276. To Mrs. S. T. Coleridge Address: Mrs Coleridge | Nether Stowey | Somersetshire | England Payed to Cuxhaven MS. New York Public Lib. Pub. with omis. Letters, i. 288. Postmark: Foreign Office, 6 May 1799. Göttingen, bey Hüne in der Wende Strasse. April 23rd 1799 My dear Sara Surely it is unnecessary for me to say, how infinitely I languish to be in my native Country & with how many struggles I have remained even so long in Germany! -- I received your affecting letter, dated Easter Sunday; and had I followed my impulses, I should have packed up & gone with Wordsworth & his Sister, who passed thro', & only passed thro', this place, two or three days ago. -- If they burn with such impatience to return to their native Country, they who are all to each other, what must I feel, with every thing pleasant & every thing valuable, & every thing dear to me at a distance -- here, where I may truly say, my only amusement is -- to labour! --. But it is in the strictest sense of the word impossible that I can collect what I have to collect, in less than six weeks from this day; yet I read & transcribe from 8 to 10 hours every day. Nothing could support me but the knowlege that if I return now, we shall be embarrassed & in debt; & the moral certainty that having done what I am doing, we shall be more than cleared: / not to add that so large a work with so great a variety of information from sources so scattered, & so little known even in Germany, will, of course, establish my character -- for industry & erudition, certainly; & I would fain hope, for reflection & genius. -This day in June I hope, & trust, that I shall be in England --! -O that the Vessel could but land at Shurton Bars! -- Not that I should wish to see you & Poole immediately on my Landing -No! -- the sight, the touch of my native Country were sufficient for one whole Feeling -- one most deep unmingled Emotion! But then & after a lonely walk of the three miles -- then, first of all whom I knew, to see you, & my Friend! -- It lessens the delight of the thought of my Return, that I must get at you thro' a tribe of acquaintances, damping the freshness of one's Joy! -- My poor little Baby! -- at this moment I see the corner of the Room where his cradle stood -- -484- & his cradle too -- and I cannot help seeing him in the cradle. Little lamb! & the snow would not melt on his limbs! -- I have some faint recollection that he had that difficulty of breathing once before I left England -- or was it Hartley? --/-- 'A child! a child! is born, and the fond heart Dances: and yet the childless are more happyt!' --/-- In Christmas 1 I saw a custom which pleased & interested me here -- the children make little Presents to their Parents, & to one another; & the Parents to the Children. For three or four months before Christmas the Girls are all busy, & the boys save up their pocket-money, to make or purchase these presents -What the present is to be, is cautiously kept secret, & the Girls have a world of contrivances to conceal it -- such as, working when they are out on visits & the others are not with them, & getting up in the morning long before light, &c. -- Then on the Evening before Christmas Day one of the parlours is lighted up by the Children, into which the Parents must not go; a great yew-bough is fastened on the Table at a little distance from the wall, a multitude of little Tapers are fastened in the bough, but not so as to burn it till they are nearly burnt out -- & coloured paper &c hangs & flutters from the twigs. ---- Under this bough the Children lay out in great neatness the presents they mean for their parents; still concealing in their pockets what they intend for each other. Then the Parents are introduced -- & each presents his little gift -- & then they bring out the others & present them to each other, with kisses, & embraces. -- Where I saw the Scene, there were 8 or 9 children of different ages; and the eldest Daughter & the Mother wept aloud for joy & tenderness; & the tears ran down the face of the Father, & he clasped all his children so tight to his breast, as if he did it to stifle the Sob that was rising within him. -- I was very much affected. And the Shadow of the Bough on the wall, on the wall & arching over on the Ceiling, made a pretty picture -- & then the raptures of the very little ones, when at least [last] the Twigs & thread leaves began to catch fire, & snap -- O that was a delight for them! -- / On the next day, in the great parlour, the Parents lay out on the Tables the presents for the children / a scene of more sober joy succeeds / as on this day, after an old custom, the Mother says privately to each of her Daughters, & the Father to each of his Sons, that which he has observed most praiseworthy & that which he has observed most faulty in their conduct --. Formerly, & still in all the little Towns & villages through the whole of North Germanyy, these Presents were sent by all the parents of the village to some one Fellow who in high Buskins, a white Robe, a Mask, & ____________________ 1 The following passage was published almost verbatim in The Friend, No. 19, 28 Dec 1809, under the title Christmas within Doors. -485- an enormous Flax Wig personates Knecht