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Sara Coleridge ** Written in September 1940
  Coleridge also left children of his body. One, his daughter, Sara, was a continuation of him, not of his flesh inded, for she was minute, aetherial, but of his mind, his temperament. The whole of her forty-eight years were lived in the light of his sunset, so that, like other children of great men, she is a chequered dappled figure flitting between a vanished radiance and the light of every day. And, like so many of her father’s works, Sara Coleridge remains unfinished. Mr. Griggs * has written her life, exhaustively, sympathetically; but still . . . dots intervene. That extremely interesting fragment, her autobiography, ends with three rows of dots after twenty-six pages. She intended, she says, to end every section with a moral, or a reflection. And then “on reviewing my earlier childhood I find the predominant reflection. . . .” There she stops. But she said many things in those twenty-six pages, and Mr. Griggs has added others that tempt us to fill in the dots, though not with the facts that she might have given us.

* COLERIDGE FILLE: A BIOGRAPHY OF SARA COLERIDGE. By Earl Leslie Griggs.

“Send me the very feel of her sweet Flesh, the very look and motion of that mouth — O, I could drive myself mad about her,” Coleridge wrote when she was a baby. She was a lovely child, delicate, large-eyed, musing but active, very still but always in motion, like one of her father’s poems. She remembered how he took her as a child to stay with the Wordsworths at Allan Bank.

The rough farmhouse life was distasteful to her, and to her shame they bathed her in a room where men came in and out. Delicately dressed in lace and muslin, for her father liked white for girls, she was a contrast to Dora, with her wild eyes and floating yellow hair and frock of deep Prussian blue or purple — for Wordsworth liked clothes to be coloured. The visit was full of such contrasts and conflicts. Her father cherished her and petted her. “I slept with him and he would tell me fairy stories when he came to bed at twelve or one o’clock. . . .” Then her mother, Mrs. Coleridge, arrived, and Sara flew to that honest, homely, motherly woman and “wished never to be separated from her.” At that — the memory was still bitter —“my father showed displeasure and accused me of want of affection. I could not understand why. . . . I think my father’s motive,” she reflected later, “must have been a wish to fasten my affections on him. . . . I slunk away and hid myself in the wood behind the house.”

But it was her father who, when she lay awake terrified by a horse with eyes of flame, gave her a candle. He, too, had been afraid of the dark. With his candle beside her, she lost her fear, and lay awake, listening to the sound of the river, to the thud of the forge hammer, and to the cries of stray animals in the fields. The sounds haunted her all her life. No country, no garden, no house ever compared with the Fells and the horse-shoe lawn and the room with three windows looking over the lake to the mountains. She sat there while her father, Wordsworth and De Quincey paced up and down talking. What they said she could not understand, but she “used to note the handkerchief hanging out of the pocket and long to clutch it.” When she was a child the handkerchief vanished and her father with it. After that, “I never lived with him for more than a few weeks at a time,” she wrote. A room at Greta Hall was always kept ready for him but he never came. Then the brothers, Hartley and Derwent, vanished, too; and Mrs. Coleridge and Sara stayed on with Uncle Southey, feeling their dependence and resenting it. “A house of bondage Greta Hall was to her,” Hartley wrote. Yet there was Uncle Southey’s library; and thanks to that admirable, erudite and indefatigable man, Sara became mistress of six languages, translated Dobritzhoffer from the Latin, to help pay for Hartley’s education, and qualified herself, should the worst come, to earn her living. “Should it be necessary,” Wordsworth wrote, “she will be well fitted to become a governess in a nobleman’s or gentleman’s family. . . . She is remarkably clever.”

But it was her beauty that took her father by surprise when at last at the age of twenty she visited him at Highgate. She was learned he knew, and he was proud of it; but he was unprepared, Mr. Griggs says, “for the dazzling vision of loveliness which stepped across the threshold one cold December day.” People rose in a public hall when she came in. “I have seen Miss Coleridge,” Lamb wrote, “and I wish I had just such a — daughter.” Did Coleridge wish to keep such a daughter? Was a father’s jealousy roused in that will-less man of inordinate susceptibility when Sara met her cousin Henry up at Highgate and almost instantly, but secretly, gave him her coral necklace in exchange for a ring with his hair? What right had a father who could not offer his daughter even a room to be told of the engagement or to object to it? He could only quiver with innumerable conflicting sensations at the thought that his nephew, whose book on the West Indies had impressed him unfavourably, was taking from him the daughter who, like Christabel, was his masterpiece, but, like Christabel, was unfinished. All he could do was to cast his magic spell. He talked. For the first time since she was a woman, Sara heard him talk. She could not remember a word of it afterwards. And she was penitent. It was partly thatmy father generally discoursed on such a very extensive scale. . . . Henry could sometimes bring him down to narrower topics, but when alone with me he was almost always on the star-paved road, taking in the whole heavens in his circuit.

She was a heaven-haunter, too; but at the moment “I was anxious about my brothers and their prospects — about Henry’s health, and upon the subject of my engagement generally.” Her father ignored such things. Sara’s mind wandered.

The young couple, however, made ............
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