Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
Born October 21, 1772, in Ottery St. Mary, Devonshire, England; died of complications from opium addiction July 25, 1834; son of John (a clergyman, schoolmaster, and writer) and Ann (Bowdon) Coleridge; married Sarah Fricker, October 4, 1795 (separated, 1806); children: Hartley, Berkeley, Derwent, Sara. Education: Attended Jesus College, Cambridge, 1791-94. Religion: Unitarian.
English poet, journalist, literary critic, and philosopher. Unofficial private secretary for British High Commissioner Alexander Ball, Malta, beginning 1804, acting public secretary in Malta, beginning 1805; teacher of class for men aspiring to professional careers, beginning 1822. Political correspondent for Morning Star, and reporter for Courier, both London, England; lecturer on politics, religion, and philosophy. Military service: English Army, enlisted (under assumed name), 1793-94.
Elected fellow, Royal Society of Literature.
(With Robert Southey) The Fall of Robespierre: An Historic Drama, W. H. Lunn and J. & J. Merrill (Cambridge, England), 1794.
A Moral and Political Lecture, Delivered at Bristol, George Routh (Bristol, England), 1795.
Conciones ad Populum; or, Addresses to the People, [Bristol, England], 1795.1
The Plot Discovered; or, An Address to the People, against Ministerial Treason, [Bristol, England], 1795.
An Answer to "A Letter to Edward Long Fox, M.D.," [Bristol, England], 1795.
(With Robert Southey and Charles Lamb) Poems on Various Subjects, C. G. & J. Robinsons/J. Cottle (London, England), 1796, revised and enlarged as Poems (includes poems by Charles Boyd), 1797, 3rd abridged edition, T. N. Longman & O. Rees (London, England), 1803.
Fears in Solitude, Written in 1798 during the Alarm of an Invasion: To Which Are Added, "France, an Ode" and "Frost at Midnight," J. Johnson, 1798.
(With William Wordsworth) Lyrical Ballads, with a Few Other Poems (includes "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"), T. N. Longman (London, England), 1798, 2nd edition, enlarged in two volumes, 1800, James Humphreys (Philadelphia, PA), 1802.
(Translator) Frederick Schiller, The Death of Wallenstein: A Tragedy in Five Acts, Longman and O. Rees (London, England), 1800.
(Translator) Frederick Schiller, The Piccolomini; or, The First Part of Wallenstein, A Drama in Five Acts, Longman and O. Rees (London, England), 1800, David Longworth (New York, NY), 1805.
The Friend; A Series of Essays (journalism), Gale & Curtis (London, England), 1812, enlarged in three volumes, Rest Fenner (London, England), 1818, revised in one volume, Chauncey Goodrich (Burlington, VT), 1831.
(With Robert Southey) Omniana; or, Horae Otiosiores, two volumes, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme & Brown (London, England), 1812.
Remorse: A Tragedy in Five Acts, D. Longworth (New York, NY), 1813.
Christabel: Kubla Khan, a Vision; The Pains of Sleep, Wells & Lilly (Boston, MA), 1816.
The Statesman's Manual; or The Bible, the Best Guide to Political Skill and Foresight: A Lay Sermon, Gale & Fenner (London, England), 1816, Chauncey Goodrich (Burlington, VT), 1832.
A Lay Sermon, Addressed to the Higher and Middle Classes, on the Existing Distresses and Discontents, Gale & Fenner (London, England), 1817, Chauncey Goodrich (Burlington, VT), 1832.
Sibylline Leaves: A Collection of Poems, Rest Fenner (London, England), 1817, portions published as Selections from the Sybilline Leaves of S. T. Coleridge, True & Greene (Boston, MA), 1827.
Biographia Literaria; or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions, two volumes, Kirk & Mercein, 1817.
Zapolya: A Christmas Tale, Rest Fenner (London, England), 1817.
Remarks on the Objections Which Have Been Urged against the Principle of Sir Robert Peel's Bill, W. Clowes, 1818.
The Grounds of Sir Robert Peel's Bill Vindicated, W. Clowes, 1818.
Aids to Reflection in the Formation of a Manly Character on the Several Grounds of Prudence, Morality, and Religion: Illustrated by Select Passages from Our Elder Divines, Especially Archbishop Leighton, Taylor & Hessey (London, England), 1825, Chauncey Goodrich (Burlington, VT), 1829.
The Poetical Works of S. T. Coleridge, three volumes, Pickering (London, England), 1828.
(With Robert Southey) The Devil's Walk; A Poem: By Professor Parson: Edited with a Biographical Memoir and Notes by H. W. Montagu, Marsh & Miller (London, England), 1830.
On the Constitution of Church and State, Hurst, Chance (London, England), 1830.
Specimens of the Table Talk of the Late Samuel Taylor Coleridge, two volumes, edited by Henry Nelson Coleridge, Harper & Brothers (New York, NY), 1835.
The Literary Remains in Prose and Verse of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, four volumes, edited by Henry Nelson Coleridge, Pickering (London, England), 1836n— 39.
Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit, edited by Henry Nelson Coleridge, Pickering (London, England), 1840, Munroe (Boston, MA), 1841.
Hints toward the Formation of a More Comprehensive Theory of Life, edited by Seth B. Watson, Lea & Blanchard (Philadelphia, PA), 1848.
Notes and Lectures upon Shakespeare and Some of the Old Poets and Dramatists with Other Literary Remains, edited by Sara Coleridge, Pickering (London, England), 1849, Harper (New York, NY),1853.
Essays on His Own Times; Forming a Second Series of "The Friend" (journalism), three volumes, edited by Sara Coleridge, Pickering (London, England), 1850.
Seven Lectures upon Shakespeare and Milton, by the Late S. T. Coleridge (corrupt text), edited by J. Payne Collier, Chapman & Hall (London, England), 1856.
The Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, two volumes, edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge, Houghton, Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1895.
Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, six volumes, edited by Earl Leslie Griggs, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1956n— 73.
Selected Letters, edited by H. J. Jackson, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1987.
The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, seven volumes, edited by William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Harper & Brothers (New York, NY), 1853.
Biographia Literaria, two volumes, edited by J. Shawcross, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1907.
The Complete Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, two volumes, edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1912.
The Philosophical Lectures of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by Kathleen Coburn, Pilot Press (London, England), 1949.
The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by Kathleen Coburn and Anthony John Harding, five volumes, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1957n—2002.
The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kathleen Coburn and Bart Winer, general editors, sixteen volumes, Princeton University Press, 1969n—.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by H. J. Jackson, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1985.
Coleridge's Writings, John Beer and John Morrow, general editors, four volumes to date, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1991n—.
Editor and contributor of a collection of sonnets by various authors, 1796. Contributor to Encyclopedia Metropolitana, Curtis & Fenner, 1818; contributor to periodicals, including Critical Review, Felix Farley's Bristol Journal, Friend, Watchman, and Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge had a brief fluorescence as a poet, creating between 1797 and 1798 the three major verse works that would establish his reputation: "Kubla Kahn," "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and "Christabel." Together with William Wordsworth, Coleridge is credited with giving rise to the Romantic movement in literature; the two men's work together set a new style by using common language rather than vaulted diction to celebrate nature. The three poems of Coleridge's major period were composed while the poet was living in a simple cottage in West Somerset, England, with Wordsworth housed nearby. Many of the lines of these poems were composed as the poet hiked with friends along lanes and over the fields of the then rural stretch of England. Two hundred years after the fact, Coleridge's contribution to literature was honored by the opening of a hiking trail, the Coleridge Way, in that very section of Somerset.
Though Coleridge's poetry was poorly received in his own day, readers and critics since then have taken inspiration from these flights of fantasy. A. C. Goodson, writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, commented that the writer "is the premier poet-critic of modern English tradition, distinguished for the scope and influence of his thinking about literature as much as for his innovative verse."
Such innovative verse ended by the time Coleridge was thirty; the rest of his life was dedicated to criticism and philosophy, and his life was in many ways increasingly controlled by the opium he became addicted to as a pain reliever. Thus, Coleridge, as Goodson went on to note, has always been a "controversial" figure in literature. "A notorious opium addict, prevaricator, and plagiarist, he was appreciated by his contemporaries more for his talk than for his prose style, more for his vivid imagination than for the quality of his response to society in transition."
The Clergyman's Son
Born in Devonshire, England, in 1772, in the small town of Ottery St. Mary, Coleridge was the tenth and last child of a local vicar and schoolmaster. In later life, the poet would emphasize his lowly beginnings; he was not part of the gentility or aristocracy as other writers often were. As Goodson noted, "Feelings of anomie, unworthiness, and incapacity persisted throughout a life of often compulsive dependency on others."
