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on 3 December 2012
This is the second of Richard Holmes two volume life of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It covers the poet's life from his sea voyage to the Mediterranean and subsequent sojourn in Malta in 1804 to his death in Highgate thirty years later. By 1804 when Holmes takes up the story, the white heat of Coleridge's creative ability was cooling. Kubla Khan, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Christabel, those wild daring flashes of genius that would for ever set the poet among the stars had been composed in the late 1790s. Such visions were never to be repeated.

Holmes takes up the story as Coleridge struggled to regain that 'first fine careless rapture' in an immensely readable biography that combines brisk tempo and scholarly evaluation in this sympathetic but not entirely uncritical account of the poet's later life. Coleridge faced daunting odds; a failed marriage; chronic lack of money; opium addiction; unrequited love for his `Asra;' a lengthy quarrel with Wordsworth, and savage censure from some hostile critics. Holmes strikingly portrays the poet's charisma and the friends who helped keep him buoyant, notably the lawyer John Morgan and James and Ann Gillman, all of whom he tried severely. And Coleridge remained courageously afloat,using his superhuman talents to create further legendry works. This reviewer ended up loving the man for the legacy he left, and with deep regard for Holmes's skill as a biographer. It's a book that can't really be faulted.

Holmes is a consummate writer and when moved he can ascend into poetry himself; see the epilogue `Afterward' (p 561). Holmes--- ` But there is a particular silence which falls after a life like Coleridge's...........like the silence in a concert hall when a symphony has just been played. But the music hasn't conceivably finished; like the music Coleridge's life continues in one's head and mixes with the sounds of one's own existence.......'

Bravo!
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Very detailed biography of Coleridge.

A rather scholarly work that covers a lot of ground over two volumes.

A tad difficult to get into but stick with it and you will be rewarded.

There probably isnt anything you need to know about Coleridge that isnt in this book.
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on 20 July 2001
Richard Holmes' marvellous book is the sequel to his Coleridge: Early Visions. For fifteen years, he has been constantly engaged with Coleridge's ideas, poems, plays and philosophical writings. He traces Coleridge's lifelong dialogues with the greatest of English poets, Shakespeare, Milton and Wordsworth, and also with the finest German writers, Goethe and Schiller.
Coleridge was that rare creature, a superb poet who could also grapple with the deepest of philosophers. He could brilliantly summarise the two basic possible lines in philosophy: "The difference between Aristotle and Plato is that which will remain as long as we are men and there is any difference between man and man in point of opinion. Plato, with Pythagoras before him, had conceived that the phenomenon or outside appearance, all that we call thing or matter, is but as it were a language by which the invisible (that which is not the object of our senses) communicates its existence to our finite beings ... Aristotle, on the contrary, affirmed that all our knowledge had begun in experience, had begun through the senses, and that from the senses only we could take our notions of reality ... It was the first way in which, plainly and distinctly, two opposite systems were placed before the mind of the world."
Although Coleridge adhered to Platonism, he honestly admitted, "All these poetico-philosophical Arguments strike and shatter themselves into froth against that stubborn rock, the fact of Consciousness, or rather its dependence on the body."
Like other notable literary biographies - one thinks of Holmes' earlier one of Shelley, Richard Ellman's of Oscar Wilde, Peter Ackroyd's of Charles Dickens, Tim Hilton's of John Ruskin, E. P. Thompson's of William Morris, and Leon Edel's of Henry James - this wonderful book arouses our enthusiasm for literature. It shows us again how a great writer's work can help us both to enjoy and to make sense of the world.
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on 28 May 2011
This second volume get's even better than the first. Whilst learning so much about Coleridge's poetry and the history of his time, one is so emotionally engaged that I experienced grief at the tragic end. Grief for the end of Coleridge's life and grief for having come to the end of such a monumental and marvellous read.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 September 2016
The second part of this remarkable two-volume biography covers the last half of Coleridge’s life, from his self-exile to Malta to escape his unhappy marriage, debts and impossible love for Wordsworth’s sister “Asra”. Although much of the poetry for which he is now most remembered had already been written, and he sometimes mourned the loss of his ability in this area, often in lyrical terms which ironically belied this view, he still produced some striking verses, also writing a good deal of philosophical work, which was not fully appreciated in his lifetime.

