Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an English poet and philosopher, born at Ottery St. Mary, Devonshire, Oct. 21, 1772, died at Highgate, London, July 25, 1834. He was the youngest child of a learned and singularly amiable clergyman, and became an orphan at the age of nine years. By the kindness of a friend he was presented to Christ's hospital, in London, where he received the principal part of his education, and began a lifelong intimacy with Charles Lamb, who was one of his schoolfellows. His juvenile character prefigured his future career. He was a playless day-dreamer, solitary and uninterested in the ordinary amusements of childhood; yet he made great advances in classical knowledge, and was early distinguished by rare powers of discourse. Charles Lamb speaks of him as " the inspired charity boy, to whom the casual passer through the cloisters listened entranced with admiration, as he unfolded in deep and sweet intonations the mysteries of Iamblichus or Plotinus, or recited the Greek of Homer or Pindar." Before his 15th year he had read through a London circulating library, catalogues, folios, and all, and had bewildered himself in metaphysical studies and in meditating on the problems of theology.
So great was his pleasure in abstract speculations that he describes himself as having lost all interest in particular facts, in history or romance, and even poetry seemed insipid to him. Without ambition or worldly wisdom, he at one time proposed apprenticing himself to a shoemaker whose shop was near the school. In his 17th year the sonnets of William Lisle Bowles were presented to him, and such was his admiration of them that he used frequently to transcribe them for presents to the friends for whom he had most regard. These simple poems recalled his idealizing mind to a juster estimate and love of realities, and having in 1791 become deputy Grecian, or head scholar, at Christ's hospital, he obtained a presentation thence to Jesus college, Cambridge. He remained in the university but two years, during which he paid no attention to mathematics, but gained the prize for a Greek ode. At the outbreak of the French revolution he became obnoxious to his superiors from his acceptance of the revolutionary principles. With an enthusiastic and hopeful view of human nature, and an impetuous zeal in the cause of freedom, he hailed the early events of that epoch of continental history as the promise of a new era.
His feelings at this period form the theme of one of his odes, entitled "France," and pronounced by Shelley the finest ode of modern times. Suddenly leaving Cambridge in the midst of his university career, he wandered about for a day or two in London, gave his last penny to a beggar, and enlisted in a regiment of cavalry under the assumed name of Comberback. The poet, however, made but an awkward dragoon, and wrote letters for his comrades while they attended to his horse and accoutrements. After four months' service, a Latin sentence which he had inscribed on the stable wall under his saddle revealed his scholarship, and the captain of his troop, having succeeded in learning his real history, restored him to his friends. He now became associated at Bristol with two other poetical enthusiasts, Southey, a student from Oxford, and Lovell, a young Quaker. Southey, like Coleridge, was an ardent republican and Unitarian, and for his faith had just forfeited the honors of Oxford. These three conceived a splendid scheme of emigration. They determined to found amid the wilds of the Susquehanna a commonwealth which was to be free from the evils and turmoils which then agitated the world, in which a community of goods was to be enjoyed, and from which selfishness was to be proscribed.
But this scheme of pantisocracy, as it was termed, failed from want of money and from other practical difficulties; and the three pan-tisocratists, having married in 1795 three sisters, the Misses Fricker of Bristol, began to turn their attention to the reformation of England. Coleridge had already collected a small volume of his juvenile poems, for which he had received 30 guineas from a benevolent and appreciative publisher, Mr. Joseph Cottle; and he now entered upon an undertaking from which he expected great results, namely, the establishment of a periodical in prose and verse to be entitled "The Watchman," and to advocate liberal opinions. He himself canvassed the northern manufacturing towns for subscribers, preaching wherever he stayed on Sunday in Unitarian chapels, and returned with a subscription list full of promise. Yet the periodical, owing partly to a want of punctuality in its issue, partly to its learned philosophical contents, and partly to the fact that its opinions were not those which its supporters had expected, was dropped at the 10th number with a loss.
