Letters of Hartley Coleridge

By Grace Griggs Evelyn; Earl Griggs Leslie et al. | Go to book overview

LETTERS

THE story of Hartley Coleridge up to the time of his entrance at Oxford is an amazing narrative of 'the oddest of God's creatures'. Born on September 19, 1796, at a time when his father, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, was embarking on a career including philosophy, theology, and poetry, Hartley soon became the centre of attraction in the Coleridge household at Nether Stowey. Coleridge watched his little son with the solicitude and curiosity of parent and philosopher; and at the very time the Lyrical Ballads were being conceived, Coleridge wrote to Thelwall'you would smile to see my eye rolling up to the ceiling in a lyric fury, and on my knee a diaper pinned to warm'. Nor did Coleridge's interest stop here. Imbued with the doctrines of Wordsworth and remembering his own unhappy childhood, he determined to give his son the freedom of a natural education; and in two poems he tells us of his plans. In Frost at Midnight he says:

For I was reared
In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags;

and in The Nightingale:

And I deem it wise
To make him Nature's play-mate . . .

. . . . . . .

But if that Heaven
Should give me life, his childhood shall grow up
Familiar with these songs, that with the night
He may associate joy.

Hartley grew up in a house divided against itself. Although in the early years of marriage his parents seem to have been happy enough, by the time Hartley was four or five, Coleridge had begun to talk and write of his domestic infelicity. From 1802 on he was more often travelling than at home, and little Hartley, 'the darling of the breeze', could not enjoy in full measure the companionship and direction of his father.

In July 1800 the Coleridges moved to the north, settling in Greta Hall, in the environs of Keswick. Greta Hall, a double house lying in an open field with Skiddaw and several other

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