Having read The Friend straight through—read, that is, Coleridge’s 1818 rifacciamento of his original more harum-scarum 1809-10 magazine issues—I’m struck that it's more cogently structured than it's generally given credit for being. Out of the welter of original material Coleridge, revising and selecting, has gone some way (not all the way, but some of it) towards imposing an overall shape that, in turn, makes manifest the key thesis of the work as a whole.
The original Friend was a miscellany, an omnium gatherum of quotations and passages C considered interesting, of stories, anecdotes and potted-biographies, of poems and epigraphs and footnotes as well as being a compendium of various Coleridgean essays on politics, religion and literature. The 1818 rifacciamento retains something of this compendious feel. After all, part of the point of the exercise, perhaps a main point of it, was to gather together nuggets: quotations, passages and stories that caught Coleridge's eye and that he considering edifying or entertaining. To this end the epigraphs to the essays are as important as the essays themselves, and those essays are as often as not composed of lengthy quotations from Bacon, Hooker or Wordsworth, translations from Jonas Ludwig von Hess and others. But the lump has been, post-Biographia, considerably leavened by Coleridge’s more focused eighteen-teen interests.
He produces a book that purports to be about the application of certain religiously-derived principles to politics and personal morals, but actually is (unsurprisingly given its title) a complex and unresolved meditation upon the valences of friendship. At least, that's what I'm going to argue. But before we get onto that, some more straightforward features of the 1818 edition.
One thing Coleridge does in the reworking is style reading the whole as an ascent: climbing the stairs from the ground floor to higher and harder topics. The three volumes of essays start with a block of sixteen essays that discuss the principles and practicalities of Coleridge's project, touching on ‘the communication of truth’, on style and on the exigences of publishing in the Britain of the early 19th-century (Essay 10 is on ‘the Liberty of the Press’, Essay 11 covers Libel and Essay, 13 Tolerance). Then Coleridge interposes the first of three ‘landing-places’, a smaller group of essays to give the reader a breather, designed more for ‘amusement retrospect and preparation’ [Friend 1:127] than the more serious-minded essays of the rest of the volume. Amusement is as amusement does, I suppose: the first Landing-place comprises a potted biography of Luther’s life, a contrast of Luther and Rousseau, a couple of pages on ‘ghosts and apparitions’, a summary of the introductory essays that we’ve just finished reading and an explanation of Kant’s distinction between Reason and Understanding. This was, I suppose, C.'s idea of fun.
The remainder of the 1818 Friend is bipartite. ‘Section the First’ which is sixteen essays on politics and economy (1—‘On the Principles of Political Philosophy’; 5—‘On the Errors of Party Spirit’; 7—‘On the Vulgar Errors Concerning Taxation’; 13—‘On the Law of Nations’) followed by a ‘second landing-place’. Then ‘Section the Second’ (‘On the Grounds of Morals and Religion, and the Discipline of the Mind Requisite for a True Understanding of the same’), which is eleven broadly metaphysical-theological essays on what Coleridge calls ‘the Principle of Method’. A third ‘landing-place’ ends the book, with a short essay on whether fortune favours fools, and five linked essays entitled ‘Sketches for a Life of Sir Alexander Ball’.
Coleridge had a high opinion of the essays in this ‘second’ (actually third) section. In a letter to Joseph Britton (28 Feb 1819) he wrote:
At least, were it in my power, my works should be confined to the second volume of my “Literary Life”, the Essays of the third volume of the “Friend”, from page 67 to page 265, with about fifty or sixty pages from the two former volumes, and some half-dozen of my poems.And those third-volume essays are, like most of the first volume of the Biographia, hard work: dense and complexly argued. The staircase structure of the 1818 arrangement is, it seems an acknowledgement of this. The final, most-elevated portion of the whole is larded with long quotation from Platonic and Heracleitan Greek, and Baconian Latin, and the essays constitute this final platform attempt to ground the ‘two wants connatural to man ... constituting and sustaining nationality’, namely ‘Trade and Literature’ (‘without trade and literature, mutually commingled, there can be no nation; without commerce and science no bond of nations’ Friend, 1:507) in God-given ‘REASON’ mediated in the world through ‘understanding’ applied ‘methodically’, that ‘METHOD’ (Coleridge doesn't make this connection of course, but his ideas as regarding method are kind of quasi-Daoist) is an articulation of human free will.
