Was Coleridge’s Father as simple as a Child?

Jim Mays

(Coleridge Bulletin, New Series 21, Spring 2003, pp.1-19)



THE BARE FACTS of Coleridge’s father’s life are quickly told.  John Coleridge was born on January 19th, 1719, at Crediton, where his father was connected with the wool trade.  He was educated at the local grammar school, to which he had an exhibition; he married Mary Lendon of Crediton in 1743, at the age of twenty-four; and he reappears two years later as master of a small endowed-school at Clyst Hydon.  Three years later again (1748), aged twenty-nine and now a parent, he matriculated from Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, but he left the university within six terms on his appointment as Master of Squire’s Endowed Grammar School at South Molton in 1750.  He was ordained deacon that autumn, and priest at the end of the following year, and he carried out his duties as curate of Mariansleigh.  In 1751, his wife died.  In 1753, he became lecturer at Molland and later curate, and here he found his second wife, Anne Bowden.  He relinquished some of his duties at Squire’s School to devote more time to advanced pupils, his family continued to grow, and in 1760, when he was forty-one, he was appointed Master of the King’s Grammar School at Ottery and, about the same time, Vicar and Chaplain Priest of the Collegiate Church.  Here he lived for the next twenty years, until he died on October 6th, 1781, aged sixty-two, the father of fourteen children of whom twelve lived beyond childhood.  While he was at South Molton, he published a number of short contributions on miscellaneous topics in the Gentleman’s Magazine and some short school texts.  At Ottery, he published Miscellaneous Dissertations on two chapters of the Book of Judges (1768), a much-expanded Critical Latin Grammar (1772), and, finally, a fast sermon (1776).  He enjoyed a reputation as a respected schoolmaster and a caring priest, loved by pupils, parishioners and family alike.

       John Coleridge’s career provides his better-known son, STC, with the same background in learning and piety as many of his German contemporaries.  Lessing, Herder, Jean Paul among writers, Wolff, Kant and Fichte among philosophers, Winklemann and Heyne among eminent classical scholars: all were similarly sons of pastors in villages and small towns and teachers in Latin school.[1]  Such Pfarrer were inevitably idealised by the generation that came after—by Voss in Louise, Goethe in Hermann und Dorothea and Jean Paul in Jubelsenior—and STC’s memory of John Coleridge as a good-hearted, unworldly eccentric, who left practical matters and the rearing of his family to his wife,[2]




conforms to the pattern.  As the Coleridge family came to prominence in legal and ecclesiastical circles during the following century, John Coleridge came into misty focus as the imperturbable, slightly wonderful beginning of their history.  Lord Chief Justice Coleridge, in 1876, confessed himself unable to discover where the Coleridges came from before this primal ancestor;[3] and what was unknown and apparently unknowable thereby became part of the legend: the mystery of how he survived between leaving school and teaching at Clyst Hydon, the earnest thrift that motivated him to save money to take himself to Cambridge, the good fortune that landed plum jobs at South Molton and Ottery, the speculation concerning the good Samaritan who assisted him. The gaps in knowledge made the embers glow, and, in sociological terms, this is par for the course.

       I began to look into John Coleridge’s background long before I began to work on STC’s Poetical Works.  When I went home to stay with my mother, we spent days motoring round the Devon countryside—her stopping off to visit friends or relations, me visiting churches or calling by vicarages to examine parish records.  We likewise spent many days in Exeter—my mother shopping, me in the Record Office or the Westcountry Studies Library. In this way, without my intending to do more than take my mother on excursions, a picture of Coleridge’s father began to emerge that differed from the accepted one. I got in touch with Oliver Stonor (“Morchard Bishop”), who had an interest in these matters, and he introduced me to Lady Cave and Alwyne Coleridge.  Betty Cave (descended from STC’s brother, Luke) had given John Coleridge material to Stonor that was not in any public collection, and Alwyne Coleridge (descended from STC’s son, Derwent) delighted in uncovering details that had been overlaid by the official history.  My researches followed on the time Alwyne Coleridge was most actively interested, but we compared discoveries like schoolboys comparing postage stamps; and then I lost touch with him when I became absorbed into the Bollingen enterprise, with which he had fallen out of step.  Subsequently, in course of time, these older people with whom I shared an interest died and I was taken up with different duties.

       However, in the intervening years, I added to what I discovered, and, in picking up with the earlier line of enquiry today, I want to go behind the truism that the surviving picture of John Coleridge is partly a myth.  It is natural that it should suppress complications in the interest of making a clear path into the future; STC needed to believe he had lost a father who was “as simple as a child,” “an Israelite without guile.” [4]  There is nothing wrong in this, and his brothers and their children needed to cherish their progenitor’s memory in a similar way, if for different reasons.  But I shall argue that John Coleridge was complicit in creating the image he bequeathed.  It is true that STC and,




following him, his side of the family down to Alwyne, were aware of complications—of John Coleridge’s tendency to take a glass too many,[5] of rumours of illegitimate ancestry—but STC appears to have been the only Coleridge at the earlier time not to avoid such matters and his record was private (in notebooks and letters). 

       While there is no suggestion of a conspiracy, it was easy for an affectionate myth to absorb the truth and we should be on our guard.  For example, the story that Gillman and De Quincey repeat, of John Coleridge at dinner absent-mindedly stuffing the petticoats of a dinner companion into his breeches, believing his shirt-tails had become untucked,[6] turns out to be an old chestnut.  Garrick was known to have acted a hilarious version of the same story, where Samuel Johnson tucked the conjugal bedclothes into his breeches as he frenziedly composed Irene, effectively stripping his protesting wife.[7] Edward or George Coleridge could have brought the story back from Pembroke College, Oxford (Johnson’s old college, too, which he revisited during George’s time there), allowing it to mingle with the legend of their father.  There is a later version concerning Archbishop Trench of Dublin, sufficient proof that the story is too good to be abandoned.  A lady sitting next to the absent-minded divine at a dinner party was surprised to find him constantly pinching her leg.  She was about to remonstrate when he suddenly said: “I fear I am developing paralysis; my leg has no feeling, although I have pinched it many times.”

       My point is that John Coleridge was not a caricature, that family life was not so simple.  While Gillman repeats STC’s story about the petticoats, he notes it was also applied to another absent-minded clergyman in the Ottery neighbourhood.[8] STC’s daughter and son-in-law point out that John Coleridge’s “personal eccentricities… , as is usual in such cases, have been greatly exaggerated.” [9]  But their common grandfather’s memory was preserved by persons intent on travelling out of eighteenth-century Devonshire into Victorian England, moved onward by a bolstering breeze of sentiment.  The truth is worth recovering because the life of the real man, both personal and intellectual, was more difficult and interesting.  His son, the poet, inherited the residual strains, as did the nineteenth-century dynasty of Ottery Coleridges. 




The past was not buried entirely.

