A Celebration of Women Writers

"To Mr. S. T. Coleridge." by Anna Lætitia Barbauld (1743 - 1825)

First Publication: "To Mr. Cge", unsigned, in Monthly Magazine Vol. 7 (April 1799) pp. 231-232.
This Edition: The Works of Anna Lætitia Barbauld, with a Memoir by Lucy Aikin. London: Longman, 1825. I:209-211.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

To Mr. S. T. Coleridge {1}

Midway the hill of Science, after steep
And rugged paths that tire th' unpractised feet,
A Grove extends, in tangled mazes wrought,
And fill'd with strange enchantment:dubious shapes
Flit thro' dim glades, and lure the eager foot
Of youthful ardour to eternal chase.
Dreams hang on every leaf; unearthly forms
Glide thro' the gloom, and mystic visions swim
Before the cheated sense. Athwart the mists,
Far into vacant space, huge shadows stretch
And seem realities; while things of life,
Obvious to sight and touch, all glowing round
Fade to the hue of shadows. Scruples here
With filmy net, most like th' autumnal webs
Of floating Gossamer, arrest the foot
Of generous enterprize; and palsy hope
And fair ambition, with the chilling touch
Of sickly hesitation and blank fear.
Nor seldom Indolence these lawns among
Fixes her turf-built seat, and wears the garb
Of deep philosophy, and museful sits,
In dreamy twilight of the vacant mind,
Soothed by the whispering shade; for soothing soft
The shades; and vistas lengthening into air,
With moon beam rainbows tinted. Here each mind
Of finer mould, acute and delicate,
In its high progress to eternal truth
Rests for a space, in fairy bowers entranced;
And loves the softened light and tender gloom;
And, pampered with most unsubstantial food,
Looks down indignant on the grosser world,
And matter's cumbrous shapings. Youth belov'd
Of Scienceof the Muse belov'd, not here,
Not in the maze of metaphysic lore
Build thou thy place of resting; lightly tread
The dangerous ground, on noble aims intent;
And be this Circe of the studious cell
Enjoyed, but still subservient. Active scenes
Shall soon with healthful spirit brace thy mind;
And fair exertion, for bright fame sustained,
For friends, for country, chase each spleen-fed fog
That blots the wide creation
Now Heaven conduct thee with a Parent's love!

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

Notes:

  1. S. T. Coleridge: Anna Lætitia Barbauld first met Samuel Taylor Coleridge in August 1797. This poem, written at that time, indicates both her liking for him and her assessment of his character. For many years an admirer, Coleridge increasingly criticized Barbauld and her work after 1812.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom