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- English Men of Letters: Coleridge - 1/33 -

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In a tolerably well-known passage in one of his essays De Quincey enumerates the multiform attainments and powers of Coleridge, and the corresponding varieties of demand made by them on any one who should aspire to become this many-sided man's biographer. The description is slightly touched with the humorous hyperbole characteristic of its author; but it is in substance just, and I cannot but wish that it were possible, within the limits of a preface, to set out the whole of it in excuse for the many inevitable shortcomings of this volume. Having thus made an "exhibit" of it, there would only remain to add that the difficulties with which De Quincey confronts an intending biographer of Coleridge must necessarily be multiplied many-fold by the conditions under which this work is here attempted. No complete biography of Coleridge, at least on any important scale of dimensions, is in existence; no critical appreciation of his work _as a whole_, and as correlated with the circumstances and affected by the changes of his life, has, so far as I am aware, been attempted. To perform either of these two tasks adequately, or even with any approach to adequacy, a writer should at least have the elbow-room of a portly volume. To attempt the two together, therefore, and to attempt them within the limits prescribed to the manuals of this series, is an enterprise which I think should claim, from all at least who are not offended by its audacity, an almost unbounded indulgence.

The supply of material for a _Life_ of Coleridge is fairly plentiful, though it is not very easily come by. For the most part it needs to be hunted up or fished up--those accustomed to the work will appreciate the difference between the two processes--from a considerable variety of contemporary documents. Completed biography of the poet-philosopher there is none, as has been said, in existence; and the one volume of the unfinished _Life_ left us by Mr. Gillman--a name never to be mentioned with disrespect, however difficult it may sometimes be to avoid doing so, by any one who honours the name and genius of Coleridge--covers, and that in but a loose and rambling fashion, no more than a few years. Mr. Cottle's _Recollections of Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge_ contains some valuable information on certain points of importance, as also does the _Letters, Conversations, etc., of S. T. C._ by Mr. Allsop. Miss Meteyard's _Group of Eminent Englishmen_ throws much light on the relations between Coleridge and his early patrons the Wedgwoods. Everything, whether critical or biographical, that De Quincey wrote on Coleridgian matters requires, with whatever discount, to be carefully studied. _The Life of Wordsworth,_ by the Bishop of St. Andrews; _The Correspondence of Southey;_ the Rev. Derwent Coleridge's brief account of his father's life and writings; and the prefatory memoir prefixed to the 1880 edition of Coleridge's _Poetical and Dramatic Works_, have all had to be consulted. But, after all, there remain several tantalising gaps in Coleridge's life which refuse to be bridged over; and one cannot but think that there must be enough unpublished matter in the possession of his relatives and the representatives of his friends and correspondents to enable some at least, though doubtless not all, of these missing links to be supplied. Perhaps upon a fitting occasion and for an adequate purpose these materials would be forthcoming.



CHAPTER I. [1772-1794.] Birth, parentage, and early years--Christ's Hospital--Jesus College, Cambridge.

CHAPTER II. [1794-1797.] The Bristol Lectures--Marriage--Life at Clevedon--The _Watchman_-- Retirement to Stowey--Introduction to Wordsworth.

CHAPTER III. [1797-1799.] Coleridge and Wordsworth--Publication of the _Lyrical Ballads_--The _Ancient Mariner_--The first part of _Christabel_--Decline of Coleridge's poetic impulse--Final review of his poetry.


CHAPTER IV. [1799-1800.] Visit to Germany--Life at Gottingen--Return--Explores the Lake country-- London--The _Morning Post_--Coleridge as a journalist--Retirement to Keswick.

CHAPTER V. [1800-1804.] Life at Keswick--Second part of _Christabel_--Failing health--Resort to opium--The _Ode to Dejection_--Increasing restlessness--Visit to Malta.

CHAPTER VI. [1806-1809.] Stay at Malta--Its injurious effects--Return to England--Meeting with De Quincey--Residence in London--First series of lectures.

CHAPTER VII. [1809-1810.] Return to the Lakes--From Keswick to Grasmere--With Wordsworth at Allan Bank--The _Friend_--Quits the Lake country for ever.

CHAPTER VIII. [1810-1816.] London again--Second recourse to journalism--The _Courier_ articles-- The Shakespeare lectures--Production of _Remorse_--At Bristol again as lecturer--Residence at Calne--Increasing ill health and embarrassments --Retirement to Mr. Gillman's.


CHAPTER IX. [1816-1818.] Life at Highgate--Renewed activity--Publications and republications--The _Biographia Literaria_--The lectures of 1818--Coleridge as a Shakespearian critic.

CHAPTER X. [1818-1834.] Closing years--Temporary renewal of money troubles--The _Aids to Refection_--Growing weakness-Visit to Germany with the Wordsworths-- Last illness and death.

CHAPTER XI. Coleridge's metaphysics and theology--_The Spiritual Philosophy_ of Mr. Green.

CHAPTER XII. Coleridge's position in his later years--His discourse--His influence on contemporary thought--Final review of his intellectual work.




Birth, parentage, and early years--Christ's Hospital--Jesus College, Cambridge.


On the 21st of October 1772 there was added to that roll of famous Englishmen of whom Devonshire boasts the parentage a new and not its least illustrious name. SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE was the son of the Rev. John Coleridge, vicar of Ottery St. Mary in that county, and head master of Henry VIII.'s Free Grammar School in the same town. He was the youngest child of a large family. To the vicar, who had been twice married, his first wife had borne three children, and his second ten. Of these latter, however, one son died in infancy; four others, together with the only daughter of the family, passed away before Samuel had attained his majority; and thus only three of his brothers, James, Edward, and George Coleridge, outlived the eighteenth century. The first of these three survivors became the father of Henry Nelson Coleridge--who married his cousin Sara, the poet's accomplished daughter, and edited his uncle's posthumous works--and of the late Mr. Justice Coleridge, himself the father of the present Lord Chief-Justice of England. Edward, the second of the three, went, like his eldest brother William, to Pembroke College, Oxford, and like him took orders; and George, also educated at the same college and for the same profession, succeeded eventually to his father's benefice and school. The vicar himself appears from all accounts to have been a man of more mark than most rural incumbents, and probably than a good many schoolmasters of his day. He was a Hebrew scholar of some eminence, and the compiler of a Latin grammar, in which, among other innovations

English Men of Letters: Coleridge - 1/33

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