Ottery St Mary to Cambridge

Birthplace, Ottery St MaryBorn 21 October 1772, Ottery St Mary, Devon

Early Childhood. The last child, the youngest Child of Ten by the same Mother, viz, John, William, who died in infancy – James, William, Edward, George, Luke, Anne, Francis, and myself, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, beneficially abridged Esteese – S, T, C.

March 1832 6675 F.199

My Father, (Vicar of, and Schoolmaster at, Ottery St. Mary, Devon) was a profound Mathematician, and well-versed in the Latin, Greek, & Oriental Languages. He published, or rather attempted to publish, several works: 1st, 'Miscellaneous Dissertations' arising from the 17th and 18th Chapters of the Book of Judges; II. Sententiae excerptae, for the use of his own School; 3rd (& his best work) a 'Critical Latin Grammar'; in the preface to which he proposes a bold Innovation in the names of the Cases. My father's new nomenclature was not likely to become popular, altho' it must be allowed to be both sonorous and expressive – exempli gratiâ – he calls the ablative the Quippe-quare-quale-quia-quidditive Case! – My Father made the world his confidant with respect to his Learning & ingenuity: & the world seems to have kept the secret very faithfully. – His various works, uncut, unthumbed, have been preserved free from all pollution, except that of his Family's Tails. – This piece of good-luck promises to be hereditary: for all 'my' compositions have the same amiable 'home-staying' propensity. – The truth is, My Father was not a first-rate Genius – he was however a first-rate Christian. I need not detain you with his Character – in learning, good-heartedness, absentness of mind, & excessive ignorance of the world, he was a perfect 'Parson Adams'. – My Mother was an admirable Economist, and managed exclusively.

Letter to Tom Poole, March 1797


Solitary nature manifested early

I was in earliest childhood huffed away from the enjoyments of muscular activity –  from Play – to take refuge at my mother's side, on my little stool, to read my little book, and to listen to the Talk of my elders. I was driven from Life in Motion, to Life in thought and sensation … I never played except by myself, & then only acting over what I had been reading or fancying, or half one, half the other, with a stick, cutting down the Weeds & Nettles, as one of the Seven Champions of Christendom – Alas! I had all the simplicity, all the docility of a little child; but none of the Child’s Habits – I never thought as a Child; never had the language of a Child.

Quoted in ‘The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’, James Gillman (1838)


Weir on the river OtterQuarrels with his brother Frank and spends night outside in a rain storm

I forget whether it was in my 5th or 6th year, but I believe the latter, in consequence of some quarrel between me and my Brother, in the first week of October, I ran away – from fear of being whipt and passed the whole night, a night of rain and storm, on the bleak side of a Hill on the River Otter, & was found, alive but without the power of my limbs, at day-break about six yards from the naked banks of the River – The consequence, a remittent, and then a rheumatic fever.

Quoted in ‘The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’, James Gillman (1838)


Reads and becomes a dreamer

At six years old I remember to have read Belisarius, Robinson Crusoe, & Philip Quarle [Quarll] – and then I found the Arabian Nights' entertainments – one tale of which (the tale of a man who was compelled to seek for a pure virgin) made so deep an impression on me (I had read it in the evening while my mother was mending stockings) that I was haunted by spectres, whenever I was in the dark – and I distinctly remember the anxious & fearful eagerness, with which I used to watch the window, in which the books lay – & whenever the Sun lay upon them, I would seize it, carry it by the wall, & bask, & read – . My Father found out the effect, which these books had produced – and burnt them. – So I became a 'dreamer' – and acquired an indisposition to all bodily activity – and I was fretful, and inordinately passionate, and as I could not play at any thing, and was slothful, I was despised & hated by the boys; and because I could read & spell, & had, I may truly say, a memory & understanding forced into almost an unnatural ripeness, I was flattered & wondered at by all the old women – & so I became very vain, and despised most of the boys, that were at all near my own age – and before I was eight years old, I was a 'character' – sensibility, imagination, vanity, sloth, & feelings of deep & bitter contempt for almost all who traversed the orbit of my understanding, were even then prominent & manifest.

I read every book that came in my way without distinction – and my father was fond of me, & used to take me on his knee, and hold long conversations with me. I remember, that at eight years old I walked with him one winter evening from a farmer's house, a mile from Ottery – & he told me the names of the stars – and how Jupiter was a thousand times larger than our world – and that the other twinkling stars were Suns that had worlds rolling round them – & when I came home, he shewed me how they rolled round – /. I heard him with a profound delight & admiration; but without the least mixture of wonder or incredulity. For from my early reading of Faery Tales, & Genii &c &c – my mind had been habituated to 'the Vast' – & I never regarded 'my senses' in any way as the criteria of my belief.

