Samuel Taylor Coleridge Coleridge, Samuel Taylor

Start Your Free Trial

Download Samuel Taylor Coleridge Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Introduction

(Poetry Criticism)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772–1834

English poet, critic, essayist, dramatist, and journalist.

See also, "Kubla Khan" Criticism.

Coleridge is considered one of the most significant poets and critics in the English language. 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" as well as one volume of criticism, Biographia Literaria; or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions. While "The Ancient Mariner," "Kubla Khan," and "Christabel" were poorly received during Coleridge's lifetime, they are now praised as classic examples of imaginative poetry, illuminated by Coleridge's poetic theories, of which he said in the Biographia Literaria, "My endeavors should be directed to persons and characters spiritual and supernatural, or at least romantic."

Biographical Information

Coleridge was born in Devon, the tenth child of John Coleridge, a vicar and schoolmaster, and his wife Ann Bowdon Coleridge. At the age of ten his father died and the young Coleridge was sent to Christ's Hospital, a boarding school in London where he was befriended by fellow student Charles Lamb. Later, he was awarded a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge University, showing promise as a gifted writer and brilliant conversationalist. In 1794, before completing his degree, Coleridge went on a walking tour to Oxford where he met poet Robert Southey. Espousing the revolutionary concepts of liberty and equality for all individuals, and inspired by the initial events of the French Revolution, Coleridge and Southey collaborated on The Fall of Robespierre. An Historic Drama. As an outgrowth of their shared beliefs, they developed a plan for a "pantisocracy," an egalitarian and self-sufficient agricultural system to be built in Pennsylvania. The pantisocratic philosophy required every member to be married, and at Southey's urging, Coleridge wed Sarah Fricker, the sister of Southey's fiancée. However, the match proved disastrous, and Coleridge's unhappy marriage was a source of grief to him throughout his life. To compound these difficulties, Southey later lost interest in the scheme, abandoning it in 1795. Coleridge's fortunes changed, though, 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, the site of their literary collaboration. Following the publication of Lyrical Ballads, with a few Other Poems, completed with Wordsworth, Coleridge traveled to Germany where he developed an interest in the

German philosophers Immanuel Kant, Friedrich von Schelling, and brothers Friedrich and August Wilhelm von Schlegel; he later introduced German aesthetic theories in England through his critical writing. Upon his return in 1799 Coleridge settled in Keswick near the Lake District, gaining, together with Wordsworth and Southey, the title "Lake Poet." During this period, Coleridge suffered poor health and personal strife; his marriage was failing and he had fallen in love with Wordsworth's sister-in-law Sarah Hutchinson—a love that was unrequited and a source of great pain. He began taking opium as a remedy for his poor health and, seeking a more temperate climate to improve his morale, traveled to Italy. Upon his return to England Coleridge began a series of lectures on poetry and Shakespeare, which are now considered the basis of his reputation as a critic. Because of Coleridge's abuse of opium and alcohol, his erratic behavior caused him to quarrel with Wordsworth, and he left Keswick to return to London. In the last years of his life Coleridge wrote the Biographia Literaria, considered his greatest critical writing, in which he developed aesthetic theories intended as the introduction to a great philosophical opus. Coleridge died in 1834 of complications stemming from his dependence on opium.

Major Works

The bulk of...

(The entire section is 78,962 words.)