as always, Hartley gets the short end of the stick

Samuel Taylor Coleridge170x145

Hartley Coleridge began life with limitless promise—“all my child might be”—and ended it universally viewed as a failure. He is remembered not for his poems or his essays, though he wrote some fine ones, but for two things and two things only: he was the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and he was a disappointment. He has been called a misfit, a dreamer, a sinner, a castaway, a wayward child, a hobgoblin, a flibbertigibbet, a waif, a weird, a pariah, a prodigal, a picturesque ruin, a sensitive plant, an exquisite machine with insufficient steam, the oddest of God’s creatures, and, most frequently—by his father, his mother, his brother, and his sister; by William Wordsworth, Dorothy Wordsworth, and Thomas Carlyle; and by countless others over the years—“Poor Hartley.” I will not call him Poor Hartley. Relieved of the adjective that has followed him around like a cringing cur for nearly two centuries, he will be, simply, Hartley. (Although the “David” referred to in his father’s letter—an homage to David Hartley, the eighteenth-century metaphysical philosopher—faded away before baptism, Hartley was still stuck with one great man for his first name and another for his last.) And that raises the question of what I should call his father, he of the abscessed buttocks and the great poems. “Coleridge” not only grants him sole proprietorship of a last name that belongs just as rightfully to his son but also makes the father sound like an adult and the son—forever—like a child. For the sake of parity, I should call him “Samuel.” However, he detested that name, considering it “the worst combination of which vowels and consonants are susceptible.” He signed his poems with a variety of pseudonyms, from Aphilos to Zagri. His most celebrated alias was Silas Tomkyn Comberbache, the name under which he enlisted in the dragoons and with whom he shared a set of initials: STC. Since that is how he referred to himself in his notebooks, sometimes in Greek, I will call our ill-starred pair Hartley and STC—with the rueful realization that, as always, Hartley gets the short end of the stick.

more from Anne Fadiman at Lapham’s Quarterly here.