       STC’s paternal inheritance is of course not as emotionally turbulent as Byron’s, nor as fraught with overt legal complication as Wordsworth’s, but it is not simple either—certainly not as simple as he chose to remember. In a nutshell, while tensions between STC’s unworldly father and ambitious mother have been suggested as the background for several of their son’s emotional complications, I suggest the parents were less at odds: his father was not so unworldly and his ambitions were not so much at variance with those of his second wife, while he was alive.  I also suggest that the kind of compromises in which he was involved were communicated to his family in ways they chose to ignore or forget.

       Finally, I have been snuffling around this topic for almost thirty years.  The materials are archival or depend on networks of connected detail to render up their significance.  For instance, in order to understand John Coleridge’s position in the religious politics of eighteenth century Devon, one must analyse the list of subscribers to Miscellaneous Dissertations. By identifying the commitments of and relationship between the 350-odd persons, by tracing the processes by which subscriptions were gained and setting those who subscribed against those who might have been expected to subscribe, the author’s position among them swims into focus.  This is the stuff of footnotes, however, not for a lecture.  Again, you can work out how John Coleridge adapted the curricula of his schools to attract fee-paying pupils in a way that coincided with his own literary interests, and how the decisions he made participated in educational debates of the time; for instance, the rival claims of classics versus charity in the grammar schools.[10]  Or how he hoped to reform the teaching of Latin grammar, which is not as mad or indulgent as legend has recorded: STC’s and De Quincey’s joking references involve misrep­resentation;[11]  John Coleridge’s possessive for genitive case is now common usage; as is his apportioning of past, present and future tenses into perfect and imperfect forms.[12]  Or how his career compares with a contemporary like Benjamin Kennicott, the biblical scholar from Totnes who came from a similar poor background, and with whom he shared many friends.[13] Or the faint but very real echo of his ideas and personal example in STC’s writing.  I thought I would concentrate today on three discoveries I made many years ago, looking




into records of births and marriages in parish registers.  This does not sound promising, but I ask you to be patient.


The Parish Register at Butterleigh: John Coleridge, Jr.

The first exhibit can be introduced and explained with the aid of Wilkie Collins’ novel, The Woman in White.  Sir Percival Glyde is one of two villains in the story and his marriage to Cecilia Jane Elster is of crucial importance.  The narrator, Walter Hartright, goes to check the register of marriages that is kept in a cupboard in the church and is surprised by the lack of security.  “Surely a book of such importance as this ought to be protected by a better lock, and kept carefully in an iron safe?” [14]  The garrulous vestry-clerk agrees with him, remarking that his master, a solicitor, had thought so too and had made a duplicate copy that he preserved in his office.  However, the entry recording Glyde’s marriage is located in the usual format at the bottom of a page and the matter appears to be settled.  The narrator remains uneasy, however, why he is not sure, and he is moved to track down the duplicate register kept by the solicitor—and surprise: “My heart gave a great bound, and throbbed as if it would stifle me.  I looked again—I was afraid to believe the evidence of my own eyes.  No! not a doubt.  The marriage was not there.” [15]  The narrator instantly realises that the entry must have been inserted into the church original at a later date; he recalls how the forgery was squeezed into the vacant space at the foot of a page.  And he now has conclusive evidence that the man who claims to be Sir Percival Glyde has “no more claim to the baronetcy and to Blackwater Park than the poorest labourer who worked on the estate.” So the plot moves forward to its conclusion.

       I refer to the novel because the episode closely mirrors an event—perhaps more than one event—in the real life of John Coleridge.  The real-life parallel does not involve material gain of the sort Glyde hopes to contrive but, at the same time, John Coleridge is unarguably the contriver; and it is directly at variance with the tradition of an uncomplicated scholar-parson with only books on his mind.  As I said, he is wrongly remembered through a child’s sentimental view and by a Victorian family that wanted nothing if not respectability.

       First to be noted is that, while John Coleridge was resident in South Molton and Ann Bowden’s family lived at Molland, the couple chose to be married in an Exeter city church, St Mary Arches, on 18 December 1753.  Ernest Hartley Coleridge, John Coleridge’s great-grandson, made a concerted effort to locate the church in which their first-born, also John, was baptised, but he drew repeated blanks before giving up the search.  He had written to the vicar of Butterleigh, among others, who had reported back “I can find no mention of the birth or baptism of J. B. Coleridge, otherwise I would have




been glad to send it to you.” [16]  However, when I called by the church at Butterleigh on a sunny afternoon in 1973, and found someone to open the chest in the nave as in Collins’ novel, I found the entry.  It was in the register but not in the expected place: “John son of the Revd. Mr. John Coldridge [corrected from “Coleridge”] & of Anne his Wife was Born at Upton-Pine May 9th 1754. and was Baptized here the first day of May.1762.”

       The eight-year interval between birth and baptism that misled Ernest Hartley Coleridge’s correspondent is most unusual, and other features of the entry made me uneasy, like Wilkie Collins’ narrator.  I therefore went to check the copy of the register that is now in the Devon Record Office.  The Bishop’s Visitation was on 12 May 1762 and the infant Coleridge’s baptism was the very last entered before that date in the original in the church.  But, as in The Woman in White, it turned out that the “true copy of the Register” made by the Rector, William Martin, and sent to the Bishop does not contain the entry—which is therefore likely to have been inserted after the return was made.  In short, a few moment’s reflection tells you that Anne Bowden was four or five months pregnant at the time of her marriage and that an attempt was made to mask the situation, involving falsification of the record and subterfuge.

       Before I continue, you might wonder why the child of parents living at South Molton was born at Upton Pyne.  The answer is that John Coleridge’s mother, Mary Wills, had married a Richard Cunnibbee or Connerbee of that place on 18 October 1741, following the death of her first husband in 1739; and Anne Bowden Coleridge presumably saw out the last months of pregnancy in her mother-in-law’s house.  The tension must have been unusually high.  On 10 October 1752, John Coleridge had taken out a licence to marry another woman following the death of his first wife; but the licence was allowed to lapse and the woman, Hannah Laskey, died some years afterwards without having left the neighbourhood.[17] The situation appears to be that John Coleridge searched for a capable, older person to look after his motherless children, and the arrangements were swiftly overtaken when he became lecturer at Molland in 1753 and began an affair with the twenty-six year old daughter of the parish clerk. 

       The new situation was fraught because, while it was not unusual to be pregnant at the time of marriage (a modern survey concludes that up to one third of rural brides were already with child),[18] a clergyman fathering a child on




a parishioner was an altogether different matter.  Rev Peter Fisher caused a scandal at Little Torrington during the 1770s for such an abuse of trust.  John Coleridge’s former pupil, Samuel Badcock, was obliged to resign a nonconformist living at Barnstaple as the result of a “notorious indiscretion” with the daughter of the house he lodged in.[19] John Coleridge was new to North Devon in the 1750s and, though mature in years, was new to the priesthood.  He must have felt the situation was particularly precarious.

