Coleridge Family's Archive Bought By British Library

By Graham Spicer | 21 August 2006
image of an old engraving of a man in Georgian dress

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, leading light of the English Romantic movement. Courtesy British Library

The archive of the extended family of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of England’s greatest Romantic poets, has been saved for the nation.

Previously in family ownership at Coleridge’s ancestral home in Ottery St Mary, Devon, it was bought by the British Library with the help of a £250,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and donations from several other sources.

Dating from the mid 18th to the early 20th centuries it consists of 350 bound volumes, diaries and journals and 29 large archive boxes. As well as a Samuel Taylor Coleridge manuscript written in his own hand and several copies of his verse, it also contains many descriptions and reminiscences of the poet in the correspondence and diaries of other family members.

photo of an old hand written manuscript of a poem

The archive includes this poem by ST Coleridge in his own hand. Courtesy British Library

The bulk of the archive consists of legal letters, journals and courtroom notes from barrister and judge Sir John Taylor Coleridge (1790-1876), nephew of the more famous poet. It additionally includes the papers of Sir John’s son and grandson, who were also lawyers; his son, the first Baron Coleridge, became Lord Chief Justice of England.

The Coleridges were familiar with many of the leading figures of the Victorian era, and the archive includes their correspondence with characters like religious reformer Cardinal Newman, Liberal prime minister WE Gladstone and Matthew Arnold.

“It is an exceptionally rich source for the whole cultural, political, legal, religious life of 19th century England,” said Frances Harris, Head of Modern Historical Manuscripts at the British Library.

“The archive is very extensive and entirely uncatalogued. Our priority during the first year will be to arrange and catalogue the papers in order to make them fully accessible for research as soon as possible.”

photo of three sheets of old hand written manuscript

Many of the items shed light on the Coleridge family, like these letters from ST Coleridge to his brother George. Courtesy British Library

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) was born at Ottery St Mary and, along with his friend William Wordsworth, became one of the founders of the Romantic movement in England. He is best known for his epic poems The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner and Christabel and the shorter Kubla Khan.

The archive gives an insight into the environment where Coleridge grew up, his friendship with Wordsworth and his well-known passionate association with the Lake District.

Stephen Johnson, Head of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, said: “This archive is important to the national heritage as it sets out Coleridge’s life in context and documents in detail the relationship the family had with England’s leading figures.”

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