209. To John Thelwall Address: Mr John Thelwall | Derby MS. Pierpont Morgan Lib. Pub. with omis. Letters, i. 228. This letter tends to establish the date of Kubla Khan. Although the note Coleridge prefixed to Kubla Khan when it was published -348- in 1816 asserts that the poem was written during a retirement 'to a lonely farmhouse' in the summer of 1797, another note, which he added to an autograph copy of the poem now in the possession of Lady Crewe, points to the autumn of 1797: 'This fragment with a good deal more, not recoverable, composed, in a sort of Reverie brought on by two grains of Opium, taken to check a dysentery, at a Farm House between Porlock & Linton, a quarter of a mile from Culbone Church, in the fall of the year, 1797.' This letter to Thelwall tends to confirm the second note. The brief absence mentioned in the opening sentence probably refers to the solitary retirement near Porlock, where Kubla Khan was composed. The passage in the first paragraph concerning his yearning for 'something great -- something one & indivisible', -- a passage echoed in the next letter-shows that he was preoccupied with sublimity at this time, and he demonstrates his argument by citing a few lines from This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison. The line recalling 'rocks or waterfalls, mountains or caverns' is reminiscent of Kubla Khan, and the wish he expresses, 'to float about along an infinite ocean cradled in the flower of the Lotos', suggests the effect of opium. Furthermore, the phrase quoted from Osorio, 'the fall of the year', parallels the use of that expression in the Crewe manuscript cited above; and the opening lines of the long quotation from Osorio portray an autumnal scene, possibly near Porlock -- indeed, Professor Wylie Sypher, who identifies the farmhouse where Kubla Khan was written as Ash Farm, says 'it overlooks the very panorama that Coleridge seems to have described in [these lines from] Osorio' ( "Coleridge's Somerset: a Byway to Xanadu", Philological Quarterly, Oct 1939, pp. 353-66). Thus it seems safe to assume that Kubla Khan was composed in Oct 1797, a few days before this letter was written, and not, as E. H. Coleridge and J. D. Campbell suggest, in May 1798. See Poems, i. 295, and Poetical Works, xlli. Postmark: 16 October 1797. Stamped: Bridgewater. Saturday Morning. [ 14 October 1797] My dear Thelwall I have just received your letter -- having been absent a day or two -- & have already, before I write you, written to Dr Beddoes -- I would to heaven, it were in my power to serve you -- but alas! I have neither money or influence -- & I suppose, that at last I must become a Unitarian minister as a less evil than starvation -- for I get nothing by literature -- & Sara is in the way of repairing the ravages of war, as much as in her lies. ---- You have my wishes, & what is very liberal in me for such an atheist reprobate, my prayers. ---- I can at times feel strongly the beauties, you describe, in themselves, & for themselves -- but more frequently all things appear little -- all the knowlege, that can be acquired, child's play ---the universe itself -- what but an immense heap of little things? -- I can contemplate nothing but parts, & parts are all little --! -- My mind feels as if it ached to behold & know something great -- something one & indivisible -- and it is only in the faith of this that rocks or waterfalls, mountains or caverns give me the sense of sublimity or majesty! -- But in this faith all things counterfeit infinity! -'Struck with the deepest calm of Joy' I stand -349- Silent, with swimming sense; and gazing round On the wide Landscape gaze till all doth seem Less gross than bodily, a living Thing Which acts upon the mind, & with such Hues As cloath th' Almighty Spirit, when he makes Spirits perceive his presence! 1 ---- It is but seldom that I raise & spiritualize my intellect to this height -- & at other times I adopt the Brahman Creed, & say -- It is better to sit than to stand, it is better to lie than to sit, it is better to sleep than to wake -- but Death is the best of all! -- I should much wish, like the Indian Vishna, [Vishnu] to float about along an infinite ocean cradled in the flower of the Lotos, & wake once in a million years for a few minutes -- just to know that I was going to sleep a million years more. I have put this feeling in the mouth of Alhadra my Moorish Woman ---- She is going by moonlight to the house of Velez -- when the Band turn off to wreck their vengeance on Francesco -- But 'She mov'd steadily on Unswerving from the path of her resolve.' 