Samuel Taylor Coleridge Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born October 21, 1772, in the Devonshire town of Ottery St. Mary, the youngest of ten children. His father, a clergyman and teacher, died in October, 1781, and the next year Coleridge was sent to school at Christ’s Hospital, London. His friends at school included Charles Lamb, two years his junior, whose essay “Christ’s Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years Ago” (1820) describes the two sides of Coleridge—the “poor friendless boy,” far from his home, “alone among six hundred playmates”; the precocious scholar, “Logician, Metaphysician, Bard!,” holding his auditors “entranced with imagination.” Both characteristics—a deep sense of isolation and the effort to use learning and eloquence to overcome it—remained with Coleridge throughout his life.

He entered Cambridge in 1791 but never completed work for his university degree. Depressed by debts, he fled the university in December, 1793, and enlisted in the Light Dragoons under the name Silas Tompkyn Comberbache. Rescued by his brothers, he returned to Cambridge in April and resumed his studies. Two months later, he met Robert Southey, with whom he soon made plans to establish a utopian community (“Pantisocracy”) in the United States. Southey was engaged to marry Edith Fricker, and so it seemed appropriate for Coleridge to engage himself to her sister Sara. The project failed, but Coleridge, through his own sense of duty and Southey’s insistence, married a woman he had never loved and with whom his relationship was soon to become strained.

As a married man, Coleridge had to leave the university and make a living for his wife and, in time, children—Hartley (1796-1849), Berkeley (1798-1799), Derwent (b. 1800), and Sara (1802-1852). Economic survival was, it turned out, possible only with the support of friends such as Thomas Poole and the...

(The entire section is 763 words.)