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Samuel Taylor Coleridge



S. T. Coleridge Archive - poetry and prose
About Samuel Taylor Coleridge - complete text of some of his works, links to other resources, and a forum for people asking questions and wishing to leave comments


Kubla Khan
Frost at Midnight
The Pains of Sleep
Work Without Hope
Constancy to an Ideal Object

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a major English romantic poet and essayist. He was associated with William Wordsworth, with whom he wrote the Lyrical Ballads, an extremely influential collection of poems. He was also a major philosopher and literary critic, opposing the empiricism of 18th-century British philosophy with an idealist system, partly derived from German thinkers, that regarded the mind as active rather than passive in its ability to create through the faculty of imagination.

Born on Oct. 21, 1772, the son of a clergyman, Coleridge attended Christ's Hospital in London. From 1791 until 1794 he attended Jesus College, University of Cambridge. At the university he absorbed political and theological ideas then considered radical, especially those of Unitarianism. Dreamy and bookish, he soon wearied of college life and enlisted in the dragoons. In 1794 Coleridge met the equally radical and idealistic poet Robert Southey, and together the two planned a utopian community, or pantisocracy, to be founded on the banks of the Susquehanna River in the United States. In preparation for the community, Coleridge proposed to the sister of Southey's fiancee; when the scheme collapsed he went through with the marriage, although he felt little affection.

The couple moved to Nether Stowey, Somerset, in 1797 and became friendly with Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy. There the two men composed Lyrical Ballads (1798); Coleridge contributed the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which, together with his two other magical poems, Christabel and Kubla Khan, established his reputation as a poet and articulated the mysterious, demonic side of British romanticism. The quietly lyrical This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison, Frost at Midnight, and The Nightingale are considered three of his best "conversational" poems.

In the fall of 1798 Coleridge and Wordsworth left for a trip on the Continent; Coleridge soon went his own way, spending much of his time in Germany. During this period he lost his early sympathy with political radicalism and became interested in German philosophy, especially the 18th-century idealism of Immanuel Kant and the 17th-century mystical writings of Jakob Boehme, and in the literary criticism of the 18th-century dramatist G. E. Lessing. Coleridge studied German and translated into English the dramatic trilogy Wallenstein by the romantic poet Friedrich von Schiller.

Unhappy with his wife, Coleridge fell in love with Sara Hutchinson, whose sister Wordsworth later married. Coleridge's marital difficulties added to other miseries, for he was by then addicted to laudanum (opium dissolved in alcohol), a commonly prescribed drug, and aware that his poetic talent was fading. In 1802, Coleridge published Dejection: An Ode, the last of his great poems. Thereafter he turned mainly to politics, religion, philosophy, and literary criticism. After a stay in Malta to restore his health he returned to England, where he separated from his wife.

From 1816 until his death on July 25, 1834, Coleridge lived at Highgate, in London, supervised by Dr. James Gillman, who helped him control his drug addiction; in time his home became a center for admirers and literary aspirants. During the final 20 years of his life Coleridge wrote voluminously, although his productions were sporadic and rarely sustained. In 1808 he gave his first course of public lectures in London and followed it with other series on literary and philosophical subjects. In 1817 he published Biographia Literaria, a classic of criticism, in which he put forward his ideas on the unifying and synthesizing power of poetry and his theory of the primary and secondary imaginations. Other writings were published while he was in seclusion at the Gillman home, notably Sibylline Leaves (1817), Aids to Reflection (1825), and Church and State (1830).

Coleridge was esteemed by some of his contemporaries and is generally recognized today as a lyrical poet and literary critic of the first rank. His poetic themes range from the supernatural to the domestic. His treatises, lectures, and compelling conversational powers made him perhaps the most influential English literary critic and philosopher of the 19th century.

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