Coleridge’s Names


Seamus Perry, University of Glasgow


[...] I almost think that the same skin

For one without—has two or three within

                                                          Byron (1)


[From The Coleridge Bulletin New Series 11 (Spring 1998), pp.37-47]


It is hardly surprising that someone so drawn as Coleridge to thinking of words ‘as Things, & living Things too’ (Collected Letters, I:626) should have scrutinised his own name so zealously for significance. No-one is more adept at uncovering a justifying hidden sense within normal usage (atonement revealing itself as ‘at-one-ment’, say: Lay Sermons, 55), or readier to allow an argument to be carried forward by ‘the blessed machine of language’ (Friend, I:108), or by the less obviously blessed engine of a pun (but then, the Christian church was founded on a pun). Coleridge sometimes looked to the common-sense use of words as a strong clue to their philosophical meaning: he urges in Biographia, for instance, that we let words ‘as it were think for us’ (Biographia, I:86*); and the initial basis for the famous fancy-imagination distinction is not German metaphysics, but the ‘legitimated’ normal usage, ‘Milton had a highly imaginative, Cowley a very fanciful mind’ (Biographia, I:84). In this habit of mind, he can come to resemble a philosopher like Wittgenstein, who once enjoined his followers to bring words ‘back from their metaphysical to their everyday use’; (2) and several attempts have indeed been made to cast Coleridge as a ‘language philosopher’




 of such a modern type. (3) But old-fashioned metaphysical concerns probably loom too large in the Coleridgean mix for this ever to be a complete characteristation; and anyway, the connection may make Coleridge seem a little too consistently worthy. Quite unlike Wittgenstein, his verbalism is often jokey, far from profound, or at least not solemnly profound, and frequently amused, seriously, by etymologies and by puns of all kinds - ‘best when exquisitely bad’ (Collected Letters, I:295), yet even then, often, ‘the Pun itself is the buffoon Brutus concealing Brutus, the Consul’ as ‘a ridiculous likeness leads to the detection of a true analogy’ (Marginalia, I:610). (4)

Given this interest, then, it isn’t surprising then, as I say, that Coleridge should have worried so consistently at his own name for its semantic secrets, and versified around it with such linguistic resourcefulness. Coleridge’s feelings about himself were as mixed as feelings can be; and with a characteristic blend of self-abasement and self-aggrandisement, he purports to trace those mixed feelings back to the incongruities that his verbal ingenuity finds contained, in miniature, within his own name. Nothing could seem more effortlessly singular than grasping or proclaiming your own name, or more simply self-assertive than the act of self-naming: it is the linguistic equivalent of Coleridge’s favourite maxim, ‘Know thyself’. Hamlet, first among Coleridge’s heroes, becomes himself again when he is able to proclaim, ‘This is I, / Hamlet the Dane’; and, as we shall presently see, Coleridge often names himself very firmly. But it was Coleridge’s ruinous, though fruitful, vocation to discover differences




of all kinds while otherwise intent on seeking out the certainty of oneness: ‘bring me two things that seem the very same, & then I am quick enough to shew the difference, even to hair-splitting’, as he admitted himself (Notebooks, II:§2372). And his unwillingly, or half-willingly, diversifying genius discovers division even within his own appellation, finding it to be that exemplarily Coleridgean affair, a balancing (if not exactly a reconciling) of opposite and discordant qualities. For Coleridge finds within his name several names, which between them nominate an important sense of self-division, something not only true of his own experience, but also of the human creature generally, of which he took himself to be the often forlorn exemplum.

But to start less loftily, how do you pronounce his name? He gives very certain advice on the subject, but even here, the evidence as a whole is contradictory. The most emphatic instructions on this important matter come, characteristically, in a lengthy footnote, this one contained in a high-spirited letter sent to the Morgans:


in & for itself I think, that the word Co le ridge (amphimacron = long on both sides) has a noble verbal physiognomy [...] can you conceive a nobler Sound than Baron Coleridge of Coleridge, in the County of Devon? [...] I appeal to both Mary & to Charlotte, whether there is not a peculiar indescribable Beauty of the lofty kind in Coleridge? - For it is one of the vilest Belzebubberies of Detraction to pronounce it Col-ridge, or Colleridge, or even Cole-ridge. It is & must be to all honest and honorable men, a trisyllablic Amphimacer, —! S.T.C. (Letters, III:518)