       You might ask why the baptism at Butterleigh.  A letter written home from India twenty years later by John Coleridge Jr. reveals that he was raised separately from his parents by a “good old woman” in the village. “I have known her when some trifling accident has happened to me show all the tenderness and feeling of a Parent and when I have been about to leave her to return to my Parents I have observed the large tear run down her aged Face and her countenance too well expressed the pain which she felt at parting with me.” [20]  Butterleigh is close enough to Upton Pyne, Crediton and other centres of Coleridge family dwelling, and the Quicke family (whose petticoats John Coleridge is supposed to have bundled into his breeches) had an influence in church matters there.  Perhaps it is also not coincidental that the patron of the church at Upton Pyne was Sir Stafford Northcote of Pynes—whose son, the seventh baronet, attended John Coleridge’s school at Ottery and was to find STC by the river, when STC ran away from home.

       The subterfuge appears to have succeeded.  John jr. grew up separately from his parents among relatives, after a custom that was not unusual.  He was the first of John Coleridge’s second family to be shipped off to India at the age of fourteen, rose from cadet to the rank of captain, and died tragically at the age of thirty-three.  More than any other single person he was responsible for the extraordinary surge in the family fortunes after John Coleridge died—though, in his case, the human cost is most glaring.  The Indian word “loot” enters the English language at this time and money came flooding in.  The first letter to mention a remittance is dated 1 August 1783,[21] and amounts of £100, £200, even £1,000 follow—from brother Frank as well as John.  These are enormous sums when one considers Anne Bowden Coleridge no longer had any children living at home to care for; indeed, if Sam had been sent out to India, as at one time envisaged, there would (perhaps!) have been more.  As a result, twenty years after John Coleridge’s death, his fourth child by Anne Bowden, James the “Colonel”, was established in the largest house in Ottery,




with an assured annual income of £800 p.a.[22]

       The episode of Anne Bowden’s first child is worthy of note because it registers qualities that are not part of the conventional picture of the elder John Coleridge—namely, impetuousness and elaborate subterfuge.  It is also worthy of note because the anticipation of fathering a child out of wedlock might have been a particular nightmare.  Despite extensive searches in parish registers, round and about, neither Alwyne Coleridge nor I were able to discover where John Coleridge’s first child, Mary, by his earlier marriage was baptized; and Alwyne speculated that her beginnings might have been obscured for similar reasons.  Whatever the case, there  were grounds for anxiety enough in the circumstances of John Coleridge’s own parentage, to which I now turn for my second exhibit.


The Parish Register at Throwleigh: John Coleridge, Sr.

The official story of the descent of the Coleridges is told by Bernard Lord Coleridge.  The fons et origo is supposed to be John Coleridge (1678-1730), who married Sarah Ealeb (died 1705) at Drewsdeignton in 1694, to whom a son, John, was born in 1697, father in turn of our John in 1719.  Thus the lineage in all subsequent standard accounts.[23] Alwyne Coleridge delighted in an alternative version, however, which goes as follows. It picks up from the passage in a letter by STC to Poole written in September 1799 that Ernest Hartley Coleridge (Alwyne’s grandfather) omitted in 1895 but that Earl Leslie Griggs restored in 1956.[24]  STC reports how he dined at Cleve House with the radical Thomas Northmore (1766-1851), a former pupil of his father, and learned that “my Great-Grandfather was his Great great Grandfather’s Bastard.” It will be noted that E.  H.  Coleridge’s own biographical notes on John Coleridge’s forebears, published after his death, are carefully circumspect in their phrasing.[25]

       The connection between the litany of John Coleridges told by second Baron Coleridge rests on coincidence of name and geographical proximity.  But it is worth recalling that STC, repeating current family lore two years before he met Northmore, could go no higher than his grandfather— “who was dropped, when a Child, in the Hundred of Coleridge in the County of Devon; christened, educated, & apprenticed by the parish.”[26] What Northmore told him was apparently news—it is not part of the serial-record STC wrote out for Poole, where he boasts of being “uncontaminated with one drop of Gentility” [27]—and the revelation was taken into the new summary of his early




life he provided William Godwin.[28] He did not raise the matter when he wrote to his brother George at the close of September 1799,[29] which must be deliberate, although his failure to mention it in subsequent accounts is probably accidental.  He appears to have taken Northmore’s news at face value, as surprising and not to be disputed, but not to have brooded upon it.

       Northmore’s revelation now risks being disregarded because the report contains a flagrant contradiction.  STC told Poole that a Northmore fathered his great grandfather, who, in the official account, would have to be John Coleridge (1678-1730), father in turn of grandfather John Coleridge (born 1697), beyond whom family memory did not extend.  But, as STC explained correctly to Godwin, the faux-pas was committed in his great-grandmother’s generation with the result that his grandfather—not great-grandfather (putatively John Coleridge born 1678)—was illegitimate.  The correction makes sense of the chronology and bears the more heavily, indeed crucially, on STC’s father, who is identified as the bastard’s son.  But if STC’s grandfather was not the John Coleridge born at Drewsdeignton in 1697, where and when was he born? What happens to the line extending back to Nicholas Coleridge that is touted by Bernard Lord Coleridge in the official version?

       There is or was a legend that documentation pertaining to the matter is contained among the Northmore family papers, but neither I nor members of the Northmore family have been able to discover it.  Alwyne Coleridge also thought that he was on the brink of producing conclusive evidence from a Northmore source but, during the several years we continued our discussions, he, too, was not able to produce it.  However, I think there is sufficient proof in a register kept at Throwleigh parish church—at least, it was kept there thirty years ago—in a cupboard in the vestry.  Under 18 April 1686, there is an entry made by Edward Seddon, rector from 1670 to 1711: “John a bastard child of Jane Cowlridg”.  No other Coleridges appear in the register in the years before and after, so Jane Coleridge is likely to have come from outside the village.  In the light of the tradition preserved by the Northmores, I suppose the father was William Northmore the elder (1640-1716), who had married the heiress Mary Knapman of Wonson Manor at Throwleigh in 1675.  Mary died without issue and was buried on 2 April 1685 and Northmore was to marry again at Throwleigh on 21 January 1688-9.  Northmore’s son by his second marriage, William the younger, died without issue and the Thomas Northmore whom STC met was descended from the elder William’s brother, Jeffrey.[30]

       William Northmore the elder—and indeed his son—enjoyed a reputation for reckless behaviour.  He could have supported the mother and child in




comfort but there is no suggestion that such an offer was forthcoming or accepted; STC passed on to Godwin that his great-grandmother was proud, would entertain no thought of marrying, and the same quality of independence was exaggerated unto eccentricity in the behaviour of her child.  According to Northmore family tradition, the child was brought up on the parish and grew into “a weaver, half-poet & half mad-madman, who used to ask the passing beggar to dinner in oriental phrase, Will my lord turn in hither, & eat with his servant? & washed his feet—… several times a bankrupt.” One cannot help speculating on the extent to which the mind of the first John Coleridge was disturbed by his irregular parentage.

