To Godwin

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William Godwin by Henry William Pickersgill William Godwin by Henry William Pickersgill.jpg
William Godwin by Henry William Pickersgill

"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.

Contents

Background

Coleridge's "To William Godwin, Author of Political Justice" became the ninth sonnet in the series Sonnets on Eminent Characters in the 10 January 1795 Morning Chronicle. Coleridge sent 6 lines of the poem to Robert Southey in a letter that read: [1] "I have written one to Godwin—but the mediocrity of the eight first Lines is most miserably magazinish! I have plucked therefore these scentless Road flowers from the Chaptlet—and intreat thee, thou River God of Pieria, to weave into it the gorgeous Water Lily from thy stream, or the fair smelling Violets on thy Bank". [2]

Coleridge was dissatisfied with the poem's quality and content, and the poem was not republished in one of Coleridge's collections of poems after it appeared in the Morning Chronicle. In particular, his views of Godwin turned from the worse following the printing. [3] By 1796, Coleridge's changed views on Godwin began to be shared by others, including his friend Charles Lamb. However, Lamb was to later befriend Godwin in 1798. By 1800, Coleridge, Lamb, and others were still associating with Godwin, and Coleridge joined others in helping Godwin produce a play at the end of the year. [4]

Poem

The poem reads:

O! form'd t' illume a sunless world forlorn,
  As o'er the chill and dusky brow of Night,
  In Finland's wintry skies, the Mimic Morn
Electric pours a stream of rosy light,

Pleas'd I have mark'd Oppression, terror-pale,
  Since, thro' the windings of her dark machine,
  Thy steady eye has shot its glances keen—
And bade th' All-lovely "scenes at distance hail".

Nor will I not thy holy guidance bless,
  And hymn thee, Godwin! with an arden lay;
  For that thy voice, in Passion's stormy day,
When wild I roam'd the bleak Heath of Distress,

Bade the bright form of Justice meet my way—
And told me that her name was Happiness. [5]

Southey's original sketch for eight lines of the poem, on Coleridge's request, read: [1]

What tho Oppressions blood-cemented fane
Stands proudly threatning arrogant in state,
Not thine his savage priests to immolate
Or hurl the fabric on the encumberd plain
As with a whirlwinds fury. it is thine
When dark Revenge maskd in the form adord
Of Justice, lifts on high the murderous sword
To save the erring victim from her shrine.

Themes

The Sonnets on Eminent Characters contained many poems dedicated to those Coleridge considered his hero from many fields. [6] Of the poems, "To Godwin" is similar to the poems "To Bowles" and "To Robert Southey" in that they talk about Coleridge's personal life and Godwin's influence over it. However, Coleridge's view of Godwin changed over time and he grew dissatisfied with the poem as a result. [3] Coleridge respected Godwin for Godwin's support of those put on trial during the 1794 Treason Trials, and Coleridge owed much of his political beliefs to Godwin. However, Coleridge and Godwin differed on their views of religion, which became a source of dispute between the two. [7]

Following the reading of Coleridge's previous poem in the series "To Kosciusko" by Thomas Holcroft, Holcroft invited Coleridge to dinner with Godwin, Richard Porson, and himself. The conversation turned to religion, and Coleridge believed that Porson was a strong speaker while Godwin lacked intelligence in his speech. [8] Godwin, unlike Coleridge, was an atheist, which caused Coleridge concern. On Coleridge's admission, he was able to win the debate with Holcroft but was unable to convince Godwin about theism until 5 years later. Within "To Godwin", Coleridge addresses Godwin with religious terms in a manner to provoke while simultaneously praising Godwin. In particular, lines 9 and 10 continue this previous dispute with Godwin but in poetic form. [9]

Coleridge's support of Godwin's politics appeared in his A Moral and Political Lecture given in Bristol during 1795. However, in Coleridge's Political Lecture of the same year, he criticized Godwin's political beliefs that Coleridge suggests separated Godwin from the masses. Further works during 1795 continued to discuss the positives and negatives of Godwin, with Conciones ad Populum attacking philosophy that is not dedicated to mankind, in reference to Godwin, and Lectures on Revealed Religion, its Corruption, and Politica Views in which he argued in support of Godwin's promotion of the removal of private property, the idea that government is problematic, and that revolution shouldn't be violent, but Coleridge continued to Christianize Godwin's philosophy. By 1796, Coleridge completely turned against Godwin's beliefs. [10] At the time, Coleridge planned to write a small essay against Godwin, and he criticized Godwin's atheism in a 17 December 1796 letter to John Thelwall, one of the defendants in the 1794 Treason Trials. [11]

Notes

  1. 1 2 Mays 2001 p. 165
  2. Mays 2001 qtd. p. 165
  3. 1 2 Mays 2001 p. 166
  4. Woodcock 1989 pp. 173–174
  5. Coleridge 1921 p. 86
  6. Ashton 1997 p. 61
  7. Ashton 1997 p. 60
  8. Marshall 1984 p. 125
  9. Ashton 1997 pp. 60–61
  10. Marshall 1984 p. 125–126
  11. Holmes 1989 p. 130

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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 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 Mrs Siddons

"To Mrs Siddons" was written by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and published in the 29 December 1794 Morning Chronicle as part of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters series. It describes Sarah Siddons, an actress Coleridge became fond of during his visits to London during college. The poem celebrates watching Siddons perform her various roles on stage. The actual authorship of the poem is uncertain, since it was attributed to Charles Lamb in various works. It is possible that Lamb and Coleridge worked on the poem together, and, if so, it would be one of Lamb's earliest works.

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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