To this principle we referred the choice of the final object, the control over time—or, to comprise all in one, the METHOD of the will. From this we started (or rather seemed to start: for it still moved before us, as an invisible guardian and guide,) and it is this whose re-appearance announces the conclusion of our circuit, and welcomes us at our goal ... namely, the principle of religion, the living and substantial faith “which passeth all understanding,” as the cloud piercing rock, which overhangs the strong-hold of which it had been the quarry and remains the foundation. This elevation of the spirit above the semblances of custom and the senses to a world of spirit, this life in the idea, even in the supreme and godlike, which alone merits the name of life, and without which our organic life is but a state of somnambulism; this it is which affords the sole sure anchorage in the storm, and at the same time the substantiating principle of all true wisdom, the satisfactory solution of all the contradictions of human nature, of the whole riddle of the world. This alone belongs to and speaks intelligibly to all alike, the learned and the ignorant, if but the heart listens. For alike present in all, it may be awakened, but it cannot be given. But let it not be supposed, that it is a sort of knowledge: No! it is a form of BEING, or indeed it is the only knowledge that truly is, and all other science is real only as far as it is symbolical of this. The material universe, saith a Greek philosopher [he means Plotinus], is but one vast complex MYTHOS (i.e. symbolical representation): and mythology the apex and complement of all genuine physiology. But as this principle cannot be implanted by the discipline of logic, so neither can it be excited or evolved by the arts of rhetoric. For it is an immutable truth, that WHAT COMES FROM THE HEART THAT ALONE GOES TO THE HEART: WHAT PROCEEDS FROM A DIVINE IMPULSE THAT THE GODLIKE ALONE CAN AWAKEN. [Friend, 1:524]This dense and lengthy chunk of thinking-through in prose ends, in other words, on a peroration to our feelings as the royal road to truth. Friendship, after all, is a matter of the heart, not the head. Though we can't choose our family we do choose our friends, and we do with our hearts.
Appropriately, then, the very last portion of the 1818 book is Coleridge's heartfelt biographical panegyric to Sir Alexander Ball, a piece that was particularly singled-out for praise by contemporaries (at least by those few who noticed the book at all). It is a personal recollection—Coleridge served under Ball when the latter was Governor of Malta—and ends:
But Sir Alexander Ball is no more. The writer still clings to the hope that he may yet be able to record his good deeds more fully and regularly; that then, with a sense of comfort, not without a subdued exultation, he may raise heavenward from his honored tomb the glistening eye of an humble but ever grateful Friend.(Ball had died in 1809). This account of a friendship is one bookend to the 1818 volume; at the other end of the work is another bookend, another testimony of friendship: a prefatory letter addressed to a friend of Coleridge’s identified only as ‘R.L.’.
Who? We don't know for sure. It's probably Coleridge’s neighbour Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff; though it might possibly be Robert Lloyd and just conceivably could be Robert Southey (as Robertus Lector, perhaps). This last guess is a stretch, I concede, but a stretch several critics have proposed. As Barbara Rooke notes in her standard edition: ‘C had asked Southey to write a letter critical of The Friend’ for inclusion early in the magazine, but ‘instead of printing Southey's answer he informed him that “I have been obliged to write a letter myself, as you have seen—tho' I shall certainly insert yours in a few weeks” (Collected Letters 3.259)’—something he never got around to doing—and a slightly puzzled-sounding Rooke concludes: ‘if “R.L.” was not Southey, perhaps he was C's neighbour during the writing of The Friend, Richard Watson, bp of Llandaff’ [Friend 1:19].
The point is, Southey actually was Coleridge's friend, and a letter to an actual friend is what we'd expect this text to be. Coleridge's relations with the good bishop may have been respectful but they were certainly impersonal, occasional and without intimacy. Which is what you'd expect: the bishop was 35 years older than the poet, a very senior churchman, peer of the realm and Cambridge Regius Professor of Divinity. His autobiography, Anecdotes of the life of Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, completed in 1814 (published after his death in 1817) makes no mention at all of Coleridge or Wordsworth. Is this really a relationship to which the word friend even applies?
To be clear: I'm not saying this letter wasn't addressed to the bishop. I think it probably was. What I'm doing is pointing up an oddness in the way Coleridge uses friend in this work. In 1809 this letter was buried halfway through the eleventh number (October 26 1809), squeezed between the end of C.'s long essay on the Errors of Party Spirit and a clutch of Wordsworthian sonnets. For the 1818 rifacciamento Coleridge brings it to the front: after the throat-clearing first essay (and its puzzling ‘Fable of the Maddning Rain’) and a second essay in which C. instructs his reader, in so many words, to sit down and pay attention, the letter constitutes Essay 3 in its entirety. It contains, according to Coleridge's own note, ‘the explanation’ for The Friend as such: to ‘refer men in all things to PRINCIPLES or fundamental truths’ and to wage ‘war against, the Queen Bee in the Hive of our errors and misfortunes, both private and national’, viz. ‘the contemptuous aversion to all intellectual effort’ [Friend, 1:19. 22]. Fair enough.
By repositioning this letter to a friend in 1818, we can see that he is framing the whole enterprise with texts that construe friendship through actual examples. But in both cases, with Bishop Llandaff at the beginning and with Sir Alexander Ball at the end, 1818 Coleridge is addressing men markedly his social superior, men with whom he was never intimate, and what is more dead men (Llandaff died in 1816). Can one be friends with the dead?
If that looks like a frivolous question it oughtn't. Coleridge in The Friend is very exercised by this question, or variants of it. At several points, and at length in the second essay of the first ‘landing place’ [Friend 1:135-43], Coleridge praises Luther (‘the heroic LUTHER, a Giant awaking in his strength!’) contrasting him with ‘the crazy ROUSSEAU, the Dreamer’ and ‘Spinner of speculative Cobwebs’ [1:132]. A later essay, ‘Government and Reason: Rousseau's Theory’ [1:186-202] contrasts crazy Rousseau with Edmund Burke (‘this Great Man’). In one sense what Coleridge is doing here is saying: ‘where religion is concerned, Luther is your friend and Rousseau is not’ and ‘in politics, Burke is your friend and Rousseau is not’.Important to know who your friends are in life, I'm sure you'd agree.
This, though, is to use friend in a rather more distancing sense than modern usage is comfortable with. Today our friends are people to whom we are close, our intimates, the people who know us and whom we know. The Latin amicus originally meant this kind of close friend, but in Augustan and later usage came to mean something more removed: ‘counsellor’, ‘guide’, ‘minister’. For Coleridge the Bishop of Llandaff and Sir Alexander Ball are like Luther and Burke: friends in the latter, more distanced sense rather than the former more intimate one. And this in turn speaks to Coleridge's ambitions for his journal. He hopes it will be a friend to his readers in this sense of being able to take them by the hand and lead them through the thickets of modern political and moral life. This is a model of friendship that requires a measure of verticality to it: you need to respect your guide, your counsellor, to look up to him. The other kind of friendship, the one predicated on emotional intimacy and on sharing, is on the contrary one of horizontality.
Two specific friendships haunt The Friend: Coleridge and Wordsworth's and, a rather different thing, Coleridge and Sara Hutchinson's. They haunt our reading of The Friend, as we must intuit they haunted Coleridge's writing of it.
A decade earlier Wordsworth and Coleridge had indeed been intimates, striding over the Wessex countryside together in earnest, breathless confab, embarked on the joint-project of redefining what poetry could be. The Wordsworth-and-Coleridge friendship of this period probably remains the most famous literary-artistic collaboration of them all (at least, perhaps, until McCartney met Lennon). The 1798 edition of Lyrical Ballads, in its anonymity, textually fused the two men into a single joint-production, and its prodigious success and influence (Hazlitt famously declared the Lyrical Ballads was to English poetry what the Fall of the Bastille was to the Ancien Régime) figures as a function of what friendship can achieve.
With hindsight, it is obvious this degree of intimacy between two men so constitutionally and personally different to one another could not last. And it did not. Though Coleridge often stayed with the Wordsworths, and was living with them as he wrote the essays that make up The Friend, William was neither an indulgent nor a forgiving host, and was indeed often frankly patrician and judgmental. He disapproved of STC's various alcoholic and opiate dissolutions, deprecated his infatuation with Sara Hutchinson and generally criticised his slovenliness and his disorderly hours. Juliet Barker's Wordsworth: A Life [Viking 2000] rather takes Wordsworth's side in this whole matter actually, tending to paint Coleridge as a disruptive and unhinged intruder into Wordsworth’s already difficult family and strained day-to-day routines.
At any rate, the first decade of the 1800s for Wordsworth were a process of slowly pushing STC out to arm's length, beginning with his unabashed land-grab of the Lyrical Ballads volume. Famously, or notoriously, for the second edition Wordsworth relegated Coleridge's ‘Ancient Mariner’ from pride of place as the first poem in the collection to obscurity somewhere in the middle, spurned Coleridge's offer of ‘Christabel’ as a new piece, added a lengthy Wordsworthian preface and clapped his name, solus, on the title page:
So much for the public aspect of their friendship. Where the personal aspect was concerned, Wordsworth increasingly rebuked his friend for his perceived shortcomings, an attitude evident from the wounded notebook entries and poems STC composed over this period. It's likely, for instance, that Coleridge's ‘Verecundia: to William Wordsworth’ poem dates from 1805-10 (I'd guess 1809 as the most likely date), recording as it does some severe criticism Wordsworth levelled at Coleridge, probably to do with Sara Hutchinson.
