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SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE

1772-1834
English

"The most happy marriage I can picture or imagine to myself would be the union of a deaf man to a blind woman. "

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born on the 21st October 1772 in Ottery St. Mary’s, Devonshire. Samuel was the youngest of 10 children born to Anne Bowden and John Coleridge, the parish vicar. John Coleridge died shortly before Samuel’s ninth birthday and shortly after, Samuel was sent to a boarding school, Christ’s Hospital, as a charity scholar. Later he studied at Jesus College, Cambridge, and was a well-accomplished student. He won the Browne Gold Medal in his first year of college for a long poem written in Greek, on the slave trade. In his second year, he was one of four finalists for a scholarship. However while Coleridge’s academic career was thriving, he was experiencing an adolescent crisis - experimenting with alcohol, opium and sex.

Whilst at Jesus College, Coleridge met the future poet laureate Robert Southey, and in 1795 he married Sarah Fricker, the sister of Robert’s fiancée Edith. Coleridge did not truly love Sarah and had married because of social constraints. Coleridge grew to detest is wife and they eventually separated.

In 1795, Coleridge met the poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, and soon Coleridge and Wordsworth began writing together. In 1798, they published a joint volume of poetry, Lyrical Ballads, which proved to be the starting point for the English romantic movement. Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was the longest work in the collection and drew more praise and attention than anything else in the volume.

In the autumn of 1798, Coleridge and Wordsworth went to stay in Germany. Whilst there, Coleridge became interested in German philosophy - especially the transcendental idealism and critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant - and in the literary criticism of the 18th century dramatist Gotthold Lessing.

Coleridge returned to England and in 1799, he and Wordsworth spent time staying at Thomas Hutchinson's farm on the Tees at Sockburn, near Darlington. During this time, Coleridge wrote his ballad-poem Love.

In 1800, Coleridge settled at Keswick in the Lake District to be near Grasmere, where Wordsworth had moved. Whilst living in Keswick, Coleridge composed Dejection: An Ode. It is believed that it was fuelled by a lack of confidence in his poetic powers, along with marital problems, illnesses, increased opium dependency and tensions with Wordsworth.

In 1804, Coleridge travelled to Sicily and Malta, returning to England in 1806. From 1807 to 1808, Coleridge spent time in Malta, Sicily and Italy, in the hope that leaving Britain's damp climate would improve his health and thus enable him to reduce his consumption of opium. His opium addiction began following treatment with laudanum for his poor health, which may have stemmed from a bout of rheumatic fever and other childhood illnesses. In addition, Coleridge suffered from crippling bouts of anxiety and depression throughout his adult life, and some believe that he may have suffered from bipolar disorder.

Between 1810 and 1820,  Coleridge gave a series of lectures in London and Bristol. Much of Coleridge's reputation as a literary critic is founded on a course of lectures on Shakespeare and Milton, in Illustration of the principles of poetry,  that he undertook in the winter of 1810–11. Coleridge's ill-health, opium-addiction problems, and somewhat unstable personality meant that his lectures varied in quality. Often Coleridge failed to prepare anything but the loosest set of notes and regularly entered into extremely long digressions which his audiences found difficult to follow.

In 1814, Coleridge was approached by John Murray, Lord Byron's publisher, about the possibility of translating Goethe's classic Faust (1808). Coleridge accepted the commission, only to abandon work on it after six weeks.

In 1817, Coleridge took residence in the home of Dr. James Gillman. By this time, his opium addiction was worsening and he was suffering from depression, rarely leaving the house. He remained living with Gillman for the next 18 years, until his death in 1834.

Whilst living in Gillman's home, Coleridge finished his major prose work, the Biographia Literaria, a collection of his thoughts and opinions on literature (1817). He composed much poetry at Gillman's house, and published a number of other writings, notably Sibylline Leaves (1817), Aids to Reflection (1825), and Church and State (1826).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge died in Highgate, London on 25th July 1834 as a result of heart failure compounded by an unknown lung disorder, possibly linked to his use of opium.

TITLES BY SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE

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