William Godwin's Diary


Godwin attended all seventeen of the lectures on Shakespeare and Milton that Coleridge gave in the winter of 1811-12. Compared to the lectures he had given in 1808 at the Royal Institution, his new venue of the Philosophical Institution at Scot’s Corporation Hall (off Fetter Lane, Fleet Street) assured a less fashionable but more literary audience. M.J. Godwin and Co.’s Juvenile Library was one of the places where tickets could be purchased, at two guineas for the series or three guineas for a gentleman accompanied by a female guest. Godwin was sent complimentary tickets, along with the suggestion that his children might ‘receive amusement’ from the lectures. Coleridge was taken ill before the start of the series – even being driven to the desperate measure of summoning a woman with a stomach pump – but, unlike 1808, he recovered before the lectures began. Many of the early lectures concentrated on Shakespeare’s treatment of love, although the similarity between certain passages and parts of Schlegel’s lectures on Shakespeare led to his first accusations of plagiarism, ‘the spectre that would haunt the rest of his career’ (see Holmes, p. 275). The most important lecture was delivered on 2 January on Hamlet, Coleridge closely identifying with the protagonist and giving an archetypal Romantic reading that would forever change the reception of what had previously been considered an inferior play. The remaining five lectures, of which fewer records survive, turned to an examination of Milton.

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