237. To John Wicksteed Address: John Wicksteed | Wem near | Shrewsbury Transcript British Museum. Pub. E.L.G. i. 101. March 9th 1798. I will relate to you Sir! with simplicity all of my conversation respecting Mr Arthur Aikin, 1 which I can recollect. You may, I think, rely on the substance; but I do not pledge myself for the identical words. Indeed, when I hear a man pretending to minute accuracy in the retailing of conversations, I am in the habit of suspecting that he is deceiving himself. I at least, who at Shrewsbury talked much on many subjects, should find it impossible; especially as the circumstance, on which you have written, made no very deep impression on my mind. -- I was supping at Mr Hart's --: to the best of my present recollection, I did not then know that Mr Arthur Aikin had ever been a Minister in any place, still less of his particular connection with the Town of Shrewsbury -- Some one (I forget who) asked me, what I thought of Mr Arthur Aikin? I answered, that I had never seen either him or any of his works; but that from what I had heard from a literary Man in London I concluded that he was a booby -- a booby, I think, I said -- if not that, it was some phrase equally indefensible. By the warmth, which I had excited, I perceived gradually the morass, into which I had been walking; and retraced my steps as well as I could. But 'As well as we can' is, you know, awkward enough on such occasions; and this awkwardness & confusion are too light a punishment for the folly & presumption which places us there. A few minutes after, a Lady present spoke of a friend of mine, Mr Estlin, with considerable asperity, upon almost as slight grounds as I had before spoken of Mr Arthur Aikin. I defended my friend; and then animadverting on my own rashness with sufficient severity concluded by moralizing on the silliness & cruelty of pronouncing harsh opinions of men with whom we are slightly or not at all acquainted. The next morning, or the morning after, I met the younger Miss Hart; & again apologized to her for my words, and my apology consisted wholly in self-condemnation -- This is all I remember; but whatever I said, I must have said professedly from hearsay -- and as to bad- ____________________ 1 Arthur Aikin ( 1773-1854), nephew of Mrs. Barbauld and a scientific writer, was trained for the Unitarian ministry, but apparently never took a pulpit. -392- ness of heart or moral character in any way, I never spoke or even thought of it -- However, whatever else I said, 'si quid dixissem contra spiritum caritatis universae, id indictum volo.' I had received a letter from a friend in London in which he wrote -- ' George Dyer is going into Scotland with that booby, Arthur Aikin' -- and another acquaintance once told me, that he had met young Aikin occasionally at Edingburgh; that he was ['] a sullen cold blooded fellow; but very acute.' -- These were the only ideas that I could in any way have connected with his name; & I accuse myself of an obtuseness in my moral associations in not making his relationship to that great and excellent woman Mrs Barbauld counteract the unkindly feeling, which the foolish and contradictory tittle-tattle of my two acquaintances had produced in my mind to his disfavor. But regret is a waste of our faculties -- from the past experiences we constitute the present moral existence. -- Pardon me, if I read without believing your account of the infrahuman folly of 'numbers of the good people of Shrewsbury' in their feelings of admiration towards me -- It must have been exaggerated to you by a glass that has magnified to monstruosity. -- I am sure that I discovered enough good sense in them with whom I conversed, and who alone could retail my conversation, to justify me in pronouncing it impossible. But if the fact should ever approximate to your statement of it, I assure you it would be neither 'amusing' to me or 'ludicrous' -- The errors of my fellow-creatures ordinarily incline me to reflectiveness; or if my meditations be imbued with any passion, it is with that of sorrow -- it would be especially so with reference to persons, whom my good wishes and grateful thoughts will always follow, wherever I may be. -- You have written Sir! with warmth, and I am neither surprised nor offended by it; no, nor by the imperious tone, to which the supposed injury your friend had received from my rashness, seems to entitle you, and which you have accordingly assumed. But ordinarily it is a great waste of time, intellect & feeling to be hunting old conversations about characters any way known -- we had better be discussing the opinions which have made such characters known. Among whom, but the very foolish, can a Man's character be injured by a vague assertion or an unproved story? -- and to be injured among the foolish is, for aught I know, an advantage -- it preserves you from their praise. -- Besides the nature of the human memory is such that no man can at all times accurately keep distinct two sentences spoken near about the same time, even tho' they should have had different references, or distinguish himself between what he said and what at the same time he said it, he had in his thoughts to say likewise -- or, but I should exhaust a much -393- larger space of paper than remains to me and your patience to boot, if I went on to enumerate the various causes of that very evident fact, that the persons of veracity, who endeavour to repeat a conversation, will each repeat it a different way. People in general are not sufficiently aware how often the imagination creeps in and counterfeits the memory -- perhaps to a certain degree it does always blend with our supposed recollections -- You will excuse these desultory remarks or attribute them to my old vice of preaching -although preaching is not my trade nor 'reverend' a prefix to my name which I voluntarily admit -- I have answered your letter by the return of post -farewell S. T. Coleridge -P.S. On looking for your address I perceive it is Wem. I have therefore opened my letter to beg that you will tell young Mr Haseloed [Hazlitt] that I remember him with respect due to his talents and that the wish which I expressed of seeing him at Stowey still lives within me --