Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Biographical Study

By E. K. Chambers | Go to book overview

VI
GERMANY September 1798-July 1799

THE idea of a German tour had floated into Coleridge's mind during the spring of 1796, but was then impracticable. At the end of 1797 he was studying the language, and translating the Oberon of C. M. Wieland.1 The Wedgwood annuity put him in funds, and in March 1798, when the Wordsworths had learnt that they must leave Alfoxden, a definite scheme shaped itself. Both families would go for a period of two years, and settle near some university town. By August it was modified. Coleridge still thought it 'of high importance to my intellectual utility; and of course to my moral happiness'. But it would be better and cheaper to leave his wife and children at home in the first instance, and to return for them, if all went well, after three or four months. He believed that Mrs. Coleridge's wishes tended the same way.2 So it was settled, and on 16 September Coleridge, with his young Stowey friend John Chester and the Wordsworths, embarked at Yarmouth. Three days later they reached Hamburg. Coleridge observed everything with the keenest interest, but it was 'an ugly city that stinks in every corner', and their inn, 'Der Wildemann', was uncomfortable. An introduction was obtained to the old German poet F. G. Klopstock, best known by his Messiah, and with him Wordsworth was able to converse, not in German but in French, while Coleridge, who was not, for once remained silent. Klopstock spoke much of his own poetry, and of Lessing, Goethe, Schiller, and others; also of the 'incomprehensible' Kant, whose influence he believed and hoped was on the wane. He was described to Coleridge as 'the German Milton', but when Coleridge read the Messiah he thought him 'a very German Milton indeed'.3

After a few days at Hamburg, Coleridge went to Ratze-

____________________
1
Cf. p. 59; Annus Mirabilis, 86.
2
G.60; Rem.176; W.75, 77, 81.
3
C.87; B.L. ii.132-65, 168-80; Rem.254; W.85-7; D. W. ( J.), i.21.

-104-

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