1793 English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (October 21, 1772 - July 25, 1834) enlisted in the Light Dragoons, fleeing his creditors.
Coleridge used the alias Silas Tompkyns Comberbeck, to retain his initials. A legend has it that when a drill sergeant asked, “Whose dirty rifle is this” Coleridge asked in return, “Is it very, very dirty?” The sergeant answered that it was. “Then it must be mine,” Coleridge replied. His only real service was in a military hospital, from which possibly he found the imagery for the dead sailors in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
Later, after his parents had paid off his commission, at Cambridge University he came into contact with political and theological ideas then considered radical. Motivated by the heady political and intellectual atmosphere of the early years of the French Revolution, he dropped out of Cambridge without a degree and joined the Oxford poet Robert Southey (the two poets later married two sisters, Sarah and Edith Flicker) in a plan, soon abandoned, to found a utopian communist-like society in the wilderness of Pennsylvania, called ‘pantisocracy’, to be established on the banks of the Susquehanna on land bought by the radical Joseph Priestley after his exile from England. Southey later became a conservative and was appointed Poet Laureate.
Coleridge’s life was plagued by opiate addiction.
Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
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