It almost always takes just a small group of people, sometimes only an individual, to change the course of history. And in the case of English poetry, particularly the British Romantic movement, the two most important figures are probably William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who are generally regarded as the founders of the Romantic poetry in Britain. Known for being simple, free-spirited, and against the rationalism of the Enlightenment, the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge was an artistic revolution, mirroring the political revolution going on in France at the time.
Aside from being the founders of the Romantic movement, each having claimed celebrity in his own right, Wordsworth and Coleridge shared something even deeper and more penetrating than a seat in literary history – a long, intimate, and sometimes turbulent relationship that can, in this day and age, only be termed a “bromance”.
The ‘couple’ met when Coleridge was 24 and Wordsworth, 26. Coleridge started out as a fan-boy, basically. He became an admirer of Wordsworth after reading Descriptive Sketches in 1794, the second of Wordsworth’s publications, which scarcely caused a ripple in England’s literary scene at the time. Coleridge, like a true fan-boy, then proceeded to track down Wordsworth, finding him in his cottage. In any case, the two bonded over poetry and became very close friends, so much so that Wordsworth even bought a cottage near Coleridge’s house, so they could see each other all the time.
Their friendship led to the joint-publication of Lyrical Ballads, which was probably the defining point of the beginning of Romantic poetry. Although technically by Wordsworth, the book’s ‘opening act’ was Coleridge’s now-famous The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, published for the first time in 1798 in Wordsworth’s book. The Deserted Cottage, a separate publication containing the first two books of Wordsworth’s The Excursion, also had Coleridge’s imprint on it – it was his idea to extract these books from The Excursion. Although Wordsworth didn’t take Coleridge’s suggestion, the book was published posthumously in 1859.
Like all good tragic bromances, the relationship didn’t end well. Besides a clash of ideology and beliefs (mostly with regard to the French Revolution), Coleridge’s opium addiction began to drain their friendship. And also, like all good bromances, there was a woman involved – Wordsworth’s sister-in-law, Sara Hutchinson.