Saturday, October 21, 2006

unhappy returns

Coleridge was born on 21st October 1772, making today his 234th anniversary. Unhemmed probably wouldn't be marking the occasion if I hadn't just read this. It's no exaggeration to say that he didn't like his birthday much, or at least that some of his birthdays got him down, reminding him of all the things he felt he hadn't achieved. He celebrated - if that's the right word - on the wrong day, under the mistaken impression that he came into the world on the 20th. This mistake, for some reason, really appeals to me.

On the evidence of his notebooks, his 32nd birthday looks to have been particularly rough:

'O my God! or if I dare not continue in that awful feeling! yet oh whatever is good in me, even tho' not in the Depth, tho' not in that which is the Universal & Perfect in us, yet oh! by all the ministering Imperfections of my Nature that were capable of subserving the Good - O why have I shunned & fled like a cowed Dog from the Thought that yesterday was my Birth Day, & that I was 32 - So help me Heaven! as I looked back, & till I looked back, I had imagined I was only 31 - so completely has a whole year passed, with scarcely the fruits of a month! O Sorrow & Shame! I am not worthy to live! - Two & thirty years - & this last year above all others! - I have done nothing! No I have not even layed up any materials, any inward store, of after action! - O no! still worse! still worse! body & mind, habit of bedrugging the feelings, & bodily movements, & habit of dreaming without distinct or rememberable ...'

According to Seamus Perry's commentary, the 'next four leaves have been cut out of the book'.

The following year was quite bad too:

'My Birth Day! - O Thought of Agony! O Thought of Despair! drive me not to utter Madness! -'

I thought that there were some more of these sad and extraordinary birthday entries, but I can't seem to find them. I was very pleased to discover (in the chronology included in this book) that on his 50th Coleridge took a dip in the sea at Ramsgate.

No comments: