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English literary genius, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), was in kinship and residential care as a child.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Ottery St Mary in Devon, England. He was the youngest of ten children born to Ann Bowdon Coleridge and the Reverend John Coleridge. Samuel had a close relationship with his father who was the local vicar as well as the headmaster of the grammar school and author of four books.

John Coleridge died suddenly in 1781; Samuel was only nine years of age.

Keen to help the bereaved Ann Coleridge, Judge Buller, a former pupil of John Coleridge, suggested that he take Samuel to London to attend the Charterhouse School. He instead enrolled the boy in Christ’s Hospital, effectively an orphanage-cum-boarding school which was set up in 1551 to provide a home and education for London’s orphaned, homeless and impoverished children.

Despite its strong academic reputation, Coleridge claimed, the ambitious members of the family felt degraded by this eventuality and his brothers later refused to receive him in his bluecoat uniform (Beer 2008).

A maternal uncle cared for the boy until he was formally taken into the school where life was harsh.

Food was poor and meagre, the dormitories spartan; the reaction of the young Coleridge was apparently one of depression and recalcitrance (Beer 2008).

Despite his loneliness, Samuel declined to keep in touch with Judge Buller although he did see his uncle. He also formed a strong friendship with future fellow poet Charles Lamb and he came to regard a Mrs Evans, mother of another student, “as a mother more adequate than his own” (Beer, 2008). Samuel did not visit his family home in Ottery until 1789, by which time he was almost seventeen years old.

Unusually for a Christ’s Hospital alumni, Samuel Coleridge was enabled by a scholarship to go on to Jesus College at Cambridge University where he matriculated in 1791. While there, Coleridge he was involved in a literary group convened by Christopher Wordsworth and he took up an interest in politics leading to a “convergence between politics and poetry in Coleridge’s career which is characteristic and important (Poetry Foundation). Coleridge left Cambridge three years later without completing a degree.

Coleridge married Sara Fricker in 1795 and the couple moved to Clevedon in Somerset. They returned to Bristol in 1796 where Coleridge gave lectures and started a journal called The Watchman, which only lasted for eight issues. Inspired by accounts of William Wordsworth’s—whom Coleridge had met in Bristol—frugal life with his sister at Racedown in Dorset, he set up house in 1797 with Sara and his baby, Hartley, in a small cottage in Lime Street, Nether Stowey in Somerset.

While living at Stowey, Coleridge joined with Wordsworth in investigating the human mind. This was a productive period with Wordsworth relieved of a bout of depression and Coleridge developing a “new, informal mode of poetry in which he could use a conversational tone and rhythm to give unity to a poem” (Beer, 2021).

In 1798 Coleridge was given an annuity by Joshiah and Thomas Wedgwood and, relieved of the pressure of providing for his family, he visited Germany with Dorothy and William Wordsworth. The following year, he and Wordsworth published the Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poems widely regarded as the start of the Romantic movement in English literature and which includes one of Coleridge’s best-known poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

Around this time, Coleridge also began experiencing conflict at home (especially after he met Sara Hutchinson, whose sister Mary married Wordsworth in 1802), increased ill health, and a growing dependence on opium.

Hoping that his health would improve with warmer weather, in 1804 Coleridge became secretary to the acting governor of Malta. He later travelled through Italy, not returning to England until 1806. Coleridge then separated from Sara and moved in with the Wordsworths before moving to London—after a quarrel with Wordsworth—where he gave a series of lectures during the winter season of 1811-12. These lectures on Shakespearean characters were in front of large audiences and contributed to a resurgence of interest in Shakespeare’s plays.

In 1816, Coleridge appealed for help with his opium addiction from Dr James Gillman.

Coleridge was 44 years old, battered and silver-haired but still handsome and astonishingly eloquent. He carried with him the proof copy of his unpublished erotic poem “Christabel”. With a gentle reminder of his wilder days, his friend Charles Lamb described Coleridge as “an Arch Angel a little damaged” (Holmes).

He moved in with Gillman and his family in 1823 and stayed with them for the rest of his life.

Coleridge redeems his life by recreating it as literature in Biographia Literaria (1817). In this two-volume work, he gives an account of his early life, of why he became dissatisfied with several 18th century philosophers, and a critique of Wordsworth’s poems. The work established his “reputation as one of the most important of all English literary critics” (Beer 2021).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1824.

In all his roles, as poet, social critic, literary critic, theologian and psychologist, Coleridge expressed a profound concern with elucidating an underlying creative principle that is fundamental to both human beings and the universe as a whole. To Coleridge, imagination is the archetype of this unifying force … (Beer 2021).

All three of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s surviving children were important figures in the 19th century. Hartley (1796 to 1849) was a poet and biographer; Sara (1802-1852) was a writer and translator; and Derwent (1800-1882) was a scholar.

In 2018, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s remains were rediscovered in the wine cellar of the church of St Michael which was built on the site of the 17th-century Ashurst House in Highgate. Coleridge was originally buried in a chapel at Highgate, but the coffins (including those of his wife, daughter, son-in-law and grandson) were relocated to St Michael’s but forgotten.


Beer, John. “Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (1772-1834)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2008.;jsessionid=3F79BF746A6B9168D35680D122F33E3B

Beer, John. “Samuel Taylor Coleridge. British poet and critic.” Britannica, 2021.

“Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1772-1834.” Poetry Foundation.

Gardy, Kaitlyn. “For their Maintenance and Education: An Analysis of Children Entering Christ’s Hospital, London, 1763-1803.” Dissertations, Theses and Masters Projects, 2011.  

Gonzalez, Yolanda Gonzalez (2011) “Genius, Heredity, and Family Dynamics. Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his Children: A Literary Biography.” Pro Quest Dissertations Publishing, 2011.  

Holmes, Richard. “Kate Moss moves into Coleridge’s Xanadu.” The Guardian, 27 March 2011.

Kennedy, Maev. “Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s remains rediscovered in wine cellar.” The Guardian, 12 April 2018.

Moulin, Joanny. “Reflections on the Life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.” Etudes Anglaises, 63 (2010): 34-48.

Youngquist, Paul. “Rehabilitating Coleridge: Poetry, Philosophy, Excess.” ELH, 66 (1999): 885-909.

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