Q on Coleridge: New Insights into Devon's Most Distinguished Poet and Writer


This study began as an attempt to identify, tabulate and interpret the references to Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) in Q's printed works so as to understand the importance of Coleridge and his writings to Q and Coleridge's place in Q's appreciation of the Romantic poets. However, as Q shone his critical light upon Coleridge, its reflection illuminated aspects of Q himself. Q wrote more extensively on Byron, Shelley and Wordsworth yet they were figures seen as through a glass darkly.

Q believed the roots of British culture lay in the Classical and Christian Mediterranean; Coleridge and Q were steeped in both. Their Devon forebears had lived within the boundaries of the Roman empire and subsequently in the Romano-British kingdom of Dumnonia.

Q recognised genius in Coleridge, but a flawed genius: the genius exhibited itself in the poetry and analysis of poems; the flaw revealed itself in metaphysical speculation and drug addiction. 

Coleridge and Q were also similar in having had their lives divided into two by war and revolution: the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars for Coleridge, and the Great War and Bolshevik Revolution for Q.

It is worth noting Britain's enemies and allies from the birth of Coleridge to just after the death of Q:

  • Britain allied with Prussia and Russia against France
  • Britain allied with France and Russia against Germany
  • Britain allied with Germany and France against Soviet Russia.

To the west hovered the mighty presence of the USA – where Q's writings were not without influence. The Couch tradition of empiricism, with observed fact being held more important than theory, inoculated Q against the ideologies of Marxism and Fascism which were such potent forces in Oxbridge in the 1920s and 1930s and to which both those in the arts and the sciences equally succumbed. The tendency to theory, which Q saw as a peculiarly German failing, he detected and deplored in Coleridge.

This study examines both traditional and unexplored areas.

Coleridge: Introductory Information

Coleridge as the Product of a People and a Place

Biographers and literary critics have viewed Coleridge's Devon background as of little importance. To them, Devon is simply an area of southern England with an Anglo-Saxon population, the Celts having been driven back over the River Tamar in the Early Medieval period. As Q's mother came from Abbotskerswell in South Devon, the historian A.L. Rowse identified Q as 'half-Cornish, half-English' with 'none of the characteristics of the Celtic temperament' (Rowse, 1988, p. 10). If this is correct, then Coleridge was wholly Anglo-Saxon, as was St Boniface (c.675-754), missionary to the Germans, who came from Crediton, the home town of the Coleridges.

However, while academic historians of the early medieval period have confidently identified Anglo-Saxon military campaigns, battles victoriously fought and areas occupied, folklorists have not been so sure. In Romances and Drolls of the West of England (1865), Robert Hunt FRS, a friend of Thomas Quiller Couch of Bodmin, identified the River Exe rather than the River Tamar as the line of demarcation, with Cornwall and Devon sharing a common folk tradition, one that fades slowly to the east. This then is the folk culture inherited by Coleridge and Q. 

Recent DNA analysis has radically transformed our understanding of the native populations of Britain and where people originally came from. This is particularly true of the south-west peninsula. The most authoritative study was conducted in 2014 by Ewen Calloway and Peter Donnelly, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford. The Morrab Library in Penzance, where the present writer heard Sir Walter Bodmer speak on the project and its methodology, was the centre of the investigation for the west of Cornwall. The results were published in Nature on March 18, 2015, and are available on-line, as discussed in Section II of this study.

The project established the native population of Devon to be distinct from both that of Cornwall to the west and southern England to the east. There is minimal evidence of Anglo-Saxon penetration into Devon or even into the rest of the south-west peninsula. The populations of the peninsula derive from migrations prior to the Roman period. The Coleridges derive from a unique population mix. Q's DNA was the product of two unique populations, Cornwall and Devon. St Boniface was Devonian not Anglo-Saxon.

Devon not ony has a distinct native population but also a distinct geography. Geographers draw a line between Highland and Lowland Britain stretching from the mouths of the River Exe to the River Tees, with most of Devon and western Somerset lying in the Highland zone: a substantial part of central and southern Devon is covered by Dartmoor, while to the north lies Exmoor, with the Quantocks and the Mendips extending into Somerset; beyond the River Tamar lies Bodmin Moor. Between Dartmoor and Exmoor lies a corridor of lower ground which has traditionally enabled crossing the Tamar below Launceston, the main route into Cornwall. To the south of the Quantocks rise the Blackdown Hills so that entry into Devon is through two lowland corridors. Consequently, travel into the far west has traditionally been difficult and by wheeled transport impossible until well into the 18th century. 

Crediton has the historical misfortune of lying on the route between Bristol and Launceston, the 'Marchland' of the south-west. Along this route armies marched and on either side battles were fought. It is disappointing that biographers have failed to appreciate the importance of the history of both population and location in relation to Coleridge; this study opens this new perspective in Coleridge studies.

References to Coleridge in Q's Published Works

Any attempt to obtain a coherent picture of Q's views on Coleridge encounters a serious problem in that references to Coleridge are dispersed throughout Q's published works from 1896 to 1934, a period of 38 years. 

The earliest references come in his 1896 Adventures in Criticism, published 16 years before Q started lecturing at Cambridge University, while the last appear in The Poet as Citizen in 1934. Q went on lecturing at Cambridge into the Lent Term of 1944, but these lectures have not been published. The only study devoted solely to Coleridge comes in his 1918 Studies in Literature (I). It was not intended as a lecture but as an introduction to Coleridge as part of The World's Classics series published by Cambridge University Press. References to Coleridge appear in Q's studies of Byron and Shelley from Studies in Literature (II) in 1922. These help place Coleridge in the context of the Romantic movement. Some of the most interesting material comes from two printed lectures on 'The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth' from Studies in Literature (III) in 1929. It details Coleridge's relationship with Dorothy and William Wordsworth, developing a topic first found in the 1918 study.

While there is no dedicated  section on Coleridge in Q's The Poet as Citizen (1934) there are no fewer than 14 index references, eight of which relate to the printed lecture 'First Aid in Criticising: I'. This shows Q's respect for Coleridge's analytical mind as lengthy quotations from Coleridge's critical works are included.

How Q Used Biographical Material

In his lecture 'Classical and Romantic', Q argues that poets need to be viewed as living individuals, not as aspects of an 'influence' or 'tendency'. At best they are individuals of 'genius and talent' (Quiller-Couch, 1918, p.87). Biographical knowledge is therefore essential for criticism, although it is not the job of the lecturer to provide it for students. In 'A Lecture on Lectures' and 'On Reading for the English Tripos' he puts the onus on the students to obtain this material from books.

Only in the study 'Coleridge' does he provide biographical information, presumably because it was written as an introduction to a work for the general public. It is the dullest part of the work. In fact, Q makes it clear that biographies of Coleridge are invariably dull because he lacked 'character'. Yet he did not lack for talent and this raises him from the level of the prosaic, at times even to genius.

A summary of biographical material referred to by Q:

  • Bogue, David (1847): Pen and Ink Sketches of Poets, Preachers and Politicians
  • Anonymous publication of author John Ross Dix
  • Campbell, James Dykes (1894) Life of Coleridge
  • Dictionary of National Biography
  • Garnett, Dr Richard (1904) Coleridge. London: Bell
  • Lamb,Charles Christ's Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years Ago. Recollections of Christ's Hospital.
  • Catherine MacLean of the University College of Cardiff (on Dorothy Wordsworth)
  • Henry Crabb Robinson, Diaries of, Correspondence with the Wordsworth Circle, edit., Dr Edith J. Morley

Q's Major Publications Prior to Adventures in Criticism

1887   Dead Man's Rock                                        

1888   The Astonishing History of Troy Town 

1889   The Splendid Spur                                      

1890   First contribution to The Speaker

1891   The Blue Pavilions                                     

            Noughts and Crosses                                 

1892   The Warwickshire Avon                              

            I Saw Three Ships & Other Winter's Tales

1893 The Delectable Duchy                                       

          Green Bay: Verses and Parodies

1895 Wandering Heath

          Fairy Tales Far & Near Re-told

          The Golden Pomp, a Procession of English Lyrics from Surrey to Shirley

1896 Ia

         Poems & Ballads

        Adventures in Criticism

Adventures in Criticism 1896

General Background


When Q published Adventures in Criticism in 1896 he had been domiciled in Fowey for about three years and recovered from his nervous breakdown of 1892. He was a family man with a son. As a novelist and short story writer with a number of 'best sellers' he was financially secure. Between January 1891 and the end of 1895 he also earned a regular income from his writings for The Speaker .

Adventures in Criticism contains 29 articles previously published in The Speaker. The 1924 pocket edition and the 1926 reprint omitted nine, presumably to accommodate the average pocket size. Some of these had been written in London while the later ones were written at The Haven in Fowey. Q rented this large house from 1892, later buying it. It overlooks the Fowey estuary, while from its garden the sea can be seen. Fowey was the harbour into which Q's Quiller forebears had sailed their 'prizes' during the Napoleonic Wars. These were auctioned on the quay by the King O'Prussia public house, a location he must have passed daily.


Q was fully involved in the issues of the day, both nationally and locally. In 1897, he helped to organize the local celebrations of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, as described in his novel Hocken and Hunken. He also accepted positions giving him Fowey Harbour responsibilities.

Politics was always central to his thinking, and it is not hard to imagine that before settling himself at his writing desk he would peruse the national newspapers. A year after his move to Fowey he would have learned of Gladstone's resignation as Prime Minister. Gladstone was succeeded by Lord Rosebery – in Hocken and Hunken, it was possible to buy a Lord Rosebery collar at S. Benny, Gent's Outfitter in Troy – whose ill-fated administration led to the Conservative and Unionist Party, under the reactionary Lord Salisbury, being swept to power in the general election of 1895.

The reactionary Toryism which, after the Napoleonic Wars, had held back political and social progress as Q was to argue in his lectures on Byron and Shelley, had returned with a vengeance; and would remain until the end of 1905. Adventures in Criticism was published at a time of political desuetude for Q. The Speaker had failed in its mission.

When Q was preparing Adventures in Criticism he was aware of two threatening forces. Firstly, Marxist materialism: the German Karl Marx, who spent the second half of his life in England, published the first volume of Capital in 1867, with the third and final volume, edited by Engels, appearing in 1894. It was a small cloud on the horizon, but Q may have been aware of its significance. The second was more immediately pressing: the power and influence of a united Germany under an increasingly militaristic kaiser, Wilhelm II. The influence had military, political and academic aspects.

Defining Englishness in Adventures in Criticism

When Q commenced his inaugural lecture as Professor of English Literature at Cambridge on January 29, 1913, the first name he mentioned was that of Plato. The Anglo-Saxons went unnoticed. Q was not enamoured of the German influence on academic and political circles. He identified most of value in British and European civilisation as coming from classical learning or the Christian religion, both based on the Mediterranean.

Adventures in Criticism is Q's first attempt at defining 'Englishness'. He does this in his selection of writers, even if, as with Burns, Stevenson and Scott, they were Scottish. The determining criteria was the use of the English language. When assessing M. Zola, he does so by invoking George Moore, Lewis Carroll and the Irish Edmund Burke. There are two Norwegian writers, Ibsen and Bjornson, but no German or Austrian.

South-west Britain is not totally ignored. The second paper is on William Browne of Tavistock in Devon, while the third is on Thomas Carew, whose roots lay in Antony St Jacob, between the rivers Lyner and Tamar. Q based his novels Harry Revel and Poison Island, at least in part, on Antony. The study of Carew contains some lines from Lucius Carey's 'Eclogue on the Death of Ben Jonson':

Let Digby, Carew, Killigrew and Maine,
Godolphin, Waller, that inspired train- (Quiller-Couch, 1896, p.72).

The Killigrews were as notorious a Cornish family as the Godolphins were respected. The poet Sidney Godolphin, who almost certainly could also speak Cornish, was killed in Devon fighting for the king during the Civil War. Along with S.T. Coleridge of Crediton in Devon, who merits mention on eight separate pages in the book, this is a curious number from an area whose importance is generally dismissed. All these hail from families rooted in the old Romano-British kingdom of Dumnonia, which strongly resisted any Anglo-Saxon penetration during the Early Medieval period.

The Importance of Coleridge to Adventures in Criticism

There is no study solely dedicated to Coleridge but he is a significant figure in two papers: 'Scott and Burns' and 'The Popular Conception of a Poet'. There is also a brief mention at the conclusion of 'Excursions in Poetry'.

'Scott and Burns'

The earliest reference by Q to Coleridge comes in the paper 'Scott and Burns' dated 9th December 1893 shortly after Q's move from London to Fowey. The article appears to have been inspired by the 1890 publication of Walter Scott's Journal, edited by David Douglas, and Douglas's subsequent publication of Scott's letters in two volumes. These letters run from 1797, an important creative year in the lives of Coleridge and Wordsworth, to 1825. Douglas' work supplemented Lockhart's detailed biography of Scott.

The paper compares the Scotsman Walter Scott with the Devonian Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He argues that:

Coleridge is an ill man to read about just as certainly as Scott is a good man to read about; and the secret is just that Scott had character and Coleridge had not (ibid., p.110).

This starkly negative portrayal of Coleridge is a theme which plays with variations throughout Q's printed works, although he does proclaim 'the essential goodness of the man' by 1918 (Quiller-Couch, 1918, p.226).

'Poets On Their Own Art'

This paper is dated to May 11, 1895. It includes a deprecation of Coleridge's prose by William Hazlitt:

One of his [Coleridge's] sentences winds its "forlorn way obscure" over the page like a patriarchal procession with camels laden, wreathed turbans, household wealth, the whole riches of the author's mind poured out upon the barren waste of his subject. The palm tree spreads its sterile branches overhead, and the land of promise is seen in the distance (Quiller-Couch, 1896, p. 258).

Q counters what he sees as Hazlitt's maliciousness by quoting the conclusion to Chapter 14 of Biographia Literaria labelling it as 'Coleridge's prose seen at its best - obedient, pertinent, at once imaginative and restrained':

Finally, good sense is the body of poetic genius, fancy its drapery, motion its life, and imagination the soul that is everywhere, and in each; and forms all into one graceful and intelligent whole (ibid., p.258-9).

Here Q, as he does in the previous chapter 'The Popular Conception of a Poet' admires the way that Coleridge 'never had the slightest difficulty in uttering [his thoughts] in prose'  (ibid., p. 255).

Q uses Coleridge in his study of poets and their art because of Coleridge's high view of the poet's calling: 'no man was ever yet a great poet without being at the same time a profound philosopher' (ibid., p. 262) and Holmes informs us that Coleridge had 'metaphysical interests' from the age of eight (Holmes, 1989, p.19). 

