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TO THE BIOGRAPHIA LITERARIA.
BY THE LATE H. N, COLERIDGE, ESQ., M.A.
[1772 to 1791.)
While here, thou fed'st upon ethereal beams,
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE was the youngest child of the Reverend John Coleridge, Chaplain-Priest and Vicar of the Parish of Ottery St. Mary, in the county of Devon, and Master of the Free Grammar, or King's School, as it is called, founded by Henry VIII. in that town. His mother's maiden name was Ann Bowdon. He was born at Ottery on the 21st of October, 1772, “about eleven o'clock in the forenoon," as his father, the Vicar, has, with rather unusual particularity, entered it in the register.
John Coleridge, who was born in 1719, and finished his education at Sidney-Sussex College, Cambridge,t was a country clergyman and schoolmaster of no ordinary kind. He was a good Greek and Latin scholar, a profound Hebraist, and, according to the measure of his dayan accomplished mathematician. He was on terms of literary friendship with Samuel Badcock, and, by his knowledge of Hebrew, rendered material assistance to Dr. Kennicott, in his well-known critical works. Some curious papers on theological and antiquarian subjects appear with his signature in the early numbers of The Gentleman's Magazine, between the years 1745 and 1780; almost all of * [From a Sonnet To Coleridge by Sir Egerton Bridges-written 16th Feb. 1837.-S.C.)
fue was matriculated at Sidney a sizar on tho 18th of Marcb, 1748, but does not appear to have taken any degree at the University.-S.C
which have been inserted in the interesting volumes of Selections made several years ago from that work. In 1768 he published miscellaneous Dissertations arising from the 17th and 18th chapters of the Book of Judges ; in which a very learned and ingenious attempt is made to relieve the character of Micah from the charge of idolatry ordinarily brought against it; and in 1772 appeared a “Critical Latin Grammar,” which his son called “his best work," and which is not wholly unknown even now to the inquisitive by the proposed substitution of the terms "prior, possessive, attributive, posterior, interjective, and quale-quare-quidditive,” for the vulgar names of the cases. This little Grammar, however, deserves a philologer's perusal, and is indeed in many respects a very valuable work in its kind. He also published a Latin Exercise Book, and a Sermon. His school was celebrated, and most of the country gentlemen of that generation, belonging to the south and east parts of Devon, had been his papils. Judge Buller was one. The amiable character and personal eccentricities of this excellent man are not yet forgotten amongst some of the elders of the parish and neighborhood, and the latter, as is usual in such cases, have been greatly exaggerated. He died suddenly in the month of October, 1781, after riding to Ottery from Plymouth, to which latter place he had gone for the purpose of embarking his son Francis, as a midshipman, for India.
Many years afterwards, in 1797, S.T. Coleridge commenced a series of Letters to his friend Thomas Poole, of Nether Stowey, in the county of Somerset, in which he proposed to give an account of his life up to that time. Five only were written, and unfortunately they stop short of his residence at Cambridge. This series will properly find a place here.
TO MR. POOLE. “MY DEAR POOLE,
"I could inform the dullest author how he might write an interesting book. Let him relate the events of his own life with honesty, not disguising the feelings that accompanied them. I never yet read even a Methodist’s ‘Experience in the Gospel Magazine without receiving instruction and amusement; and I should almost despair of that man who could peruse the Life of John Woolman without an amelioration of heart. As to my Life, it has all the charms of variety,--high life and low life, vices and virtues, great folly and some wisdom. However, what I am depends on what I have been ; and you, my best friend, have a right to the narration. To me the task will be a useful one. It will renew and deepen my reflections on the past ; and it will perhaps make you behold with no unforgiving
or impatient eye those weaknesses and defects in my character, which so many untoward circumstances have concurred in planting there.
“My family on my Mother's side can be traced up, I know not how far. The Bowdons inherited a good farm and house thereon in the Exmoor country, in the reign of Elizabeth, as I have been told; and to my knowledge they have inherited nothing better since that time. My Grandfather was in the reign of George I. a considerable woollen trader in Southmolton; so that I suppose, when the time comes, I shall be allowed to pass as a Sans-culotte without much opposition, My Father received a better education than the rest of his family in consequence of his own exertions, not of his superior advantages. When he was not quite sixteen years of age, my Grandfather, by a series of misfortunes, was reduced to great distress. My Father received the half of his last crown and his blessing, and walked off to seek his fortune. After he had proceeded a few miles, he sate him down on the side of the road, so overwhelmed with painful thoughts that he wept audibly. A gentleman passed by who knew him, and, inquiring into his sorrow, took him home and gave him the means of maintaining himself by placing him in a school. At this time he commenced being a severe and ardent student. He married his first wife by whom he had three daughters, all now alive. While his first wife lived, having scraped up money enough, he at the age of twenty walked to Cambridge, entered himself at Sidney College, distinguished himself in Hebrew and Mathematics, and might have had a fellowship if he had not been married. He returned and settled as a schoolmaster in Southampton, where his wife died. In 1760 he was appointed Chaplain-Priest and Master of the School at Ottery St. Mary, and removed to that place; and in August, 1760, Mr. Buller, the father of the present Judge, procured for him the living from Lord Chancellor Bathurst. By my Mother, his second wife, he had ten children, of whom I am the youngest, born October 20th,* 1772.
