SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE: A Bondage of Opium by Molly Lefebure
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SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE: A Bondage of Opium

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Unlike Norman Fruman's scholarly and debunking Coleridge : The Damaged Archangel, (1971), which addressed itself chiefly to Coleridge the plagiarist, Lefebure's more accessible biography is concerned with the disintegrating personality of the Romantic genius rather than with his literary ethics. Lefebure's premise is as simple as it is devastating: Coleridge was an opium junkie, ""a classic case of morphine-addiction""; it is impossible to make sense of him apart from this, the central agony of his brave but crippled life. The paranoia and delusions from which he suffered, his wrecked marriage, his pathological indecisiveness, hysterical self-pity and inability to sustain close personal relationships are ail text-book symptoms. Robert Southey and Wordsworth, who considered Coleridge's habit to be no more than a deplorable ""indulgence"" and his inability to kick it a disgraceful show of ""moral cowardice"" were grossly and inexcusably smug about a medical problem which they were incapable of understanding. Lefebure considers morphine addiction to be virtually incurable -- a fact which the 19th century with its promiscuous use of laudanum generally failed to realize. Not that Lefebure takes Coleridge's own apologias and endless self-accusations at face value -- like any junkie he derived enormous satisfaction from bruiting his additiction about and displaying a ""larger-than-life-sized self-exhibitionism."" And yet Coleridge tried repeatedly and relentlessly to emancipate himself from the drug and after 1816 when he was ensconced as ""The Guru of Highgate"" in the protective custody of Dr. James Gillman, the habit was in fact brought under control and mental if not physical rehabilitation was largely achieved. Lefebure reads Coleridge's Mariner, composed in 1798 as a kind of before the fact deja vu of his own perdition and restoration to mankind. She does not for a moment doubt the genius of the man whose 40-year Notebooks bear witness to the ""shrieked-aloud torments of a soul in purgatory"" and indeed even in this portrait of neurosis, hypochondria and Bosch-like terrors, Coleridge looms a giant beside the likes of Lamb, Wordsworth and the rest of the friends and acquaintances off whom he sponged.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1974
Publisher: Stein & Day