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I. CHILDHOOD-CHRIST'S HOSPITAL
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE was born at the Vicarage of Ottery St. Mary, in Devonshire, on the 21st October (1772. His father was the Rev. John Coleridge, Vicar of the Parish, and Chaplain-Priest and Master of its Free Grammar School (commonly called the King's School '), founded by Henry VIII. His mother was the Vicar's second wife, and her maiden name was Anne Bowdon. By his first wife, Mary Lendon, the Vicar had three daughters, who were all alive in 1797 ; and by his second, nine sons (of whom Samuel Taylor was the youngest) and one daughter. The poet's paternal grandfather, who had been a considerable woollen trader in Southmolton,' fell into poor circumstances when his son was about sixteen (1735), and John was then supported at school by a friend of the family. When, in 1748,1 he matriculated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, he was already married, and on leaving the University, without a degree, he settled as a schoolmaster at Southampton, where his wife died. Having remarried, in 1760 he removed to Ottery St. Mary, having in that year obtained both the living and the mastership of the school. At that time, besides a son who died in infancy, there were two children of his second marriage --John who died in 1786, a captain H.E.I.C.S., and William who died in 1780, both unmarried. In 1760 was born James, who entered the army and married one of the co-heiresses of Robert Duke, of Otterton, Esquire. James's eldest son became Sir John Taylor Coleridge (better known as “Mr. Justice Coleridge'), the father of the present Lord Chief Justice. James's third son was Henry Nelson Coleridge, who married his cousin Sara, the poet's only daughter. The Vicar's next two sons, Edward and George, both took orders. The latter succeeded (though not immediately) to the Grammar School, and to the private boarding-school which his father had carried on. The seventh son, Luke Herman, became a surgeon, but died at an early age, in 1790, leaving but one child, a son, who became in 1824 the first Bishop of Barbadoer. Next came Ann (Nancy'), whose early death, coming soon after that of Luke, dopply affected the young poet. The eighth son was Francis 1 When about 29 years of age, not 'zo' as following, p. 13.
See also to a Friend who stated by S. T. C. in his letter to Poole, Biog. had declared his Intention of writing no more Lit. 1847, ii. 314.
Poetry, p. 69. 'Nancy'died in her twenty-fifth, ? See On receiving an Account that his only not in her twenty - first year, as misprinted in Sister's Death was inevitable, and the poem next 'Note 22.'
Syndercombe, who died in 1792, a lieutenant H.E.I.C.S. The ninth son, and latest born of the Vicar's thirteen children, was the poet, baptizedSamuel Taylor,' after one of his godfathers. Of all the thirteen there are now alive descendants of but three-James, Luke, and Samuel Taylor. Those of James are numerous ; of Luke there are a grandson and great-grandson; and of the poet, a grandson with his four children, and a grand-daughter.
The Vicar is said to have been an amiable, simple-minded, and somewhat eccentric scholar, sound in Greek and Latin, and profound in Hebrew. Many stories of his absent-mindedness were told in the neighbourhood, some of them probably true. His famous son thus describes him to Poole : .In learning, goodheartedness, absentness of mind, and excessive ignorance of the world, he was a perfect Parson Adams.'2 He printed several books 3 by subscription. In A Critical Latin Grammar, he proposed (among other innovations) to substitute for the vulgar names of the cases (“for which antiquity pleads in opposition to reason ’) prior, possessive, attributive, posterior, interjective, and quale-quarequidditive.'
The Vicar's wife was fortunately of a more practical turn than himself. She was, comparatively, an uneducated woman, and unemotional ; but was an admirable wife, mother, and housekeeper; and although she disliked your harpsichord ladies,' determined to make gentlemen of her sons—an ambition in which their father was deficient.
Our knowledge of Coleridge's childhood is derived entirely from his letters to Poole written in 1797.4 He describes himself as a precocious and imaginative child, never mixing with other boys. At the age of three, he was sent to a dame's school, where he remained till he was six. “My father was very
My father was very fond of me, and I was my mother's darling ; in consequence whereof, I was very miserable. For Molly, who had nursed my brother Francis, and was immoderately fond of him, hated me because my mother took more notice of me than of Frank; and Frank hated me because my mother gave me now and then a bit of cake when he had none'-Frank enjoying many tit-bits from Molly, who had only “thumps and illnames” for “Sam,' which through life was the family abbreviation of his name. "So I became fretful and timorous, and a tell-tale ; and the schoolboys drove me
1 See Gillman's Life of S. 7. C. chap. i., and De Quincey in his Works (1863), ii. 70.
2 Biog. Lit. 1847, ii. 315.
3 (I.) Miscellaneous Dissertations arising from the 17th and 18th chapters of the book of Judges, 1768. 8vo, pp. 275.