Verecundia? imo, tyrannis hoc est!‘Chief Friend’ is a reach, translation-wise: you can see, in line 8 of the Latin there, that Coleridge (even as he bridles at whatever criticism William has been making of his behaviour) actually calls Wordsworth ‘meus rex’, my king. But, presumably thinking this looked jarringly sycophantic, he added a little footnote to his little poem, clarifying: ‘Rex Meus for the most honored Friend’.
Quod cuivis adulor, negabis ipse;
Nec non quod sapiam, haud negabis, Ergo
Mores, et Sophiam, sacrasque Musas
Uno nomine (dumque vivis ipse)
Dicturum, Gulielme,—quaeso, cur me,
Et quo Jure tuum “Veto” coercet?
Te vatem, atque Sophum, meumque Regem
Agnovi, usque lubens! At haud Tribunum.
[‘Proper behaviour’? Not so! This is tyranny!
You must admit yourself I'm no-one's toady.
Nor do I lack of wisdom, you'll say; and so
By all that's moral, wise, by the sacred Muses
Under one name (as long as you yourself live)
What you said, William,—I ask, why me?
And what force does your ‘Veto’ even have?
As prophet, as wise one and as my Chief Friend
I've gladly known you! But not as my Tribune.]
If rex strikes us as an odd synonym for friend, we can situate it in Coleridge's declaration from the 1st June 1809 very first issue of The Friend—words significantly not carried over into the 1818 rifacciamento—that ‘for some years I have felt and deeply felt, that the Poet's high Functions were not my proper assignment’. STC balanced this statement of withdrawal with one more endorsement of Wordsworth's poetic destiny: ‘I feel it as a Blessing, that even among my Contemporaries I know one at least, who has been deemed worthy of the Gift; who has received the Harp with reverence, and struck it with the hand of power’ [Friend, 2:15]. Strange, perhaps, that the word friend doesn't find its way into that description. Or maybe not so strange. That powerful hand, striking, has a rather pugilistic vibe to it, don't you think? Has Coleridge given up poetry because his inspiration has dried up? Or has Wordsworth beaten it out of him?
This is all tangled-up with the December 1806 events of ‘the EPOCH’, whatever they were. Coleridge thought he saw Wordsworth and Sara Hutchinson in bed together and had a sort of hysterical break-down. On the back of this latter collapse it seems that Wordsworth was able to convince Coleridge that the whole thing had been a figment of his fevered, opium-addled imagination. If it had happened it would have been profound betrayal of the two men's ‘friendship’, or would have felt that way to Coleridge at any rate, although a lawyer might quibble (cheating on his wife would be deplorable and might diminish Wordsworth's rex-y status, but since there was nothing going on between Coleridge and Sara H, it wouldn't be as though Wordsworth was specifically betraying him). Rather than believe his friendship had been betrayed, Coleridge worked to persuade himself that he'd imagined the entire episode.
In June 1807, half a year after the ‘the EPOCH’ Coleridge left the Wordsworths, visited his own family and estranged wife, and then travelled via Bristol to London. He returned north to stay with the Wordsworths, and Sara Hutchinson, at the beginning September 1808, issuing the prospectus to The Friend a few weeks later. And that's where he stayed: at Grasmere all through 1809 and most of 1810, working on the journal. That relations were not easy between the two men we can intuit from the fact that somewhere towards the end of 1808 Coleridge wrote Wordsworth a long letter of passionate accusation. We no longer have that letter but we do have a draft of Wordsworth's reply, which, to quote Richard Holmes, ‘by trying to refute Coleridge's accusations point by point’ thus gives us ‘some idea of what Coleridge had actually written to him’:
It is a series of most intimate reproaches: they had supervised Asra's letters; they had regarded his influence as ‘poison entering into her mind’; they had told Asra that she was ‘the cause’ of all his misery. It's clear that Wordsworth was shocked ... Coleridge's accusations [he replied] were made ‘in a lamentably insane state of mind’. His obsession with Asra, and suspicions over Wordsworth's own conduct towards her, his ‘transports of passion’, were all ‘unmanly and ungentlemanly’ and the product of a perverted sexual imagination. [Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 139]The final breach in Wordsworth and Coleridge's friendship took place in October 1810, as Coleridge was travelling down to London to stay with the Morgans. The proximate cause of the break-up was trivial, some garbled second-hand reporting of a few things Wordsworth had supposedly said about Coleridge to a third party, to which Coleridge took melodramatic offence. Looking at the larger context, though, it's only surprising it didn't happen sooner. Coleridge's feelings towards Wordsworth during the first decade of the 1800s were a tangle of admiration and envy, sexual jealousy and resentment and self-loathing, bitterness and shame at his (Coleridge's) lack of gratitude to his friend. It was a mess, emotionally, and it was guillotined by the quarrel of 1810. Through the eighteen-teens Coleridge and Wordsworth were no longer friends in any actual sense, and although a sort of rather formal rapprochement was later brokered between the two of them, they were never again close.