If Coleridges's childhood circumstances were poor materially, they were not so in terms of education. He grew up surrounded by books, and was particularly moved by his father's explanations of the workings of the planetary systems. When Coleridge was nine years of age, his father died, and he was sent to London's Christ's Hospital grammar school, where he studied the classics and English composition. Tutored by the Reverend James Bowyer, Coleridge gained a solid grounding in composition, with a stress on clear presentation and diction and an avoidance of elaborate literary embroidery. This foundation remained with the writer his entire life and prompted him, along with Wordsworth, to promote a poetry with, as he explained in Biographia Literaria, "natural thoughts with natural diction."
The young Coleridge also gained his love of poetry at Christ's Hospital grammar school. Even as a schoolboy, he was writing sonnets, such as "To the River Otter," a verse that "has been admired for its natural detail and pensiveness," according to Goodson. Additionally, he made lasting friendships, as with fellow student Charles Lamb.
Coleridge entered Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1791 with the intention of entering the Anglican clergy. His views quickly changed, however, as he supported a Unitarian fellow at the college and began developing liberal views about England's slave trade and the government of William Pitt. He also continued to write poetry, although critics have noted that his college verse is little advanced from his juvenilia. In fact, at Cambridge, Coleridge was known more as a conversationalist and sometime-writer of poems than he was a serious student.
Gambling debts and a failed love affair caused Coleridge to leave the university in 1793 and join the army under an assumed name. This interlude lasted only six months, until his brothers were able to pay off his gambling debts and Coleridge returned to his studies in 1794. That summer, while on a walking tour, he met future English poet laureate Robert Southey, with whom he planned to establish a utopian community the two men dubbed a "pantisocracy" in Pennsylvania. A communal effort, this utopian commune would be composed of participants who would share the work and rewards of their life. Their community would enjoy freedom of religions and political thought. Together the two wrote The Fall of Robespierre, a drama about the French revolution. Though nothing more came of their utopian plans, the sense of a community of like-minded artists-philosophers was always central to Coleridge's thinking and dreams.
Meanwhile, Coleridge left Cambridge in late 1794 without a degree, set out on a tour of Wales, and returned to England to discover that his friend Southey was engaged to be married. At his friend's urging, Coleridge wed the fiancee's sister, Sara Fricker; the match, however, turned out badly. While his unhappy marriage remained a source of sadness throughout his life, Coleridge set about earning a living. Through connections of Southey's in Bristol, he began lecturing and also accepted an advance from a local publisher who brought out the collaborative volume Poems on Various Subjects in 1796. Containing verses by Coleridge, the book including an early version of the poet's breakthrough poem, "The Eolian Harp." This verse was "the real inauguration of his mature voice," according to Goodson, and presents Coleridge's belief in God-in-nature, a pantheistic sentiment, within a lyrical and descriptive symbolic poem. Coleridge's old friend, Lamb, and Southey also contributed work to this early collection.
The Wordsworth Connection
A turning point in Coleridge's career was his friendship with William Wordsworth, which would last from 1796 to 1810. At this point Coleridge edited a liberal periodical, the Watchman, which he saw through ten issues. Here he published some of his own work, including parts of what would be his 1796 work, Religious Musings, as well as the work of other friends. When the magazine failed, he settled in the small village of Nether Stowey, near Wordsworth and his sister. Coleridge was about to enter the most prolific period of his life; from July 1797 to July 1798, he wrote the major poems of his entire career. Such fecundity was in part due to a regular income bestowed upon him by manufacturers Thomas and Joshua Wedgwood, who respected Coleridge's work. His string of stunning poems begins with "This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison," in which he uses a conversational style in blank verse to tell of how his wife scalded his foot with hot milk and he is unable to join is friends in a ramble. Instead he is confined to a garden, but soon discovers that nature provides solace from his enforced isolation. "Kubla Kahn" came next, with its famous opening lines, "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, / A stately pleasure-dome decree: / Where Alph, the sacred river, ran / Through caverns measureless to man / Down to a sunless sea." Goodson described this poem as "an opium-induced, orientalizing fantasia of the unconscious." Indeed, Coleridge was, by 1797, steadily taking laudanum, an opium-based pain killer, and the poem was reportedly written after the poet fell into a drug-induced slumber. Awaking, he wrote down the verse in whole from his dreams.
The final years of the eighteenth century also saw the composition of Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight," but all this was only preparation for the longer poem of the same year. "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is a gothic tale that deals with themes of sin, punishment, and redemption. Such redemption is brought about not only by repentance and suffering, but also by a love of nature. This long poem was a joint effort with Wordsworth, who helped give the story shape and form. The resulting ballad was over six hundred lines long, and tells of an old sailor who heedlessly kills an albatross that has come to the aid of his stranded vessel. All aboard die because of this crime against nature, except for the mariner, who is eventually rescued, his life from then on a penance for his thoughtless actions. During this same period, Coleridge also began the other major poem of his entire career, the dark and eerie "Christabel."
Coleridge and Wordsworth published their collaborative Lyrical Ballads, which included "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," as well as Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," in 1798. The volume has rightly been said to have given birth to the Romantic movement.
From Poet to Critic and Philosopher
Reviews of Lyrical Ballads were not favorable; Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" came in for special criticism for what reviewers saw as its archaic diction and rather incredible plot. Also, the central character, the mariner, is not a particularly strong or well-developed character. However, the poem succeeds, according to Goodson, because of its "strong local effects" and "drumming ballad meter." It was a landmark in its genre for being one of the first poems of pure imagination and of the supernatural, and as such has influenced writers from John Keats to W. H. Auden to the Surrealists. Soon after the publication of Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge and Wordsworth traveled to Germany, staying for almost a year. Here Coleridge came under the influence of German philosophers such as J. G. Fichte, F. W. J. von Schelling, and A. W. von Schlegel. He would later introduce their German aesthetic theory to England through his writings.
Returning to England, Coleridge and his family settled in the Lake District near the Wordsworths.The next dozen or so years were miserable ones for Coleridge. In bad health, he continued to turn to laudanum. His marriage was also falling apart, due in no little part to his love for Sara Hutchinson, sister of Wordsworth's future bride. All of these stresses contributed to the diminution of Coleridge's poetic power. One of the last of his major poems, "Dejection: An Ode," came from this period, and was dedicated to Sara Hutchinson. More and more his writing focused on criticism, promoting the verse of Wordsworth as well as the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant and Schelling. From 1804 to 1806 he stayed on Malta in an attempt to regain his health. Returning to England he decided to separate from his wife; for the next few years the Wordsworths provided his only social outlet, and from 1809 to 1810 he edited the political magazine The Friend with Sara Hutchinson. When that enterprise failed, Coleridge grew more morose and anti-social. In 1810 his friendship with Wordsworth ended, perhaps because of Coleridge's jealousy at the other poet's success and productivity.
Coleridge moved to London, where he continued to work, lecturing on literature and philosophy, especially the work of William Shakespeare, and writing about religious and political theory. He had given poetry up at thirty, writing mostly in his Notebooks daily meditations of his life. In 1813 a play he had written much earlier, Remorse, was successfully staged, but Coleridge spent the not inconsiderable fees in a matter of months. In 1816 the unfinished poems "Christabel" and "Kubla Kahn" were published, and thereafter Coleridge devoted himself to theological and socio-political works such as Lay Sermons, Aids to Reflection, and The Constitution of Church and State. In the last-named work, Coleridge laid out his philosophy of the best form of government. In so doing he became, as John Ballantyne noted in Australia's NewsWeekly.com, "one of the greatest political thinkers of his time." Ballantyne was not the first to see this element in Coleridge's work; the philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill also noted Coleridge's political influenceas one of the strongest of his age. For Ballantyne, Coleridge "was the first conservative to advocate social and political reforms as a means of maintaining a stable and cohesive society. He warned against the dangers of unchecked industrialization, criticized the then prevailing ideology of the unfettered free-market, and called for far-reaching reforms to give the poor a greater stake in the economy."
After 1816, Coleridge went to live with the physician Dr. James Gilman, in Highgate, London. The last eighteen years of his life were spent in relative
If you enjoy the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge
If you enjoy the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, you may also want to check out the following:
William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Of Experience, 1992.
