THE FOUR LOVES
from Chapter Four, “Friendship”
It could be argued that friendships are of practical value to the Community. Every civilised religion began in a small group of friends. Mathematics effectively began when a few Greek friends got together to talk about numbers and lines and angles. What is now the Royal Society was originally a few gentlemen meeting in their spare time to discuss things which they (and not many others) had a fancy for. What we now call the “Romantic Movement” was once Mr Wordsworth and Mr Coleridge talking incessantly (at least Mr Coleridge was) about a secret vision of their own.
In Agricola, Tacitus helpfully said Omne ignotum pro magnifico est, which means “everything unknown is thought magnificent.” The phrase has come to us more as “everything unknown is thought to be more difficult than it is.” We get it. The worst enemy of every endeavor is self-doubt.
As a poet, Coleridge’s heart could soar to great height, but the counterpoint was frequently the nagging voice of self-condemnation. His friends certainly helped, but God was his only refuge.
Malcolm Guite writes:
The very openness and sensitivity that were his essential gifts as a poet left him vulnerable to depression. But Coleridge’s way of expressing the depression is equally signiﬁcant; he naturally borrows the language of Milton in Samson Agonistes to express his own pain; indeed, he does not so much borrow it, as make it his own. It is clear that for Coleridge, Milton is not simply an august ﬁgure from the past but also a contemporary and intimate companion. Coleridge goes on immediately after this passage in the letter to mention Wordsworth’s visit:
“Wordsworth’s conversation, &c roused me somewhat; but even now I am not the man I have been—and I think never shall. A sort of calm hopelessness diffuses itself over my heart.—Indeed every mode of life which has promised me bread and cheese, has been, one after another torn away from me—but God remains.”
Again, it is characteristic that he can be roused by conversation and yet sink so swiftly back into depression. What Coleridge calls “a sort of calm hopelessness” in this letter is eventually bodied forth in his poetry as the “doldrums” in which the mariner’s ship is trapped.