y -- i.e. the Servant Rupert. On Christmas night he goes round [to] every house, & says that Jesus Christ, his Master, sent him there -- the Parents & older children receive him with great pomp of reverence, while the little ones are most terribly frightened / he then enquires for the children, & according to the character which he hears from the Parent, he gives them the intended Presents, as if they came out of Heaven from Jesus Christ -- or if they should have been bad children, he gives the Parents a rod, & in the Name of his Master Jesus recommends them to use it frequently. -- About 7 or 8 years old, the children are let into the secret; & it is curious, how faithfully they all keep it! -- There are a multitude of strange wild superstitions among the Bauers -- these still survive in spite of the efforts of the Clergy who in the north of Germany, i.e. in the Hanoverian, Saxon, & Prussian Dominions are almost all Deists. But they make little or no impressions on the Bauers, who are wonderfully religious & fantastically superstitious; but not in the least priestrid. -- But in the Catholic Countries of Germany the difference is vast indeed! -- I met lately an intelligent & calm-minded man who had spent a considerable time at Marburg, in the Bishoprich of Paderborn, in Westphalia. He told me, that Bead-prayers to the Holy Virgin are universal & universally too are magical Powers attributed to one particular formula of words which are absolutely jargon / at least, the words are to be found in no known Language. The Peasants believe it however to be a prayer to the Virgin, & happy is the man among them who is made confident by a Priest that he can repeat it perfectly; for heaven knows, what terrible calamity might not happen, if any one should venture to repeat it, & blunder. -- Vows, & Pilgrimages to particular Images, are still common among the Bauers / if any one die before the performance of his vow, they believe that he hovers between Heaven & Earth, and at times hobgoblins his relations till they perform it for him. Particular Saints are believed to be eminently favorable to particular Prayers -- & he assured me solemnly that a little before he left Marburg, a Lady of Marburg had prayed, & given money to have the public Prayers, at St Erasmus's Chapel to St Erasmus -for what, think you? -- That the Baby, with Which she was then pregnant, might be a Boy with white Hair & rosy Cheeks. -- When their Cows, Pigs, or Horses are sick they take them to the Dominican Monks who prescribe texts out of holy books, & perform exorcisms. -- When men or women are sick, they give largely to the Convent, who, on good conditions, dress them in Church-robes, & lay a particular & highly-venerated Crucifix on their Breasts / & perform a multitude of antic Ceremonies. -- In general, my In- -486- former confessed, that they cured the persons -- which he seemed to think extraordinary, but which I think very natural. Yearly on St Blasius' Day unusual multitudes go to receive the Lord's Supper; & while they are receiving it, the Monks hold a Blasius Taper (as it [is] called) before the Forehead of the kneeling Person, & then pray to St Blasius to drive away all head-achs for the ensuing year. -- Their wishes are often expressed in this form -'Mary, Mother of God, make her Son do so and so.' ---- Yet with all this, from every information which I can collect (& I have had very many opportunities of collating various accounts) the Peasants in the Catholic Countries of Germany, but especially in Austria, are far better off, & a far happier & livelier race than those in the Protestant Lands. --/ -- I fill up the sheet with scattered information, / put down in the order in which I happened to see them. -The Peasant children where ever I have been, are dressed warm & tight; but very ugly the dress looks; a frock-coat, some of coarse blue cloath, some of Plaid, buttoned behind -- the Row of Buttons running down the Back, & the seamless buttonless fore-part -- 't has an odd look! ---- When the Peasants marry, if the Girl is of a good character, the Clergyman gives her a virgin Crown -- (a tawdry ugly thing made of gold & silver Tinsel, like the Royal Crowns in Shape) -- this they wear, with cropped, powdered, & pomatumed Hair -- / in short, the Bride looks Ugliness personified. -- While I was at Ratzeburg, a girl came to beg the Pastor to let her be married in this crown -- & she had had two Bastards! -The Pastor refused, of course. -- I wondered that a reputable Farmer should marry her; but the Pastor told me that where a female Bauer is the heiress, her having had a bastard does not much stand in her way / and yet tho' little or no infamy attaches to it, the number of Bastards is but small / 2 in 70 has been the average at Ratzeburg among the Peasants. -- By the bye, the Bells in Germany are not rung as our's with ropes -- but two men stand, one on each side of the Bell -- & each pushes the Bell away from him with his foot. -- In the Churches, what is a Baptismal Font in our churches, is a great Angel with a Bason in his hand; -- he draws up & down with a chain, like a Lamp --. In a particular part of the Ceremony down comes the great Stone Angel with the Bason, presents