On this date in English literary history – October 21, 1772, poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in the small town of Ottery St. Mary in Devonshire, England. Coleridge's father died when he was a boy, and young Samuel was sent off to boarding school in London and eventually attended Cambridge. After becoming disillusioned with school he fled his debtors and enlisted in the cavalry, which he later abandoned with help from his brothers. He then returned to Cambridge, where he met poet Robert Southey. The two dreamed of one day establishing a utopian society in Pennsylvania. In 1795, Coleridge met poet William Wordsworth. The two became close friends and collaborators, assisted by Dorothy Wordsworth, the poet's sister. The siblings moved near Coleridge, and in 1798 Wordsworth and Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads, which established the Romantic school of poetry. It included Coleridge's famous poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."
Coleridge's life began to unravel at the turn of the century. He became estranged from his wife and fell in love with Sara Hutchinson, whose sister married William Wordsworth three years later. Meanwhile, his health began to suffer, and he began taking large doses of opium to control his rheumatism and other problems. He became addicted to the drug, and his creative output waned. In 1810, he broke with Wordsworth, and the two would not reconcile for nearly 20 years. During this period, Coleridge supported himself through a series of successful lectures on literature. Meanwhile, he single-handedly wrote, edited, and distributed his review, The Friend. In 1813 he published, Remorse, which was well received by critics. Thanks to the help of Dr. James Gillman and his wife, Coleridge began to cut back on his opium use. In 1816, he published the fragmentary poem "Kubla Khan," written under the influence of opium, circa 1797. In 1817, he published a significant work of criticism, Biographa Literaria, and in 1828 was reconciled with Wordsworth. Coleridge died at Highgate, London on July 25, 1834 from heart failure.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of numerous books that includes the gold medal winning Literary Legends of the British Isles: The Lives and Burial Places of 50 Great Writers. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: