A Blupete Biography Page

Early Days (1772-1794), Part 1 to the Life & Works of
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the youngest son of the Reverend John Coleridge, the vicar of Ottery St. Mary, a parish in the southern quarter of Devonshire.3 Coleridge's father had been married twice; by his first wife he had three children and by his second wife he had ten. De Quincey recalls -- a situation which might explain much about Coleridge's principal difficulty in life, his addiction to opium -- that Coleridge was persecuted by his mother. How this persecution manifested itself, is something that we do not know. This so-called persecution may have been, indeed, but the memory of a correction or chastisement given to a child by a mother occupied in the business of ministering to several young children all at the same time, a correction or chastisement which was misinterpreted by a young mind, overly sensitive. In any event, "STC" -- as he often referred to himself, "ess-tee-see," was sent off to Dame School (an elementary school) and kept there until 1778. His father, at STC's age ten years, suddenly collapsed and died. A local judge, who had known his father, took a particular interest in the young Coleridge and arranged for him to be interviewed for a position at a prestigious preparatory school in London known as Christ's Hospital. He was thus to become a "Blue coat boy." (The well recognized uniform of the boys from Christ's Hospital was a long blue habit and yellow stockings.) "The discipline at Christ's Hospital in those days was ultra-Spartan, the mood monastic. All domestic ties were to be put aside."4 It was here, at Christ's Hospital, that Coleridge was to first meet as a fellow student, Charles Lamb.

In October of 1791, Coleridge was installed at Cambridge (Jesus College) as a sizar.5 I am not in a position to give details of Coleridge's first two years at Cambridge, hopefully it will be sufficient to write that his heart was not in his studies; further, he ran up bills both with his tutors and with the townspeople. His mounting debts and his looming academic failure were to take a toll on Coleridge, not the least of which was his increasing use of opium to which we will refer, anon. Things became so distressing for Coleridge that he took longer and longer leaves of Cambridge, usually to go to London for the high life. His family was to hear of his situation, his brother in particular, and a sum of money was gathered up and sent off to young Coleridge; the principal purpose of which was to pay off the bills that he had run up with his tutors (it would not appear they had much knowledge of the bills which Coleridge had run up in the various shops about town). With money in his pocket, instead of settling up with his creditors; Coleridge took himself off to London, once again, a place Coleridge or no man could tire of. With his money gone, he returned to Cambridge in a situation which was but worse. Creditors pressed him but he had no one to whom he could turn, certainly he thought he had exhausted the patience of his family. During December of 1793, England and France then being at war, Coleridge ran off; and using a fictitious name signed up with the 15th, or King's Regiment, of Light Dragoons. What possessed Coleridge to become a cavalry soldier, is hard to say; he likely lied about his knowledge of horses; in any event his officers were soon to know about Coleridge's inexperience in equestrian matters. He proved to be a flop in the army as much as he was a flop at university. He was soon to be more miserable than ever and contrived to get an indirect message to his brother. Arrangements were made: Coleridge, with some difficulty, was bought out of the army; his bills were paid off (I suppose directly this time); and he was delivered back to Cambridge a much chastened man: "rescued, admonished, forgiven, and turned over a new leaf."6

Coleridge's return to Cambridge occurred in April of 1794. During this second stint at Cambridge, Coleridge is seen to be more industrious -- not in pursuing the regular courses; but rather, as so many young men were doing at the time, imbibing revolutionary ideas. These young men, as young men always have, talked long and hard about how society in its existing formation was rotten and dreamt how things might be changed. It was during these times, in June of 1794, that Coleridge met Robert Southey. Southey was enrolled at Oxford and Coleridge was visiting with a fellow student from Cambridge. The two hit it off; and, together with other fellow students were soon dreaming of a new society which they hoped they themselves might set up: a pantisocracy.

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Peter Landry

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2011