Nether Stowey: Coleridge, and Wordsworth

All along I’d had it in mind that Taunton and Nether Stowey were only about an hour’s drive north-west from Stratford. But these places are south-west and over two and a half hours drive from Stratford, and beyond Cheltenham. Telling ourselves that we would by-pass Cheltenham we set out, and got stuck in heavy traffic. We drove and drove for what seemed like forever, and thought we had either taken a wrong turn or had missed Nether Stowey altogether. Somehow, we ended up Cheltenham. By this time we were so weary we were barely able to keep our eyes open, and drove straight to the Premier Inn. We were fortunate, the Inn had one room (but only one) left for the night.

We left Cheltenham early the next morning and were soon in Nether Stowey. There, we made straight for Coleridge Cottage in Lime Street and found that we were at least an hour and a half too early.

The Georgian cottage, which now belongs to the National Trust, didn’t open its doors for visitors until 11 a.m.

Bob eyed the old, old inn directly across the narrow road from Coleridge Cottage.  The thought of a cup of coffee or tea was appealing. It was too early in the day, the inn wasn’t open as yet.

 

There was nothing else to do but wait. I simply could not leave Nether Stowey until I had stood in the cottage in which the English poet, philosopher, and literary critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge had penned some of his finest poems–The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, Frost at Midnight, The Nightingale, Cristabel, Fears in Solitude, This Lime Tree Bower my Prison…. While we waited for Coleridge Cottage to open, we took the opportunity to have a look around Nether Stowey and got chatting to the locals.

Nether Stowey is an agricultural village that had its beginnings sometime in the 11th century, but the borough wasn’t officially recorded until 1225.  The economy of the medieval Anglo-Saxon town was based on textiles and pottery, and it had both a weekly market and a yearly fair after 1304.  Nether Stowey is in the Sedgemoor district of Somerset, not far from Bridgwater, and sits in the foothills of the Quantock Hills. The large village is a mixture of ancient, old-old, old, and new–medieval architecture and the architecture of all the various eras thereafter, as well the comparatively modern.

              

For all the modern-day hustle and bustle of a Saturday morning, the “oldness” of the place was very evident. I couldn’t get my head around the medieval “drains”: crystal clear water flowed swiftly through the deep open stone channels which run down St Mary’s Street through the centre of town.

     

This channelled water, we were told by the locals, is the Stowey Brook. The brook flows down from Bincombe, and had originally been channelled in medieval times to supply the village with fresh water. In later times it had powered a mill, supplied a tannery, and ran along St. Mary’s Street as it does now, providing the village with water.  From 1887 the village water supply came from springs in the grounds of Castle Hill House. But the crystal waters of Stowey brook still gurgle along down through the village in its medieval stone channels. These days, though, people in Nether Stowey turn on taps inside their houses rather than slip out of their front doors to dip their pitchers into the channelled stream to fill their house water-buckets.

If you ask the locals in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, they will tell you that Coleridge had lived in Woodstock at one time but had run from there to escape his debtors. Where Coleridge went from Woodstock (if indeed he did live there,) I haven’t as yet been able to find out. But the locals in Nether Stowey will tell you that Coleridge came to Nether Stowey at the invitation of his helping friend and admirer, a local tanner, politician, philanthropist and literary enthusiast Thomas Poole. Coleridge had no money at all, and was heavily in debt. I found the following extracts from Coleridge’s letters on the net at The Friends of Coleridge web-site[1]:

