This is Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Romantic poet of renown, laudanum addict and one time best friend of William Wordsworth. In my Romantic Literature class we recently dedicated a lot of time to Mister Coleridge and his writings, and it led me to a conclusion. Pouring over the pages of unfinished poems, hearing about his unrequited love and his hi-jinks to escape himself, it hit me. I’m Coleridge. You’re Coleridge. In fact, we’re all a little bit Coleridge sometimes.
#1. Coleridge suffered from fear of poetic failure, and also, literal poetic failure.
Some of his most iconic works, such as “Kubla Khan” and “Christabel” are actually unfinished. He just straight up said “fuck it” and put them out there as is, which is pretty much a point anyone who has ever written an essay, EVER, can relate to. Struggling with composition, hitting the wall and deciding to hand it in, hell, high water or suffering GPA be damned.
In the case of Kubla Khan, he dreamt the whole poem, the entire thing, from start to finish. Upon waking, he scrambled to write it down, only to be interrupted mid transcription and forget the whole thing. I’m not sure why he never finished Christabel, but I imagine he lost momentum somewhere in the middle, looked down at the paper, shrugged like, “Eh.” And wandered off to go spelunking. (Let me explain. Later.)
Twice (TWICE!) he started up a newspaper of his own, only to have it fail on him. One time when I was a kid, I decided that I was going to run a cat fan club, and it lasted about a year. Pretty much the same thing.
#2. Coleridge does stupid things in the name of mending his heart.
When a girl he was in love with by the name of Mary Evans rejected him, what did a young Coleridge do? Did he sit down and write a poem about it? NO, he manned up and joined the cavalry… Which is hilarious when you realize that he had never been on a horse before. This was a personal revelation he ALSO had, but not before he had scrambled up onto his first horse ever, only to fall off of it. Needless to say his career there was short lived.
Basically he went on a militant inspired heartbreak bender, and who hasn’t decided to choose horseback riding over rationally dealing with their own feelings at some point? LET’SBEHONEST. He, or rather the pseudonym he signed up under, “S. T. Comberbache” was discharged from the cavalry 4 months later, cited as “insane.”
#3. He also does stupid things in the name of making his art.
According to my English professor, Wordsworth used to think of his poems while wandering down a tidy garden lane, while Coleridge was out traversing the wild terrain of the country, trying to find words while tackling hills and possibly rabid sheep, which was totally a major problem in England at the time.
According to Wikipedia, “In 1802, Coleridge took a nine-day walking holiday in the fells of the Lake District. He made an ascent of Scafell Pike.” A) It was the first recorded climb of the pike B) He kind of sort of invented rock climbing? C) He picked a really dangerous route because he’s Coleridge and that’s just how he do.
Any artist knows that to get to good art, sometimes you have to go to some lengths to improve your work. Coleridge just decided to do it without safety equipment, or you know, a clue.
#4. He’s got vices.
Coleridge spent the majority of his life addicted to laudanum. Now maybe you don’t have a taste for the opium, but you might be a dirty liar (or a Mormon) if you haven’t at least tried the other half of that equation, alcohol and liked it… And if you’re one of those “straight edge” people who doesn’t drink, just substitute laudanum for Facebook, coffee, or Breaking Bad.
#5. He has confidence issues too, bro.
Once upon a time, S.T. Coleridge was married to a woman named Sara Fricker, only to fall head over heels in love for a DIFFERENT woman, also named Sara. Being the Romantic poet that he was, he obviously manned up and divorced his wife, wrote Sara 2 a million beautiful poems, (“O Lady! we receive but what we give / And in our life alone does Nature live), won her heart, and they lived happily ever after in pastoral, spelunking paradise, right?
Wrong. Coleridge never so much as even SPOKE a word to Sara 2 about it, loving her only from afar and staying with his original wife, despite increasing marital issues. Why? Because he received what he gave, which was NOTHIN’. He pined from afar, the way you do for that barista who makes your coffee every morning, or for those powdered doughnuts you pass at the grocery store on the way to buy kale. Damn.
#6. He doesn’t always fight with his friends, but when he does, it’s over something stupid.
Think about the last argument you had with your best friend. Was if over something serious? Or were you two trying to discern which type of Doritos were the superior flavour, only to end up locked in an angrier than intended battle of wits?
Coleridge and his BFF Wordsworth both went to Cambridge, but met and became friends AFTER their graduation. They were tight for a long time, even publishing their book, Lyrical Ballads together. However, eventually they had a fight which tore their poetic bromance asunder. The cause of this fight? Theories on poetic diction. That’s right. The two canonical sweethearts parted ways in their friendship because of IDEAS about HOW things should be said in poetry, and overall creative differences.
When Wordsworth convinced Coleridge they ought to leave out “Christabel” from Lyrical Ballads, it was only because, you know, he wanted poems that were finished to be published. Coleridge was just not down with silly things like FINISHING his masterpieces, got way butthurt over it, and their friendship never recovered. (Also, just saying, Jalapeno Doritos are OBVIOUSLY superior.)
#7. He geeks out.
So you know how there’s been a literal baby boom in people naming their kids Sherlock? Well, this is no doubt because BBC’s Sherlock has generated hundreds of crazy super fans who now have all decided they love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation (or maybe just Benedict Cumberbatch) SO MUCH that they’re literally creating a generation of Baker Street babies.
Well, Coleridge basically did the same thing. He was such a huge fan of philosopher David Hartley, that he named his first born son “Hartley”, in honour of the man and his theories. Either way, I think young Hartley was just lucky enough he dodged being named something like Peeta or Draco.