, Coleridge's views gradually shifted. By 1803, Coleridge was claiming that he did not want the poem published anymore and that it was originally intended to mock those who held the beliefs which Coleridge had held years earlier. It is part of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters series, although it was not published in the Morning Chronicle unlike the others in the series. There is, however, a possible predecessor sonnet to the 1796 version that some editors have attributed to Coleridge.

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