Biographia Literaria Characters
In his autobiographical work Biographia Literaria, Coleridge references several other authors, poets, and teachers.
John Milton was an English poet, remembered chiefly for his two epic poems Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Coleridge mentions his name to highlight the unsuitability of the English language for double epithets, or compound words. Milton is an esteemed writer in the English language. His poems, elegies, and witty epitaphs point to his erudition and sensitivity. Coleridge read Milton at Christ Hospital, the grammar school he attended as a young student.
William Shakespeare, the poet and dramatist, is often regarded as the greatest author in the English language. His fame was already secure during the late eighteenth century, when Coleridge was growing up. Coleridge says that Shakespeare’s mastery of the language was such that each word not only has meaning but is also perfectly placed in the sentence. Coleridge mentions the evenness and sweetness of Shakespeare’s demeanor and says that this is a common trait of men of genius.
William Wordsworth is considered one of the pioneers of the Romantic Age in English writing—the other being Coleridge. Lyrical Ballads, jointly published by Wordsworth and Coleridge, remains one of the most influential publications in the history of literature. Coleridge was twenty-four years old when he first met Wordsworth, and he recalls the meeting with great fondness, as it was during this interaction he learnt of Wordsworth’s mastery of the language. William Wordsworth was the poet laureate of Britain from 1843 to 1850.
René Descartes was a French philosopher and mathematician. Descartes developed the theory of rationalism and contributed to the field of analytical geometry. Coleridge was impressed by Descartes’s ideas, especially those that treat the soul as intelligence and the body as matter. In Descartes's book Discourse on the Method, he introduces one of the most well-known philosophical assertions: “I think, therefore I am."