Three extraordinary years

'Osorio', a play by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in the Reading Room at Coleridge Cottage

On the very last day of 1796, 24 year-old Samuel Taylor Coleridge moved his young family into the freezing, mouse-infested “hovel” deep in the Somerset countryside. The three years that followed were the most productive, and destructive, of their lives.

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A dangerous man

Coleridge was already notorious. Since he was a child, he was able to captivate crowds with his charisma and power of speech, and he had grown up to be a radical, supporting the ideas behind the French Revolution that was currently raging on the other side of the English Channel, and speaking out against slavery in Bristol, a city grown rich from the slave trade.

The people of rural Somerset were not ready for this alarming, eccentric young man who took long walks for fun along their trackways, lanes, and alongside their streams, at a time when walking recreationally was unheard of. There was suspicion that Coleridge was helping the French find a way to invade Britain via the inlets of the Bristol Channel. In fact, he was finding inspiration from the beautiful landscape and its people for some of his most famous poetry.

Inspired by the landscape

The villages and countryside around Nether Stowey are peppered with connections to Coleridge’s poetry, and that of his friend William Wordsworth, who also briefly moved to the area. Together, they began Lyrical Ballads, a collection of poetry which is considered by many to mark the beginning of the Romantic literary movement. With the freedom to walk, to write, and to socialise, Coleridge had the perfect conditions to produce some incredible poetry that still inspires people today.

‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, the dark tale about a doomed sailor who shot an albatross and was cursed by demons, is believed to be inspired by nearby Watchet harbour. ‘Kubla Khan’, the product of laudanum-soaked dreams, was famously interrupted by a “person from Porlock”, and ‘Frost at Midnight’ beautifully describes the interior of the Cottage in Nether Stowey on a cold winter’s night, with frost creeping patterns over the window pane. You can visit the room where Coleridge wrote this poem, and in the colder months see the fire flickering in the very same fireplace.

A new type of poetry

Coleridge’s poetry was different to anything that had been before. The rigid, structured poetry from earlier period in the 1700s known as the Enlightenment, was worlds away from Coleridge’s fluid, imaginative, supernatural stories alive with exotic places and nightmarish events.

However, Coleridge’s doomed family life, revealed through the rooms of Coleridge Cottage, and an increasingly debilitating addiction to laudanum, meant he never regained the success of his time in Nether Stowey. Those three extraordinary years, and the poems that came from them, inspired generations of poets, artists, filmmakers, musicians, and even video game-makers. Coleridge Cottage is where it all began.

" Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink."
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge