My childhood was a vision heavenly wrought;
Vast joys, of which I sometimes dream, yet fail
To recollect sufficient to bewail
And now for ever seek . . .
So wrote Coventry Patmore in his first sonnet. Gone for ever were the carefree days of his childhood. His six months' visit to France had shown him this all too clearly. On his return to London in 1840, he was still undecided what to do. He had an impulse to write poetry and composed the first drafts of two poems, The River and The Woodman's Daughter. The delighted father had the two pieces set up in type, but his son's inspiration was not lasting and their publication was postponed.
The young poet then turned scientist. A disused kitchen in his father's London house was-fitted up as a laboratory, and Coventry worked there incessantly at innumerable experiments. It is claimed that he showed considerable scientific ability, but this phase soon passed. However, his interest in science persisted throughout his whole life, and Frederick Page tells us that 'in later life he asserted that the chief use of Science was to supply similes to the poet, and his own poetry is illustrated from the physical sciences in an abundance with which among the English Poets only Francis Thompson in his verse, and Coleridge in his prose, ever compete'.
Meanwhile he was still studying poetry, and Shakespeare in particular, and among his earliest prose writings were two essays, one on Macbeth and the other on The Two Gentlemen of Verona. The essay on Macbeth later appeared in the first issue of the Pre-Raphaelite paper The Germ, and was an attempt to prove 'that Macbeth had discussed with his wife the idea of usurping the monarchy before his interview with the witches'.
Like so many young men, Coventry was not sure what he