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Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Biography

In 1816, Coleridge's doctor sent a letter to a London physician named James Gillman, asking if Gillman would take in a patient desiring "to fix himself in the house of some medical gentleman, who will have courage to refuse him any laudanum."21 Coleridge moved into the Gillman family home in the Highgate neighborhood of London, intending to stay a few weeks. He lived there until his death eighteen years later. Coleridge was never able to quit laudanum completely, but with Gillman's help he drastically reduced his intake. His health improved, and he began to write and lecture again with more clarity.

Coleridge was the type of person whom people loved to be around, one who talked and made friends easily. The brilliance he exhibited when talking even outshone his writing. "Sometimes after an evening with him, [his friends] felt he had just talked a book greater than any he had written,"22 one scholar noted. He was also too smart for most people to keep up with. His nephew Henry Nelson Coleridge described his uncle's style as an "exhaustive, cyclical mode of discoursing" that followed "an almost miraculous logic."23 Devotees would come to visit him and leave dazed and confused by what they'd just heard.

Coleridge's personal life was still in turmoil. He suffered from depression, and often felt that his work was inadequate. Many of his best lectures and essays were not published until after his death. His eldest son Hartley, a ne'er-do-well sort who had been kicked out of Oxford University for drunkenness, was a constant source of heartache. In 1822, while the pair strolled through London, Hartley asked to borrow some money and promised to meet his father later that evening. Instead Hartley skipped town, going on to fail at one career after another. A heartbroken Coleridge never saw his son again.

On 25 July 1834, Samuel Taylor Coleridge died of heart and lung problems at the London home of James Gillman. He was buried in the aisle of St. Michael's Church in Highgate. Charles Lamb, his longtime friend and fellow poet (who died just five months later), gave his eulogy. We think that they are the perfect, final words.

"When I heard of the death of Coleridge, it was without grief. It seemed to me that he long had been on the confines of the next world,—that he had a hunger for eternity. I grieved then that I could not grieve. But since, I feel how great a part he was of me. His great and dear spirit haunts me. I cannot think a thought, I cannot make a criticism on men or books, without an ineffectual turning and reference to him. He was the proof and touchstone of all my cogitations. ... Great in his writings, he was greatest in his conversation. In him was disproved that old maxim that we should allow every one his share of talk. He would talk from morn to dewy eve, nor cease till far midnight, yet who ever would interrupt him,—who would obstruct that continuous flow of converse, fetched from Helicon or Zion? He had the tact of making the unintelligible seem plain. … He was my fifty-years-old friend without a dissention. Never saw I his likeness, nor probably the world can see again."24

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