Yet at the conclusion of the previous study, 'The Popular Conception of a Poet', Q seems to doubt whether Coleridge conforms to his own definition, arguing instead that while as seen above, his prose reflects his 'great thoughts':

His great achievements in verse – his Genevieve,  his Christabel,  his Kubla Khan, his Ancient Mariner  - are achievements of expression. When they appeal from the senses to the intellect their appeal is usually quite simple.

He prayeth best who lovest best
All things both great and small (Quiller-Couch, 1896, p.255).

On the Art of Writing 1916

Q was an established figure at Cambridge in 1916 when On the Art of Writing was published. Twenty years had passed since the publication of Adventures in Criticism. During this time Q had been involved in Liberal politics, seen Liberal legislation emasculated by the House of Lords and had then seen the Liberal Party in the House of Commons bifurcate.

The book begins with Q's inaugural lecture of January 29, 1913, and concludes with a lecture dated January 28, 1914. Between the final lecture and the writing of the preface in November 1915, the catastrophe of war had begun. Like many others, Q was aware that defeat would bring Germany to a dominant position in Europe, militarily, politically and culturally. This also appears to have been his fear when publishing Adventures in Criticism in 1896, yet actual war then seemed unlikely if not impossible.

The lectures contained in On the Art of Writing show Q's 'faith' in English literature as a force for good, a 'faith' which the war 'has strengthened' (Quiller-Couch, 1916, p. viii). No doubt the book was published with one eye on post-war reconstruction, a hope emboldened by the prospect of compulsory military service (January 1916) and the expected campaign at the Somme (July, 1916).

There are three specific references to Coleridge, the first of which cites Coleridge as a quality writer of both poetry and prose but Q's hope is that his listeners in the New Arts Theatre and his readers will out-write even Coleridge. A literary tradition has to be a living one or it will die – as the Cornish literary tradition died at the time of the Reformation, when the language ceased to be widely spoken. Alas, during the four years from August 1914, Q was to see the names of possible writers included in the lists of the dead. This tragic fact was later referred to in Q's lectures on Shelley.

The only significant reference to Coleridge comes in Lecture IV, 'On the Capital Difficulty of Verse'. Discussing the differences between verse and prose, Q takes a quotation from Coleridge's Biographia Literaria (Chapter 18) as an example of a philosophical approach:

And first from the origin of metre. This I would trace to the balance in the mind effected by that spontaneous effort which strives to hold in check the workings of passion. It might be easily explained likewise in what manner this salutary antagonism is assisted by the very state which it counteracts, and how this balance of antagonism becomes organized into meyte (in the usual accetation of that term) by a supervening act of the will and judgmwnt consciously and for the foreseen purpose of pleasure (Coleridege in ibid., pp. 77/78).

He points out that Coleridge's hypothesis is obscure and not 'amenable to positive evidence' like that of, for example, Sappho's singing being a response to the striking her lyre. Q confesses to not completely understanding every nuance of Coleridge's argument here but does agree with Coleridge when he says:

...as the elements of metre owe their existence to a state of increased excitement, so the metre itself should be accompanied by the natural language of excitement... (Coleridge in ibid., p. 79)

Q remarks that this is 'precisely where we find ourselves, save where Coleridge uses the word "excitement" we use "emotion" (ibid., p. 79)/.

The need for clarity of expression and empirical evidence is an echo in Q's literary studies of the scientific thinking of his grandfather, Dr Jonathan Couch; just as Coleridge's obscurity might well be seen as the influence of German thought – Coleridge spent ten months in Germany in 1798-9. Holmes identifies this influence:

...this intensive period at Gottingen also gave him a sense of sharing in the intellectual life of Europe . . . and distinguished him sharply from the purely provincial aspect of English thought. His whole notion of 'criticism' – of the application of philosophic principles to imaginative literature – was to be European rather than English (Holmes, 1989, p. 221).

This was the very 'influence' Q was fighting against. No doubt he saw it as one of the factors stifling Coleridge's poetic creativity.

Holmes goes on to make a statement acceptable in 1989 when Devon was seen as an Anglo-Saxon area but not since the development of genetic analysis:

Coleridge found something Teutonic in his own soul so the bright spirit of the Quantock Hills rose up to meet the misty enchantment of the Hartz mountains (Holmes, 1989, p.221).

The Coleridges of Crediton had nothing Teutonic in their soul and the Quantock Hills never lay in an Anglo-Saxon area. S.T. Coleridge's poetic flowering might have continued longer had he never gone to Germany and come under the influence of the universities of Gottingen, Jena and Leipzig.

Studies in Literature (I)


From Novelist to Professor

Following the publication of Adventures in Criticism in 1896 Q temporarily abandoned literary criticism. As the book does not appear to have been badly received the reasons are unclear. Maybe academics looked down on a critic writing for a left-wing Liberal publication like The Speaker. If Q had been actively seeking an academic career, he would in all probability have published something further. However, for the next dozen years his life in Fowey seems to have satisfied him.  

His endeavours in other directions were formidable. For example, he was an active member of the Cornwall Education Committee, set up after the Balfour Education Act of 1902,  and had responsibilities for Fowey Harbour.  

He had retreated westwards to Fowey in 1892 as had Coleridge to Nether Stowey in 1797. Fowey is approximately 11 miles from Bodmin and 12 from Polperro/ Talland, while Nether Stowey is approximately 30 miles from Ottery St Mary and 35 from Crediton. Both sought and found inspiration in their home areas.

Most important was Q's own career as a writer; before becoming Professor of English Literature at Cambridge at the end of 1912, he had published 19 novels, along with collections of short stories and poems. He was also a noted anthologist. By comparison, Coleridge's period of inspiration was both much shorter and more intense, with poetry giving way to metaphysics. Holmes states that by 1802 'metaphysical criticism too often overwhelmed his own poetic impulse' (Holmes, p. 327).

Yet neither Q nor Coleridge found in Fowey or Nether Stowey an ultimate destination. Q returned to university life, while Coleridge could not resist the pull of London.  

Whatever Q's merits were as critic, anthologist and novelist, Brittain makes it clear that when he was offered the professorship he was known 'to most people only as a writer of fiction' (Brittain, 1947,p. 59), a point taken up by Dr J. Mayo in the Cambridge University Reporter – 'A Professor of English fiction!' (ibid., p. 57).

While Q continued to write fiction, his main focus from 1913 until 1944 was to write and deliver a lecture every two weeks from the podium of the New Arts Theatre each term. In this he was most successful. Monk says of Bertrand Russell's Cambridge lectures  in 1911: 'Russell's lectures on mathematical logic attracted very few students, and he often lectures to just three people . . .' (Monk, 1991, p. 39), whereas when Q lectured the New Arts Theatre was full (Brittain, 1947, p. 65). The lectures that Q considered to be most popular, supplemented with material from other sources, appear in Studies in Literature (I) of 1918.

The Fifteen Studies

Studies in Literature (I) contains a short preface, dated May 10 1918, and 15 studies. Ten were given as lectures for his Cambridge students, two were written as introductions and two were written for journals. The first study is the text of a lecture to the Royal Institution in London. The sweep of the material is remarkable, ranging from classical literature and the Cornish tin trade with Marseilles, Carthage and Tyre, to the Great War and on to living poets such as Thomas Hardy.

'Some Seventeenth Century Poets'

These three lectures are of particular value as they put in place the foundation stones upon which Q's thought is built. Q was not a writer dependent on attitudes and opinions. He built from first principles and wanted these to be understood. In this he stood apart from many but, as seen below, followed in his own family's tradition.

Q's first principles are empirically based on the observation of an ordered Universe: 'the Universe is not a Chaos but a Harmony' (Quiller-Couch, 1919, p.121) and that it:

...cannot be apprehended at at all except as it is focussed upon the eye, intellect and soul of Man, the microcosm (ibid., p.122).

It is not the product of chance, randomness and conflict – the unacknowledged assumption underlying much academic thought in his own time and in ours. Human reason is not an invention but a reflection of this rational Universe. The Universe can therefore be accessed on the basis of exploration and reason, which ought to inform any education system, and society should be rationally governed. Hence, underlying a liberal democracy there should be a liberal and rational education system.


In the two lectures 'Patriotism in Literature', Q shows the nature of a different type of education system, the German one, superb in certain disciplines, but not liberal and not likely to support liberal institutions.


In this context, Coleridge is presented as a failed visionary, one who discerned the rational nature of the Universe but who retreated from liberalism and indulged himself in German metaphysics and opium. His poetic genius was subverted.


'On the Terms "Classical" and "Romantic" '

This is one of Q's most distinguished lectures. It contains no reference to Coleridge except for two quotations from the writings of the Danish critic and scholar Georg Brandes in which he is mentioned. In his argument, Q has sought to void hard and fast definitions of his two key terms and takes against Brandes assertion that: 

...Naturalism is so powerful in England that it permeates Coleridge's Romantic supernaturalism, Wordsworth's Anglican orthodoxy, Shelley's atheistic spiritualism, Byron's revolutionary liberalism . . .

Keats' poetry is the most fragrant flower of English Naturalism . . . Its active principle had been evolved by Wordsworth . . . Coleridge provided it with the support of a philosophy which had a strong resemblance to Schelling's (Brandes in ibid., p.84).

Ever the empiricist, Q kicks back here against the idea of '-isms'  - 'tell yourselves that these foolish abstractions never did any of these foolish things' (ibid., p. 84). Disparaging the role of those who only function as critic rather than creative writer, he goes on:

...you will find (thanks to the servility of English professors) this German trick of philosophising art and fobbing off abstractions for things at its most rampant, at its most dangerous, in your literary handbooks which, fr convenience' sake, obliterate all that is vital to the work you ought to be studying, the chatter about 'schools', influences', 'revivals', tendencies,' 'reactions' (ibid., p.85).

Q's concern regarding the nature of literary criticism, however, goes much deeper, involving the nature of language itself. He believed that in the Classical Age Greek and Latin stood out in Europe as vehicles for the highest expression of intellect and emotion. Anglo-Saxon and the German from which it came were 'unmusical and barbarous'. It was the job of writers from Chaucer onwards, who 'practised and polished it' (ibid., p.85) to make English an international tongue equivalent to Greek and Latin. No doubt Q saw Coleridge as one who 'practised and polished' even if potential was never fully achieved.  

The printed lecture preceding that specifically on Coleridge is 'The Poetry of Thomas Hardy'. Hardy came from Dorset, immediately to the east of Devon. It was part of Wessex when Devon was the richest part of Dumnonia. Genetically, the peoples of Dorset and Devon are quite different.

Q was aware that English speaking populations, as in Dorset, have roots stretching into the distant past, with 'tales of old times which haunt a true countryman's imagination'. This was true of Hardy and Coleridge. Contemporary 'book-learning' cannot erase the palimpsest of 'Norman, Dane, Saxon, Celt, Iber, and the tribes beyond history, to the geological formations . . .' D.N.A. analysis has revealed the overwhelming importance of 'the tribes beyond history'. Hardy was no more a West Saxon than Coleridge was a Dumnonian Celt. Yet they would have been genetically distinct from each other.

The Coleridge study is the only one dedicated to the poet. It was never given as a lecture, being written as an Introduction in 'The World's Classics' series.

Section Four returns to the biographical with a description of the relationship between Coleridge and the two Wordsworths in the summer and autumn of 1797. Coleridge is working at the height of his powers, with the decline imminent, while William Wordsworth has yet to achieve full stature. Sadly, Coleridge's star has burned too brightly and will only rekindle occasionally. 'Coleridge's best harvest was done' when Wordsworth's was 'ripening'.

In late July 1799, the Wordsworths left the Quantocks while Coleridge decided on a journey to Germany. This brought him no poetical inspiration, only contact with German philosophy, which no doubt suffocated his real powers. He was later to claim that he had renounced poetry for metaphysics – and opium.

Section Five does not waste itself on the poetically barren years between 1798 and 1834, the year of Coleridge's death. This leaves Q to make two points. Firstly, Coleridge finally emerged from his addiction to opium. Secondly, for all his faults he was intrinsically a good man. This goodness made him 'unintelligible' to those of lesser goodness – Southey, Hazlitt and William Wordsworth. On hearing of his death Lamb said:

His great and dear spirit haunts me . . . Never saw I his likeness, nor probably the world can see again. I seem to love the house he died at more passionately than when he lived . . . What was his mansion is consecrated to me a chapel (ibid., p.224).

In his conclusion Q reflects on what might have happened had Coleridge married Dorothy Wordsworth. However, 'fate' decided otherwise and the poet was 'broken in his prime'.

Q appears to be thinking back to the previous study 'The Poetry of Thomas Hardy' and God's 'magnipotent Will'. There can be little doubt that Q must also have been reflecting on the poets broken in their prime on the Western Front, with Wilfred Owen dying but a week before the armistice, and the sense of life's futility it resulted in.

In Section Six, Q reflects upon the old question of whether Coleridge influenced Wordsworth or the converse. Chronologically he concluded that Coleridge must have influenced Wordsworth because his flowering came first.


This is the only study in the whole of Q's published works devoted to Coleridge. It was written as an introduction in The World's Classics series, published by Cambridge University Press. Although the sound of Q's voice is clearly audible, it does not appear to have been delivered as a lecture at Cambridge.

Q begins by admitting that the true Coleridge is hard to uncover and to write about because of 'the innumerable lapses, infirmities, defections of the will' so that we might miss 'the real Coleridge, the affectionate giving Coleridge, so anxious to cure his faults, so eager to make people see, so childlike..' (Quiller-Couch, 1919, p. 212).

Campbell, who Q admires as Coleridge's biographer, comments:

The living Coleridge was ever his own apology – men and women who neither shared nor ignored his shortcomings not only loved him but honoured and followed him. This power of attraction, which might almost be called universal, so divisive were the minds and natures attracted, is itself conclusive proof of very rare qualities (Campbell in ibid., p.213)

In his 'A Lecture on Lectures', Q explains that it is the job of the student to obtain the biographical information, not the job of the lecturer to deliver it. As 'Coleridge' was written as an introduction and not for a lecture, time is spent on biographical details. He tells us that Coleridge was born at Ottery St Mary in east Devon on October 21, 1772. Q might have added that his own mother, Mary Ford, had been born a few miles to the south at Abbotskerswell.

The study continues with a mention of Coleridge's schooling at Christ's Hospital; his first love (Mary Evans); his infatuation with the school nurse (subject of Genevieve); his snap enlistment in the King's Light Dragoon - the result of a broken heart - and subsequent liberation by his family; how he meets Southey and becomes involved in the idea pantisocracy (a type of Utopian ideal community),  and his somewhat unfortunate marriage to Sara Fricker with some speculation about bad timing - Q wondering what might have been if Coleridge had only met Dorothy Wordsworth first. I will come back to this topic again later in this paper, as Q does, in analysis of Studies in Literature III.