Coleridge  to Tom Poole, Bristol, 11 April 1796

My dear, very dear Friend! I have sent the fifth, sixth, & part of the seventh number – all as yet printed. Your censures are all right – I wish, your praises were equally so. The Essay on Fasts I am ashamed of: it was conceived in the spirit, & clothed in the harsh scoffing, of an Infidel. – You wish to have one long Essay – so should I wish – ; but so do not my Subscribers wish. I feel the perplexities of my undertaking increase daily – In London, & Bristol the Watchman is read for it’s original matter, & the News & Debates barely tolerated: the people [at] Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, &c take [it only] as a Newspaper, & regard the Essays & Poems [as int]ruders unwished for & unwelcome. In short, a Subscriber instead of regarding himself as a point in the circumference entitled to some one diverging ray, considers me as the circumference & himself as the Centre to which all the rays ought to converge. – To tell you the truth, I do not think the Watchman will succeed – hitherto I have scarcely sold enough to pay the expences [sic] – no wonder when I tell you, that on two hundred which Parsons in Paternoster Row sells weekly, he gains eight shillings more than I do – Nay, I am convinced, that at the end of the half year he will have cleared considerably more by his 200 than I by the proprietary-ship of the whole Work.

Coleridge to Tom Poole, Bristol, 5 May 1796:

With regard to my own affairs they are as bad, as the most Trinitarian Anathemizer, or rampant Philo-despot could wish in the moment of cursing – After No. 12, I shall cease to cry the state of the political atmosphere – It is not pleasant, Thomas Poole! to have worked 14 weeks for nothing – for nothing – nay – to have given the Public in addition to that toil five & 40 pounds! – When I began the Watchman, I had forty pounds worth of paper given me – yet with this I shall not have received a farthing at the end of the Quarter of the Year – To be sure, I have been somewhat fleeced & overreached by my London Publisher – In short, my tradesmen’s Bill[s] for the Watchman, including what Paper I have bought since the seventh number, the Printing, &c – amount to exactly five pounds more than the whole amount of my receipts – Meantime Mrs Coleridge asks about baby-linen & anticipates the funeral expences [sic] of her poor Mother.

After the failure of The Watchman, and with his views on politics and pantisocracy and Unitarianism changing, Coleridge sort a radical change in his circumstances and a peaceful place in which to explore his ideas on poetry:

[For Coleridge] Community after the collapse of Pantisocracy meant a wife and family, impassioned friendships based on shared concerns, and the company of kindred spirits. Thomas Poole, a prosperous tanner of good family in the tiny Somerset village of Nether Stowey, became Coleridge’s closest associate in the uncertain period following his return to Bristol in 1796. The arduous and ultimately futile enterprise of The Watchman led him to seek a steady haven where he might work and write in sympathetic surroundings. Supporting Sara and their newborn son, Hartley (born September 1796), was a priority: “Literature will always be a secondary Object with me.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Poetry Foundation)

The invitation from his friend Thomas Poole to join him in Nether Stowey came at a good time. Poole’s patronage was crucial to Coleridge’s resettlement in Nether Stowey. Poole provided a cottage (Coleridge Cottage) near his own home, Poole House, for Coleridge and his family to live in.

Posted by The Friends of Coleridge on their web-site is Colerdige’s letter to Joseph Cottle, written 6 January 1797, about his arrival at Nether Stowey on 31 December 1796:

We arrived safe – our house is set to rights – we are all, Maid, Wife, Bratling, & self, remarkably well––Mrs Coleridge likes Stowey, & loves Thomas Poole, & his Mother, who love her––a communication has been made from our Orchard into T. Poole’s Garden, & from thence to Cruikshanks’s, a friend of mine & a young married Man, whose Wife is very amiable; & she & Sara are already on the most cordial terms – from all this you will conclude, that we are happy.

Almost from the day of moving into the cottage, Coleridge spent much of his time reading and writing in the barrel room of Poole’s house. Thomas Poole was patron to both Coleridge and Wordsworth.  Coleridge and Wordsworth corresponded for several years before actually meeting.  When they did finally meet, their rapport was instantaneous. Coleridge visited Wordsworth at Racedown in June 1797, and shortly afterwards Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy took a years’ lease on Alfoxden Hall, the Queen Anne mansion at Holford, not more than four miles distant to Coleridge’s cottage in Nether Stowey. It has been suggested that Coleridge may have helped Wordsworth secure the lease on Alfoxden Hall through his benefactor Thomas  Poole. The two poets became firm friends.