William Wordsworth, The Works of William Wordsworth, 1998.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Shelley's Poetry and Prose, 2002.
seclusion but also in steady literary activity. His Biographia Literaria was dictated to a friend, and many consider it one of his greater literary achievements for its description and definition of two types of imagination, primary and secondary. When he died in 1834, he left behind volumes of manuscript notes, which editors and researchers have since put in order and publishing. "A legend in his own time," Goodson wrote, "[Coleridge] came to be seen by his friends and contemporaries as the genius who failed." Such a failure is only in light of the high expectations his early career promised, however. Disease and the use of opium, as well as his unhappy marriage, cut into his creativity, but despite that, "Coleridge can still be regarded as a ground breaking and, at his best, a powerful poet of lasting influence," according to Goodson.
Biographical and Critical Sources
Allsop, Thomas, Letters, Conversations, and Recollections of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, two volumes, Harper (New York, NY), 1836.
Ashton, Rosemary, The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Critical Biography, Blackwell Publishers (Cambridge, MA), 1996.
Barth, J. Robert, The Symbolic Imagination: Coleridge and the Romantic Tradition, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1977.
Bate, Walter Jackson, Coleridge, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1968.
Beer, J. B., Coleridge's Poetic Intelligence, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1977.
Chambers, E. K., Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Biographical Study, Clarend on Press (Oxford, England), 1938, revised edition, 1950.
Colmer, John, Coleridge: Critic of Society, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1959.
Cornwell, John, Coleridge: Poet and Revolutionary, 1772-1804, Allen Lane (London, England), 1973.
Davidson, Graham, Coleridge's Career, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1990.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 93: British Romantic Prose Writers, 1789-1832, First Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990, pp. 95-133.
Fruman, Norman, Coleridge: The Damaged Archangel, Braziller (New York, NY), 1971.
Holmes, Richard, Coleridge: Early Visions, Hodder and Stoughton (London, England), 1989, Viking Press (New York, NY), 1990.
House, Humphrey, Coleridge: The Clark Lectures, Hart-Davis (London, England), 1953.
Roe, Nicholas, Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years, Oxford University Press (New York, NY),1987.
Wylie, Ian, Young Coleridge and the Philosophers of Nature, Oxford University Press (New York, NY),1988.
Europe Intelligence Wire, March 17, 2005, "In Foot-steps of Coleridge."
Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, autumn, 2003, Margaret Russett, "Meter, Identity, Voice: Untranslating Christabel," p. 773.
Studies in Romanticism, summer, 2004, Rei Terada, "Phenomenality and Dissatisfaction in Coleridge's Notebooks," p. 257; fall, 2004, William A. Ulmer, "Necessary Evils: Unitarian Teodicy in 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner,'" p. 327.
Times (London, England), February 21, 1974, A. S. Byatt, "His Only Friends, " review of The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Volume 3, p. 10.
Wordsworth Circle, fall, 2003, Adam Potkay, review of Coleridge Writings, Volume 4, p. 180, Seamus Perry, review of The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Volume 5, p. 182; winter, 2004, Eric G. Wilson, "Polar Apocalypse in Coleridge and Poe," p. 37.
Academy of American Poets,http://www.poets.org/ (April 30, 2005), "Samuel Taylor Coleridge."
Books and Writers,http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/ (April 30, 2005), "Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)."
LiteraryHistory.com, http://www.literaryhistory.com/ (April 30, 2005), "Samuel Taylor Coleridge."
NewsWeekly.com, http://www.newsweekly.com/ (June 19, 2004), John Ballantyne, "Political Ideas: Samuel Taylor Coleridgem—Conservatism's Radical Prophet."
University of Virginia Library,http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/ (April 30, 2005), "The Samuel Taylor Coleridge Archive."*
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
BORN: 1772, Ottery St. Mary, Devonshire, England
DIED: 1834, London, England
GENRE: Poetry, nonfiction, drama
Lyrical Ballads (1798, rev. ed., 1800)
Biographia Literaria; or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions (1817)
British author Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a poet, philosopher, and literary critic whose writings have been enormously influential in the development of modern
thought. In his lifetime, Coleridge was renowned throughout Britain and Europe as one of the Lake Poets, a close-knit group of writers including William Wordsworth and Robert Southey. Today, Coleridge is considered the premier poet-critic of modern English tradition, distinguished for the scope and influence of his thinking about literature as much as for his innovative verse.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Unfocused Youth Coleridge was born on October 21, 1772, in the village of Ottery St. Mary, Devonshire, England, where he lived until the age of ten, when his father died. The boy was then sent to school at Christ's Hospital in London. Later, he described his years there as desperately lonely; only the friendship of future author Charles Lamb, a fellow student, offered solace. From Christ's Hospital, Coleridge went to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he earned a reputation as a promising young writer and brilliant conversationalist. He left in 1794 without completing his degree.
Coleridge then traveled to Oxford University, where he befriended Robert Southey. The two developed a plan for a “pantisocracy,” or egalitarian agricultural society, to be founded in Kentucky. By this time, the American colonies had completed their revolution, and the United States was in its infancy. Kentucky became a state in 1792. For a time, both Coleridge and Southey were absorbed by their revolutionary concepts and together composed a number of works, including a drama, The Fall of Robespierre (1794), based on their radical politics. Since their plan also required that each member be married, Coleridge, at Southey's urging, wed Sara Fricker, the sister of Southey's fiancée. Unfortunately, the match proved disastrous, and Coleridge's unhappy marriage was a source of grief to him throughout his life. To compound Coleridge's difficulties, Southey lost interest in the scheme, abandoning it in 1795.
Focused on Poetry Writing Career Coleridge's fortunes changed when in 1796 he met the poet William Wordsworth, with whom he had corresponded casually for several years. Their rapport was instantaneous, and the next year, Coleridge moved to Nether Stowey in the Lake District, where he and Wordsworth began their literary collaboration. Influenced by Wordsworth, whom he considered the finest poet since John Milton, Coleridge composed the bulk of his most admired work. Because he had no regular income, he was reluctantly planning to become a Unitarian minister when, in 1798, the prosperous china manufacturers Josiah and Thomas Wedgwood offered him a lifetime pension so that he could devote himself to writing.
Aided by this annuity, Coleridge entered a prolific period that lasted from 1798 to 1800, composing The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel, Frost at Midnight, and Kubla Khan. In 1798, Coleridge also collaborated with Wordsworth on Lyrical Ballads, a volume of poetry that they published anonymously. Coleridge's contributions included The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, published in its original, rather archaic form. Most critics found the poem incomprehensible, including Southey, who termed it “a Dutch attempt at German sublimity.” The poem's unpopularity impeded the volume's success, and not until the twentieth century was Lyrical Ballads recognized as the first literary document of English Romanticism.
Focus on Criticism As Coleridge was working with Wordsworth and publishing key poems, Great Britain was undergoing changes. While the British Empire had lost the thirteen American colonies, British settlement of Australia had increased, and New Zealand's soon began. In 1800, the Act of Union of Great Britain and Ireland formally brought the United Kingdom into being. Following the publication of Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge traveled to what later became Germany, where nationalism was on the rise. He developed an interest in the philosophies of Immanuel Kant, Friedrich von Schelling, August Wilhelm, and Friedrich von Schlegel. Coleridge later introduced German aesthetic theory in England through his critical writings.
Upon his return in 1799, Coleridge settled in Keswick, near the Lake District. The move to Keswick marked the beginning of an era of chronic illness and personal misery for Coleridge. When his health suffered because of the damp climate, he took opium as a remedy and quickly became addicted. (Opium is a drug derived from poppy juice, which was commonly used for many ailments from fever to sleeplessness and pain management in Western medicine in this period. Many artists and writers of the Romanic period used opium.) His marriage, too, was failing; Coleridge had fallen in love with Wordsworth's sister-in-law, Sara Hutchinson. He was separated from his wife, but since he did not condone divorce, he did not remarry.
End of Close Friendship with Wordsworth In an effort to improve his health and morale, Coleridge traveled to Italy but returned to London more depressed than before. He began a series of lectures on poetry and Shakespeare, which helped establish his reputation as a critic, yet they were not entirely successful at the time because of his disorganized methods of presentation. Coleridge's next undertaking, a periodical titled the Friend, which offered essays on morality, taste, and religion, failed due to financial difficulties. He continued to visit the Wordsworths, yet was morose and antisocial. When a mutual friend confided to him Wordsworth's complaints about his behavior, an irate Coleridge, perhaps fueled in part by his jealousy of Wordsworth's productivity and prosperity, repudiated their friendship. Although the two men were finally reconciled in 1812, they never again achieved their former intimacy.
Productive Years Late in Life Coleridge's last years were spent under the care of Dr. James Gilman, who helped him control his opium habit. Despite Coleridge's continuing melancholy, he was able to dictate the Biographia Literaria; or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions (1817) to his friend John Morgan. The Biographia Literaria contains what many critics consider Coleridge's greatest critical writings. In this work, he developed aesthetic theories, which he had intended to be the introduction to a great philosophical opus that was never completed.