The main focus, though, after this less than auspicious start, is 'when the miracle happened': Coleridge's meeting with William and Dorothy Wordsworth at Nether Stowey in July, 1797, when 'Brother, sister, friend - these three - as Coleridge has testified - became one soul' (ibid., p.219).  Coleridge discovered himself as a poet. In fact, 'Coleridge and Wordsworth found themselves poets, speaking with new voices in a new dawn' (ibid., p. 219):

Is the night chilly and dark?

The night is chilly, but not dark.

The thin grey cloud is spread on high;

It covers but not hides the sky.

The moon is behind, and at the full:

And yet she looks both small and dull.

The night is chill, the cloud is grey:

'Tis a month before the month of May

And the spring comes slowly up this way.

Q hears the musicality of the piece, the sequences of sound, the changes of pace, along with the imagery and the selection of the most appropriate word. It is less easy to access this with the flat vowels and flat rhythms of much contemporary speech. Q's speech sounds and rhythms could not have been greatly different from those of Coleridge, but little available today. Q can hear Coleridge from within. Another who could have heard Coleridge from within was Charles Causley of Launceston, whose father came from Trusham, between Crediton and Abbotskerswell. In Causley there is much the same musicality as in Coleridge.

He also admires the 'most entrancing magical fragmenty in English poetry', Kubla Khan, and asks again if any could really contend that it could be finished (ibid., p.224).

After this came the 'thunderbolt' of Coleridge and Wordsworth's joint publication Lyrical Ballads, published that autumn, and Q laments that the quality of productivity of that year would not be repeated when Coleridge visited the Wordsworths in the Lake District a couple of years later: 'the renewed intimacy brought no second spring' (ibid., p.225). Q records that Coleridge told his friend John Thelwall that he had '"forever renounced poetry for metaphysics" and, moreover was beginning his long slavery to opium' (ibid., p. 225).

While Q prefers not to dwell on Coleridge's largely unhappy life after that, he is keen to make the point that 'the essential goodness of the man shines through, more and more clearly; how in any given quarrel, as the years go on, we see that after all, Coleridge was in the right' (ibid., p.226).  Q ends with a quotation from the poignant last lines of The Pains of Sleep:

But wherefore, wherefore fall on me?

To be loved is all I need,

And whom I love I love indeed (ibid., p. 226).

Q ends his paper by arguing that while it is generally accepted that Coleridge owed more to Wordsworth because the former was 'more impressionable', in fact the opposite might be true as he 'probably gave more than he received, as his presence and talk were the more inspiring' (ibid., p. 228). Q goes on to argue the Coleridge sounded Wordsworthian in works completed before Wordsworth found his mature voice. And Q ends with a reminder that the 'lyrical note of The Ancient Mariner was not something that could be passed on: he bequeathed it to none, and before him no poet had approached it' (ibid., p. 230).

Parallel Historical Contexts

While Coleridge feared the influence of Napoleonic France on English life and thought, Q feared that of Kaiser's Germany. In The Communication of Truth and the Rightful Liberty of the Press of 1809, Coleridge made his fears explicit. Just over 100 years later Q was extolling the importance of the Classical tradition in contrast to the German and Anglo-Saxon.  As Q says in  'Patriotism in Literature': 'Not a few Englishmen . . . of late years have lent too much of their minds to Germanic ways of thought' (Quiller-Couch, 1919, p. 296) .

Q must have felt his warning to have been verified when in August 1914 Germany invaded Belgium and northern France: 'the sack of Louvan, the bestialities of Aerschot, the shelling of Reims cathedral'; especially when 93 leading German intellectuals, including physicist Max Planck, attempted a justification in Manifesto to the Civilised World.

Just as the French Revolution and the Naopleonic Wars provided a watershed in Coleridge's life – and the two most important events in the life of Jonathan Couch – so did the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in the life of Q. Coleridge found himself caught between the ideals of the Revolution and the conservative reaction against the violence and dictatorship which resulted from the corruption of those ideals. Q had never believed in Germany or Russia, although he would have noted a modicum of liberalism in both, but he was horrified at the prospect of victory for the Kaiser and the triumph of Marxist-Leninism. When Studies in Literature (I) was being sent to the printers in 1918, the German army was advancing on the Western Front and the Bolsheviks were securing their hold on Russia.

The Military Background to the Publications

Q wrote his preface to Studies in Literature (I) on May 10, 1918, arguably the darkest month of the war from the allied perspective. The various studies had been selected as an act of faith, an act in defiance of reason.

In 1917, the French army had mutinied after the failure of the Nivelle Offensive, while the British army was bled white in the Passchendaele campaign. The Italians suffered a major defeat in the battle of Caporetto. By 1918 the American forces had yet to arrive in numbers. On March 3, 1918, the Germans and the Russian Bolsheviks signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, ending the war in the east. General Ludendorff moved fifty-two divisions from the Eastern to the Western Front for an offensive to final victory.

On March 21, under the command of General Ludendorff, the German army opened its offensive on the River Somme against the British – with Bevil Quiller-Couch's battery drawn into the conflict. As casualty list lengthened alarmingly and with the Germans moving inexorably forwards, Q must have feared the worst. However, the offensive on the Somme was only to draw allied reserves north and away from his central thrust.

Ludendorff opened his second offensive in Flanders on April 12. He then prepared his third to commence on May 27, seventeen days after the preface was written and when the presses were being prepared for printing. It fell upon the French part of the line supported by four British divisions, one being the 2nd Devons, possibly including descendants of the Coleridges and the Fords (his mother's family).

The reality of the moment is captured in 20 Years After:

Petain (the hero of Verdun in 1916 and the villain of the Vichy government in 1940) and his staff, far back in Provins, suffered agonies of suspense. Disaster was threatening and they could do nothing to obviate it. Reinforcements could not reach the scene of action for several days, and then only by driblets (Swinton, 1938, p. 1376).

Throughout the months of the offensive Q would have been receiving brief letters from Bevil. Although censored they would have provided him with a frame of reference for what he was reading in the newspapers. As is found in 20 Years After:

The Germans were able to inflict very heavy casualties in their bombardment. For having had time and opportunity to map every trench and every gun-pit, their fire was exceptionally accurate . . . Accompanied by tanks, they overwhelmed the Outpost Zone, and in less than two hours had broken through a great part of the Battle Zone . . . The 2nd Devon won immortality by a heroic defence. Anderson-Morshead – the commander – took position to hold a crossing over the Aisne. There, very soon, his small force became an island in a hostile sea. Refusing to surrender and preferring to fight to the last, this glorious battalion perished en masse. The whole battalion had offered their lives in ungrudging sacrifice to the sacred causen(Bax and Borston in Swinton, p. 1376).

Something of the parallel significance of the French Revolution and the Bolshevik Revolution is explored by Hobsbawm in The Age of Extremes. The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991:

However, the October revolution had far more profound and global repercussions than its ancestor. For, if the ideas of the French revolution have, as is now evident, outlasted Bolshevism, the practical consequences of 1917 were far greater and more lasting than those of 1789 (Hobsbawm, 1994, p. 55).

Q's lectures and observations on Byron, Coleridge, Shelley and Wordsworth need to be viewed in the context investigated by Hobsbawm. If Europe had not retreated into conservatism after the Napoleonic Wars the Bolshevik revolution might not have occurred. Coleridge was one who, possibly because of his own mental health issues, failed to fulfil his prophetic purpose and retreated into opium addiction.

In his lectures on Shelley, Q sees the reaction of the post-Napoleonic period as leading to the conflict driven theories, such as Marxism, of the middle and late Victorian Age. Hobsbawm argues that the theories of Marx and Engels provided the basis for International Socialism in Russia and National Socialism in Germany. Q saw both types of Socialism as irrational, with a rational liberalism as the only alternative and this necessitated a return to the ideals of the French Revolution – liberty, equality, fraternity.

Maybe there were times when Q reflected ruefully on the parallel between the German onslaught on Belgium and France and the Anglo-Saxon onslaught on eastern Britain in the post Roman period. Throughout much of eastern and central England culture was extirpated. Civilisation was preserved in the west, particularly Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall) with its Mediterranean links.

The tide on the Western Front turned on June 2 when the German advance was finally halted, although few saw any possible end to the war in the west or to the civil war in Russia. Q's act of faith in publishing Studies in Literature (I) was not fully vindicated until October 4, 1918, when Germany formally requested an armistice, although not signed until 5 a.m. on November 11, with the fighting ending at 11 a.m. That is the fighting on the western and other fronts, because violence erupted in various German cities in an attempted communist takeover.

It looked as though the Peace Conference at Versailles, which opened on January 18, 1919, would right the wrongs of the Congress of Vienna of 1814-15. Liberal democracies were established throughout Europe, except for Bolshevik Russia, about which nobody knew what to do. Europe suddenly appeared as a substantially liberal continent. However, the Peace Conference did not seek to establish a liberal education system in Germany or in other states to act as a foundation for liberal institutions. Studies in Literature (I) is a document of liberal education.

Coleridge, Quiller and Couch

When Coleridge was settling in to life in Nether Stowey at the beginning of 1797, some 70 miles away Q's grandfather, Jonathan Couch of Polperro in south-east Cornwall, was attending John Milton's school at Pelynt. Jonathan had been born at Polperro on March 15, 1789, four months before the 'Storming of the Bastille' in Paris and five before The Declaration of the Rights of Man. This statement was important to Coleridge in 1797 and would be important to Jonathan Couch in years to come. At the time, however, it was one element of a confused and threatening political and military situation facing the U.K.

When at Pelynt Jonathan came to the attention of the Rev. Sir Harry Trelawny of Trelawne, Cornwall's largest landowner, who had him instructed in Latin by Monsieur Arzell, an emigré priest. Jonathan's earliest memories were of the 'Mutiny in the Fleet' in 1797 and the 'Battle of the Nile' in 1798. News came to the area from two main sources, as we learn from Bertha Couch's Life of Jonathan Couch where she quotes Jonathan:

I recollect the painful emotion with which the French bulletins were read, the people assembling about the post office at Looe, and though it was generally concluded that they held much falsehood, yet everyone was conscious of misfortune (Couch, B., 1891,p. 17).

This could well describe Q in 1918 when accessing reports of the situation in northern France.

Secondly, local and national news was reported in the newspaper serving the south-west, The Sherborne and Yeovil Mercury or The Sherborne Mercury. Thomas Poole of Nether Stowey would almost certainly have taken it and possibly passed it around the village.

At the time Coleridge was beginning his residence at Nether Stowey, there was an attempted French landing in Ireland (December 1796), the fleet mutinied at Spithead and the Nore (April and May 1797), and Napoleon was planning an invasion before turning his attention to Egypt (July 1798). This is the military background to the Coleridge-Wordsworth relationship.

News from ports such as Polperro, which were in the front line when Britain was at war with continental states, is evidenced by extracts that can be seen in The Smugglers' Banker. The Story of Zephaniah Job of Polperro by Jeremy Rowett Johns.  In February 1783, a 'Sale Notice' for five privateered French and Spanish vessels was posted in The Sherborne Mercury: 

For SALE, at the New Inn, in Polperro, on Monday the 3rd of March, 1783, at two o'clock in the afternoon. 

N.B. The above vessels were taken from the French and Spanish by the Swallow private ship of war, John Quiller, commander.

John Quiller (1741-1804), who worked under a 'Letter of Marque', was Q's great-great grandfather.

The revenue officials at Fowey, to the west, were aware of open smuggling from ports such as Polperro. When Lieutenant Gabriel Bray was appointed, in the summer of 1789, to command the preventive schooner Hind, whose station extended from Portland to St Ives, he placed a notice of warning in The Sherborne Mercury.

No doubt, The Sherborne Mercury also reported that in 1797, an important year in the lives of Coleridge and Wordsworth, John Quiller and his second son William were ordered to stand trial in London for possessing contraband via the Guernsey merchants 'Nicholas Maingy and Brother' (Johns, 1997, p. 68).

The death of John Quiller was reported in The Sherborne Mercury in November 1804. A 'smuggling lugger' with eight men came to grief in heavy surf twenty yards from shore at Priest's Cove, St Just: 'The unfortunate sufferers were chiefly young men belonging to the lugger and inhabitants of Polperro' (ibid., p. 65).

The drowning at sea of Richard Quiller, Q's great-grandfather, in 1796, was also possibly reported in The Sherborne Mercury.

Johns provides information of much importance to any understanding of Coleridge in 1797-8. In 1797, there were food shortages and invasion scares while press gangs 'repeatedly raided coastal towns' through the Navy's chronic shortage of men (ibid., p. 83). Maybe this helps explain why Coleridge ensured he was ten miles from the Parrett estuary and five from Bridgwater, although even so he was far from secure. The reader is invited to consult Q's short story I Saw Three Ships where a press gang makes its way from Fowey to the far side of Pelynt. It also helps explain the importance of a garden and Coleridge's diligence in cultivating it, even if the cottage itself was a 'hovel' (Holmes, 1989p. 137).

Holmes' photograph facing page 240 and the map of page 136, clearly suggest that the 'paths frequented by Coleridge and Wordsworth, 1797-8' from the isolated coastal villages of East Quantoxhead and Kilve, over the Quantock Hills, to the interior, particularly Bridgwater and Taunton, were safe routes for the carrying of contraband. Q's novels and short stories indicate the locations of a number of these in south-east Cornwall and how they operated. That Coleridge never mentions the trade is unsurprising as it was illegal, but smugglers almost certainly passed through Nether Stowey.

Holmes suggests that Poole raised objections to Coleridge settling in Nether Stowey in 1796, on the basis of Coleridge's Jacobin views (Holmes, p. 133). As Poole was himself a radical this is unconvincing. The probable reason was that the villagers feared a stranger who could inform the Revenue of night activities. It is not unlikely that Poole was himself involved in such activities. In his novel Harry Revel, Q describes how smuggling (and privateering) ventures were financed by wealthy local individuals – squire, vicar, justice, businessman – who then took the profit or loss; both of which could be substantial. Poole was sufficiently wealthy and sufficiently well connected to safely indulge in such a speculation.

It is far from unlikely that the Coleridges of Crediton were also involved in the trade. Q describes how this brought wealth or bankruptcy to many. In Shining Ferry, Martin Rosewarne endeavours to rectify the family finances, destroyed by heavy drinking and maritime ventures, by investing a legacy of £50 in the 'privateering trade'. This brought in £500 a year, a very substantial sum in those days.

Holmes informs us that Coleridge's grandfather, a woollen draper, went bankrupt, with heavy drinking a factor. John Coleridge, his son, was 'determined and ambitious' and managed 'some how to save money' sufficient to enter Sidney Sussex, Cambridge, even though he had a wife and four daughters to support. Holmes provides no explanation. Coleridge had been a schoolmaster in a poor, rural village. His earnings could scarcely have covered family necessities, if that. It is difficult to see any other explanation except that he was involved in and then invested in the smuggling trade (Holmes, Chapter One).