       There are hints that the Northmore family beyond William were cognisant of their responsibilities.  Thus, Godwin reports that the first John Coleridge “wrote to a judge a wild letter, reasoning on the sense of a condemned prisoner: the prisoner was pardoned, the judge asked him to dine, & seated him at the head of the table.” How would Thomas Northmore have gained such knowledge if the judge had not been his ancestor, the first Thomas Northmore of Cleve and William Northmore’s brother,  who was barrister at the Inner Temple, magistrate and eventually Master in Chancery? The same Judge Northmore was married three times and his first wife, Anne Pridham, died on 6 April 1686, twelve days before the bastard Coleridge child was baptised.  Is it a coincidence that a Richard Prudhom of Exeter, some hundred years later, bequeathed his plate “in trust” and a substantial amount of money to John Coleridge’s grand-daughter and STC’s own half-sister, Elizabeth? [31] Just as Thomas Northmore hailed STC as cousin, so Prudhom in his will refers to Elizabeth as his “Cousin Betty”.  Finally, as a matter of interest, the “sensual thick lips” and heavy lower face that STC complained of in his own appearance, so unlike those of his brother James and other siblings, bear a curious resemblance to the only known portrait of William Northmore.[32]

       The Northmore family did not suppress their awareness of what happened but, in the other family on the other side of Exeter, it becomes difficult to disentangle obfuscation from misremembering and to know when the story began to be buried.  George Coleridge and Richard Hart Sr.  were trustees of the Prudhom legacy, but the Thomas Northmore who spoke freely to STC was, by temperament and politics, not a congenial figure to the aspiring Ottery circle.[33] John Coleridge’s second family held together, and survived and prospered, by virtue of keeping the door firmly closed on its skeletons.  E.  H.  Coleridge remarked of John Coleridge’s parentage, “there is a conspiracy of silence.  If Captain [James] Coleridge could have pointed out ‘the hole of the




pit whence he was digged,’ he kept his knowledge to himself.” [34]

       Thus, STC’s family-derived account has his bastard-grandfather becoming “a respectable Woolen-draper in the town of South Molton”,[35] and the factual error could derive from a story left deliberately vague or a sad history improved.  “Respectable” is hardly a euphemism for a person brought up on the parish and several-times bankrupt; the Bowden family enjoyed a respectable place in the annals of Molland and South Molton, while the Crediton Coleridges formed a horde from which the Ottery Coleridges were glad to be detached.  In his autobiographical account for Poole, STC reversed the social standing of the Bowdens and Coleridges in a way that underscores a wilful anxiety to defend his father.[36]  He likewise named his mother as the driving force of the family, ambitious for her children to succeed,[37] with the implication that she might be the hidden source of anxieties that reappear in a later generation (e.g. of John Taylor Coleridge).  This is true, but I am concerned to show that the legacy of her husband was also complex.

       Norman Fruman points out that, before STC reached twenty years old, his sister and four brothers had died and he suggests the trauma reverberates through the nightmare world of the “Ancient Mariner”.[38] However, identical grounds for trauma were more extreme in his father’s generation and were certainly exacerbated by less advantageous circumstances.  Three of John Coleridge’s brothers died before he reached the age of eight, a sister had also died by that time and a second sister died subsequently.  By John Coleridge’s twentieth birthday, only he and two sisters remained from a family of eight, and his father died three months later.  The poverty in which this tragic narrative unfolded was extreme and the circumstances must have been chaotic.  Refuge in learning followed by physical removal was a route to sanity and survival; while the possibility of slipping back into the morass created by an incompetent, perhaps slightly deranged but most certainly philoprogenitive father must have continued to weigh heavily.  The sole surviving son did not, like the later John Coleridge who was sent to India, look over his shoulder to support the orphaned family he left behind.  He left home to create a better life in which the past shifted from anecdote into myth, but he cannot ever have forgotten it.


The Parish Register at Ottery St Mary: Bullers, Father and Son

A third and final exhibit sheds light from a different direction on the caricature of John Coleridge as an untroubled, innocent and entirely comic figure.  It




reveals that the subterfuge to which he resorted to disguise the beginnings of his relationship with Anne Bowden was not a solitary act of expediency and that he acted in a similar way at another time on behalf of others.  I emphasise that my purpose is not to demonstrate that he was a fixer and a liar.  If he was not entirely open in his dealings, it was not for unfair advantage like Sir Percival Glyde, and, if he sinned, the sins were venial.  The point is solely that his actions reveal a personality that was not hopeless in practical matters and was not so devoid of circumspection as legend has us believe.  He is remembered for his “excessive ignorance of the world” [39] and the alibi enabled him to survive episodes that would have ended the reputation of others.

       It is known that Francis Buller (1746-1800), third son of the Tory politician James Buller of Shillingham, was a boarding-pupil at John Coleridge’s school in South Molton.  Francis appear to have been headstrong from an early age, and his mother, Lady Jane Bathurst, appears to have determined on John Coleridge as a teacher whose methods of close supervision were what her son needed.  The arrangement evidently proved satisfactory since Francis Buller moved with John Coleridge to Ottery, there to continue his education until the close of 1762, preparatory to being admitted to the Inner Temple under William Ashunt on 8 February 1763.  The official story has it that the Buller family were responsible for launching John Coleridge at the outset of his academic and clerical career,[40] but the grain of truth has been magnified.  John Coleridge almost certainly went to Sidney Sussex, Cambridge, because it was the college of his former schoolmaster at Crediton, John Leach, who had inspired him with learning; and he quite possibly went at the time he did to prepare the way for Leach’s son, also John, who matriculated the following year.  It is significant that STC, in 1797, remembered that John Coleridge “scraped up” the funds himself; and significant that John Coleridge continued to draw his £15 annual salary and to pay his £5 annual rent throughout the time he officially kept terms.[41] He was resident, according to the head of his college, for only five months;[42] and, if the Bullers provided assistance, it was at a different juncture over which they had more control.

       The records of Squire’s School at South Molton suggest that John Coleridge had a powerful supporter.  He was appointed Master in August 1749 and ordained deacon the following month.  Ordination was not inevitable; for example, the first applications of Benjamin Kennicott, outwardly more successful and better qualified than John Coleridge, were delayed, almost certainly on political grounds.  John Coleridge’s married state put a college fellowship out of the question, and his future necessarily lay in schoolteaching. 




A degree was less desirable in these circumstances than the force de frappe to enable him to leave a charity school and return to a grammar school: experience abroad, as it were, to enable him to be promoted plausibly at home.  The uninterrupted sequence of events suggests a return to Devon was anticipated at the outset, even if dates had not settled into place, and that influential support could be counted on.  He owed his Cambridge experience to the Bullers only in the sense that Lady Buller had determined he should take charge of Francis.[43]

       John Coleridge began to change the teaching arrangements at South Molton immediately he arrived, so as to take in boarders and concentrate on advanced (Latin) teaching.  The records [44] suggest that there was disagreement over the remuneration of a Writing Master (John Woolcott) who was subsequently hired, and also over boarding arrangements.  The salaries were equalised on John Coleridge’s departure, and rules laid down for the Latin Master to pay rent in future to the Writing Master for pupils lodged in the schoolhouse.  The point is that the trustees allowed John Coleridge to enjoy the benefits of a situation of which they did not approve while he was there, and it proves they were constrained by some unspecified agreement. 

