THE TRIBE OF SAM: FORMATIVE IMAGES & ROLE-MODELS FROM COLERIDGE'S CHRIST'S HOSPITAL
(The Coleridge Bulletin New Series No 1, Winter 1992/03, pp 15-21)
First, two anecdotes
from Henry Crabb Robinson, made after a conversation with the Morgan family,
who were supporting S.T.C. in 1812. They recall how, when his father
died, young Coleridge was patronised by Judge Buller and taken to
“It was expected he would have a presentation to the
Charterhouse. He was however sent by Buller to the
“He used to dine with Buller on the Sundays, but one day there being company, the Blue Coat boy was sent to dine at the Second Table, and though but nine years old he would not go again.”
Christ's Hospital had been founded in 1552 to take needy
children from the
Lamb at one moment declares resonantly: “the Christ's Hospital boy feels that he is no charity boy”. Yet at another moment he recalls the eloquent young Coleridge as “the inspired Charity boy”. A fellow literary Bluecoat, the Unitarian minister and novelist William Pitt Scargill (1787—1837) in his RECOLLECTIONS OF A BLUECOAT BOY (1829), dedicated to Charles Lamb, mentions how many former Blues returned as young gentlemen to exhibit themselves at the school on public supper nights, but continues:
“there were many who felt ashamed of having been brought up in a school which was a charitable foundation, and they avoided all mention of the place, and seldom were seen again there; and even avoided speaking to their former companions if by any chance they met them in the streets.”
Coleridge's letters show that he was not in this latter
category. But those who bandied together and those to be identified as Old
Blues laid themselves open to social -prejudice. Writing to his brother George
“Poor Allen...complains of the great distance with which the Men
treat him” – though Coleridge goes on to claim that he has felt no such
In the literary world such attitudes were common. Byron, writing to Tom Moore about that Bluecoat literary upstart James Leigh Hunt, declared:
“He is a good man, with some poetical elements in his chaos; but
spoilt by the
And when Thomas Barnes, the great future editor of THE TIMES, was beginning to make his journalistic career a pseudonymous attack on him by one “Abel Funnefello” appeared entitled: A SHY AT THE GREAT GUN. THE BLUECOAT BOY: OR DOMESTIC REMINISCENCES OF MISTER T.BOUNCE... which included a totally
fictitious cartoon of Barnes as an apprentice draper, dreaming at the counter of advancement, like some prefigured Kipps.
That was one kind of social pressure. Another came from within. Boys like Coleridge knew when they came to C.H. that they had fallen on hard times. While there, whatever their origins, they received a charity which provided everything from their small clothes outwards, and which, in the ringing tones of the Upper Master, James Bowyer, insisted on its price:
“Boy! the school is your father! Boy! the school is your mother! Boy the school is your brother! the school is your sister! the school is your first-cousin, and your second-cousin, and all the rest of your relations! Let's have no more crying!'
Individual psyches would, naturally, absorb the shock of such treatment in different ways. But, socially (and all too often physically), Bluecoat boys might say, as Charles Lamb did in another context: “We are in a manner marked.”
Not surprisingly, those who were marked became a tribe. So it is with those who were of the Tribe of Sam that I shall deal in this paper. I want to suggest a few tribal markings.
CHRIST'S HOSPITAL CLASSICS
Charles Lamb claimed that Christ's Hospital: “had classics of our own”, books read by the younger boys, even in the great hall of the Grammar School instead of their lesson books. He mentions three books in particular: “PETER WILKINS - THE ADVENTURES OF THE HON. ROBERT BOYLE - THE FORTUNATE BLUECOAT BOY”.
These childhood classics have been little studied. Even the note in Professor Jonathan Bate's admirable World's Classics ELIA merely describes them as :”popular eighteenth-century travel romances”. The classification is inaccurate (since the last named is not a travel romance at all) and somewhat inadequate, as it lumps together three books of quite distinct characters.
To deal with the least interesting first, THE VOYAGES & ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN ROBERT BOYLE certainly is a travel romance, as its title-page goes on to suggest: “... lntermix'd with the STORY OF MRS. VILLARS, an English lady with whom he made his surprising Escape from Barbary...” etc.
We are in a twopence-coloured world of
But Chetwood's book expresses a fast-moving crude type of vitality, and helps suggest the vigorous, bigoted, masculine fantasies about adult life upon which 18th century Bluecoat imaginings were bred. Such fantasies may be broadly placed in the English 18th century piratical ethic, an ethic of expediency perhaps not too remote from that shown by the Mariner's shipmates after his shooting of the Albatross.