Coleridge published many other works during this period, including the unfinished poems Kubla Khan and Christabel, as well as a number of political and theological writings. This resurgence of productivity, coupled with his victory over his addiction, brought Coleridge renewed confidence. His newfound happiness was marred by failing health, however, and he died in 1834 of complications from his lifelong dependence on opium.
Works in Literary Context
Readers of Coleridge have always been confronted with a daunting problem in the sheer volume and incredible variety of his writings. His career as an intellectual figure spans several decades and encompasses major works in several different fields, including poetry, criticism, philosophy, and theology. Because of the richness and subtlety of his prose style, his startling and often profound insights, and his active, inquiring mind, Coleridge is now generally regarded as the most profound and significant prose writer of the English Romantic period.
Spiritual Symbolism The poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner perhaps best incorporates both Coleridge's imaginative use of verse and the intertwining of reality and fantasy. The tale of a seaman who kills an albatross, the poem presents a variety of religious and supernatural images to depict a moving spiritual journey of doubt, renewal, and eventual redemption. The symbolism contained in this work has sparked diverse interpretations, and several commentators consider it an allegorical record of Coleridge's own spiritual pilgrimage. Critics also debate the nature of the Mariner's salvation and question whether the poem possesses a moral.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Coleridge's famous contemporaries include:
William Wordsworth (1770–1850): Coauthor with Coleridge of Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth was one of the founding fathers of the Romantic movement.
Napoléon Bonaparte (1769–1821): French general and emperor, Napoleon's ambitions brought the French Revolution to a close and directly influenced the course of European and American history for more than a century to come.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827): German composer Beethoven was highly influential at the end of the Classical era of music. His compositions were popular with the new generation of Romantic artists.
Influence of German Romantic Philosophy Coleridge's analyses channeled the concepts of the German Romantic philosophers into England and helped establish the modern view of William Shakespeare as a master of depicting human character. The Biographia Literaria, the most famous of Coleridge's critical writings, was inspired by his disdain for the eighteenth-century empiricists who relied on observation and experimentation to formulate their aesthetic theories. In this work, he turned
to such German philosophers as Kant and Schelling for a more universal interpretation of art. From Schelling, Coleridge drew his “exaltation of art to a metaphysical role,” and his contention that art is analogous to nature is borrowed from Kant.
Definition of Imagination Of the different sections in the Biographia Literaria, perhaps the most often studied is Coleridge's definition of the imagination. He describes two kinds of imagination, the primary and the secondary: the primary is the agent of perception, which relays the details of experience, while the secondary interprets these details and creates from them. The concept of a dual imagination forms a seminal part of Coleridge's theory of poetic unity, in which disparate elements are reconciled as a unified whole. According to Coleridge, the purpose of poetry was to provide pleasure “through the medium of beauty.”
Shakespeare Criticism Coleridge's other great critical achievement is his work on Shakespeare. His Shakespearean criticism is among the most important in the English language, although it was never published in formal essays; instead, it has been recorded for posterity in the form of marginalia and transcribed reports from lectures. Informed by his admiration for and understanding of Shakespeare, Coleridge's critical theory allowed for more in-depth analysis of the plays than did the writings of his eighteenth-century predecessors. His emphasis on individual psychology and characterization marked the inception of a new critical approach to Shakespeare, which had a profound influence on later studies.
Influence As a major figure in the English Romantic movement, he is best known for three poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, and Christabel. Although the three poems were poorly received during Coleridge's lifetime, they are now praised as classic examples of imaginative verse. The influence of Ancient Mariner rings clear in Shelley and Keats in the next generation, and in Tennyson, Browning, Rossetti, and Swinburne among their Victorian inheritors. In the title of W. H. Auden's Look, Stranger! (1936), the echo of the Mariner's exhortation, “Listen, Stranger!” from the text of 1798, shows how far Coleridge's voice would carry.
Coleridge was also influential as a critic, especially with Biographia Literaria. His criticism, which examines the nature of poetic creation and stresses the relationship between emotion and intellect, helped free literary thought from the neoclassical strictures of eighteenth-century scholars.
Works in Critical Context
Critical estimation of Coleridge's works increased dramatically after his death, but relatively little was written on them until the twentieth century. Opinions of his work vary widely, yet few today deny the talent evident in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, and Christabel.
The Coleridge phenomenon, as it might be called, has been recounted in every literary generation, usually with the emphasis on wonder rather than disappointment, though sometimes—among moralizing critics, never among poets—with a venom that recalls the disillusionment of his associates. Henry James's story, “The Coxon Fund” (1895), based on table talk of the genius who became a nuisance, is indicative of both attitudes. The Coleridge phenomenon has distorted Coleridge's real achievement, which was unique in scope and aspiration if all too human in its fits and starts.
Kubla Khan For many years, critics considered Kubla Khan merely a novelty of limited meaning, but John Livingston Lowes's 1927 study, The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination, explored its imaginative complexity and the many literary sources that influenced it, including the works of Plato and Milton. Though Coleridge himself dismissed the poem as a “psychological experiment,” it is now considered a forerunner of the work of the Symbolists and Surrealists in its presentation of the Unconscious.
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
Coleridge claimed Kubla Khan was inspired by an opium-induced dream. Here are some other works that were inspired by dreams, opium experiences, or flights of imagination:
Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1822), a memoir by Thomas de Quincey. Coleridge's friend and fellow opium addict wrote of his experiences with addiction.
The Castle of Otranto (1764), a novel by Horace Walpole. The first Gothic novel, this story set the genre's conventions, from crumbling castles to secret passageways to melodramatic revelations. A sensation upon its publication, it single-handedly launched a genre.
Compendium of Chronicles (1307), a literary work by Rashid al-Din. This fourteenth-century Iranian work of literature and history includes the detail that the inspiration for Kubla Khan's palace was given to the Mongolian ruler in a dream. The book was published in English for the first time twenty years after the final revision of Coleridge's masterpiece.
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–1793), a poem by William Blake. This poem explicitly explores the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious minds and the role of imagination as prophecy.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner Lyrical Ballads was deliberately experimental, as the authors insisted from the start, and Ancient Mariner pointed the way.
The largely negative reviews that the book excited on publication concentrated on Ancient Mariner, in part because it was the most substantial poem in the collection, but also because of its self-consciously archaic diction and incredible plot. The poem was considered strange, and the character of the Mariner also caused confusion.
Despite the problems, the poem flourished on the basis of strong local effects—of its pictures of the “land of ice and snow” and of the ghastly ship in the doldrums, in association with a drumming ballad meter. Wordsworth frankly disliked it after the reviews came in, but Lamb led the way in appreciating its odd mix of romance and realism. Showing its influence, satires were also published in leading periodicals.
Responses to Literature
- The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a poem steeped in symbolism. Choose an aspect or character of the poem (such as the Albatross) and discuss its symbolic meanings.
- Featured in Coleridge's Kubla Khan, Xanadu has since entered the English language as another word for paradise or utopia. Describe your own personal Xanadu in a poem.
- Like Kubla Khan, Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias describes a fantastical ancient kingdom. Compare the two kingdoms and how they influence the tone of their respective poems.
- In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the killing of an albatross represents a crime against nature. What crimes against nature might a modern person commit to bring about similar punishment as suffered by the Mariner?
- How does the historical Kublai Khan compare with Coleridge's dream-inflected vision of the Mongol leader?
Armour, Richard W., and Raymond F. Howes, eds. Coleridge the Talker: A Series of Contemporary Descriptions and Comments. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1940.
Caskey, Jefferson D., and Melinda M. Stapper. Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Selective Bibliography of Criticism, 1935–1977. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1978.
Gravil, Richard, Lucy Newlyn, and Nicholas Roe, eds. Coleridge's Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Magnuson, Paul. Coleridge and Wordsworth: A Lyrical Dialogue. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988.
Roe, Nicolas. Wordsworth and Coleridge: The Radical Years. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Weissman, Stephen M. His Brother's Keeper: A Psychobiography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Madison, Conn.: International Universities Press, 1989.
Wylie, Ian. Young Coleridge and the Philosophers of Nature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
COLERIDGE, SAMUEL TAYLOR
COLERIDGE, SAMUEL TAYLOR (1772–1834), English Romantic poet, literary critic, journalist, philosopher, and religious thinker. With William Wordsworth, Coleridge helped inaugurate the Romantic era with the publication of Lyrical Ballads (1798). A devoted writer, he later worked sporadically as a journalist and lecturer. His life was shadowed by an unhappy marriage, ill health, and a lifelong drug addiction.
