William Godwin's Diary


Coleridge’s first series of lectures in London, given at the Royal Institution, 15 January to 30 May 1808. His experience of preaching and lecturing in Bristol in the 1790s had not prepared him for the pressure of lecturing at such a prestigious venue and his nervousness contributed to a period of ill health. Godwin attended the second lecture in the series, which had already been postponed once and which went ahead despite the ‘acrid scalding evacuations, and if possible worse Vomitings’ Coleridge was suffering. De Quincey also attended this lecture and described him as having the appearance of ‘a person struggling with pain and overmastering illness. His lips were baked with feverish heat, and often black in colour; and …. he often seemed to labour under an almost paralytic inability to raise the upper jaw from the lower.’ The planned subject of the series was ‘the Principles of Poetry’ and the first two lectures began with dense excursions into eighteenth-century aesthetic theory. The lectures were then suspended for the rest of February, as Coleridge struggled with ill health, self-doubt and the effects of excessive opium addiction. When he resumed the series, he discovered a much more successful, extempore style, illustrating his subject through readings of Shakespeare and Milton and occasional digressions into Kant, Schiller and Herder. He eventually delivered twenty of the twenty-five lectures he had agreed to give, cancelling the final five when he became ill again in early June.

See DNB and Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Reflections (London: HarperCollins, 1998).