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Raymonde Hainton and Godfrey Hainton, The Unknown Coleridge: The Life and Times of Derwent Coleridge, 1800-1883. London: Janus, 1997. ISBN: 1857562887. Price:£9.95.

  • Molly Lefebure

Corps de l’article

Derwent Coleridge, second surviving son of Samuel Taylor his wife Sara, née Fricker, has long awaited full-length biographical scrutiny. Appointed Principal of St Mark's national Anglican teacher-training when it was founded in 1841, he played a significant role as an educationalist over the ensuing twenty-three years, striving to put into practice his renowned father's concept of a state-maintained clerisy operating on behalf of a National Church. He became a figure of considerable controversy, finally receiving what was, in effect, the sack in 1863 when, under the notorious Revised Code of regulations of the Committee of Council on Education, Derwent's work of providing higher education for the teachers of the people, to raise their status and enable them to climb the professional ladder, even into the Church—in short, as STC had urged, to create a clerisy to promote "the continued and progressive civilization of the community" (Church & State, 113)—came to an halt. The National Society for Promoting the Education of the Principles of the Poor in the Established Church throughout England and Wales lost its Coleridgean rudder. Derwent was offered the poorly paid living of Hanwell, Middlesex, plus a pension of £200 a year from the National Society. He was 63, with no private means of his own; he was obliged to accept and so to Hanwell he went, there to sink into the deep oblivion accorded those who displeased the Establishment. He struggled along as a poor, but devoted parish priest until he was 80, when he and his few nearest and dearest retired to a small villa in Torquay where he spent his final three years tortured by neuralgia and nursed by his ever devoted wife.

Viewed retrospectively, his St Mark's career was remarkable. In his outlook and his direct action Derwent was amazingly in advanced of his day, though undoubtedly this was because he was closely following the precepts of his father, who in all he thought and wrote was light—years in advance of his era—not infrequently, one suspects, in advance of ours too. Therefore it might be justly argued that Derwent was not the innovative radical that he was accused of being; his was not original thinking, since it derived from his father's concept of the role of education as expounded in the great seminal essay, On the Constitution of Church and State. What was outstanding about Derwent was his moral and intellectual courage: in the face of endless hostile he continued, throughout his twenty-three years at St Mark's, to follow his father's vision of a "clerisy" as the primary instrument of a National Church responsible for "preserving and strengthening the national culture." Derwent wanted his pupils at St Mark's, the intended clerisy of the future, to be educated to the utmost of their capabilities whatever their social origins; to have a knowledge of Latin, literature, and music. Inevitably he ran into opposition; in educating intended teachers of the poor to standards rivalling the education of the gentry he was, it was alleged, breeding a class of teachers who, instead of being content with the station of life into which they had been born, would see themselves as a professional group with ideas and aspirations wholly unsuited to their lot: the seeds of social unrest were being sown at St Mark's. As for music as an essential ingredient of a national culture, as Derwent insisted, such a notion provoked particular scorn. Derwent had to maintain a constant running battle to retain the daily choral services in the college chapel (these, in fact, were responsible for the growth of the choral revival which took place across the country). The choral work which became a celebrated feature of St Mark's brought accusations that Derwent had leanings toward Puseyism, even towards Rome.

But that which counted most against him (though the Haintons fail to explore this) was the simple fact that he was Samuel Taylor Coleridge's son. The adulation which our own period accords to STC blinds us to the fact that his contemporaries, by and large, entertained very different feelings about him. He and his opinions were regarded all too often with suspicion and contempt. It was never forgotten, or forgiven, that in his youth he had been a notorious jacobin. The changing times had changed his political outlook (his was not a hidebound mind)—albeit, as his son Hartley observed, he never assumed the full Tory stance of either a Southey or a Wordsworth. By too many STC continued to be fish, fowl nor good red-herring. He denied his youthful political proclivities a little too emphatically. In short, he was not trusted. He saw himself in the light of his own polar-philosophy; an enquiring spirit balanced objectively between opposing views; embracive (his own word), tolerant. His influence on the Victorian church managed to extend in all directions: the Liberal Broad Church listened attentively to all he said, but so did the Oxford Tractarians, who saw STC as a defender of the traditions of the Established Church; while his "secular" insistence on the clerisy as an active social force meant that he had strong influence upon the Christian Socialists. This catholicity, though it made him accessible to many schools of thought, deprived him of any real influence in any one specific quarter: for this reason, as he himself regretfully confessed, he was unable to be of real help to Derwent in advancing his progress in the Church; in fact he was a handicap. Derwent had inherited his father's individualistic tendencies, as the Haintons point out, Derwent's active support for the cause made no concessions to political attachments and since preferment in the Church was determined by political patronage he received no preferment; indeed, rather the reverse. His spirited rejection of the Revised Code finally sealed his doom.

