Coleridge's Nights

from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Tom Wedgwood on September 16, 1803

For 5 months past my mind has been strangely shut up. I have taken the paper with the intention to write to you many times; but it has been all one blank Feeling, one blank idealess Feeling. I had nothing to say, I could say nothing. How dearly I love you, my very Dreams make known to me. I will not trouble you with the gloomy Tale of my Health. While I am awake, by patience, employment, effort of mind, and walking I can keep the fiend at Arm's length; but the Night is my Hell, Sleep my tormenting Angel. Three nights out of four I fall asleep, struggling to lie awake--and my frequent Night-screams have almost made me a nuisance in my own House. Dreams with me are no Shadows, but the very Substances and foot-thick Calamities of my Life. Beddoes, who has been to me ever a very kind man, suspects that my stomach "brews vinegar."… I myself fully believe it to be either atonic, hypochondriacal Gout, or a scrophulous affection of the mesenteric Glands. In the hope of drawing the Gout, if Gout it should be, into my feet, I walked, previously to my getting into the Coach at Perth, 263 miles in eight Days, with no unpleasant fatigue: and if I could do you any service by coming to town, and there were no Coaches, I would undertake to be with you, on foot, in 7 days. I must have strength somewhere; my head is indefatigably strong; my limbs too are strong; but acid or not acid, Gout or Scrofula, something there is [in] my stomach or Guts that transubstantiates my Bread and Wine into the Body and Blood of the Devil-Meat and Drink I should say for I eat but little bread, and take nothing, in any form, spiritual or narcotic, stronger than Table Beer... .

To diversify this dusky letter I will write as a Post script an Epitaph, which I composed in my sleep for myself, while dreaming that I was dying. To the best of my recollection I have not altered a word. Your's dear Wedgewood, and of all, that are dear to you at Gunville, gratefully and most affectionately,

S. T. Coleridge.



Here sleeps at length poor Col. and without Screaming,

Who died, as he had always liv’d, a dreaming

Shot dead, while sleeping, by the Gout within,

Alone, and all unknown, at E'nbro' in an Inn.

It was on Tuesday Night last at the Black Bull, Edinburgh.