In 1797-8, Coleridge became acquainted with the Wedgwood family of Cote House at Westbury, near Bristol. During that winter, Josiah Wedgwood brought his family to Penzance where they were entertained on expeditions to the surrounding areas by Davies Gilbert, who succeeded Humphry Davy as President of the Royal Society. In Beyond the Blaze, A.C. Todd includes an entry from the diary of Gilbert where he writes about an excursion to meet the 'King of Prussia Cove' (Todd, 1976, p. 115); this is John Carter of Prussia Cove on Mounts Bay. As the Quillers were the leading smuggling and privateering family of south-east Cornwall, so were the Carters of the far west. Both families auctioned their privateered vessels near the King of Prussia Inn on the quay at Fowey. Q was later to live along the road. Coleridge might well have been entertained with the story of the meeting and the subsequent conversation. This writer's great grandfather, Thomas Carter of Germoe, was almost certainly of the family. Q celebrates John Carter in the short story King O'Prussia.

Jonathan Couch married Richard Quiller's third child, Jane, in 1815, with Q's father, Thomas Quiller Couch, being born in 1826. The youngest son, John, was born in 1830 and died at Penzance in 1900, when Q was twenty-seven. It was his father and his uncle John who linked Q back to the Napoleonic Wars in Polperro, with its smuggling and privateering, and to the political and military atmosphere which Coleridge and Wordsworth breathed.

Jonathan Couch went to the combined medical school of Guy's and St Thomas's in 1808 – later attended by John Keats – a hotbed of political radicalism. Coleridge was a part of the Humphry Davy circle in London, as were a number of surgeons from Guy's and St Thomas's. Q inherited his political radicalism from his grandfather with its roots in the hospitals. At the time Coleridge was living in the Lake District, having renounced his early idealism and his belief in 'The Rights of Man'; and was descending into mental illness, as Holmes explains 'In the Dark Chamber', of Coleridge: Darker Reflections.

Coleridge was moving, in his medical thinking, away from the views of London's leading surgeons – John Hunter (1728-1793), Astley Cooper (1768-1841) and John Abernethy (1764-1831), who had been influenced by the medical schools of Scotland and the writings of Hume – to a German 'Naturphilosophie' (Homrs, 1998, p. 477). 

(Sir) Astley Cooper, a pupil of John Hunter, was the teacher of Jonathan Couch, and later of John Keats. He is mentioned in Bertha Couch's Life of her father, as is his nephew, Bransby Cooper, who Jonathan met in 1835 while preparing for the entry of his oldest son Richard into Guy's (Couch, 1891,pp. 25 & 83). Jonathan Couch's Notebook of Medical Lectures, 1808-1847, 'evidently made while a medical student at Guy's and St Thomas's in London, containing notes on lectures by Henry Cline and Sir Astley Cooper', can be found in the Rubenstein Library at Duke University in the USA.

Cooper and Cline were early supporters of the French revolution. Cline remained a revolutionary while Cooper reneged. They taught the importance of observation and experiment and were sceptical regarding theory. This is the approach that they passed on to their students. Jonathan established it as a family tradition, and one which inoculated Q from the theoretical approach to knowledge which pervaded Oxbridge between the wars (possibly still does), with deleterious consequences for the students, the country and Europe. It is what Q opposed in the writings of Coleridge.

Studies in Literature (II) 


Studies in Literature (II) was published in 1922, with a reprint in 1923. A pocket edition came out in 1927; the publisher was Cambridge University Press. There are 13 studies, four of which are on the Romantic poets. These set out Q's political creed and to an extent his literary one. There is no one study dedicated to Coleridge but he is referred to in the four lectures on the Romantics. Coleridge's critical writings are referred to in the lecture 'Antony and Cleopatra'. The preface is dated April 7, 1922. The earliest lectures were delivered towards the close of the war and the rest in the immediate post-war period.

It was a time of hope, when Cambridge suddenly filled with eager students, some having come straight from the Western Front. But it was also one of sadness for Q personally following the death of his son Bevil in 1919 in the flu epidemic, while serving in the forces of occupation in Germany. From then on Q was identified, and identified himself, with the grieving families of Britain. It is possible that some of those he lectured to had served under or known Bevil during the four years Bevil had spent at the Front.

It was also a time of hope because the 1918 Fisher Education Act proposed raising the school leaving age to 16 years. Fisher's Act would have helped prevent the tragedy of post-Napoleonic society – 'a tawdry society of war-profiteers swollen upon the miseries of a bowed and ruined populace' (Quiller-Couch, 1922, p. 13) against which Shelley, Keats, Landor and Byron protested and which Coleridge and Wordsworth had earlier hoped to prevent – being re-enacted in post-Great war society.

Post-Great War Britain also had its profiteers growing fat and its privileged politicians, but corruption could be countered by 'the right sort of knowledge' (ibid., p.77) including contact with the prophetic poets in the classroom and the lecture hall. The Fisher Education Act was a positive step. Hope, however, turned to despair and the post-war boom turned, in 1922, to bust. The Establishment called for economy, with lower taxes, lower public spending and lower wages. The raising of the school leaving age was abandoned. The voice of the 'prophets' was again silenced. Education remained a preserve of the wealthy and power a preserve of the privileged.

In 1927, the Cornwall Education Week Handbook was published, with the preface written by Q. One section, 'The Adolescent', looks back to the hopes raised by the Fisher Act; apparently written by a Mr A. Gregg, it echoes what Q was saying in his lectures at Cambridge:

 "The Adolescent"

The most recent of the three great Education Acts (1918) accomplished many reforms of a useful kind, notably the raising of the leaving age in Elementary Schools to 14, but its greatest provision, viz., for the continued education of young persons (those from 14 to 18) remains inoperative.

It was carried through parliament in the flush of enthusiasm excited during the war in favour of the greater power and privilege which democracy would wield after the war.

The Act stimulated high hopes that the great blemish of our Education system was at last to be removed, but alas a reaction set in and the carefully prepared schemes of the Local Authorities were ruthlessly scrapped under the strain of financial pressure – and the most far reaching sections of the Act remain suspended.

It is tolerably certain that a Labour Government will be disposed to make them operative, but will they have the means? (Gregg, p.55)

What Gregg fails to say is that the make-up of the House of Commons which passed the Fisher Education Act was different from the one that failed to implement its 'far reaching sections'. An analysis of the House of Commons following the 'Coupon' election of 1918 is contained in English History 1914-1945 by A.J.P. Taylor:

Baldwin called its members "hard-faced men who looked as if they had done well out of the war". Austin Chamberlain described them as "a selfish, swollen lot". There were 260 new members and the average age was higher than before the war. Since the young men were mostly away fighting and not available for adoption as candidates, this was not surprising. There were more business men than was usual – some 260 . . .(Taylor, 1986, pp. 128-9).

In his third lecture on Shelley, following an attack upon the post-war government, Q draws the parallel by using a quotation from a prose pamphlet by Shelley left unpublished until a few weeks before his lecture. No doubt Coleridge would have accepted most of it but had by then retreated into opium. It includes an explanatory comment of some importance in brackets:

 But in the habits and lives of this new aristocracy [that is, of the profiteers who, in the Napoleonic struggle as in our time, happy warriors! turned their country's necessity to glorious gain] created out of an increase in public calamities, and whose existence must be determined by their determination, there is nothing to qualify our disapprobation. They eat and drink and sleep and, in the intervals of these things performed with most vexatious ceremony and accomplishments, they cringe and lie. They poison the literature of the age in which they live by requiring either the antitype of their own mediocrity in books, or such stupid and distorted and inharmonious idealism as alone have the power to stir their torpid imaginations. Their hopes and fears are of the narrowest description. Their domestic affections are feeble, and they have no others (Quiller-Couch, 1922, p.70).

When Studies in Literature (II) was published Q was still buoyed by the return of so many from the war and the seriousness of their approach to the subject. He was not without hope that a future government would fully implement the Fisher Act. Yet the political and economic situation he would have found depressing. If future war could be avoided progress was still possible. It is important that students of Q try to see the situation as it was, rather than in the light of what later happened.

Cambridge University: The Moral Climate

The moral stance taken by Q in his lectures conflicted with some at Cambridge and with others in influential circles outside. He held that a liberal society balances freedom and responsibility. In a totalitarian society individuals are neither free nor seen as morally responsible. If, in a liberal society, responsibility is relinquished anarchy results. Germany under the Kaiser and Russia under the Czar were examples of states where obedience to authority was highly regarded.

The ideals of the French Revolution – liberty, equality, fraternity – balanced liberty and responsibility, the individual and society. These ideals underlay the creative inspiration of the Romantic poets. When some turned away their inspiration departed too. Q appears to have seen Coleridge as a lost leader, one who received the vision but failed in character. His poetic inspiration hardened into philosophical speculation, with the journey to Germany as the turning point.

Someone Q would have been acquainted with at Cambridge was the Liberal John Maynard Keynes, a leading economist. In his biography of Keynes, R.P. Harrod includes a quotation of Keynes' friend Lytton Strachey from the time of the war: 'What difference would it make if the Germans were here' (Harrod, 1972, p.251). Strachey sees little moral difference between Britain and Germany. Harrod traces this moral indifferentism back to G.E. Moore and his Principia Ethica of 1903. In 1911, Moore was made a lecturer in moral science at Cambridge and in 1925 Professor of Philosophy.

Harrod, a distinguished economist, writes of Moore:

  . . .his book was sadly lacking in any adequate theory of moral obligation. His ideals, so persuasively set forth, floated in a void. One had to seek those ideals, but little attention was given to the more immediate principles which have to govern action in this troubled and irrational world . . . the inevitability of uncertainty and violence unless men subject themselves to social obligation . . .'(ibid., p. 251).

Q could not have put it better.

Moore's influence was not restricted to Cambridge but permeated elite groups such as the Bloomsbury Circle and, in time, society in general.

Q gives his assessment of Lytton Strachey in the printed lecture 'The Victorian Age' at the conclusion of Studies in Literature (II). The lecture was given in response to Strachey's Queen Victoria of 1921 and Eminent Victorians of 1918, both aimed at debunking respected figures and the Age itself. Q acknowledges Strachey to be 'extremely clever', 'amusing' and stylish in his writing; yet also 'cheap', 'sneering' and detracting.

Q regretted that Strachey's influence lived on after him. Brittain relates how, in January 1940, Q read in the New Statesman, which had succeeded The Speaker, a 'sneering article' on Walter Scott by Virginia Woolf, 'all in the Lytton Strachey style of detraction' (Brittain, 1947, p. 145). Strachey and Woolf were or had been associates of G.E. Moore. Harrod says: 'As philosophical background, G.E. Moore's theories were translated from Cambridge to London and became de rigeur in Bloomsbury' (Harrod, 1972, p. 210).

Historians have tended to present Britain rising as one to confront the menace of Germany in 1939-40. Yet there was a deep undercurrent of disillusionment, cynicism and sneering contempt which even infected Lloyd George. As Owen says:

But in the country as a whole, as well as in the House of Commons, during the following months Lloyd George remained something of a puzzle. Where was that inspiring, indomitable spirit, those burning words, the unquenchable passion for victory, of the man of the Great War? Alas! There never was a trace of either faith or fervour from Lloyd George in this present fight. Either he said nothing, or else he talked his own version of appeasement (Owen, 1954, p. 745).

Brittain describes how Q endeavoured to confront the 'disparagement', the 'sneering' and the 'scorning' (Brittain, 1947, p. 143). He was fearless during bombing and never questioned ultimate victory (ibid., p. 145). Yet he would have been aware that the seeds of decay had been sown at Oxbridge before he even started to lecture at Cambridge, with Studies in Literature (II) an attempt to hold back a creeping rottenness.

Literary Background

At the time of the Liberal victory in December 1905 and when he was offered the professorship at Cambridge in October 1912, Q saw himself as a radical at the cutting-edge of events. When he wrote the preface to Studies in Literature (II) in April 1922, he was fighting a rearguard action against new ideologies in literature and in politics.

In 1922, T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland appeared in the first edition of The Criterion, quickly becoming a central text of the Modernist movement. In From Dawn to Decadence, Barzun writes of The Wasteland:

 "wasteland" . . . is the name for the earth and the soul; for what co-exists without meaning; art and its nightingales; sublime longings ending in vulgar, senseless rimming jokes; sexuality acknowledged in the mood of revulsion – the disparate images and tones affirm the blurring of all distinctions, the incoherence of the world (Barzun, 2001, p. 175).

Repeatedly in his lectures Q sets out to refute such a notion: 'the Universe is not a Chaos but a Harmony' (Quiller-Couch, 1918, p.124). This 'Harmony' we can all 'apprehend' but not 'comprehend' (ibid., p. 128).

Barzun says of James Joyce's Ulysses, also published in 1922:

Bald descriptions, satire through parody, calculated ramblings permit nuances within disgust, and even at times a sad sort of sympathy (Barzun, 2001, p. 175).

In his preface to the 1928 Duchy Edition of The White Wolf, Q dismisses such writing:

A novelist who traffics with sex and suicide, domestic bickerings and disillusions, is playing the very easiest game in the world . . . [and fails]. . .the artists test. . . (Quiller-Couch, 1928, p. v)

Political Background

Politically, Q was also fighting in the rearguard following the collapse of the Liberal Party in the general election of 1918, although he was able to transfer some sympathy to Labour.

When Q picked up his newspaper on the morning of April 17, 1922, as he probably did before settling down to work on the preface for Studies in Literature (II), he would have read of the Genoa Conference, where 34 nations were discussing the problem of German reparations, the isolation of Bolshevik Russia and Europe's economic slump following the post-war boom.

The possibility of Bolshevism spreading from Russia to Europe's major cities concentrated minds. In the general election of November 15, 1922, following the disintegration of the Conservative-National Liberal coalition, Labour became the main opposition with 138 MPs, including four from 'Red Clydeside'. Also elected was Oswald Mosley, who gravitated from the Conservatives to Labour and finally to the leadership of the British Union of Fascists in 1932.

Q could see the political life of the country moving to the margins of left and right: confrontation rather than cooperation; revolution rather than reform; violence rather than dialogue. This was not the 'liberty, equality, fraternity' of the Romantics but a reaction against them, the results of which we are now cognizant!

The Published Lectures and Studies in Studies in Literature (II)

The first lecture in Studies in Literature (II) is on Lord Byron; it was delivered at the University College of Nottingham following the end of the Great War. There are three references to Coleridge. The first comes in a quotation from Matthew Arnold (whose mother came from Camborne) where Arnold is assessing the relative importance of 19th century poets. First he places Wordsworth and Byron; then comes Keats, who died before fulfilling his promise; third comes Coleridge, 'poet and philosopher wrecked in a mist of opium' (Quiller-Couch, 1922, p.4), and Shelley.

