Category Archives: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Advice Is Like Snow – The Softer It Falls, the Longer It Dwells Upon, and the Deeper It Sinks Into the Mind

Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Jeremiah Seed? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Advice that is shouted as a command is often ignored. A different approach is more successful:

Advice is like snow – the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.

The prominent English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge has received credit for this thoughtful statement, but I have been unable to find a solid citation. Would you please help trace this meta-advice?

Quote Investigator: Samuel Taylor Coleridge died in 1834 and this expression was assigned to him two years prior in 1832; however, QI believes that the words were based on a sermon delivered before the literary master was born.

Jeremiah Seed was a clergyman and Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford who died in 1747. A collection of his sermons which included a discourse “On Evil-Speaking” appeared shortly after his death. Seed presented three elaborate similes about giving advice gracefully: 1

We must consult the gentlest Manner and softest Seasons of Address: Our Advice must not fall, like a violent Storm, bearing down and making that to droop, which it was meant to cherish and refresh: It must descend, as the Dew upon the tender Herb; or like melting Flakes of Snow; the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the Mind.

The popular modern version of the quotation was extracted from the above passage, simplified, and streamlined. Coleridge did not craft the simile and QI has located no direct evidence that he ever employed it. The ascription to him is unsupported.

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Notes:

  1. 1747, Discourses on Several Important Subjects: To Which Are Added Eight Sermons Preached at the Lady Moyer’s Lecture in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, London by Jeremiah Seed (Rector of Emham in Hampshire, and late Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford), Volume 1 of 2, Third Edition, Sermon XIV: On Evil-Speaking, Start Page 349, Quote Page 351, Printed for R. Manby and H. S. Cox, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link

If He Found that Flower in His Hand When He Awoke — Ay! And What Then?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A fascinating fragment describes the tangible intrusion of a dream into the prosaic world:

What if you slept
And what if in your sleep you dreamed
And what if in your dream you went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if when you awoke you had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?

The famous Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who crafted “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kubla Khan” has been credited with this fragment, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: Coleridge died in 1834, and more than sixty years later in 1895 excerpts from his unpublished notebooks were printed in the work “Anima Poetae” edited by his grandson Ernest Hartley Coleridge. Chapter 9 contained notebook entries created between 1814 and 1818. A passage at the end of the chapter included a strong semantic match, but the phrasing was quite different. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awoke — Ay! and what then?

The more exquisite and delicate a flower of joy, the tenderer must be the hand that plucks it.

Floods and general inundations render for the time even the purest springs turbid.

For compassion a human heart suffices; but for full, adequate sympathy with joy, an angel’s.

QI conjectures that the popular modern text was based on a paraphrase or a misremembering of the passage above written by Coleridge circa 1818.

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Notes:

  1. 1895, Anima Poetae: From the Unpublished Note-Books of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge, Chapter 9: 1814-1818, Quote Page 238 and 239, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link

You Yourself May Serve To Show It, That Every Fool Is Not a Poet

Jonathan Swift? Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Alexander Pope? Théophile de Viau? Matthew Prior? Pierre de Ronsard? Scévole de Sainte-Marthe? Anonymous?

pope08Dear Quote Investigator: According to legend a famous literary figure was accosted by a philistine who exclaimed that all poets were fools. The adroit spontaneous response provided a humorous comeuppance:

Sir, I admit your general rule,
That every poet is a fool,
But you yourself may prove to show it,
That every fool is not a poet.

These words have been credited to Jonathan Swift who wrote “Gulliver’s Travels”, Samuel Taylor Coleridge who wrote “Kubla Khan”, and Alexander Pope who write “The Dunciad”. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: The earliest match in English known to QI appeared in the third volume of a collection called “Miscellanies” published in 1733. The preface was dated May 27, 1727 and signed by Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745) and Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744). The following piece was labeled “Epigram from the French”: 1

SIR, I admit your gen’ral Rule
That every Poet is a Fool:
But you yourself may serve to show it,
That every Fool is not a Poet.

Top modern references such as “The Yale Book of Quotations” 2 and the “Oxford Dictionary of Quotations” have credited Alexander Pope, 3 but these references also presented the label which suggested that Pope was translating a pre-existing French verse. Indeed, QI has located an earlier French citation as shown further below.

