We, who are alive, hardly know when we are happy. We are always looking ahead, thinking, or at least hoping, that “the best is yet to be.“ When we ponder and judge the lives of dead men, we say to ourselves, taking credit for the acuteness of our intellectual perception, “That was the climax of their happiness; in those years they lived to the full.“ There are no three persons, at least in the history of literature, about whom it is easier thus to express ourselves, than about Coleridge, Wordsworth, and his sister Dorothy. Even in their own lifetimes they knew that from 1797 to 1802 they shared a lustrum of sympathy and love and achievement which were proof against worldly accidents and tribulations. In that golden period these three persons were an undivided and indivisible trinity. When the triune spell was broken each of them failed —Coleridge fell into a self-deceiving idleness, morbid imaginings of jealousy and mistrust, an opiate confusion of mind and heart; Wordsworth, arming himself with the shield of a rather self-righteous duty, moved boldly but remorsefully away from “the vision splendid”; Dorothy, overburdened with household cares and perplexed with spiritual disappointments and dismay, surrendered to a senseless melancholy.
The bond between these three persons was spiritual —“three persons and one soul,“ Coleridge rightly called them. The bond was not, so far as all were concerned, intellectual: Miss Wordsworth was never that. She was sensitive, percipient, but in no sense a “bluestocking.” Coleridge and Wordsworth were intellectual, Coleridge formidably so. Together they discussed and philosophized: when Dorothy was with them, they saw and felt. What she gave to her brother she gave to Coleridge also: —
She gave me eyes, she gave me ears;
And humble cares, and delicate fears;
A heart, the fountain of sweet tears;
And love, and thought, and joy.
When they disputed about Ben Jonson, as they did one evening in March, 1802, she was agitated and upset. It was she, more than her brother, who mistrusted “the meddling intellect.” She read and appreciated literature, of course, but she had undergone no basic intellectual training. Her diaries and her letters are fresh, spontaneous, and natural, not at all elaborate, self-conscious, or stylized, not even carefully and deliberately composed. In matters of the mind she was untamed, undisciplined, choosing her own pasture, yielding herself, as she pleased, to chance impressions and random visitations of mental activity.