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Coleridge: Early Visions, 1772-1804 Paperback – March 23, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"O God save meAfrom myself," wrote Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1813, lying penniless in a sweat-soaked bed in a Bath inn, poisoned by opium, his literary career and personal life in shambles. It was one of the many dark nights of the soul that ColeridgeARomantic poet, critic, philosopher and one of the greatest conversationalists in the history of the English languageAwas to endure during his wayward, opium-enveloped later years, a period that Holmes meticulously traces in this long-anticipated follow-up to Coleridge: Early Visons 1772-1804, which appeared in 1989. Opening as Coleridge sets out for Malta in 1804 to join the wartime Civil Service and closing as the poet "slips into the dark" in the Highgate estate of his final caretaker, the physician James Gillman, the book carefully traces the peregrinations, small triumphs and major tragedies that defined the second half of Coleridge's life: these included a bitter break with his oldest friend and collaborator, William Wordsworth, and the disintegration of both his marriage and his longstanding affair with Wordsworth's sister-in-law, Sara Hutchinson. Dogged by addiction, poverty and despair, accused of plagiarism, vilified by his former proteg?, William Hazlitt, and damned in the public press, Coleridge nevertheless remained prolific to the end, his reputation salvaged, in part, by Shelley, Keats and Byron, who saw him as the flawed father of Romanticism. Through generous quotations and ingenious analyses of Coleridge's writing, Holmes conveys not just the minutiae of the poet's life and writing but the tone and texture of even his most informal table talk, which de Quincey once likened to "some great river... traversing the most spacious fields of thought, by transitions the most just and logical, that it was possible to conceive." In Holmes's majesterial chronicle, that river of words and ideas is virtually audible. 16 pages of b&w illustrations. (Apr.) FYI: Pantheon is simultaneously reprinting Coleridge: Early Visons 1772-1804 ($17 paper 432p ISBN 0-375-70540-6).
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

A winner of the Whitbread Prize for biography, this first of what will be a two-volume biography of Coleridge is superb. Holmes ( Footsteps, LJ 9/15/85; Shelly, LJ 5/15/75) has indeed "taken Coleridge into the open air." By brushing aside the givens of critical opinion without dismissing them and making extensive use of the letters and notebooks, a fresher Coleridge emerges. It is still the Coleridge with drug and financial problems, a tendency toward plagiarism and murky thought, the dreaming schemer, but he somehow comes out of this account more a fascinating character than a literary relic. The British rave-ish reviews are well deserved, as this work promises to become a standard. The one thing Holmes tends to gloss over is Coleridge's philosophical background, but this background is well covered elswhere, and Holmes hints that he may do more in Volume 2. Definitely buy this title over Stephen Weissman's His Brother's Keeper: A Psychobiography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge ( LJ 1/90).
- Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Coleridge (Book 1)
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; Reprint edition (March 23, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375705406
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375705403
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,019,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Richard Holmes is Professor of Biographical Studies at the University of East Anglia. His is a Fellow of the British Academy, has honorary doctorates from UEA and the Tavistock Institute, and was awarded an OBE in 1992. His first book, 'Shelley: The Pursuit', won the Somerset Maugham Prize in 1974. 'Coleridge: Early Visions' won the 1989 Whitbread Book of the Year, and 'Dr Johnson & Mr Savage' won the James Tait Black Prize. 'Coleridge: Darker Reflections' won the Duff Cooper Prize and the Heinemann Award. He has published two studies of European biography, 'Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer' in 1985, and 'Sidetracks: Explorations of a Romantic Biographer' in 2000.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
If you think Coleridge was finished by 1804, think again. True, all his great poems had been written but an astonishing life of triumph and tragi-comedy lay ahead. "Coleridge, Darker Reflections" is the long-awaited second half of this award-winning biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It covers the period 1804-1834 - a time when, according to popular belief, Coleridge's fertile imagination had dried up and he faced a slippery slide to an opium-induced decline. But not according to the author Richard Holmes, described as "Our best post-war biographer". He is a superb story teller and unlike so many biographers before him, deeply in touch with his subject. His first volume, "Coleridge Early Visions" introduced the poet to a new generation of admirers (including myself who was fired into writing a play for children about the poet's early magical years). This wonderful book will surely establish STC as a troubled but gigantic genius of the 19th century. Holme's own genius is to show us Coleridge the man. "Always on the knife edge between tragedy and comedy" said Holmes at the London book launch this week (21st October 1998) Holmes has worked assiduously through STC's vast notebooks. Like his namesake, Sherlock, the author clearly enjoys the detection element of biography. His is a personal search for the man, his millieu and his place. Holmes retraces STC's footsteps around England - echoing the desperate perambulations of the wandering poet. Holmes tells this astonishing story at a cracking pace - he has the thriller-writer's gift for making you turn the page. We follow STC through his Malta years - a wonderful evocation of Coleridge's chaotic life.Read more ›
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By James Hercules Sutton on September 14, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This treatment of Coleridge's early life is excellent in scope & detail; in fact, it won a prize. But its strength-- objectivity-- is its weakness. Holmes expresses no imaginitive sympathy for his subject. He writes about Romanticism with the detatchment of an entymologist examining a butterfly. And while he treats Coleridge's pathology in an overtly psychological manner, he fails to identify the pathologies he describes -- like a doctor who collects symptoms without making a diagnosis.