“These facts I received from my Mother ; but I am utterly unable to fill them up by any further particulars of times, or places, or names. Here I shall conclude my first Letter, because I can not pledge myself for the accuracy of the accounts, and I will not therefore mingle it with that for the truth of which, in the minutest parts, I shall hold myself responsible. You must regard this Letter as a first chapter devoted to dim traditions of times too remote to be pierced by the eye of investigation.
“ Yours affectionately, " Feb. 1797. Monday.
TO MR. POOLE.
“MY DEAR POOLE,
· My Father (Vicar of, and Schoolmaster at, Ottery St. Mary, Devon) was a good mathematician, and well versed in the Greek, Latin, and Hebrew languages. He published, or rather attempted to publish, several works :- 1st, Miscellaneous Dissertations arising from the 17th and 18th chapters of the Book of Judges; 2d, Sententiæ Ezcerptæ, for the use of his own School ; and 3d, his best work, a Critical Latin Grammar, in the Preface to which he proposes a bold indovation in the names of the cases. My Father's new nomenclature was not likely to become popular, although it must be allowed to be both sonorous and expressive. Exempli gratia, he calls the ablative case 'the quare-quale-quidditive case!' He made the world his confidant with respect to his learning and ingenuity, and the world seems to have kept the secret very faithfully. His various works, uncut, unthumbed, were preserved free from all pollution in the family archives, where they may still be for any thing that I know. This piece of good luck promises to be hereditary; for all my compositions have the same amiable home-staying propensity. The truth is, my Father was not a first-rate genius; he was, however, a first-rate Christian, which is much better. I need not detain you with his character. In learning, good-heartedness, absentness of mind, and excessive ignorance of the world, he was a perfect Parson Adams.
“My Mother was an admirable economist, and managed exclusively. My eldest brother's name was John. He was a Captain in the East India Company's service; a successful officer aad a brave one, as I have heard. He died in India in 1786. My second brother, William, went to Pembroke College, Oxford. He died a clergyman in 1780, just on the eve of his intended marriage. My brother James has been in the army since the age of fifteen, and has married a woman of fortune, one of the old Duke family of Otterton in Devon. Edward, the wit of the family, went to Pembroke College, and is now a clergyman. George also went to Pembroke. He is in orders likewise, and now has the same School, a very flourishing one, which my Father had. He is a man of reflective mind and elegant talent. He possesses learning in a greater degree than any of the family, excepting myself. His manners are grave, and hued over with a tender sadness. In his moral character he approaches every way nearer to perfection than any man I ever yet knew. He is worth us all. Luke Herman was a surgeon, a severe student, and a good man. He died in 1790, leav
ing one child, a lovely boy, still alive.* My only sister, Ann, died at twenty-one, a little after my brother Luke:
Rest, gentle Shade! and wait thy Maker's will;
Francis-Syndercombe went out to India as a midshipman, under Admiral Graves. He accidentally met his brother John on board ship abroad, who took him ashore, and procured him a commission in the Company's army. He died in 1792, aged twenty-one, a Lieutenant, in consequence of a fever brought on by excessive fatigue at and after the siege of Seringapatam, and the storming of a hill fort, during all which his conduct had been so gallant that his Commanding Officer particularly noticed him, and presented him with a gold watch, which my Mother now has. All my brothers are remarkably handsome; but they were as inferior to Francis as I am to them. He went by the name of the handsome Coleridge.' The tenth and last child was Samuel Taylor, the subject and author of these Epistles.
* From October, 1772 to October, 1773. Baptized Samuel Taylor, my Godfather's name being Samuel Taylor, Esquire. I had another called Evans, and two Godmothers, both named Munday.
“From October, 1773 to October, 1774. In this year I was carelessly left by my nurse, ran to the fire, and pulled out a live coal, and burned myself dreadfully. While my hand was being drest by Mr. Young, I spoke for the first time (so my Mother informs me) and said, “Nasty Dr. Young!” The snatching at fire, and the circumstance of my first words expressing hatred to professional men—are they at all ominous ? This year I went to school. My Schoolmistress, the very image of Shenstone's, was named Old Dame Key. She was nearly related to Sir Joshua Reynolds.
" From October, 1774 to 1775. I was inoculated; which I mention, because I distinctly remember it, and that my eyes were bound; at which I manifested so much obstinate indignation, that at last they removed the bandage, and unaffrighted I looked at the lancet, and suffered the scratch. At the close of this year I could read a chapter in the Bible.
“Here I shall end, because the remaining years of my life all assisted to form my particular mind;—the first three years had nothing in them that seems to relate to it.
“God bless you and your sincere “Sunday, March, 1797.”
“S. T. COLERIDGE."
A letter from Francis S. Coleridge to his sister has been preserved
* William Hart Coleridge, the present Bishop of Barbadoes and the Loeward Islands.
(He was appointed to that See in 1824, retired from it in 1842; has lately accepted the Wardonship of St. Augustine's College, Canterbury.--S. C.)