A-Z: General definitions: Coleridge, Samuel Taylor


(1772-1834) He was a poet, critic and philosopher and as a close friend of William Wordsworth was associated with the earliest phase of poetic Romanticism. Born in Devon, the son of a vicar, it was assumed that he would also enter the church, but while at Cambridge he spent time in drinking, talking and becoming involved in French Revolutionary politics. He led a chequered career, at one time enlisting as soldier under an assumed name and later becoming a Unitarian lay preacher. He met Wordsworth in 1797 and they became close friends, living near one another in Somerset and later in the Lake District. Lyrical Ballads, on which they collaborated in 1798, and which included Coleridge's celebrated 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner', is generally regarded as the volume which first brought Romanticism to wide public attention. Coleridge had married Sara Fricker in 1794, but he parted from her in 1797, having fallen in love with Sara Hutchinson, Wordsworth's future sister-in-law. He had also become addicted to opium, which he took to relieve both depression and various physical afflictions. In spite of his ailments, Coleridge developed a career as a lecturer on poetry and drama, becoming particularly celebrated as critic of Shakespeare, to whom he applied new ideas concerning both form and psychology, influenced by German philosophers whose work he had encountered during a stay in that country in 1798-9. He quarrelled with the Wordsworths in 1811, fled to London, and experienced a period of crisis, but gradually began to overcome his addiction and started writing again. Christabel and other poems (1816), contains the well-known poem 'Kubla Khan', and Biographia Literaria (1817) combines memoir, criticism and philosophy. In later years his political ideas became more conservative, but he remained a radical in religious matters and he continued to write and publish poetry, philosophy, political essays and literary criticism. He was also celebrated as a brilliant and prolific talker, whose conversation ranged over a wide variety of topics, fuelled by his wide and well-remembered reading. He was the most gifted theorist of the ideas that informed Romanticism and also played a major part in introducing German philosophy into England.

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