"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 Erskine" was first published in the 1 December 1794 Morning Chronicle. The sonnet was prefaced with a note addressed to the editor reading: "If, Sir, the following Poems will not disgrace your poetical department, I will transmit you a series of Sonnets (as it is the fashion to call them), addressed, like these, to eminent Contemporaries."Following the poem was a note by the editor that read, "Our elegant Correspondent will highly gratify every reader of taste by the continuance of his exquisitely beautiful productions. No. II. shall appear on an early day." Coleridge did not particularly like "To Erskine", but did rework the poem for his 1796 collection of poems and the poem was included in the 1803 edition and three others that followed.
Erskine, a member of the Whig party, was a lawyer that served as a defender during the 1794 Treason Trials, a series of trials in which those of liberal/radical political beliefs were charged with treason for their published views. As a defender for those tried, notably Thomas Hardy, John Thelwall, and John Horne Tooke, he gave speeches that Coleridge admired.The trials were viewed by newspapers as a spectacle that attracted a lot of public attention. Those who were paid to serve for either side were ridiculed and mocked as if they were performers. Even the Morning Chronicle put forth a story that described an individual being paid to join a particular side: a group of people were paid to burn an effigy of one side and then paid to burn an effigy of the other side. Erskine, unlike others, did not accept money to defend those put on trial for treason. His reason for waiving his attorney fee was: "The situation of the unfortunate prisoners entitles them to every degree of tenderness and attention, and their inability to render me any professional compensation, does not remove them at a greater distance from one."
When British Freedom for a happier land
Spread her broad wings, that flutter'd with affright,
Erskine! thy voice she heard, and paus'd her flight
Sublime of hope, for dreadless thou didst stand
(Thy censer glowing with the hallow'd flame)
An hireless Priest before the insulted shrine,
And at her altar pourd'st the stream divine
Of unmatch'd eloquence. There thy name
Her sons shall venerate, and cheer thy breast
With blessings heaven-ward breath'd. And when the doom
Of Nature bids thee die, beyond the tomb
Thy light shall shine: as sunk beneath the West
Though the great Summer Sun eludes our gaze,
Still burns wide Heaven with his distended blaze.
Like many of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters, "To Erskine" is addressed to one of Coleridge's heroes. Erskine attained that position through defending the idea of "British Freedom" during the trials of Hardy, Thelwall, and Tooke for treason.The poem was written after Erskine was triumphant in his defense of those individuals which allowed them to continue on promoting their politically liberal ideas. Coleridge's line about Erskine being a "hireless priest" refers to the trial directly and how Erskine fought for the defense pro bono. This emphasis on Erskine being free from a monetary taint is similar to the praise of Erskine published in 1823 following his death.
Within the poem, Coleridge returns to the Miltonic use of sonnet as a polemical tool. In particular, "To Erskine" would be connected to Milton's 16th sonnet to Cromwell or to his 17th dedicated to Henry Vane.Besides being one of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters, Coleridge would later connect to the poem within his own works. In particular, he evokes his praise for Erskine in the sonnet within the final issue of his political newspaper The Watchman. Within the work, Coleridge describes Thelwall as successor to Erskine.
John Thelwall was a radical British orator, writer, political reformer, journalist, poet, elocutionist and speech therapist.
The 1794 Treason Trials, arranged by the administration of William Pitt, were intended to cripple the British radical movement of the 1790s. Over thirty radicals were arrested; three were tried for high treason: Thomas Hardy, John Horne Tooke and John Thelwall. In a repudiation of the government's policies, they were acquitted by three separate juries in November 1794 to public rejoicing. The treason trials were an extension of the sedition trials of 1792 and 1793 against parliamentary reformers in both England and Scotland.
The Destruction of the Bastile was composed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1789. The poem describes Coleridge's feelings of hopes for the French Revolution as a catalyst for political change.
Lines Written at Shurton Bars was composed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1795. The poem incorporates a reflection on Coleridge's engagement and his understanding of marriage. It also compares nature to an ideal understanding of reality and discusses isolation from others.
To Fortune was composed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1793 when Coleridge sought to play the lottery in a hope to get out of debt. The poem was the first work of his to be printed in a major publication.
Ode on the Departing Year was composed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1796. The poem describes Coleridge's feelings on politics and religion, and it emphasises an idyllic lifestyle as an optimal way of living.
"This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison" is a poem written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge during 1797. The poem discusses a time in which Coleridge was forced to stay beneath a lime tree while his friends were able to enjoy the countryside. Within the poem, Coleridge is able to connect to his friend's experience and enjoy nature through him, making the lime tree only a physical prison, not a mental one.
To a Young Ass was composed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1794. The poem describes Coleridge's sympathies for animals and the connection to nature he felt as part of his idea of Pantisocracy. It was later used as a means to mock him.
Frost at Midnight is a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, written in February 1798. Part of the conversation poems, the poem discusses Coleridge's childhood experience in a negative manner and emphasizes the need to be raised in the countryside. The poem expresses hope that Coleridge's son, Hartley, would be able to experience a childhood that his father could not and become a true "child of nature". The view of nature within the poem has a strong Christian element in that Coleridge believed that nature represents a physical presence of God's word and that the poem is steeped in Coleridge's understanding of Neoplatonism. Frost at Midnight has been well received by critics, and is seen as the best of the conversation poems.
Sonnets on Eminent Characters or Sonnets on Eminent Contemporaries is an 11-part sonnet series created by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and printed in the Morning Chronicle between 1 December 1794 and 31 January 1795. Although Coleridge promised to have at least 16 poems within the series, only one addition poem, "To Lord Stanhope", was published.
"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" 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" 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" 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" was 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 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.
"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" 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" 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" 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.