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Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Short Biography Of An Opium Addict

by Jonathan Wordsworth

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet who lived between 1772 to 1834.

He was a clergyman's son, and, from his earliest years, a great reader.  He admired Robinson Crusoe, The Arabian Nights, and other tales of adventure. 

Orphaned in his ninth year, he was sent to London, where he became a "blue-coat boy" at Christ's Hospital.

He seems to have been a precocious lad, who "read right through the catalogue" of a library to which a chance acquaintance had subscribed for him, but who looked with contempt upon his duller comrades. 

While other boys played football, he loved to dream or watch the drifting clouds. 

As he grew older, he would discourse occasionally to his mates in the cloisters of the school, or recite Homer in the original Greek, holding them spellbound by his wonderful voice and intonation. 

At nineteen he went to Cambridge, but getting into debt carelessly in his second year, he ran away from college and joined a regiment of dragoons.  He soon regretted this step, and was bought out of the army by his friends. 

He returned to college, where he adopted Unitarian and democratic views. 

He became absorbed in visionary schemes, one of which was to found a model colony on the banks of the Susquehanna. 

Coleridge left college without taking a degree, and began writing prose and verse for the magazines.  He became closely associated with Southey and Wordsworth, the three comprising the "Lake School" of poets. 

Coleridge married early, but with insufficient means.  Thereafter he received assistance frequently from his friends.  Finally, he weakly deserted the wife and children he could not support, and Southey, who had married Mrs. Coleridge's sister, took them under his care. 

For fifteen years Coleridge was a slave to the opium habit, begun by taking the drug in time of illness.  Such habit may in large measure account for the failure to fulfill the great promise of his youth. 

His genius was many sided, but, whatever path he entered, a weak will and a vacillating purpose prevented arrival at the goal. 

After a severe struggle, and by the aid of a devoted physician, the opium addiction was overcome.

Thereafter, Coleridge devoted his time to philosophy and criticism. 

Coleridge's personal magnetism, his powerful, if ill-balanced mind, his remarkable gift as a talker, won him many friends.  That his faults and failures call for pity more than blame may be inferred from the fact that these friends continued to love and revere him. 

He seemed to write under sudden inspiration, and, if interrupted, was often utterly unable to complete what he had begun. 

He said of himself:  "The author has frequently purposed to finish for himself what had been originally, as it were, given to him;  but the tomorrow is yet to come."

Coleridge's influence on the opinion of the day was prodigious.  To his friends, Wordsworth, Southey, and Lamb, his companionship seemed to act as a spur to better work, while Hazlitt, Scott, Poe, Lowell, and many others acknowledge a great debt. 

Coleridge's most important poetical work was done in the year 1798.  The Ancient Mariner, Christabel, Ode to France, Kubla Khan, and other poems were produced at this time.  As he never equalled this work, this year is called Coleridge's annus mirabilis, or wonderful year.

Also see: Poetry Guide: Samuel Taylor Coleridge


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