217. To Josiah Wedgwood Address: Josiah Wedgewood Esq. | Penzance | ornwall MS. Wedgwood Museum. Pub. E.L.G. i. 85. Stamped: Bridgewater. Stowey [near Br]idgewater. J[an.] 5th, 1798 Dear Sir By the inclosed you will understand the occasion of this Letter. Your Brother and yourself will be pleased with my conduct, if I shall make it appear probable to you, that the purposes, for which you sent and I accepted so large a Bill, will be better answered by my returning than by my retaining it. You wished to remove those urgent motives which might make it necessary for me to act in opposition to my principles: you wished to give me leisure for the improvement of my Talents at the same time that my mind should be preserved free from any professional Bias which might pervert, or at least hamper, the exertion of them. I will state to you with great Simplicity all that has passed thro' my mind on these subjects. The affectionate esteem, with which I regard your character, makes this openness pleasant to me: and your Kindness seems to have authorized the freedom, which I am about to take in being so diffuse concerning my own affairs. If a man considered himself as acting in opposition to his principles then only when he gave his example or support to actions and institutions, the existence of which produces unmingled evil, he might perhaps with a safe conscience perpetrate any crime and become a member of any Order. If on the other hand a man should make it his principle to abstain from all modes of conduct, the general practice of which was not permanently useful, or at least absolutely harmless, he must live, an isolated Being: his furniture, his servants, his very cloathes are intimately connected with Vice and Misery. To preserve therefore our moral feelings without withdrawing ourselves from active life we should, I imagine, endeavor to discover those evils in society which are the most pressing, and those of which the immediate Removal appears the most practicable: to the removal of these we should concenter our energies, for the removal of them be prepared to make any sacrifices. In -364- other things we must compound with a large quantity of evil -taking care to select from the modes of conduct, which may be within our choice, those in which we can do the most good with the least evil. Now I shall apply this to myself. As far as I am able to decide, the most pressing evils & those of which the speedy removal is the most practicable, are these -- the union of Religion with the Government, and those other political Institutions & abuses which I need not name; but which not only produce much evil directly & per se, but likewise perpetuate the causes of most other evils. Do not think me boastful when I assert that rather than in any way support any of these, I would undergo Poverty, Dependence, & even Death. There remain within my choice two Sources of Subsistence: the Press, and the Ministry. Now as to the Press, I gain at present a guinea a week by writing for the Morning Post -- and as my expences, living as I now do, will not exceed 100£ a year -or but little more, even including the annual 20£, for which my wife's mother has a necessity -- I could by means of your kindness subsist for the two next years, & enjoy leisure & external comfort. But anxiety for the future would remain & increase, as it is probable my children will come fast on me: and the Press, considered as a Trade, is perhaps only not the worst occupation for a man who would wish to preserve any delicacy of moral feeling. The few weeks that I have written for the Morning Post, I have felt this -- Something must be written & written immediately -- if any important Truth, any striking beauty, occur to my mind, I feel a repugnance at sending it garbled to a newspaper: and if any idea of ludicrous personality, or apt antiministerial joke, crosses me, I, feel a repugnance at rejecting it, because something must be written, and nothing else suitable occurs. The longer I continue a hired paragraph-scribbler, the more powerful these Temptations will become: and indeed nothing scarcely that has not atang of personality or vindictive feeling, is pleasing or interesting, I apprehend, to my Employers. Of all things I most dislike party politics -- yet this sort of gypsie jargon I am compelled to fire away. -- To the ministry I adduced the following objections at the time that I decided against entering into it. -- It makes one's livelihood hang upon the profession of particular opinions: and tends therefore to warp the intellectual faculty; to fasten convictions on the mind by the agency of it's wishes; and if Reason should at length dissever them, it presents strong Motives to Falsehood or Simulation. -- Secondly, as the subscriptions of the Congregation form the revenue, the minister is under an inducement to adapt his moral exhortations to their wishes rather than to their needs. (Poor Pilkington of Derby was, I believe, obliged to resign on account of his sermons -365- respecting Riches & Rich Men.) Thirdly, the routine