Coleridge: Christabel, Notes

Updated May 6, 2020 | Infoplease Staff


25,6-7-This couplet ran as follows in the first edition:

"Sir Leoline, the Baron rich,
Hath a toothless mastiff bitch."

In the editions of 1828 and 1829 Coleridge changed it to the form printed in the text; "but bitch has been restored in all subsequent editions except Mr. Campbell's" (Garnett).

16-*thin gray cloud*, etc. The "thin gray cloud," as also the dancing leaf of ll. 49-52, was observed at Stowey. They are noted in Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal, January 31 and March 7, 1798.

26, 54-*Jesu*. This form of the word is nearer to the Hebrew original than the more familiar Jesus. It is often (though not exclusively) used in ejaculation and prayer, as here, and was perhaps supposed to be the vocative form.

27, 92-*I wis.* This is a misinterpretation of Middle English iwis, from Old English gewis, "certainly."

29, 129-*The lady sank,* etc. The threshold of a house is, in folk-lore, a sacred place, and evil things cannot cross but have to be carried over it.

142-*I cannot speak,* etc. Geraldine blesses "her gracious stars" (l. 114), but cannot join in praise to the Holy Virgin.

30, 167-*And jealous of the listening air*. This line was not in the first edition, but was added in the edition of 1828.

32, 252-*Behold! her bosom and half her side*, etc. There exist at least three versions of this passage. The text is that of the edition. The edition of 1816 lacked ll. 255-61, having only these lines between 253 and 262:

"And she is to sleep by Christabel.
She took two paces, and a stride," etc.

The third form is that of a MS. copy of the poem once the property of Wordsworth's sister-in-law, Sarah Hutchinson, and recently published in facsimile by Mr. E.H. Coleridge, which gives this reading for ll. 253-4:

"Are lean and old and foul of hue,
And she is to sleep by Christabel."

Coleridge seems to have tried both ways, that of revealing Geraldine's loathsome secret and that of leaving it an unknown and nameless horror, and finally to have chosen the latter, just as he rejected in later editions the charnel-house particulars in the description of Death in "The Ancient Mariner." Unquestionably he was right. The horror that is merely suggested and left shrouded in mystery for the imagination to work on is more powerful than that which is known. The suppressed line, however, helps us in an age less familiar with notions of the supernatural to understand what Geraldine is. The character is conceived upon the general lines of Duessa in the first book of "The Faerie Queene;" a being of great external loveliness, but within "full of all uncleanness." Observe also that the thought, shrouded here, is half revealed later (l. 457).

35, 344-*Bratha Head, Wyndermere, Langdale Pike*, etc. For the relation of the Second Part of the poem to the Lake country see Introduction. All of the places named in these lines are near the border-line between Cumberland and Westmoreland and within a dozen miles of the Wordsworths' home at Grasmere. Keswick, which was the home of Coleridge from 1800 to 1804, and of his wife and children for many years thereafter, is on Derwent Water, in Cumberland, some ten miles north of Grasmere. The little river Bratha runs into the upper or northern end of Windermere, a larger lake lying about three miles below Grasmere and connected with it by another stream. Langdale Pike (or Pikes, for there are more than one) is the name of the steep hills at the head of Langdale, on the Cumberland border. Dungeon-Ghyll is a ravine in Langdale (see Wordsworth's "The Idle Shepherd Boys; or, Dungeon-Ghyll Force"). Borrowdale lies over the border in Cumberland and slopes the other way, toward Derwent Water.

37, 407-*Lord Roland de Vaux of Tryermaine*. Sir Leoline lives at "Langdale Hall," a supposed castle in the immediate vicinity of the poets' homes; the friend of his youth, whose daughter Geraldine claims to be, is given the name of a real family and an historical estate in eastern Cumberland, Tryermaine in Gilsland, on the River Irthing, which forms part of the boundary between Cumberland and Northumberland. Scott in his notes to "The Bridal of Triermain" quotes as follows from Burns's "Antiquities of Westmoreland and Cumberland": "After the death of Gilmore, Lord of Tryermaine and Torcrossock, Hubert Vaux gave Tryermaine and Torcrossock to his second son, Ranulph Vaux.... Ranulph, being Lord of all Gilsland, gave Gilmore's land to his younger son, named Roland.... And they were named Rolands successively, that were lords thereof, until the reign of Edward the Fourth."

44-*The Conclusion to Part the Second*. Campbell thought it "highly improbable" that these lines were originally composed as a part of "Christabel." In a letter to Southey, May 6, 1801, Coleridge speaks of his eldest boy, Hartley, then in his fifth year: "Dear Hartley! we are at times alarmed by the state of his health, but at present he is well. If I were to lose him, I am afraid it would exceedingly deaden my affection for any other children I may have." Then he writes the lines that we now have as the Conclusion to Part the Second; and adds: "A very metaphysical account of fathers calling their children rogues, rascals, and little varlets, etc."

Sources +