The result is an outstanding example of conventional literary biography, but one that is insensitive to growth, imagination, and mind in the act of making the mind -- or why Coleridge was passionate about them. Those interested in these must seek elsewhere, but this volume remains a good place to learn the facts of Coleridge's life, despite its dry prose.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By G. Messersmith VINE VOICE on March 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the Coleridge I thought I knew through his poetry. Holmes brings him to life in this first volume of Coleridge's early years. The book makes you wish you had known Coleridge personally and shared in his life. His life is complex and challenging and so it must have been for Holmes to research and write Coleridge's life. In fact, Holmes seems to have a special knowledge into the life of one of the greatest poets of the English language. This book gave me insights into Coleridge's works I had not had before. If you want to learn more about Samuel Taylor Coleridge, his life and his works, this is the book to read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John R. Lindermuth VINE VOICE on March 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
Mention Coleridge and you might get the response, "Did he write the Ancient Mariner?," or, "Wasn't he an opium addict?"

Samuel Taylor Coleridge did write The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and he was an opium addict. But, as Richard Holmes makes abundantly clear, there was much more to the man.

He was an extraordinary man, perhaps the most visionary of the English romantic poets. If that were not enough to warrant attention, he was also a political activist, a journalist and translator, a Unitarian preacher, lecturer, philosopher and energetic walker. My own interest in Coleridge was rekindled when I discovered he was among the founders of Pantisocracy, the movement that brought the Unitarian rationalist and scientist Dr. Joseph Priestley to my home area.

This volume, which takes Coleridge up to the age of 31, covers in depth these aspects of his career as well as giving analyses of some of his better known poetry. Holmes does not gloss over the man's failings. He discusses his addiction, the charges of plagiarism, mystic humbug and less than admirable treatment of his wife.

Anyone interested in the man and the period will find this book worth the read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kevin M. Derby VINE VOICE on February 23, 2009
Format: Paperback
In the first of his two volume biography of Coleridge, Richard Holmes presents an unforgettable portrait of his subject. Coleridge was a notorious talker who could converse on just about anything and, like the Ancient Mariner he created, there was something hypnotic about his monologues (one gets the impression that Coleridge often spoke but rarely engaged in actual conversation). Holmes uses Coleridge's words to shape a stunning portrait. Best of all Holmes captures Coleridge in all his various roles: husband, father, son, lecturer, political activist, student, poet, walker, metaphysician, friend, lover etc. Holmes shows the best and worst of Coleridge in this first volume. Best of all, he has done the research to dispel a number of myths about Coleridge (some of which Coleridge himself started). The one real problem is Holmes seems to give every side of Coleridge the same amount of attention. Simply put, some parts of Coleridge's life were more important and therefore usually of more interest than other parts of it. Despite this minor flaw, Holmes offers a model biography and leaves a vivid impression of his subject.
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