it to the Pastor who having taken quant. suff., up flies my Angel to his old place in the Ceiling. You cannot conceive, how droll it looked. ---- The Graves, in the little village Church yards, are square; and in square or parallelogrammic wooden cases -- they look like Boxes without lids -- & Thorns & Briars are woven over them, as is done in some parts of England. Perhaps, you recollect that beautiful passage in Jeremy Taylor's Holy Dying / '& the -487- Summer brings briars to bud on our graves' --. -- The Shepherds, with iron-soled boots, walk before their Sheep (as in the East) -you know, our Saviour says -- My Sheep follow me. -- So it is here -the Dog and [the S]hepherd walk first, the Shepherd with his romantic fur-C[ap] & general[ly k]nitting a pair of white worsted Gloves -- he walks on, & his dog by him, & then follow the Sheep, winding along the roads in a beautiful Stream! In the fields I observed a multitude of poles with bands & trusses of Straw tied round the higher part, & the top -- on enquiry we found that they were put there for the Owls to perch on -- / And the Owls? -- O -they catch the Field mice, who do amazing damage in the light soil all throughout the north of Germany. --/ -- The Gallows near Gottingen like that near Ratzeburg is three great Stone Pillars, square like huge Tall chimneys, & connected with each other at the top by three iron bars with hooks to them -- & near them is a wooden pillar with a wheel on the top of it, on which the head is exposed, if the Person instead of being hung is beheaded. -- I was frightened at first to see such a multitude of bones & Skeletons of Sheep, Oxen, & Horses, & bones, as I imagined, of Men for many, many yards all round the Gallows --/ -- I found that in Germany the Hangman is by the laws of the Empire infamous -- these Hangmen form a cast -- & their Families always marry with each other &c -- and that all dead Cattle -- who have died belong [to] them -& are carried by the Owners to the Gallows & left [by] them there -When their cattle are bewitched or otherwise desperately sick, the Peasants take them, & tie them to the Gallows -- Drowned Dogs, & Kittens, &c are thrown there; in short, the Grass grows rank, & yet the Bones overtop it. -- The fancy of human bones must, I suppose, have arisen in my ignorance of comparative Anatomy. ---- God bless you, my Love! -- I will write again speedily. -- When I was at Ratzeburgh, I wrote one wintry night in bed but never sent you three stanzas which, I dare say, you will think very silly; & so they are: & yet they were not written without a yearning, yearning, yearning Inside -- for my yearning affects more than my heart -- I feel it all within me. 1 1 If I had but two little wings And were a little feath'ry Bird, To you I'd fly, my Dear! But Thoughts, like these, are idle Things -- And I stay here. ____________________ 1 Poems, i. 313. The lines are an imitation of the German folk song, Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär. -488- 2 But in my sleep to you I fly, I'm always with you in my sleep -- The World is all one's own. But then one wakes -- and where am I? All, all alone! 3 Sleep stays not tho' a Monarch bids, So I love to wake ere break of Day; For tho' my Sleep be gone, Yet while 'tis dark, one shuts one's lids, And still dreams on! If Mrs Southey be with you, remember me with all kindness / & thankfulness for their attention to you & Hartley. 1 ---- To dear Mrs Poole give my filial love -- My love to Ward. -- Why should I write the name of Tom Poole except for the pleasure of writing it? -- It grieves me to the heart that Nanny is not without [sic] you. I cannot bear changes ---- Death makes enough! -- God bless you, my dear dear Wife, & believe me with eagerness to clasp you to my heart, your faithful Husband S. T. Coleridge Here is a letter from Chester for his mother / she must pay you half the Postage. We save a shilling by sending a double letter -- for double, or treble, in Germany there is no difference in the P[ostag]e. I have received four letters -- three in one / & p[aid no] more than for a s[ingle one.] ____________________ 1 Southey had undertaken the interment of Berkeley Coleridge and had extended every kindness to Mrs. Coleridge. 'Edith and Southey', Mrs. Coleridge wrote to Coleridge on 24 Mar., 'have behaved towards me with particular kindness; in my trouble after the loss of my child Southey brought a Coach and carried me and Hartley over to Westbury where they both strove to amuse me and the child, who is excessively fond of them both as they are of him.' Perhaps, however, Southey's unfavourable opinion of Lyrical Ballads, as shown by his review of the volume in the Critical Review for Oct. 1798, was reflected in Mrs. Coleridge's tactless comment in her letter: 'The Lyrical Ballads are not esteemed well here, but the Nightingale and the River Y [Wye].' Even more pointedly Mrs. Coleridge wrote to Poole: 'The Lyrical Ballads are laughed at and disliked by all with very few excepted.' Her letter to Coleridge also reports on the literary activities of Lamb, Lloyd, and Southey, information which in the light of their recent mistreatment of him, Coleridge can hardly have relished. -489-