Coleridge to Robert Southey, 17 July 1797, on meeting with Wordsworth:

I had been on a visit to Wordsworth’s at Racedown near Crewkherne – and I brought him & his Sister back with me & here I have settled them – . By a combination of curious circumstances a gentleman’s seat, with a park & woods, elegantly & completely furnished – with 9 lodging rooms, three parlours & a Hall – in a most beautiful & romantic situation by the sea side – 4 miles from Stowey – this we have got for Wordsworth at the rent of 23£ a year, taxes included!! – The park and woods are his for all purposes he wants them – i.e. he may walk, ride, & keep a horse in them – & the large gardens are altogether & entirely his.––Wordsworth is a very great man – the only man, to whom at all times & in all modes of excellence I feel myself inferior – the only one, I mean, whom I have yet met with – for the London Literati appear to me to be very much like little Potatoes – i.e. no great Things! – a compost of Nullity & Dullity. (The Friends of Coleridge)

During the year that Wordsworth lived at Alfoxden Hall, he and  Coleridge spent a great deal of time at Poole’s and each other’s homes, went on walking tours together, and collaborated on their book, Lyrical Ballads, with a few Other Poems (1798), which includes Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and other of his poems mentioned above (Kubla Khan, Frost at Midnight, The Nightingale, Cristabel, This Lime Tree Bower my Prison, Fears in Solitude…)

Walking was more than just recreation for Coleridge and Wordsworth and others in their isolated community of like-minded others:

[Walking] provided the fresh air which their assumptions required. If Nature were to be their muse, and the source of their living values, it would have to be observed in all its sorts and conditions. Coleridge’s plan for an expansive treatment in verse of the course of a brook from source to river shows how his walks in the nearby combes (low hills–the Quantocks) contributed to his reflection on the human condition. The Brook as he conceived would mix “description and incident” with “impassioned reflection on men, nature, society.” He traced […][the outlines] in his notebook, but these are all that survive of [that] project. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Poetry Foundation)

On [Coleridge’s] own telling [in Biographia Literaria] his conversations with Wordsworth during this year revolved “frequently on the two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth of nature, and the power of giving the interest of novelty by the modifying colors of the imagination.” The first point may be described as Wordsworthian, the  second as basically Coleridgean. Imagination was already one of [Coleridge’s]  preoccupations; [….] Extraordinary states of mind, or casts of spirit, color his major poems of this period of innovation, and the effects which he achieved through them have earned enduring recognition. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Poetry Foundation)

Importantly, Coleridge’s and Wordsworth’s collaborations and their writings  gave birth to the Romantic Movement in England. Somerset’s Quantock Hills is the birthplace of Romantic poetry. If Coleridge and Wordsworth hadn’t befriended each other in Nether Stowey, there would never have been a Romantic Era in English history.  Their Lyrical Ballads is a landmark  in world literature. The Preface to the work is considered a central work of Romantic literary theory. Central to their vision of a romantic theory was Coleridge’s poem The Ancient Mariner.

In Woodstock, the locals had told us that Coleridge had penned The Rime of the Ancient Mariner while he was living in Woodstock. As the story goes, Coleridge had  lived in High Street, Woodstock’s main street, at one time, almost directly opposite the home of an old sea-captain by the name of Simon Hartley. Coleridge and Hatley were friends, they spent a lot of time together, chatting.

Below: Simon Hatley’s house. We couldn’t find the house in which Coleridge had supposedly once lived, it’s not marked, and it is very likely that it was turned into  a shop sometime in the 1800s.

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According to the Woodstock locals Coleridge had gained the idea for the poem from his talks with Hatley, and had used Hatley as the model for his ancient mariner in his poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.  Bob took the photo below the morning we had left Woodstock to travel on to Stratford-upon-Avon to find Shakespeare:

The locals of Nether Stowey tell a different tale about the genesis of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. Coleridge and Wordsworth visited Watchet Harbour (about 10 or so miles distant from Nether Stowey)  while they were on a walking tour together in 1797. While they were there, at Watchet Harbour, they had stood and watched  a large sailing ship limp into the wharf. She was badly damaged, looked unseaworthy, her sails hanging in tatters from her broken masts. As the story goes, Wordsworth had remarked to Coleridge that the battered ship looked as if she had been attacked by great sea-serpents and monsters, and the idea for Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner was instantly born. At the end of their walking tour Coleridge and Wordsworth returned to Nether Stowey where Coleridge immediately set to work at his desk in the front room of his cottage, penning the first version of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. 

Below: Unveiled in 2003, the statue of the ancient mariner which was sculpted by Alan B. Herriot of Peniciuk, Scotland, stands on the esplanade on Watchet Harbour.

In an article, “The Road to Pantisocracy,”  posted in The Fortnightly Review(fortnightlyreview.co.uk/2011/01/on-the-road-to-pantisocracy), Andrew Mitchell casts a another different light on the Ancient Mariner question:

THE MARINER HAD BEGUN as a joint enterprise, on a long November walk, to which Wordsworth said he contributed the idea of the Wedding Guest, the death of the bird and the ship navigated by dead men. But he was unable to develop the ballad spontaneously as Coleridge then did, so it became Coleridge’s poem. If all this work had been included in Coleridge’s third edition of his poems, his reputation as a poet would have been secure; except that Wordsworth suggested a joint project with an anonymous title page, which would advantage him as he had published less. We do know that Coleridge declared to Cottle, “Wordsworth’s name is nothing – to a large number of persons my name stinks. ”

Tom Poole was to accuse Coleridge of being in ‘prostration’ before Wordsworth. […]  It took ten years for Coleridge to admit that this was a period in his life of ‘voluntary self-humiliation’. The authoritarian figure requires submissive helpers to execute their plans. Coleridge provided Wordsworth with ‘the material for much of his greatest poetry’ as Jonathan Wordsworth suggests. He did this as the submissive underling in the process of making Wordsworth a great poet. In return, the Wordsworths offered Coleridge the emotional support he craved and told him he had a great intellect and was a good poet. (Mitchell, “Road to Pantisocracy”)

Shawn Rider, in his article “Wordsworth and Coleridge: Emotion, Imagination, and Complexity,”  notes that “Wordsworth and Coleridge both had strong, and sometimes conflicting, opinions about what constituted well-written poetry.” Nevertheless, both poets ideas “were centred around the origins of poetry in the poet and the role of poetry in the world, and these theoretical concepts led to the creation of poetry that is sufficiently complex to support a wide variety of critical readings in a modern context.” Rider says:

Wordsworth wrote a preface to Lyrical Ballads in which he puts forth his ideas about poetry. His conception of poetry hinges on three major premises. Wordsworth asserts that poetry is the language of the common man: “To this knowledge which all men carry about with them, and to these sympathies in which without any other discipline than that of our daily life we are fitted to take delight, the poet principally directs his attention. ([Preface Lyrical Ballads] 149)

[With Wordsworth] Poetry should be understandable to anybody living in the world. Wordsworth eschews the use of lofty, poetic diction, which in his mind is not related to the language of real life. He sees poetry as acting like Nature, which touches all living things and inspires and delights them. Wordsworth calls for poetry to be written in the language of the “common man,” and the subjects of the poems should also be accessible to all individuals regardless of class or position. Wordsworth also makes the points that “poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity” (151). These two points form the basis for Wordsworth’s explanation of the process of writing poetry. First, some experience triggers a transcendent moment, an instance of the sublime. The senses are overwhelmed by this experience; the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” leaves an individual incapable of articulating the true nature and beauty of the event. It is only when this emotion is “recollected in tranquility” that the poet can assemble words to do the instance justice. It is necessary for the poet to have a certain personal distance from the event or experience being described that he can compose a poem that conveys to the reader the same experience of sublimity. With this distance the poet can reconstruct the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” the experience caused within himself. Wordsworth’s critical ideas are manifested in his writing. He uses the language and subjects of the common man to convey his ideas.