Raised in the Church of England by his minister father, Coleridge became a Unitarian during his student years at Cambridge, but he returned definitively to a trinitarian theology in 1805. Although essentially orthodox in his adherence to Church of England doctrine, Coleridge was often daringly innovative in his theological speculations on such concepts as the Logos, the Trinity, original sin, and the church. Aids to Reflection (1825) contains profound insights into the nature of faith and the relationship between faith and reason; On the Constitution of the Church and State (1830) offers a conservative view of the nature of the church and its "clerisy"; and Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit (published 1840) introduces into England the approaches to scripture of the German "higher criticism." His Notebooks (published 1957–) and Marginalia (published 1980–) also contain perceptive reflections on doctrine, church history, and theological controversy.
Coleridge was one of the most widely read men of his century. Hence, the influences on him were many, including David Hartley, Joseph Priestley, and William Godwin (whose necessitarianism he later rejected); Plato and the seventeenth-century Cambridge Platonists; the medieval Schoolmen; mystics like Jakob Boehme and (to a lesser extent) Emanuel Swedenborg; philosophers in the so-called pantheist tradition like Giordano Bruno and Barukh Spinoza; and the German transcendental philosophers, especially Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schelling. Each was interpreted, however, according to the needs of Coleridge's own organic philosophy and used to further his own theological speculations.
Coleridge's influence on subsequent religious thought was widespread, both in England and in the United States. He is commonly seen as a forerunner of the Broad Church movement through such disparate thinkers as Thomas Arnold, Julius Hare, and, especially, F. D. Maurice. There are also strong affinities between Coleridge and John Henry Newman, particularly in the two writers' approaches to religious epistemology. Through the writing of George MacDonald, Coleridge had—especially in his views on symbol, which are deeply grounded in his theology—an indirect influence on the imaginative literature of such writers as G. K. Chesterton, Charles Williams, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis. Among Coleridge's poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, with its anguished spiritual odyssey, became a paradigm for imaginative and spiritual journeying. In the United States, Aids to Reflection was particularly influential, made known especially by James Marsh, by W. G. T. Shedd (who published a seven-volume edition of Coleridge in 1853), and by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Through Emerson, Coleridge's influence on American Transcendentalist thought was considerable.
Coleridge struggled against rationalism—both within the Protestant tradition and in the secular world—and against materialism, and he wrote vigorously of the need for a renewal of the spiritual dimensions of society and culture. His most important contribution to the religious thought of his own time may well be his introduction into England of German idealist thought and of higher criticism of scripture, while his most lasting contribution may be his reflections on the nature of religious language, especially on the role of symbol in religious experience.
The central resource for the study of Coleridge is The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 16 vols., edited by Kathleen Coburn (Princeton, 1970–); the lengthy introductions to these volumes are especially helpful. The most complete studies of Coleridge's religious thought are James D. Boulger's Coleridge as Religious Thinker (New Haven, 1961) and my work Coleridge and Christian Doctrine (Cambridge, Mass., 1969; 2d ed., 1987). Basil Willey's Samuel Taylor Coleridge (New York, 1972) is, in the author's own words, an "intellectual and spiritual biography"; it brings both learning and good sense to Coleridge's complex life. Stephen Prickett's Romanticism and Religion: The Tradition of Coleridge and Wordsworth in the Victorian Church (Cambridge, U.K., 1976) traces skillfully and perceptively the influence of Coleridge, especially his analysis of religious language, in religious writing of the later nineteenth century. James Cutsinger's The Form of Transformed Vision: Coleridge and the Knowledge of God (Macon, Ga., 1987) is a helpful analysis of Coleridge's theological foundations, and my book Romanticism and Transcendence: Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Religious Imagination (Columbia, Mo., 2003) explores the role of the religious imagination in Coleridge's work.
J. Robert Barth (1987 and 2005)
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
COLERIDGE, SAMUEL TAYLOR
Poet, philosopher, critic, seminal thinker; b. Ottery St. Mary, Devon, Oct. 20, 1772; d. Highgate, London, July 25, 1834. He was the youngest son and ninth child of Rev. John Coleridge, vicar of Ottery and master of the grammar school there, by his second wife, Anne (nee Bowdon). While studying at Christ's Hospital (1782–91), the young Coleridge was known as an eccentric but gregarious virtuoso, and formed an important friendship with Charles Lamb (1775–1834).
Career and Works. Coleridge entered Jesus College, Cambridge (1792), as exhibitioner and sizar; but after a brilliant and tempestuous beginning, he joined the Dragoons (1793). After release from military service, he met (June 1794) his future brother-in-law Robert Southey (1774–1843); he never seriously resumed his university career. In Bristol in 1795 Coleridge and Southey sought unsuccessfully the means to found an ideal community in the United States. In the same year he married Sarah Fricker, by whom he had four children. At that time Coleridge began to establish his reputation as a poet and journalist. He met Unitarian intellectuals and for a time intended to become a Unitarian minister, but by 1802 the Trinitarian doctrine had become the basis for his theological reflections.
Coleridge settled at Nether Stowey, Somerset, in 1796 and was joined in 1797 by William and Dorothy (1771–1855) Wordsworth. In 1796 and in 1797 Coleridge had published collections of his poems. In 1798 his poetic gifts flowered in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, in some of his other contributions to the volume Lyrical Ballads, which he published jointly with Wordsworth, and in his "conversation poems." His visit to Germany in 1798 to 1799 enabled him to master the German language and gave him his first acquaintance with Immanuel Kant and German philosophy. In 1800 he moved to Keswick, Cumberland, to be near the Wordsworths and Sara Hutchinson (1775–1835). In April 1804, hoping to halt the deterioration of his health and escape from marital unhappiness, he went to the Mediterranean, where for a time he was private secretary to the governor of Malta, and then acting public secretary. He also traveled in Sicily and Italy. Coleridge returned to England in July 1806—ill, addicted to opium, estranged from his wife, uncertain of his future—relying upon the Wordsworths for comfort and direction. At Grasmere he wrote his periodical, The Friend (1809–10, 28 numbers). His alienation from the Wordsworths, which had been deepening since 1807, was never repaired after 1812. Coleridge was in London and Bristol from 1811 to early 1815, working intermittently as a journalist and lecturer; he was in poor health and spirits, and was looked after by new friends, until he finally resolved to break his drug addiction.
The renewal of Coleridge's powers was marked by his collection of poems, Sibylline Leaves, and his Biographia
Literaria of 1815. In April 1816 he took up residence with Dr. James Gillman in Highgate, London, where he remained until his death. Coleridge's early Highgate years were his most prolific: in 1816 he produced the Christabel volume and The Statesman's Manual; in 1817, the second Lay Sermon, Biographia Literaria, and Sibylline Leaves; in 1818, On Method, a much-enlarged Friend, and two pamphlets on the factory children; and in 1818 to 1819, an important series of literary lectures and the Philosophical Lectures (ed. K. Coburn, 1949). Coleridge never completed his philosophical-theological opus maximum, and published only two more books, Aids to Reflection (1825) and Church and State (1830), but he issued collective editions of his poems in three volumes (1828, 1829, 1834).
Coleridge's daughter and his nephew H. N. Coleridge (1798–1843) prepared new editions of his work after his death, and collected and edited much of his unpublished writings. The work of accurate editing, long deferred by the difficulties of the task, should be fulfilled with the edition of the Notebooks (ed. K. Coburn 4 v. New York and London 1957–; 11 v. planned), Collected Letters (ed. E. L. Griggs, 6 v. Oxford 1956–; 6 v. planned), and the Collected Coleridge (K. Coburn, gen. ed; 4 v. New York 1966; about 23 v. planned).
His Influence. Coleridge's poetry at its best is characterized by sensitive craftsmanship, a symbolic rather than descriptive thrust, and a way of making myth out of his interior life and the actual world. The strength of his criticism arises from his acute introspective understanding of the psychology and ontology of poetry. Imagination, a way of mind that he distinguished sharply from fancy, is the supreme realizing activity in which a person becomes unified. His Biographia Literaria, though allusive and difficult, laid the foundations for the complex critical revolution of the 20th century; Coleridge's splendid critique of Wordsworth's unique genius has not been superseded; and the fragmentary records of his Shakespeare lectures have been influential.
