Pensive at eve, on the hard world I mused,
And my poor heart was sad; so at the MOON
I gazed and sighed, and sighed; for ah how soon
Eve saddens into night! mine eyes perused
With tearful vacancy the dampy grass
That wept and glitter'd in the paly ray:
And I did pause me on my lonely way
And mused me on the wretched ones that pass
O'er the bleak heath of sorrow. But alas!
Most of myself I thought! when it befel,
That the soothe spirit of the breezy wood
Breath'd in mine ear: "All this is very well,
But much of ONE thing, is for NO thing good."
Oh my poor heart's INEXPLICABLE SWELL!
Oh I do love thee, meek SIMPLICITY!
For of thy lays the lulling simpleness
Goes to my heart, and soothes each small distress,
Distress tho' small, yet haply great to me,
'Tis true on Lady Fortune's gentlest pad
I amble on; and yet I know not why
So sad I am! but should a friend and I
Frown, pout and part, then I am very sad.
And then with sonnets and with sympathy
My dreamy bosom's mystic woes I pall;
Now of my false friend plaining plaintively,
Now raving at mankind in general;
But whether sad or fierce, 'tis simple all,
All very simple, meek SIMPLICITY!
AND this reft house is that, the which he built,
Lamented Jack! and here his malt he pil'd,
Cautious in vain! these rats, that squeak so wild,
Squeak not unconscious of their father's guilt.
Did he not see her gleaming thro' the glade!
Belike 'twas she, the maiden all forlorn.
What tho' she milk no cow with crumpled horn,
Yet, aye she haunts the dale where erst she stray'd:
And aye, beside her stalks her amorous knight!
Still on his thighs their wonted brogues are worn,
And thro' those brogues, still tatter'd and betorn,
His hindward charms gleam an unearthly white.
Ah! thus thro' broken clouds at night's high noon
Peeps to fair fragments forth the full-orb'd harvest-moon!
These three Coleridgean pastiche sonnets first appeared in the Monthly Magazine, November 1797 as ‘by Nehemiah Higginbottom’. The broader context for their appearance is summarised by David Erdman: ‘Having with some misgivings recently pushed through the publication of Poems, By S. T. Coleridge, Second Edition. To which are now added Poems By Charles Lamb, And Charles Lloyd, the main author, counting the "effusions" of Lamb and Lloyd as a part of his own folly, laughs cathartically at the whole performance-and then sells his laughter to the Monthly Magazine before sharing it with his collaborators. [Erdman, ‘Coleridge as Nehemiah Higginbottom’, Modern Language Notes, 73: 8 (1958), 569]. ‘I sent three mock Sonnets,’ was how Coleridge explained matters in a letter to Cottle, ‘in ridicule of my own, & Charles Lloyd's, & Lamb's, &c &c—in ridicule of that affectation of unaffectedness, of jumping & misplaced accent on common-place epithets, flat lines forced into poetry by Italics (signifying how well & mouthis[h]ly the Author would read them) puny pathos &c &c—the instances are almost all taken from mine & Lloyd's poems … think they may do good to our young Bards’ [Collected Letters 1:357-8]. However benign Coleridge’s intentions may have been, Lloyd, Lamb and Southey (who believed his own sonnets ridiculed here) were all upset by the publication. Coleridge wrote a letter to Southey [Collected Letters 1:358-9] denying that he had been a target.
The alias 'Higgenbottom' was chosen (clearly) because Coleridge thought it was funny. Arses are funny, too (the end of the third sonnet works hard to generate arse-related laughs); and Coleridge wasn't the only person to find the name comical.
It seems difficult to account for some extraordinary names: many of them are probably corrupted from foreign ones. Such as Mr. Bomgarten, Mr. Higgenbottom, and divers others. The first is the German name for a tree-garden, i.e. an orchard, and the latter signifying in the same tongue Ickenbaum, an oak-tree. ['Humorous Origin of Names', Walker's Hibernian Magazine, Or, Compendium of Entertaining Knowledge (1789), 653]Ben Jonson mentions a 'Higginbottom', otherwise unknown but clearly a ruffian and mugger ("Walk with a cudgel, like Higginbottom, and may have a rapier for money", Every Man In His Humour, Act 2), which may be where Coleridge got it from. Or was his eye struck by the story of a certain Mr Price, who claimed to be a graduate of Oxford and who published a pamphlet claiming to have discovered the Philosopher's Stone? Here, in the Gentleman's Magazine for 8 November 1791, is a letter claiming to explode the claims of 'Mr Price':
Nothing short of the words "is not true" should have induced me to trouble you with any remarks on the long letter relative to Oxford degrees in your last month's Magazine. I always fully understood that Mr. Price's sole fame arose from his supposed discovery of the philosopher's stone; his writings never fell in my way, nor did I ever seek them: but, as my adversary had two editions of his pamphlet at once lying before him, it rested with him to have shewn what other "chymical labours" distinguished Mr. Price beyond the hundreds of industrious artisans in this city, who brandish their pestles, and heat their crucibles, without dreaming of being created doctors in physick, any more than I should of being dubbed Archbishop of Canterbury. Your correspondent, who (when the choler which actuated him when he first took up the pen is a little evaporated) appears to be a communicative, good-humoured man, assigns three other reasons for Mr. Price's obtaining the academical distinction of M.D. all equally curious: his having been a gentleman commoner, and behaved with sobriety; his having changed his name from Higginbottom, and being considered as very rich; and, lastly, his not intending to practise physick in England, but to carry his degree into foreign parts.This is pretty funny, too; and might well have tickled Coleridge's fancy: a man gets his degree in part because he changes his name from an absurd to a regular moniker, and because he promises not to use his degree in Britain. You can read Price's pamphlet for yourself: it's called An account of some experiments on mercury, silver and gold (Oxford 1782).