Biography of SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE
His Life and Literature
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a pioneer in nineteenth century Romantic English Poetry, was born at Ottery, St. Mary in 1772. He was the youngest child of his father-Reverend John Coleridge, Vicar and school-master of St. Mary of Devonshire. Coleridge was first educated at Christ's Hospital, where he met Lamb and grew intimate with him. He later went to Jesus College, Cambridge. He, however, left the University in 1794, without obtaining any degree.
Coleridge's literary career began quite early. He started writing verses while in the university. Some of his early verses appeared in the Morning Chronicle during 1793- 95. In 1794, he wrote, jointly with Southey, with whom he had already developed intimacy, The Fall of Robespierre. He also attempted to start a newspaper, under the title The Watchman, in 1794. But that could not prove successful.
Coleridge came to be acquainted with Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy early in 1795. That was a turning point of his literary career. The two young poets—Wordsworth and Coleridge— worked together and produced Lyrical Ballads in 1798. The volume contains some of Coleridge's finest poems including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. His two other celebrated works—Christabel and Kubla Khan were written possibly during 1797.
Like Wordsworth, Coleridge had the ardour of republican enthusiasm during the French Revolution. Like his friend, he was disillusioned, too, by the aftermath of the Revolution and the tyrannical excesses of the revolutionists. His poem France, an Ode, written in 1798, indicated that change in his attitude.
Coleridge toured Germany in 1798-99, and learnt the German language. He translated Schiller's Piccolomini and Wallenstein during his stay there. Gradually his health declined and he became an opium-addict to sooth the acute neurologia from which he had been suffering. His remarkable works of literary criticism—Biographia Literaria and Aids to Reflections— appeared in 1817 and 1825 respectively.
The last phase of Coleridge's life was mainly spent with his friends and relations owing to his poor health and addiction to drugs. He went to Germany once more in 1928 with Wordsworth.
Coleridge died in 1834 in his sleep.
Coleridge's literary works include his poems—The Rime of the Ancient Marine, Kubla Khan, Christabel (in two parts), France— an Ode, Dejection: an Ode, Love, Youth and Age, Frost at Midnight and a number of other shorter lyrics.
His prose writings are, too, well celebrated and include his Lectures on different poets (1811), Biographia Literaria (1817) and Aids to Reflection (1825).
Coleridge as a poet
Coleridge, characterised as the high priest of romanticism by Saintsbury, was a pioneer, along with his friend Wordsworth, in the dawn of romanticism on the English poetry of social, satirical and critical poetry of the age of prose and reason. The essence of the romantic spirit is well perceived in his poetry.
Coleridge, like Wordsworth, was a lover of liberty and the French Revolution, at its initial stage, had a great hold on him, as on Wordsworth. He had a speculative idealism of the Revolution and found in it a political moral for his people and age. Unfortunately, like Wordsworth, he was frustrated, rather disillusioned with it, as the war of liberty was turned into a war of aggression. His celebrated Ode on France is a clear and categorical confession of his entire connection with the French Revolution through its different stages and his sad disenchantment about it.
Supernatural in Coleridge's Poetry
Coleridge's significance in romantic poetry' lies in his treatment of the supernatural world. He is found to have created the supernatural out of the natural in a way that is unique. He strikes terror psychologically, without the representation of any gross scene of physical horror. His great poems, like The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel and Kubla Khan, bear out his power to create a supernatural or mystical enchantment with a highly romantic suggestiveness.
Coleridge's treatment of the supernatural indicates the mystical aspect of romantic art. But this is not all. It also bears out his highly romantic imagination that excels in his imagination of the situation, away from the immediate earthly reality. It is when he narrates the strange experience of an ancient mariner in an unknown region of the Pacific, when he delineates the dream-land of Kubla Khan, or when he peeps into the remote medieval age in Christabel that his imagination reaches the height of excellence. He succeeds in projecting a human interest on extraordinary and romantic themes, 'giving a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith'. Coleridge's conception of the supernatural really casts a sort of enchantment that creates a psychological state of wonder and fear. The elements of gross and material horror are absolutely absent in him. The element of marvel is not obtruded, but slowly distilled into the entire environment. The touch is psychological, not physical.
Treatment of Nature
Coleridge's poetry bears out, too, his romantic interest in Nature. He is, however, no Philosopher or idealist of Nature, like Wordsworth or Shelley. He is rather an imagist, like Keats, of natural elements or scenes. What is more, his supernatural comes out of the natural and never appears anything but natural. In fact, Nature and the supernatural are not apart, and co-exist in him for the poetic enchantment.
Again, Coleridge's supernatural has a close kinship with his medievalism. Among the romantic poets, he, along with Scott and Keats, remains the ardent painter of the medieval world. An intense interest in the medieval time, noted for its mystery and enchantment, serves to give an additional interest as well as an artistic curiosity to the supernatural aspects of the poems, like Christabel. In fact, medievalism lies in the core of his poetry and constitutes his very poetic creed. But here again, Coleridge is not merely romanticist, but a keen spectator, with his historical imagination. There is a precise factual, accurate representation of the medieval world, with its external objects as well as its spirit and faith. Indeed scientific exactness, rather than romantic exaggeration, marks Coleridge’s medievalism.