Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (c 1772-1834)
Why are not more gems from our great authors scattered over the country? Great books are not in everybody's reach; and though it is better to know them thoroughly than to know them only here and there, yet it is a good work to give a little to those who have not the time nor means to get more.
Please browse our Amazon list of titles about Samuel Taylor Coleridge. For rare and hard to find works we recommend our Alibris list of titles about Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
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English poet and one of the founders of the romantic Movement in England. Coleridge is probably best known for his hypnotic long poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Christabel. Even people who have never read the Rime have come under its influence: its words have given the English language the metaphor of an albatross around one's neck, the (mis)quote of "water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink", and the phrase "a sadder but wiser man." Christabel is known for its musical rhythm and language and its Gothic tale. Kubla Khan, or, A Vision in a Dream, A Fragment, although shorter, is also widely known and loved. It has strange, dreamy imagery and (like most good poems) can be read on many levels. The name of Ted Nelson's Xanadu Project comes from the first line of Kubla Khan. Both Kubla Khan and Christabel have additional "romantic" aura because they were never finished.
Coleridge's shorter, meditative "conversation poems" speak from the heart of the man who wrote them. These include both quiet poems like This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison and Frost at Midnight and also strongly emotional poems like Dejection and The Pains of Sleep.
Although known today primarily for his poetry, Coleridge also published essays and books on literary theory and criticism and on politics, philosophy, and theology. (He introduced England to Immanuel Kant in a rather back-handed way.) He wrote both political commentary and hack journalism for several newspapers, especially during the Napoleanic wars. He translated two of Schiller's plays from German to English and wrote several dramas himself (Zapolya had successful runs in London and Bristol). He also worked as a teacher and tutor, gave public lectures and sermons, and almost single-handedly wrote and published two periodicals. During his life, he was famous for his conversation.
He also was (and is) famous as an opium addict. But we probably should remember that 18th-century life was usually quite painful. Opium was freely available, routinely taken (usually in the form of laudanum), and the only effective pain reliever extant (aspirin didn't appear until the 1880s). There appears to have been no stigma associated with merely taking opium then, but also no understanding of the physiological or psychological aspects of addiction. Many people in all classes of English society took opium, many of those became addicted. But Coleridge (as well as Thomas de Quincey) was more public than most about his addiction and his feelings of moral guilt at being addicted. His letters, Table Talk, and range of friends reflect the breadth of his interests. In addition to literary people such as William Wordsworth and Charles Lamb, his friends included Humphry Davy the chemist, industrialists such as the tanner Thomas Poole and members of the Wedgwood family, Alexander Ball the military governor of Malta, the American painter Washington Allston, and the physician James Gillman. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Samuel Taylor Coleridge.]
Books from Alibris: Coleridge