To Pitt

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William Pitt the Younger by Thomas Gainsborough Pitt the Younger.jpg
William Pitt the Younger by Thomas Gainsborough

"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.

Contents

Background

During the end of 1794, Coleridge began work on the series Sonnets on Eminent Characters which he dedicated to people he respected. The first, "To Erskine", was printed on 1 December in the Morning Chronicle, and was followed by 10 further sonnets. "To Pitt", printed on 23 December, was the sixth in the series and was Coleridge's attempt to write a poem contrary in nature to the earlier poems. It was reprinted with a small revision in his magazine The Watchman on 2 April 1796 and included in Coleridge's 1796 collection of poems, [1] under the name "Effusion 3, to Mercy". This edition was soon reprinted in The Universal Magazine for the October 1796 edition. [2]

In May 1794, Pitt suspended Habeas Corpus in response to allegations that both the London Constitutional Society and the London Corresponding Society were plotting against the government. This crack down on opposition to his Prime Ministry was followed by the 1794 Treason Trials, which charged political dissidents with treason. Coleridge witnessed the trials and was affected to the point that he wrote "To Erskine", the first of the Sonnets on Eminent Characters, about Thomas Erskine's defense of the accused. Although Coleridge was an opponent of Pitt's at the time of writing the sonnet "To Pitt", he was to later change his mind about politics and Pitt's government. [3] Coleridge changed his mind about the content of "To Pitt", but still included the poem in his 1803 edition of works under the probable advisement by his friend Charles Lamb. Later, he revised the poem again for an 1828 collection and it kept that form in the two collections that followed in 1829 and 1834. [4]

Poem

The 1796 collected version of the poem reads: [5]

Not always should the tear's ambrosial dew
Roll its soft anguish down thy furrow'd cheek!
Not always haven-breath'd tones of suppliance meek
Beseem thee, MERCY! Yon dark Scowler view,
Who with proud words of dear-lov'd Freedom came—
More blasting, than the mildew from the South!
And kiss'd his country with Iscariot mouth
(Ah! foul apostate from his Father's fame!)
Then fix'd her on the cross of deep distress,
And at safe distance marks the thirsty lance
Pierce her big side! But o! if some strange trance
The eye-lids of thy stern-brow'd Sister press,
Seize, MERCY! thou more terrible the brand,
And hurl her thunderbolts with fiercer hand!

In the original edition, the 8th line to the 13th read: [2]

(Staining most foul a godlike Father's name)!
Then fix'd her on the cross of deep distress,
And at safe distance marks the thirsty lance
Pierce her big side! But o! if some strange trance
The eye-lids of thy stern-brow'd Sister press,
Seize thou, more terrible, th' avenging brand—

lines 8-13

To this, a footnote to the 8th line read explaining that the reference was to the Earl of Chatham and a footnote to the 12th line explaining that the reference was to Justice. [2]

Themes

"To Pitt" is one of the few poems in the Sonnets on Eminent Characters series that does not address one of the writer's heroes. It deals with actions of the Prime Minister that resulted in the suspension of Habeas Corpus, as well as the government's response to those opposed to Pitt's actions. As Rosemary Ashton, the 20th-century Coleridge biographer, points out that, "Coleridge undoubtedly courted prosecution of this attack, not least because of the emotive allusion to Britain as Christ betrayed by Judas-Pitt." [6] Fellow biographer Richard Holmes described the poem as Coleridge having "daringly attacked" Pitt. [7]

However, the political ramifications and effect of the poem were ephemeral. In a 1901 account, H D Traill claimed that Coleridge's sonnets did not fully achieve the effect the poet sought. Even though the thought behind the sonnet is "neatly wrapped up in its envelope of words [...] as in the sonnet to Pitt" it "is too frequently only another word for an ephemeral violence of political feeling which, whether displayed on one side or the other, cannot be expected to reproduce its effect in the minds of comparatively passionless posterity." [8]

The poem is related to the earlier "To Burke", from the same series. In that poem, Coleridge looked at Burke's rhetorical abuse of the concept of "freedom". This idea is examined again and, as with the earlier poem, the abusive figure is seen as a male dominating a female image. Pitt, as Judas, kisses a female version of Christ while simultaneously seeking to seduce that female character, which represents Britain. Other female characters, justice and mercy, are said to destroy Pitt, but it is uncertain within the poem as how they attain this destruction. The use of symbolic female characters is relied on in many of Coleridge's poems for positive and negative images. [9]

Notes

  1. Mays 2001 pp. 155, 160–161
  2. 1 2 3 Mays 2001 II p. 213
  3. Ashton 1997 pp. 53, 156, 209
  4. Mays 2001 pp. 160–161
  5. Mays 2001 p. 161
  6. Ashton 1997 p. 61
  7. Holmes 1989 p. 81
  8. Traill 1901 p. 34
  9. Fulford 1999 pp. 66–69

Related Research Articles

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born on 21 October 1772. The youngest of 14 children, he was educated after his father's death and excelled in classics. He attended Christ's Hospital and Jesus College. While attending college, he befriended two other Romanticists, Charles Lamb and Robert Southey, the latter causing him to eventually drop out of college and pursue both poetic and political ambitions.

On Receiving an Account that his only Sister's Death was Inevitable was composed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1794, and deals with the death of Coleridge's step-sister Ann (1791), as well as that of his brother Luke (1790). A later poem, was written for Coleridge's friend Charles Lamb and seeks to comfort him after the loss of his sister.

Religious Musings was composed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1794 and finished by 1796. It is one of his first poems of critical merit and contains many of his early feelings about religion and politics.

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.

Conversation poems poem

The conversation poems are a group of at least eight poems composed by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) between 1795 and 1807. Each details a particular life experience which led to the poet's examination of nature and the role of poetry. They describe virtuous conduct and man's obligation to God, nature and society, and ask as if there is a place for simple appreciation of nature without having to actively dedicate one's life to altruism.

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 by critics as a means to mock him.

Fears in Solitude, written in April 1798, is one of the conversation poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The poem was composed while France threatened to invade Great Britain. Although Coleridge was opposed to the British government, the poem sides with the British people in a patriotic defense of their homeland. The poem also emphasizes a desire to protect one's family and to live a simple life in harmony with nature. The critical response to the poem was mixed, with some critics claiming that the work was "alarmist" and anti-British.

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 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 sonnet by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"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.

France an Ode was written by Samuel Coleridge in April 1798. The poem describes his development from supporting the French Revolution to his feelings of betrayal when they invaded Switzerland. Like other poems by Coleridge, it connects his political views with his religious thoughts. The Gothic elements of the poem connect the poem's style to many of his early poetic works.

To Kosciusko set of three sonnets

"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 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 poem

"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 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 1844 poem written by Clement Clarke Moore

"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 poem

"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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