       The situation is the same when John Coleridge migrated to Ottery, where there was more scope to modify school arrangements to cater for fee-paying pupils.  Whereas the South Molton trustees stated carefully that their choice of master was neither more nor less than a “late Student at Sidney College”, the governors at Ottery were pleased to describe the same as a “Batchelor of Arts.” [45]  John Coleridge did not disabuse them and he may be the only person who has held the position without benefit of a university degree.  Only one person before him—his immediate predecessor, Richard Holme—held all three positions of Vicar, Schoolmaster and Chaplain Priest simultaneously; but John Coleridge is unique in history in having been being appointed to all three positions within a half-year.[46] He was nominated Schoolmaster and Chaplain Priest on 20 August 1760; and appointed Vicar by the Crown, on presentation from the Lord Chancellor, on 27 December 1760. 

       There are further peculiarities.  (1) John Coleridge’s name appear in the Ottery parish registers from 16 May 1759 onwards, that is, while his predecessor as vicar was still alive and more than a year before his own




 appointment was confirmed.[47] (2) Only three of the four governors involved in the school appointment signed the nomination.  (3) A sworn affidavit was lodged in the King’s Bench as early as 3 November 1759, asserting that the board of governors involved in the appointment was improperly constituted.[48] It is true that the name of one signatory of the affidavit appears among the subscribers to Miscellaneous Dissertations, and that the affidavit focuses on procedure and excludes the names of any candidate involved.  Even so, even if such peculiarities do not amount to irregularity or prove John Coleridge’s was in any way complicit, one must again suppose that he had a powerful patron working on his behalf who was confident of getting what he had in mind.

       Circumstantial information substitutes for evidence in analysing what the eighteenth-century called “management”.  It is strictly a coincidence that James Buller’s grandfather (Sir John Trelawney) was the first eighteenth-century Bishop of Exeter and that his nephew (William Buller [49]) was the last; and that George Lavington, who ordained Coleridge, wrote against the Methodists (who, incidentally, were a strong presence in the Molton-Molland area at the time[50]), as did John Coleridge, in his characteristically oblique way, in Miscellaneous Dissertations.  If there is any connection between these events, it is not written down; nothing could be proved in a court of law.  One can only map coincidences that appear to go beyond good fortune to hint at obligations or debts discharged.  Thus, an equal number of coincidences attach John Coleridge’s advancing career to the name of his friend, Nutcome Quicke—Quicke had married Lavington’s only daughter, Ann, in 1753, his family had local interests at Upton Pyne, he advanced William Coleridge’s career when he went to Oxford, he is recorded as enjoying John Coleridge’s convivial company [51]—and coincidences remain in the air.  The only hard evidence of a favour given during John Coleridge’s lifetime comes, ironically, from his side, in providing assistance to the Bullers.  If Francis Buller afterwards felt an obligation to find a place at Christ’s Hospital for the fatherless STC, it was surely to repay a particular favour he incurred after he ceased to be John Coleridge’s pupil.

       The obligation involves John Coleridge’s part in Francis Buller’s secret marriage to the heiress, Susannah Yarde.  The public record is vague: Burke’s Peerage and Baronetage records the date 1771 with a query.[52]  A letter from the




parent of another boy at Coleridge’s Ottery school, describing the marriage, was published in 1927 [53]; and the undated letter was positioned between others dated 1766 and 1775, and so suggests that the event took place during the same interval of years.  An informed reader would realise that the historical events the letter describes—involving John Wilkes and Chief Justice Pratt at Westminster Hall—took place earlier still, in early December 1763.  This correction would not seem to affect the circumstances, except that it makes Francis Buller under age, but it guides a searcher to the correct place in the historical record, where the details reveal a different story.  The marriage is recorded in its unexpected but proper place in the Ottery marriage register, but the documents associated with the granting of the marriage licence bear on a singular part played by John Coleridge.[54]

       Francis and Susannah were married on 5 December 1763, and the licence documents, which date from two days before, comprise an allegation and two further documents attached to the reverse with sealing wax.  The allegation is in the hand of William Daddo, Vicar of Dunsford, affirming there are no obstacles to the marriage.  It contains nothing unusual, unless the large number of emendations displays anxiety to forestall possible objections.  For instance, Daddo first set down Francis Buller’s place of residence as Morval but substituted Ottery St Mary so as not to contradict the requirement that Francis should have resided there during the previous week.  Of the two attachments, one is a statement of consent to the marriage in the hand of James Buller and signed by him, which is not unusual in cases where the bride or groom was under age.  The other attachment is quite unexpected, however, and might even be unique in Devon records of this period.  It is a copy of Susannah Yarde’s baptism entry in John Coleridge’s hand, which is strictly redundant since it only confirms she was not a minor (she was twenty-three).  And John Coleridge extended this information into a statement that Susannah had no objection to the taking out of the licence, which she duly signed and dated.  In short, the second attachment demonstrates the elaborate measures that were taken to secure the marriage against legal challenge, along with John Coleridge’s part in them.

       The union was neither a hasty love-match nor a marriage compelled by pregnancy, and the record was not tampered with, but it was very obviously arranged in secrecy.  The bride’s father, Francis Yarde of Churston Ferrars and Ottery, had died in 1750, leaving Susannah his sole inheritor, but her uncle, to whom she was also heiress (John Yarde of Dartington), objected so strongly that he struck her out of his will.[55] Against him, James Buller strongly favoured the union—it would secure his youngest son’s fortunes, without political




complication, at the outset of a projected legal career—and the bride’s mother approved.  It was therefore arranged as a fait accompli, with care being taken that the consummation was a matter of record.[56]  Fifteen years later, John Coleridge again did the couple a favour by supplying written confirmation of the marriage details when they claimed free education for their child, also named Francis, at Winchester College on grounds of Founder’s Kin.[57]  Susannah Yarde’s uncle forgave all on his deathbed, reinstated Susannah in his will, and Francis jr. took the name Buller-Yarde when he, in turn, inherited.

       John Coleridge’s part in this tricky business was a subject of discussion, with parents at the school taking sides as to whether he should be blamed.  In the present context, it is significant that Coleridge family legend remembers the link between the two families going back to a weeping fifteen-year old boy on the side of the road to whom, in 1734 or 1735 therefore, the Buller family extended a helping hand; that is, legend ignores the crucial assistance the compliant vicar afterwards extended to a prestigious former pupil.  Legend also ignores the fact that the father, James Buller (1717-65), was in fact only two years older than John Coleridge and did not change his place of residence from Morval in Cornwall to Downes near Crediton until 1739, when John Coleridge was twenty.[58] In short, the seventeen year-old Buller, living in another county, is unlikely to have become John Coleridge’s patron in 1734-5: the legend defies chronology and geography. 