In 1796 Coleridge took a cottage at Nether Stowey, in Somersetshire, where his means were increased by receiving into his family a Cambridge friend and poet, Charles Lloyd, the son of a wealthy banker, who, merely from love and admiration, had proposed living with him. He published in 1796, in connection with Charles Lamb, a small volume of poems, the greater number of his own contributions to which had been written at earlier periods; and to a second edition in the next year verses were added by Lloyd. Wordsworth having moved to Allfoxden, about two miles from Stowey, the kindred feelings of the two poets united them in the closest friendship. They rambled together over the Somerset hills, discussing the principles of poetry and planning their famons lyrical ballads. It was in this happiest period of Coleridge's life that he wrote his most beautiful poetry, the first part of "Christabel," the "Ancient Mariner," and the "Ode to the Departing Year;" and a mutual resolution of the poets to write a play produced his tragedy of "Remorse." He received in 1798 an invitation to become a Unitarian minister in Shrewsbury, and preached his probation sermon there, the great impression produced by which has been recorded by Haz-litt, who was one of his audience; but he did not preach again.
The munificence of Josiah Wedgwood enabled him to visit Germany, and immediately after the publication of the "Lyrical Ballads" he and Wordsworth set out upon the journey together. He attended the lectures of Blumenbach and Eichhorn at Got-tingen, formed an acquaintance with Tieck, and obtained a familiarity with German literature and philosophy. At no other period of his life did he work so industriously as during his residence in Germany; and on his return in 1800 he brought back, in addition to his mental acquisitions, a large collection of materials for a life of Lessing. He passed six months in London engaged in translating Schiller's "Wallenstein," and in writing for the "Morning Post;" after which he joined Southey, who had settled at Keswick, amid the lakes and mountains of the north of England, in the neighborhood of Wordsworth, who resided at Grasmere. His opinions had now changed; the republican had become a royalist, and the Unitarian a devoted champion of the established church. In 1804 he went to Malta, hoping to improve his health, and acted as secretary to Sir Alexander Ball, the governor.
He returned in 1806 by the way of Sicily and Italy, his health not improved; nor was improvement to be expected, since he went to Malta an opium eater, and returned with the habit growing upon him. His nominal residence from this time till 1810 was at Keswick, but his absences were frequent, and his returns, according to Southey, more incalculable than those of a comet. He was often with Wordsworth at Grasmere, was occasionally in London lecturing, and during the year 1809 was engaged in writing " The Friend," his second periodical, which extended to 27 numbers. In 1810 he left the lakes for London, and resided for a time with Mr. Basil Montagu. He then made his home for three or four years with Mr. Morgan at Hammersmith, and in 1816 placed himself under the care of Mr.. Gillman, a surgeon at Highgate, in the hope that he might be broken of his fatal propensity to opium. In Mr. Gillman he found the kindest of friends, and lived in his house during the last 18 years of his life. It was here that he published the wild and wondrous tale of "Christabel," which had been written long before his second tragedy, entitled "Zapoyla," and several prose works, the principal of which were his "Statesman's Manual," two "Lay Sermons," "Biographia Literaria," and "Aids to Reflection." Here, too, he was visited by numerous friends and admirers, who came to listen to his marvellous conversation.
The published volumes of his "Table Talk" can give but a faint idea of those extraordinary monologues which attracted many thoughtful young men to the feet of the sage of Highgate. With an infirm will, he could not overcome the irksomeness of writing out his dreamy-idealities and preternatural subtleties of thought; but the gentle excitement of a social circle loosed his powers, and he uttered his lightest fancies and most comprehensive speculations without impediment. His discourse can be judged now only by the effect which it is recorded to have produced upon the listeners, and in his happiest moods it must have been magnificent and most impressive. - The poems of Coleridge exhibit his manifold powers. They comprise tragedy, songs of love, strains of patriotism, and wild, shadowy tales of superstition; they are marked sometimes by a mysterious and wondrous imaginative witchery, sometimes by philosophical thought and retrospection; and their style is according to the subject, either most melodious and flowing, or severe and stately. Several of them are fragmentary, but have no other imperfection, all that there is of them being faultless.