Later in the lecture Q identifies a theme which he develops at considerable length in his lectures on Shelley, the parallel between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the end of the Great War. The ideals of the French Revolution inspired a group of poets, called Romantics, who in the political reaction which followed from the peace bifurcated into those who conformed and politically died and those who refused and died in exile. Coleridge belonged to the conformists.

The three lectures on Shelley, delivered in the New Arts Theatre at Cambridge, developed the central theme of the Byron lecture. He noted how those who kept the faith – Byron, Keats, Shelley – died while in full spate, while those who retracted – Coleridge, Southey, Wordsworth – lingered on endlessly and ineffectively. Coleridge's distinction, for all his faults of character, was a goodness which Shelley acknowledged in his Letter to Maria Gisborne:

You will see Coleridge – he who sits obscure

In the exceeding lustre and the pure

Intense irradiation of a mind,

Which, with its own internal lightning blind,

Flags wearily through darkness and despair -

A cloud encircled-meteor of the air

A hooded eagle among blinkering owls  (ibid., p. 93).

The final references to Coleridge, whatever his failure to sustain himself as a poet, come in the printed lecture on Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. It was delivered in 1919 at the New Arts School in Cambridge to a student body made up in part of men and women returning from the war. From various sources it is clear that the returnees were less tractable and more discerning than those arriving straight from educational establishments. Q fully acknowledges that, as he did the political status of newly enfranchised women.

In section one of the lecture, Q declares his satisfaction at the inclusion of Measure for Measure and Antony and Cleopatra as texts for study in the English Tripos. Yet he feels the need to justify examinations in literature and the use of Antony and Cleopatra as a possible examination text.

Q does not expect his students to have absorbed vast amounts of information about the subject, a process frequently suffocating genuine understanding. Nor does he want them to engage in 'vague aesthetics'. He desires them to have insight into the creative process, of how great artists create great literature. Through this comes not boredom and indifference, but joy in 'critical study' and the desire to engage in creative writing.

Q wanted the inclusion of Antony and Cleopatra on the syllabus because he regarded it as one of the 'greatest' of Shakespeare's plays. To support his contention he calls upon Coleridge, even to the point of including a lengthy quotation. Although Coleridge had ultimately failed to reach his full potential as a poet through a tendency to metaphysics, encouraged by his sojourn in Germany, and his addiction to opium, Q knew Coleridge saw literature through the eyes of a creative writer, not those of a professional critic. Coleridge was sensitive to aspects of the text inaccessible to pedants. Coleridge's criticism, therefore, possesses lasting value, especially as Coleridge himself produced works, although few in number, of the most sublime quality:

'The highest praise, or rather form of praise, which I can offer in my own mind, is the doubt which the perusal always occasions me, whether "Antony and Cleopatra"is not, in all exhibitions of a great power in its strength and vigour of maturity, a formidable rival of "Macbeth", "Lear", "Hamlet" and "Othello". Feliciter audax is the motto for its style comparatively with that of Shakespeare's other works, even as it is the general motto of all his works compared with those of other poets. Be it remembered, too, that this happy valiancy of style is but the representative and result of all the material excellencies so expressed.

Of all Shakespeare's historical plays, "Antony and Cleopatra" is by far the most wonderful. There is not one in which he has followed history so minutely, and yet there are few in which he impresses the notion of angelic strength so much; - perhaps none in which he impresses it more strongly. This is greatly owing to the manner in which the fiery force is sustained throughout, and to the numerous momentary flashes of nature counteracting the historic abstraction. As a wonderful specimen of the way in which Shakespeare lives up to the very end of the play, read the last part of the concluding scene. And if you would feel the judgment as well as the genius of Shakespeare in your heart's core, compare this astonishing drama with Dryden's "All for Love"(Coleridge in Quiller-Couch, 1922, p. 180)

It scarcely surprises us that Q took exception to the phrase 'historical abstraction' as history deals in the 'particular' (ibid., p.181). However, Q's central concern is that while Coleridge identified what was centrally important, and as a creative writer he could do no less, he then 'hesitates' and fails to drive home his point.

Surely Q has identified what is centrally important about Coleridge – a diffidence, a lack of confidence, a desire to retreat. Coleridge had the vision of a just society but compromised when the going got tough. He had the inspiration to be a great poet but succeeded in only one poem and in sections of a number of others. He could have been a distinguished and original lecturer, as Humphry Davy recognised, but failed to complete the course. Q saw it as a failure of character, which no doubt it was, with opium as the escape. Yet the underlying malady is a mystery.

Studies in Literature (III)  



From 1922 to 1929 Q was busy at Cambridge coping with the expansion of the English department following the end of the war and the development of the English Tripos. The Tripos was not complete until 1928 when it was divided into two parts with '140-150 annually taking a really noble Tripos' (Brittain, 1947, p.102). From 1923 until 1931 he was also chairman of the Cornwall Education Committee. Q was deeply committed to education, but not to the education system of Germany and other European countries, where obedience to authority and received opinion predominated. He believed in a liberal education system, questioning, creative and challenging. When the National Socialists took power in Germany in 1931, they also took over the remains of the Kaiser's education system and it suited their purposes perfectly.

Unfortunately, possibly resulting from overwork, Q's eyesight started to deteriorate in 1924. This forced him to rely increasingly on Winifred Hutchinson at Cambridge and his daughter Foy at Fowey. The problem persisted until 1927, when normality returned. As Q read his lectures he must have had to memorize or use very large print.

Studies in Literature (III) was put together at a very busy time, although with problems resolving themselves in a number of areas. At 65 years pld, Q was no longer a young man. Interestingly, he was born 29 years after the death of Coleridge, 13 years after the death of William Wordsworth, but only eight years after the death of Dorothy Wordsworth, the central figure in two of Q's lectures.


Politically, problems were anything but resolving themselves, although when Q settled down to write the preface of Studies in Literature (III) in November 1929, he had no notion of approaching catastrophe. By 1929 he had withdrawn from active politics but his radical vision, rooted in the writings of the Romantics, remained undimmed.

In 1925, Stanley Baldwin's Conservative administration had made the unwise decision of returning to the Gold Standard at an economically uncompetitive rate – as J.M. Keynes warned. For four years unemployment registered over one million. Young people were leaving school at 14 with the prospect of unemployment, possibly life long unemployment, before them. The folly of not implementing fully the recommendations of the Fisher Education Act must have been obvious to Q and many others.

In May 1929, about six months before the publication of Studies in Literature (III), Baldwin called a general election. The Liberals, under Lloyd George, fought under the banner 'We can Conquer Unemployment', arguing that a scheme of government funded public works, such as those later called the 'New Deal' in the USA, would solve the problem. 59 Liberals were elected, as against 260 Conservatives and 288 Socialists. For the first time there was a Labour government, with Ramsay MacDonald as Prime Minister, and with Liberal support as a possibility. Jubilation in the Labour ranks was, however, short lived.

On October 24, 1929, the New York Stock Exchange collapsed. Subsequently, all US loans to Europe were suspended. When Q was penning his preface stock markets around the world were crashing. The 'Great Depression' had begun. Soon Liberal democracies, established by the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919, were crashing too, most ominously in Germany. Totalitarianism was increasingly seen as the answer, especially where liberal education systems were not in operation.

Q must have reflected on the tragic fact that, for the third time in 150  years, the prospect of political and social reform had proved an illusion.

The first time was following the French Revolution, with Byron, Coleridge, Shelley and Wordsworth as its heralds. The close of the Napoleonic Wars provided an opportunity for advancement. Q's grandfather, who was born in 1789, hoped so. But the governing class, with the army to call upon, thought differently. Poets such as Byron and Shelley were hounded from the country, while Wordsworth, Southey and Coleridge lost their nerve and conformed. A generation of poets was silenced.

The second time was after the establishment of a Liberal administration in 1906, when the reform programme was rejected by the House of Lords. Then came the Great War, preventing further legislation. In the trenches a generation of poets was silenced.

The third time was May 1929. The House of Lords had lost its power to prevent legislation, while the Labour government had the Liberals to call upon. Yet within a few months the world was facing economic depression, resulting in a moribund National Government with the radicals marginalized. Aspiring poets, rejecting the vision of the Romantics, allied themselves with the ideologies of (Auden) left and right (Eliot). All too often propaganda took the place of poetry and conflict the place of harmony. The seeds of a second world war began to germinate.

Cambridge University: The Moral and Intellectual Climate

A revealing picture of Cambridge University in 1929, the year Q published Studies in Literature (III), is given in Ray Monk's biography of the Austrian philosopher and engineer Ludwig Wittgenstein who arrived at Cambridge in January 1912, a year before Q, bringing with him the manuscript of his now famous Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. He was befriended by Bertrand Russell, G.E. Moore, John Maynard Keynes, the economist, and, to their mutual dislike, Lytton Strachey.

After serving in the Austrian army during the Great War, Wittgenstein did not return to Cambridge until January 1929, where he was greeted by 'the cream of the current generation of Cambridge intelligentsia' (Monk, 1991, p. 256). This 'elite' group, known as the 'Apostles', was led by Keynes and included Anthony Blunt, who shortly afterwards was recruited by Guy Burgess as a Soviet spy. In 1951, Blunt helped Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean escape to the Soviet Union. Guy Burgess had become a member of the Communist Party while at Cambridge. A fourth associate was Kim Philby, who arrived in Cambridge in 1929 and who in the 1940s became a double agent.

Donald Maclean was the son of the Rt Hon. Sir Donald Maclean KBE, Liberal MP for North Cornwall from 1929 until his death in 1931, shortly after being made Minister of Education in the coalition government. As Secretary of the Combined Policy Committee on Nuclear Development in the 1940s, Donald Maclean provided the Soviets with much classified information, before being tipped off by Blunt and making his escape to Moscow, where he died in 1983.

Anthony Blunt was uncovered but escaped prosecution by providing information. It was not until a statement given by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the House of Commons in 1979, that Blunt was confirmed to the public as a Soviet Spy.  

Q would have had political dealings with Keynes and Sir Donald Maclean. He would also have been aware of the influence of Marxism and Bloomsbury at Cambridge.  

In 1929, Wittgenstein failed to respond to the 'apostles' and to Bloomsbury, and they to him. Monk writes:

But there was little common ground between the peculiarly English, self-consciously "civilized", aestheticism of Bloomsbury and the Apostles, and Wittgenstein's rigorously ascetic sensibility and occasionally ruthless honesty (Monk, 1991, p. 256).

This 'ruthless honesty' was shown in his assessment of Bloomsburyite Virginia Woolf:

She grew up, he said, in a family in which the means of a person's worth was his distinction in some form of writing or in art, music, science or politics, and she had consequently never asked herself whether there might be other "achievements" (Monk, p. 256).

Bloomsbury did not take generously to Wittgenstein's strictures. Clive Bell responded in a 'Drydenesque satire published in Anthony Blunt's student magazine The Venture'. Bell also took issue with the Tractatus. In this he 'expressed the view of many of the young Apostolic aesthetes'. The satire 'released accumulated tension, resentment, even fear' (ibid., p. 258).

Q's sympathies would probably have lain with Wittgenstein.

When Q was writing his preface to Studies in Literature (III) he must have been aware of writing against the times. In his Shelley lectures Q had argued that the political oppression and silencing of the prophetic voices in the Regency period had sowed the seed for the growth of conflict driven theories and ideologies in the mid-Victorian age. Following the Great War the incompetence and economically reactionary attitude of the politicians was producing the deadly flower of Marxism and fascism. The ideas of Lloyd George and J.M. Keynes, who held Liberal summer schools at Cambridge, went unheeded.

At the time Studies in Literature (III) was appearing in the book stores, Wittgenstein was awarded a five year fellowship from Trinity College. He was returning to Cambridge after having served the war years in the Austrian army and then having taught in Austrian village schools. Like Q, Wittgenstein was not an ivory tower academic.

Monk states that in the early 1930s Marxism had become the 'most important intellectual force' in the university, with 'many students and dons', including Anthony Blunt and Michael Straight, visiting the Soviet Union. The Cambridge Communist Cell, from which the Cambridge Spy Ring was formed, came into being with Maurice Dobb, David Hayden-Guest and John Cornford. By 1935, Communism had 'expanded to include much of the intellectual elite of Cambridge, including many of the younger members of the Apostles' (ibid., p. 348).

The communist Malcolm Dunbar, according to Hugh Thomas in The Spanish Civil War, was the 'leader of an advanced aesthetic set at Cambridge' (ibid., p.348). Dunbar and a number of these were at Trinity: 'Hayden-Guest, Cornford, Cornforth and other members of the Cambridge Communist Party attended Wittgenstein's lectures' (ibid., p. 348). Whether they attended Q's lectures, which attracted much larger audiences, is unknown.

Wittgenstein was not a Marxist but, like Q and Keynes, was deeply concerned at the inability of liberal democracy to deal with poverty and unemployment. Interestingly, at this time Keynes had started to make collections of the 'great English thinkers', presumably those who had most influenced him. His biographer, Harrod, lists eight, the last two being Wordsworth and Coleridge (Harrod, 1972, p. 570).

Julian Bell, Virginia Woolf's nephew, was one of a number of Cambridge men subscribing to left-wing or Marxist views who joined one of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil war of 1936 to 1939. Another was John Cornford, the great-grandson of Charles Darwin, who was a convinced communist and a gifted poet. With the commencement of the war Cornford left Trinity College, where he was a research student in history, arriving in time for the Battle of Madrid. On December 14, 1936, Cornford's brigade, supported by Russian tanks under the command of General Pavlov, went into action. Aged 21, Cornford was killed. Another who died in the battle was Ralph Fox, a communist, a poet who admired Byron, and the company commissar. He was 36. The English contingent was decimated. Julian Bell, to the anguish of Virginia Woolf, arrived at the Front in June 1937, in time for the Battle of Brunete. He died in the following month, aged 29, one of 20,000 casualties.

Science did not inoculate individuals from the theories of Marx. J.B.S. Haldane and his wife Charlotte also visited Republican Spain. Educated at Eton and Oxford, and researching at Cambridge, reconciling Darwinian evolution and Mendelian genetics, he became a Communist Party member on his return from Spain.

1929 saw not only the arrival of Kim Philby at Cambridge, the growing influence of Marxism at the university amongst the likes of Haldane, and the 'peculiarly English, self-consciously "civilized", aestheticism of Bloomsbury and the Apostles', it also saw 'the year of Stalin's revolution in the USSR'. As Norman Davies states in Europe. A History:

The three phases of the Stalinist Terror succeeded each other in a rising tide of brutality and irrationality' with the total number of victims 'unlikely to be much below 50 millions' (Davies, 1997, pp. 964-5).

