Wednesday, 20 May 2009
Hold off! unhand me, greybeard loon
This talk of Coleridge gives me a chance to sing the praises of Richard Holmes.
I don't know where my peculiar fascination with the English Romantic poets began. Certainly not at school, because I have no recollection of having studied any of them. The one exception was Coleridge, in that I must first have had The Rime of the Ancient Mariner read to me when I was eight or nine and thought it was just about the most extraordinary thing I had ever heard. I'm not sure my opinion of it has ever really changed.
But I knew nothing about Coleridge at all. Gradually as I got older I learned that he was an opium addict. I read the famous story about the 'person from Porlock' interrupting the hallucinogenic Kubla Khan. I lived in the North-East and so visited Cumbria and realised that he had a connection with the Lakes and with Wordsworth. But it was all pretty sketchy.
It wasn't until I read Richard Holmes' superb Coleridge: Early Visions in 1990 or so that I appreciated how fascinating a man he was or what an amazing life he led. Holmes is a brilliant writer. His emotional approach to his subject results in some harrumphing, How Dare He! reviews, but I have always found it really works. He brings his subjects to life. Because he clearly has such real affection for the people he writes about he makes you care about them, despite (or maybe because of) their flaws and failures. He makes Coleridge human - and that only makes the work all the more compelling.