(II.) A Critical Latin Grammar, containing clear and distinct rules for boys just initiated; and Notes explanatory of almost every antiquity and obscurity in the Language, for youth somewhat advanced in Latin learning. 1772. 12mo, pp. xiv. ; 161.
(III.) Also, 'For the use of Schools,' price 2s. bound, Sententiæ Excerptæ, explaining the Rules of Grammar, and the various signification of all the Prepositions, etc.
(IV.) Government not originally proceeding from Human Agency, but Divine Institution, shewn in a Sermon preached at Ottery St. Mary,
Devon, December 13, 1776, on the Fast Day, appointed by reason of our much-to-be-lamented American War, and published at the request of the hearers. By John Coleridge, Vicar of and Schoolmaster at Ottery St. Mary, Devon. London: printed for the Author, 1777. 4to, pp. 15.
To No. I. is appended a long school prospectus, setting forth the method of teaching, etc., and to No. II. an advertisement referring to the prospectus. From these we learn that the Vicar took about twenty boys, who paid two guineas entrance-fee, and sixteen guineas a year for board and the teaching of matin, Greek, and Mathe matics. “A Writing Master attends, for those who chuse it, at sixteen shillings per year; and a Dancing Master (at present Mr. Louis of Exeter) once a week, at two guineas per year.'
4 Biog. Supplement' to Biog. Lit. 1847, ii. 315 et seq.
from play and were always tormenting me. And hence I took no pleasure in boyish sports, but read incessantly.' He read all the children's books he could find-Jack the Giant-Killer, and the like. And I used to lie by the wall and mope; and my
“ spirits used to come upon me sudden, and in a flood ; and I then was accustomed to run up and down the churchyard and act over again all I had been reading, to the docks and the nettles and the rank grass. At six years of age, I remember to have read Belisarius, Robinson Crusoe, and Philip 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 . . . that I was haunted by spectres whenever I was in the dark; and I distinctly recollect the anxious and fearful eagerness with which I used to watch the window where the book lay, and when the sun came upon it, I would seize it, carry it by the wall, and bask and read.1 My father found out the effect which these books had produced, and burned them. So I became a dreamer, and acquired an indisposition to all bodily activity. I was fretful and inordinately passionate ; . . . despised and hated by the boys . flattered and wondered at by all the old women.
And before I was eight years old I was a character.' “That which I began to be from three to six, I continued to be from six to nine.? 'In this year (1778) I was admitted into the Grammar School, and soon outstripped all of my age.'
About this time the child had a fever. His nightly prayer' was the old rhyme, beginning “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,' and 'frequently have I (half-awake and half-asleep, my body diseased, and fevered by imagination) seen armies of ugly things bursting in upon me, and then four angels [“ Four good angels round me spread”] keeping them off.' And so the child went on, living by himself in a fairy world of nursery rhymes, and Arabian Nights, cutting down weeds and nettles, as one of the Seven Champions of Christendom.' “Alas ! I had all the simplicity, all the docility of the little child, but none of the child's habits. I never thought as a child, never had the language of a child.' Happily, wandering in Fairy Land is one of the habits of most children, but in Coleridge's case the usual correctives were wanting. One childish adventure is worth recalling, as it is not improbable that its effects on his constitution were never entirely got rid of. One evening, fearing punishment for a somewhat serious fault, he ran away, not stopping until he was a mile from home. Both rage and fear passed off, but he felt "a gloomy satisfaction in making his mother miserable,' and determined not to go home.
He fell asleep, and in his slumber rolled down to the unfenced bank of the Otter. The night had become stormy, and he awoke about five o'clock, wet, and so cold and stiff that he could not move. The Sir Stafford Northcote of the period, who, with many of the neighbours, had been searching all night for the lost child, found him, and he was carried home. 'I was put to bed,' he says, and recovered in a day or so. But I was certainly injured ; for I was weakly and subject to ague for many years after.'
It was apparently wlen Coleridge was about eight that his future career was marked out for him. ‘My father,' he writes, “who had so little parental ambition in him, that but for my mother's pride and spirit, he would certainly have brought up his other sons to trades, had nevertheless resolved that I should be a parson.' On his father's knee and in their walks together, the child learnt the names of the stars and something of the wonders of the heavens. "I heard him’ (remembered Coleridge) with a profound delight and admiration, but without the least mixture
1 See this reminiscence repeated, with some others, in The Friend, 1818,
of wonder or incredulity. For, from my early reading of fairy tales and about genii, and the like, my mind had been habituated to the Vast ; and I never regarded my senses in any way as the criteria of my belief. I regulated all my creeds by my conceptions, not by my sight, even at that age.'
