Thoughts in Prison / Imprisoned Thoughts

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Thoughts in Prison, Edited by Charles J. Rzepka
TEI

Thoughts in Prison/Imprisoned Thoughts:
William Dodd's Forgotten Poem and
the Incarceration Trope
of Coleridge's
"This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison"

1.         Thoughts in Prison, in Five Parts was written by the Reverend William Dodd in 1777, while he was awaiting execution for forgery in his Newgate prison cell. Blandly Miltonic in style, the poem is unique not only among prison writings, but also in the history of English literature: none of the many reflections, stories, essays, ballads, and broadside "Confessions" originating—or purporting to have originated—in a jail cell over the last few hundred years can begin to match it in length (over three thousand lines of blank verse), in the irony of its author's notoriety (Dodd had been a chaplain to the king), or in the completeness of its erasure from history after a meteoric career in print that began to wane only at the turn of the nineteenth century. It is a document deserving attention from anyone interested in the early movement for prison reform in England, the rise of "natural theology," the impact of Enlightenment thought on mainstream religion, and, of course, death-row confessions and crime literature in general.

2.        It should also interest anyone seeking to trace the submerged canoncial influences of what Franco Moretti calls "the great unread" (227)—the hundreds of novels, plays, and poems that have sunk to the bottom of time's sea over the last three hundred years and left behind not even a ripple on the surface of literary history. Despite their current invisibility, the turbulence of their passage (often vigorous while it lasted) may have affected the course of other vessels safely moored, at present, in one or another harbor of canonicity. In this essay I will first describe the circumstances and publication history of Dodd's poem, and then point out and try to explain its influence on one such canonical work, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison." Those interested only in the composition and publication history of Thoughts in Prison and formal evidence of its impact on Coleridge need not read beyond the next section.

Source for an Inception: The Prison Metaphor

3.        The wide range of literary sources contributing to the composition of "This Lime-Tree Bower " makes the poem something of an intertextual harlequin. Its topographical imagery is clearly indebted to the moralized landscapes of William Lisle Bowles and William Cowper, if not to an entire tradition of loco-descriptive poetry extending back to George Dyer's "Gronger's Hill." Christopher Miller cites precursors in Gray's "Elegy" and Milton's Lycidas (531) and finds in the "Spring" of Thomson's The Seasons a source for the rambling itinerary Coleridge envisions for his friends through dell and over hill-top (532). James Engells provides a detailed analysis of the poem's philosophical indebtedness to George Berkeley's Sirius, while Mario L. D'Avanzo finds a source for both lime-grove and the prison metaphor in The Tempest. Anne Mellor has observed the nice fit between the history of landscape aesthetics and Coleridge's sequencing of scenes: "the poem can be seen as a paradigm of the historical movement in England from an objective to a subjective aesthetics" (253), drawing on the landscape theories of Sir Joshua Reynolds, William Gilpin, and Uvedale Price. Ann Matheson (141-43) and John Gutteridge (161-62), both publishing in a single volume of essays, point to the impact of specific landscape passages in William Cowper's The Task.

4.        Devotional literature like Cowper's has yielded a rich crop of sources for Coleridge's poetry and prose in general, but only Michael Kirkham has thought to winnow this material for more precise literary analogues to the controlling metaphor announced in the very title of "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison" and introduced in its opening lines, as first published in 1800: "Well, they are gone, and here must I remain, / This lime-tree bower my prison!" [1]  In 1655 Henry Vaughan, Metaphysical heir to Donne and the kind of Christian Platonist that would have appealed to Coleridge, published part two of his Silex Scintillans, which contains an untitled poem beginning as follows:

THEY are all gone into the world of light!
And I alone sit ling'ring here;
Their very memory is fair and bright,
And my sad thoughts doth clear.
Kirkham has traced several parallels between "This Lime-Tree Bower" and Vaughan's poem, with its cheering reflections on the author's dead friends, who have preceded him into paradise—"the world of light." Given these points of correspondence, there seems little doubt that it served as one of Coleridge's sources. In form and style, however, Vaughan's poem and Coleridge's are "so far apart that not to notice the virtual identity of theme is excusable," writes Kirkham, adding that "the crucial difference [. . .] is that Vaughan's departed friends are dead" (130).  [2] 

5.        Another crucial difference, I would argue, is that Vaughan is neither in prison nor alluding to it. William Dodd, by contrast, is composing his poem in Newgate, a fact his readers are never allowed to forget. As his opening lines indicate, his friends are very much alive—it is the poet who is about to meet his Maker:

My Friends are gone! Harsh on its sullen hinge
Grates the dread door: the massy bolts respond
Tremendous to the surly Keeper’s touch.
The dire keys clang with movement dull and slow
While their behest the ponderous locks perform:
And, fastened firm, the object of their care
Is left to Solitude,—to Sorrow left! (1.1-6) [3] 
Not just in these opening lines (rather more grandiloquent and verbose than Coleridge's, admittedly), but also in form (blank verse), setting (a prison), scenery (imagined or visionary landscapes) and style (a mixture of declamation, apostrophe, and meditation), Dodd's poem is a much closer match to Coleridge's than is Vaughan's. [4] 



6.        Dodd had been a prominent and well-to-do London minister, a chaplain to the king and tutor to the young Lord Chesterfield. His expensive tastes, however, had driven him so deeply into debt that when a particularly lucrative pulpit came into the disposal of the crown in 1774, he attempted to bribe a member of court to secure it. The ensuing scandal filled the columns of the London press, and Dodd fled to Geneva for a time to escape the glare of publicity. After his return to England his situation became more desperate as his extravagance grew. Facing bankruptcy, on 4 February 1777 Dodd forged a bond from Chesterfield for £ 4,200 and was arrested soon afterwards. He was tried and found guilty on 19 February. Despite an eloquent and remorseful plea for clemency, he was sentenced to death by hanging, the standard punishment at that time for his offense.

7.        The bribery scandal of two years before had apparently not diminished Dodd's popularity with a large segment of the London populace. According to one account, the newspapers were overwhelmed with letters on his behalf. Citizens "of all ranks," including "members of several charities which had been benefitted by him," as well as the lord mayor and common council of the city, gathered upwards of thirty thousand signatures for a petition to the king that filled twenty-three sheeets of parchment (Knapp and Baldwin, 58). Samuel Johnson even wrote to request clemency. (His letter is included in most printed editions of Thoughts in Prison.) All to no avail. Dodd was hanged on 27 June 1777.

8.         Thoughts in Prison went through at least eleven printings in the two decades following its author's execution (the first appearing within days of the event). One edition appeared in 1797, the year Coleridge composed "This Lime-Tree Bower." From 1801 to 1868 Dodd's book was reprinted another seventeen times, appearing in America as well as Great Britain, and in French, Russian, and Dutch translations. Assuming that some editions would not have survived, this list, which I compiled from WorldCat, is probably incomplete. The five parts of the poem—"Imprisonment," "The Retrospect," "Public Punishment," "The Trial," and "Futurity"—are dated to correspond to the span of Dodd's imprisonment that extended from 23 February to 21 April, the period immediately following his trial, as he awaited the outcome of his appeals for clemency. Comprising prayer, recollection, plea, dream, and meditation, the poem runs to some 23,000 words and 3,200 lines, much of it showing considerable skill in light of the author's desperate circumstances. In addition to apostrophizing his absent friends (repeatedly and often at length), Dodd exhorts his fellow prisoners and former congregants to repent and be saved, urges prison reform, expresses remorse for his crime, and envisions, with wavering hopes, a heavenly afterlife. He is anxious, he says, to make his end "[i]nstructive" to his friends, his "fellow-pilgrims thro' this world of woe" (1.43-44). Often, Dodd will resort to moralized landscapes and images of nature to make his salvific point, with God assuming, as in "This Lime-Tree Bower" and elsewhere in Coleridge's work, a solar form, e.g., "The Sun of Righteousness" (5.255). [5] 

9.        Most prison confessions like Dodd's did not survive their first appearance in the gallows broadsides and ballads hawked among the crowds of onlookers attending the public executions of their purported authors. Ephemeral by its very nature, most of this material has been lost to us. Some of the rare exceptions managed to survive by their inclusion in the particularly scandalous cases appearing in various editions of TheNewgate Calendar. Collected, augmented, pirated, and reissued throughout the 1700s and well into the next century by various publishers and under several titles (including The Tyburn Calendar and The Malefactors' Register), The Newgate Calendar became an important repository for "true crime" accounts of legendary scapegraces, and a source of material and inspiration for the new genre of crime novel inaugurated by William Godwin's Caleb Williams in 1794 and later popularized, during the 1820s and 1830s, by the "Newgate Novels" of Edward Bullwer-Lytton, William Harrison Ainsworth, and Charles Dickens. Popular interest in the aesthetics of criminal violence, facetiously piqued by Thomas De Quincey in his 1829 Blackwood's essay, "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts," can plausibly be credited with helping to keep Dodd's poem in print throughout the early nineteenth century. His prominent appearance in the Calendar itself, along with excerpts from his poem, may also have played a part.

10.        There is a great deal in Thoughts in Prison that would have attracted Coleridge’s attention. Dodd inveighs against the morally corrosive effects of imprisonment (2.276-335), much like Coleridge in "The Dungeon," praising the prison reformer Jonas Hanway (3.417-42) and—surprisingly for a clergyman—Voltaire (3.191). Moreover, Dodd's vision of the afterlife in "Futurity" encompasses expanding prospects of the physical universe viewed in the company of Plato and Newton (5.409-415), interspersed with commentary drawn from natural theology. The writing throughout these lines is replete with solar images of divinity and a strained sublimity clearly anticipating the elevated, trancelike affirmations of faith, fellowship, and oneness with the Deity found in Coleridge's more prophetic effusions, like "Religious Musings" and "The Destiny of Nations," both of which pre-date "This Lime-Tree Bower." For instance, in the afterlife, writes Dodd,

Our moral powers,
By perfect pure benevolence enlarg'd,
With universal Sympathy, shall glow
Love's flame ethereal! And from God himself,
Love's primal Source, and ever-blessing Sun,
Receive, and round communicate the warmth
Of Gladness and of Glory!
(5.396-402)

11.         In verses that, stylistically as well as thematically, look forward to Coleridge's reflections on an "Almighty Spirit" who "makes/ Spirits perceive his presence" in nature's splendors ("This Lime-Tree Bower," 43-44) and "from eternity doth teach/ Himself in all, and all things in himself" by uttering "[t]he lovely shapes and sounds intelligible" of nature's "eternal language" ("Frost at Midnight," 59-62), Dodd observes how amid Spring's emblems of resurrection, "All things 'round/ Arise in brightest proof" of "[a] pardoning Deity and future world" (5.221). "I see it, feel it,/ Thro' all my faculties, thro' all my powers,/ Pervading irresistible" (5.214-216), he writes, anticipating the negative cadences of Coleridge’s “Dejection” ode, “I see, not feel, how beautiful they are” (38):

So Reason urges; while fair Nature's self,
At this sweet Season, joyfully throws in
Her attestation lovely; bids the Sun,
All-bounteous, pour his vivifying light,
To rouse and waken from their wint'ry death
The Vegetable Tribe! Fresh from their Graves,
At his resistless summons, start they forth,
A verdant Resurrection! In each Plant,
Each Flower, each Tree to blooming life restor'd,
I trace the pledge, the earnest, and the type
Of Man's Revival, of his future Rise
And Victory o'er the Grave.
[. . .] Yes, bright source
Of spiritual Life!—the immaterial World
Pervading, quickening, gladdening,—in the Rays
Full-orb'd of Revelation, thy prime gift,
I view display'd magnificent, and full,
What Reason, Nature, in dim darkness teach,
Tho' visible, not distinct: I read with joy
Man's high Prerogative.
(5.240-63)

12.        Do we have any external evidence that Coleridge had heard of Dodd, let alone read his poem? We do, but it appears late. On 20 August 1805, in Malta, he laments that "the Theses of the Universities of Oxford & Cambridge are so generally drawn from events of the Day/Stimuli of passing Interests / Dr Dodds, Jane Gibbses, Hatfields, Bonapartes, Pitts, &c &c &c &c" (Coburn, 2.2651 [Text]). Kathleen Coburn, in her note to this entry, indicates that Coleridge would probably have heard of Dodd as a "cause celebre" while still "a small boy" (2.2651 [Notes]). His father, after all, had the living of St. Mary's in Ottery and, though distant from London, would undoubtedly have kept abreast of such things. Coleridge arrived at Christ's Hospital in 1782, five years after Dodd's execution, but the close proximity of the school to the Old Bailey and Newgate Prison, whose public hangings regularly drew thousands of heckling, cheering, drinking, ballad-mongering, and pocket-picking citizens into the streets around the school, would probably have helped to keep Dodd's memory fresh among the poet's older schoolmates. [6]  As the unremitting public demand for Thoughts in Prison over the ensuing twenty years indicates, it is not unlikely that, given his high clerical status and public prominence, Dodd would also have served Coleridge's schoolmasters as an object lesson for sermons, both formal and informal, on the temptations of Mammon.