For Wordsworth, then, ebbs of emotion, resulting from moments of epiphany that result from the wonderment of nature, “are spurred on by his interaction with Nature”:  “Indeed, Wordsworth is continually inspired and led into transcendent moments by his experiences in Nature. These experiences bring to his mind a wide variety of contemplations and considerations that can only be expressed[…] in ‘a wise passiveness’ ” (Rider, “Wordsworth and Coleridge: Emotion …”):

While Wordsworth’s critical ideas obviously worked for his poetry, Coleridge differed in his take on the art. Coleridge did not agree that poetry is the language of the common man. He thought that lowering diction and content simply made it so that the poet had a smaller vocabulary of both words and concepts to draw from. Coleridge focused mainly on imagination as the key to poetry. He divided imagination into two main components: primary and secondary imagination.  (Rider, “Wordsworth and Coleridge: Emotion …”)

Rider notes Coleridge’s ideas of poetry as given in  “one of his significant theoretical works”, the Biographia Literaria:

The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite of the eternal act of creation of the infinite I AM. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, coexisting with the conscious will, yet still identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation. ([Biographia Literaria] 387)

For Coleridge, says Rider,

It is the imagination involved in the poetry that produces a higher quality verse. The primary imagination is a spontaneous creation of new ideas, and they are expressed perfectly. The secondary imagination is mitigated by the conscious act of imagination; therefore, it is hindered by not only imperfect creation, but also by imperfect expression. To further subdivide the act of imagination, Coleridge introduces his concept of fancy. Fancy is the lowest form of imagination because it “has no other counters to play with but fixities and definites”  ([Biographia Literaria] 387). With fancy there is no creation involved; it is simply a reconfiguration of existing ideas. Rather than composing a completely original concept or description, the fanciful poet simply reorders concepts, putting them in a new and, possibly, fresh relationship to each other. Coleridge also writes that poetry “reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities” ([Biographia Literaria] 391). Through juxtaposition ideas, concepts, and descriptions are made clear. The more imaginative the juxtaposition is, the more exciting the poem becomes.

As with Wordsworth, Coleridge also combines his theoretical ideas in his poetry. He abandons Wordsworth’s notion of poetry for the common man, and uses lofty language, poetic diction, and subject matter that is specialized. While he still holds a reverence for Nature inherent to romantic literature, his poems are not exclusively based around the natural. He makes use of primary imagination in his work, because it is the kind of imagination he values most, and avoids secondary imagination or fancy as much as possible. (Rider, “Wordsworth and Coleridge: Emotion …”)

Just before eleven we walked back up the hill to Coleridge Cottage. The house, we were told by the National Trust guides, had been enlarged at sometime, possibly in the 1800s, to become a hotel. Back in Coleridge’s day, though, the house had been a simple  thatched cottage consisting of a parlour, a sitting-room, and a largish kitchen with an outer-room attached downstairs, and three bedrooms upstairs.  The  smallest of the bedrooms had a built-in closet that hid a small secret door that hid a narrow, secret set of stairs that led out though an even more secret door again, that opened into Coleridge’s back garden. In the garden there was an overgrown path, hidden by greenery, that led to a small hidden hole in the garden wall.  This hole in the wall led into Poole’s garden, then to another sympathetic neighbour’s back garden (Letter to Joseph Cottle, 6 January 1797 on The Friends of Coleridge web-site “–a communication has been made from our Orchard into T. Poole’s Garden, & from thence to Cruikshanks’s, a friend of mine …”). From there, Coleridge could escape through the back gardens and lanes, and hide from the debt collectors, and from Government Agents who wrongly suspected him and Wordsworth and Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy, of being French spies.

