Although most people have heard of his poems - The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan come to mind, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was also a writer of prose. He was born in Devon in 1772, became a founder of the Romantic Movement and a member of the Lake Poets.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge ( 1795 )
In 1895 Ernest Hartley Coleridge - his grandson - published his two volume Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Volume II includes a letter which he wrote to his friend Daniel Stuart while passing through Gibraltar on his way to Malta. He arrived on the 21st of April 1804 and stayed for 5 days. Luckily he missed the onset of the first yellow fever epidemic ( see LINK ) by about four months.
21st April 1804 - Letter to Daniel Stuart, Scottish journalist, friend and close associate
My dear Stuart,
We dropped anchor half a mile from the landing place of the Rock of Gibraltar on Thursday afternoon between four and five; a most prosperous voyage of eleven days. The day before yesterday I saw a Letter from Barcelona, giving an account that the Swift Cutter with Dispatches to Lord Nelson had been boarded by a French Privateer & the Dispatches taken, her Captain having been killed in the first moments of the Engagement . . . . I repeated this Intelligence at Griffith's Hotel on the Rock . . .
Main Street with Griffith's Hotel on the corner with Commercial Square - an institution at the time ( Unknown )
Since we anchored I have passed nearly the whole of each day in scrambling about on the back of the rock, among the monkeys. I am a match for them in climbing, but in hops and flying leaps they beat me. You sometimes see thirty or forty together of these our poor relations, and you may be a month on the rock and go to the back every day and not see one.
Oh, my dear friend! It is a most interesting place, this! A rock which thins as it rises up, so that you can sit a-straddle on almost any part of its summit, between two and three miles from north to south.
The ridge at the top of the Rock (1830s - Possibly by Frederick Leeds Edridge ) ( see LINK )
The Rock as drawn by Coleridge
Rude as this line is, it gives you the outline of its appearance, from the sea close to it, tolerably accurately; only, in nature, it gives you very much the idea of a rude statue of a lion couchant, like that in the picture of the Lion and the Gnat, in the common spelling-books, or of some animal with a great dip in the neck.
The lion’s head towards the Spanish, his stiffened tail (4) to the African coast. At (5) a range of Moorish towers and wall begins; and at (6) the town begins, the Moorish wall running straight down by the side of it.
The Tower of Homage or Moorish Castle with the beginning of the old town to the right ( Unknown )
Above the town, little gardens and neat small houses are scattered here and there, wherever they can force a bit of gardenable ground; and in these are poplars, with a profusion of geraniums and other flowers unknown to me; and their fences are most commonly that strange vegetable monster, the prickly aloe; its leaves resembling the head of a battledore, or the wooden wings of a church-cherub, and one leaf growing out of another.
Lovers Walk in the Alameda Gardens - with ' the prickly aloe' on the left by the wayside (1865 - Gustave de Jonge)
Under the Lion’s Tail is Europa Point, which is full of gardens and pleasant trees; but the highest head of this mountain is a heap of rocks, with the palm-trees growing in vast quantities in their interstices, with many flowering weeds very often peeping out of the small holes or slits in the body of the rock, just as if they were growing in a bottle.
'Under the Lion's tail is Europa Point' (1890s - Patty Rolls )
To have left England only eleven days ago, with two flannel waistcoats on, and two others over them; with two flannel drawers under cloth pantaloons, and a thick pair of yarn stockings; to have had no temptation to lay any part of these aside during the whole voyage, and now to find myself in the heat of an English summer, among flowers, and seeking shade, and courting the sea-breezes; all the trees in rich foliage, and the corn knee-high, and so exquisitely green! . . .
I could fill a fresh sheet with the description of the singular faces, dresses, manners, etc., etc., of the Spaniards, Moors, Jews (who have here a peculiar dress resembling a college dress), Greeks, Italians, English, etc., that meet in the hot crowded streets of the town, or walk under the aspen poplars that form an Exchange in the very centre.
But words would do nothing. I am sure that any young man who has a turn for character-painting might pass a year on the Rock with infinite advantage. A dozen plates by Hogarth from this town! We are told that we shall not sail to-morrow evening. The Leviathan leaves us and goes to join the fleet, and the Maidstone Frigate is to convoy us to Malta. . . .