13.        Dodd seems to have been astonished by the impetuosity of his crime. In his plea for clemency (the transcript of which was included in Thoughts in Prison, along with several shorter poems, a sermon delivered to his fellow inmates, and his last words before hanging), he repeatedly insists on the innocence of his intentions: he did not mean to hurt anyone and, as it turns out (because of his arrest), no one was hurt! Coleridge may have detected—perhaps with alarm—some resemblance between Dodd's impulsiveness and his own habitual "aberrations from prudence," to use the words attributed to him by his close friend, Thomas Poole (Perry, S. T. Coleridge, 32). As late as 1793, under the name "Silas Comberbache," he had foolishly enlisted in His Majesty's dragoons to disencumber himself of debt and had to be rescued from public disgrace through the good offices of his older brother, George. Two years later he married Sarah Fricker, a woman he did not love, on a rash promise made for the sake of preserving the Pantisocracy scheme he had conceived with his brother-in-law, Robert Southey.

14.        But Coleridge resembled Dodd in more than temperament, as a glance at a typical Newgate Calendar's account of Dodd's life makes clear. Both had distinguished themselves as Cambridge undergraduates, both had trained for the ministry, both had dropped out of college to pursue a writing career (Dodd's volume of selections from the Bard, The Beauties of Shakespeare, went through several printings in his lifetime), and both had found it impossible to support a family while doing so. [7]  Coleridge, like Dodd, had also tried tutoring to help make ends meet. Faced with mounting bills, Dodd took holy orders in 1751, starting out as curate and assistant to the Reverend Mr. Wyatt of West Ham. Eventually returning to his studies, he earned his Doctor of Laws degree at Cambridge in 1766 and began the prominent ministerial career in London that would eventuate in his arrest, trial, and execution for forgery.

15.        In the fourteen months leading up to the week of 7-14 July 1797, when Coleridge wrote his first draft of "This Lime-Tree Bower," the poet experienced a financial crisis similar to the one facing Dodd in 1751, a crisis that had led him to confess his fears of "the Debtors' side of Newgate" to Poole seven months before, in December 1796. His first venture into periodical publication, The Watchman, had collapsed in May of that year for the simple reason, as Coleridge told his readers, that it did "not pay its expenses" (Griggs 1.211n1). A plan to tutor the children of a wealthy widow for £150 per annum fell through in August, a month before Coleridge's first child, David Hartley, was born. The £80 per annum that Coleridge began to receive not long afterward from the wealthy banker Charles Lloyd, Sr., in return for tutoring his son, Charles, Jr., as a resident pupil, was apparently reduced in November when Coleridge found that the younger Lloyd's mental disabilities made him uneducable. After a period during which Lloyd, Sr., continued to pay for his son's room and board, the stipend was finally discontinued altogether upon the young man's departure for the Litchfield asylum in March 1797.

16.        Coleridge was now devoting much of his time to the literary equivalent of brick-laying: reviewing Gothic novels in which, he writes William Lisle Bowles, "dungeons, and old castles, & solitary Houses by the Sea Side, & Caverns, & Woods, & extraordinary characters, & all the tribe of Horror & Mystery have crowded on me—even to surfeiting" (Griggs 1.318). He had begun his play Osorio in early February 1797, after receiving a hint, conveyed through Bowles, that the well-known playwright and manager of Drury Lane, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, wished him to write a tragedy—a signal opportunity to achieve immediate wealth and fame, if the play was successful. At the end of August 1797, a month after composing "This Lime-Tree Bower," Coleridge wrote Poole that he had finished the fifth act of the play. However, Sheridan rejected Osorio in December and within a week Coleridge accepted Daniel Stuart's offer to write for the Morning Post as "a hired paragraph-scribbler" (Griggs 1.365). This would not, however, earn him enough for his family to live on. For three months, as he told John Prior Estlin just before New Year's Day, 1798, he had been feeling "the necessity of gaining a regular income by a regular occupation" (Griggs 1.361), and despite serious personal and theological misgivings, he had decided to explore the offer of a Unitarian pulpit in Shrewsbury. The next month, he was saved for literary posterity by an annuity of £150 from the admiring and wealthy Wedgewood brothers, the kind of windfall that might have saved William Dodd for a similar career had it arrived at a similarly opportune moment.

17.        One significant difference between Dodd's situation and Coleridge's, of course, is that Dodd resorted to criminal forgery to pay his debts and Coleridge did not. While the poet's notorious plagiarisms offer an intriguing analogue to the clergyman's forging of checks, these proclivities had yet to announce themselves in Coleridge's work. Instead, as I hope to show in larger context, the two cases are linked by the temptation to exploit a tutor/pupil relationship for financial gain: Dodd's forged bond on young Chesterfield finds its analogue in Coleridge's shrewd appraisal of the Lloyd family's deep pockets. Charles Lloyd, Jr., who was just starting out as a poet, had joined the household at Nether Stowey and become a pupil to Coleridge because he considered the older man a mentor as well as a friend, something of an elder brother-poet. In that capacity, Coleridge had arranged to include some of Lloyd's verses in his forthcoming Poems of 1797. However, in the same month that Lloyd departed for Litchfield —March of 1797—Coleridge had to assure Joseph Cottle, his publisher, that making room for Lloyd's poetry in the volume would enhance its "saleability," since Lloyd's rich "connections will take off a great many more than a hundred [copies], I doubt not" (Griggs 1.313).

18.        This statement casts a less than flattering light upon Coleridge's relationship with Lloyd, going back to his enthusiastic avowals of temperamental and intellectual affinity as early as September and October of 1796 (Griggs 1.236-37; 240). It implies that the inclusion of his pupil's poetry in the tutor's forthcoming volume was motivated as much by greed as by admiration, and helps explain Coleridge's extraordinary insistence that his young wife, infant son, and nursemaid share their cramped living quarters at Nether Stowey with this unmanageably delirious young man several months after his tutoring was, supposedly, at an end. [8]  Coleridge, it seems, was putting up with Lloyd's deteriorating behavior while waiting for more lucrative opportunities to emerge with the young man's "connections." As Adam Sisman observes, "Their relationship was a fiction: both chose to ignore that it had been essentially a commercial arrangement" (206). [9]  By the following November, four months after composing "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison" and five after coming under the powerful spell of William Wordsworth (the two had met twice before, but did not begin to cement their relationship until June 1797), Coleridge harshly severed his connection with Lloyd, as well as with Charles Lamb, addressee of "This Lime-Tree Bower," in his anonymous parodies of their verse, the "Nehemiah Higginbottom" sonnets. In a letter to Joseph Cottle of 20 November he explained that he was taking aim at the "affectation of unaffectedness," "common-place epithets," and "puny pathos" of their false simplicity of style.

19.        Wordsworth's impact on Coleridge during their first extended encounters, beginning at Racedown for a period of three weeks or more ending 28 June and again at Nether Stowey from 2 to 16 July, can hardly be overestimated, and seems to have played a significant role in his eventual break with his younger brother poets. "I speak with heartfelt sincerity," he wrote Cottle on 8 June, "& (I think) unblinded judgement, when I tell you, that I feel myself a little man by his side," adding, "T. Poole's opinion of Wordsworth is—that he is the greatest Man, he ever knew—I coincide" (Griggs 1. 325). To Southey he wrote, on 17 July, "Wordsworth is a very great man—the only man, to whom at all times & in all modes of excellence I feel myself inferior" (Griggs 1. 334). Sisman does not overstate when he writes, "No praise was too extravagant" (179) for Coleridge to bestow on his new friend, who on 8 July, while still Coleridge's guest at Nether Stowey, arranged to leave his quarters at Racedown and settle with his sister at nearby Alfoxden. William and Dorothy moved into their new home nine days later. Coleridge's ambitions, his understanding of English poetry and its future development, had been transformed, utterly, and he was desperate to have its new prophet—"the Giant Wordsworth—God love him" (Griggs 1.391)—close at hand. Can it be any cause for wonder that, in comparison with what he clearly took to be Wordsworth's Brobdignagian genius, the verses of Southey, Lloyd, and Lamb—like his own to date—would now appear Lilliputian, perhaps embarrassingly so?

20.        Coleridge's early and continuing obsession with fraternal models of poetic friendship has long been recognized by his biographers, and constitutes a major part of psychobiographical studies like Norman Fruman's Coleridge: The Damaged Archangel (see especially 22-25) and essays like Donald Reiman's "Coleridge and the Art of Equivocation" (see especially 326-29). Coleridge's "urgent quest for a brother" is also the nearly exclusive focus of psychiatrist Stephen Weissman's His Brother's Keeper (65). As Weissman points out (see, e.g., 9, 23, 187), the presence of sisters was particularly important in advancing this quest, and the pairing of William and Dorothy Wordsworth as they entered Coleridge's life in mid-1797 conformed to the brother/sister pairings that had determined Coleridge's poetic and personal affiliations since childhood: his wooing, while still at Christ's Hospital, of Mary Evans in the company of his best friend, Bob Allen, who was wooing Mary's sister, Anne; his marrying Sarah Fricker, the sister of Southey's wife, Edith; the ghostly mirroring of Lamb's older sister, Mary, in Coleridge's older, deceased sister, Anne (his mother's namesake and temperamental opposite) in his growing attachment to both Charles and Mary Lamb over the course of 1795 as pressure mounted from Southey to make good on the rash promise to marry Sarah. Coleridge's personal and poetic "fraternizations" were typically catalyzed by the proximity of sisters, leading eventually to his disastrous and illicit infatuation with Sara Hutchinson, sister to William Wordsworth's wife, Mary, beginning in 1800. The one person who never did quite fit this pattern was Charles Lloyd, whose sister, Sophia, lived well beyond the orbit of Coleridge's magnetic personality. But as I have suggested, there were other reasons for Coleridge's attraction to Lloyd, perhaps less respectable than the more transparently quadrangulated sibling transferences governing his fraternal bonds with Southey and Lamb. William Dodd’s relationship with his tutee offers at the very least a suggestive parallel, and his relationship to his friends and colleagues another.

21.        Like “This Lime-Tree Bower,” Thoughts in Prison not only begins but ends with an address to Dodd’s absent friends, including his brother clergymen and his family: “Then farewell, oh my Friends, most valued! bound / By Consanguinity's endearing tye, / Or Friendship's noble service, manly love,/And generous obligations!” (5.997-1000). Moreover, these absent and betrayed friends, including his wife, Mary, and his tutee, Philip Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, are repeatedly apostrophized. Here, for instance, Dodd recalls the delight he took in the companionship of friends and family on Sabbath evenings as a parish minister. “Ernst” is Dodd’s son.

