A humorous early Autograph Letter Signed ("S. T. Coleridge") to his brother George Coleridge (1764-1828),
COLERIDGE Samuel Taylor 1772 - 1834. Poet (1792)
3 pages 8vo with integral address leaf (Revd G. Coleridge, Mr Newcome's, 5 Clapton near Hackney) and remnants of red wax seal. Salisbury, 13 July
Coleridge, who was at this time studying at Jesus College, Cambridge, "writing for all the prizes" writes to his brother George during the summer-time, his first academic year having "closed brilliantly" (Holmes) with the the award of the Brown Gold Medal for his Greek Sapphic "Ode on the Slave Trade". "For a few brief weeks, Coleridge basked in the approval of his entire family, perhaps the one time in his life that he felt he had achieved what was expected of him" (Holmes), and optimism, vigour and good humour shines through this letter.
He outlines his plans and movements, with an emphasis on trying to coordinate with some of his numerous siblings (e.g. hoping to meet up with James soon as “if I do not visit [him] now, I shall not be able to do it at any future period – on account of his Sidmouthianism.”)
He writes from Salisbury - “Here I am, - videlicet – Salisbury, arrived on Wednesday night, and am in good health and spirits” – where he is staying with his brother Edward and Edward’s wife, who was some twenty years older than the Coleridges' mother, a fact that allegedly caused much amusement amongst the family. Here she is referred to simply (although possibly slyly) thus: “Mrs E. Coleridge made particular enquiries after your health – she calls you her Friend”. Edward Coleridge (1760-1843) was, at this time, working as an assistant master in Dr Skinner’s school in Salisbury. Ernest Hartley Coleridge, in his introduction to the 1895 work The Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, dubbed Edward “the wit of the family”, which is amusing to consider, as here S. T. C., whilst drawing attention to his brother’s inclination to be humorous, indicates that his jokes were not always good or successful: “My Brother Edward is well, if you except a Punnomania, with which he at present foams – his puns are very bad…” Indeed, from this letter we might be inclined to think that S. T. C. has wit in equal measure to his brother, as his descriptions of George’s “carbuncle on [his] cheek” are not without humour – George’s “cold-sprung luminary” he likens to “the star of Venus passing over the disk of the sun” (a most poetic way of describing a blemish!); although, perhaps Edward’s offering on the subject wins the day for its crudeness: “Ned has proposed an in melius [latin: improvement] to my simile by comparing your carbuncle to an ignis fatuus [will-o’-the-wisp] passing over a Dunghill.” Wonderful evidence that wit and poetry were something of a competitive sport amongst the Coleridge siblings.
The jocular nature of this letter is certainly captivating, but perhaps the most interesting element is what Coleridge says regarding both writing letters and poetry: his “Muse [is] as coy in her visitations as the Epistolary Spirit”, and that he looks forward to meeting George at Ottery [St Mary], their familial home, in the near future, as “your presence, like the sun, will relax the frost of my genius, and, like a cathartic, purify it of all obstructions, so that I expect to flow away in a bloody flux of poetry…”
Published in the Collected Letters, ed. Griggs, I, 36-37 (No. 18). Seal tear affecting a word or two of text.
Provenance: remained in the hands of Coleridge's descendants (by way of Coleridge's grandson E. H. Coleridge) until 2007 when it was offered for sale by Sotheby's along with 23 other Coleridge-related books and manuscripts.
Stock Code: 224548