Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born October 21, 1772, in Devonshire, England.  His mother was his father’s second wife, and Coleridge was the youngest of fourteen.  He attended grammar school where his father was headmaster and went on to Jesus College, Cambridge in 1791, ten years after his father’s death.  Wanting to follow in his father’s religious footsteps, he planned on a possible clergy career within the Church of England, but his ideas shifted greatly during his time at Cambridge.  While there, he met fellow poet Robert Southey, and the two extensively planned a utopian society they intended to establish in the New World’s Pennsylvania, along the Susquehanna River.  After a trip to Wales, Coleridge returned to England to find Southey engaged, and at Southey’s urging, Coleridge married Southey’s soon-to-be sister-in-law, Sarah Fricker, in 1795, despite the fact that he was in love with another woman.  The marriage was an unhappy one, especially since Southey abandoned the New World commune plan shortly thereafter. 

In the same year, Coleridge met and befriended William Wordsworth, an event which would greatly impact the writing career of both men and the Romantic Movement as a whole.  Wordsworth greatly influenced Coleridge’s writing, encouraging a more conversational style.  In 1796, Coleridge published his first collection of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, and two years later, Wordsworth and Coleridge jointly published Lyrical Ballads.  Included in this collection is Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and is considered the first prominent work of the Romantic era. 

Tension in Coleridge’s marriage grew, as he fell in love with Wordsworth’s future sister-in-law, and eventually he and his wife separated.  A dark period ensued; his work reflected his unhappiness and his health deteriorated as he became dependent on opium.  Despite his struggles, by 1811, Coleridge began lecturing on Shakespeare and gained a large following with his rare insight and literary criticism, some of which is contained in his Biographia Literaria, published in 1817.  He continued writing and publishing his work until 1830 with Church and State.  He died in London on July 25, 1834.