Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Lectures and Notes on Shakspere
and Other English Poets. Ed. T. Ashe. London: George Bell and Sons, 1897. Shakespeare Navigators. <http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/hamlet/Coleridge>
342             NOTES ON SOME OTHER             [1818


Hamlet.


     ["Hamlet" was the play, or rather Hamlet himself was the character, in the intuition and exposition of which I first made my turn for philosophical criticism, and especially for insight into the genius of Shakspere, noticed. This happened first amongst my acquaintances, as Sir George Beaumont will bear witness; and subsequently, long before1 Schlegel had delivered at Vienna the lectures on Shakspere, which he afterwards published, I had given on the same subject eighteen lectures substantially the same, proceeding from the very same point of view, and deducing the same conclusions, so far as I either then agreed, or now agree, with him. I gave these lectures at the Royal Institution, before six or seven hundred auditors of rank and eminence, in the spring of the same year, in which Sir Humphry Davy, a fellow-lecturer, made his great revolutionary discoveries in chemistry. Even in detail the coincidence of Schlegel with my lectures was so extraordinary, that all who at a later period2 heard the same words, taken by me from my notes




     1This "long before" must be set down to a little excitement (for more of which, see succeeding sentence, commencing "Mr. Hazlitt"), if we were right, and there can be no doubt, in considering Coleridge's first lectures at the Royal Institution, to have been those of 1806-8. See Lectures of 1811-12, Introductory Matter, § 5. Coleridge's statements vary only in seeming. In the letter of Feb. 1818 (see Lecture IX., of 1811-12) he says Schlegel's lectures "were not given orally till two years after mine." This gives 1806. In the note in the text, "in the spring of the same year," &c., refers to 1807. But it clearly was "before." Schlegel's lectures were delivered at Vienna during the year 1808, and published the year following. (Volesungen über dramatische Kunst und Literatur, 1809, 3 vols.)
     Schlegel was, by five years, Coleridge's senior, having been born in 1767. He was professor at Jena, when Coleridge was in Germany.
     2Coleridge lectured at the Royal Institution in 1810.
SECT. IV.]              PLAYS OF SHAKSPERE.             343


of the lectures at the Royal Institution, concluded a borrowing on my part from Schlegel. Mr. Hazlitt, whose hatred of me is in such an inverse ratio to my zealous kindness towards him, as to be defended by his warmest admirer, Charles Lamb --(who, God bless him! besides his characteristic obstinacy of adherence to old friends, as long at least as they are at all down in the world, is linked as by a charm to Hazlitt's conversation) -- only as "frantic;" -- Mr. Hazlitt, I say, himself replied to an assertion of my plagiarism from Schlegel in these words; -- "That is a lie; for I myself heard the very same character of Hamlet from Coleridge before be went to Germany, and when he had neither read nor could read a page of German!" Now Hazlitt was on a visit to me at my cottage at Nether Stowey, Somerset, in the summer of the year 1798, in the September of which year I first was out of sight of the shores of Great Britain. Recorded by me, S. T. Coleridge, 7th January, 1819.]

     The seeming inconsistencies in the conduct and character of Hamlet have long exercised the conjectural ingenuity of critics; and, as we are always loth to suppose that the cause of defective apprehension is in ourselves, the mystery has been too commonly explained by the very easy process of setting it down as in fact inexplicable, and by resolving the phenomenon into a misgrowth or lusus of the capricious and irregular genius of Shakspere. The shallow and stupid arrogance of these vulgar and indolent decisions I would fain do my best to expose. I believe the character of Hamlet may be traced to Shakspere's deep and accurate science in mental philosophy. Indeed, that this character must have some connection with the common fundamental laws of our nature may be assumed from the fact, that Hamlet has been the darling of every country in which the literature of England has been fostered. In order to understand him, it is essential that we should reflect on the constitution of our own minds. Man is distinguished from the brute animals in proportion as thought prevails over sense: but in the healthy processes of the mind, a balance is constantly maintained between the impressions from out-