That Marxism proved for 'many students and dons', in the sciences and the arts, the 'most important intellectual force' at Cambridge, suggests a serious failure in university education.

There were answers to the country's economic woes: the full implementation of the Fisher Education Act, Lloyd George's government funded programme of public works, Keynesian economics. Yet academe turned to an intellectual fraud, Marxism. Many from British universities visited the Soviet Union in the 1930s, when the Stalinist Terror was at its height, and came back enthused. Fortunately, except for 'Red Clydeside', British working people refused Marxism as bogus.

Q believed in education but not in any education. He inherited from his grandfather, Dr Jonathan Couch, a mind which adhered to observed facts and treated theories sceptically. He observed the Universe as a harmony, not a chaos. It could be apprehended but not comprehended and wrapped up in an intellectual system. Conflict driven theories delivered chaos.

Q's lectures as found in Studies in Literature (III) demonstrate his concern for educational balance in relation to the sexes, arts and sciences, as well as to secularism and religion. The balance both produces and is the product of culture. What he feared was the triumph of ideology. What he saw at Cambridge, in many guises, was the belief that life could be imprisoned within an intellectual system – economic, scientific, artistic, religious or atheistic. The result was the erosion of culture and the rise of barbarism.

What Q saw in Coleridge was the vessel of true inspiration increasingly trapped between the Scylla of theory and the Charybdis of drug addiction. Oxbridge was beginning to follow the same course. Q's lectures on Coleridge and on the Romantics were an attempt to stem the tide. They were not delivered in an academic literary bubble but also intended to address current concerns. History was repeating itself in slightly different clothing. Q's central concern was to keep the spring of poetic inspiration pure and the vision clear, as in a small but important number of Coleridge's poems.

When Q's Cambridge lectures of Studies in Literature (III) are placed within the context of Cambridge's intellectual and moral condition, they appear as the product of another world where:

  • fact takes precedence over theory
  • the concrete over the abstract
  • the particular over the general
  • reason and reform over violence and revolution
  • harmony over chaos
  • Christian humanism over secular humanism

Q was lecturing as the product of a tradition stemming back to his grandfather, Dr Jonathan Couch, but applied to a contemporary context. It was Jonathan's empiricism which inoculated Q against Marxism, Freudianism and Social Darwinism.

Q took his morals from his Anglicanism, not from the secular moral philosophies of G.E. Moore, Bertrand Russell and others. As he believed the universe to be the creation of a rational divinity, he did not divide fact – what can be established scientifically – from value – what cannot. He saw value and morality as inherent within the creation.

Q's life, writings and lectures were built on clear first principles and these changed little over the years.

General Introduction to Studies

Most of the material found in Studies in Literature (III) consists of lectures delivered at the New Arts School in Cambridge between the publication of Studies in Literature (II) in 1922 and the preface date of November 1929. As Q lectured once every two weeks during term time, they represent a fraction of what was delivered. The selection, therefore, is not without significance.

The two studies 'On the New Reading Public' were adapted from material published in John O'London Weekly. The two lectures 'On Reading for the English Tripos' contain additions taken from 'A Lecture on Lectures' published by The Hogarth Press in 1927. The 'Coventry Patmore' study was a reprint from the Monthly Review of 1900. Q was clearly intent on reaching an audience beyond Cambridge.

Studies in Literature (III) has a different atmosphere to it, although it is difficult to identify exactly what the difference is. There is still the emphasis on Classical writers, with one specific lecture on Longinus, the first century Greek scholar. There is a wide range of subjects. In the two studies 'On the New Reading Public' Q shows his sensitivity to changing times and the need to respond. Maybe there is a slight defensiveness as his own approach to literature was coming in for scrutiny. Yet with the English Tripos firmly established and a distinguished body of students passing through the English department, he had every reason for satisfaction.

Although there were those, even in the English department at Cambridge, F.R. Leavis being one, who wanted to break free from Q's influence, in one respect at least Q was in the vanguard – women's education. Q overrode the objections of the university authorities by permitting members of the women's colleges of Newnham and Girton to attend his lectures and his discussion groups. They responded enthusiastically, usually by arriving early to his lectures so as to take the best seats. This sympathetic approach was an extension of his work in primary and secondary education for the Cornwall Education Committee. Q believed education was for all who wished to be educated and that such a wish was universal except where inhibited by authority.

That Q included in Studies in Literaure (III) two lectures on Dorothy Wordsworth, a figure many saw as peripheral to William Wordsworth, is significant. It was not a case of special pleading. Q saw Dorothy Wordsworth as a central figure in the poetic flowering of 1797-8, when Coleridge was living at Nether Stowey in the Quantocks and the Wordsworths were renting a cottage at nearby Alfoxden.

The approach taken by Q at Cambridge needs to be seen in context. For example, at about the time he was delivering the Dorothy Wordsworth lectures the fifth Solvey Congress (1927) of leading scientists , with Einstein as the leading figure, was taking place. It consisted of 28 men and one woman, Mme Curie.

In terms of general writing, Q saw Dorothy Wordsworth as potentially the equal of both her brother and Coleridge. This he supported by placing extracts from Dorothy's Journal alongside extracts from the poems of William Wordsworth and Coleridge. He even claimed Dorothy's writings, in some respects, to be superior (I, XI). Q suspected that it was Dorothy who made her brother and Coleridge in 1798, and could have made Coleridge greater still had they been able to marry. And Dorothy did this without the benefit of the university education that was open to William and Coleridge. She could have saved Coleridge from the influence of opium and inspired him against the hardening effects of German philosophy and English intellectualism.

It is salutary to reflect that nearly 100 years after the two Dorothy Wordsworth lectures were delivered and in a time of greater equality, Q's argument has been ignored rather than developed. A reassessment is urgently required.

By 1929 Cambridge and Oxford, in the words of A.J.P. Taylor, 'catered predominantly for a narrow privileged class' while receiving over 'half their income from public funds'. Yet women were refused 'equal treatment' as 'historic endowments continued to benefit only men' (Taylor, 1986, pp. 166 & 308-9).

Those who try to see Q as an establishment figure standing somewhat above the fray need a change of perspective. Q was battling on a number of fronts and on most of them history has proved him right.

Coleridge and Dorothy Wordsworth: an analysis of two lectures

The Coleridge Encountered by Dorothy Wordsworth in 1798

The two lectures printed in Studies in Literature (III) on The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth develop a theme, particularly from the perspective of Dorothy Wordsworth, found in Q's study of Coleridge in Studies in Literature (I). Q argues that without the influence of Dorothy Wordsworth Coleridge might not have experienced the full poetic flowering of 1798, when the Wordsworths and the Coleridges lived on the eastern slopes of the Quantock Hills in western Somerset.

By the summer of 1798 Coleridge had started experimenting with opium, partly to relieve the physical pain of neuralgia, and partly to relieve the emotional pain of a decreasingly satisfactory marriage (Holmes, 1989, pp. 127 & 153). Holmes illustrates Coleridge's fluctuations of mood from a letter he wrote to Thomas Poole, dated December 18, 1796:

. . .my mind was thrown by your letter into the feelings of those distressful Dreams, where we imagine ourselves falling from precipices. I seem falling from the summit of my fondest Desires; whirled from the height, just as I had reached it (ibid., p. 134).

The 'summit' from which he felt himself 'falling' was probably more than domestic happiness. By 1796 he had been cast from the 'summit' of political idealism, encapsulated in the ideals of the French Revolution, into the valley of revolutionary bloodshed and European war. Added to this was the atheism and materialism of contemporary radical thought so antithetical to his religious temperament.

At Cambridge in 1929 Q was facing something similar: the atheism, materialism and impatience for radical change in society of the Marxists against his own liberal and progressive Anglicanism. Following the Wall Street Crash in 1929 the call for revolutionary change became ever more insistent.

Coleridge's move to Nether Stowey, below Dowsborough Hill, in January 1797, was probably an attempt to find solace from his intellectual conflicts in rural seclusion. For a time the Coleridge family found tranquillity. As he wrote to the political revolutionary 'Citizen' John Thelwell in the early spring of 1797:

 I never go to Bristol – from seven to half past eight I work my garden; from breakfast till 12 I read and compose; then work again – after dinner work again till Tea – from Tea till supper "review". So jogs the day; and I am happy (ibid.,, p. 137).

Holmes sees Coleridge in Nether Stowey reconnecting to his rural past at Ottery St Mary, which lay about 30 miles to the south (ibid., p. 138). He was also reconnecting with his yeoman forebears of Doddiscombeleigh, Drewsteignton and Dunsford. In his lecture on Thomas Hardy, Q argues that to understand the Dorset writer it is necessary to dig down into the soil of the county, even to the distant historical past. The same is true of Coleridge. The issues he was reflecting upon while turning the sod were not unique to his age.

The ideals of the French Revolution can be found in the English Civil War, particularly in the radical wing of the Parliamentary armies, that which looked to Puritanism and Presbyterianism. These ideals were opposed by the conservative wing which subsequently foisted upon the country a military dictatorship and then the return of monarchy. There is a clear parallel between Cromwell and Napoleon (who became his own monarch). After both revolutions France and Britain ended up as reduced monarchies.

In Loyalty and Locality. Popular Allegiance in Devon during the English Civil War, Mark Stoyle proposes that 'Devon was a deeply fractured society' (Stoyle, 1994, p.22). Crediton was Puritan while the nearby parishes of Doddiscombeleigh, Drewsteignton and Dunsford were Royalist. Men fought and died for both causes. Following the beginning of the French Revolution, Coleridge was caught in a similar situation to his forebears in the 1640s, when there could have been members of the Coleridge family fighting on opposing sides in western battles. The apparent failure to appreciate this is a weakness in Coleridge scholarship, including that of Q. However, it was not until the detailed researches of Stoyle in 1994, that the depth of conflict in Devon became clear. It must now be taken into account.

II. Dating the Lectures and their Significance

The first lecture on Dorothy Wordsworth can be dated to two or three weeks after the death of Thomas Hardy. Hardy had a premonition of his death, the sort of phenomena common to the Quillers, on October 27, 1927. He died on January 11, 1928, with the funeral taking place at Westminster Abbey on January 16. Two of the pall-bearers were the prime minister Stanley Baldwin, and the leader of the opposition Ramsey MacDonald. In the following year they would be locked in combat at a general election. David Lloyd George is not mentioned.

The lecture opens with an attack on the newspapers for their 'extreme indelicacy' and 'strangling sobs' (Quiller-Couch, 1922, p.51), an attack repeated in the lectures 'The earlier Novels of Thomas Hardy' from 'The Poet as Citizen' of 1934, for hiding Hardy's true and uncomfortable worth under a cloak of irrelevance and hypocrisy. Q then widens his attack to include those who obscured the true message of Byron, Coleridge and Shelley in a muck-rake through their private lives. What really matters is the quality and the penetration of the writings.

III. Inspiration and the Soul

Through the first six sections of the lecture Q is confronts a contemporary intellectual challenge, the same challenge he faced when he gave his inaugural lecture in January 1913, but with the difference that the situation at Cambridge had subsequently deteriorated. Marxism, materialism, behaviourism, scientism and the rest were endeavouring to comprehend the nature of man in terms of science and pseudo-science. Mind is brain, a material substance which opens to the world through the five senses and is governed by impersonal laws. Alternatively, human experience is chaos and chance, with reason an illusion.

Throughout the two Dorothy Wordsworth lectures Q uses phrases such as 'the soul's sanctuary', 'genius', 'vision', 'magical touch', and, referring to Coleridge and Hazlitt, Q paraphrases Wordsworth to say that of each man one could say: 'His soul is like a star and dwells apart' (Quiller-Couch, 1929, p. 59). The line 'Thy soul is like a star and dwells apart' appears in Wordsworth's sonnet London, 1802, beginning 'Milton thou shouldst be living at this hour, England hath need of thee . . .', a eulogy to Milton and what Wordsworth saw as a nobler age.

Q refused to see 'soul' as something unreal for being immeasurable and unquantifiable. He had no time for the Vienna Circle and the logical positivists who claimed that for a statement to be meaningful its truth had to be open to testing empirically – which the 'verification principle' itself was not! Q was an empiricist in a tradition stemming back to his grandfather, but he recognised the limitations of empiricism, as Dr Carfax explains to M. Ledru in Castle Dor. Ludwig Wittgenstein, as Monk explains, was not unsympathetic to the Vienna Circle initially, but quickly changed his view.

Q did not believe we can comprehend the Universe through logic and testing but we can apprehend it, especially those with a those with a soul sensitive enough to apprehend. The Romantics had this apprehension of universal harmony and were capable of expressing it. It was their duty to do so.

The tragedy he was witnessing in Cambridge was the inability of many who had received every educational privilege to apprehend. Instead they believed and acted upon conflict driven theories. It is salutary to reflect that a man who came from a distinguished scientific family and who had received the best education money could buy, believed and gave his life for Marxism, an intellectual fraud, namely John Cornford.

Q believed soul had a meaning which the corpus of English literature revealed and was witness to.

The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth I

Q introduces Coleridge and Wordsworth in section four, the main meat of this lecture after previous dismissals of attempts to pin down someone's soul via biography. He notes that 'neither man made private woe a public matter as Byron did' (ibid., p.55), and insists that he himself does not intend to talk about their private lives. Rather, his aim is todiscuss the question of whether poetry can be written to order - 'can the lyric be fed on regular meals' (ibid., p.56), whether it is the product of talent, or whether there is something inexplicable, the 'magic touch' of 'genius' (ibid.). This is preparing the listener for the occasions in Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal when a 'magic touch' is also evident throughout Coleridge's Ancient Mariner but only occasionally thereafter.

Q concentrates on Coleridge and William Wordsworth for the next two sections (five and six). He uses for a vehicle an anonymous volume entitled Pen and Ink Sketches of Poets, Preachers and Politicians (David Bogue, London), which contains sketches of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Southey, Hazlitt, Lamb etc. The following passage Q believed to be fully authentic. The meeting is undated.

(Hazlitt) received me with what appeared shyness, or reluctance to be disturbed, but which I afterwards found to be his habit at first meeting. His tones were quite as low as those of Coleridge; when not excited they were almost plaintive or querulous, but his placidity breathed more of unconscious pensiveness than that of his brother thinker, whose complacent meekness always rather savoured of 'acting', at least of a conscious attention to sage or martyr-like bearing, until aroused enthusiasm broke through all, elevated his tones and even stature, and the man was forgotten in the inspired declaimer (ibid., pp.58/59).

