A few years ago, we celebrated the life of local author, Charles Kingsley by tracing the literary links between him and P.G. Wodehouse. This year, to celebrate the birth of Devon born poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, we take a look at some more interesting local literary links.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in Ottery St. Mary at about 11 o’clock in the forenoon on the 21st October 1772 according to his baptismal entry in the Parish Register. His father was the vicar and also master of the local Grammar School. Before taking the living in Ottery St. Mary, the Rev. John Coleridge had been a Curate in Mariansleigh and taught at the Squire’s School in South Molton. His second wife Ann Bowden was also from the area, although they married in Exeter.
The Coleridge family had long roots in Devon and Ottery St. Mary became their family seat. Samuel Taylor was the youngest child and when his father died suddenly in 1781, he was sent to Christ’s Hospital School in London. While not in the same school year he was there at the same time as our founder, William Frederick Rock.
Following school he spent time at university, but didn’t graduate and became one of the most well-known poets of the day. Great friends with William Wordsworth, Coleridge eventually settled down in the Lake District after marrying his wife, Sarah Fricker in Bristol in 1795.
Here is where you may think the literary links with North Devon end, however the story and links continue with his son, Derwent.
Derwent was born on 14th September 1800 in Keswick and attended school in Ambleside before heading off to Cambridge University. Whilst there he suffered a crisis of faith and left before graduating. He also took the decision to financially cut himself off from his family as he found himself in debt.
On leaving Cambridge, Derwent found himself in Plymouth where he met a local girl, Mary Pridham Simpson. In order to support himself and a wife he went back to university to get his MA in divinity. He was given the living of Helston in Cornwall, which had a school attached, after his ordination by the Bishop of Exeter in 1825 and married Mary in 1827 at Plymouth.
A keen educator he turned the school into a thriving place of learning, designing a new school building and produced excellent exam results during his tenure. It was during this time a certain Charles Kingsley and his brother attended the school, in 1832.
Kingsley’s father knew Derwent, which probably explains why the brothers were sent to Helston after attending school in Bristol. Whilst at the school, Kingsley suffered an attack of cholera, leaving him with life-long issues and a passion for sanitary reform. He learnt botany informally from one of the teachers and took advantage of the extensive library Derwent had curated.
Some ten years later, Kingsley, like his former headmaster, suffered religious doubts whilst attending Cambridge and it was after meeting his future wife and opening up to her about his issues through correspondence (which included discussing the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge) he began to work through the doubts. When they developed an understanding, he resolved to enter the clergy and worked hard to secure a first-class degree in Classics after which he was ordained and given his first position as a curate in Eversley, Hampshire.
Like Derwent, Kingsley was a champion of education and even ran art classes in the front room of Edward Capern’s home, better known as the Postman Poet he lived in Bideford around the same time as Kingsley was writing Westward Ho!
Derwent left Helston in 1841 and became the first principal of St Mark’s College, Chelsea, along with the living of the church. Incidentally, not long after his arrival in his new parish, another author Charles Dickens was married in the church, although Derwent did not officiate. Dickens and Kingsley would go on to serve on the same committee together. St Mark’s College would eventually become what is now known as Marjon.
Derwent left St. Mark’s in 1864 when he was appointed vicar of Hanwell, where he remained until he retired from education and the clergy in 1880. Upon his retirement he and his wife settled in Torquay, where he died 28th March 1883 and was buried in Torquay cemetery.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge may not have spent as much time in Devon; however, his influence would have an impact on his son Derwent and Charles Kingsley. Kingsley would go onto have links with Rudyard Kipling, Hector Hugh Murnro (aka Saki), P. G. Wodehouse, Sir George Newnes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to name a few.