Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Biographical Study

By E. K. Chambers | Go to book overview

I
THE BLUE-COAT BOY October 1772--October 1791

SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE was born, according to his father's entry in the register of Ottery St. Mary, about 11 o'clock in the forenoon of 21 October 1772. It was one of the facts of life which he could never accept. He habitually treated 20 October as his birthday, and in later life came to add two years to his real age. The discrepancies are hardly explained by a belief that his mother had told his wife of some error either in the baptismal register or in a transcript sent to Christ's Hospital. In fact there is complete agreement between the Ottery record and the Hospital documents, one of which, incidentally, is signed by a Samuel Taylor of Ottery, whom we know to have been Coleridge's godfather. There is, indeed, much evidence that Coleridge's capacious and retentive memory for things which had happened to him, and still more for things which he had read, was qualified, not only by an easy oblivion of his own past sentiments, but also by a marked lack of precision in chronological detail. His retrospective datings for his early poems are inconsistent and unreliable.1 Nor can we rely with implicit confidence on all the statements made in a series of biographical letters which he began to write to Thomas Poole in 1797, but of course never finished, or in his similar communications to James Gillman at Highgate.2

So far as these relate to the origin and history of his family, they are admittedly based upon 'dim traditions' received from his mother and an aunt, and can to some extent be corrected. Colrige, Coldridge, Coleridge--there are several other spellings--is a place-name in more than one part of Devonshire, and would easily give rise to a

____________________
1
C.1, 2, 37, 226; G.89, 101, 184; A.22; A.P.19, 295; A. W. Lockhart, Ch. H. Exhibitioners, 36; R. B. Johnson, Ch. H.69: cf. Lowes, 415, 584.
2
C.1-5, 249 (misdated 1830 for 1821); Addl. MS. 35343, f. 382; P. ii. 258, 279; Gillman1-39.

-1-

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