Revising The Friend in 1818 was, then, stepping back across the breach to a time when Wordsworth and Coleridge's relationship, though fraught, was still friendly. That gives those moments in the collection where Wordsworth is interpellated into the text as friend particularly piquancy. As I've already noted on this blog, one the most remarkable of such moments occurs in the middle of ‘Section 1, Essay 3’, a discussion of the need for Governments to follow principles of sound and religious Reason:
But if my readers wish to see the question of the efficacy of principles and popular opinions for evil and for good proved and illustrated with an eloquence worthy of the subject, I can refer them with the hardiest anticipation of their thanks, to the late work concerning the relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, by my honoured friend, William Wordsworth, quem quoties lego, non verba mihi videor audire, sed tonitrua! [Friend, 1:182]The reference is to Wordsworth's pamphlet On the Convention of Cintra (1809), and the Latin means ‘when I read him it seems to me I am not hearing words, but thunder!’ The quotation is a little obscure (Barbara Rooke's edition was unable to trace it, for instance) but its source is rather interesting: it's Saint Jerome, from his Regula Monachorum and refers to Saint Paul—(Donne quotes the Latin in his Sermon XLIV, which is where I think Coleridge came across it). Jerome, of course, is most famous for translating holy scripture into Latin, the great Vulgate Bible still in use today. What's interesting about this, I think, is the way this quotation is used not only to praise Wordsworth's thunderous eloquence, but, tacitly, to position Coleridge as Jerome to Wordsworth's Paul. That would be characteristic of STC's attitudes more generally, actually: Wordsworth was the one genuinely inspired, and Coleridge just the bookish and scholarly drudge, plugging away interpreting the inspiration of others. It's not true, of course (however great Wordsworth was as a poet he neither wrote nor was capable of writing a poem as exceptional as ‘Kubla Khan’) but it was Coleridge's view, and it acquires extra emotional piquancy given how strained the friendship had become between the two men. How in retrospect it turned out that as he wrote these very words (they originally appeared in the 7th Sept 1809 issue) their friendship was on the very brink of completely breaking down.
This puts a particular complexion on Coleridge's understanding of the term friend. Because his complicated friendship with rex-amicus Wordsworth was, over this period of his life, all tangled up with his equally-but-differently complicated friendship with amica Sara Hutchinson, his ‘Asra’. Just as amicus can mean either intimate friend or more formally removed mentor or guide, so the first of those two senses hovers, itself, between the conventional friend and the more intimate lover—the word's root is amo, I love, after all (the Greek φίλος similarly balances its meanings between friend and lover in meaning).
Coleridge's praxis in writing was that he dictated and relied upon amanuenses to write up what he said; and in the case of The Friend that amanuensis was Sara Hutchinson. ‘Coleridge was dictating every issue directly to Sara Hutchinson, closeted in his study,’ notes Richard Holmes, adding, in striking phrase: ‘so that if the mouth was his the hand was Asra's’.
Coleridge now had that daily, and even nightly, intimacy with Asra that he had so long and so passionately desired. But it was not easy for either of them. The shared pressure, and even excitement, of their literary work (often witnessed by Asra's breathless notes to Brown the printer, reporting on progress) hid far deeper emotions and conflicts. [Holmes, Darker Visions (1998), 176].It was hardest on Coleridge himself: his notebooks ‘ranged back obsessively’ over his memories of Asra, and he debated with himself whether to write an essay for The Friend on what he considered to be the two models of falling in love, one a passive ‘irresistible’ passion and the other a more controlled ‘act of will’. But, as Holmes says, ‘he could not dictate such an essay to Asra, and it was only written long after ... indeed, perhaps because of their very physical proximity, Coleridge could never speak openly to Asra of his feelings’.