       As I suggested, John Coleridge possibly worked his way forward, first as an usher, perhaps in his old school at Crediton, and then as master at the charity school in Clyst Hydon.  And, if the Bullers ever settled him “in a neighb’ring town as a schoolmaster,” [59]  it was at South Molton, years later (in 1750), and this had more to do with worries over the care of Francis, the spirited offspring of James Buller’s second wife, than charity.  The Buller family motto, Aquila non capit moscas, “An eagle catches no flies,” describes unsentimental, self-interested springs of conduct.  Their exchange with John Coleridge was no different from their transactions in the larger political world described by Sir Lewis Namier.[60]


John Coleridge: The Absent Man

STC tells us that his mother “managed entirely” and yet it is clear that his father was not devoid of such skills either; and John Coleridge’s failure to discourage fanciful stories about how he came to be where he found himself are not innocent.  One might apply the word “cute”, as in the older sense it retains in Ireland: not pretty in appearance but shrewd in assessing interest;




pretty sharp, though in appearance blunt; plain-seeming rural types begin at an advantage, being “country cute”.  One would have to be an elegant operator to negotiate one’s way forward out of grinding poverty to relative respectability, to bequeath three grandsons to be educated at Eton and another to the bishop’s bench; and to do so without incurring obloquy at any point is very cute.  The person who contrived the boundary-crossing subscription-lists of his two published volumes, and improved a reputation for absent-mindedness in the course of so doing, was a subtle negotiator.  The subscriptions more than covered production costs.  They advertised his abilities, they helped to earn him more than ten times his father’s income, and, best of all, they combusted in a bonfire of jokes when their occasion passed.  John Coleridge thereby came across as the reverse of ambitious and contriving while managing to get a good part of what he desired.  This is not a specious argument; it describes an instinctive survivor; and the proof is there in the results.  His reputation as the “absent man,” [61]  far from inhibiting his advancement, turns out to have enabled it. 

       John Coleridge’s complicity with the life of a caricature, together with the process of retrospective evaluation, probably began with his marriage to Anne Bowden and the move to Ottery.  The eight-year interval between the birth and baptism of their first-born surely weighed on a priest who is known to have taken his vows seriously.  Simultaneously, circumspection entered his life as the scale of his ambition enlarged.  Miscellaneous Dissertations in 1768 is a puzzling volume in some ways—not so much in its content as why it was published then, with the investment of such considerable effort—and there is evidence to suggest that was part of a concerted push for further clerical advancement.  Despite the improvement in finances, John Coleridge became increasingly tired, if not despondent, as time progressed.  His first Diocesan Visitation Return in 1764/5 refers to “a teeming Wife”,[62] and she was to have three more children after that.  Ottery, despite its the grandeur of its early foundation, was not a rich parish.[63]

       After being settled in Ottery for eighteen years, did John Coleridge hope to advance in the diocesan hierarchy? Perhaps gain a prebendary’s seat? this on the way to becoming something more that would enable him to retire from teaching—say, to becoming an archdeacon? [64]  When the attempt failed, he came to anticipate sharing his school-duties with his son, William—which of




course was not to be.  And finally, the fast-day sermon published “at the Request of the Hearers” in 1776 appears to gesture in the same direction as Miscellaneous Dissertations, towards a different bishop.  While it is the briefest of his separate publications, its content and distribution through John Rivington makes it the most overtly political and potentially the most widely distributed, if at the same time no less forlorn. 

       Because neither publication produced a result, the question of what each hoped to achieve remains open.  One can only be certain that they failed in a way that was never openly specified and that their instant reputation for hilarious ineffectiveness disguises real disappointment.  STC suggests that his father’s books achieved nothing but self-gratification.[65] If they did, this was certainly not allowed indulgence: say bitter comfort, rather. 

       During these later Ottery years of mixed fortune, of greater prosperity accompanied by greater anxiety, John Coleridge’s first family came to appear coarse to contemporaries who knew the second family,[66] and intercourse between the two eventually ceased.  STC spent childhood days at his aunt’s “every-thing Shop” at Crediton when his father was alive: afterwards, with no irony, his brother insisted that their sister, Anne, must never stoop to serve behind a counter.[67] Later still, another brother advanced in his career as military man and local dignitary to a point when he was colonel in the militia: at the same time, STC’s brother in-law and nephew by his father’s first marriage, both named Jacob Phillips, protested that they could not and would not resist French invasion.[68] This is the family of Elizabeth Phillips (1751-1815), the youngest surviving daughter from John Coleridge’s first marriage whose inheritance from the descendant of Anne Pridhom suggests the continuing concern of the Northmore family for their predecessor’s transgression.  Elizabeth (Betty) is described by STC as “alone of the three [the one I] was wont to think of, as a Sister—tho’ not exactly, yet I did not know why, the same sort of Sister, as my Sister Nancy.”[69]  The distancing of origins that began in the 1750s advanced apace after John Coleridge died.  The relicts of the past were buried with him, to be resurrected in another form. 

       The human legacy was costly.  Two of John Coleridge’s sons died in a distant land under a suspicion of suicide (John and Frank), two sons burnt out prematurely (William and Luke), one daughter of the second marriage (Anne) also died young—set against three surviving daughters of the first marriage who enjoyed rude health and longevity.  Which left the acquiescent Edward




and the dependable George; and—better known—the self-centred James and the drug-addict Sam.  Dynastic-minded James established the Victorian family, while the flaming example of Sam became a light to the world, and each in his way sealed the myth of their incompetent, abstracted, innocent father.  STC remembered him for “Sweet Tales & True, that lull me into Sleep, & leave me dreaming.” [70]  The truth is that such a memory is, in large part, a contrivance.


[1]       Discussed by Anthony J. La Vopa, Grace, Talent, and Merit: Poor Students, Clerical Careers, and Professional Ideology in Eighteenth-Century Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). The idealisation by Voss and others is mentioned by W. H. Bruford, Germany in the Eighteenth Century: The Social Background of the Literary Revival (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1935), p.256.

[2]       STC to Thomas Poole, [endorsed 16 October 1797]: Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge ed. Earl Leslie Griggs (6 vols, Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1956-71), I 354.

[3]       Life and Correspondence of John Duke Lord Coleridge, Lord Chief Justice of England ed. E. H. Coleridge (2 vols, London: Heinemann 1904), II 259.

[4]       Edwin Ellis Coleridge (grandson), quoted by Bernard Lord Coleridge, The Story of a Devonshire House (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1905), p.18; STC to Thomas Poole, [endorsed 16 October 1797]: Collected Letters, I 355.

[5]       See STC to John Dawes, [late May 1822]: Collected Letters, V 232-3, in the course of apologising for Hartley Coleridge’s tendency also “to fill his wine-glass too often.” This is of course the subtext of John Coleridge’s hilarious faux pas as dinner guest.

                For scepticism about the John Coleridge legend on STC’s side of the family before Alwyne, see Ernest Hartley Coleridge to James Dykes Campbell, als dated 8 March 1894 (Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin: MS | (Coleridge, EH) | Letters, folder 5/5): “It is rather nonsense about his father. He had at least three most successful sons—eupeptic [a Carlylean coinage, having good digestion, “full of pep”] world defying souls & 4 others who are also successful so long as they lived. I don’t believe in the Parson Adams Myth. Old John C. must have been a powerful & a practical man—and as to publishing by subscription it was the fashion & told in no way.” Etc.