Ah, my lov'd Household! ah, my little round
Of social Friends! well do ye bear in mind
Those pleasing evenings, when, on my return,
Much-wish'd return—Serenity the mild,
And Cheerfulness the innocent, with me
Enter'd the happy dwelling! Thou, my Ernst,
Ingenuous Youth! whose early spring bespoke
Thy summer, as it is, with richest crops
Luxuriant waving; gentle Youth, canst Thou
Those welcome hours forget? or Thou—oh Thou!
—How shall I utter from my beating heart
Thy name, so musical, so heavenly sweet
Once to these ears distracted!—Stanhope, say,
Canst thou forget those hours, when, cloth'd in smiles
Of fond respect, Thou and thy Friend have strove
Whose little hands should readiest supply
My willing wants; officious in your zeal
To make the Sabbath evenings, like the day,
A scene of sweet composure to my Soul!
(2.194-212)
Elsewhere, benedictions are invoked on Mary Dodd not only as spouse, but as friend and pupil as well:
Low on earth,
And mingled with my native dust, I cry;
With all the Husband's anxious fondness cry;
With all the Friend's solicitude and truth;
With all the Teacher's fervour;—"God of Love,
"Vouchsafe thy choicest comforts on her head!
"Be thine my fate's decision: To thy Will
"With Angel-resignation, lo! we bend!"
(1.377-384)

22.        That Thoughts in Prison played a part in shaping Coleridge’s solitary reflections in Thomas Poole’s lime-tree bower on that July day in 1797 when he first composed “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” is, I believe, undeniable. However, in order to understand more clearly the motivations behind the poet’s attack on his younger brother poets in response to his redirection of poetic loyalties to Wordsworth, as well as the role of "This Lime-Tree Bower" and related poems like Thoughts in Prison in helping him to negotiate this uneasy shift of allegiance, we need to step back from Dodd's morose reflections for a moment to examine the composition history of "This Lime-Tree Bower" itself.

Fantastic Sites: The Topography of Family Violence

23.         Readers have detected something sinister about "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison": its very title implies criminality. As Rachel Crawford points out, the "aesthetic unity" of the sendentary poet's imaginative re-creation of the route pursued by his friends—William and Dorothy Wordsworth, Charles Lamb, and (in the two surviving MS versions) Coleridge's wife, Sarah [10] —across the Quantock Hills in the second week of July 1797 rests upon two violent events "marked only obliquely in the poem" (188). The first is the speaker's being "[l]am'd by the scathe of fire," as Coleridge puts it in the second line of the earliest known version he sent to Robert Southey on 17 July: Sarah had spilled hot milk on his foot, rendering him incapable of accompanying his friends. [11]  This was the efficient cause of his "imprisonment" in the bower and, ultimately, of the poem's original composition there and then. The second submerged act of violence, a "strange calamity" (32) presumably oppressing the mind and soul of the "gentle-hearted" (28) Charles Lamb, is the murder of Charles's mother Elizabeth Lamb by his sister Mary on 22 September 1796. At the inquest the following day, Mary was adjudged insane and, to prevent her being remanded to the horrors of Bedlam, Charles agreed to assume legal guardianship and pay for her confinement in a private asylum in Islington. She was living alone, presumably under close supervision, in a boarding house in Hackney at the time Lamb visited Coleridge in Nether Stowey, ten months later. [12] 

24.         Taken together, writes Crawford, these two half-hidden events "suggest that a violent history of the human subject" may lie at the heart of the poem (190), and she identifies this violent history with the poem's abjection of the feminine and the "domestic" (199). While not quarreling with this reading—indeed, while keeping one eye steadily focused on Mary Lamb's matricidal outburst—I would like to broaden our attention to include more of Coleridge's early life and his fraternal relations with poets like Southey, Lamb, and Lloyd. "This Lime-Tree Bower" commemorates a pivotal day in the poet's maturation as an artist: the beginning of the end of his affiliation with Charles Lamb and the false simplicity of a poetic style uniting Coleridge with Lamb and Charles Lloyd as brother poets, and the end of the beginning of a more intense, more durable, and far more life-altering affiliation with William Wordsworth, Lamb's and Lloyd's older, and presumably more gifted and mature, fraternal substitute. This transition in Coleridge's personal and artistic life is registered through a complex imagistic rhetoric of familial violence dating from his childhood, as well as topographical intertexts allegorizing distinct themes of transgression, abandonment, remorse, and salvation reactivated, on this occasion, by a serendipitous combination of events and circumstances, including Mary Lamb's crime. The first of these features, of course, is the incogruous notion, highlighted in Coleridge's title, of a lime-tree bower being a "prison" at all.

25.         The general idea behind Coleridge's choice of title is obvious. Indeed, it is announced in the first three lines of the earliest surving MS copy of the poem and the first two lines of the second and all subsequent printed versions: "Well, they are gone, and here must I remain, / This lime-tree bower my prison!" Incapacitated by his injury, the poet transfers the efficient cause of his confinement from his wife's spilt milk to the lime-tree bower itself. But why? Why should he strive so deliberately for an impression of coerced confinement? As if to deepen the mystery of his arboreal incarceration, Coleridge omitted any reference to his scalded foot or to Sara's role in the mishap from all versions of the poem—including the copy sent to Lloyd—subsequent to the one enclosed in the letter to Southey of 17 July 1797. These facts were handed down to posterity, as they were to Southey, only in the letter itself. In a prefatory "Advertisement" to the poem's first appearance in print in Southey's Annual Anthology of 1800 (and all editions thereafter), the poet's immobility is ascribed simply to an "accident":

In the June [sic July] of 1797, some long-expected Friends paid a visit to the Author's Cottage; and on the morning of their arrival, he met with an accident, which prevented him from walking during the whole time of their stay. One Evening, when they had left him for a few hours, he composed the following lines in the Garden-Bower.

26.         The addition of this brief paratext only highlights the mystery it was meant to dispel: if the poet was incapacitated by mishap, why use the starkly melodramatic word "prison," suggesting that he has been forcibly separated from his friends and making us wonder what the "prisoner" might have done to deserve such treatment? He has not only been "jailed" for no apparent reason, without habeas corpus, as it were, [13]  but also confined indefinitely, without the right to a speedy trial or, worse, any prospect of release this side of the gallows: those who abandoned him are, he writes hyperbolically, "Friends, whom I never more may meet again" (6). The hyperbole continues as the speaker anticipates the "blindness" of an old age that will find no relief in remembering the "[b]eauties and feelings" denied him by his confinement (3-5). His chatty, colloquial "Well, they are gone!" buffers the somber mood conveyed by such thoughts, but why invoke these shades of the prison-house (or of the retina) at all, if only to dismiss them with an awkward half-smile? As so often in Coleridge's writings, levity and facetiousness belie deeper anxieties. Consider his only other poem beginning with that rhetorical shrug, "Well!" In "Dejection: an Ode" the poet's breezy disparagement of folk meteorology and "the dull, sobbing draft, that moans and rakes / Upon the strings of this Aeolian lute" (6-8) presage "[a] grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear" (21) and "viper thoughts, that coil around [his] mind, / Reality's dark dream!" (94-95).

27.        The "histrionic plangencies" of "This Lime-Tree Bower" puzzle readers like Michael Kirkham, who finds "the emotions of the speaker [to be] in excess of the circumstances as presented":

[T]he extremity of the word "prison," and the large elegiac gesture of "Friends, whom I never more may meet again"; these feelings, these misgivings, on an occasion of temporary deprivation are not only extreme in their exposure of a naked self-pity but inexplicable. We read these and the following lines with the mental reservation of a question needing an answer. (125)
A similar, gnawing self-doubt is expressed in several passages from Cowper's The Task, in which both Matheson (142-43) and Gutteridge (161) hear the clanking chains of sin dragging at the feet of this gentle Calvinist as he leads his readers through scene after scene of natural beauty, which only the Elect, he insists, can truly enjoy. To the passages they cite we may add the following:
He is the freeman whom the truth makes free,
And all are slaves beside. [. . .]
His are the mountains, and the valleys his,
And the resplendent rivers. His to enjoy
With a propriety that none can feel,
But who, with filial confidence inspired,
Can lift to heaven an unpresumptuous eye,
And smiling say—My Father made them all!
(5.721-42)

28.        Whatever beauties nature may offer to delight us, writes Cowper, we cannot rightly appreciate them in our fallen state, enslaved as we are to our sensuous appetites and depraved emotions by the sin of Adam: "Chains are the portion of revolted man, / Stripes and a dungeon; and his body serves/ The triple purpose" (5. 573-75; emphasis added). Seven years before The Task appeared in print, the shame of sin was likewise represented by William Dodd as a spiritual form of enslavement symbolized by the imagery of his own penal confinement. Referring to himself in the third person, he writes,

  But wherefore fastened? Oh still stronger bonds
Than bolts, or locks, or doors of molten brass,
To Solitude and Sorrow would consign
His anguish'd Soul, and prison him, tho’ free!
For, whither should he fly, or where produce
In open day, and to the golden Sun,
His hapless head! whence every laurel torn,
On his bald brow sits grinning Infamy;
And all in sportive triumph twines around
The keen, the stinging Adders of Disgrace!
(1.8-17)

29.         Kirkham seeks an explanation for Coleridge's obliquely expressed "misgivings" by examining the "rendering and arangement" of the poem's imagined scenes, which "have the aspect of a mental journey," "a ritual of descent and ascent" (125). The "roaring dell" (9, 10)—"rifted Dell" in both MS versions—into which the poet's friends first descend, writes Kirkham, "is a psychologically specific, though covert, image of a spiritual Hell" reinforced "by the description of the subsequent ascent into light" (126)—that is, in Coleridge's words, his friends' emergence atop the Quantock Hills, "beneath the wide wide Heaven." Unfortunately, says Kirkham, "the poem has not disclosed a sufficient personal reason for [this] emotion" (126), a failing that Kirkham does not address. He does, however, recognize that this topography's "metaphorical significance," "a matter of hints and indirections and parentheses," leads naturally to a second question: "What prompts evasive tactics of this kind?" (128).

30.         The clues to solving these two mysteries—what is being hinted at in "This Lime-Tree Bower" and why it must not be stated directly—lie, among other places, in the sources and intertexts, including Dodd's Thoughts, of that anomalous word, "prison."

31.         At Racedown, a month before Lamb's visit, Coleridge and Wordsworth had exchanged readings of their work. Wordsworth had read his play, The Borderers, to Coleridge, and Coleridge had reciprocated with portions of his drama-in-progress, Osorio. Suspicion, arbitrary arrest, and incarceration are prominent features of The Borderers, [14]  but one passage from Act V of Osorio is of particular relevance here. So taken was Coleridge by these thirty lines that he excerpted them as a dramatic monologue, under the title of "The Dungeon," for the first edition of Lyrical Ballads published the following year, along with "The Foster-Mother's Tale" from Act 4.

32.        "The Dungeon" comprises a soliloquy spoken by a nobleman's eldest son, Albert, who has been the victim of a failed assassination attempt, unjust arrest, and imprisonment by his jealous younger brother, Osorio. Albert's soliloquy is a condensed version of "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison," unfolding its vision of a "benignant" natural landscape from within the confines of a real prison and touching upon themes that are treated more expansively in the conversation poem, especially regarding Nature's power to heal the despondent mind and counter the soul-disfiguring effects of confinement:

With other ministrations thou, O Nature!
Healest thy wandring and distemper'd Child:
Thou pourest on him thy soft influences,
Thy sunny hues, fair forms, and breathing sweets,
Thy melodies of Woods, and Winds, and Waters,
Till he relent, and can no more endure
To be a jarring and a dissonant thing
Amid this general dance and minstrelsy;
But, bursting into tears, wins back his way,
His angry Spirit heal'd and harmoniz'd
By the benignant touch of Love and Beauty.
(Osorio 5.1.20-30)

33.        In "This Lime-Tree Bower" the designated recipient of such healing and harmonizing "ministrations" is not, as we might expect, the "angry Spirit" of the incarcerated Mary Lamb, the agent of "evil and pain / And strange calamity" (31-32) confined at Hackney, but her "wander[ing]" younger brother, "gentle-hearted Charles" (28), who in "winning" (30) his own way back to peace of mind, according to Coleridge, has "pined / And hunger'd after Nature, many a year, / In the great City pent" (28-30). Although the poet invokes Milton's description of Satan's arrival in Eden after leaving Pandemonium (Paradise Lost 8.445), he knew quite well that Lamb was an enthusiastic citizen of what William Cobbett called "the monstrous Wen" of London (152). Nonetheless, Coleridge's Miltonic conceit conveys both a circumstantial and a psychological truth. Charles, a bachelor, was imprisoned by London's great conurbation insofar as his employment there by the East India Company was the principal source of income for his immediate family. His personal obligations as care-taker of his aged father and as guardian of his mad sister since the day she murdered Mrs. Lamb also prevented him, for many months, from joining Coleridge in Devonshire. In addition, the murder had imprisoned him mentally and spiritually, alienating him (like Milton's Satan) from ordinary human life and, almost, from his God. It was for this reason that Coleridge, fearing for his friend's spiritual health, had invited Lamb to join him only four days after the tragic event: "I wish above measure to have you for a little while here," he wrote on 28 September 1796, "you shall be quiet, and your spirit may be healed" (Griggs 1.239).