'A lady and a gentleman' from Gibraltar - She wears a typical red coat, he is probably a Spaniard ( Unknown )
Saturday April 21st, went again on shore, walked up to the furthermost signal-house, the summit of that third and last segment of the mountain ridge which looks over the blue sea to Africa. The mountains around me did not anywhere arrange themselves strikingly, and few of their shapes were striking. One great pyramidal summit far above the rest, on the coast of Spain, and an uncouth form, an old Giant’s Head and shoulders, looking in upon us from Africa far inland, were the most impressive;
'One great pyramidal summit' - Sierra Carbonera in Spain with Gibraltar's very own 'Stately pleasure dome' - Arengo's Palace in the foreground on the right ( see LINK ) (1883 - Frederick William J. Shore - detail )
'An old Giant’s Head and shoulders, looking in upon us from Africa'- aka the view towards Ape's Hill from the Moorish Castle ( 1853 - Lady Patrick Critchton-Stuart ) ( see LINK )
. . but the sea was so blue, calm, sunny, so majestic a lake where it is enshored by mountains, and, where it is not, having its indefiniteness the more felt from those huge mountain boundaries, which yet by their greatness prepared the mind for the sublimity of unbounded ocean - altogether it reposed in the brightness and quietness of the noon - majestic, for it was great with an inseparable character of unity, and, thus, the more touching to me who had looked from far loftier mountains over a far more manifold landscape, the fields and habitations of Englishmen, children of one family, one religion, and that my own, the same language and manners - by every hill, by every river some sweet name familiar to my ears, or, if first heard, remembered as soon as heard!
But here, on this side of me, Spaniards, a degraded race that dishonour Christianity; on the other, Moors of many nations, wretches that dishonour human nature! If anyone were near me and could tell me, ‘that mountain yonder is called so and so, and at its foot runs such and such a river,’ oh, with how blank an ear should I listen to sounds which probably my tongue could not repeat, and which I should be sure to forget, and take no pleasure in remembering!
Pablo Larios ( see LINK ) honorary member of a 'degraded race - and, much to British disgust, Master of the Royal Calpe Hunt ( see LINK )
A 'wretch that dishonours human nature' - Tarik-ibn-Zayid, the 'moor' who gave Gibraltar its name ( unknown ) ( see LINK )
And the Rock itself, on which I stand (nearly the same in length as our Carrock, but not so high, nor one tenth as wide), what a complex Thing! At its feet mighty ramparts establishing themselves in the sea with their huge artillery, hollow trunks of iron where Death and Thunder sleep; the gardens in deep moats between lofty and massive walls; a town of all nations and all languages - close below me, on my left, fields and gardens and neat small mansions - poplars, cypresses, and willow-leaved aspens, with fences of prickly aloe - strange plant that does not seem to be alive, but to have been so, a thing fantastically carved in wood, and coloured - some hieroglyphic or temple ornament of undiscovered meaning.
Carrock Fell . . or the Rock itself ? ( 1830s - J.M.Van Braam Detail )
On my right and immediately with and around me white stone above stone, an irregular heap of marble rocks, with flowers growing out of the holes and fissures, and palmettoes everywhere ... beyond these an old Moorish tower, and then galleries and halls cut out by human labour out of the dense hard rock, with enormous cannon the apertures for which no eye could distinguish, from the sea or the land below them, from the nesting-holes of seafowl.
On the north side, aside these, one absolutely perpendicular precipice, the absolute length of the Rock, at its highest a precipice of 1,450 feet - the whole eastern side an unmanageable mass of stones and weeds, save one place where a perpendicular precipice of stone slants suddenly off in a swelling slope of sand like the Screes on Wastwater.
The screes of Wastwater . . .Gibraltar from the east?
The other side of this rock 5,000 men in arms, and no less than 10,000 inhabitants - in this sixty or seventy apes! What a multitude, an almost discordant complexity of associations! The Pillars of Hercules, Calpe, and Abyla, the realms of Masinissa, Jugurtha, and Syphax: Spain, Gibraltar: the Dey of Algiers, dusky Moor and black African, and others.
Quiet it is to the eye, and to the heart, which in it will entrance itself in the present vision, and know nothing, feel nothing, but the abiding things of Nature, great, calm, majestic, and one! From the road I climbed up among the rocks, crushing the tansy, the strong smell of which the open air reconciled to me. I reached the ‘striding edge,’ where, as I sate, I fell into the above musing.”
Reading all this one wonders whether Coleridge's well known addiction to Laudanum had influenced his perception of Gibraltar. There is a difference in mood - and the length of his sentences - between what he wrote in his dairy and what he wrote in his letter to his friend Stuart.
His approach to both the geography and the people is remarkable - in his mind he seems to have compared everything with the yardstick of his very English Lake District scenery. The Rock and surrounding countryside he found wanting. His view of the people as Hogarthian characters is also rather alarming.
The flowery language and flights of fancy which he uses in his diary sound both contrived and wrong. All in all one would have expected more from Coleridge. In the final analysis and despite the poetic prose, his is a conventional point of view both repeated at nauseum by many less well known visitors. There were few stately pleasure domes on the Rock - but he missed St Michael's Cave and never saw our caverns also measureless to man - nor our very own and very sunless sea.
St Michaels Cave - 'Caverns measureless to man' (1796 - Cooper Willyams ) ( see LINK )