[6]       The Collected Writings of Thomas De Quincey ed. David Masson (14 vols, Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1889-90), II 164-6; James Gillman, The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (London: William Pickering, 1838), p.3.

[7]       J. Cradock, Literary and Miscellaneous Memoirs (4 vols, London: J. B. Nichols, 1828), IV 244.

[8]       Gillman, Life, pp. 5-6n.

[9]       Biographia Literaria ed. Henry Nelson Coleridge and Sara Coleridge (2 vols, London: William Pickering, 1847), II 312.

[10]     Reviewed by Richard S. Tomson, Classics or Charity: The Dilemma of the Eighteenth-Century Grammar School (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1971).

[11]     STC says his father renamed the ablative case the “Quippe-quare-quale-quia-quidditive Case!” (to Thomas Poole, March 1797: Collected Letters, I 310); De Quincey gets the terminology right, the “quale-quare-quidditive”, but says that it applies to the accusative (Collected Writings, II 165). Robert Southey noted that STC, “when he tells the story adds a Quippe to the case but I have the grammar, and prize it greatly” (to J. G. Lockhart, 14 December 1828: New Letters of Robert Southey ed Kenneth Curry --2 vols, New York: Columbia Press, 1965--, II 330).

[12]     This last is not entirely original, however. It was anticipated by another schoolmaster, S. Barrett of Ashford, Kent, in Gentleman’s Magazine XXIV (April 1754), 163-4.

[13]     As STC discovered when he visited Hofrath Bruns at the Helmstadt in July 1799: to George Bellas Greenough, 6 July 1799: Collected Letters, I 520-1. Contrary to family tradition, however, and though Kennicott subscribed to Miscellaneous Dissertations, there is no evidence in Bodleian MS Kennicott c.12 that Coleridge assisted him on the Polyglot Bible; indeed, there is evidence that they did not know one another, personally at least, as late as May 1775 (Bodleian MS Eng. lett. c 142, ff 85r-86v).

[14]     Penguin edition ed Julian Symons (Harmondsworth, reprinted 1985), p.519.

[15]     Penguin ed., p.529.

[16]     A. K. Noon, 30 September 1887: signed autograph note in the Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin. EHC wrote to the vicars of South Molton, Knowstone, Butterleigh and Molland. Details are provided by Charlotte Walters Ray, A Catalogue and Index of the Letters to Ernest Hartley Coleridge (University of Texas at Austin PhD, August 1971), pp. 208, 255, 274, 293.

[17]     She was buried at St Peter’s Church Barnstaple on 15 November 1766. Though she was resident in Barnstaple when the marriage license was taken out, she appears not to have been from a Barnstaple family; several families of Laskeys were to be found in Crediton and further south in Devon. She is described as “spinster” in the marriage licence, which signified solely that she was unmarried; she is described as “Mrs.” in the burial register, which may signify an older woman as well as a former marriage, of which I found no trace.

[18]     P. E. H. Hair, “Bridal Pregnancy in Rural England in Earlier Centuries,” Population Studies XX (November 1966), 233-43. See also E. A. Wrigley, “Family Limitation in Pre-Industrial England,” Economic History Review 2nd series XIX (April 1966), 82-109 for marriage-patterns in Colyton between 1560 and 1750.

[19]     Rev Peter Fisher is—or was—the subject of a prominent exhibit at the Torrington Museum: see “Naughty Clergyman Once Again Talk of the Town,” North Devon Journal-Herald, 13 May 1976, p.14.  For Badcock’s “indiscretion”, here called “a moral lapse”, see the account submitted by “S” in Gentleman’s Magazine LVIII: ii (1788) 781-4; also Alexander Chalmers (ed) The General Biographical Dictionary… A New Edition (32 vols, London: J. Nichols, 1812-17), III 290-5.

[20]     To Anne Coleridge, 2 October 1785: Coleridge: The Early Family Letters ed James Engell (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), pp.75-6. Engell must be wrong to identify this nurse with Molly Newbery, who lived in at Ottery, was only seventeen when John jr. was born, and was hardly an old woman when he wrote his letter.

[21]     cf Early Family Letters, pp. 39 and 52.

[22]     James Coleridge, note dated 3 November 1801: Story of a Devonshire House, pp. 71-2.

[23]     And see John Beer “How shall we write the Life of Coleridge?” in Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Sciences of Life ed Nicholas Roe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 315-29 at 322-3.

[24]     cf. Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (London: William Heinemann, 1895) I 306 and to Thomas Poole, 16 September 1798: Collected Letters, I 528.

[25]     “Biographical Notes” in Coleridge: Studies by Several Hands on the Hundredth Anniversary of his Death ed. Edmund Blunden and Earl Leslie Griggs (London: Constable, 1934), pp. 3-52 at 5-6.

[26]     29 September 1799: Collected Letters, I 302.

[27]     To Thomas Poole, 6 February 1797: Collected Letters, I 303

[28]     Two leaves in Godwin’s hand, catalogued as “William Godwin, biographical notes on S. T. Coleridge, covering the period up to 1799” Bodleian Library, Abinger Papers Dep. c. 604/3.

[29]     29 September 1799: Collected Letters, I 531-3. For a comprehensive later account, see the Folio Notebook, entry dated 9 March 1832, drawn upon in Gillman, Life, pp. 9-11.

[30]     The complicated genealogy of the Northmore family is best described by Charles Worthy, Devonshire Wills: A Collection of Annotated Testamentary Abstracts, Etc (London: Bemrose and Son, 1896) pp.335-40. Emmie Varwell, Throwleigh: The Story of a Dartmoor Village (Exeter: Sydney Lee, [1938?]), pp.114-8 gets several details wrong.

[31]     Reynell Upham, “Reynell of Parker’s Well,” Devon Notes and Queries II (January 1902-October 1903) 137-8 publishes the relevant extract from Prudhom’s will, proved 14 April 1792 (P.C.C 234 Fountain). In another article by the same author on pp.171-4 of the same journal, “Trehawke MS. Armory,” Elizabeth Coleridge Phillips appears as Prudhom’s housekeeper in a Chancery suite.

[32]     To John Thelwall, 19 November 1796: Collected Letters, I 260. The feature STC deplored can be assessed in Morton D. Paley, Portraits of Coleridge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999). A miniature of William Northmore—whether father or son being uncertain—is reproduced in Varwell, Throwleigh, facing p.113.

[33]     On Thomas Northmore (1766-1851), see DNB.

[34]     Life and Correspondence of John Duke Lord Coleridge, I 3.

[35]     To Thomas Poole, 6 February 1797: Collected Letters, I 302-03. John Unsworth, “The Early Background of S. T. Coleridge,” The Coleridge Bulletin No.1 (Summer 1988), 16-25 takes STC at his word here, but there is no evidence whatsoever that the elder John Coleridge lived at South Molton.

[36]     For STC on the Bowden inheritance as “a house-stye & a pig-stye,” see his comments to Thomas Poole, 6 February 1797: Collected Letters, I 302.