However that may be, CAPTAIN ROBERT BOYLE remained part of S.T.C.'s mental equipment through life. We find him writing to Godwin in December 1800:
“At present I have six excruciating Boils behind my right Ear, the largest of which I have christened Captain Robert..,”,
Though still a “travel romance”, the second C.H. classic carries a higher imaginative charge, at least in its middle section. The book opens in the world of Captain Robert, with family misfortunes, poverty, captivity (with all of which a Bluecoat might easily identify ): it closes with a long sequence in which the hero's 18th Century English Reason is shown helping to solve the problems of a colony of savages in the best traditions of the new Colonialism. But at the heart of the book something remarkable happens. After African adventures echoing Defoe's CAPTAIN SINGLETON, a shipwreck translates us into another mode, In later life Coleridge thought PETER WILKINS: “a work of uncommon beauty”. He even claimed that were he himself to write travel romances: “I would try the marvellous line of PETER WILKINS, rather than the real fiction of ROBINSON CRUSOE” (a distinction which recalls that better known division of labour in LYRICAL BALLADS described in the BIOGRAPHIA).
It is easy to see what he meant. For Peter Wilkins, on his desert island, finds emotional and domestic fulfilment with a strange flying female Indian or “Glumm”, who may be briefly characterised as a Noble Savage with Wings. This part of the book carried a strong erotic appeal to young Blues. James Leigh Hunt, who must also have encountered it in the C.H. Schoolroom, wrote later that it contained: “a mixture of sentiment & voluptuousness beyond all the bridals we have read”.
So I offer to all feminist critics of S.T.C. Peter Wilkins' Glumm along with Robert Boyle's Mrs. Villars : I merely suggest there may be an echo of female Glumms in those hovering Spirits who intrude into Part Six of THE MARINER, as well as in those other half-angelic Asras who came to populate his emotional life,
THE FORTUNATE BLUECOAT BOY
This book, published anonymously in the
1770s but clearly the work of someone who knew the school intimately in the
1720s, reveals C.H. male fantasies at their most materialistic. It can briefly
be described as a male Cinderella story. With well-observed details of everyday
It is hardly possible quickly to suggest the particular flavour
of this little-known book. On the one hand, there is a perennial Cockney
hard-headed toughness and sharpness in the daily tenor of
“When they came to the gate of the field which led to Mr. Templeman's house, they were there received by his workmen and servants, some with plow-shares and
they rang, as butchers in
The harsh, menacing world of
“When they arrived at the courtyard-gate, which never opened but to receive particular company, they were, in consequence of Mr. Templeman's speaking to the women in the village, met by several poor women, with what flowers the season of the year produced in their laps, who strewed them quite through the court, into the house, whilst the occupiers of the place joined in the general salute. The peacock displayed his pride; the turkey quacked, and the cock crowed....”
I wonder whether this picture ever occurred to Coleridge when
he planned his country retreats in Pantisocracy or the Quantocks, or lay behind
his wishes for his baby son Hartley in FROST AT MIDNIGHT. One
further point. Mr Templeman arrives home to meet his mother in this
setting after his marriage to the
JAMES WHITE : LETTERS OF FALSTAFF (1796)
I want to consider briefly a book warmly recommended by Lamb, especially to his friend Coleridge in 1796, but, again, little read today. It is, in some sense, another C.H. classic.
At the time of its publication Lamb was actually sharing
lodgings with its author, James White (1775--1820). Like Lamb, White had been
at C.H., but had left without becoming a Grecian or University boy. Like Lamb,
he was now a City Clerk. His sole literary work, THE LETTERS OF FALSTAFF, is
dedicated ironically to Samuel Ireland, father of the precocious William, whose
Shakespeare forgeries were the talk of literary
“Master Abram is dead, gone, your Worship - dead'...a' took delight in nothing but his book of songs and sonnets - a' would go to the Stroud side under the large beech tree, and sing, till 'twas quite pity of our lives to mark him; for his chin grew as long as a muscle.... I beseech your Worship to think he was well tended....Alice Shortcake craves, she may make his shroud.'
Such writing by a London clerk of the 1790s tells us something
about the education in the English classics he had received at C.H, It tells
us, also, how literary pastiche might become a form of escapism for Blues.
Slender, disadvantaged, hopeless Slender, is one aspect of White himself, and
by laughing at Slender's pretensions White may transcend his own. What is more,
the young forger
One final point about White's Falstaff. Professor Bate pointed out in 1985 that, judging by the activity of cartoonists and squib-writers, the Falstaff plays were highly-charged satirical and political material: the Prince Regent as Hal was really too big a target to miss. When, at his coronation in 1821, George commanded a free performance at Covent Garden of HENRY IV PART TWO, he was certainly reminding us that he was the last truly literate monarch of these shores as well as, in Professor Bate's words giving a “final rejoinder to the satirists”. White's LETTERS are wholly innocent of such innuendo. They remain resolutely, almost virginally, a-political. In the troubled decade of the 1790s, that form of escapism is also noteworthy.