Not all, if indeed any, of the wider community was in sympathy with Coleridge and his friends and  visitors. Thomas Poole, William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Lloyd, Charles Lamb, Robert Southey (to a degree), and William Hazlitt joined Thomas Cottle and “other Bristol connections” to make up “a real if transient community of interested parties” in “the reformation of English values for which ‘romanticism’ has since come to stand”: “The lives they were leading on the fringes of conventional society would become the subject of their work” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Poetry Foundation). :

In “Frost at Midnight,” composed from the front room of the Lime Street cottage in the winter of 1798, the poet’s isolation drives him to test the resources of nature conceived as a mediating agent. The poem dramatizes Coleridge’s sense of vulnerability in the face of a threatening outside world. Part of this feeling must have come from the growing hostility of the community in which he was living. Fear of a French invasion was widespread, and the outsiders were suspected of democratic sympathies, even of collusion with the national enemy. Walking home from Bristol, Coleridge heard himself described as a “vile Jacobin villain.” The spy sent by the government found nothing much to report against him, but there was open mistrust of his motives and way of life. Such testimony provides incidental evidence of social pressures which Coleridge expressed in “Frost at Midnight” in an intensely personal way. [2]

In another letter posted on The Friends of Coleridge web-site, this one to  George Coleridge, 10 March 1798, Coleridge reveals his then attitude towards the government and revolution:

As to THE RULERS of France, I see in their views, speeches, & actions nothing that distinguishes them to their advantage from other animals of the same species. History has taught me, that RULERS are much the same in all ages & under all forms of government: they are as bad as they dare to be. The Vanity of Ruin & the curse of Blindness have clung to them, like an hereditary Leprosy. Of the French Revolution I can give my thoughts the most adequately in the words of Scripture – ‘A great & strong wind rent the mountains & brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a Fire – & the Lord was not in the fire:’ and now (believing that no calamities are permitted but as the means of Good) I wrap my face in my mantle & wait with a subdued & patient thought, expecting to hear ‘the still small Voice,’ which is of God. – In America (I have received my information from unquestionable authority) the morals & domestic habits of the people are daily deteriorating: & one good consequence which I expect from revolutions, is that Individuals will see the necessity of individual effort; that they will act as kind neighbours & good Christians, rather than as citizens & electors; and so by degrees will purge off that error, which to me appears as wild & more pernicious than the pagchrusoun and panacaea of the old Alchemists – the error of attributing to Governments a talismanic influence over our virtues & our happiness – as if Governments were not rather effects than causes. It is true, that all effects react & become causes – & so it must be in some degree with governments – but there are other agents which act more powerfully because by a nigher & more continuous agency, and it remains true that Governments are more the effect than the cause of that which we are. – Do not therefore, my Brother! consider me as an enemy to Governments & Rulers: or as one who say[s] that they are evil.

Below: the old section inside Coleridge Cottage where Coleridge lived with his wife Sara and the son Hartley, and their maid. For a time, Charles Lloyd also lived at the cottage with them, providing Coleridge with a steady income of 80 English pounds a year in exchange for Lloyd’s tuition.  In the main, the original floor stones in  the rooms downstairs have been replaced by tiles at some stage. All the furnishings in the cottage are replicas of the furniture Coleridge and Sara would have had. When they left Nether Stowey, Coleridge stripped the cottage bare. He took every last little thing with him. To date, I have been unable to find out exactly why Coleridge left Nether Stowey and Poole…

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Below: the old well in the small back court-yard of the cottage is the original.  This was the Coleridge house-hold’s only supply of fresh water.

Below: the remains of the Coleridge’s garden in Nether Stowey.

 

 

The bay tree Coleridge  wrote about is still there, and there is also a living lime tree that has been shaped and grown to replicate the supposed original bower. Yet the lime tree Coleridge refers to in his poem was never in his garden at all, rather in the garden of Poole House.  Surrounded by the “spur of low hills–combes, in local parlance–of the Quantocks”, Coleridge composed This Lime Tree Bower My Prison in the confinement of Poole’s cottage garden.

