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Samuel Taylor Coleridge

About Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, belonged to the British Romantic movement that included Shelley, Keats, Wordsworth, Blake and Byron. Coleridge is regarded as one of the movement’s leading lights.

He was was born October, 1772, in Devonshire. His father, parish vicar and master of a grammar school, married twice. Coleridge was the youngest of fourteen children, a student at his father’s school and an avid reader. After his father died in 1781, Coleridge attended Christ’s Hospital School in London, where he met lifelong friend Charles Lamb. While in London, he also befriended a classmate named Tom Evans, who introduced Coleridge to his family. Coleridge fell in love with Tom’s older sister, Mary.

Coleridge entered Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1791, focusing on a future as a vicar, as his father wished. Coleridge’s views began to change over the course of his first year. He became a supporter of William Frend, a Fellow at the college and contraversial Unitarian. While at Cambridge, Coleridge also fell into debt, which his brothers eventually had to pay off. Financial problems plagued him throughout life, and he constantly depended on the support of others.

In June 1794, Coleridge met a student named Robert Southey. They became friends and shared philosophical ideas. Influenced by Plato’s Republic), they constructed a vision of pantisocracy (equal government by all), which involved emigrating to the New World with ten other families to set up a commune in Pennsylvania. Coleridge and Southey envisioned the men sharing the workload, a great library, philosophical discussions, and freedom of religious and political beliefs.

When Southey become engaged to Edith Fricker and, as marriage was an integral part of the plan for communal living in the New World, Coleridge decided to marry another Fricker daughter, Sarah. This was in spite of the fact that he still loved Mary Evans, who was engaged to another man. Coleridge’s marriage was unhappy and he spent much of it apart from his wife.

Sarah Coleridge

During that period, Coleridge and Southey collaborated on a play titled The Fall of Robespierre (1795). While the pantisocracy was still in the planning stages, Southey abandoned the project to pursue a legal career. Left without an alternative, Coleridge began his career as a writer.

In 1795 he befriended William Wordsworth, who was a strong influence. Coleridge’s early work was conventional but later he began to write in a more natural style, imitating everyday language. In his “conversation poems,” such as “The Eolian Harp” Coleridge used his intimate friends and their experiences as subjects. The following year, Coleridge published his first volume of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, and began a liberal political publication entitled The Watchman. From 1797 to 1798 he lived near Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, in Somersetshire. In 1798 the two men collaborated on a joint volume of poetry: Lyrical Ballads. This is considered the first great work of the Romantic school of poetry and contains Coleridge’s famous poem, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.’

Wordsworth and Coleridge travelled together to Germany and studied philosophy, notably Emmanuel Kant and Jakob Boehme. When he returned to England in 1800, he settled with family and friends at Keswick in the Lake District. Over the next two decades Coleridge lectured on literature and philosophy, wrote about religious and political theory, travelled to Malta to overcome his poor health and opium addiction, the result of taking the opiate-based drug laudanum as pain-killer. He continued to publish poetry and criticism. He died in London July, 1834.

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