The Haintons were clearly inspired to rescue Derwent Coleridge from oblivion as a gesture of homage: the late Godfrey Hainton was head of the history Department at the College of St Mark's and St John (a 1926 amalgamation of St Mark's, Chelsea, with Kay-Shuttleworth''s 1841 foundation, St John's College, Battersea; this combined college moving to Plymouth in 1973). Hainton's work on The Unknown Coleridge was cut short by his death in 1976; his widow, Raymonde Hainton, took over the writing of the book. By far the most valuable part of it, at least for Coleridgeans, is that dealing with Derwent's career as Principal of St Mark's, though for social historians much else in the book will be of equal interest. The portrait of Derwent presented to us is very much as a hero, and therefore is inevitably one-sided. We hear remarkably little about other Coleridges: we are told that Derwent's family history is profoundly interesting, but we are given little of it.

One must protest at the claim made in favour of Derwent that "He was the only member of his immediate family who coped with the business of earning his living". Mrs. STC earned her living until she married and, after the failure of Samuel Taylor Coleridge to support his family adequately, leaving them on the hands of Robert Southey, she unflaggingly worked to earn the keep of herself and her children at Greta Hall, teaching in the famous schoolroom there (she was by no manners of means a stupid or uneducated woman as the Haintons seem to hint, prompted by Derwent) and furthermore making the shirts and small-clothes of the entire household and of her absent husband to boot. The brilliant Sara Coleridge, an outstanding intellect day, male or female, author of-successful books, respected contributor to major critical reviews, and a leading-editor of her father's work, still held in immense esteem, was invariably condescended to by Derwent who complained that she shone as an editor of her father's work because she was a woman and so had leisure. She dedicated herself to long, regular hours of writing and research, met deadlines, and had she chosen would, most surely, have rivalled in her earnings any of her literary peers.

Hartley, after his disgrace from Oxford, worked for several years as a schoolmaster. He contributed poetry and reviews to journals, for which he was properly paid, established himself as the leading minor Lake Poet, and was triumphantly author of a widely read, highly praised and still relished Biographia -Borealis; Distinguished Northerns (1833). As for STC himself, renowned political commentator of his day, employed on a regular basis by the Morning Post it would be ridiculous to claim that he didn't earn a living. The trouble was he spent it all, much of it upon lavish quantities of opium and brandy, before it reached his family. Derwent had inherited this inability to live within his income. Henry Coleridge confided to his wife that, "I think personal gratification up to a certain point is your brother's weak part… but the mischief is, that Derwent has for so much of his life lived upon the supplementary help of friends, that he scarcely feels money borrowed from them to be any debts at all, and certainly does not abridge a single luxury or comfort for the purpose of discharging or diminishing them", STC indulged himself in opium; Hartley in alcohol; Derwent in antique four-poster beds, cambric-breasted shirts, silver jugs and unpaid debts. We all have our weaknesses.

Derwent does not really come to life in these pages until his meeting with, and marriage to, Mary Pridham, a lively and beautiful seventeen-year-old, daughter of John Drake Pridham, director of the Naval Bank, Plymouth. The marriage, an exceptionally happy one proved the making of Derwent; though it must be said that to devote a mere forty pages to his childhood and youth and sixty-six to his courtship of Miss Pridham seems a little unbalanced, seeing that his poverty-pinched and virtually fatherless early years clearly had marked and inhibiting effects upon his personality in general. But this said The Unknown Coleridge deserves a sincere welcome. It leaves certain aspects of Derwent still unknown, but makes an important contribution towards filling a gap, especially in relation to St Mark's and the attempted creation of a Coleridgean clerisy.