On The Friends of Coleridge web-site is Coleridge’s letter of 17 July 1797 to Robert Southey about Charles Lamb’s visit to Coleridge Cottage and the genesis of This Lime Tree Bower my Prison:

Charles Lamb has been with me for a week – he left me Friday morning. – / The second day after Wordsworth came to me, dear Sara accidently emptied a skillet of boiling milk on my foot, which confined me during the whole time of C. Lamb’s stay & still prevents me from all walks longer than a furlong. – While Wordsworth, his Sister, & C. Lamb were out one evening; / sitting in the arbour of T. Poole’s garden, which communicates with mine, I wrote these lines, with which I am pleased.

As mentioned above, in their article in “Samuel Taylor Coleridge”, the Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org.uk) note that Poole, Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, Coleridge, Charles Lloyd, Lamb, “and the youthful Hazlitt joined Cottle and other Bristol connection” in the “real if transient community of interested parties” in “the reformation of English values, and they say that, in Lime-Tree Bower My Prison, Coleridge

celebrates the pleasures of the natural world from within this harmonious community of like-minded individuals. The detailed evocation of their itinerary marks the apogee of his response to landscape. In the end, the poet’s imagination triumphs over his separation: his bower reveals pleasures of its own; Nature is hospitable to human response. Sensation proves adequate to human need; Nature is a providential resource against isolation. The poem’s conclusion dwells on the joy of companionship in such a world.

The topographic realism of “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison” reverts via Wordsworth’s “An Evening Walk” (1793) to James Thomson and “The Seasons” (1730), but the voice at work here is that of “a man speaking to men,” in the parlance of the “Preface” to the 1800 edition of Lyrical Ballads. Speech replaces stale poetic convention from the start. The character of the poet lies at the center of the exercise. The self-consciousness of Wordsworth’s poetically premature ramble is turned to good effect in Coleridge’s effort at something true to the occasion. The sense of occasion is conveyed in fresh blank verse, not the rattling heroic couplets of Wordsworth’s first extended production. The prickly personifications and moralizing eye of “An Evening Walk” are vestigially present in “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” but the effect is not of conventional chatter. Coleridge’s diction is clear and direct for the most part, his apostrophes natural to the drama of the situation which he develops. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Poetry Foundation)

In Coleridge’s day, the garden area of Coleridge Cottage was at least four of five times the size it is now, and was where the Coleridge’s grew their vegetables. Under the heading “Intention to achieve self-sufficiency,” The Friends of Coleridge include the letter below on their web-site:

Letter to John Thelwall, 6 February 1797

I raise potatoes & all manner of vegetables; have an Orchard; & shall raise Corn with the spade enough for my family. – We have two pigs, & Ducks & Geese. A Cow would not answer the keep: for we have whatever milk we want from T. Poole.

Below: the geese and the pig in the present-day garden of Coleridge Cottage are made of stone.

As with every other  place we had visited in England, we would have liked to have lingered in Nether Stowey a lot longer, but time was marching on and we still had a lot to see. So after we had visited Coleridge Cottage, we decided to move on and go in search of Wordsworth’s Queen Anne mansion at Holford.

Notes

[1] Samuel Taylor Coleridge : The Poetry Foundation  http://www.poetryfoundation.org › Poems & Poets

[2]  Bristol to Nether Stowey – The Friends of Coleridge   www.friendsofcoleridge.com/bristol-and-nether-stowey

Works cited

Bristol to Nether Stowey – The Friends of Coleridge   www.friendsofcoleridge.com/bristol-and-nether-stowey

On the Road to Pantisocracy. | The Fortnightly Revie   http://www.fortnightlyreview.co.uk/2011/01/on-the-road-to-pantisocracy

Rider, Shawn.  “Wordsworth and Coleridge: Emotion, Imagination, and Complexity Wordsworth and Coleridge: Emotion, Imagination and Complexity wdog.com/rider/writings/wordsworth_and_coleridge.htm

Samuel Taylor Coleridge : The Poetry Foundation  http://www.poetryfoundation.org › Poems & Poets

 

 

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