Morton D. Paley. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts

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Morton D. Paley. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. 276. 28 Ill. $99.00.

In 1802 Coleridge writes teasingly to his wife that in London he is "quite a man of fashion--so many titled acquaintances--& handsome Carriages stopping at my door--& fine Cards--and then I am such an exquisite Judge of Music, & Painting--& pass criticisms on furniture & chandeliers--& pay such very handsome Compliments to all Women of Fashion / that I do verily believe, that if ! were to stay 3 months in town & have tolerable health & spirits, I should be a Thing in Vogue" (CL 2:789). He is 29, living in bachelor's quarters in Covent Garden, writing for The Morning Post, and getting around to dinners, clubs, operas, galleries, and concert halls. His presentation of himself as a celebrity judge of music and painting may be tongue-in-cheek in 1802, but two years later, when Morton Paley takes up his account, this fancy has become a reality: Coleridge indeed invents himself as "the very tonish Poet & Jemmy Jessamy fine Talker in Town." Paley's fascinating account of how Coleridge, already famous as a poet and political analyst, expands his expertise into pictorial and sculptural art, through the guidance of Sir George Beaumont and then through his travels and associations in Italy, brings a new dimension to Coleridge's professional life.

Paley discovers new evidence of Coleridge's European renown in diaries of visitors to Rome around the time of Coleridge's six-month stay. Arriving on December 30, 1805, after seventeen months of lucrative service in Malta as Under-Secretary to Sir Alexander Ball and subsequent excursions through Sicily and Naples, Coleridge launched into a whirl of visits to galleries and collections. Paley's useful map of the Spanish Steps area from 1806 (56) marks the locations of the international painters and sculptors who rented studios within easy walking distance of each other. One who "formed an intimate friendship with Coleridge" was the young artist, Michele Migliarini (1779-1865), later an "authority on Egyptian and Etruscan antiquities." His notes about Coleridge and their "many evenings together in delightful conversation" (quoting from Samuel Carter Hall) were burned by Napoleon's troops, along with "all he possessed," in the conflagration in Moscow in 1811 (52-53). Robert Gosman reports that Coleridge [was] "[r]emarkable for his hatred of French & France. Drank brandy & water" (56). Washington Allston, whose work and reputation are the subjects of two chapters, became Coleridge's close friend at this time and called Coleridge a "Plato in the groves of the Academy" (32); their reciprocal tenderness and support continued in London, Bristol, and Clifton in later years. Along with viewing the sculptures and paintings of Thorvaldsen, Canova, and Kauffmann (28), Coleridge had access to the splendid collection of Lucien Bonaparte, whom Coleridge probably met through the von Humboldts and who may have warned Coleridge about his own brother Napoleon's plans to intern him (58-59). Paley is able to enumerate the paintings in that collection as it was in 1806, as likewise he finds the exact paintings in the guidebook to the Uffizi that Coleridge would have marveled at in his two week visit to Florence, though his notes were lost in this perilous war time, or perhaps jettisoned at sea on his rough crossing home (64).

Grand English gentlemen such as the Marquis of Exeter at Burghley House (1810), Paul Cobb Methuen at Corsham House (1816), and the Marquis of Lansdowne at Bowood (1814) also welcomed the once firebrand Coleridge into their private collections when they heard that the poet was in their neighborhoods; in some cases they urged him to stay for days at a time to enjoy the paintings and gardens at his leisure (77-83). At Bowood Coleridge was "'bagged,' brought into the library, and persuaded to stay for a couple of nights. …