216. To John Prior Estlin Address: Revd J. P. Estlin I St Michael's Hill I Bristol MS. Bristol Central Lib. Pub. Letters to Estlin, 46. Stamped: Bridgewater. Saturday Morning [ 30 December 1797] My dear Friend On the morning of Christmas day I received Mr Row's 1 letter to you: on Thursday night, eleven o'clock, I received from Mr I. Wood of Shrewsbury an invitation in the name of Mr Row's Congregation, accompanied with a very kind note from Mr Row. On this subject I now entreat your friendly advice: and in order to enable you to give it, I must retrace my life for the last three months. -- At the commencement of this period I began to feel the necessity of gaining a regular income by a regular occupation. My heart yearned toward the ministry; but I considered my scruples, as almost insurmountable Obstacles to my conscientious performance of it's duties. -- Another plan presented itself; that of joining with Mr Montagueg 2 in a project of Tuition. Our scheme was singular & extensive: extensive, for we proposed in three years to go systematically, yet with constant reference to the nature of man, thro' the mathematical Branches, chemistry, Anatomy, the laws of Life, the laws of Intellect, & lastly, thro' universal History, arranging separately all the facts that elucidate the separate states of Society, savage, civilized & luxurious: singular, for we proposed ourselves, not as Teachers, but only as Managing Students. If by this plan I ____________________ 1 John Rowe, the Unitarian minister at Shrewsbury, was resigning his post to join Estlin in Bristol. 2 Basil Montagu ( 1770-1851), the friend of Wordsworth, was called to the bar in May 1798. It was Montagu who precipitated the Wordsworth-Coleridge quarrel in 1810. -361- could at once subsist my family for three years, and enable myself to acquire such a mass of knowlege, it would doubtless be preferable to all other modes of action for me, who have just knowlege enough of most things to feel my ignorance of all things. The probability however of it's success was very small -- before I left Stowey, it dwindled yet more -- & when at Bristol, in all the despondency of the new taxes, the plan appeared absolutely romantic. In the mean time my conversations with you had certainly weakened my convictions on certain subjects, or at least deadened their efficacy -- I made up my mind to be a Dissenting Minister -- & offered to supply Mr Row's place for a few Sundays at Shrewsbury, to see whether I liked the place and whether the congregation liked me, and would endure my opinions, which softened & modified as they had been, did still retain a degree of peculiarity. -- I returned to Stowey, & wrote to Montague, that if indeed he should procure, & immediately procure, the eight pupils at 100£ a year, they boarding & lodging at their own expence (for this was his plan) I would join him gladly. -- But as I did not perceive the slightest chance of this, unless it were done immediately, I should accept some situation, as Dissenting Minister -- and that I had no time for delay or wavering. -- /Well I -- on Christmas day Morning I received two letters -- one from you, i.e. -- Mr Row's letter to you -- one in an unknown hand, but which I supposed to be upon some newspaper business -- & did not open it till some time after I had read & pondered the former. -- In this I saw the features of contingency very strongly marked, & (as I always do on such occasions) to prevent disappointment I checked my hopes. Mr Kentish was to be applied to -- I had heard that he was not very comfortably situated at Exeter -- & as to Norwich, the same motive which inclined me not only to prefer Shrewsbury, but Shrewsbury out of the question, to reject Norwich, I naturally supposed would have it's influence on him -- the salary being so much more, the country more delightful, & provisions of all kinds so much cheaper. -- Supposing that he declined it, still it was uncertain whether the congregation would elect me: & that part of Mr Row's letter (Without some independence Mr C. is almost the only man I would wish to settle here &c) increased my doubts. -- I did not refuse to think, that by gentleness, & intellectual efforts I should compel their respect when they became acquainted with me --: but I thought it probable, that such a congregation, in a town so violently aristocratic, would be deterred from electing me by the notoriety of my political conduct, & by the remaining peculiarities of my religious creed. -- My mind was lost & swallowed up in musing on all this; when I carelessly opened the second letter. It proved to be from Mr Josiah Wedgewoodm -- -362- The following is a Copy -- Dear Sir, My Brother Thomas & myself had separately determined that it would be right to enable you to defer entering into an engagement, we understand you are about to form, from the most urgent of motives. We therefore request, you will accept the inclosed Draft with the same simplicity with which it is offered to you. -- Dear Sir, sincerely Your's Josiah Wedgewood P.S. As the draft is payable to the Bearer of it, I shall be obliged to you to acknowlege the receipt of it to me at Penzance. -- The inclosed Draft was for an hundred pound. -- Well! what was I to do? This hundred pound joined with the guinea per week which I gain from the Morning Post & which only takes me up two days in the week would give me the leisure & tranquillity of independence for the two next years -- at the end of which time by systematic study I should be better fitted for any profession than I am at present. -- Without this, unless I am elected at Shrewsbury which I thought more than uncertain, I shall remain necessitous & dependent, and be compelled to fag on in all the nakedness of Talent without the materials of Knowlege or systematic Information. -- But if I accept it, I certainly bind myself to hold myself free for some time at least for the co-execution of the Plan of general Study with Montague: and in the realization of which I understand that the Wedgewoods are actively interesting themselves: as conceiving it likely to be of general Benefit. -- And this letter was to be answered immediately. My friend T. Poole strenuously advised me to accept it -- considering how contingent the Shrewsbury plan appeared -- I however lingered, I may truly say, almost a sleepless man, Monday night, and Tuesday night & Wednesday night, regularly sitting up till the post came in, which is not till past eleven -- anxiously hoping to receive some letter more decisive respecting Shrewsbury. -- On the Thursday Morning I was obliged to acknowlege the receipt of the Draft -- having already delayed it beyond all limits of propriety. -- Well -- after a storm of fluctuations, Poole still retaining his opinions, & urging them more decisively, I accepted the Draft in a letter expressive of manly gratitude -- and on the Thursday Night I received the letter from Mr Wood! -- The distress of my mind since then has been inexpressible. -- The plan which with the eagerness of Friendship you had been exerting yourself to secure for me -- how can I bear to think that it should perish in your hand, the very moment you had caught it? -- Yet on the other hand if I send back the Draft I shall lose the esteem of the Wedgewoods & their friends, to whom I shall appear deficient not only in consistency, but even in common probity. It will appear to them, -363- that I had accepted the Draft in words which implied tnat it had relieved me from a state of great uncertainty -- whereas in truth, I had accepted it to console myself for a disappointment. -- Write immediately -- S. T. Coleridge