His own practice, again not unpredictably, is less certain. This scrap, written in an album (according to E.H.C.), seems to follow the rule:

Parry seeks the Polar Ridge,
Rhymes seek S.T. Coleridge,
Author of Works, whereof - tho’ not in Dutch -
The public little knows - the publisher too much. (Poetical Works, II:972)



But this, on the other hand, an exuberant piece of marginalia from his copy of Richard Field’s The Church, seems closer to ‘Colleridge’. (The previous owner of the book has written ‘Hannak [sic] Scoltock [sic] Her Book February 10 1787’.)


This, Hannah Scollock [sic]! may have been the case.
Your writing therefore I will not erase.
But now this Book, once yours, belongs to me,
The Morning Post’s & Courier’s S.T.C.ol
Elswhere in College, Knowledge, Joy, Wit and Scholerage
To Friends & Public known, as S.T. Coleridge. (Marginalia, II:685-6)


This doesn’t seem to have been a rare pronunciation: when Edward Jerningham wrote to Lady Bedingfeld about hearing Coleridge perform, he told her he had ‘attended at the Royal Institution the Lectures of Colleridge [sic] upon Shakespear [sic] and Milton’. (5) On the other hand, Coleridge’s lines to his little boy Derwent, explaining the different metrical feet, end, charmingly, with the deplored Cole-ridge:


                                                       My dear, dear child!
Could you stand upon Skiddaw, you would not from its whole ridge
See a man who so loves you as your fond S. T. COLERIDGE.

                                                  (Poetical Works, II:402)


John Poole, Thomas Poole’s uncle, made disapproving noises about his nephew’s association with someone called ‘Coldridge’, which




implies the same bi-syllabic pronunciation; (6) and, similarly, it is ‘Cole-ridge’ that Coleridge himself puns on to Allsop, christening himself temporarily ‘Dr Samsartorious Carbonijugius’ - that is to say, ‘Coal-ridge’. (7)

The uncertainty about how the pronounce his own surname goes along with an even greater indecisiveness about what his full name really is. He was christened Samuel Taylor Coleridge after a local worthy, Samuel Taylor; but, like Tristram Shandy, he came to think of his given name as somehow a blighting misnomer. In the notes he left for Gillman to write up, Coleridge listed himself, the last of the many children, as ‘Samuel Taylor Coleridge, beneficially abridged Esteesee (εστηση), i.e. S.T.C.’; (8) but in fact the family seems always to have referred to him as ‘Sam’ or ‘Samuel’. To Sir John Taylor Coleridge, for instance, he was ‘Uncle Sam’; (9) and Sara Coleridge, whom the Ottery Coleridges called ‘Mrs Sam’, seems normally to have referred to her husband as ‘Samuel’. (10) It was ‘a name he grew to dislike’, as Richard Holmes says, ‘with poignant intensity’. (11) Southey received the most vivid account of what was wrong with the name, offered while Coleridge was giving advice, Walter-Shandy-like, on the christening of a son:




[...] from my earliest years I have had a feeling of Dislike & Disgust connected with my own Christian Names: such a vile short plumpness, such a dull abortive smartness, in [the] first Syllable, & this so harshly contrasted by the obscurity & indefiniteness of the syllabic Vowel, & the feebleness of the uncovered liquid, with which it ends - the wabble it makes, & staggering between a diss- & a tri-syllable - & the whole name sounding as it you were abeeceeing. S.M.U.L. - altogether it is perhaps the worst combination, of which vowels & consonsants are susceptible. (Letters, II:1126)


In the margins of the works of the admirable Reverend (not Doctor) Samuel Johnson, Coleridge remarks that, even despite the ‘palliative Consolation’ of such inspiring precursors as Johnson and Dr Samuel Barrow, ‘Nothing can reconcile me to my wobbling name, Samuel’, and he even casts doubt on whether it is a properly Christian name at all (Marginalia, III:165).