34.        Ten months were to pass before this invitation could be accepted. In "This Lime-Tree Bower" Nature is charged—literally, through imperatives—with the task of healing Charles's gentle, but imprisoned heart. After passing through [15]  a gloomy "roaring dell, o'erwooded, narrow, deep, / And only speckled by the mid-day sun" (10-11), there to behold "a most fantastic sight," a dripping "file of long lank weeds" (17-18), he and Coleridge's "friends emerge / Beneath the wide wide Heaven—and view again / The many-steepled tract magnificent / Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea" (20-23):

Ah! slowly sink
Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun!
Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb,
Ye purple heath-flowers! Richlier burn, ye clouds!
Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves!
And kindle, thou blue Ocean! So my friend
Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood,
Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round
On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily; and of such hues
As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes
Spirits perceive his presence.
(32-43)

35.        This view caps an itinerary that Coleridge not only imagines Charles to be pursuing, along with William, Dorothy, and (in both the Lloyd and Southey manuscript versions) Sarah herself, but that he in fact told his friends to pursue. [16]  "They, meanwhile," writes Coleridge, "Wander in gladness, and wind down, perchance,/ To that still roaring dell, of which I told" (5-9; italics added). Similarly plotted out for them, we must assume, is his friends' susequent emergence atop the Quantock Hills to view the "tract magnificent" of hills, meadows, and sea, and to watch, at the end of the poem, that "last rook" (68) "which tells of Life" (76), "vanishing in [the] light" of the sun's "dilated glory" (71-2). These topographical sites, and their accompanying sights, have in effect been orchestrated for the little group by their genial but imprisoned host. His apostrophic commands to sun, heath-flowers, clouds, groves, and ocean thus assume a stage-managerial aspect, making the dramaturge of Osorio and "The Dungeon" Nature's impressario as well in these roughly contemporaneous lines. [17] 

36.        Allegorized itineraries were an integral part of Coleridge's oeuvre from nearly the beginning of his poetic career. The second sonnet he ever wrote, later entitled "Life" (1789), depicts the valley of his birth as opening onto the vista of his future years: "May this (I cried) my course thro' Life pourtray! / New scenes of Wisdom may each step display, / And Knowledge open, as my days advance" (9-11). Not only the masterpieces for which he is universally admired, such as "Kubla Khan," The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and Christabel, but even visionary works never undertaken, like The Brook, evince the poet's persistent fascination with landscape as spiritual autobiography or metaphysical argument. Once assigned their own salvific itinerary, however, do the poet's friends actually pursue it? Critics once assumed so without question. [18]  But the single word, "perchance," early on, warns us against crediting the speaker's implied correspondence between factual and imagined itineraries, just as the single word "deeming" near the end of the poem mitigates against our identifying the rook that the poet perceives from his "prison" with anything, bird or otherwise, that his wandering friends may have beheld on their evening walk:

My gentle-hearted Charles! When the last Rook
Beat its straight path along the dusky air
Homewards, I blest it! deeming, its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross'd the mighty Orb's dilated glory
While thou stood'st gazing; or when all was still,
Flew creeking o'er thy head, and had a charm
For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No Sound is dissonant which tells of Life.
(69-77)

37.        Was that "deeming" justified? We shall never know. Perhaps Coleridge's friends never ventured further than the dell. Perhaps they spent the afternoon in a tavern and never followed his directions at all. As Adam Potkay puts it, "Coleridge's aesthetic joy"—and ours, we might add—"depends upon the silence of the Lambs" (109). With its final sighting of a bird presumably beheld by absent friends the poem anticipates but never achieves intersubjective closure: these are friends that the speaker indeed never meets again within the homodiegetic reality of his utterance, friends who, once the poem has ended, can never confirm or deny a sharing of perception he has "deemed" to be fact. Whatever he may imagine these absent wanderers to be perceiving, the poet remains imprisoned in his solitary thoughts as his poem comes to an end.

38.        Coleridge tries to finesse this missing corroboration almost from the start. As early as line 16, not long after he pictures his friends "wind[ing] down, perchance, / To that still roaring dell, of which [he] told," surmise gives way to conviction, past to present tense: "and there my friends / Behold the dark green file of long lank weeds, / That all at once (a most fantastic sight!) / Still nod and drip beneath the dripping edge / Of the blue clay stone. / Now, my friends emerge [. . .] and view again [. . .] Yes! they wander on" (16-20, 26). The poet's itinerary becomes prophecy. But if to be mad is to mistake, while waking, the visions and sounds in one's own mind for objects of perception evident to the minds of others or, worse, for places that others really occupy, if it is to attach fantastic sights to real (if absent) sites, then "This Lime-Tree Bower" is the soliloquy of a madman, not a prophet. Indeed, the poem's melancholy dell and "tract magnificent" radiate, as Kirkham seems to suspect, the visionary aura of a spiritual and highly personal allegory of sin, remorse, and vicarious (but never quite realized) salvation.

39.        In lines 43-67, however, visionary topographies give way to transfigured perceptions of the speaker's immediate environment incited by his having been forced to lift his captive soul to "contemplate / With lively joy the joys" he could not share (67-68): "Nor in this bower, / This little lime-tree bower," he says, "have I not mark'd / Much that has sooth'd [him]" (46-47) during his imaginative flight to his friend's side. The glowing foliage, illuminated by the same solar radiance in which he pictures Charles Lamb standing at that very moment, "[s]ilent with swimming sense," and the singing of the "humble Bee" (59) in a nearby bean-flower reassure the poet that "Nature ne'er deserts the wise and pure" (61). However vacant and isolated their surroundings, she keeps her innocent votaries awake to "Love and Beauty" (63-64), the last three words of the jailed Albert's soliloquy from Osorio.

40.        But why should the poet raise the question of desertion at all, as he does by his choice of carceral metaphor at the outset, unless to indicate that he does not, in fact, feel "wise and pure" enough to deserve Nature's fidelity? To "contemplate/ With lively joy the joys we cannot share," is, when all is said and done, to remain locked in the solipsistic prison of thought and its vicarious—which is to say, both speculative and specular—forms of joy. It is to concede that any true "sharing" of joy depends on being in the presence of others to share it with, others who can recognize and affirm one's own expression of joy by taking obvious delight in it. "A delight / Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad / As I myself were there!" (43-45), says the poet. But to stand imaginatively "as" (if) in the place of Charles Lamb, who is, presumably, standing in a spot on an itinerary assigned him by the poet who has stood there previously, is to mistake a shell-game of topographical interchange for true simultaneity of experience. Five years later, in the "Dejection" ode, Coleridge came to precisely this realization: "O Lady! We receive but what we give, / And in our life alone does Nature live" (47; emphasis added).

Ah! from the soul itself must issue forth
A light, a glory, a fair luminous cloud
Enveloping the Earth—
And from the soul itself must there be sent
A sweet and potent voice, of its own birth,
Of all sweet sounds the life and element!
(53-58)

41.        In short, one cannot truly share joy with another unless one brings joy of one's own to share. Since this "Joy [. . .] ne'er was given, / Save to the pure, and in their purest hour"—presumably to people like the "virtuous Lady" (63-64) to whom "Dejection" is addressed—we may plausibly take the speaker's intractable mood of dejection in that poem to be symptomatic of his sense of impurity or guilt. In the biographical context of "Dejection," originally a verse epistle addressed to the unresponsive object of Coleridge's adulterous affections, Sara Hutchinson, it is not hard to guess the sexual basis of such feelings: "For not to think of what I needs must feel," the poet tells her, "But to be still and patient, all I can;/ And haply by abstruse research to steal / From my own nature all the natural man— / This was my sole resource" (87-91). Such denial of "the natural man" leads not to joy, however, but to spiritual and imaginative "Life-in-Death," the desolation of the soul experienced by Coleridge's Ancient Mariner (193). As we shall see, what is denied in "This Lime-Tree Bower," or as Kirkham puts it, evaded, is the poet's own "angry spirit," as he expressed it in Albert's dungeon soliloquy. Resurrected by Mary Lamb's act of matricide and invigorated by a temptation to literary fratricide that the poet was soon to act upon, it apparently deserved incarceration.

Madness and Murder

42.        Wordsworth was not only, in Coleridge's eyes, a great man and poet, a "Giant" in every respect, but he was also an imperturbable and taciturn rock of stability compared to the two men of letters he was soon to replace as Coleridge's poetic confreres. Lloyd was often manic and intermittantly insane, while Lamb, as we shall see, was not entirely immune to outright lunacy himself. Nor should we forget, despite Lamb's being designated the recipient of God's healing grace in "This Lime-Tree Bower," evidence linking Coleridge's characterization of the poem's scene of writing as a "prison" with the reckless agent of the "strange calamity" that had befallen his "gentle-hearted" friend. For the two days following Mrs. Lamb's murder, Mary Lamb faced the prospect of actual imprisonment at Newgate before the court agreed to let Charles commit her to Fisher House.

43.         As it happens, Coleridge had made an almost identical attempt on the life of a family member when he was a boy. He describes the incident in the fourth of five autobiographical letters he sent to his friend Thomas Poole between February 1797 and February 1798, a period roughly coinciding with the composition of Osorio and centered upon the composition and first revisions of "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison." Writing to Poole on 16 October 1797, Coleridge described how the near-homicide occurred, beginning with an act of mischief by his bullying older brother, Frank, whom he had characterized in a letter the week before as entertaining "a violent love of beating" him (Griggs 1.348) because he, Samuel, the youngest child, was his mother's favorite. Coleridge seems to have been seven or eight.

I had asked my mother one evening to cut my cheese entire, so that I might toast it [. . .] I went into the garden for something or other, and in the mean time my Brother Frank minced my cheese, "to disappoint the favorite." I returned, saw the exploit, and in an agony of passion flew at Frank—he pretended to have been seriously hurt by my blow, flung himself on the ground, and there lay with outstretched limbs——I hung over him moaning & in a great fright—he leaped up, & with a horse-laugh gave me a severe blow in the face—I seized a knife, and was running at him, when my Mother came in & took me by the arm—I expected a flogging—& struggling from her I ran away [. . .]. (Griggs 1.352-53)
The entire neighborhood searched until dawn for the young fugitive, who had fallen asleep on the bank of a nearby stream while consoling himself with thoughts of his mother's anguish at his disappearance.

44.        Several details of Coleridge's account of his fit of rage coincide with what we know of Mary Lamb's fit of homicidal lunacy. In both cases, the weapon was a knife, the initial object of violence was a sibling or sibling-like figure, the cause of violence involved a meal, and the mother intervened. According to an account of Mary Lamb’s crime in the Morning Chronicle of 26 September,

It appeared by the evidence adduced, that while the family were preparing for dinner, the young lady seized a case knife laying [sic] on the table, and in a menacing manner pursued a little girl, her apprentice, round the room; on the eager calls of her helpless infirm mother to forbear, she renounced her first object, and with loud shrieks approached her parent.
The child [the apprentice], by her cries quickly brought up the landlord of the house, but too late—the dreadful scene presented to him the mother lifeless, pierced to the heart, on a chair, her daughter yet wildly standing over her with the fatal knife, and the old man, her father, weeping by her side, himself bleeding at the forehead from the effects of a severe blow he received from one of the forks she had been madly hurling about the room. (Quoted in Courtney, 115)
At this point Charles Lamb entered the dining room and, beholding Mary standing in front of his dying mother, snatched the knife out of her hand.