Although it was published anonymously, the author of the Pen and Ink Sketches was John Ross Dix, a Bristol man born in 1811. he had a somewhat chequered career, marred as Coleridge's was but by alcoholism and debt rather than by opium. He sailed to America, paying his passage as a ship's surgeon, where he published a Life of Chatterton which was later discredited as being full of half-truths. The Sketches in the chapter dealing with Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lamb, Shelley and Hazlitt are written as though they are reminiscences of the author himself, although he must have been younger than 19 when Hazlitt died in 1830. Dix probably relied heavily on the works of others and the poets' own autobiographical material. The sketches contain a great deal of anecdotal detail, probably fictitious, to add verisimilitude and interest, such as the accidental meeting described at the beginning of the Coleridge sketch in which Dix's silk pocket handkerchief is trailing out of his pocket and a gentleman (whom the author speculates must be a Highgate clergyman) tells him to 'look to your pocket-handkerchief sir', and who later is revealed as Coleridge himself.

For any student of Coleridge and the Wordsworths, the summer of 1798 holds a special fascination, possibly a halo of light, when great poetry was written in moments of intense inspiration. Yet Q brings the listener down to earth rather quickly. The inspiration cannot be fully explained in terms of the mundane reality of the every day. At Nether Stowey the Coleridges were not happily married, while a short distance away at Alfoxden Dorothy was tied to a brother who had deceived Annette Vallon. Any mutual attraction between Samuel and Dorothy was futile.

Dorothy Wordsworth could not save her 'self-centred' brother from his long poetic decline (ibid., p.74) . Neither could she save Coleridge from surrendering verse to opium and metaphysics. Q saw Dorothy's Journal as 'one of the most pathetic of documents in our literature' (ibid., p.64), yet at times it penetrates the clouds into a dazzling brightness, showing what she could have achieved under the influence of Coleridge. Dorothy Wordsworth and S.T. Coleridge could have saved each other.

Section 12 suggests that at his best Coleridge was a finer poet than Wordsworth because his words appear as though inevitable. It is not possible to imitate Coleridge as it is with Wordsworth. To emphasise this he uses a quotation from Francis Thompson.

One might as well try to paint air as to catch a style so void of all manner that is visible, like air, only in its results. All other poets have not only a style, but a manner; not only style, but features of style. The style of Coleridge is bare of manner, without feature, not distinguishable in member, joint and limb; it is, in the Roman sense of merum, mere style; style unalloyed and integral. Imitation has no foothold; it would tread on glass (Thompson in ibid., p69).

The last section of the first lecture identifies the voice of Coleridge, unlike that of Wordsworth, as being (quoting Geroge Meredith's The Lark Ascending): 'seraphically free / From taint of personality'. Q explains the 'taint of personality' in his lecture 'The Cult of Personality' from The Poet As Citizen of 1934.

The rest of the lecture answers a question raised in the lecture 'Coleridge' regarding the authenticity of the stanza 'is the night chilly and dark?'. Q takes four quotations from Dorothy's Alfoxden journals for March 1798, showing how Coleridge 'transmuted' them into poetry:

(Undated) Walked from seven o'clock til half past eight. . .Only once while we were in the wood the moon burst through the invisible veil which enveloped her, the shadows of the oaks blackened, and their lines became more strongly marked . . .The manufacturer's dog makes a large, uncouth howl . . .

March 7th. William and I drank tea at Coleridge's. A cloudy sky . . . the distant prospect obscured. One only leaf upon the top of the tree – the sole remaining leaf – danced round and round like a rag blown by the wind.

March 24th. Coleridge, the Chesters, and Ellen Cruikshank called. We walked with them through the wood . . . A duller night than last night; a sort of white shade over the blue sky. The stars dim. The spring continues to advance very slowly . . . The crooked arm of the old oak tree points upwards to the moon. 25th. (next evening). Walked to Coleridge's after tea. Arrived at home at one o'clock. The night cloudy but not dark (ibid., p70).

Q then quotes from Coleridge's poem Christabel:

Is the night chilly and dark?

The night is chilly, but not dark.

The thin grey cloud is spread on high,

It covers but not hides the sky.

The moon is behind, and at the full;

And yet she looks both small and dull.


The night is chill, the cloud is grey:

'Tis a month before the month of May,

And the spring comes slowly up this way . . .


. . .The night is chill; the forest bare;

Is it the wind that moaneth bleak/

There is not wind enough in the air

To move away the ringlet curl

From the lovely lady's cheek -

There is not wind enough to twirl

The one red leaf, the last of its clan,

That dances as often as dance it can,

Hanging so light, and hanging so high,

On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky (ibid., p71-2).

The first lecture concludes with two quotations from Dorothy's journal. In July 1798 the Wordsworths left Alfoxden and eventually settled at Grasmere in the Lake District. Coleridge thought of joining them and arrived on June 29, 1800, with the intention of settling. Greta Hall at Keswick, on the far side of Helvellyn, was the place chosen. In the early Middle Ages Cumbria, as with Devon, had possessed a Celtic tongue, as can be seen from some of the place names. Anyone with a knowledge of Cornish can translate Helvellyn into English.

The first extract chosen by Q from Dorothy's journal is dated August 31, 1800:

At 11 o'clock Coleridge came, when I was walking in the clear moonshine in the garden. He came over Helvellyn. William was gone to bed . . . We sate and chatted till half-past three. . . Coleridge reading a part of "Christabel" (ibid., p.72). 

The second is dated February 8, 1802. by then Samuel had left Greta Hall, leaving Sara behind.

We broke the seal of Coleridge's letters, and I had light enough to see that he was not ill. I put it in my pocket. At the top of the White Moss I took it to my bosom – a safer place for it . . .N.B. The moon came out suddenly. . .and a star or two beside (ibid., p.73).

In The Oxford Book of English Prose, Q devotes two sections to Dorothy's journal. The second section is dated May 14, 1802. The Coleridge family appear still to be at Keswick, but not Samuel:

I sate a while upon my last summer seat, the mossy stone. William's unoccupied beside me, and the space between, where Coleridge has so often lain. The oak trees are just putting forth yellow knots of leaves. . . Near ten we came in. . .We wrote to Coleridge; sent off bread and frocks to the C's. Went to bed at half-past eleven (Quiller-Couch, 1925, p.520).

The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth II

The second lecture expands on a number of points made in the first, moving on from Coleridge to concentrate rather on Dorothy Wordsworth's influence on her brother and how she was undervalued by him as a writer. Q accounts for this partly in the way that the Wordsworths came from 'country stock'; this is also true of Coleridge, Hardy and Q. Wordsworth was a 'Dalesman', one steeped in the life and culture of the Lake District. What Q says of Hardy, who said that to understand the commentator needs to dig into the subsoil of the area, is also true of the Wordsworths. But Q equally rams home that Wordsworth loved his sister deeply and in examples of poems 'passes from confessing affection to admitting his intellectual debt to his sister' (Quiller-Couch, 1929, p.79).

Q reminds us that after William's traumatic experience in France he discovers Coleridge of Nether Stowey from his residence at Alfoxden 'but with a combe dividing them' (ibid., p.84). Q quotes from Dorothy's journal entry of March 23:

Coleridge dined with us. He brought his ballad ('the Ancient Mariner') finished. We walked with him to the miner's house. A beautiful evening, very starry, the horned moon.

Her journal echoes Coleridge's poem:

Till clomb above the Easter bar

The horned moon . . .

 We are also given Coleridge's impression of Dorothy Wordsworth at this time:

Wordsworth and his exquisite sister are with me. She is a woman indeed! – in mind, I mean, and heart; for her person is such that, if you expected to see a pretty woman, you would think her ordinary; if you expected to see an ordinary woman, you would think her pretty; but her manners are simple, ardent, impressive. In every motion her most innocent soul outbeams so brightly that who saw her would say: "Guilt was a thing impossible in her."

Her information various; her eye watchful in minutest observation of Nature; and her taste a perfect electrometer. It bends, protrudes, and draws in at subtlest beauties and most recondite faults (ibid., pp.87-88).

Q concludes the lecture with a profound observation. The Romantics lacked 'that piercing eye for Nature' (ibid., p. 97)  – as found in Burns and Hardy, countrymen true – with the exception of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, and in this Dorothy played an important not peripheral part. What might she have done for Coleridge, at root a countryman too?

We have Q to thank for bringing out her true value. She should act as a corrective today as she did 100 years ago. We cannot see Dorothy Wordsworth sitting with her knitting below the guillotine as the heads rolled into the basket, or lounging at ease with the Bloomsbury set. Marx would have had no appeal nor the speculative theories which endeavour to trap nature within an intellectual system. That neither God nor the soul could be verified or falsified by experiment and observation would not have troubled her perceptive and down-to-earth mind. She recognised genius and recognised that it had to be rooted in something solid for it to be of value. 

The Poet as Citizen


It has already been said that Studies in Literature (III) has a different atmosphere from previous publications. That change of atmosphere is more pronounced in The Poet as Citizen. 

The Britain of 1934 was in many respects unrecognizable from what it had been at the time of the publication of Adventures in Criticism of 1896. The Great War was the turning point, one made more severe by the failure of governments to implement social and economic reforms necessary to rejuvenate society after the conflict. This resulted in anger and frustration, leading many of the younger generation, especially in Oxbridge, to turn from liberalism to socialism, Marxism and fascism; and from Christianity, whether Anglican or Nonconformist, to atheism and materialism.

Q had good reasons to feel beleaguered, whatever public accolades showered upon him. There were conflicting opinions in the English department at Cambridge. There were conflicting opinions in a society smouldering under the weight of a moribund National Government. And there were conflicting ideologies in Europe as Marxism and fascism fought over the corpse of liberalism and democracy.

Tragically, poets can be excluded from society or killed in war. Then society ossifies, something Q feared. The Poet as Citizen is a deeply serious work. 

The Continuing Importance of Coleridge to Q

For all Q's reservations about Coleridge's character and metaphysical leanings, he continued to be a significant influence, maybe more than Q actually realised. There appears to be something of Coleridge in Q himself. This is not true of Byron or Shelley, even though Q devoted four published lectures to them, arguably some of the most important lectures he ever gave. With the Wordsworths, it is Dorothy with whom he seems to have empathised.

The continuing relevance of Coleridge can be seen most clearly in three lengthy quotations included in section two of 'On Being Definite' from the first lecture of 'First Aid in Criticising'. They are useful to Q in that they resonate through areas of controversy at Cambridge in the 1930s. For all that Coleridge had failed his potential in any given direction, he had a profound mind, something which those around him, like Sir Humphry Davy, fully recognized. Coleridge's writings were relevant in his own time, were relevant in Q's and have continued to be relevant into ours.

That Q and Coleridge had much in common is to be expected as both derived from Devon stock, Coleridge wholly and Q in part. Q might well have conversed with individuals who had conversed with Coleridge. At Oxford, Q came to know Gilbert Coleridge who had descended from Samuel's brother.

Q wrote the preface to The Poet as Citizen at Jesus College, Coleridge's old college. Jesus proposed to celebrate the centenary of the poet's death in 1934, but had to bring it forward to 1933 for unavoidable reasons. Brittain describes how Q made a very fine speech (now lost) at the unveiling of a bronze cast by Gilbert Coleridge . The occasion was reported in the Straits Times (Singapore) on 29 July 1933:

 '"A Man Dazzled by Visions"

 Coleridge defended by Sir A. Quiller-Couch

Sir A. Quiller-Couch unveiled at Jesus College, Cambridge, a tablet to the memory of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet, philosopher, and critic, who was an undergraduate of the college, and made his last public appearance in Cambridge in 1833, at a meeting of the British Association.

"It is our pride that Jesus College treated Coleridge with kindness," Sir Arthur said.

Dr William Pearce, then master of Jesus College, was a West Country man like the poet.

"And with a patriotic foible, shall we say, for West Country youths," Sir Arthur continued, "again and again he forgave the wild undergraduate, exhorted with him, pleaded with him, pleaded for a reprieve with the authorities of Christ's Hospital, whose harshest act of discipline was to admonish Coleridge in the presence of his fellows.

"In the story of our literature no great man has ever left himself a more open target than did Coleridge to belittling patronage and commiseration by practitioners of such biography as is now in fashion.

The Grail of his Soul.

"And I say to you, as one who has searched the story, that, sting as they may and as others would while he lived, the breast of Coleridge is and was too broad to be vulnerable.

"When you have explored all the stumblings and misunderstandings of his career – though circumstances again and again seem to put him in the wrong – always in the end, to a candid mind, it is Coleridge who has the right to forgive, and who forgives, not on that right but simply because he loves much.

"A man magnanimous, a man bewildered, stumbling because dazzled by visions of that Absolute which was for him the ultimate goodness, the Grail of his soul.

"You must all have remarked how often, in speaking of Coleridge, his contemporaries are forced to use the similitude of an angel, though fallen – the Lucifer of their dawn. If he himself found less of bliss in that dawn than in restless passion, his college of Jesus in Cambridge can claim that it gave him, for his while here, a fair haven and a generous passport.

"In later life, returning for an hour – he tells us – emotions choked him as the whispering, reconciling genius of this place in cloister and grove welcomed him back."

At a dinner following the unveiling ceremony the toast of the guests was responded to by the Hon. Gilbert Coleridge, a descendant of Coleridge (The Strait Times, 29/7/1933, p.9)

The Structure of The Poet as Citizen

Group I: The Poet as Citizen


For anyone expecting an eulogy of poetry in the context of English literature and a glamour parade of famous poets will be bemused at what follows. The context of these studies is the disintegration of liberal democracy in Europe and its threatened position in the U.K. Q sees this as a result of a creative void at the centre of society which should have been peopled with prophetic poets and visionary novelists. Instead of looking to the artist for spiritual sustenance, people were increasingly looking to the philosopher, the scientist, the technologist and ultimately to the 'dictator' as 'superman' who could satisfy all material demands. The material has triumphed over the spiritual.

Behind this was the belief, unambiguously stated in his Shelley lectures, that the prophetic poets and their kind had been killed in the trenches of the Great War.

Q builds up his case point by point throughout the three lectures, with the third being a personal attack on one Q believed to be in part responsible for the decline of English literature: T.S. Eliot.

 Analysis of the Preface

The preface prepares the reader for the polemical writings that follow. It expresses Q's disdain for contemporary methods of criticism, no doubt aimed at members of his own department, and calls for a return to traditional ones – exemplified in 'On Being Definite' by Coleridge. The contemporary divergence into psychological, aesthetic and abstract trends he dismisses as elevating the critic above the text.

The final paragraph reveals a blind spot in Q's approach to literature: his failure to appreciate native literatures, namely Irish and Scottish Gaelic, Welsh and surviving fragments of Cornish. Sadly, no native writings from Devon have survived.