Letter to Tom Poole, October 1797


Death of father

Towards the latter end of September 1781 my Father went to Plymouth with my Brother Francis, who was to go as Midshipman under Admiral Graves; the Admiral was a friend of my Father's. – My Father settled my Brother; & returned Oct. 4th, 1781 – . He arrived at Exeter about six o'clock – & was pressed to take a bed there by the Harts – but he refused – and to avoid their intreaties he told them – that he had never been superstitious – but that the night before he had had a dream which had made a deep impression. He dreamt that Death had appeared to him, as he is commonly painted, & touched him with his Dart. Well he returned home – & all his family, I excepted, were up. He told my mother his dream – ; but he was in high health & good spirits – & there was a bowl of Punch made – & my Father gave a long & particular account of his Travel, and that he had placed Frank under a religious Captain &c – / At length, he went to bed, very well, & in high Spirits. – A short time after he had lain down he complained of a pain in his bowells, which he was subject to, from the wind – my mother got him some peppermint water – and after a pause, he said – 'I am much better now, my dear!' – and lay down again. In a minute my mother heard a noise in his throat – and spoke to him – but he did not answer – and she spoke repeatedly in vain. Her shriek awaked me – & I said, 'Papa is dead.' – I did not know [of] my Father's return, but I knew that he was expected. How I came to think of his Death, I cannot tell; but so it was. – Dead he was – some said it was the Gout in the Heart – probably, it was a fit of Apoplexy / – He was an Israelite without guile; simple, generous, and, taking some scripture texts in their literal sense, he was conscientiously indifferent to the good & the evil of this world.

Letter to Tom Poole, October 1797


Christ's HospitalTo school at Christ’s Hospital

My Uncle lived at the corner of the Stock exchange, & carried on his shop by means of a confidential Servant, who, I suppose, fleeced him most unmercifully. – He was a widower, & had one daughter who lived with a Miss Cabriere, an old Maid of great sensibilities & a taste for literature – Betsy Bowden had obtained an unlimited influence over her mind, which she still retains – Mrs Holt (for this is her name now) was, when I knew her, an ugly & an artful woman & not the kindest of Daughters – but indeed, my poor Uncle would have wearied the patience & affection of an Euphrasia. – He was generous as the air & a man of very considerable talents – but he was a Sot. – He received me with great affection, and I stayed ten weeks at his house, during which time I went occasionally to Judge Buller's. My Uncle was very proud of me, & used to carry me from Coffee-house to Coffee-house, and Tavern to Tavern, where I drank, & talked & disputed, as if I had been a man – /. Nothing was more common than for a large party to exclaim in my hearing, that I was a 'prodigy', &c &c &c – so that, while I remained at my Uncle's, I was most completely spoilt & pampered, both mind & body. At length the time came, & I donned the 'Blue' coat & yellow stockings, & was sent down to Hertford, a town 20 miles from London, where there are about 300 of the younger Blue coat boys – At Hertford I was very happy, on the whole; for I had plenty to eat & drink, & pudding & vegetables almost every day. I stayed there six weeks; and then was drafted up to the great school at London, where I arrived in September, 1792 [1782] – and was placed in the second ward, then called Jefferies's ward; & in the under Grammar School.

Letter to Tom Poole, February 1798


O! what a change! Deprest, moping, friendless poor Orphan, half-starved [at that time the portion of food given to the Blue-coats was cruelly insufficient, for those who had no friend to supply them].

Conceive what I must have been at 14 – I had never played  – I was in a continued low fever – my whole Being was with eyes closed to every object of present sense – to crumple myself up in a sunny Corner, and read, read, read – fancy myself on Rob. Crusoe’s Island, finding a Mountain of Plum Cake, and eating out a room for myself, and then eating it into the shapes of Chairs & Tables – Hunger and Fancy.

Heaven! I was flogged instead of flattered – However as I climbed upward in the School, my lot was somewhat alleviated – against my will, I was B chosen by Mr B. as one of those destined for the University –

Quoted in ‘The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’, James Gillman (1838)


Expands his reading to medicine and metaphysics

I became wild to be apprenticed to a Surgeon – English, Latin, yea, Greek Books of Medicine read I incessantly – Blanchard’s 'Latin Medical Dictionary' I had most by heart – Briefly, it was a wild dream – which gradually blending with gradually gave way to a rage for Metaphysics, occasioned by the Essays on Liberty & Necessity in Cato’s Letters – and then by Theology, after I read Voltaire’s 'Philosophical Dictionary' – I sported infidel! for which Boyer flogged me soundly.

Quoted in ‘The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’, James Gillman (1838)


Enters Jesus College

Jesus Collge, CambridgeWent to Jesus – for the first term, & as long as Middleton was at Pembroke (afterward Bp of Calcutta) read hard, got the Greek Ode &c – without my intention or knowlege, but thro’ pure ignorance, got into debt for the furniture of my rooms,, which I had desired the Man to in my simplicity to furnish as he pleased, – in fact, I never looked at them enough to know the difference between deal & mahogany – became miserable – drank bad wine.

Quoted in ‘The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’, James Gillman (1838)