Dierdre Coleman's detailed critical account of The Friend [Coleridge and The Friend 1809-1810 (Oxford: Clarendon 1988)] says insightful things about the extent to which Coleridge's writing of the magazine actualised, ironically enough, a withdrawal from friendship as such. It was something his real-life friends marked of the post-Malta STC:
Oppressed by an ‘unquenchable Yearning’ for release from anguish of body and mind, a yearning which could only be satisfied by further doses of opium of complete renunciation of the drug, Coleridge turned in on himself; and this habit ‘inward Brooding’ daily made it ‘harder to confess the Thing I am, to any one—least of all to those, whom most I love & who most love me’ [CN 2:3078]. Even worse, he found that withdrawal from his friends introduced and fostered a habit ‘of negative falsehood, & multiplies the Temptations to positive, Insincerity’ [CN, 2:3078]. As we have seen, this retreat of Coleridge's was the feature of his post-Malta self which most struck his friends on their first meeting at Kendal. [Coleman, 24]Coleman adds, astutely, that ‘painful as Coleridge's withdrawal was to his friends, it was a weapon aimed primarily at himself, for it went against his “very social” nature ... loving and being loved in return had always been felt by Coleridge as a necessity of his nature’ [Coleman, 25]. In Spring 1810 Asra had left the Wordsworths, and Coleridge, to go and live with her brothers on a farm in Radnorshire, in Wales, a move Coleridge regarded as little short of personal betrayal: ‘Coleridge felt he had been stung to death,’ notes Richard Holmes; ‘he finished just two more issues of The Friend’ before giving up on the project, sinking ‘“under a depression of spirits little less than absolute Despondency”’ [Holmes, 192-93]. Seven months later came the final break with Wordsworth, and Coleridge's relocation to London. He sunk very low for several years before slowly reassembling something like a regular life, and with the success of his lectures and the publication of Sybilline Leaves and the Biographia in 1817 it must have seemed as though he had salvaged something from his life. But returning to the Friend to revise and reset it for 1818 publication can only have awakened all manner of difficult emotions. But perhaps this is the nature of friendship in the rifacciamento. Easier, after all, to be friends with Luther and Burke, with the Bishop of Llandaff and Sir Alexander Ball, it seems, than with actual, messy, complicated intimate personal friends.
What is The Friend saying, overall, in its tessellation of disparate essays, quotations, epigraphs, footnotes, recycled stories and anecdotes and praise for notable men? It circles around a set of linked questions, to do especially with politics and moral behaviour, arguing that such behaviour must always be grounded in principles—rearguing the old Socratic-Platonic point that expedience and justice can never genuinely come into conflict—and then going into a great deal of not-easy-to-follow detail in the third volume on how we determine what the best principles are, how we understand our God-given reason.
Coleman considers the whole project muddled to the point of incapacity.
Contrary to Coleridge's self-description of The Friend as an attempt in periodical form to articulate ‘principles’ underlying the ephemeral particulars of politics and religion, Coleman asserts that The Friend is in actuality an elaborate apology for the Tory administration. The periodical is part of the ‘Tory reaction against those who questioned the need to continue the war’ against Napoleon [Coleman, 12]. Coleridge, compared unfavorably to the less conservative Southey and Wordsworth [11-12], is depicted as a slavish devotee to those in power, as he at times conceals his real opinions in order to mimic ‘official postures’ . The central piece of evidence for Coleridge's political cowardice is Number 24, ‘On the Law of Nations,’ in which the Copenhagen affair is allegorized and discussed (chapter 8). It is difficult not to agree with much of Coleman's analysis here, as Coleridge lamely tries to find principled reasons for the bombardment of Copenhagen and the seizure of the Danish navy. The British motive seemed quite simple: ‘grabbing Denmark's navy before Napoleon did’ [Coleman, 189]. Rather than face the brutal facts, the essay acts like a fog machine-a fairly ineffective one, it turns out, as hardly any of Coleridge's friends agreed with him. [Michael Scrivener, reviewing Coleman's book for Nineteenth-Century Literature, 45:3 (Dec., 1990), 366]Other portions are, perhaps, more convincing. So for example Coleridge makes a good case, in his life of Sir Alexander Ball, that the Maltese preferred rule by the British—which they inarguably did, petitioning the Crown to become a British dependency—to rule by the French because the British acted in a more principled and reliable and less rapacious manner towards them than had either the French or the Neapolitans. But Coleman touches on an important point: there's a real dilemma in Coleridge's thinking, torn as it is between advocating a respect for authority as one key principle, and advocating the moral necessity of rebelling against tyranny as another. ‘Bad’ authority, in The Friend, is epitomised by Napoleon on the political stage and Catholicism on the religious one; and what makes Luther so great a hero in Coleridge's eyes is precisely that he rebelled against the Pope. At the same time, Coleridge can write, apparently with a straight face:
To dogmatize a crime, that is, to teach it as a doctrine, is itself a crime, great or small as the crime dogmatized is more or less palpably so. You say, (said Sir John Cheke, addressing himself to the papists of his day) that you rebel for your religion. First tell me, what religion is that which teaches you to rebel. [Friend, 1:282]This is a damn peculiar thing for a Protestant to write, don't you think? The point, I suppose, is that try as he might Coleridge cannot find a way to square his two principles ‘respect authority’ and ‘think for yourself! resist tyranny!’ And I don't think it's a stretch to map these two modes of being onto the two models of friend that structure Coleridge's wanting: his desire for an amicus to guide, counsel and inspire him, and his desire for an amica to provide him with a rather different set of emotional and spiritual (and we can be honest: physical) intensities of private intimate connection.
