Read his poem "Kubla Khan"
Also known as: Professor Parson (pseudonym); W. H. Montagu (pseudonym)
Career: Poet, playwright, critic, essayist, and journalist
Coleridge was born in 1772 in the town of Ottery St. Mary, Devon, England, the tenth child of John Coleridge, a minister and schoolmaster, and his wife Ann Bowdon Coleridge. Coleridge was a dreamy, introspective child and read constantly. At the age of ten his father died and he was sent to Christ's Hospital, a boarding school in London where he was befriended by fellow student Charles Lamb. In 1791 he entered Cambridge University, showing promise as a gifted writer and brilliant conversationalist. He studied to become a minister, but in 1794, before completing his degree, Coleridge left Cambridge. He went on a walking tour to Oxford where he became friends with poet Robert Southey. Inspired by the initial events of the French Revolution, Coleridge and Southey collaborated on The Fall of Robespierre: An Historic Drama (1794). As an outgrowth of their shared belief in liberty and equality for everyone, they developed a plan for "pantisocracy," an egalitarian and self-sufficient agricultural system to be built in Pennsylvania. The pantisocratic philosophy required every member to be married, and at Southey's urging, Coleridge wed Sarah Fricker, the sister of Southey's fiancee. However, the match proved disastrous and Coleridge's unhappy marriage was a source of grief to him throughout his life. To compound these difficulties, Southey later lost interest in the scheme, abandoning it in 1795.
Coleridge then moved to Nether Stowey in England's West Country. Lamb, William Hazlitt, and other writers visted him there, making up an informal literary community. In 1796 William Wordsworth, with whom Coleridge had exchanged letters for some years, moved into the area. The two poets became instant friends, and they began a literary collaboration. Around this time Coleridge composed "Kubla Khan" and the first version of "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"; the latter work was included as the opening poem in Coleridge and Wordsworth's joint effort, Lyrical Ballads, with a few Other Poems (1798). That same year, Coleridge traveled to Germany where he developed an interest in the German philosophers Immanuel Kant, Friedrich von Schelling, and the brothers Friedrich and August Wilhelm von Schlegel. He later introduced German aesthetic theory in England through his critical writing. Soon after his return in 1799, Coleridge settled in Keswick near the Lake District. Together with Wordsworth and Southey, who had also moved to the area, Coleridge became known as a "Lake Poet." During this period, Coleridge suffered poor health and personal strife; his marriage was failing and he had fallen in love with Wordsworth's sister-in-law, Sarah Hutchinson — a love that was unrequited and a source of great pain. He began taking opium as a remedy for his poor health.
Seeking a more temperate climate and to improve his morale, Coleridge began a two-year trip to Italy, Sicily, and Malta in 1804. Upon his return to England, Coleridge began a series of lectures on poetry and Shakespeare, which are now considered the basis of his reputation as a literary critic. Because of Coleridge's abuse of opium and alcohol, his erratic behavior caused him to quarrel with Wordsworth, and he left Keswick to return to London. In the last years of his life Coleridge wrote political and philosophical works, and his Biographia Literaria, considered his greatest critical writing, in which he developed artistic theories that were intended to be the introduction to a great philosophical work. Coleridge died in 1834 of complications stemming from his dependence on opium.
Source: Exploring Poetry, Gale.