45.        As Edward Dowden (313) and H. M. Belden (passim) noted many years ago, the "roaring dell" of "This Lime-Tree Bower" has several analogues, real and imagined, in other work by Coleridge from this period, including the demonically haunted "romantic chasm" of "Kubla Khan," which could have been drafted as early as September 1797. [19]  Two of these analogues are of special interest to us in connection with Mary Lamb's murder of her mother and Coleridge's own youthful attempt on his brother's life.

46.        "Melancholy," probably written in July or August of 1797, just after Charles Lamb's visit, is a brief, emblematic personification in eighteenth-century mode that draws on some of the same Quantock imagery that informs the dell of Coleridge's conversation poem. Melancholy is pictured as having "mus'd herself to sleep":

The Fern was press'd beneath her hair,
The dark green Adder's-tongue was there;
And still, as pass'd the flagging sea-gales weak,
Her long lank leaf bow'd flutt'ring o'er her cheek.
(5-8)
In "This Lime-Tree Bower," the "dark green file of long lank Weeds," the Adder's Tongue, similarly bows in the "roaring dell"—"[s]till nod[s]"—in breezes of aquatic origin, "[f]ann'd by the water-fall!" (16-19). The long-standing professional as well as popular associations of melancholy with madness had been realized in stone above the entrance to Bedlam well before Coleridge wrote these lines. [20]  Slumbering, his Melancholy inchoately murmurs her disturbing reveries: "Inly wrought / Imperfect sounds her moving lips forsook; / And her bent forehead work'd with troubled thought. / Strange was the dream———-" (10-13). Here the poem ends.

47.        The "imperfect sounds" of Melancholy's "troubled thought" seem to achieve clearer articulation at the beginning of the fourth act of Osorio in the speeches of Ferdinand, a Moresco bandit. Having failed Osorio in his attempt to have Albert assassinated, Ferdinand has just arrived at the spot where he will be murdered by his own employer, who suspects him of treachery.

48.        The scene is a dark cavern showing gleams of moonlight at its further end, and Ferdinand's first words resonate eerily with one of the most vivid features of the "roaring dell" in "This Lime-Tree Bower": "Drip! drip! drip! drip!—in such a place as this / It has nothing else to do but, drip! drip! drip!" (4.1.1-2). Upon exploring the cavern, he is overcome by what the stage directions call "an ecstasy of fear," for he has seen the place in his dreams: "A hellish pit! O God—'tis like my night-mair!" (13). Osorio enters and explores the cavern himself: "A jutting clay-stone / Drips on the long lank Weed, that grows beneath; / And the Weed nods and drips" (18-20), he reports, closely echoing the description of the dell in "This Lime-Tree Bower," where "the dark green file of long lank Weeds" "[s]till nod and drip beneath the dripping edge / Of the blue clay-stone" (17-20). When Osorio accuses him of cowardice, Ferdinand replies, "I fear not man.—But this inhuman Cavern / It were too bad a prison-house for Goblins" (50-51). He has dreamed that he fell into this chasm, a portent of his imminent death at the hands of Osorio, who characerizes himself, in the third person, as a madman: "He walk'd alone/ And phantasies, unsought for, troubl'd him. / Something within would still be shadowing out / All possibilities, and with these shadows/ His mind held dalliance" (92-96).

49.        After Osorio murders Ferdinand, the victim's body is discovered in the cavern by his wife, Alhadra. In the horror of her discovery, she later tells her friends, "all the hanging Drops of the wet roof, / Turn'd into blood—I saw them turn to blood!" (4.3. 89-90), lines that reinforce imagistic associations between "This Lime-Tree Bower"'s "fantastic" dripping weeds and the dripping blood of a murder victim. Before she and her Moresco band appear at the end of the play to drag Osorio away for punishment, he tries to kill his older brother, Albert, by stabbing him with his sword. As in young Sam's attempt to murder Frank, a female intervenes to prevent the crime—not Osorio's mother, but his brother's betrothed, Maria. Osorio's last words after confessing to the murder of Ferdinand, however, are addressed to an older, maternal figure, Alhadra herself: "O woman! / I have stood silent like a Slave before thee, / That I might taste the Wormwood and the Gall, / And satiate this self-accusing Spirit, / With bitterer agonies, than death can give" (5.2.196-200). After pleading for Osorio's life on behalf of Maria, Alhadra bends to the will of her fellow Morescos and commands that Osorio be taken away to be executed. Significantly, by the time the revised play premiered at Drury Lane many years later, on 23 January 1813, Coleridge had retitled it Remorse.

Sympathy for the Bedeviled

50.        Coleridge's acute awareness of his own enfeebled will and mental instability in the face of life's challenges seems to have rendered him unusually sympathetic to the mental distresses of others, including, presumably, incarcerated criminals like the impulsive Reverend William Dodd. "Poor Brothers!" he wrote in a postscript to a letter to George Dyer in July 1795, referring to Richard Brothers, a religious fanatic recently arrested for treason and committed to Bedlam as a criminal lunatic. "They'll make him know the Law as well as the Prophets! (Griggs 1.156). Coleridge's sympathy with "Brothers" (typically disguised by an awkward attempt at wit) may have been subconsciously sharpened by the man's name: Frank Coleridge, the object of his childish homicidal fury, had eventually taken his own life in a fit of delirium brought on by an infected wound after one of two assaults on Seringapatam (15 May 1791 or 6-7 February 1792) in the Third Mysore War of 1789-1792. Much of Coleridge's literary production in the mid-1790s—not just "Melancholy" and Osorio, but poems like his "Monody on the Death of Chatterton" and "The Destiny of Nations," which evolved out of a collaboration with Southey on a poem about Joan of Arc—reflects a persistent fascination with mental morbidity and the fine line between creative or prophetic vision and delusional mania, a line repeatedly crossed by his poetic "brothers," Lloyd and Lamb, and Lamb's sister, Mary.

51.        Coleridge's reaction on first learning of Mary Lamb's congenital illness, a year and a half before she took her mother's life, is consistent with other evidence of his spontaneous empathy with victims of madness. In a letter to Southey of 29 December 1794, written when he was in London renewing his school-boy acquaintance with Charles, Coleridge feelingly described Mary's most recent bout of insanity: "His Sister has lately been very unwell—confined to her Bed dangerously—She is all his Comfort—he her's. They dote on each other. Her mind is elegantly stored—her heart feeling—Her illness preyed a good deal on his [Lamb's] Spirits" (Griggs 1.147). Coleridge also enclosed some "careless Lines" that he had addressed "To C. Lamb" by way of comforting him.

52.        In this brief poem, entitled "To a Friend, Together with an Unfinished Poem," Coleridge states how his relationship to his own next oldest sister, Anne, the "sister more beloved" and "play-mate when we both were clothed alike" of "Frost at Midnight" (42-43), helps him to understand Lamb's feelings. Anne, the only daughter to survive infancy in a family of nine brothers, had died in March 1791 at the age of 21. "In Fancy, well I know," Coleridge tells Charles,

Thou creepest round a dear-lov'd Sister's Bed
With noiseless step, and watchest the faint Look
Soothing each Pang with fond Solicitudes
And tenderest Tones medicinal of Love.
I too a Sister had—an only Sister—
She loved me dearly—and I doted on her—
[. . .]
O! I have woke at midnight, and have wept
Because she was not!
(1-13, 18-19)
Coleridge expresses more sanguine expectations for Charles and his sister: "For not uninterested the dear Maid / I've view'd, her Soul affectionate yet wise, / Her polish'd Wit as mild as lambent Glories / That play around an holy Infant's head" (22-25). In a letter to Bejamin Flowers written three months after the Lambs' "strange calamity," he refers to Mary as "the Sister of my dearest Friend, and herself dear to me as an only Sister. She is recovered, and is acquainted with what she has done, and is very calm" (Griggs 1.267).

53.        Coleridge's sympathy with Mary may have been enhanced by awareness of her vexed relationship with the mother she killed, who, even Charles had to admit, had been unsympathetic to Mary's illness and largely unappreciative of the degree of sacrifice she had made to support and care for her parents. "Poor Mary," he wrote Coleridge on 24 October, just a month after the tragedy, "my mother indeed never understood her right":

She loved her, as she loved us all with a Mother's love, but in opinion, in feeling, & sentiment, & disposition, bore so distant a resemblance to her daughter, that she never understood her right. Never could believe how much she loved her—but met her caresses, her protestations of filial affection, too frequently with coldness & repulse. (Marrs 1.52; boldface represents enlarged script)

54.         Lamb's enlarged lettering of "Mother's love" and "repulse" seems to convey an ironically inverted tone of voice, as if to suggest that the popular myth of maternal affection was, in Mrs. Lamb's case, not only void of real content, but inversely cruel and insensitive in fact. Despite her youngest son's self-avowed status as his "mother's darling" (Griggs 1.347), Mrs. Coleridge seems to have been similarly undemonstrative, if not frigid, in her affections toward him, and was often exasperated, in turn, by young Sam's dreamy, arrogant aloofness. [21]  Mary's crime may have had such a powerful effect on Coleridge because it made unmistakably apparent the true object of his homicidal animus at the age of eight: the mother so stinting in expressions of her love that the mere slicing of his cheese "entire" (symbolic, suggests Stephn M. Weissmann, of the youngest child's need to hog "all" of the mother's love in the face of his older sibling's precedent claim) was taken as a rare and precious sign of maternal affection (Weissman, 7-9). This interpretation assumes additional weight when we consider that Frank, as the next oldest brother, was neither an unremitting foe of Samuel's nor an intransigent bully, but a preferred playmate: true, "Frank had a violent love of beating me," as Coleridge wrote Poole in the same letter describing his attempt on his brother's life, "but whenever that was superseded by any humor or circumstance, he was always very fond of me—and used to regard me with a strange mixture of admiration and contempt." One time, when young Sam was six and had been confined to his room with "putrid fever," Frank "stole up in spite of orders to the contrary, and sat by my bedside, and read Pope's Homer to me" (Griggs 1.348).

55.        Given Frank's ambivalent role in Samuel's early life as both sibling rival and fraternal playmate, as tyrannical bully and tender nurse, it is no stretch of the imagination to assume that, in retrospect, as he described the scene of his attempted fratricide to Poole, Coleridge might have wondered whether or not the paring knife he had aimed at Frank's chest could have been more justifiably lodged in the ungenerous breast of his mother, whose withholding of affection was the principal cause of the intermittent but acrimonious rivalry between him and the brother he nonetheless loved and admired. That only one letter to his mother, formal and distant in tone, survived from his days at Christ's Hospital; that he barely maintained contact with her after his own marriage; and that he did not even bother to attend her funeral in 1809, all suggest that being his "mother's darling" (Griggs 1.347), while it may have spoiled young Sam, was never received as an expression of love. Such a possibilty might explain the sullen satisfaction the boy had derived from thoughts of his mother's anxiety over his disappearance after attempting to stab Frank that fateful afternoon.

56.        Among others suffering from mental instability whom Coleridge counted as close friends there was Charles Lamb himself. In his earliest surviving letter to Coleridge, dated 27 May 1796, Lamb reports, with characteristic jocosity, that his "life has been somewhat diversified of late":

The 6 weeks that finished last year & began this your very humble servant spent very agreeably in a mad house at Hoxton—. I am got somewhat rational now, & dont bite any one. But mad I was—& many a vagary my imagination played with me, enough to make a volume if all told. (Marrs, 1. 3-4)
Lamb offers Coleridge, as a token of his affection, the fact that his "head ran on you in my madness," and appends a sonnet "written in my prison house in one of my lucid Intervals," addressed "to my sister." In it, he apologizes to Mary for his "angry" and "[p]eevish" behavior while under the influence of a "sickly mind" (Marrs 1.4). Providing as it does the basic scheme for the scene of writing invoked in "This Lime-Tree Bower"—forced confinement, apostrophe to an absent addressee, thoughts of a dear friend at liberty—this letter, and the poem it contains, was written after Lamb had, presumably, received Coleridge's verses on Mary's madness in December 1794, and nine months before Mary's attack on her mother.

