Private Lives of the Ancient Mariner: Coleridge and his Children

By Molly Lefebure

A fascinating new study of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, illuminating the poet’s deeply troubled personality and relationship with his family.

ISBN: 9780718893002


In her last published work the celebrated Coleridgean, Molly Lefebure, provides profound psychological insights into Coleridge through a meticulous study of his domestic life, drawing upon a vast and unique body of knowledge gained from a lifetime’s study of the poet, and making skilful use of the letters, poems and biographies of the man himself and his family and friends.

The author traces the roots of Coleridge’s unarguably dysfunctional personality from his earliest childhood; his position as his mother’s favoured child, the loss of this status with the death of his father, and removal to the ‘Bluecoat’ school in London. Coleridge’s narcissistic depression, flamboyance, and cold-hearted, often cruel, rejection of his family and of loving attachments in general are examined in detail. The author also explores Coleridge’s careers in journalism and politics as well as poetry, in his early, heady ‘jacobin’ days, and later at the heart of the British wartime establishment at Malta. His virtual abandonment of his children and tragic disintegration under the influence of opium are included in the broad sweep of the book which also encompasses an examination of the lives of Coleridge’s children, upon whom the manipulations of the father left their destructive mark.

Molly Lefebure unravels the enigma that is Coleridge with consummate skill in a book that will bring huge enjoyment to any reader with an interest in the poet’s life and times.

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 336

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Trade Information LGENPOD

About the Author

Molly Lefebure (1919-2013) was a wartime journalist, novelist, children’s author, writer on the topography of Cumbria, biographer, and independent scholar and lecturer. She is the author of two other works on the Coleridge family and a volume on the world of Thomas Hardy.

Lefebure was a secretary to Professor Keith Simpson (1907-1985), the renowned Home Office Pathologist and head of the Department of Forensic Medicine at Guy’s Hospital, with whom she worked during the Second World War. While surrounded by London’s crime, grime and gruesome deaths she wrote a memoire, published as Evidence for the Crown (1955), which formed the basis for the successful television drama, Murder on the Home Front (ITV, 2013). Having been fascinated by her work in the mortuaries, Lefebure continued at Guy’s Hospital and studied drug addiction for six years, which led her to write her first biography of Coleridge (Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Bondage of Opium, 1974).

Private Lives of the Ancient Mariner is the distillation of the lifetime’s thought of one who many regard as having been one of the foremost Coleridgean scholars in the world.


Foreword by Lord Melvyn Bragg
Key to References

Prologue: The Children of Genius Lose their Fountain of Light
1. Funeral at Highgate
2. A Time to Lament
3. The Chilled Heart

Part One: Resurrection
4. Beware, Beware
5. Offensive Disclosures
6. ‘Better not to look this way
First Landing-Place: From Under the Tablecloth

Part Two: Sam
7. Little Sam
8. The Torrents of Spring
9. Jesus Man: Including in Pursuit of Tippoo Sahib – Francis Coleridge
10. Jesus Man (continued)
11. The Pantisocrats
12. A Chilled Heart and a Democratic Marriage

Part Three: Taper in a Cottage Window
13. Sermons, Sedition, and a Father’s Kiss
14. A Seraph in Clouts
15. The Cradle
Second Landing-Place: Crossroads

Part Four: A Mystic Peregrination
16. I: Father as Alchemical Philosopher
17. II: Beyond the Grasp of Reason
18. III: Father as Mariner

Part Five: Trailing Clouds of Glory
19. In Which Papa Goes to Germany and Berkeley Goes to Heaven
20. The Vale of Elysium
21. A Faery Voyager and ‘a fine representative baby’
22. Darkness at Noon
23. Sensibility and Sense

Part Six: Samuel Taylor Coleridge v. Napoleon Bonaparte
24. In Pursuit of Tippoo Sahib – Samuel Taylor Coleridge
25. Our Man in Malta
26. Our Man in Malta (continued)
27. The Departure

Part Seven: Confrontations
28. Confrontations
29. Ejuxria
30. News From the Aunt Hill
31. A Case of Unnatural Cruelty
32. Further News From The Aunt Hill: Triumph

Part Eight: Shipwreck of the Faery Voyager
33. Shipwreck of the Faery Voyager

Appendices: Locked-Out Children
I. A Month at Brighton: Portrait of an Excluded Daughter
II. A Sunny Stroll in Ambleside: Portrait of Locked-Out Sons



Endorsements and Reviews

[Molly Lefebure’s] insight into Coleridge’s marriage is second to none. Her perception of him as a man and a poet is intellectually formidable. She can be both critical and understanding on the same page. There is a full field of Coleridge scholars at the moment, but in my view Molly was in there first, and is still the outstanding one.
Lord Melvyn Bragg

There are few biographers who can claim such a long, intense engagement with their subjects as Lefebure. If she sometimes writes as though convinced she has cleared up all the complex mysteries of Coleridge’s character … perhaps it’s because she lived with him, metaphorically speaking, longer than his children, his wife, or any of his other biographers ever did.
Evelyn Toynton, in Prospect, December 2013