Richard Holmes shows how Coleridge continually ricocheted between the depths of despair and degradation to moments of high achievement. On the downside, he had a dramatic falling out with Wordsworth which became the subject of London gossip, which also began to feast on his failures as a husband and father, and the squandering of his early great talent through his opium addiction, no longer a secret. His metaphysical writing was mocked by the critic Hazlitt, in terms with which one can sympathise judging by some of the quotations provided. Less acceptable were his cruel personal attacks, which seem particularly ungrateful since Coleridge had once smuggled him out of the Lake District to escape justice for having molested a local girl. The negative feedback naturally made publishers wary, so that Coleridge was forced to use a firm which went bankrupt, denying him much-needed earnings from several years of work which he had managed to sustain against the odds. To some extent reunited with his two grown-up sons, it was a bitter blow when the older boy Hartley proved too like his father in his intensely imaginative but addictive personality, so that he was deprived of his Oxford fellowship because of his drunken habits.

On the plus side, when in Malta, Coleridge proved a competent civil servant, although he had mixed feelings about a role which distracted him from his “true calling” of creative writing. On another occasion, he wrote a highly successful play for the London stage. He always seemed to have enough admirers to bale him out in his hour of need, such as the surgeon Morgan with his wife and sister, who became a kind of replacement copy of his intense relationship with Wordsworth, his sister Dorothy and Sarah Hutchinson (Asra). For the last eighteen years of Coleridge's life, he lived with the family of a successful London doctor, Gillman, who understood how to regulate his opium addiction, receiving in return the reflected “kudos” of managing a man who, although always controversial, ended his life as a “national treasure”, visited by a succession of admirers of romantic poetry, of the glittering conversation which never faded, and writing, considerable despite all the stillborn and uncompleted plans.

Coleridge is at time maddening in his apparent “lack of will” in resisting opium. On the one hand able to analyse his failings with remarkable candour and insight in his calmer moments, he also believed that the addiction which induced nightmares, inertia, embarrassing outbursts and despair bordering on suicide was beyond his control, due to something in his personality or perhaps early experience. It seems likely that he was manic-depressive at a time when laudanum was the sole, over-used painkiller for both physical and mental ailments. Despite all this, it is hard not to share Richard Holmes’ admiration for his resilience and the fact that he never “gave up” for long. Many aspects of his thinking all seem remarkably modern, so that one can imagine him joining in some current intellectual debate.

Part Two is in some ways sadder and more sombre as Coleridge, no longer the energetic young man running down Lake District fell-sides, becomes heavy, shambling, and prematurely aged, often haunted by the destructive effects of his addiction. Yet, as his astute long-standing friend Charles Lamb observed, it was wrong to dismiss as “Poor Coleridge” a man who had in fact experienced and created so much. He even suggested that the addiction was in part necessary to Coleridge’s originality, and enhanced it. Following his death, Lamb wrote: “I feel how great a part he was of me, his great and dear Spirit haunts me. I cannot think a thought, cannot make a criticism of men and books, without an ineffectual turning and reference to him. He was the proof and touchstone of all my cogitations….Never saw I his likeness, nor probably can the world see it again.” Richard Holmes’ lasting achievement is to enable us to understand and relate to these sentiments.
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on 20 February 2000
Richard Holmes is a wonderful biographer. He writes as if he is talking to the reader. I read this book, before reading the earlier one. Nevertheless, this book reads well by itself and makes the reader want to find out more about the man. I knew very little about Coleridge before reading this book. Apart from struggling with the Ancient Mariner as a 15 year old! After reading Holmes, I bought his earlier book, an audio-tape of poems and a selected collection of poetry. Richard Holmes opened a door for me. He can do the same for you.
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on 7 February 2010
I would say that this volume along with 'Early Visions' are the finest biographies I've read. Too many books of this type simply chronical what the subject matter did rather than attempt the, admittedly very difficult, task of getting into the mind of the biographee. In my view a biography is not exercise of objectivity but one of imagination albeit based on thoroughly researched material, similar perhaps to a travel book. Holmes, in my view, succeeds in both volumes. We admire Coleridge's wide ranging talents but also dispair at his difficulties in coping with basic humdrum existence. It's quite plausible that Holmes may have misread some of his subject matter's emotions and thoughts at particular times but this doesn't matter because the author is so convincing in his proposal. It certainly helps that Coleridge himself was such a fascinating character but he can count himself lucky in having such a convincing advocate.
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on 23 February 2016
Particularly good at highlighting the mythical poet in decline, this biography is essential to understand Colerdige as a sagacious and public intellectual. For those interested in his poetry, this volume hold relatively little interest, as Colerdige's most important verse was written up until his 27th birthday. However, his Biographia Literaria does emanate from this period and as such, Darker Reflections is an excellent view into the period of Coleridge as critic.
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on 23 May 2016
Insightful.
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on 25 January 2015
great book,fast delivery
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