Instead of calling himself by the erratic and unstable title Samuel, then, Coleridge emphatically chose to use his initials (which is what the Gillman notes wishfully claimed his family did). ‘S.T.C.’ is only one of many adopted appellations, most of which work to firm a ‘wobbling’ natural name into a name of strength, autonomy, and resolve. Richard Holmes plausibly suggests that the otherwise ridiculous sobriquet that Coleridge spun out of ‘S.T.C.’ for his enlistment in the Dragoons, ‘Silas Tomkyn Comberbache’, represented ‘a last, muffled dactylic tribute to Frank, whose middle name was Syndercombe’: (12) Frank’s courageous military career had ended at the age of twenty-two in India, when he shot himself in feverish delirium. Other pseudonyms seek to effect the same improvement of irresolution into manliness: ‘The Watchman’,




implacable guardian of true values; ‘The Friend’, the patient figure of inward illumination; ‘Satyrane’, taken from Spenser’s knight, ever faithful to Una (Poetical Works, I:413 n.1), and which Coleridge himself defined as ‘the Idoloclast, or breaker of Idols’, a figure he evidently conceived as an idealised version of himself: ‘O Satyrane! who would not have lost the sense of time and fatigue in thy company?’ (Friend, II:185). Satyrane is the subject of one of Coleridge’s many auto-epitaphs, which does not leave him entirely free of criticism; but his faults are a matter of hating ‘to excess’ things that are indeed hateful (‘The hollow Puppets of a hollow Age’), and the poem ends lauding him as a ‘studious Poet, eloquent for truth!’, so there isn’t much doubt where approval lies.

But by far the most important of these several revisionary namings is the simple sequence of initials, ‘S.T.C.’, often spelled out in the signature ‘ESTEESE’ (Letters, VI:963) or ‘ESTEESI’ (Marginalia, I:93), or punned on: ‘Your afflicted but very sincere friend and thorough esteemer’ (Letters, VI:962). The initials appeal to Coleridge because of the Greek pun he makes on them, a pun on which he based his seal (reproduced on the front cover of each volume of the Bollingen edition), and which he put into verse:

[...] his own whim his only bribe,
Our Bard pursued his old A.B.C.
Contented if he could subscribe
In fullest sense his name ‘`εστησε;
(‘Tis Punic Greek for ‘he hath stood’!)
Whate’er the men, the cause was good;
And therefore with a right good will,
Poor fool, he fights their battles still. (Poetical Works, I:453)

That is rueful, but triumphant. Coleridge claimed himself fortunate to have his set of initials, for any man with them was able to ‘pun without hazard of conscience, tho’ not much to the credit of his wit, by




reading it ‘`Εστησε, He hath stood firm’ (Letters, IV:902); and he made the point throughout his life. ‘Εστησε signifies - He hath stood - which, in these times of apostacy from the principles of Freedom, or of Religion in this country, & from both by the same persons in France, is no unmeaning Signature, if subscribed with humility, & in the remembrance of, Let him that stands take heed lest he fall—. However, it is in truth no more than S.T.C. written in Greek. Es tee see’ (Letters, II:867). The vindication of his somehow natural name is based on precariously Punic Greek, however: Coleridge himself conceded it a ‘fondly Graecized’ form (Letters, VI:963). (13) As Griggs points out in a footnote, it doesn’t mean ‘He hath stood’ at all: it means ‘he hath placed’; ‘He hath stood’ would be ‘’Εστηκε, but then the play on Coleridge’s initials would have been lost’ (Letters, II:867 n.1). But that isn’t quite the end of the story: John Beer points out that it can, in fact, mean ‘he hath stood’, but only in the sense ‘he hath made others to stand’. (14) That would fit the educative improvement achieved by an effective Watchman or Friend; applied to Coleridge himself, as he clearly intended it, the usage conjures one piece of grammar into another, turning a transitive verb into an intransitive one. (15) Well, this may be tenuous Greek, but it is eminently Coleridgean in its transformation of a grammar of relationship (making something stand) into something absolute that stands conceptually on its own (just standing). The linguistic revision converts a logic of dependence into a logic of noble, self-dependent autonomy - translating, as it were, the wobbly existence of Samuel into the firm authority of ESTEESE. The implication is