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Notes:

  1. 1733, Miscellanies: the Last Volume, (Preface by Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope dated May 27, 1727), Epigram from the French, Quote Page 57, Printed for Benjamin Motte, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link
  2. 2006, The Yale Book of Quotations by Fred R. Shapiro, Section: Alexander Pope, Quote Page 599, Yale University Press, New Haven. (Verified on paper)
  3. Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 8th Edition, Editor Elizabeth Knowles, Entry: Alexander Pope 1688–1744, Oxford Reference Online, Print Publication Date: 2014, Oxford University Press. (Accessed November 21, 2016)

I Do Not Believe in Ghosts Because I Have Seen Too Many of Them

Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley? Don Marquis? Apocryphal?

banquo09Dear Quote Investigator: While perusing the book “Dim Wit: The Stupidest Quotes of All Time” I came across an entertaining topic for Halloween in the following entry about a famous poet: 1

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was asked, “Do you believe in ghosts?” “No, ma’am,” he replied, “I’ve seen too many.” Lucy Finn

Did Coleridge really make this remark?

Quote Investigator: Yes, there is good evidence that he did make a comment of this type. The context helps to explain what he was trying to communicate.

Coleridge died in 1834, and more than sixty years later in 1895 excerpts from his unpublished notebooks were printed in the work “Anima Poetae”. An entry dated May 12, 1805 discussed an extraordinary episode during which Coleridge saw an apparition. He had been engaged in a long conversation with a companion who said goodbye and retired. Coleridge began to doze for five minutes while sitting in a red armchair. He awoke suddenly and perceived that his companion who had left was somehow still present. He was startled but started to doze again. Awakening he saw the same spectral figure: 2

The appearance was very nearly that of a person seen through thin smoke distinct indeed, but yet a sort of distinct shape and color, with a diminished sense of substantiality — like a face in a clear stream.

Coleridge’s skepticism about his own perceptions led him to record information about these mental excursions. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI:

Often and often I have had similar experiences, and, therefore, resolved to write down the particulars whenever any new instance should occur, as a weapon against superstition, and an explanation of ghosts — Banquo in “Macbeth” the very same thing. I once told a lady the reason why I did not believe in the existence of ghosts, etc., was that I had seen too many of them myself.

In the passage above Coleridge referred to Lord Banquo who was a character in Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth”; during the course of the drama Banquo was murdered by Lord Macbeth and reappeared as a ghost.

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Notes:

  1. 2010, Dim Wit: The Stupidest Quotes of All Time, Compiled by Rosemarie Jarski, Quote Page 348, Ulysses Press, Berkeley, California. (Google Books Preview)
  2. 1895, Anima Poetae: From the Unpublished Note-Books of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge, Entry Title: Illusion, Entry Date: May 12, 1805, Start Page 122, Quote Page 123, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, Boston, Massachusetts. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Leave Him With a Favorable Opinion of Himself

Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Tryon Edwards? Apocryphal?

coleridge07Dear Quote Investigator: My favorite poem is “Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I love the poem’s opium inspired image of a “stately pleasure dome”. Serendipitously, I came across an insightful remark ascribed to Coleridge that contrasted different types of intellects:

If you would stand well with a great mind, leave him with a favorable impression of yourself; if with a little mind, leave him with a favorable impression of himself.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find this in Coleridge’s oeuvre. Is this attribution accurate?

Quote Investigator: The acclaimed poet and critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge did pen a very similar remark within his critical analysis of a book by Sir Thomas Browne. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

The difference between a great mind’s and a little mind’s use of history is this. The latter would consider, for instance, what Luther did, taught, or sanctioned: the former, what Luther,—a Luther,—would now do, teach, and sanction. This thought occurred to me at midnight, Tuesday, the 16th of March, 1824, as I was stepping into bed,—my eye having glanced on Luther’s Table Talk.

If you would be well with a great mind, leave him with a favorable impression of you;—if with a little mind, leave him with a favorable opinion of himself.

Coleridge died in 1834, and the excerpt above appeared in a posthumous 1836 collection titled “The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge” edited by his uncle, Henry Nelson Coleridge.

The modern saying provided by the questioner evolved from the original statement. The phrase “be well” was changed to “stand well”; “you” was changed to “yourself”; and “opinion” was changed to “impression”.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1836, The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Collected and Edited by Henry Nelson Coleridge, Volume 2, Notes on Sir Thomas Browne’s Vulgar Errors, Address to the Reader, Start Page 406, Quote Page 411, William Pickering, London. (Google Books Full View) link