Analysis of Group I

In 'Ancient and Modern Notions', Q's first lecture, he endeavours to identify the place of the poet in society. First and foremost, he is looking at English society reading backwards from the 1930s to the Classical period which he sees as the foundation of English culture. Part of the lecture is made up of a defence against those who dismiss literature in general and poetry in particular. He uses Newman's method of seeking to confront his opponents at their strongest point.

Q acknowledges that Athens in its pomp looked on poetry with suspicion and on poets as the purveyors of falsehoods. Their arguments have been repeated over the ages, never more forcefully than in his own time, when science has managed to stablish pre-eminence. The quantity of bad poetry in circulation has added fuel to the fire. Q concludes, therefore, that' in these perilous days' (Quiller-Couch, 1934, p. 24) the nature and function of good poetry needs to be understood if society is to retain its creative dynamic.

Externally, following a short creative phase under Lenin, the Bolshevik Revolution had fallen into the hands of Joseph Stalin who in 1932-3 instituted the 'Terror-Famine'. In Germany, 1933 saw the extinction of democracy with the elevation of Adolf Hitler to the chancellorship. In 1934, when The Poet as Citizen was in the process of publication, Germany withdrew from the League of Nations and the Disarmament Conference.

Internally, Q witnessed 'a world hag-ridden just now by scientists', as he states in the second lecture: 'The Cult of Personality', who vainly endeavour to 'comprehend' the world by inventing theories but fail to 'apprehend' the great harmony of the Universe through an obsession with the individual ego. The poet had become an egoist rebelling against 'Government' and 'reasoned consent' (ibid., p.29).

The idealism inspiring a post-war call for an 'international concert' of nations had degenerated by 1934 into nationalism, separatism, and individualism; with the call for a 'dictator, a superman' to bring material prosperity and egotistical fulfillment.

The idea of moral decline is highlighted in sections five and six, as it had been in Studies in Literature (III), with a disquisition on the 'corrosive writing' of Lytton Strachey and his school who see that self-obsession corrupts biography, poetry, history and ultimately society at large. the cult of personality is destructive.

Group II: First Aid in Criticising

1. 'On Being Definite'

In 'First Aid in Criticising', Coleridge comes centre stage in the first three sections of lecture one, 'On Being Definite'. When Q uses the phrase 'Being Definite' he means making statements which deliver meaningful information. This involves using clear and accurate English. It also involves a grasp of what can be known, a theory of knowledge. Q had inherited a family tradition of empiricism which emphasised the importance of observed fact over theory; the specific over the general statement; and clarity over obscurity. This pervades his thinking in relation to all disciplines, including literary criticism.

The introduction refers to a remembered discussion at Trinity College, Oxford, led by Dr Henry Jackson. Jackson concluded the discussion on a new theory of poetry with the words: 'Oh, if you ask me, I am content to take Poetry as the stuff the poets have written' (ibid., p.66). One can hear the general laughter which followed. Cutting arguments down to size in a kindly way, the attack on Eliot in 'Tradition and Orthodoxy' being a rare but important exception, is a feature of Q's writing.

Coleridge is introduced in section one. There follow three lengthy quotations from the Biographia Literaria. They challenge the notion of abstract, mechanistic and deterministic thinking. Q uses Coleridge's analysis of Hartley's philosophical system to make a broader point. David Hartley (1705-57) was a philosopher who in 1749 published Observations on Man, his Frame, his Duty and his Expectations. Apparently, Hartley believed in a mechanistic theory of the association of ideas. Coleridge writes:

We will pass by the utter incompatibility of such a law (if law it may be called, which would itself be the slave of chances) with even the appearance of rationality forced upon us by the outward phaenomena of human conduct, abstracted from our own consciousness. We will agree to forget this for the moment, in order to fix our attention on that subordination of final to efficient causes in the human being, which flows of necessity from the assumption, that the will, and with the will, all acts of thought and attention are parts and products of this blind mechanism, instead of being distinct powers, whose function it is to control, determine, and modify the phantasmal chaos of association. The soul becomes a mere ens logicum; for , as a real separabkle being, it would be more worthless than the Grimalkins in the Cat-harpsichord, described in the 'Spectator'. For these did form a part of the process; but, in Hartley's scheme, the soul is present only to be pinched or stroked, while the very squeals or purring are produced by an agency wholly independent and alien (Coleridge in ibid., p.67).

Q is using the quotation from Coleridge to give an example of his style and to make a broader point. He is attacking those who elevate the idea of a 'blind mechanism' through the 'subordination of final to efficient causes', with the 'soul' as passive rather than active and possessing 'distinct powers'. The true poet is not a passive recipient of sense impressions, but one who can 'control', determine and modify the phantasmal chaos of association'.

The second quotation is from Chapter 14 of Biographia Literaria and is Coleridge's portrayal of the 'Perfect Poet'. The key faculty is the imagination rooted in the concrete and observable world, not in an abstract construction at the mercy of sensory chaos. The poet through the imagination brings the soul into unity, the greater the poet the greater the sense of harmony. In section three, this harmony of the soul reflects and is reflected in the observable harmony of the Universe. Poets who fail to achieve this vision, Eliot being an example, are not poets at all.

{The Poet} – 'described in ideal perfection – brings the whole soul of man into activity with the subordination of its faculties to each other, according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone and spirit of unity, that blends, and (as it were) fuses, each into each, by that synthetic and magical power, to which we have exclusively appropriated the name of imagination. This power, first put in action by the will and understanding, and retained under their irremissive, though gentle and unnoticed, controul (laxis effertur habenis) reveals itself in the balance and reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general, with the concrete; the idea, with the image; the individual, with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness, with old and familiar objects; a more than usual state of emotion, with more than usual order; judgement ever awake and steady self-possession, with enthusiasm and feeling profound or vehement; and while it blends and harmonizes the natural and the artificial, still subordinates art to nature; the manner to the matter; and our admiration of the poet to our sympathy with the poetry (Coleridge in ibid., p.68).

Q is using the quotation from Coleridge to present the perfect poet as a 'microcosm' who through the powers of the imagination unites himself with the 'macrocosm' of the Universe. Art for arts sake, inspiration from the irrational, and the theatre of the absurd are all rejected. So is the narrowly intellectual approach of the philosopher and the scientist who endeavours to 'comprehend' rather than 'apprehend'. 

The third quotation is from Chapter 17 of Biographia Literaria and is, in effect, a criticism of Wordsworth's poem The Thorn. For the student of Q, the final section of 'On Being Definite' is of fascinating interest. The Thorn is about a woman who has been seduced and betrayed by a ship's captain. Q points out that it might as well be Wordsworth and Annette Vallon, with the poem as an exercise in conscience.

Wordsworth introduces The Thorn with the information that the narrator of the poem is:

...a Captain of a small trading vessel for example, who, being past the middle age of life, had retired upon an annuity or small independent income to some village or country town of which he is not a native or in which he had not been accustomed to live (Wordsworth in ibid., p.69).

This is an exact description, except for the seduction, of Captain Tobias Hunken in Q's novel Hocken and Hunken. 

Q uses his third quotation from Coleridge to challenge Wordsworth's notion of the poem employing the language of ordinary people. Coleridge noted Wordsworth's:

At all times of the day and night

This wretched woman thither goes

And she is home to every star

And every wind that blows . . .

Coleridge goes on:

....And I reflect with delight how little a mere theory, though of his own workmanship, interferes with the processes of genuine imagination in a man of true poetic genius who possesses, as Mr Wordsworth, if man ever did, most assuredly does possess, "The Vision and the Faculty divine".

...Every man's language has, first, its individualities; secondly, the common properties of the class to which he belongs; and thirdly, words and phrases of universal use. The language of Hooker, Bacon, Bishop, Taylor, and Burke differs from the common language of the learned class only by the superior number and novelty of the thoughts and relations which they had to convey. The language of Algernon Sidney differs not at all from that, which every well-educated gentleman should wish to write, and (with due allowances for the undeliberateness, and less connected train, of thinking natural and proper to conversation) such as he would wish to talk. Neither one nor the other differ half so much from the general language of cultivated society, as the language of Mr Wordsworth's homeliest composition differs from that of a common peasant. For 'real' therefore, we must substitute ordinary, or lingua communis. And this, we have proved, is no more to be found in the phraseology of low and rustic life than in that of any other class. Omit the peculiarities of each, and the result must be common to all. And assuredly the omissions and changes to be made in the language of rustics, before it could be transferred to any species of poem, except the drama or other professed imitation, are at least as numerous and weighty, as would be required in adapting to the same purpose the ordinary language of tradesmen and manufacturers. Not to mention, that the language so highly extolled by Mr Wordsworth varies in every county, nay in every village, according to the accidental character of the clergyman, the existence or non- existence of schools; or even, perhaps, as the exciseman, publican or barber, happen to be, or not to be zealous politicians, and readers of the weekly newspaper pro bono publico. Anterior to cultivation, the lingua communis of every country, as Dante has well observed, exists every where in parts and no where as a whole (Coleridge in ibid., pp.69-70)

Section Two of 'On Being Definite' is a summary, emphasising the best method of entering a controversy regarding literary criticism. Criticism is not advanced by generalizing and theorizing, but by making clear statements based on observation of the text, as with Samuel Johnson, Lamb and Hazlitt. Q's criticism of Coleridge is that while close analysis was his forte, he tended to waywardness. In an effort to make a conciliatory gesture towards T.S. Eliot he quotes from him regarding Coleridge:

Coleridge's metaphysical interest was quite genuine, and was, like most metaphysical interest , an affair of the emotions. But a literary critic should have no emotions except those immediately provoked by a work of art . . . Coleridge is apt to take leave of the data of criticism, and arose the suspicion that he has been diverted by a metaphysical hare-and- hounds. His end does not always appear to be the return to the work of art with improved perception and intensified, because more conscious, enjoyment; the centre of interest changes . . .(Eliot in ibid., pp. 74-5).

In Section Three Q denounces metaphysics and generalities, along with authoritarianism and elitism, claiming 'persuasion', explanation based on reason and evidence, to be the 'only intellectual process to which a free man should surrender' (ibid., p.75).

Q supports this with a quotation by I.A. Richards who criticises Dr Bradby for:

...talking about Poetry and the poetic instead of thinking about the concrete experiences, which are poems...his is the..case of a critic whose practice is the refutation of his principles (ibid., pp.75-76).

This is an echo of Eliot's criticism of Coleridge.

Group III: Tennyson in 1833

The third group of works in The Poet as Citizen consists of five unrelated studies, only two of which, 'William Barnes' and 'The Early Novels of Thomas Hardy', were delivered at Cambridge.

'Tennyson in 1833' was a reprint from The Times Literary Supplement. It was, therefore, produced for a different audience and was intended to be read rather than listened to. Q does not have, as in the New Lecture Theatre, a relatively captive audience. A disaffected reader does not have to clamber over the committed to effect an escape; only to flip a page to something more entertaining. So although the title sounds prosaic the first sentence is intended to catch the eye. The rest makes more of a demand, but not over much, as the length is slightly over half the length of a Cambridge lecture.

Coleridge is not a central figure. He is named on four occasions, and only in the second half of the study. On each occasion he is paired with Wordsworth. Twice he appears in a long extract by Arthur Hallam, taken from the Englishman's Magazine of 1830. This shows the degree of interest Coleridge still excited at the end of his life.

Although Q does not mention it, there is a curious family connection with Tennyson. Jonathan Couch's personal journal records a visit from the poet on June 20, 1848. Tennyson was gathering material for a proposed work on King Arthur. However, Polperro was not in an area where Arthurian material existed.

In the study, Q notes the arid state of English poetry in 1833. Byron, Keats and Shelley were dead, while Coleridge and Wordsworth had long lost inspiration. Yet Q believed Tennyson would never have achieved poetic eminence without them. Q uses a quotation from Arthur Hallam in 1830. Although about Tennyson, it sheds light on Coleridge:

Wholly unlike the young poet must be the countenance of him who had long been the chief object of our poetic veneration, the great contemplative Bard – Coleridge (Hallam in ibid., p. 168).


Barzun, J., (2001) From Dawn to Decadence. London: Harper Collins.

Brittain, F., (1947) Arthur Quiller-Couch. Cambridge: C.U.P.

Callaway, E., (2015) The Fine Scale Genetic Structure of the British Population. Natpodcast, Nature, March 19, 2015.

Coleridge, S.T., (1817) Biographia Literaria.

Couch, B., (1891) Life of Jonathan Couch. Liskeard: Philp

Davies, N., (1997) Europe. A History. London: Pimlico

Dix, J.R., (1846) Pen and Ink Sketches of Poets, Preachers and Politicians. London: David Bogue

Garnett, R., (1904) Coleridge. London: Bell

Gregg A. (1927) Cornwall Education Handbook

Harrod, R.F., (1972) Life of J.M. Keynes, Pelican

Hobsbwam, E., (1994) Age of Extremes – The Short Twentieth Century 1914-1991. Penguin

Hobsbawm, E., (1997) Age of Revolutions, 1789-1848. London: Weidenfeld

Holmes, R., (1989) Coleridge. Early Visions. London: Hodder & Stoughton

Holmes, R., (1998) Coleridge. Darker Reflections. London: Hodder & Stoughton

Hunt, R., (1865) Romances and Drolls of the West of England. London: Hotten

Johns, J.R., (1997) The Smugglers' Banker. P.H.P.

Monk, R., (1991) Ludwig Wittgenstein. The Duty of Genius. London: Jonathan Cape (this ed.)

Monkhouse, F., (1966) Principles of Physical Geography. London: University of London

Owen, F., (1954) Tempestuous Journey. London: Hutchinson

Quiller-Couch, A., (1918) Studies in Literature First Series. Cambridge: CUP

Quiller-Couch, A., (1922) Studies in Literature Second Series. Cambridge: CUP

Quiller-Couch, A., (1929) Studies in Literature Third Series. Cambridge: CUP

Quiller-Couch, A., (1934) The Poet as Citizen and Other Papers. Cambridge: CUP

Rowse, A.L., (1988) Quiller-Couch. A Portrait of 'Q'. London: Methuen

Rubenstein Library, Duke University, History of Medical Collections: Notebook of Medical Lectures, 1808-1847, Couch, J.

Stoyle, M., (1994) Loyalty and Locality. Exeter: University of Exeter

Swinton, E., editor (1938) 20 Years After, vol. 2. London: Newnes.

Taylor, A.J.P., (1986) English History, 1914-1945. Oxford: O.U.P.

Todd, A.C., (1976) Beyond the Blaze. Truro: Bradford Barton

The Straits Times (29 July 1933) 'A Man Dazzled by Visions' 

Thomas, H., (1977) The Spanish Civil War. Penguin.

Online Sources:


Groom., Nick. (2004) 'Dix John' (b. 1811, d, after 1864), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/7693