Lutheran: ‘Hier steh Ich’ (Marginalia, I:93); or a God-like ‘I AM’, the absolute self-presence that Coleridge wonderingly, and self-deprecatingly, saw in Wordsworth: ‘the dread watch-tower of man’s absolute self’ (Poetical Works, I:405). Absolute genius, such as Wordsworth (by vocation, anyway) and Milton (by certain achievement) possess, creates from a similar position of sheerly ‘self-ponent’ independence: (16) ‘an absolute something that is in and of itself at once cause and effect’, possessors of the ‘self-sufficing power of absolute Genius’ exist ‘in an intermundium of which their own living spirit supplies the substance, and their imagination the ever-varying form’ (Biographia, I:285;31;32). Like God, such a genius is ‘self-originant, causa sua’ (Marginalia, II:293).

Sending one of his several self-epitaphs, Coleridge referred to himself as one ‘better known by the initials of his Name than be the Name itself’ (Letters, VI:963); but this was surely wishful. The poignancy of Coleridge’s determined attempt to change his name to ‘S.T.C.’ stems from his unforgiving awareness that, in fact, the wobbly ‘Samuel’ - like the shape-shifting pronunciatory life led by ‘Coleridge’ - is far from being a misnomer. While the self-asserting, divinely confident absolute self may indeed stand alone - ‘“It is good for him to be alone”‘, Coleridge said of Wordsworth (Table Talk, II:391) - Coleridge discovers sadly, of himself, ‘“I am not a God, that I should stand alone”‘ (Notebooks, III:§3325). ‘My nature requires another Nature for its support’, he lamented to the notebook, thanks to ‘the necessary Indigence of its Being’ (Notebooks, I1679). For this to be true, the self must quite lack the sovereign confidence of ‘he hath stood’; instead,




Coleridge suffers the knowledge that it is undermined by its ‘Weaknesses, which are alas! my identity’ (Notebooks, II:§2712).

That puts it dolefully, but much the same point could be cast in a much more positive light, and the sublime self-standing autonomy of a Wordsworth reconsidered as a kind of egotistic failure of sympathy: the ‘self-concentration […] which renders the dearest beings means to him, never really ends’ (Notebooks, III:§4243), or, as he put it to Poole at a very early date, ‘dear Wordsworth appears to me to have hurtfully segregated & isolated his Being’ (Letters, I:491). The sort of self that needs to enter into relationship with things without itself is chastised in the semantic comedy of his name as the wobbly creature, ‘Samuel’, or ‘Coleridge’, enacting in the indecisive music of its title the responsiveness to external influence that Coleridge deplored in his own unresisting spirit; but that shouldn’t blind us to the much more hopeful and enthusiastic aspects which the same kind of self has elsewhere in his thought. For love is a noble form of dependence, of living in another: ‘that unutterableness, that impatience at the not enoughness of dependency, with which I love her!’ (Notebooks, II3148) - the kind of self-effacing ‘feminine’ personality that would be raised to the pitch of genius in the empathetic imagination of Shakespeare. And, it should be said, in the empathetic moments of Coleridge too: when he admitted the ‘feminine character’ of his constitution, Coleridge singled out the being ‘continuous, diffused, passive’ (Letters, VI:729), often attributes to be deplored besides Wordsworth’s utter manliness. But not always: the downside of life in the dread watch-tower is an incapacity to leave it in acts of love - ‘he does not love, he would not love, it is not the voice, not the duty of his nature’ (Notebooks, II3148). ‘The first lesson that innocent Childhood affords me’, he writes in a late manuscript, ‘is - that it is an instinct of my Nature to pass our of myself, and to exist in the




form of others’: (17) precisely the opposite virtue to the lofty tower of the absolute self.

Within the punning and rhythmic life of his own name, then, Coleridge affects to discover a division within, two selves within a single self: a ‘feminine’ self, regretfully acknowledged, and a ‘masculine’, wishfully claimed, co-existing in an unsteady marriage of opposites. This discovery is often experienced as a woe, for one naturally wishes to evade ‘the struggle within, this anti monadic feeling’ (Notebooks, II2471); but, like Coleridge at large, a fuller success in the question of naming can emerge from the failure of more single-minded kinds of ambition. To find, despite your most intensely unitary ambitions, that rival versions of the self exist within the self, is to exemplify a different order of wisdom: ‘That deep intuition of our oneness - is it not at the bottom of many of our faults as well as Virtues’ (Notebooks, II:§2471). Within the apparent oneness of his own name, Coleridge virtuously discovers a diversity of names - and appropriately, for a mind which properly deserves the epithet which Coleridge, in turn, had adopted for Shakespeare: ‘myriad-minded’ (Biographia, II:19).



