Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted
1772 Samuel Taylor Coleridge (d. July 25, 1834), British romantic poet ('The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'; 'Kubla Khan'), literary critic and politico-social activist.

Coleridge and the poet Robert Southey were brothers-in-law (they married two sisters, penniless like themselves). Southey went about his poetry with all the regularity of a bank clerk, while Coleridge would spend whole days in dreaming and desultory reading. A vicar's son, he dropped out of Cambridge and wandered the streets of London until destitute. He met Southey at Oxford and the two poets planned a utopian society based on what they called 'Pantisocracy', influenced in part by proto-anarchist William Godwin's Political Justice.

Coleridge started a newspaper called The Watchman, but it lasted only ten issues. He was friendly with William Wordsworth, with whom he stayed at Nether Stowey, where he composed much of the poetry for which he is justly famous.

The Wedgwood family of pottery magnates gave him funds to go to Germany to study. On his return he changed from a Revolutionist to a Conservative, and from a Unitarian to an English Churchman. He started a periodical, The Friend, but it ran for only 27 issues although its effect was felt on writers and philosophers from John Stuart Mill to Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was not of the right nature to run a periodical, with its deadlines; Coleridge tended to be disorganized and had no head for business, indicating that the publication was doomed from the start. His poem, 'Dejection: An Ode', is one indication that he suffered from a major depressive disorder. His earnings were spent in pursuit of opium, to which he was addicted after taking laudanum for pain relief for many ailments, including toothache and facial neuralgia. He was well aware of the desperation of his addiction, but did not have the strength to resist. (There was no stigma associated with taking opium as an analgaesic at the time, but also little understanding of the dangers of addiction.) A physician named Dr Gilman helped him kick the habit and he spent the last years of his life quite happily, near London.

Coleridge often spoke on metaphysical matters, and could preach for two hours without notes. Apart from his immortal poetry, Samuel Taylor Coleridge gave the English language the words 'selfless' and 'aesthetic' ...

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