Coleridge's philosophy has Platonic and Kantian origins, but transcends both in establishing an organic (or dynamic or polar) framework in which he sees life as the interpenetration of opposites. J. S. mill regarded Coleridge and bentham as "the two great seminal minds of England in their age" and recognized that in all his thinking Coleridge "expresses the revolt of the human mind against the philosophy of the 18th century," i.e., mechanical materialism. Unity was always Coleridge's theme; and life, his guiding analogy. In the absence of a central philosophical work from Coleridge, his reputation and influence as philosopher and theologian depend on scattered passages in his various writings and on the recollection of his lectures and conversation. His philosophy has a strong ethical bias: "My metaphysics are merely the referring of the mind to its own consciousness for truths indispensable to its own happiness." Reason and understanding correspond in the ethical field to imagination and fancy in the poetical, and faith is "the personal realization of the reason by its union with the will." An admirer of the caroline divines and cambridge platonists, he was familiar also with the work of Johann Eichhorn (1752–1827) and F. D. E. schleiermacher, as well as that of the contemporary English biblical scholars; he greeted with enthusiasm the emerging historical and anthropological analysis of the Bible (see bible, vi). In the posthumously published Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit (1840) he sought, in an age of "Bibliolatry," to establish the invulnerability of the Bible, not by avoiding criticism, but by insisting on broader and deeper understanding of Scripture. He had an important influence on the New England transcendentalists (see transcendentalism, literary); and his theological influence in England is acknowledged by Thomas Arnold (1795–1842), Thomas Carlyle, J. C. Hare (1795–1855),F. D. maurice, and John Henry newman, among others.
Bibliography: Complete Works, ed. w. g. t. sheed, 7 v. (2d ed. New York 1884), crabbed and incomplete; Inquiring Spirit, ed. k. coburn (New York 1951), best gen. introd. to his thought; Poetical Works, ed. j. d. campbell (New York 1903), ed. e. h. coleridge (Oxford 1912), standard but needs revision; Biographia Literaria, ed. j. shawcross, 2 v. (Oxford 1907), useful nn., but text superseded by the Everyman ed. by g. watson (New York 1956). j. d. campbell, Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Narrative of the Events of His Life (New York 1894), the best biog. e. k. chambers, Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Biographical Study (Oxford 1938), useful. f. w. bateson, ed., The Cambridge Bibiliographies of English Literature, 5 v. (Cambridge, Eng. 1940–57) v. 3, 5, best cumulative bibliog. j. h. muirhead, Coleridge as Philosopher (New York 1930). c. r. sanders, Coleridge and the Broad Church Movement (Durham, N.C. 1942). b. willey, Nineteenth Century Studies (New York 1949). a. h. house, Coleridge (New York 1953). j. d. boulger, Coleridge as a Religious Thinker (New York 1961).
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The English author Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) was a major poet of the romantic movement. He is also noted for his prose works on literature, religion, and the organization of society.
Born on Oct. 21, 1772, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the tenth and last child of the vicar of Ottery St. Mary near Exeter. In 1782, after his father's death, he was sent as a charity student to Christ's Hospital. His amazing memory and his eagerness to imbibe knowledge of any sort had turned him into a classical scholar of uncommon ability by the time he entered Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1791. Like most young intellectuals of the day, he felt great enthusiasm for the French Revolution and took his modest share in student protest against the war with France (1793). Plagued by debts, Coleridge enlisted in the Light Dragoons in December 1793. Discharged in April 1794, he returned to Cambridge, which he left in December, however, without taking a degree.
The reason for this move, characteristic of Coleridge's erratic and impulsive character, was his budding friendship with Robert Southey. Both young men were eagerly interested in poetry, sharing the same dislike for the neoclassic tradition. They were both radicals in politics, and out of their feverish conversations grew the Pantisocratic scheme—the vision of an ideal communistic community to be founded in America. This juvenile utopia came to nothing, but on Oct. 4, 1795, Coleridge married Sara Fricker, the sister of Southey's wife-to-be. By that time, however, his friendship with Southey had already dissolved.
In spite of his usually wretched health, the years from 1795 to 1802 were for Coleridge a period of fast poetic growth and intellectual maturation. In August 1795 he began his first major poem, "The Eolian Harp," which was published in his Poems on Various Subjects (1796). It announced his unique contribution to the growth of English romanticism: the blending of lyrical and descriptive effusion with philosophical rumination in truly symbolic poetry.
From March to May 1796 Coleridge edited the Watchman, a liberal periodical which failed after 10 issues. While this failure made him realize that he was "not fit for public life," his somewhat turgid "Ode to the Departing Year" shows that he had not abandoned his revolutionary fervor. Yet philosophy and religion were his overriding interests. His voracious reading was mainly directed to one end, which was already apparent in his Religious Musings (begun 1794, published 1796)—he aimed to redefine orthodox Christianity so as to rid it of the Newtonian dichotomy between spirit and matter, to account for the unity and wholeness of the universe, and to reassess the relation between God and the created world.
Perhaps the most influential event in Coleridge's career was his intimacy with William and Dorothy Wordsworth, in whose neighborhood he spent most of his life from 1796 to 1810. This friendship was partly responsible for his annus mirabilis (July 1797 to July 1798), which culminated in his joint publication with Wordsworth of the Lyrical Ballads in September 1798. As against 19 poems by Wordsworth, the volume contained only 4 by Coleridge, but one of these was "The Ancient Mariner." Coleridge later described the division of labor between the two poets—while Wordsworth was "to give the charm of novelty to things of every day by awakening the mind's attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us," it had been agreed that Coleridge's "endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic." But the underlying world view of the two poets was fundamentally similar. Like Wordsworth's "The Thorn," for example, Coleridge's "The Ancient Mariner" deals with the themes of sin and punishment and of redemption through suffering and a loving apprehension of nature.
A second, enlarged edition of Coleridge's Poems also appeared in 1798. It contained further lyrical and symbolic works, such as "This Lime-Tree Bower, My Prison" and "Fears in Solitude." At this time Coleridge also wrote "Kubla Khan," perhaps the most famous of his poems, and began the ambitious narrative piece "Christabel."
In September 1798 Coleridge and the Wordsworths left for Germany, where he stayed until July 1799. In the writings of post-Kantian German philosophers such as J. G. Fichte, F. W. J. von Schelling, and A. W. von Schlegel, Coleridge discovered a world view so congenial that it is almost impossible to disentangle what, in his later thought, is properly his and what may have been derived from German influences. Sibylline Leaves (1817) contains lively, humorous accounts of his German experiences.
The dozen years following Coleridge's return to England were the most miserable in his life. In October 1799 he settled near the Wordsworths in the Lake District. The cold, wet climate worsened his many ailments, and turning to laudanum for relief, he soon became an addict. His marriage, which had never been a success, was now disintegrating, especially since Coleridge had fallen in love with Sara Hutchinson, sister of Wordsworth's wife-to-be. Ill health and emotional stress, combined with his intellectual absorption in abstract pursuits, hastened the decline of his poetic power. Awareness of this process inspired the last and most moving of his major poems, "Dejection: An Ode"(1802). After a stay in Malta (1804-1806) which did nothing to restore his health and spirits, he decided to separate from his wife. The only bright point in his life during this period was his friendship with the Wordsworths, but after his return to the Lake District this relationship was subject to increasing strain. Growing estrangement was followed by a breach in 1810, and Coleridge then settled in London.
Meanwhile, however, Coleridge's capacious mind did not stay unemployed; indeed, his major contributions to the development of English thought were still to come. From June 1809 to March 1810 he published the periodical the Friend. Coleridge's poetry and his brilliant conversation had earned him public recognition, and between 1808 and 1819 he gave several series of lectures, mainly on Shakespeare and other literary topics. His only dramatic work, Osorio, which was written in 1797, was performed in 1813 under the title Remorse. "Christabel" and "Kubla Khan" were published in 1816.
In April 1816 Coleridge settled as a patient with Dr. Gillman at Highgate. There he spent most of the last 18 years of his life in comparative peace and in steady literary activity, bringing out several works which were to exert tremendous influence on the future course of English thought in many fields: Biographia literaria (1817), Lay Sermons (1817), Aids to Reflection (1825), and The Constitution of Church and State (1829). His apparently rambling style was well suited to a philosophy based on an intuition of wholeness and organic unity.
Although Coleridge's conservative idea of the state may appear both reactionary and utopian, his religious thought led to a revival of Christian philosophy in England. And his psychology of the imagination, conception of the symbol, and definition of organic form in art brought to the English-speaking world the new, romantic psychology and esthetics of literature which had first arisen in Germany at the turn of the century.
When Coleridge died on July 25, 1834, he left bulky manuscript notes, which scholars of the mid-20th century were to exhume and edit. The complete publication of this material will make it possible to realize the extraordinary range and depth of his philosophical preoccupations and to assess his true impact on succeeding generations of poets and thinkers.