I've been struck, thinking about Coleridge and friendship and The Friend, how poorly the concept of friendship has been theorised, how little space the great philosophers and critics have devoted to it. Odd, really, when you think how important friendship is to (almost) all of us: how marriage depends at least as much, and in the long run much more, on friendship than on erotic excitement; how our friends sustain us in ways other relationships do not. How we get by, by and large, only with a little help from our friends. Who is the great philosopher of friendship, I wonder?
I'm sure I'm missing somebody obvious.
Blake—a man who lived his life happily enough outwith extensive networks of friendship, content to commune with his own individual vision—famously asserted that opposition is true friendship. But I think people get the emphasis of this apothegm wrong: it is actually stressed on the true, not on the friendship, and it makes for a forbidding sort of metric so far as people actually trying to live in the world are concerned. Practically speaking, friendship necessarily involves acceptance of the other, which usually entails a degree of compromise, which is only to say that it is rarely true in the sense that Blake means. Might we argue that Sara Hutchinson's truest act of friendship to Coleridge was in opposing his pressure for her to sleep with him? Can we really style Wordsworth's patrician hostility to Coleridge's lack of moral structure and will-power true friendship? William Empson said of T S Eliot: ‘I do not know for certain how much of my own mind he invented, let alone how much of it is a reaction against him or indeed a consequence of misreading him. He has a very penetrating influence, perhaps not unlike an east wind.’ Coleridge would surely have recognised that sentiment with respect to Wordsworth.
One thing that worries Coleridge, and which The Friend addresses without really resolving the matter, is how easily prejudices can be mistaken for principles. Respect is one thing, toady-ish adulation quite another. The verticality of one mode of friendship, with all its bag-and-baggage of hierarchy and abasement, of services to be repaid with gratitude, jarred for him with an idealised horizontality of truer friendship. When in 1796 Thomas Poole organised a subscription for Coleridge from a group of ‘sincere Friends and ardent admirers’, Coleridge wrote back to thank him for the money (‘God bless you, my dear, very dear Friend!’) but added a strange rider:
The Spirit, who counts the throbbings of the solitary heart, knows that what my feelings ought to be, such they are. If it were in my power to give you anything which I have not already given, I should be oppressed by the letter now before me ... and because I have nothing to bestow, I know how much I have bestowed. Perhaps I shall not make myself intelligible; but the strong and unmixed affection which I bear to you seems to exclude all emotions of gratitude, and renders even the principle of esteem latent and inert. [CL 1:158]Gurion Taussig comments: ‘Coleridgean friendship somehow transcends emotions like gratitude’, and speculates that he sought to ‘evade the emasculating sense of dependency that charity conveys, and so make it easier for him to accept the annuity—which he did’ [Taussig, Coleridge and the Idea of Friendship, 1789-1804 (University of Delaware Press 2002), 92]. Well maybe so: but reducing this to the practical strategies by which Coleridge squared his amour-propre with his need for money perhaps overlooks how much of a dilemma the whole issue of friendship was to him in the larger sense.
Ought we to be grateful to our friends? Grateful to have friends as such, maybe; but grateful to any one or other specific individual that they have condescended to be our friend? Doesn't that seem a little desperate? A touch crawly? Coleridge is quick in to insist, in his ‘Verecundia’ poem, that he is no toady. He respects Wordsworth's superior qualities as a poet and a man, but won't writhe on his belly with sheer gratitude merely to call Wordsworth friend. Friendship surely should be above such considerations.