57.        Insanity apparently agreed with Lamb.: "[A]t some future time I will amuse you with an account as full as my memory will permit of the strange turn my phrensy took," he writes Coleridge on 9 June 1796.

I look back on it at times with a gloomy kind of Envy. For while it lasted I had many many hours of pure happiness. Dream not, Coleridge, of having tasted all the grandeur & wildness of Fancy, till you have gone mad. All now seems to me vapid; comparatively so. (Marrs 1. 19)
His own ambivalent relationship to altered states of mind and reduced self-control may have predisposed Coleridge to appreciate the double-edged attraction to derangement conveyed by Lamb's description.

58.        It is unlikely that their mutual friend, young Charles Lloyd, would have shared that appreciation. His father's offer to finance his eldest son's education as a live-in pupil of Coleridge's in September 1796 followed Charles's having shown himself mentally incapable of remaining at school. Coleridge saw much of himself in the younger Charles: "Your son and I are happy in our connection," he wrote Lloyd, Sr., on 15 October 1796, "our opinions and feelings are as nearly alike as we can expect" (Griggs 1.240). Lamb, too, soon became close friends with Lloyd, and several poems by him were even included, along with Lloyd's, in Coleridge's Poems of 1797. Within a month of Coleridge's letter, however, Lloyd, Jr. began to fall apart. "Charles Lloyd has been very ill," the poet wrote Poole on 15 November 1796.

and his distemper (which may with equal propriety be named either Somnambulism, or frightful Reverie, or Epilepsy from accumulated feelings) is alarming. He falls all at once into a kind of Night-mair: and all the Realities round him mingle with, and form a part of, the strange Dream. All his voluntary powers are suspended; but he perceives every thing & hears every thing, and whatever he perceives & hears he perverts into the substance of his delirious Vision. (Griggs 1.257)

59.         By early December, Coleridge was writing Lloyd's father to say he could no longer undertake to educate Charles, although the young man's "vehement" feelings when told he would have to leave had persuaded his mentor to agree to continue their present living arrangements (Griggs 1.263-64). Eventually Lloyd's nocturnal "fits," each consuming several hours in "a continued state of agoniz'dDelirium" (Griggs 1.315), led to his commitment the following March, as noted above, to Dr. Erasmus Darwin's Litchfield sanatorium (Griggs 1.320n1). If, as Gurion Taussig speculates, the friendship with Lloyd "hover[ed] uneasily between a mystical union of souls and a worldly business arrangement, grounded firmly in Coleridge's financial self-interest" (230), it is indicative of the older poet's desperate financial circumstances that he clung to that arrangement as long as he did. There is no evidence that the two communicated again until Coleridge sent Lloyd what appears to be the second extant draft of "This Lime-Tree Bower," now in the Berg collection of the New York Public Library, the following July, soon after the poem's composition and initial copying out for Southey.

A Band of Brothers—and Sisters.

60.        It is not a little unnerving to picture the menage that would have ended up sharing the tiny cotttage in Nether Stowey that month had Lloyd continued to live there. Sarah and baby Hartley and the maid; William Wordsworth, Coleridge's new brother in poetry, emerging from a prolonged despondency and accompanied by his high-strung sister, Dorothy; Lloyd keeping the household awake all night with his hallucinatory ravings; Coleridge pushed to the edge of distraction by lack of sleep; and Charles Lamb, former inmate of a Hoxton insane asylum, in search of repose and relaxation. Had she not killed her mother the previous September, mad Mary Lamb would probably have been there too. Coleridge's repeated invitations to join him in the West Country had been extended to her as well as to her brother as early as June 1796 (Lamb, Letters, I.17).

61.        Of course, when Coleridge had invited Lamb to come to Nether Stowey to restore his spiritual and mental health the previous September, Lloyd had not yet joined him in residence, and Wordsworth was only a distant acquaintance, not the bright promise of the future that he was to become by June of the next year. If we consider the poet's dispatching of his visitors, old and new—William and Dorothy, along with Charles Lamb and, in the Southey draft of "This Lime-Tree Bower," Sarah as well—in a perambulation across the Quantock Hills as an attempt to ripen their still green intimacy through shared experiences of beauty and sublimity, then certain features of the poem's composition history become more intelligible: for instance, that Coleridge almost immediately sent copies of the poem to Southey and Lloyd—the two "brother" poets (one literally his brother-in-law) who were unable to join the group in person. While "gentle-hearted Charles" is mentioned in the first dozen lines of both epistolary versions, he is not imagined to be the exclusive auditor and spectator of the last rook winging homeward across the setting sun at the end. In Southey's copy "My Sister, & my friends" and in Lloyd's "[m]y Sara & my Friends" are stationed and apostrophized together. Also indicative of Coleridge's more pragmatic intentions is the fact that he withheld the poem's publication for the three ensuing years during which the little group had disintegrated, and that the poem's eventual subtitle, with its shouting capitals, "Addressed to CHARLES LAMB, of the India-House, London," as well as the revised lines refocusing our attention on Lamb as the exclusive observer of the rook at the end of the poem, did not appear until its first publication, that is, only after Coleridge's falling-out with Lamb had been repaired. (Presumably, Lamb received a copy before his departure from Nether Stowey for London on 14 July 1797, or Coleridge read it to him, along with the rest of the company, after they had all returned from their walk.) Coleridge's initial choices for epistolary dissemination points to something of a commemorative or celebratory motive, as if the poet wished to incite all of its original auditors and readers to picture themselves as part of a newly reconstituted, intimate circle of poetic friends, a coterie or band of brothers, sisters, and spouses dedicating itself, we may assume, to a revolutionary transformation of English verse.

62.        In this light, Sarah's accidental scalding of her husband's foot seems, in retrospect, premonitory. Despite Coleridge's hopes, his new wife never looked upon the Wordsworths, brother or sister, in any other than a competitive light. Their values, their tastes, their very style of living, as well as their own circle of friends were, in her eyes, an incomprehensible and irritating distraction from, if not a serious impediment to, the distingished future that her worldlier ambitions had envisioned for her gifted spouse in the academy, the press, and politics. To the Wordsworths she was a philistine, both intellectually and artistically, whose quotidian domestic and worldly anxieties placed a burden on their friend's creative faculties that they worked mightily to relieve by monopolizing him as much as possible in the years to come, while making Sarah feel distinctly unwelcome.

63.        Lamb's response to Coleridge's hospitality upon returning to London gave more promising signs of future comradery. He immediately wrote back to express his gratitude and to ask for a copy of Wordsworth's "inscription" (Marrs 1. 119), probably "Lines left upon the seat of a yew tree" (Marrs 1. 118n1). His warm feelings were not free of self-doubt, characteristically: "I could not talk much, while I was with you, but my silence was not sullenness, nor I hope from any bad motive; but, in truth, disuse has made me awkward at it. I know I behaved myself [. . . ] most like a sulky child; but company and converse are strange to me" (Marrs 1. 117-118). What Wordsworth thought of the encounter we do not know, but the juxtaposition of the sulky Lamb, ordinarily overflowing with facetious charm, and the Wordsworths, especially the vivacious Dorothy, must have presented a striking contrast. Whatever Lamb's initial reaction upon reading "This Lime-Tree Bower" or hearing it recited to him, the bitterness and hurt that was to overtake him after the publication of the Higginbottom parodies and Coleridge's falling out with Lloyd found oblique expression three years later in an ironic outburst when he re-read the poem in Southey's 1800 Annual Anthology, after he and Coleridge had reconciled:

For God's sake (I never was more serious), don't make me ridiculous any more by terming me gentle-hearted in print, or do it in better verses. It did well enough five years ago when I came to see you, and was moral coxcomb enough at the time you wrote the lines, to feed upon such epithets; [. . .] I can scarce think that you could think to gratify me by such praise, fit only to be a cordial to some green-sick sonneteer. (Marrs 1.217-18)
A "green-sick sonneteer" is precisely what Coleridge had made Lamb out to be in the Higgentbottem parodies. Little more than a week after posting this letter, Lamb was to call "This Lime-Tree Bower" "your Satire upon me in the Anthology," and despite his beginning "to spy out something like beauty & design in it," he again asked Coleridge "please to blot out gentle hearted" (Marrs 1.224).

64.        Regarding Robert Southey's and Charles Lloyd's initial reactions to receiving handwritten copies of "This Lime-Tree Bower," we have no information. It is most likely that Coleridge wished to salvage the two relationships, which had come under a considerable strain in the preceding months, and incorporate these brother poets into what he was just beginning to hope might be a revolution in letters. His neglect of Lloyd in the following weeks—something Lamb strongly advises him to correct in a letter of 20 September—suggests that whatever hopes he may have entertained of amalgamating old friends with new were fast diminishing in the candid glare of Wordsworth's far superior genius and the fitful flickering of an incipient alliance based on shared grudges that was quickly forming between Southey and Lloyd. [22]  Coleridge had run into Lloyd upon a visit to Alfoxden on 15 September (Griggs 1.206-07n3), but was apparently no longer in correspondence by then: "You use Lloyd very ill—never writing to him," says Lamb a few days later, and seems to indicate that the hiatus in correspondence had extended to himself as well: "If you don't write to me now,—as I told Lloyd, I shall get angry, & call you hard names, Manchineel, & I dont know what else." He adds, "I wish you would send me my Great coat—the snow & the rain season is at hand" (Marrs 1.123). Lamb had left the coat at Nether Stowey during his July visit, and had asked Coleridge to send it to him in the first letter he wrote just after returning to London.

65.        In two more months, both Lamb and Lloyd, along with Southey, were to find themselves on the receiving end of a poetic tribute radically different from the fervent beatitudes of "This Lime-Tree Bower." Before considering Coleridge's Higginbottom satires in more detail, however, we would do well to trace our route thence by returning to Dodd's prison thoughts.

Dodd, Bunyan, and the Evangelical Allegorical Tradition

66.        Intrafamilial murder, revenge, confinement, madness, nightmare, shame, and remorse all lie at the origins of "This Lime-Tree Bower," informing "the still roaring dell, of which" Coleridge "told" his friends on that July day in 1797, and seeking relief in the vicarious salvation he experienced as he envisioned them emerging into the luminous "presence" of an "Almighty Spirit" whose eternal Word—uttered even in the dissonant creaking of a rook's wing—"tells of Life." The poem, in short, represents the moral and emotional pilgrimage of a soul newly burdened by thoughts of poetic fratricide and wishfully imagining a way to achieve salvation, along with his brother poets, old and new. The primary allegorical emblems of that pilgrimage—the dell and the hilltop—appear as well in part four of William Dodd's Thoughts in Prison, "The Trial."

67.        Remanded to his cell after a harrowing appearance in court, Dodd falls asleep and dreams an allegory of his past life prominently featuring a "lowly vale" of "living green" (4.549-50) with a "pure crystal" stream (4.557), and next, a "mountain's top" (4.569). The vale represents Dodd's humble beginnings as a village minister in West Ham, "whose Habitants, / When sorrow-sunk, my voice of comfort soothe’d [. . .] ministring to all their wants": "Dear was the Office, cheering was the Toil," he writes, "And something like angelic felt my Soul!" (4.559-62; 564-69). But he is soon lured away by a crowned, crimson-robed tempter up to "a neighboring mountain's top / Where blaz'd Preferment's Temple" (4.569-70), representing his later, elevated station as king's chaplain and prominent London tutor and preacher—fruits of ambition and goads to the worldliness and debt that led to his crime. The view from the mountain is dreary and its path lined with sneering crowds. Turning to his guide, Dodd begs to be restored to the vale, whereupon he is hurled down to a "dungeon dark" (4.585), his present scene of writing.