The "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," the "Hymn before Sunrise in the Vale of Chamouny," and the unfinished story of "Christabel," are unsurpassed in any language in vivid imagery, solemn intensity of feeling, and skilful modulation of verse. No other poems could so justly be termed purely, absolutely imaginative. The musical versification of "Christabel" delighted Byron and Scott, and was imitated by them both; it was the acknowledged model of the metre of the "Lay of the Last Minstrel." His translation of Schiller's "Wallen-stein" is equally remarkable. His tragedy of "Remorse" was brought out with great success at Drury Lane in 1813, but exhibits scenery and sentiment rather than character, and has not since been revived. The prose writings of Coleridge embrace theology, metaphysical and political philosophy, and literary criticism. His philosophical, more than his poetical works, are marked by a splendid incompleteness, and much as they have served to stimulate and direct the minds of others, they do not contain a fully developed system. He was born a Platonist, and he could not rest content, with Locke, to seek all knowledge in phenomena, or with Paley, to seek all good in happiness.
His familiarity with the philosophy of Germany, which he first introduced to the notice of British scholars, supplied to him more spiritual theories. Above the understanding which generalizes from the data of perception, and gathers laws from experience, he enthroned the reason which seizes immediately upon universal and necessary truths, and whose intuitions are more certain than sensible phenomena, and more authoritative than the promptings to happiness. It is the clearness and earnestness with which Coleridge has illustrated this truth that has given to his name its philosophical significance, and made him the prompter of many English and American divines and thinkers. He also defended enthusiastically but not clearly the self-determining power of the human will. Coleridge's critical pieces need only completeness to have been alone sufficient to establish his fame. His remarks upon numerous authors and passages scattered upon the margins of books were such as to make his friends always eager to lend him their books for his reading.
His review of Mr. "Wordsworth's poetry, in the "Biographia Literaria," is one of the most philosophical pieces of criticism in the language; and his lectures upon Shakespeare retain their place notwithstanding the many important works on that author which have more recently been published. The prose style of Coleridge is not always marked by that immaculate taste which distinguishes his poems, but is occasionally disfigured by obscurities and prolixities. - More important than the works which he executed are those which he planned. The life of Les-sing, the dream of his German residence, was never really commenced. It was one of his later long-cherished schemes to compose. a Work of colossal proportions which should embrace the whole range of spiritual philosophy, show Christianity to be the only revelation of permanent and universal validity, unite the insulated fragments of truth, and reduce all knowledge into harmony. He also conceived an epic poem on the destruction of Jerusalem, a subject which would interest all Christendom as the siege of Troy interested Greece. His glowing conceptions and his ambition to achieve some great work, joined to that infirmity of will which made him recoil from effort, he himself has depicted with great pathos in a poem which he addressed to Wordsworth. His life ebbed away in the contemplation of mighty projects, and the legacy which he left to mankind, though a valuable one, was but a fragment from the mine of his genius. - The unpublished writings of Coleridge were carefully edited after his death by his nephew Henry Nelson Coleridge, his daughter Sara, and his son Derwent. All his works have been frequently republished separately.
A collected edition, in nine volumes, with an introductory essay upon his philosophical and theological opinions, edited by the Rev, William T. Shedd, appeared in New York in 1853-'4. It also contains James Marsh's admirable preliminary essay to the "Aids to Reflection." The best illustrations of his life are found in the "Personal Recollections "of Joseph Cottle, and in the biographies and letters of his associates, Charles Lamb, Wordsworth, and Southey. The "Fragmentary Remains of Sir Humphry Davy," edited by his brother John Davy (London, 1858), contains letters by Coleridge.