Coleridge’s dreamy eyes
One of Mary Shelley’s most vivid memories from childhood is hearing Coleridge recite “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” She and Fanny were hiding behind the couch — it was past their bedtime. Not that Coleridge would have minded if they were there. He loved Godwin’s little girls, though he worried that they were too quiet and did his best to draw them out. He had huge dark eyes that were often hazy — with dreams, say his admirers; with laudanum, say his detractors. All of this has sent me on a Coleridge excavation project. I loved him in college. Now I love him more. His biographers say he was prone to depression and procrastination. Ah, my hero. Here is Coleridge on the miseries of writing — writing for money, in particular.
It is my duty and business to thank God for all his dispensations, and to believe them the best possible; but indeed I think I should have been more grateful if He had made me a journeyman shoemaker, instead of an author by trade. I have left my friends; I have left plenty. I have left that ease which would have secured a literary immortality, and have enabled me to give to the public works conceived in moments of inspiration, and polished with leisurely solicitude; and alas! . . . . So I am forced to write for bread—write the flights of poetic enthusiasm, when every minute I am hearing a groan from my wife! Groans, and complaints, and sickness! The present hour I am in a quick-set hedge of embarrassment, and, whichever way I turn, a thorn runs into me! The future is cloud and thick darkness. Poverty, perhaps, and the thin faces of them that want bread looking up to me! Nor is this all. My happiest moments for composition are broken in upon by the reflection that I must make haste, “I am too late.” “ I am already months behind.” I have received my pay beforehand.”—O wayward and desultory spirit of Genius, ill can’st thou brook a taskmaster!