68.        Both spiritually and psychologically, Coleridge's "roaring dell" and hilltop reverse the moral vectors of Dodd's topographical allegory: Dodd's scenery represents a transition from piety to remorse, Coleridge's from remorse to natural piety. Yet both follow a trajectory of ascent, and both rely on vividly imagined landscape details pressed into the service of a symbolic narrative of personal salvation, which Dodd resumes after his temporary setback in a descriptive mode that resembles the suffusion of sunlight that inspires Coleridge’s benevolence upon his return of attention to the lime-tree bower at line 45:

When, in a moment, thro' the dungeon's gloom
Burst Light resplendent as a mid-day Sun,
From adamantine shield of Heavenly proof,
Held high by One, of more than human port, [. . .]
(4.589-92)
This armored visitor, Dodd tells us helpfully in a footnote, is "Faith."

69.        Fortified by the sight of the "crimson Cross" (4.597) displayed on Faith's shield, Dodd is next led forth from his "den" by Repentance "meek approaching" (4.606) (likened to Le Brun's portrait of Madame de la Valiere) and guided though "perils infinite, and terrors wild" to a "gate of glittering gold" (4.609, 611) A "homely Porter" (4.613), Humility, opens the gate to reveal a vision of “Love” (Christ), "[h]igh on a sapphire Throne" and "[b]eaming forth living rays of Light and Joy" (4.617-619). "Dissolv’d," with all his "senses rapt / In vision beatific," Dodd is next carried to a "bank / Of purple Amaranthus" (4.627-29) by an angel embodying "th' ennobling Power [. . .] destin'd in the human heart / To nourish Friendship's flame!" (4.633-35). Eagerly he asks the angel, "[I]n these delightful Realms/ Of happiness supernal, shall we know,— / Say, shall we meet and know those dearest Friends / Those tender Relatives, to whose concerns / You minister appointed?" (4.639-43). He is rudely awakened, however, before receiving an answer. These are, as Coleridge would later put it, friends whom the author "never more may meet again."

70.        As I have indicated, Dodd's Thoughts in Prison transcends the genre of criminal confessions to which it ostensibly belongs. Its length dwarfs that of the brief dozen or two lines comprising most such pieces in the Newgate Calendar and surviving broadsides, and it is written, like "This Lime-Tree Bower," in blank verse, the meter of Shakespeare and Milton, of exalted emotions, high argument, and philosophical reflection, as opposed to the doggerel of tetrameter couplets or ballad quatrains standard to the genre. [23]  Despite what one might expect, its opening reflection on abandonment by friends and subsequent return to the theme of lost friendships are unique among extant gallows confessions, at least as far as I have been able to determine. Not least, the poem’s obvious affinities with the religious tradition of confessional literature extending back to Augustine sets it apart. To this extent Thoughts in Prison bridges the transition from religious to secular confession in the course of the late eighteenth century, a watershed—to which "This Lime-Tree Bower" contributed its rivulet—decisively marked at its inception by Rousseau's Confessions of 1782 and vigorously exploited as it neared its end by De Quincey in his two-part Confessions of an English Opium-Eater in 1821.

71.        Another factor in the longevity of Thoughts in Prison must have been the English Evangelical revival that began to affect public taste and policy not long after Dodd's execution, and continued to shape British politics and culture well into the Victorian period. If so, one of Dodd's own religious rather than secular intertexts may help explain the Evangelical appeal of his poem, while pointing us toward a more distant, pre-Enlightenment source for his and Coleridge's resort to topographical allegory. Like Dodd's effusion, John Bunyan's dream-vision, Pilgrim's Progress, was written in prison and represents itself as such. Its impact on Thoughts in Prison is hard to miss once we reach the capitalized impersonations of Christian virtues leading Dodd heavenward at the end of Week the Fourth. Bunyan's tract offers what amounts to a template for the translation of moods and morals, positive and negative, into features of terrain: Coleridge's "roaring dell," for instance, finds its allegorical antecedent in declivities like "The Slough of Despond" (79-80) and Dodd's humble "vale" in Bunyan's "Valley of Humiliation" (328), where none but the humble "that love a pilgrim's life" enjoy walking (329); the fatal hills of "Legality" (85) and "Error" (196) foreshadow Dodd's "mountain's top" of preferment, but Coleridge's apocalyptic hilltop vision of the setting sun just as clearly derives, in part, from Bunyan's "Delectable Mountains" (194), not to mention Mt. Zion itself, atop which the Celestial City gleams in the sun, "so extremely glorious" it cannot be directly gazed upon by the living (236). Pilgrim's Progress also contains a goodly number of carceral enclosures: the "iron cage of despair" (83) and of Vanity Fair, where Christian and Faithful are kept in stocks before Faithful's execution (224), as well as the dungeon of Doubting Castle (283). [24] 

72.        These formal correspondences between the microcosm of personal conversion and salvation and the macrocosm of God's Creation were rooted, via Calvinism, in the great progenitor of the Western confessional tradition, Augustine of Hippo. The landscape allegory of "This Lime-Tree Bower," like Dodd's and Bunyan's, represents a transposition into personal terms of the Christian narrative of salvation as pilgrimage, and like that of Coleridge's predecessors, including Augustine, it is offered as an exemplary itinerary, one that the confessor has pursued and of which he is telling others, or "of which [he has] told" them, for the purpose of releasing them—in Coleridge's case, his "gentle-hearted" friend in particular—from a similar bondage of the soul.

73.        However, as noted above, whereas Augustine, Bunyan, and Dodd (at least, by the end of Thoughts in Prison) have presumably achieved their spiritual release after pursuing the imaginative pilgrimages they now relate, the speaker of "This Lime-Tree Bower" achieves only a vicarious manumittance, by imagining his friends pursuing the salvific itinerary he has plotted out for them. Indeed, there is an odd equilibration of captivity and release at work in "This Lime-Tree Bower," almost as though the poem described an exchange of emotional hostages: Charles's imagined liberation from the bondage of his "strange calamity"—both its geographical site in London and its lingering emotional trauma—seems to depend, in the mind of the poet who imagines it, on the poet's resignation to and forced resort to vicarious relief. The very futility of release in any true and permanent sense—"Friends, whom I may never meet again!"—is what seems to make it both available and, oddly, more attractive to Coleridge as an imaginary experience.

74.        Students of Coleridge's poetry will recognize in the speaker's implied inability to end his state of spiritual isolation the relentless return of the Ancient Mariner's "woful agony" (579) following the epiphanic release achieved by his unconscious benediction of the glistening, "happy" sea-snakes in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which was first conceived, with the help of Wordsworth, on 12 November 1797, the same month Coleridge published the Higginbottom sonnets and just weeks after he described his attempt on Frank's life in the letter to Poole of 16 October. Despite the falling off of the murdered albatross from around his neck "like lead into the sea" (291), despite regaining his ability to pray and realizing that "He prayeth best, who loveth best / All things both great and small (614-15), the mariner can never conclusively escape agony by confessing his guilt: nothing, apparently, "will wash away / The Albatross's blood" (511-12). The exemplary story of his motiveless malignity in killing the beneficent white bird, iconographic symbol of the "Christian soul" (65), and his eventual, spontaneous salvation through the joyful ministrations of God's beauteous creation may make his listener, the Wedding Guest, "[a] sadder and a wiser man" (624), but it cannot release the mariner from the iron cage of his own remorse.

75.        That remorse clearly extends to the consequences of his act on his brother mariners:

One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye.
Four times fifty living men,
(And I heard nor sigh nor groan)
With heavy thump, a lifeless lump,
They dropped down one by one.
The souls did from their bodies fly,—
They fled to bliss or woe!
And every soul, it passed me by,
Like the whizz of my cross-bow!
(218-23)

76.        At the heart of Coleridge's famous poem lies a crime, not against God's creatures, but against his brother mariners, which his initial inability to take joy in God's creatures simply registers. This might be summarized, again, as the crime of bringing no joy to share and, thus, finding no joy either in his brothers or in God's creation. It is not far-fetched to see in the albatross, as Robert Penn Warren suggested long ago, more than an icon of the Christian soul: to see it as representing the third person of the Trinity, God's Holy Spirit, which, according to the Acts of the Apostles and early patristic teaching, had first manifested itself among humankind, after Christ's death, in the shared love and joy of the congregated followers he left behind, his holy Church. Can it be a mere conincidence that, like Frank playing dead and springing back to life, the mariners should drop dead as a result of the mariner's shooting of the albatross, only to be resurrected like surly zombies in order to sail the ship and, at last, give way to a "seraph-band" (496), each waving his flaming arm aloft like one of the tongues of flame alighting on the heads of the apostles at Pentacost?

77.        Much of Coleridge's adult life—his enthusiastic participation in the Pantisocracy scheme with Southey, whom he considered (resorting to nautical terminology) the "Sheet Anchor" of his own virtues (Griggs 1.173); the vigorous renewal of his friendship with Lamb in December 1794 and January 1795, while all but hiding out in London from Southey and Sarah Fricker; his desperate need, after marriage, to remain in close proximity to Poole in Nether Stowey; his ludicrously impracticable boarding arrangements with Lloyd; his sudden uprooting of his family from Devonshire in 1799 and settling in the north to be near his new friend and brother poet, Wordsworth —all these events can be understood as repeated attempts to gather about him a band of brothers that would redeem not only the future of poetry, but also the fraternal strifes of Coleridge's childhood, and remove that "curse in a dead man's eye" (260) first observed in the countenance of the possum-playing Frank and later haunting the imagination of the Ancient Mariner: a "look" that "[h]ad never passed away" (255-56).

78.        Young Sam had tried to murder his brother on no discernable rational grounds. The homicidal rage he felt at seven or eight was clearly far in excess of its ostensible cause because its true motivation—hatred of the withholding mother—could never be acknowledged. This is as much as to say that the act appeared largely motiveless, like the Mariner's. But because his irrational state of mind, and not an accomplished act, was the source of Coleridge's guilt, no act of expiation would ever be enough to relieve it: he could never be released from the prison cell of his own rage, for he could never approach what Dodd had called that "dread door," with its "massy bolts" and "ponderous locks," from the outside, with a key that would open it. Instead, like a congenital and unpredictable form of madness, or like original sin, the rage expressed itself obliquely in the successive abandonment of one disappointing, fraternal "Sheet-Anchor" after another, a serial killing-off of the spirit of male friendship in the enthuiastic pursuit of its latest, novel apotheosis: Southey by Lamb, to be joined by Lloyd; then Lamb and Lloyd both by Wordsworth. The connection with Wordsworth lasted the longest, but by 1810, it too had snapped, irreparably.

79.        It is particularly difficult to interpret Coleridge's behavior in the "Nehemiah Higginbottom" affair as anything other than an enthusiastically demonstrative sacrifice of his friendship with Lamb and Lloyd, and perhaps Southey as well, on the altar of his new idol, William Wordsworth, and the new poetry he stood for. In 1795, as Coleridge had begun to drift and then urgently paddle away from Southey after the good ship Pantisocracy went down (he did not even invite Southey to his wedding on 4 October), he had turned to Lamb (soon to be paired with Lloyd) for personal and artistic support. Lamb's letters to him from May 1796 up to the writing of "This Lime-Tree Bower" are full of advice and suggestions, welcomed and often solicited by Coleridge and based on careful close reading, for improving his verse and prose style. Was it something Wordsworth had said during Lamb's July visit, perhaps to or about Lamb himself, that caused Coleridge, the following November, to send the Monthly Magazine three "mock Sonnets," as he described them to Joseph Cottle, "in ridicule of my own, & Charles Lloyd's, & Lamb's, &c &c—in ridicule of that affectation of unaffectedness, of jumping & misplaced accent on common-place epithets, flat lines forced into poetry by Italics (signifying how well & mouthis[h]ly the Author would read them) puny pathos &c &c. [. . .] I think they may do good to our young Bards" (Griggs 1.357-8). In a postscript, Coleridge adds that he has "procured for Wordsworth's Tragedy," The Borderers, "an Introduction to Harris, the Manager of Convent-garden [sic]."