The few glimpses of his childhood afforded by the poems1 are invariably pleasant, and he seems to have been petted, not only by his parents, but by his brother George, whom he describes as his earliest friend.'2 All this, or the best of it, came to an end when the boy had hardly completed his ninth year. His father died suddenly on the 4th October 1781, and his place, both as vicar and as schoolmaster, was taken by a Mr. Warren, with whom Coleridge remained as a dayscholar until the following April, when a presentation to Christ's Hospital was obtained for him from a Mr. John Way, but through the interest of Mr. Francis Buller (afterwards the famous judge), who had been a pupil of the Vicar. Thus 'too soon transplanted, ere his soul had fixed its first domestic loves,' Coleridge entered the great school on the 18th July 1782, an intervening period of about ten weeks having been spent in London with his mother's brother, Mr. John Bowdon, who had a shop in Threadneedle Street. This affectionate but injudicious uncle, he relates, used to carry me from coffee-house to coffee-house, and tavern to tavern, where I drank, and talked, and disputed as if I had been a man.'
After six weeks of the Junior School at Hertford- where I was very happy on the whole, for I had plenty to eat and drink'-he was removed, in September, to the great London school, being placed in the second, or “Jeffries' Ward, and in the Under Grammar School. Christ's Hospital, he says, then contained about seven hundred boys, about one-third being the sons of clergymen. The school and the Coleridge of those days have been described for all time in Lamb's Essays—Recollections of Christ's Hospital' (1813), and Christ's Hospital five-and-thirty years ago' (1820). The former is a serious historical account of the Foundation and its advantages; the latter presents the reverse of the medal, the side which impressed itself most vividly on the Blue-coat boys of the essayist's time. Although Lamb was Coleridge's junior by a little more than two years, he entered Christ's Hospital a few months earlier. His parents lived close at hand, and Coleridge was the poor friendless boy' for whom he speaks :
My parents and those who should care for me were far away. Those few acquaintances of theirs which they could reckon upon being kind to me in the great city, after a little forced notice, which they had the grace to take of me on my first arrival in town, soon grew tired of my holiday visits. . . . One after another they all failed me, and I felt myself alone among six hundred playmates. . . . How in my dreams would my native town (far in the west) come back, with its church, and trees, and faces! How I would wake weeping, and in the anguish of my heart exclaim upon sweet Calne in Wiltshire !'
• Calne,' of course, is only Lamb's device for concealing his friend's identity. His words about the boy's dreams are but a reflection of Coleridge's own lines in Frost at Midnight (11. 23-43, pp. 126, 127). It is the same poem which contains the remarkable prophecy how his beloved Hartley should wander like a breeze by lakes and mountains, unlike his father, who was
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars
Of rivers, fields,
Of a long exile. 1
BI of weeping and day-dreaming. Such, in some measure, they may have been, perhaps, at first ; but the clouds broke. He was full of natural gladness,' and possessed in an extraordinary degree the invaluable faculty of making friends. He had for such not only Lamb, but the two Le Grices and Bob Allen, and a little host beside ; for protector and encourager, Middleton (afterwards Bishop of Calcutta); and as a tolerable substitute for a home, the house of Mrs. Evans, the mother of Mary and other daughters. Boyer (whose floggings did his pupil no serious harm that we know of) took a paternal headmaster's interest in him, and brought him up in the way a good scholar, and even a good poet, should go; so that Coleridge, whose talents were quite as great as his genius, took the best honours the school afforded, and this in spite of his persistent waywardness. In his sixth year as a scholar, which was the sixteenth of his life, he entered the ranks of the Grecians'—the small band selected by the headmaster for special training under his own birch for the University Exhibitions of the school, one of which he gained in due time.
But there were interruptions. When about fifteen Coleridge took a fancy to be apprenticed to a friendly cobbler in the neighbourhood of the school, and induced the cobbler to make formal application to Boyer. This was more than Boyer could stand, and he drove the astonished applicant from his sanctum, with assault and battery. Coleridge himself seems to have escaped unhurt from the mêlée. Soon after this his brother Luke came up to walk the London Hospital, and Coleridge thought of nothing but how he too might become a doctor-read all the medical and surgical books he could procure, went round the hospital wards with Luke, and thought it bliss if he were permitted to hold a plaster. 'Briefly' (he says) 'it was
( a wild dream, which gradually blending with, gradually gave way to, a rage for metaphysics, occasioned by the essays on “Liberty” and “Necessity” in Cato's Letters, and more by theology. After I had read Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary I sported infidel ! but my infidel vanity never touched my heart.'4 Boyer took his
1 Prelude, Book VI. Cf. Coleridge's Sonnet above two or three at a time were inaugurated to the River Otter (p. 23), Lines to a beautiful into that high order'-in Recoll. of Ch. Hospital. Spring in a Village (p. 24), and Frost at Mid- 3 By John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon. night (p. 126).
vols. 2 See Lamb's account of the group-'seldom 4 Gillman's Life, p. 23.