of Duty brings on a certain sectarian mannerism, which generally nar Rows the Intellect itself, and always nar Rows the sphere of it's operation. In answer to these objections it may be observed: first, that I see the contingency of these evils very distinctly, and in proportion to my clear perception of them it is probable that I shall be able to guard against them. Secondly, the Press, considered as a Trade, presents still greater temptations -- & this is not a controversy concerning absolute, but concerning comparative good. Thirdly, the income of that place, which is now offered to me, does not depend on the congregation, but is an estate. This weakens certainly, tho' as certainly it does not remove, the second objection. Fourthly -- The principal of these objections are weak or strong in proportion to the care & impartiality with which the particular opinions had been formed previously to the assumption of the ministerial office; inasmuch as the probability of a change in these opinions is thereby proportionally lessened. Now, not only without any design of becoming an hired Teacher in any sect but with decisive intentions to the contrary I have studied the subject of natural & revealed Religion -- I have read the works of the celebrated Infidels -- I have conversed long, & seriously, & dispassionately with Infidels of great Talents & information -- & most assuredly, my faith in Christianity has been confirmed rather than staggered. In teaching it therefore, at present, whether I act beneficently or no, I shall certainly act benevolently. Fifthly -- The necessary creed in our sect is but short -- it will be necessary for me, in order to my continuance as an Unitarian Minister, to believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah -- in all other points I may play off my intellect ad libitum. Sixthly -- that altho' we ought not to brave temptations in order to shew our strength, yet it would be slothful and cowardly to retire from an employment, because tho' there are no temptations at present, there may be some hereafter. -- In favor of my assuming the ministerial office it may be truly said, that it will give me a regular income sufficient to free me from all anxiety respecting my absolute wants, yet not large enough to exempt me from motives, even of a pecuniary nature, for literary exertion. I can afford to dedicate three or twice three years to some one work, which may be of benefit to society, and will certainly be uninjurious to my own moral character: for I shall be positive at least that there is no falsehood or immorality in it proceeding from haste or necessity. -- If I do enter on this office, it will be at Shrewsbury. I shall be surrounded by a fine country, no mean ingredient in the composition of a poet's happiness -- I shall have at least five days in every week of perfect leisure -- 120£. a year -- a -366- good house, valued at 30£ a year -- and if I should die & without any culpable negligence or extravagance have left my family in want, Congregations are in the habit of becoming the guardians. Add to this, that by Law I shall be exempted from military service -- to which, Heaven only knows how soon we may be dragged. For I think it not improbable, that in case of an invasion our government would serve all, whom they chose to suspect of disaffection, in the same way that good King David served Uriah -- 'Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest Battle, & retire ye from him, that he may be smitten & die.' I do not wish to conceal from you that I have suffered more from fluctuation of mind on this than any former occasion: and even now I have scarcely courage to decide absolutely. It is chilling to go among strangers -- & I leave a lovely country, and one friend so eminently near to my affections that his society has almost been consolidated with my ideas of happiness. However I shall go to Shrewsbury, remain a little while amongst the congregation: if no new argument arise against the ministerial office, and if the old ones assume no new strength, there I shall certainly pitch my tents, & probably shall build up my permanent Dwelling. -- Whatever is conducive to a man's real comforts is in the same degree conducive to his utility -- a permanent income not inconsistent with my religious or political creeds, I find necessary to my quietness -- without it I should be a prey to anxiety, and Anxiety, with me, always induces Sickliness, and too often Sloth: as an overdose of Stimulus proves a narcotic. You will let me know of the arrival of the Bill: and it would give me very great pleasure to hear, that I had not forfeited your esteem by first accepting, & now returning it. I acted, each time, from the purest motives possible on such an occasion: for, my public usefulness being incompatible with personal vexations, an enlightened Selfishness was in this case the only species of Benevolence left to me -- Believe me, dear Sir! with no ordinary feelings of esteem and affection for you & your family, sincerely your's S. T. Coleridge