21 March 2010

Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Malta

Coleridge went to Malta both because of the better climate and to try to cure himself of his addiction to opium.

He arrived 18 May 1804 on the merchant ship Speedwell - carrying 84 cannons to be delivered to Trieste - and walked up the long, steep, narrow Old Bakery Street in Valletta. Photos here give a vague idea of what this walk would have been like. Coleridge's friend Dr John Stoddart was the King's Advocate there, and he had encouraged him to go to Malta. At the top of Old Bakery Street was Casa de St Foix, where Stoddart lived.

Coleridge first stayed at the Casa de St Foix, which looked out onto Marsamxett harbor.

He met the governor of Malta, Sir Alexander Ball, 20 May. Ball's aim was for Britain to permanently occupy Malta and Sicily in order to control sea routes, and sometime in June he had enrolled Coleridge to help him in his secret endeavors. His job was to write papers such as 'The French in the Mediterranean', which was sent to Nelson, and others - 'Algeria', 'Malta', 'Egypt' and 'Sicily' - were sent to Downing Street. Some weeks before this, Ball had become convinced about Coleridge's ability, and installed him in his palace on a salary 6 July. He began to eat well exercise well, and in general help to alleviate his addiction.

Ball's summer residence - now the President of Malta's official residence - was at St Anton(io), some miles inland from Valletta.

The chapel near the entrance to the palace.

The statue outside the palace.

And some photos of the extensive palace gardens, where Coleridge delighted in the plants and the wildlife, such as the lizards.

The Public Secretary of Malta died 18 January 1805, and Coleridge accepted the job of acting Public Secretary while Ball awaited the official new one, receiving a salary of £600 a year.

Initially Coleridge was very happy, but as rumors came of problems in the home he had left in England, he dosed himself at night with opium and spirits, began having sexual fantasies and became preoccupied with unconventional erogenous zones. But the many pages of his Notebooks on many other subjects continued, as did his public duties.

However, he learned at the end of March of the death of his friend John Wordsworth, William's brother, and was ill for two weeks.

It is probably while in San Antonio that Coleridge wrote this poem to 'Asra' (Sara Hutchinson), which he lost and re-wrote later:


Beneath the blaze of a tropical sun the mountain peaks are the Thrones of Frost, through the absence of objects to reflect the rays. `What no one with us shares, seems scarce our own.` The presence of a ONE,
The best belov`d, who loveth me the best,is for the heart, what the supporting air from within is for the hollow globe with its suspended car. Deprive it of this, and all without, that would have buoyed it aloft even to the seat of the gods, becomes a burthen and crushes it into flatness.

The finer the sense for the beautiful and the lovely, and the fairer and lovelier the object presented to the sense ; the more exquisite the individual`s capacity of joy, and the more ample his means and opportunities of enjoyment, the more heavily will he feel the ache of solitariness, the more unsubstantial becomes the feast spread around him. What matters it, whether in fact the viands and the ministering graces are shadowy or real, to him who has not hand to grasp nor arms to embrace them ?

Hope, Imagination, honourable Aims,
Free Commune with the choir that cannot die,
Science and Song, delight in little things,
The buoyant child surviving in the man;
Fields, forests, ancient mountains, ocean, sky,
With all their voices--O dare I accuse
My earthly lot as guilty of my spleen,
Or call my destiny niggard ! O no ! no!
It is her largeness, and her overflow,
Which being incomplete, disquieteth me so!

For never touch of gladness stirs my heart,
But tim`rously beginning to rejoice
Like a blind Arab, that from sleep doth start
In lonesome tent, I listen for thy voice.
Belovéd ! `tis not thine ; thou art not there!
Then melts the bubble into idle air,
And wishing without hope I restlessly despair.

The mother with anticipated glee
Smiles o`er the child, that, standing by her chair
And flatt`ning its round cheek upon her knee,
Looks up, and doth its rosy lips prepare
To mock the coming sounds. At that sweet sight
She hears her own voice with a new delight ;
And if the babe perchance should lisp the notes aright,

Then is she tenfold gladder than before!
But should disease or chance the darling take,
What then avail those songs, which sweet of yore
Were only sweet for their sweet echo`s sake?
Dear maid ! no prattler at a mother`s knee
Was e`er so dearly prized as I prize thee:
Why was I made for Love and Love denied to me?

Coleridge left Malta 4 September 1805.

This backstreet is tucked out of the way in Sliema, Malta, although I'm not aware of any of the man's connections with the town. In general, though, Coleridge is not publicly remembered in Malta - perhaps because he was in fact a spin doctor working for the British, dispensing propaganda in order to win support from the Maltese?

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