COLERIDGE & HIS FELLOW-BLUES
Seeing Sam Coleridge among his tribe,
one is tempted to suggest that nothing distinguished him from them except his
genius. But perhaps we can discriminate further than that. Broadly, among the
literary Blues, two main camps can be defined. First, those like White who
withdrew into thickets of antiquarianism and used their literature as an escape
from the harsher social realities. Second, the radicals, who camped openly
under banners, proclaiming that literature was a means
of changing the times. Of course it was among the second group that Coleridge
disported himself, Consider briefly the letter written to Southey in September
Having declared to Southey that he has just finished the first act of their joint play, THE FALL. OF ROBESPIERRE, Coleridge describes how Franklin, a young ex-Grecian now at Pembroke College, Cambridge, had called and persuaded him to breakfast with George Dyer, Old Blue author of THE COMPLAINTS OF THE POOR: “I went- explained our System - he was enraptured - pronounced it impregnable - He is intimate with Dr. Priestley - and doubts not, that the Doctor will join us.”
The importance of the Unitarian radical George Dyer for Coleridge at this time has been recently emphasised by Nicholas Roe, and I need not elaborate it. But it worth stressing how, within a sentence or so, Coleridge is describing how Dyer went immediately to several publishers on his behalf with the aim of publishing THE FALL OF ROBESPIERRE - of which so far only one act was written!
That was only one strand of the support S.T.C. was being given by the Tribe. A paragraph later he explains how, because he is short of funds, he is living with the Grecians at Christ's Hospital, and even writing the letter in one of their studies.
Each evening he spends nearby at The Salutation and Cat,
The young man's advice was to settle near the Susquehannah, and we may be left wondering just what kind of “benefit” it was he hoped to gain from Coleridge's conversation. But the support of fellow Blues did not stop there.
“The younger le Grice (a sweet- tempered Fellow - he goes with me to Cambridge) and Favell, who goes to Cambridge next October twelve month - have intreated that they may be allowed to come over after us when they quit College...”:
Sam Le Grice it was, the younger of two talented C.H. brothers, who gave Charles Lamb the most practical help at Lamb's crisis two years later; Robert Favell, who
(like Sam Le Grice) died young , was the writer to whom Southey later even attributed S.T.C.'s own Pantisocracy Sonnet. If the commune on the banks of the Susquehannah was a piece of youthful idealism, that on the banks of the City Ditch at Newgate was a piece of equally youthful practical reality.
But not all the tribe of Sam were retiring literary antiquarians or aspiring young democrats. There were other role-models S.T.C. might have chosen. Consider, finally, those chosen by the two Grecians who were probably closest to him in his time at C.H.: one, his immediate senior; the other, his immediate junior.
T.F. MIDDLETON & C.V. Le GRICE
Middleton, famously, introduced the
young S.T.C. to Bowles' SONNETS in 1788. He also literally introduced him to
“The Country Spectator enjoyed few of the advantages, which have contributed to the excellence of most of his predecessors. He could not depend on assistance when he was weary, or promise variety to his speculations from the number of his Correspondents.... Whoever has encountered the task of writing at stated periods, will readily testify, that the burthen is heavier than is generally believed, or, perhaps, than he himself had imagined.”
The Anglican Church provided Middleton with his route to preferment. He became the first Bishop of Calcutta. It was a route Coleridge must have seemed well-qualified to travel in, say, 1792 - and how tantalising it is to imagine him bearing his mitre among the Brahmins....
His younger contemporary Val Le Grice took another route.
Having played the nimble English pinnace to S.T.C.'s more ponderous Spanish
galleon in their wit-sallies at school, Le Grice quickly began to make a
literary reputation for himself at
A SHORT BIBLIOGRAPHY
1. SCARGILL, William Pitt: RECOLLECTIONS OF A
BLUE-COAT BOY, Swaffham: Printed by and for F.Skill....1829 was reprinted by
S.R. Publishers Limited Johnson Reprint Corporation (
2. Of the “Christ's Hospital classics” only PETER WILKINS is easily available, in PALTOCK, Robert: PETER WILKINS, The World's Classics, O.U.P. p.b., 1990.
“ORPHANOTROPHIAN”: THE FORTUNATE BLUE-COAT BOY,
CHETWOOD, William Rufus: CAPTAIN ROBERT BOYLE...
3. WHITE, James: FALSTAFF's LETTERS,