Coleridge's Bristol and West Country Radicalism

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Abstract

In the 1790s S. T. Coleridge was a Dissenter in both politics and religion. Numerous critics have discussed the nature of Coleridge’s then Unitarian beliefs, but what has so far insufficiently been highlighted are the ways in which his dissent was fashioned, deepened, and reinforced by the poet’s West Country background, specifically the political and religious milieu of the thriving commercial city of eighteenth-century Bristol and the surrounding area. It was the experience of Bristol and West Country opposition that turned Coleridge from an opponent of the government in politics and an anti-Trinitarian in religion into a Protestant Dissenter more fully immersed in the milieu and history of post-Reformation religious radicalism. Although he had abandoned much of this belief by 1805, his West Country experience had substantial implications for Coleridge’s intellectual and literary career and the formation of what one might term early British Romanticism. The young Coleridge first became acquainted with Bristol, and subsequently its West Country environs, through his friendship with his fellow poet and radical, Robert Southey, who had spent his childhood there (Holmes, 1989, 89–106). Coleridge began his actual residence in the city in January 1795 after Southey had dutifully fetched him back from London to make him live up to his obligations to marry Sara Fricker, whose sister, Edith, Southey was also courting. It was here that Coleridge’s most active and ardent Dissenting days were spent lecturing against the war with revolutionary France, established religion, and the transatlantic slave trade.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEnglish Romantic Writers and the West Country
EditorsNicholas Roe
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Chapter7
Pages115-128
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9780230281455
ISBN (Print)9780230223745
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2010

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