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1. Don Juan, XVII, ll.87-8. [back]
2. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G.E.M. Anscombe (1958; 3rd.edn., 1968; repr. Oxford, Blackwell, 1984) I116, 48e. [back]
3. Most notably, Paul Hamilton, Coleridge’s Poetics (Oxford, Blackwell, 1983). [back]
4. Brutus the Consul escaped murder by Tarquin the Proud by pretending to be stupidly insane (hence Brutus), and was later to become one of the Fathers of the Roman Empire: Marginalia, I:610 n.60/2. [back]
5. The Jerningham Letters (1780-1843) Being Excerpts from the Correspondence and Diaries of the Honourable Lady Jerningham and of her Daughter Lady Bedingfeld, ed. Egerton Castle (2 vols.; London, Bentley, 1896), I:315-17. [back]
6. Quoted in Mrs Henry Sandford, Thomas Poole and his Friends (2 vols.; London, Macmillan, 1888), I:97.[back]
7. The pun is unpicked by Owen Barfield, in ‘Coleridge’s Enjoyment of Words’; in Coleridge’s Variety. Bicentenary Studies, ed. John Beer (London/Basingstoke, Macmillan P., 1974) 204-218, 207. [back]
8. James Gillman, The Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (only 1 vol. published; London, Pickering, 1838), 9. [back]
9. Diary of Sir John Taylor Coleridge; quoted in Bernard, Lord Coleridge, This For Remembrance (London, Unwin, 1925), 34. [back]
10. See, Molly Lefebure, The Bondage of Love. A Life of Mrs Samuel Taylor Coleridge (N.Y., Norton, 1987), 164, etc.. [back]
11. Richard Holmes, Coleridge. Early Visions (London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1989), 2. [back]
12. Holmes, Coleridge. Early Visions, 54. [back]
13. The poem is enlighteningly discussed by Morton D. Paley, Coleridge’s Later Poetry (Oxford, Clarendon P., 1996), 130-131. [back]
14. John Beer, ‘Coleridge at School’, Notes and Queries 203 (1958) 114-116, 115. [back]
15. As Tim Fulford says: Coleridge’s Figurative Language (Basingstoke/London, Macmillan, 1991), 29. [back]
16. ‘Self-ponent’ comes from Coleridge’s marginalia to Tennemann; quoted in Philosophical Lectures, 409 n.34. [back]
17. Quoted in Inquiring Spirit. A New Presentation of Coleridge from his Published and Unpublished Prose Writings, ed. Kathleen Coburn (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1951), 68. [back]


Biographia: Biographia Literaria or Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions (Collected Works VII), ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate (2 vols.; 1983).
Friend: The Friend (Collected Works IV), ed. Barbara E. Rooke (2 vols.; 1969).
Lay Sermons: Lay Sermons (Collected Works VI), ed. R.J. White (1972).
Letters: The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. Earl Leslie Griggs (6 vols.; Oxford, 1956-71).
Marginalia: (a) Marginalia vols. 1-2 (Collected Works XII.1-2), ed. George Whalley (1980-84); (b) Marginalia vol. 3 (Collected Works XII.3), ed. H.J. Jackson and George Whalley (1992).
Notebooks: (a) The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, I-III, ed. Kathleen Coburn (each in two parts; 1957-73); (b) The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, IV, ed. Kathleen Coburn and Merton Christensen (in two parts; 1990).
Philosophical Lectures: The Philosophical Lectures of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Hitherto Unpublished, ed. Kathleen Coburn (1949).
Poetical Works: The Complete Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge […], ed. Ernest Hartley Coleridge (2 vols.; Oxford, 1912). Continuously paginated.
Table Talk: Table Talk Recorded by Henry Nelson Coleridge (and John Taylor Coleridge) (Collected Works XIV), ed. Carl Woodring (2 vols.; 1990).

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