In his account of Christopher Ricks's late monograph True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht and Robert Lowell under the Sign of Eliot and Pound (Yale 2010), Adam Phillips looks back to an earlier, more famous Ricks book to try and unpack what the ‘true friendship’ of the book's title might owe to gratitude.
In his first book, Milton’s Grand Style, Christopher Ricks showed us that Milton wanted his readers to be attentive to the fact that when our ‘first parents’ fell, their language fell with them. Paradise Lost could only have been written in the language we were left with after the catastrophe, but is partly about the language we started with, and what happened to it. Our words have a prior innocence; Adam and Eve meant what they said, and after the Fall they didn’t. The first language was innocent because there was nothing to be duplicitous about; there was no interpretation because there was nothing to interpret... Ricks says:This tension between the prelapsarian and postlapsarian possibilities of friendship are perfectly germane to Coleridge's habits of thought. What we owe to our friends, and what we owe to God, might, in Swinburne's ‘Love, the Beloved Republic’ be the same thing; but they very rarely correspond in the actual world, and that fact causes Coleridge real grief. E M Forster quotes Swinburne's phrase in that same passage that also contains his famous assertion that ‘if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country’. But Coleridge could never commit so earnestly—so Romantically, we might say—to this Forsterian amicable imperative.
Take grateful, for instance. Sometimes it has the sense of ‘thankful’, sometimes of ‘pleasing’ (both are common 17th-century meanings). Perhaps Milton’s fondness for the word is a reflection of the fact that in a prelapsarian state there would be no distinction of this kind. Adam and Eve were thankful for what pleased them, and being thankful is itself a pleasure.Ricks, too, is fond of the word ‘grateful’—he uses it 23 times in this new book—and fond too of being thankful for what pleases him. This is not obviously a riveting quality in a critic, especially in a critic determinedly un-shy of using old-fashioned Paterian words like ‘lovely’ and ‘delicate’ and ‘beautiful’ (and ‘appreciation’), in a discipline so keen to be up to date in its jargon and theoretical presumptions. But for Ricks innocence and experience—the difference between being thankful and being pleasing, and the difference between wanting to be these things and being them—have always been the issue. [Phillips, ‘Misgivings’, LRB 32:14 (July 2010), 19]
In the fourteenth issue of the original Friend (23 November 1809) Coleridge reprints a letter from his travels in Germany. He relates how he encountered a wealthy Danish man on the boat over to the Continent, and how they struck up a friendship. This, though, was a friendship Coleridge declined to continue when he realised how aggressively atheistical his companion was. (This passage was not included in the 1818 Friend, but only because it had already been recycled for the Biographica Literaria):
He talked of Deity in a declamatory style, very much resembling the devotional rants of that rude blunderer, Mr. Thomas Paine, in his Age of Reason, and whispered in my ear, what damned hypocrism all Jesus Christ's business was ... Pericles answered one of his dearest friends, who had solicited him on a case of life and death, to take an equivocal oath for his preservation: Debeo amicis opitulari, sed usque ad Deos. Friendship herself must place her last and boldest step on this side the altar. What Pericles would not do to save a friend's life, you may be assured, I would not hazard merely to mill the chocolate-pot of a drunken fool's vanity till it frothed over. Assuming a serious look, I professed myself a believer, and sunk at once an hundred fathoms in his good graces. He retired to his cabin, and I wrapped myself up in my great coat, and looked at the water.The Latin means, in Coleridge's own footnoted translation, ‘It behoves me to side with my friends, but only as far as the gods’. A closer translation might be ‘I owe it to my friends to help them as far as possible, but not so far as the gods’ (it's from Aulus Gellius's Noctes Atticae: 1.3.20). In this anecdote there is, evidently, no real contest between the horizontal duty of friendship with a coxcomb and the vertical duty of respecting the leader, counsellor, amicus of God Himself. But what happens when a genuine friendship comes into conflict with one's duty to God?
In our postlapsarian world difficult choices become unavoidable, and friendship is determined by what we owe, by Plutarch's professed debitum. Coleridge loses his closest poet-friend and mentor, his amicus. Coleridge loses the woman he loves more than any in the world, his amica. But there must be, he feels, a better place in which these vertical structures of debitum and hierarchy are swept away, and a perfect love horizontalises all our common amicability. Maybe in the next world.