COLERIDGE: Early Visions by Richard Holmes
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COLERIDGE: Early Visions

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Recent winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year prize, this initial part of a projected two-volume biography by Holmes (Footsteps, 1985; Shelley, 1975) offers the first narrative of Coleridge's life in which the poet appears as the hero--and Holmes vindicates his significance in cultural as well as literary history. In place of the faithless, drug-addicted, self-indulgent plagiarist that other biographers have presented, Holmes depicts a man gifted with powers of expression, vision, and self-observation, capable of inspiring love, loyalty, and achievement in others--the living prototype of what we now call the Romantic hero. Tracing Coleridge's life from his birth in 1772 to 1804, when he left England and his marriage for an ill-conceived trip to Malta, Holmes tactfully illustrates the delicate interplay between the private life of a sensitive, reflective individual and the demands of a public world. Drawing on the private diaries and reminiscences about Coleridge, as well as the compelling voice that held his contemporaries, Holmes recounts his subject's achievements as a poet (Kubla Khan, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner), political journalist, dramatist, essayist, lecturer, preacher, literary critic, conversationalist, and student of language, philosophy, natural science, folklore, theology, and the nascent field of psychology--to which he contributed the concept of psychosomatic illness. Holmes' great narrative talent rescues Coleridge from his own obscurities as well as from the obscurities of earlier, largely academic, biographers who--preoccupied with his thought--neglected his experience and environment. Holmes sympathetically relates Coleridge's follies, passions, and triumphs--from his enlisting in the army under an assumed name to his projected utopian community to be founded along the banks of the Susquehanna--his marriage, fatherhood, unrequited love affair, friendships with William and Dorothy Wordsworth, William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, and William Godwin, his straggles to earn a living and his repeated failure to build a life. In all, a great sense of humor, one Coleridge would have appreciated, prevails: in the last scene, Coleridge sails into exile, gazing at the stars from the quarter, deck of the Speedwell, seated in a chair assembled from cages full of quacking ducks.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1990
Publisher: Viking