The standard work on Coleridge is E. K. Chambers, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1938; rev. ed. 1950). Norman Fruman, Coleridge: The Damaged Archangel (1971), is a comprehensive study of the man and the poet. Two fine works that combine biography with literary criticism are William Walsh, Coleridge: The Work and the Relevance (1967), and Walter Jackson Bate, Coleridge (1968).
General critical introductions are Humphry House, Coleridge (1953); John B. Beer, Coleridge the Visionary (1959); Marshall Suther, The Dark Night of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1960); Max F. Schulz, The Poetic Voices of Coleridge (1963); Kathleen Coburn, ed., Coleridge: A Collection of Critical Essays (1967); and Patricia M. Adair, The Waking Dream (1968).
Increasing attention is given to the poet's thought in a great variety of fields. See John H. Muirhead, Coleridge as Philosopher (1930). On esthetics see I. A. Richards, Coleridge on Imagination (1935; 3d ed. 1962); James V. Baker, The Sacred River: Coleridge's Theory of the Imagination (1957); Richard Harter Fogle, The Idea of Coleridge's Criticism (1962); and J. A. Appleyard, Coleridge's Philosophy of Literature: The Development of a Concept of Poetry, 1791-1819 (1965). On religion see Charles Richard Sanders, Coleridge and the Broad Church Movement (1942); James D. Boulger, Coleridge as Religious Thinker (1961); and J. Robert Barth, Coleridge and Christian Doctrine (1969). For general background information the reader is referred to the bibliography in W. L. Renwick, English Literature, 1789-1815 (1963).
Ashton, Rosemary, The life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: a critical biography, Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.
Bate, Walter Jackson, Coleridge, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987, 1968.
Campbell, James Dykes, Samuel Taylor Coleridge: a narrative of the events of his life, Norwood, Pa.: Norwood Editions, 1977.
Chambers, E. K. (Edmund Kerchever), Samuel Taylor Coleridge: a biographical study, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978, 1938.
Doughty, Oswald, Perturbed spirit: the life and personality of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Rutherford N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press; East Brunswick, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1981.
Garnett, Richard, Coleridge, Philadelphia: R. West, 1977.
Gillman, James, The life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Philadelphia: R. West, 1977.
Holmes, Richard, Coleridge: early visions, London: Hodder &Stoughton, 1989. □
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (1772-1834)
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (1772-1834)
English author and mystic. Coleridge was born October 21, 1772, in Ottery St. Mary, Devonshire. He was the son of John Coleridge, a clergyman and schoolmaster who enjoyed considerable reputation as a theological scholar and was author of a Latin grammar. Samuel's childhood was spent mostly at the native village. During his youth he showed a marked aversion to games and even avoided the company of other children instead giving his time chiefly to varied reading.
"At six years of age," he writes in one of his letters to his friend, Thomas Poole, "I remember to have read Belisarius, Robinson Crusoe, and Philip Quarll, and then I found the Arabian Nights Entertainments. " In this same letter he told how the boys around him despised him for his eccentricity, the result being that he soon became a confirmed dreamer, finding in his mind a haven of refuge from the scorn leveled at him.
By the time he was nine years old, Coleridge showed a predilection for mysticism. Consequently, his father decided to make him a clergyman, and in 1782 the boy left home to go to Christ's Hospital, London. There he found among his fellow pupils at least one who shared his literary tastes—Charles Lamb—and a warm friendship quickly sprang up between the two, while a little later Coleridge developed affection for a young girl called Mary Evans. The progress of the love affair was soon arrested, the poet leaving London in 1790 to go to Cambridge.
Beginning his university career as a sizar (undergraduate receiving an allowance from the college) at Jesus College, he soon became known as a brilliant conversationalist. He made enemies by his extreme views on politics and religion, however, and in 1793, finding himself in various difficulties, he went back to London where he enlisted in the fifteenth Dragoons. Bought out soon afterward by his relations, he returned to Cambridge, and in 1794 he published his drama The Fall of Robespierre. At Cambridge he met his lifelong friend Robert Southey, through whom he became acquainted with Sara Fricker, his future wife. Through her he made the necessary contacts to issue Poems (1796).
He began to preach occasionally in Unitarian chapels, and in 1797 he met William Wordsworth, with whom he speedily became a close friend. He joined Wordsworth in publishing Lyrical Ballads, which contains some of Coleridge's finest poems, notably "The Ryme of the Ancient Mariner." Scarcely before it was finished, he composed two other poems of comparable worth, "Christabel" and "Kubla Khan."
In 1798 he was appointed Unitarian minister at Shrewsbury; after holding this post for a little while, he went to travel in Germany, the requisite funds having been given him by Josiah and Thomas Wedgwood, both keen admirers of Coleridge's philosophical powers. They believed that study on the Continent would be of material service to him.
Among Coleridge's first acts on returning from Germany was to publish his translation of Schiller's "Wallenstein." At the same time he used a cottage at Keswick, intending to live there quietly for many years. But peace and quiet are benefits usually sought in vain by poets, and Coleridge was no exception. Early in life he had begun to take occasional doses of laudanum (opium), and now this practice developed into a habit that ruled his whole life.
In 1804, he sought relief by going to Malta, and afterward he visited Rome. On returning to England, he was happy to find that a small annuity had been left him by the Wedgwoods. He was quite incapable of shaking off the deadly drug habit, though it had not yet begun to weaken his gifts. After staying for awhile with Wordsworth at Grasmere, he delivered a series of lectures on poetry at Bristol and in London. His genius was quickly recognized in London, and he was made a pensioner of the Society of Literature, enabling him to take a small house at Highgate, where he spent most of his declining years. His remains were interred in Highgate Cemetery after his death in 1834.
Coleridge is representative of the romantic movement of the early nineteenth century, whose literary exponents wished to penetrate the mysteries of the inner self, and in pursuit of their goal often became mystics. That search was many times aided by the use of mind-altering drugs such as the laudanum to which Coleridge became addicted. Everything written by Coleridge is permeated with the romantic flavor. Apart from his metaphysical works, of which the most notable are Aids to Reflection and Confessions of an Enquiring Spirit, his Biographia Literaria and other fine contributions to critical literature are all of a mystical temper. Coleridge (more, perhaps, than any other critic, not even excepting Goethe and Walter Pater) was never content with handling the surface of things, but always reflected a striving to understand the mysterious point where artistic creation begins. For him, literature was a form of life—one of the most mysterious forms of life—and while he is supremely quick at noticing purely aesthetic merit and equally quick at marking defect, it is really the philosophical element in his criticism that gives it its transcendent value and interest.
Coleridge's metaphysical tendencies are equally marked in both his prose and his verse. In a singularly beautiful poem, "To the Evening Star," he tells that he gazes thereon, "Till I, myself, all spirit seem to grow." And in most of his poems, indeed, he is "all spirit," while often he spellbounds the reader into feeling something of his own spirituality. Waiving Cole-ridge's metaphysical poems altogether, it might be justly said that he introduced the occult into verse with a mastery rarely equaled in English literature.
The romantic had its dark side as well. Not only was the spiritual world explained, but often, in opening the unconscious, the world of nightmare and evil was also opened to the poets and novelists. Coleridge was no exception. Along with his mystical bent, Coleridge wrote the first vampire poem in the English language. "Christabel" tells the story of the invasion of a castle by the vampire figure Geraldine, who not only attacks the title character, but as the unfinished poem ends, has attached herself to her father.
Coleridge died on July 25, 1834 in Highgate, England.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Selected Poems. London: Oxford University Press, 1965.
Doughty, Oswald. Perturbed Spirit: The Life and Personality of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1981.
Nethercot, Arthur H. The Road to Trye: A Study of the History, Background, and Purposes of Coleridge's "Christabel." Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939. Reprint, New York: Russell & Russell, 1962.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
Born: October 21, 1772
Died: July 25, 1834
English poet and author
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a major poet of the English Romantic period, a literary movement characterized by imagination, passion, and the supernatural. He is also noted for his works on literature, religion, and the organization of society.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the tenth and last child of the vicar of Ottery Saint Mary near Devonshire, England, was born on October 21, 1772. After his father's death in 1782, he was sent to Christ's Hospital for schooling. He had an amazing memory and an eagerness to learn. However, he described his next three years of school as, "depressed, moping, friendless." In 1791 he entered Jesus College, Cambridge, England. Because of bad debts, Coleridge joined the 15th Light Dragoons, a British cavalry unit, in December 1793. After his discharge in April 1794, he returned to Jesus College, but he left in December without completing a degree.
