On this day, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who helped establish the Romantic school of poetry, begins to publish his own periodical, The Friend. The essays that Coleridge published in The Friend are later collected into a book.
Coleridge led a turbulent, tragic life. Born in 1772 in the small town of Ottery St. Mary in Devonshire, he was sent to school in London after his father’s death. He was a lonely student who fell into dissolution and debt after he went to Cambridge in 1791. He fled his creditors and enlisted in the cavalry, which he later abandoned with help from his brothers. He returned to Cambridge, where he met poet Robert Southey. The two launched an ambitious plan to establish a democratic utopia in Pennsylvania. To further the plan, Coleridge married a woman he did not love, the sister of Southey’s fiancee. When Southey abandoned the plan, Coleridge remained in the ultimately unhappy marriage.
In 1795, Coleridge met the poet William Wordsworth. The two became close friends and collaborators, assisted by Dorothy Wordsworth, the poet’s sister. The Wordsworths moved near Coleridge in 1797, and the following year Wordsworth and Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads, which established the Romantic school of poetry. It included Coleridge’s famous poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
Coleridge’s life began unraveling at the turn of the century. He became estranged from his wife and fell in love with Sara Hutchinson, whose sister married Wordsworth three years later. Meanwhile, his health began to suffer, and he began taking large doses of opium to control his rheumatism and other problems. He became addicted to opium, and his creative output waned. In 1810, he broke with Wordsworth, and the two would not reconcile for nearly 20 years.
Starting in 1808, he supported himself for a decade with successful lecture series on literature. Meanwhile, he single-handedly wrote, edited, and distributed The Friend for about a year, and in 1813 his tragedy Remorse was well-received. Thanks to the help of Dr. James Gillman and his wife (with whom Coleridge eventually lived), the poet began to cut back on his opium use. In 1816, he published the fragmentary poem “Kubla Kahn,” written under the influence of opium around 1797. In 1817, he published a significant work of criticism, Biographa Literaria, and in 1828 was reconciled with Wordsworth. Coleridge died in 1834.