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Biography

Coleridge returned to Cambridge. In what turned out to be his final year at the university, he read a book called Descriptive Sketches by a poet named William Wordsworth. It was a life-changing event. "Seldom, if ever, was the emergence of an original poetic genius above the literary horizon more evidently announced,"11 Coleridge wrote. "It was the union of deep feeling with profound thought, the fine balance of truth in observing, with the imaginative faculty in modifying the objects observed."12

Coleridge also bonded with an equally idealistic student and poet named Robert Southey. The two began to dream of a utopian community they dubbed the Pantisocracy, which was to be based in Pennsylvania. Residents would hold property communally, farm for part of the day, and spend the rest of their waking hours talking about literature and writing. The plan wasn't entirely practical—Coleridge had never farmed a day in his life—but Coleridge embraced it wholeheartedly. He left Cambridge without a degree in order to raise money for the Pantisocracy. In April 1795 he married Sara Fricker, the sister of Southey's fiancée.

Southey soon started to waffle, suggesting un-Pantisocratic amendments to their plan, such as hiring a servant. When he ultimately backed out, Coleridge was devastated. "You are lost to me, because you are lost to Virtue,"13 he wrote (a bit melodramatically) in a scathing letter to his friend. The marriage Coleridge made during his Pantisocratic zeal turned out to be a mistake as well. Sara Fricker seemed to be a nice enough person, but she and her husband had nothing in common. In 1796, the couple had their first child, a son named Hartley, and moved to the village of Nether Stowey in England's Lake District. For the duration of their marriage, Coleridge came up with every excuse he could to stay out of the house.

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