S. T. Coleridge: Biography and Literary Works

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      (1) 1772-1794. Coleridge has been born at Ottery St. Mary, Devonshire, on Oct. 21, 1772. His father, a man of great learning but eccentric tastes, has been the vicar and headmaster of the King's School there. He has initiated his son into the mysteries of astronomy, and has taken him through a course of desultory reading. He has died in 1781, leaving Coleridge to go as a sizar to Christ Hospital. He forms there a friendship with Elia (Charles Lamb), and early has distinguished himself for his attractive disposition, versatility, and youthful enthusiasm. In 1791, he has gone to Jesus College, Cambridge, and becomes an ardent Republican. In conjunction with Southey, he becomes engrossed in a communistic scheme for the amelioration of his fellow men. In 1794, he leaves the University finally without taking a degree.

      (2) 1795-1800. Soon after leaving Cambridge, he marries Sarah Frickers, a sister of Southey's wife. His republican ardour has by this time considerably cools down. The Coleridge's have settled down first at Clevedon, and thereafter at Nether Stowey, Somerset, where he forms an intimate friendship with Wordsworth, and comes under the wholesome influence of the great poet and his sister. The few months spend there are the best of his life; his domestic troubles have not yet commenced; his poetic imagination, though ethereal and airy from his very boyhood, has not yet lost its creative power. All the best work which is peculiarly his own belongs to this period. In 1798, appears the famous Lyrical Ballads to which he has contributed The Ancient Mariner.

      About this time, he is rendered financially independent through the kindness of some friends, and starts for a tour through Germany with the Wordsworth. German philosophy and literature particularly fascinates him; he is perhaps, the first English man of letters completely to imbibe the spirit of German thought of the day, and subject the mind of his contemporaries to its influence.

      (3) 1800-1816. On his return to England in 1800, Coleridge aimlessly moves from place to place. During an illness sometime before, he has started taking opium. The habit gradually grows upon him till its shadow darkens the remainder of his life. The days of his literary achievement are now over; he is simply planning, never executing.

      Coleridge has a wonderful gift of speech. Partly through the persuasion of friends, partly to eke out his living, he starts a series of lectures on Shakespeare and Milton. With his wonderful imagination and insight and felicitous use of language, he always keeps his audience enthralled.

      His health is gradually failing, and he resolves to try the effect of warmer climates. He reach Malta in April 1804, and is well-received by the English colony there. Later, he is appointed Public Secretary of Malta and its dependencies. It is another proof of his remarkable versatility that he proves a thorough man of affairs and makes his mark as a secretary. The climate also suits him. But, cut off from friends and congenial intellectual environment, he finds his life unbearable.

      (4) 1816-1834. All this time, he has been living in virtual separation from his wife and children. His friends are anxious that he shall regain those exceptional powers which he has frittered away in dreams and fragments. He is, therefore, placed in the house of a surgeon, Mr. Gillman, under whose kind protection and treatment he passes the rest of his life.

      During several lucid intervals, he still give proofs of his great poetic power, subtle knowledge of psychology, and fine critical grasp of thought. Youth and Age, the charming songs in Zapolya, and Law Sermons belong to this period. He retains his wonderful hold on the minds of his contemporaries till the very last. His reputation and his. fascinating gift of talk still brings young and old devotees of learning to his surgeon's residence in Highgate. Till his death in 1834, he never loses the poetic frenzy of his eye or the dreamy grace of his melodious speech.


      Coleridge's works may be discussed under three heads: (i) his poetry, (ii) his dramas (iii) his literary criticism. His poetic output that really matters is very limited. According to Stopford Brooke, "all that he did excellently might be bound up in twenty pages, but it should be bound in pure gold."

      (i) His Poetical Works. The early poems of Coleridge have been published in the spring of 1796 in the volume entitled Poems on Various Subjects. The manner is artificial and stiff, under the strong influence of century poetic diction, modified by sentimentalism and melancholy. His political sonnets betray the influence of Godwin but are pompous in
style. More promising, however, are the poems dominated by the young poet's love and minute observation of natural scenery - The Song of the Pixies (1793); The Lines on Autumnal Evening; Lewti (1794) and Religious Musings (1794-96).

      Then comes his golden period of intimacy with Wordsworth and Dorothy, which leads to the planning of The Lyrical Ballads and the flowering of Coleridge's best poetry - the true Wordsworthian pieces like The Lime Tree Bower, Frost at Midnight, Fears in Solitude (1797-98), followed by the master-pieces stamped with his own original sensibility — The Ancient Mariner, Christabel and Kubla Khan. Then the poetic fount begin to dwindle in energy and after a few spurts in Dejection: An Ode and Love and Hope it becomes exhausted and the vacuum thus created has to be filled by critical and philosophical activities which yields richer and more voluminous works, though quite fragmentary and discursive. The creative life of Coleridge is at once a miracle and a melancholy spectacle of waste and sudden collapse of divine imagination.

      (ii) His Dramas. His first drama, written in collaboration with Southey is The Fall of Robespierre (1794). It shows the influence of Shakespeare but is married by rhetorical declamation and poor characterization. His other dramas are Remorse (1798), which is a tragedy in blank verse and Zapolya (1817), a romantic tragedy in imitation of Shakespeare's Winter's Tale.

      (iii) His Literary Criticism. Coleridge's chief critical work is Biographia Literaria (1817). It is a sort of loose autobiography, embracing a variety of subjects like religion, politics, literature and criticism. It contains a valuable criticism of Wordsworth's theory of poetic diction.

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