2 ---- A moorish Priest (who has been with her & then left her to seek the men) had just mentioned the owl -- 'It's note comes dreariest in the fall of the year' -- /this dwells on her mind -- & she bursts into this soliloquy 3 -- The hanging Woods, that touch'd by Autumn seem'd As they were blossoming hues of fire & gold, The hanging Woods, most lovely in decay, The many clouds, the Sea, the Rock, the Sands, Lay in the silent moonshine -- and the Owl, (Strange, very strangel) the Scritch-owl only wak'd, Sole Voice, sole Eye of all that world of Beauty! -- Why, such a thing am I? ---- Where are these men? I need the sympathy of human faces To beat away this deep contempt for all things Which quenches my revenge! -- O would to Alla, ____________________ 1 Cf. This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison, lines 38-43, Poems, i. 180. 2 Osorio, Act v, Scene i, lines 8-9, Poems, ii. 583. 3 This passage from Act v of Osorio (lines 37-56), with its emphasis on 'the fall of the year', was probably composed in Oct. 1797, and may have an association with Coleridge's 'retirement' near Porlock. Although Coleridge had earlier noted that Osorio was almost finished, Letter 211 shows that he was still working over it after his September visit to Bowles. See Letters 205 and 206. -350- The Raven & the Seamew were appointed To bring me food -- or rather that my Soul Could drink in life from the universal air! It were a lot divine in some small skiff Along some Ocean's boundless solitude To float for ever with a careless course, And think myself the only Being alive! I do not wonder that your poem procured you kisses & hospitality -- It is indeed a very sweet one -- and I have not only admired your genius more, but I have loved YOU better, since I have read it. -- Your sonnet -- (as you call it -- & being a free-born Briton who shall prevent you from calling 25 blank verse lines a Sonnet, if you have taken a bloody resolution so to do) -- your Sonnet I am much pleased with -- / but the epithet 'downy' is probably more applicable to Susan's upper lip than to her Bosom -- & a mother is so holy & divine a being, that I cannot endure any corporealizing epithets to be applied to her or any part of her -- besides, damn epithets! --. The last line & a half I suppose miswritten -- what can be the meaning of 'or scarce one Leaf To cheer etc. &c -- '? -'Cornelian Virtues' ---- pedantry! -- [']The melancholy fiend' -villainous in itself -- & inaccurate -- it ought to be the fiend that makes melancholy -- I should have written it either thus (or perhaps something better) but with matron cares Drives away heaviness, & in your smiles -- & &c ---- A little compression would make it a beautiful poem. Study compression! -- I presume you mean Decorum by Harum Dick. An affected fellow at Bridgewater called Truces, Trusses -- I told him I admired his pronunciation -- for that lately they had been found 'to suspend ruptures without curing them' --. -- There appeared in the Courier the day before yesterday a very sensible vindication of the conduct of the Directory. 1 [Di]d you see it? ---- Your news respecting Mrs E. did not surprize me -- I saw it even from the first week I was at Darley ---- As to the other event, our non-settlement at Darley, I suspect, had little or rather nothing to do with it ---- but the cause of our non-settlement there, might perhaps -- / -- O God! O God! ---- I wish -- (but what is the use of wishing?) I wish that Walter Evans may have talent enough to ____________________ 1 No such article appeared in the Courier on Thursday, 'the day before yesterday'; but Coleridge must refer to an article, 'Justification of the late conduct of the Directory', which was published in the Courier on Tuesday, 10 Oct 1797. -351- appreciate Mrs Evans! 1 -- but I suspect, his intellect is not tall enough even to measure her's! ---- Hartley is well -- & will not walk or run, having discovered the art of crawling with wonderful ease & rapidity! ---- Wordsworth & his Sister are well -- I want to see your Wife -- God bless her! ---- Oh! my Tragedy -- it is finished, transcribed, & to be sent off to day 2 -- but I have no hopes of it's success -- or even of it's being acted. -- God bless [you] & S. T. Coleridge