The reason he left was because of his developing friendship with Robert Southey (1774–1843). Both young men were very interested in poetry and shared the same dislike for the neoclassic tradition (a return to the Greek and Latin classics). Both were also radicals in politics. From their emotional and idealistic conversations, they developed a plan for a "pantisocracy," a vision of an ideal community to be founded in America. This plan never came to be. On October 4, 1795, Coleridge married Sara Fricker, the sister of Southey's wife-to-be. By that time, however, his friendship with Southey had already ended.
The years from 1795 to 1802 were for Coleridge a period of fast poetic and intellectual growth. His first major poem, "The Eolian Harp," was published in 1796 in his Poems on Various Subjects. Its verse and theme contributed to the growth of English Romanticism, illustrating a blending of emotional expression and description with meditation.
From March to May 1796 Coleridge edited the Watchman, a periodical that failed after ten issues. While this failure made him realize that he was "not fit for public life," his next poem, "Ode to the Departing Year," shows that he still had poetic passion. Yet philosophy and religion were his overriding interests. In Religious Musings (published in 1796), he wrote about the unity and wholeness of the universe and the relationship between God and the created world.
The most influential event in Coleridge's career was his friendship with William Wordsworth (1770–1850) and his wife Dorothy from 1796 to 1810. This friendship brought a joint publication with Wordsworth of the Lyrical Ballads, a collection of twenty-three poems, in September 1798. The volume contained nineteen of Wordsworth's poems and four of Coleridge's. The most famous of these was "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Coleridge later described the division of labor between the two poets: Wordsworth was "to give the charm of novelty to things of every day by awakening the mind's attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us," while Coleridge's "endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic."
A second, enlarged edition of Coleridge's Poems also appeared in 1798. It contained further lyrical and symbolic works, such as "This Lime-Tree Bower, My Prison" and "Fears in Solitude." At this time Coleridge also wrote "Kubla Khan," perhaps the most famous of his poems, and began the piece "Christabel."
After spending a year in Germany with the Wordsworths, Coleridge returned to England and settled in the Lake District. For the next twelve years Coleridge had a miserable life. The climate made his many ailments worse. For pain relief he took laudanum, a type of opium drug, and soon became an addict. His marriage was failing, especially once Coleridge fell in love with Sara Hutchinson, Wordsworth's sister-in-law. Poor health and emotional stress affected his writing. However, in 1802, he did publish the last and most moving of his major poems, "Dejection: An Ode." After a two-year stay in Malta (a group of islands in the Mediterranean), he separated from his wife in 1806. The only bright point in his life was his friendship with the Wordsworths, but by 1810, after his return to the Lake District, their friendship had lessened. Coleridge then moved to London.
Meanwhile, Coleridge's poetry and his brilliant conversation had earned him public recognition, and between 1808 and 1819 he gave several series of lectures, mainly on William Shakespeare (1564–1616) and other literary topics. His only dramatic work, Osorio, written in 1797, was performed in 1813 under the title Remorse. "Christabel" and "Kubla Khan" were published in 1816.
Coleridge spent the last eighteen years of his life at Highgate, near London, England, as a patient under the care of Dr. James Gillman. There he wrote several works which were to have tremendous influence on the future course of English thought in many fields: Biographia literaria (1817), Lay Sermons (1817), Aids to Reflection (1825), and The Constitution of Church and State (1829).
When Coleridge died on July 25, 1834, at Highgate, he left bulky manuscript notes that scholars of the mid-twentieth century found and began editing. When the material is eventually published, scholars and the general public will realize the extraordinary range and depth of Coleridge's philosophical thoughts, and will understand his true impact on generations of poets and thinkers.
For More Information
Ashton, Rosemary. The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Critical Biography. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.
Campbell, James Dykes. Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Narrative of the Events of His Life. Norwood, PA: Norwood Editions, 1977.
Holmes, Richard. Coleridge: Early Visions. New York: Viking, 1990.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
COLERIDGE, SAMUEL TAYLOR
COLERIDGE, SAMUEL TAYLOR (1772–1834), English poet and critic.
Born in the market town of Ottery St. Mary, Devonshire, England, but largely educated at a charity school in London and then at Cambridge University, Samuel Taylor Coleridge soon made himself a poet. He is best known for "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798), a ballad about a sailor who kills an albatross during a nightmarish voyage from England to the equatorial Pacific; and "Kubla Khan" (1797 or 1798), a visionary "fragment" about a medieval Mongol emperor. Coleridge drew inspiration from many sources, both literary and natural, and particularly from William Wordsworth (1770–1850). After meeting Wordsworth in the mid-1790s, he collaborated with him on Lyrical Ballads, first published in 1798, which began with "The Rime" and became a landmark of the English Romantic movement. But most of Coleridge's poetry appeared in volumes entirely his own, beginning with Poems on Various Subjects (1796), and he wrote virtually all of his best poems by the time he was thirty. Their style and subject matter range from the supernaturalism of "The Rime" and the rhapsodic tone of "Kubla Khan" to the natural, familiar, conversational style of poems such as "The Nightingale" (1798) and the poignancy of "Dejection: An Ode" (1802), an agonized lament for the poet's incapacity to create that is paradoxically couched in a language of exquisite lyricism.
Coleridge was himself a paradox. In 1800, convinced that he "never had the essentials of poetic Genius" even after plainly demonstrating them, he roundly declared, "I abandon Poetry altogether," leaving Wordsworth to write "the higher & deeper Kinds" and himself to explain them. Though Coleridge actually did write some poetry after 1800, though he saw many editions of his poetry appear throughout his life, and though he revised one of his early plays (Osorio, later called Remorse) for a successful run at the Drury Lane in 1813, he chiefly devoted the ensuing years to prose on an astonishing variety of topics, ranging from politics and religion to philosophy and literary criticism. Indeed, given his bouts of suicidal depression and his long-term addiction to opium (beginning in the late 1790s), it is amazing that he managed to produce so much.
His writing on politics began with the radical political lectures that he delivered in Bristol in 1795, when the sparks of reform spread by the French Revolution still fired his hopes. After the bloodthirsty aggressiveness of the Revolution made him a Tory, his political theory became at once more philosophical and more religious, as exemplified by The Statesman's Manual (1816) and On the Constitution of the Church and State (1830). His philosophical writings—such as Aids to Reflection (1825)—reflect the influence of German transcendentalism, which he first imbibed during a sojourn at the University of Göttingen in the late 1790s.
Coleridge's most influential work in prose, however, is his literary criticism. In 1811–1812 he delivered three series of lectures on William Shakespeare, John Milton, and drama. In 1817 he published Biographia Literaria, a book that weaves literary criticism and literary theory into the story of his life. Because several of its chapters draw without acknowledgement on the work of German philosophers, especially Friedrich Schelling and Immanuel Kant, Coleridge has been often accused of plagiarism. But whatever it owes to others, Biographia remains a singularly original expression of Coleridge's life and mind as well as a fascinating reply to Wordsworth's poetic autobiography, The Prelude, which Coleridge heard the poet read aloud in January 1807, soon after Wordsworth finished the first full-length draft of it. Besides telling the story of his own early life, just as Wordsworth had done, Coleridge recalls his first exciting discovery of Wordsworth's poetry and their intimate collaboration on Lyrical Ballads. Most remarkably, he offers Wordsworth a bouquet of roses bristling with thorns. Even while extolling the beauty and power of his old friend's poetry, Coleridge attacks his theory of poetic diction, particularly his dictum—in the preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800)—that poetry should speak "the real language of men."
O happy living things! no tongue
Their beauty might declare:
A spring of love gushed from my heart,
And I blessed them unaware!
Coleridge, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" (1798)
Along with Wordsworth, Coleridge revolutionized English poetry and launched the movement now known as Romanticism. Equally adept at explaining the plays of Shakespeare, the poetry of Milton, and the originality of Wordsworth, he takes his place in the line of great English critics stretching from Samuel Johnson (1709–1784) through I. A. Richards (1893–1979). And in the history of conservative political thought, he remains a formidable successor to Edmund Burke.
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Biographia Literaria; or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions. Edited by James Engell and W. Jackson Bate. Princeton, N.J., 1983.
Halmi, Nicholas, Paul Magnuson, and Raimonda Modiano, eds. Coleridge's Poetry and Prose: Authoritative Texts, Criticism. New York, 2004.
Bate, W. Jackson. Coleridge. 1968. Reprint, Cambridge, Mass., 1987.
Holmes, Richard. Coleridge: Early Visions. London, 1989.
Magnuson, Paul. Coleridge and Wordsworth: A Lyrical Dialogue. Princeton, N.J., 1988.
James A. W. Heffernan
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor