Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the youngest son of the vicar of Ottery St Mary, Devon, was born in 1772. He was educated at Christ's Hospital and Jesus College, Cambridge with the intention of becoming a Church minister.

At university Coleridge became interested in politics and was a strong supporter of the French Revolution. In 1794 Coleridge met Robert Southey and the two men became close friends.

Coleridge and Southey developed radical political and religious views and began making plans to emigrate to Pennsylvania where they intended to set up a commune based on communistic values. Coleridge and Southey eventually abandoned this plan and instead stayed in England where they concentrated on communicating their radical ideas. This included the play they wrote together, The Fall of Robespierre.

In 1795 Coleridge and Robert Southey married two sisters, Sarah and Edith Flicker. Samuel and Sarah Coleridge moved to Bristol where he lectured at Unitarian chapels and wrote over fifty articles for the Morning Chronicle that gave him the opportunity to explain the ideas of Joseph Priestley and William Godwin to a large audience. The Morning Chronicle also published Coleridge's anti-war poem, Fire, Famine, Slaughter: A War Eclogue. Coleridge also edited the radical Christian journal, The Watchman.

In 1797 Coleridge met William Wordsworth. Together the two men developed a new poetry. The following year they published the book Lyrical Ballads which achieved a revolution in literary taste and sensibility. This included Coleridge's famous poems, the Ancient Mariner and The Nightingale. For the next few years Coleridge concentrated on writing poetry but an addiction to opium damaged the quality of his work.

Coleridge retained an interest in journalism and in 1809 began publishing his own newspaper, The Friend. This "literary, moral and political" newspaper came to an end after only 28 issues. He returned to poetry and in 1816 published Christabel and Kubla Khan.

Coleridge's writing during this period about what had gone wrong with society had a considerable influence on Christian Socialists such as Frederick Maurice and Charles Kingsley. However, Coleridge's articles in support of Lord Liverpool and his Tory government in The Courier caused William Hazlitt to denounce him as a "turncoat".

In his later years Coleridge wrote several important books on literature including Biographia Literaria (1817) and Aids to Reflection (1825). Samuel Taylor Coleridge died of a heart attack in 1834. Coleridge's later ideas that were revealed in conversations with friends, were collected together and edited by his nephew Henry Coleridge and appeared in the book Table Talk in 1836.