[37]     e.g. to Thomas Poole, March 1797: Collected Letters, I 310; to Thomas Poole, [endorsed 16 October 1797]: Collected Letters, I 354; to Edward Coleridge, 28 October 1826: Collected Letters, VI 643.

[38]     Coleridge, The Damaged Archangel (New York: George Braziller, 1971), p.403.

[39]     To Thomas Poole, March 1797: Collected Letters, I 310.

[40]     Southey says Buller sent him to Oxford (New Letters of Robert Southey, II 331), which would actually have made more sense if academic interests had been paramount. John Coleridge chose to send three sons to the other place.

[41]     To Thomas Poole, 6 February 1797: Collected Letters, I 303; Devon Record Office, Clyst Hydon Churchwardens’ Accounts, 4453 Z/Z1.

[42]     Statement on behalf of John Coleridge by the Master of Sidney, Francis Parris, dated 7 July 1749, in Devon Record Office Deacons’ Papers, 1749 (B-E).

[43]     Lady Buller’s concern for her youngest continued after he left school and his career in law was advanced directly by her brother. Allen, later second Lord Bathurst, was Judge of the Common Pleas, to which court Buller was appointed soon after Bathurst retired from the Woolsack; Buller’s Law Relative to the Trials at Nisi Prius was (somewhat scandalously) based on collections of his uncle. Lady Buller was active in soliciting subscriptions to Miscellaneous Dissertations and lived on to 1794.

[44]     South Molton United Schools Records/T.D.81/vols.1 and 2 cover administration of the school during 1686-1755 and 1755-1787. Ibid T.D.81/Box 1: B/ bundles 7 and 8 include vouchers, receipted accounts etc for 1741-1750 and 1751-1760. Remarks on John Coleridge’s time at the school are to be found in John Cock, Records of ye Antient Borough of South Molton in ye County of Devon (South Molton: The Author, 1893), p.188.

[45]     Devon Public Record Office, Schoolmasters’ Licences, PR 510 (South Molton) and (Ottery St Mary).

[46]     The holders of all three positions, and their dates and qualifications, are conveniently listed in An Account of the Church of Ottery St. Mary [Exeter Diocesan Church Architectural Society, 1842], pp.43-4.

[47]     Richard Holme died in July 1759 and was buried at Gittisham by his first wife.

[48]     Devon Record Office, Ottery St Mary Parish Records, Administration, Legal Papers: 3327 A add/PA 4. The affadavit is signed by Richard Coplestone and William Webb. Their protest is directed against Thomas Lee, among those who eventually nominated John Coleridge.

[49]     He was Dean of Exeter before he became Bishop and promised STC a title to orders on graduation.

[50]     George Lavington, The Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists Compared (3 parts, London: J. and P. Knapton, 1749-1751). Cf J. G. Hayman, History of Methodism in North Devon (London: for the Author at the Wesleyan Conference Office, 1871), chapters 2 and 3. It is worth remarking, in the present context, that the James Buller who wrote A Reply to Rev. Mr. Wesley’s “Address to the Clergy” (1756) was a Bristol clergyman.

[51]     For his marriage, see George Oliver, Lives of the Bishops of Exeter,… (Exeter: William Roberts, 1861), p.163n; for his assistance to William Coleridge, see John Coleridge to William Coleridge, als dated 16 May 1775: Bodleian MS Eng. lett. c. 142 ff 85r-86v.

[52]     s.v “Churston”, 1991 ed, I 573-5.

[53]     Eliza Pierce to Thomas Taylor, n.d. The Letters of Eliza Pierce 1751-1775 [ed. Violet Macdonald]. (London: Frederick Etchells and Hugh Macdonald, 1927), pp.100-03.

[54]     The marriage is recorded in the Ottery marriage register now at Devon Record Office 180A/PR8; the marriage allegation and accompanying documents are at ibid MB&A December 1763.

[55]     In favour of Giles Yarde of Trobridge, according to T. W. Venn, History of Crediton (typescript in Westcountry Studies Library, Exeter; enlarged edition, 1972), I 282.

[56]     Letters of Eliza Pierce 1751-1775, p.103.

[57]     Winchester College Muniment No.21009, in John Coleridge’s hand dated 15 March 1778.

[58]     When he married Elizabeth, daughter and co-heiress of William Gould of Downes. She died in 1742, and Buller married Lady Jane Bathurst in 1744.

[59]     To Thomas Poole, 6 February 1797: Collected Letters, I 303; cf Story of a Devonshire House, ch 1.

[60]     In The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III (London: Macmillan, 2nd ed 1957). James Buller, together with the extended Buller family, play a prominent part in Namier’s account.

[61]     Gillman, p.2.

[62]     Devon Record Office Chanter 228B/67. Though the word “teeming” only began to be inflected with its modern implication of excess in the course of the eighteenth-century, it was a no less strong term to employ.

[63]     The Clerical Guide, and Ecclesiastical Directory (London: J.G & F. Rivington, 1836), though published more than half-a-century later, supplies a background of comparison. Ottery at that time, had a population of 3849, a church capacity of 2000, and a net value of £112—compared, say, with East Ogwell (pop. 50; cap. 80) at £127 and Berrynarbor (pop.794; cap.350) at £715; or Otterton (pop.1178; capacity 450) £312 and Offwell (pop.380, cap.350) £347. A fashionable London church, St Andrew’s Holborn, with roughly the same-sized congregation as Ottery and a church capacity of 1800, provided £1336.

[64]     My guess, based on the composition of the members of the Chapter at the time, how they might have come to be elected, and subscribers and non-subscribers to Miscellaneous Dissertations, is that John Coleridge had his eye on the Archdeaconry of Totnes, occupied in 1768 by the eighty-two year old George Baker.

[65]     To Thomas Poole, March 1797: Collected Letters, I 310.

[66]     See, for instance, Richard Polwhele, Reminiscences in Prose and Verse (3 vols, London: J. B. Nichols, 1836), II 172-3.

[67]     To Thomas Poole, 9 October 1797: Collected Letters, I 347; John Coleridge jr to James Coleridge, 1 August 1783: Coleridge Family Letters, p. 54. The aunt was his father’s youngest surviving sister, Elizabeth (Betty), who married Samuel Mudge in 1756.

[68]     W. G. Hoskins (ed), Exeter Militia List, 1803 (Chichester: Phillimore 1972), p.74: Jacob Phillips, aged 51, Attorney at Law, “Infirm, being subject to Gout” and Jacob Phillips, aged 17, Article Clerk, “Not willing to serve as Vol[unteer]. under this Act”. The outspokenness of the younger Phillips’ refusal is matched only once in the list (p.52, Francis Ellis, weaver, “Objected twice”), although St Pancras Ward replies are noticeably less gung-ho than most others.

[69]     Folio Notebook, entry dated 9 March 1832, f 90v; cf Gillman, Life, p.10.

[70] Notebook 18, entry dated [c May-July 1811]: The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge ed

Kathleen Coburn et al (5 double vols, New York and Princeton: Bollingen Foundation/Princeton

University Press, 1957--), III 4093.