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The Lake District (1799-1806), Part 5 to the Life & Works of
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Coleridge was forever pulled to London, when he was not there; and forever pulled to the countryside when he was in London. This competition, this pull when at one place to go to another, was not unlike the relationship Coleridge had when it came to the women in his life. He would arrive, having longed to be at home with Sarah, and for days or weeks all would be well, sweetness and happiness; then, he would find himself dreaming of another; and soon again, he would be off on the top of a coach drawn by horses, soon again to be at another place, a move which would quell his longings -- but, only for a little while.23 He managed in 1800 for a short period of time to combine his two loves, but he never lived long in London with Sarah. Midway through 1800 while at London, Coleridge was struck, once again, with his memories of Wordsworth and of the Lake District24; he should return. Coleridge had traveled there with Wordsworth a few months after they had gotten back from Germany. Indeed, he was with Wordsworth when they had discovered Dove Cottage. The Lake District was where Wordsworth had spent his boyhood; Wordsworth was always talking about the lakes and the mountains, since first he and Coleridge met; and it was the previous autumn, 1799, that Coleridge and Wordsworth had walked west from the Hutchinson farm in the Yorkshire dales, having both just spent some pleasant time with the Hutchinson sisters, walked into the Lake District at a time when the surrounding woods were ablaze, to visit the places of Wordsworth's youth: Brampton, Windermere, Hawkshead, Rydal; and, of course, Grasmere. The day was "soft and grave" when they came to Grasmere, "a purple light lay on the waters, indescribably beautiful. Coleridge spoke of the two lakes as 'divine sisters' ... Coleridge was beginning to understand more fully the tyrannous sublimity of whose hauntings William so often had spoken, the imperious brooding and influences from sun and sky, water and mountain wind, that could make a man their slave."25 He left this scene for London, there, to stay with Sarah and their little boy throughout the winter, 1799/1800. He was to find out that Wordsworth and his sister had traveled to Grasmere that past December, there to take up their residence at Dove Cottage. By the spring of 1800, Coleridge could stand it no longer: he took himself to Grasmere.

At the first of March, Sarah, then three months pregnant, had left Coleridge in London intending with little Harley to visit friends at Kempsford. A month later, on April 6th, Coleridge arrived at Dove Cottage. Ostensibly, he had gone to assist Wordsworth in the putting together of the 2nd edition of Lyrical Ballads. At this time, too, at the Wordsworths' there was to be found Wordsworth's brother, and, at least, one of the Hutchinson sisters, Mary. By May 4th Coleridge left, in order to see the publishers at Bristol. That June, the 29th, Coleridge was back at the Wordsworths' arriving this time with Sarah and Hartley. On July the 23rd, the Coleridges took up residence at Greta Hall, Keswick.26 That September, a third child (it will be recalled that their second had died) was born to the Coleridges, a son, Derwent.27

The domestic regularity which seemed to prevail during the balance of 1800 and for most of 1801 was splintered again by disputes and mutual recriminations, such that, Coleridge felt obliged to escape by going to London, there to work for the Morning Post.28 It was during this time, in 1801, in London, Coleridge was to see much of Humphry Davy. In fact he made his first acquaintance of Davy back in 1799, at Bristol. It was when Davy was in charge of a laboratory, known as the Pneumatic Institution, which a Dr. Beddoes had set up.29 So, once again, we see Coleridge leading the life of a bachelor; his residence then was to be found at Number 10, King Street, Covent Garden. In March of 1802, Coleridge was to return to the north country, en route he was to pay a visit at the new Hutchinson farm at Gallow Hill, his objective being to spend some time with the sisters, Mary and Sara. Sarah Coleridge, when Coleridge was to finally make it back to her at Keswick, was not much impressed by Coleridge's diversions.30 That year, incidently, on October 4th, William Wordsworth was to marry Mary Hutchinson. The Wordsworths and Coleridge through these years, notwithstanding Coleridge's problems, were to get along famously. During August of 1803 the three of them (Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy and Coleridge) set off for a tour through Scotland. All went well for a couple of weeks, when Coleridge left his companions and returned on foot by himself to his home (Greta Hall) arriving there on September 15th. It seems that it was during this trip that Wordsworth let go at Coleridge for his opium habit.31 It was the first real rent in the Coleridge/Wordsworth friendship; it was downhill thereafter; by 1812 this rupture was to become "profound and complete."

Not too many months went by when Coleridge determined that he must leave his family, once again. He imagined he had health problems; and, I daresay, he did. To Coleridge, his health problems led to an increasing use of opium; however, when the matter is taken into full perspective it is to be seen that his health problems were due to his excessive use of opium -- we will deal with this matter more fully, shortly. On January 24th, 1804, Coleridge, having left Grasmere on the 14th, arrived in London.32 He had expressed to his family and friends that all he needed was a warmer climate for a few months and his health would thereby improve. In this regard, Coleridge was to accept a position as a secretary to Sir Alexander Ball (1757-1809), the Governor of Malta. On March 27th, he set off from London on the Portsmouth mail. Lamb was among a number that saw him off. He arrived at Malta on May 18th.33 Thus Coleridge was to be out of England (mostly in Malta) for better than two years.34 By the spring of 1806, Coleridge was touring Italy with a friend (Thomas Russell). During August, 1806, having fled from Italy in June before Napoleon's triumphant advance, Coleridge returns to England and "threw himself upon that universal refuge, the Lambs."35 So, in October of 1806, we would have seen, at Greta Hall, Sarah Coleridge and the children, all joyfully excited at the prospect of seeing Coleridge after his long absence. They were expecting a change in Coleridge; and, maybe, life as a real family would be finally established. Coleridge arrived and the joy and laughter was soon to give way to argument, temper and tears: Coleridge wanted a permanent separation.



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Peter Landry

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