Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born on 21 October 1772 at Ottery st Mary in Devonshire. His father was the Vicar and Master of the local Grammar School. The youngest of thirteen children, Coleridge displayed exceptional mental ability from a very early age. Extremely precocious and uninterested in beyond his yeas. Coleridge lost his father when he was only nine years of age and was sent to continued being a vociferous reader and became sympathetic towards Godwin. He pored over the Bible and the works of Milton and showed a keen interest in poetry, theology, metaphysics, medicine, science and politics, all at the same time, and hence was unable to devote himself completely to any one of these. Owing to disappointment in love and debt, he enlisted in the army under the fanciful name, Silas Tomkyn Coomberbache, but realized within two months that he had made a mistake, and his release was effected by his friends.

In 1794 he met Robert Southey, who was at time reading Plato’s Republic. Together they conceived of a scheme called ‘Pantisocracy’ which was to be an ideal society somewhere in America. Coleridge married Sara Fricker on Southey’s insistence but had to abandon ‘Pantisocracy’ because of financial difficulties. In order to overcome on literary and political subjects, published his first volume of poems and started The Watchman, a literary magazine.

In 1795 he met Wordworth at Bristol and became intimate friends with him and his sister Dorothy. It was during the endless discussions they had on the nature and function of poetry that the foundations of the Lyrical Ballads was laid. It was decided that Wordsworth’s objective would be to give the charm of novelty to things of everyday and Coleridge’s endeavours would be directed to ‘persons and characters supernatural.’ His three poems in this vein ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, ‘Kubla Khan’ and ‘Christabel’ earned for him the reputation of being the greatest poet of the supernatural. His other important poems are ‘The Eolian Harp’ (1796), ‘This lime Tree my Bower’ (1797), ‘Frost at Midnight’ (1798) and ‘Dejection: An Ode’ (1802). Coleridge’s life was marked by ill-health and a hopeless guit-ridden love for Sara Hutchinson. He was prescribed landanum for his rheumatism but this led to a lifelong addiction, which added to his torment. Coleridge is better known as a critic than as a poet. One of the great ‘seminal minds’ of the age, he raised important questions about criticism itself, its method and its philosophical basis. He was made an associate of the Royal Society in 1824. Coleridge was indeed ‘myriad’ minded, for he applied his mind to a vast range of topics. He had great sensitivity to all sense-experiences and and a habit of close introspection. However, his work like his life, lacked direction and most of it was left incomplete at his death in 1834. Carlyle was perhaps right in hisobservation about Coleridge that ‘his cardinal Sin is that he lacks will’, and that ‘a better faculty has not been often worse used’.