English Literature Of The 19th Century:
First Or Pre-victorian Period--1800-1837
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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Samuel Taylor Coleridge
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Coleridge, who was most intimately associated with Wordsworth in his youth and stimulated his early poetical work, was yet of entirely different character. Though a writer of abundant prose and verse of many kinds, he was influential on the public rather as an astonishing and suggestive talker. He was one of the first to introduce German philosophy into English thought. In theology he assisted in the change which produced the Oxford movement, and he was also the suggester of what has become known as the Broad Church School. Yet with all his ability his intellectual work was fragmentary and his career a melancholy wreck.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the son of a clergyman, and was born in Devonshire in 1772. He was educated at the famous Charterhouse or Christ Hospital in London, where he formed a lasting friendship with Charles Lamb. Afterwards he went to Jesus College, Cam-bridge. Though a diligent scholar at first, he got into difficulties and enlisted as a dragoon, but by the assistance of friends obtained a discharge a few months later. He returned to college, but fell in with Southey, and the two became engaged to sisters at Bristol in 1794. Both were filled with Revolutionary ideas and formed vague schemes of renovating humanity by founding on the banks of the Susquehanna a community to be called Pantisocracy (equal government of all). Coleridge left the university and was married to Sara Fricker in 1795. He became a Unitarian preacher, published some poems, and started a weekly paper, called "The Watchman." At Stowey he was associated with Wordsworth, and contributed to the "Lyrical Ballads," "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," but withheld other poems already written.
The kindness of friends enabled Coleridge to go to Germany, where he studied literature and philosophy for fourteen months. Returning in 1800 he settled with Southey and Wordsworth in the Lake district. The three Radicals now became Conservatives, and Coleridge gave up his Unitarian views. As poets they had mutual effect on each other's work. Coleridge translated freely Schiller's "Wallenstein," enriching the drama. For a time he was secretary to the Governor of Malta, and after his return he was busy in newspaper work, lecturing, and the publication of two dramas and some poems. In 1816 he published "Christabel," which, though incomplete, is one of his finest poems. His friends were ever ready to help him, but though he was fertile in schemes literary and philosophical, he was incompetent to execute them in a reasonable degree. "The Friend" was a periodical issued for two years; "Biographia Literaria" is full of judicious criticism. The explanation of his imperfect performance is that he was a victim of the opium habit. He was unable to keep house with his own family, but was sheltered by those who had regard for his abilities. Dr. Gilman is especially remembered for this service, and at his house in Highgate, Coleridge discoursed eloquently to vistors. There, with the exception of occasional excursions, he resided till his death in 1834.
So far as his own literary productions are concerned, Coleridge is remembered by a few exquisite poems "The Ancient Mariner," "Love, or Genevieve," and the fragments, "Christabel" and "Kubla Khan." They all exhibit wonderful command of metre, language, and the power of exciting emotion. His other poems vary in excellence, sometimes sinking to worthlessness. His prose-writings were written piece-meal, and have been diligently collected by several editors, but though there are occasional gems scattered among them, their general value is diminished by their lack of connection or completion. Yet, while the bulk of his writing is out of proportion to its utility, probably no man of the century, except Sir Walter Scott, had wider-reaching effect on the higher thought, philosophy, and literature of England.