London: Pickering, 1828]
A PROSE composition, one not in metre at least, seems prima
facie to require explanation or apology. It was written in
the year 1798, near Nether Stowey in Somersetshire, at which place
(sanctum et amabile nomen! rich by so many associations
and recollections) the Author had taken up his residence in order
to enjoy the society and close neighbourhood of a dear and honoured
friend, T. Poole, Esq.
The work was to have been written in concert with another,
whose name is too venerable within the precincts of genius to
be unnecessarily brought into connection with such a trifle, and
who was then residing at a small distance from Nether Stowey.
The title and subject were suggested by myself, who likewise drew
out the scheme and the contents for each of the three books or
cantos, of which the work was to consist, and which, the reader
is to be informed, was to have been finished in one night! My
partner undertook the first canto; I the second: and which ever
had done first, was to set about the third. Almost thirty
years have passed by; yet at this moment I cannot without something
more than a smile moot the question which of the two things was
the more impracticable, for a mind so eminently original to compose
another man's thoughts and fancies, or for a taste so austerely
pure and simple to imitate the Death of Abel?
Methinks I see his grand and noble countenance as at the moment
when having dispatched my own portion of the task at full finger-speed,
I hastened to him with my manuscript--that look of humourous despondency
fixed on his almost blank sheet of paper, and then its silent
mock-piteous admission of failure struggling with the sense of
the exceeding ridiculousness of the whole scheme—which broke up
in a laugh: and the Ancient Mariner was written instead.
Years afterward, however, the draft of the Plan and proposed
Incidents, and the portion executed, obtained favor in the eyes
of more than one person, whose judgment on a poetic work could
not but have weighed with me, even though no parental partiality
had been thrown into the same scale, as a make-weight: and I determined
on commencing anew, and composing the whole in stanzas, and made
some progress in realizing this intention, when adverse gales
drove my bark off the "Fortunate Isles" of the Muses; and then
other and more momentous interests prompted a different voyage,
to firmer anchorage and a securer port. I have in vain tried to
recover the lines from the Palimpsest tablet of my memory: and
I can only offer the introductory stanza, which had been committed
to writing for the purpose of procuring a friend's
judgment on the metre, as a specimen.
Encinctured with a twine of leaves,
That leafy twine his
A lovely Boy was plucking fruits,
in a wilderness.
The morn was bright, the air was free,
fruits and flowers together grew
On many a shrub and many a
And all put on a gentle hue,
Hanging in the shadowy
Like a picture rich and rare.
It was a climate where,
The night is more belov'd than day.
But who that
beauteous Boy beguil'd,
That beauteous Boy to linger
Alone, by night, a little child,
In place so silent
and so wild—
Has he no friend, no loving Mother
I have here given the birth, parentage, and premature decease
of the "Wanderings of Cain, a poem," — intreating, however, my
Readers not to think so meanly of my judgment as to suppose that
I either regard or offer it as any excuse for the publication
of the following fragment, (and I may add, of one or two others
in its neighbourhood) in its primitive crudity. But I should find
still greater difficulty in forgiving myself, were I to record
pro taedio publico a set of petty mishaps and annoyances
which I myself wish to forget. I must be content therefore with
assuring the friendly Reader, that the less he attributes its
appearance to the Author's will, choice, or judgment, the nearer
to the truth he will be.
S. T. Coleridge.