Hartley Coleridge was born at Clevedon, near Bristol, the eldest son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the brother of the poet Sara Coleridge. His family moved to the Lake District when he was quite young and he spent his early years in the care of Robert Southey at his home Greta Hall in Keswick. At the age of twelve he attended school in Ambleside but pursued his studies in English with William Wordsworth’s family in Grasmere where he was allowed the use of Wordsworth’s extensive library.
In 1815 he went to Merton College, Oxford and after graduating was awarded a fellowship at Oriel. He was however expelled from there a year later for lack of application to his studies and intemperance, a problem with which he was to struggle for the rest of his life. After leaving Oriel He moved to London where he worked as a private tutor whilst contributing short poems to a London magazine. He then moved back to the Lake District where for a few years he was involved in the joint ownership of a school in Ambleside which ultimately failed.
He earned a living by writing articles for Blackwood’s Magazine, was commissioned to write biographies of a number of Northern worthies and in 1833 had a short collection of poems published, mainly sonnets of great charm and beauty. He also wrote Prometheus, an unfinished lyric drama. His father died in 1834 and his mother eleven years later. He worked briefly as a master at Sedbergh School in the late 1830’s and in 1839 wrote biographies of the Jacobean and Caroline dramatists Philip Massinger and John Ford. He died in Grasmere in 1849 at the age of 52, his end hastened by his alcoholism, never having fully realised the promise of his great talents.
Hartley Coleridge wrote many fine poems, some reflecting his sadness at a wasted life and his lack of self worth. His poem Long Time a Child, and Still a Child contains the poignant lines “For I have lost the race I never ran, And still I am a child, tho’ I be old”. His poetry is scholarly and philosophical with a kindly, wistful flavour. His brother Derwent published Hartley’s Essays, Marginalia, and Poems with a memoir two years after his death.