80.        As it happened, Coleridge managed to alienate three brother poets with one mocking blow. Southey, who had been trying to repair relations with his brother-in-law the previous year, assumed himself to be the target of the second of the mock sonnets, "To Simplicity" (Griggs 1.358-9). Despite Coleridge's disavowal (he said he was targeting himself), Southey revenged himself in a scathing review of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner upon its first appearance in the Lyrical Ballads of 1798. Lloyd had taken his revenge a bit earlier, in April of that same year, in a satirical portrait of Coleridge as poetaster and opium-eater, with references to the Silas Comberbache affair, in his roman a clef, Edmund Oliver, to which Southey, apparently, had contributed some embarrassing information (See Griggs 1.359n2). Goaded into complete disaffection by Lloyd's malicious gossip insinuating Coleridge's contempt for his talents, Lamb sent a bitterly facetious letter to Coleridge several weeks later, on the eve of the latter's departure for study in Germany, taunting him with a list of theological queries headed as follows: "Whether God loves a lying Angel better than a true Man?" (Marrs 1.128). Their estrangement lasted two years.

81.        Richard Holmes considers the offence given by the Higginbottom parodies to have been "wholly unexpected" by Coleridge (1.174), but it is difficult to read the poet's inclusion of his own explicitly repudiated style of versification—if it was indeed intended as a sample of his own writing—as anything but a disingenuous attempt to appear ingenuous in his offer of helpful, if painful, criticism to "our young Bards." He was aiming his satirical cross-bow at a paste-board version of his own "affectation of unaffectedness," an embarrassingly youthful poetic trait that he had now decisively abandoned for the true, sublime simplicity of Lyrical Ballads and, by implication, that of its presiding Lake District genius. Thus he sought to demonstrate both his own poetic coming-of-age and his loyalty to a new brother poet by attacking the immature fraternity among whom he included his former, poetically naive incarnation. [25] 

Conclusion: Among Friends

82.        At the end of Thoughts in Prison, William Dodd bids farewell to his " Friends, most valued!"

bound
By Consanguinity's endearing tye,
Or Friendship's noble service, manly love,
And generous obligations!
(5.997-1000)
Dodd has led us to this point of valediction through a circuitous tour of prison routines and convict behavior; autobiography and reminiscence; polemical adjurations to prison reformers and legislators, as well as his fellow clerics, prisoners, and citizens; and visionary evocations of landscapes terrestrial and heavenly. My own route to the end of placing Dodd's Thoughts in formative relation to "This Lime-Tree Bower" by way of a long ramble through Coleridge's early writings and letters may strike readers as equally circuitous. But as Tilottama Rajan points out, the full meaning of any single work of literature, even a poem as short and apparently unassuming as "This Lime-Tree Bower," cannot be limited to what appears below its title on the printed page: its deepest meanings are often "made explicit somewhere else in the canon," rather than when the work is read "in isolation" (26).

83.        The importance of friendship to Coleridge's creative and intellectual development is apparent to even the most casual reader of his poetry. Gurion Taussig and Adam Sisman made it the guiding theme of their recent book-length studies, Taussig's Coleridge and the Idea of Friendship (2002) and Sisman's The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge (2006), and Anya Taylor has demonstrated, in detail, its central importance to Coleridge's erotic attachments in her Erotic Coleridge (2005). The poet's final venture into periodical publication, The Friend of 1809-1810, attests to the longevity of his commitment to this ideal. Serendipitously, The Friend was to cease publication only months before Coleridge's increasingly strained relationship with Wordsworth erupted in bitter recriminations. Their friendship was never to be repaired in this life, and if there is another life beyond this, William Dodd seems to have left us, in his last words on the subject, a more credible claim to the enjoyment of eternal amity:

My friends,
Belov'd and honour'd, Oh that we were launch'd,
And sailing happy there, where shortly all
Must one day sail! Oh that in peaceful Port
We all were landed! all together safe
In everlasting Amity and Love,
With God, our God; our Pilot thro' the Storms
Of this Life's Sea!—But, why the frivolous wish?
Set a few Suns,—a few more days decline;
And I shall meet you,—oh the gladsome hour!
Meet you in Glory,—nor with flowing tears
Afflicted drop my Pen, and sigh, Adieu!
(5.1015-1026)

Notes

(see also Works Cited)

[1] All quotations from Coleridge's poetic and dramatic works are taken from Mays's edition, unless otherwise indicated. BACK

[2] Mays expresses skepticism toward Kirkham’s position (1.351n1). BACK

[3] All citations of Dodd's poem come from this electronic edition, by “Week” and line numbers. BACK

[4] Miller (529) notes another possible source for Coleridge’s prison metaphor in Joseph Addison's "Pleasures of the Imagination": ". . . for by this faculty a man in a dungeon is capable of entertaining himself with scenes and landscapes more beautiful than any that can be found in the whole compass of nature" (Spectator No. 411, in Bohn, 3.394). BACK

[5] On the importance and significance of this symbol in Coleridge's work, see Beer, 133-74. BACK

[6] V. A. C. Gatrell provides graphic descriptions of these gatherings: "On great Newgate occasions the crowd would extend in a suffocating mass from Ludgate Hill, along the Old Bailey, north to Cock Lane, Giltspur Street, and Smithfield, and back to the end of Fleet Lane. Surrounding windows and rooftops would be paid for and occupied. More distant streets would be lined with wagons and carts which people paid to stand on to glimpse the distant view" (57). Dr. Dodd's hanging, writes Gatrell, "was said to have attracted one of the biggest assemblages that London had ever seen. Every housetop, window, and tree was loaded with spectators; 'the whole of London was out on the streets, waiting and expectant'" (56-57). Crowd estimates for hangings generally ranged from 30,000 to 50,000, so we can expect Dodd's to have drawn close to the latter number of spectators. BACK

[7] This information comes from the account in Knapp and Baldwin's edition (49-62). Dodd finished his BA, but dropped out while pursuing his MA, distracted from study by his fondness for "the elegancies of dress" and his devotion, "as he ludicrously expressed it," to "the God of Dancing" (Knapp and Baldwin, 49). BACK

[8] I say "supposedly" because there is evidence to suggest that Coleridge continued to tutor Lloyd, as well as house and feed him, after the young man's return from Christmas holidays. Professor Noel Jackson, in an email of 12 May 2008, called my attention to a passage from a MS letter from Priscilla, Charles Lloyd's sister, to their father, Charles, Sr., 3 March 1797:

I had yesterday a letter from Charles which expressed in the fullest manner the enjoyment of his present residence with Coleridge who he says is still more attentive than ever & that he has resumed his former plan of entering into a regular course of studying the languages with him to which occupation he devotes all his mornings & that his apartments are very snug and comfortable.
Professor Jackson informs me that the letter is at the Jerwood Center in Grasmere. The supposition of renewed study is supported by Coleridge's statement to Cottle, in a letter of early April 1796, that he was in receipt of £10 from Lloyd, Sr. Lloyd had arrived at Nether Stowey after holidays on 22 February and departed for Litchfield at some point between 16 and 23 March, a period of about a month. The original amount agreed upon the previous October for both Lloyd's tutoring and room and board was £80 per annum, or approximately £7 per month, so that £ 10 for the month of February-March would indicate that tutoring was included in the payment, as well as a generous gratuity. BACK

[9] Sisman is wrong, however, about the reasons for discontinuing the arrangement: "[W]hen there was no longer any financial benefit to Coleridge, he found Lloyd's company increasingly irksome." It was Lloyd's complete mental breakdown that led to his departure for Litchfield. To all appearances, the financial benefit to Coleridge would otherwise have continued. BACK

[10] Addressed as "my Sister" in the Southey version, as "my Sara" in the copy sent to Lloyd. Mays (Part I, 350) is almost certainly correct in interpreting "Sister" as referring to Mrs. Coleridge "in pantisocratic terms," recalling for Coleridge's correspondent their failed scheme for establishing a utopian society, along with Southey's wife (and Sarah's sister) Edith, on the banks of the Susquehanna River two years previously. BACK

[11] The line is omitted not only from all published versions of the poem, but also from the version sent to Charles Lloyd some days later. Other emendations ("&" to "and," for instance) and the lack of any cancelled lines suggests that the Lloyd MS represents a later state of the text than that sent to Southey. The two versions can be read synoptically in the Appendix to this essay. BACK

[12] This information is to be found in Hitchcock (61-62, 80). Mays (2.480) is mistaken in his assumption that the "Lambs," brother and sister, visited Nether Stowey together. Mary was not to be released from care at Hackney until April 1799. BACK

[13] The right-wing hysteria of the times, which led to the Treason Trials of 1794 and Pitt's suspension of habeas corpus, must certainly have been in play as Coleridge began his composition. Mays cites John Thelwall's "sonnet celebrating his time in Newgate" awaiting trial for treason, as "another of Coleridge's backgrounds" (1.350). BACK

[14] For the legal background and implications of Wordsworth's play, see Cara Norris's essay. BACK

[15] In both MS versions, Charles "chiefly" and the rest of his companions "look down" upon the "rifted Dell," as if at a distant memory of "evil and pain / And strange calamity" evoked by "the wet Ash" that "twist[s] it's wild limbs above the ferny rock / Whose plumey ferns for ever nod and drip / Spray'd by the waterfall." BACK

[16] As Leonard Orr observes, "[H]e directs his friends to that landscape, assuming they, too, will have the same experience he had and has set up for them" (10). BACK

[17] On the language of stage presentation in "This Lime-Tree Bower," with specific reference to Osorio/Remorse, see Miller, 522-29. See also Rzepka, 128-29. BACK

[18] Paul Magnuson, for instance, believed that in "This Lime-Tree Bower" we find "a complete unity of the actual sensations and Coleridge's imaginative re-creations of them" (18). See also Mileur, 43-44. Durr, by contrast, insists on keeping distinct the realms of the real and the imaginary (526-27). BACK

[19] See Mays, 1.669-70, for a summary of the possible dates of composition. As Mays points out, Coleridge's retirement to the "lonely farm-house between Porlock and Linton," purported scene of the poem's composition, could have been prompted by Lloyd's "generally estranged behaviour" in mid-September 1797. BACK

[20] See Ingram, 173-75, with photographs. Wordsworth makes note of these figures in The Prelude. In the 1850 version they are “carved maniacs at the gates, / Perpetually recumbent” (7.132-3; see also 1805, 7.132). All citations of The Prelude are from the volume of parallel texts edited by Wordsworth, Abrams, and Gill. BACK

[21] For this and further information on Coleridge's frigid relationship with his mother, see Weissman, 12-13; Fruman, 22-25; and Holmes, 9, 15-18. BACK

[22] Pratt, citing Southey's correspondence of July and August 1797 (316-17), notes that just as Coleridge was shifting his attachment from Lamb and Lloyd to Wordsworth in the immediate aftermath of composing "This Lime-Tree Bower," Southey was "attempting to refocus his own allegiances" by strengthening his ties to Lamb and Lloyd. The result was to intensify the "climate of suspicion and acrimonious recriminations," mainly incited by the neglected Lloyd, which eventuated in the Higginbottom debacle. BACK

[23] "A Copy of Verses wrote by J[ohn] Johnson," appearing in an anonymous 1787 pamphlet, The Last Dying Speech, and Confession, Birth, Parentage and Education of the Unfortunate Malefactors, Executed This Day upon Kennington Commons, is representative:

If that happy days you'd see,
Thoughtless men attend to me,
And I will, without delay,
Put you in the only way:
First serve God with heart and mind,
To virtuous ways pray be inclin'd,
Break not the sabbath-day be sure,
Lest many troubles you endure;
Next let your parents honour'd be,
And length of days you sure will see;
Take not the name of God in vain,
If heaven's bliss you mean to gain;
Thou shalt not steal, this book doth shew,
How thieves must to the gallows go;
Observe these rules, and you will find,
A conscience clear brings peace of mind.
BACK

[24] For an acute analysis of Bunyan's role in shaping Coleridge's allegorical practice in poems like "This Lime-Tree Bower," see Perry, Coleridge, Bunyan, 93. BACK

[25] Reiman, 336, calls attention to the deliberate tone of "equivocation" in Coleridge's avowals of self-parody, reiterated many years later in the pages of the Biographia Literaria, "his use of half-truths that almost, but do not quite, openly reveal his earlier moral lapses and overtly suggest both contrition and his delight in the deception." BACK

Published @ RC

October 2010

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