174. To Thomas Poole Address: Mr T. Poole MS. Victoria University Lib. Pub. Letters, i. 4. This is the first of five autobiographical letters written at Poole's request. (Cf. Letters 179, 208, 210, 284.) With these letters may be read the autobiographical notes in Chapter I of James Gillman Life of Coleridge, 1838. Feb. 6, 1797 Monday. 1 My dear Poole I could inform the dullest author how he might write an interesting book -- let him relate the events of his own Life with honesty, not disguising the feelings that accompanied them. -- I never yet read even a Methodist's 'Experience' in the Gospel Magazine without receiving instruction & amusement: & I should almost despair of that Man, who could peruse the Life of John Woolman 2 without an amelioration of Heart. -- As to my Life, it has all the charms of variety: high Life, & low Life, Vices & Virtues, great Folly & some Wisdom. However what I am depends on what I have been; and you, MY BEST FRIEND! have a right to the narration. -- To me the task will be a useful one; it will renew and deepen my reflections on the past; and it will perhaps make you behold with no unforgiving or impatient eye those weaknesses and defects in my character, which so many untoward circumstances have concurred to plant there. -- My family on my Mother's side can be traced up, I know not, how far -- The Bowdens inherited a house-stye & a pig-stye in the Exmore Country, in the reign of Elizabeth, as I have been told -- & to my own knowlege, they have inherited nothing better since that time. -- On my father's side I can rise no higher than my Grandfather, who was dropped, when a child, in the Hundred of Coleridge in the County of Devon; christened, educated, & apprenticed by the parish. -- He afterwards became a respectable ____________________ 1 'When Coleridge resided at Stowey he agreed to write his life in a series of letters to be addressed to me -- I was to receive a letter every Monday morning -- ' [MS. note by Tom Poole.] 2 The Journal of John Woolman ( 1720-72), the Quaker abolitionist, was published in Philadelphia in 1774 and in London in 1775. -302- Woolen-draper in the town of South Molton. 1 / I have mentioned these particulars, as the time may come in which it will be useful to be able to prove myself a genuine Sans culotte, my veins uncontaminated with one drop of Gentility. My father received a better education than the others of his Family in consequence of his own exertions, not of his superior advantages. When he was not quite 16 years old, my Grandfather became bankrupt; and by a series of misfortunes was reduced to extreme poverty. My father received the half of his last crown & his blessing; and walked off to seek his fortune. After he had proceeded a few miles, he sate him down on the side of the road, so overwhelmed with painful thoughts that he wept audibly. A Gentleman passed by, who knew him: & enquiring into his distrersses took my father with him, & settled him in a neighb'ring town as a schoolmaster. His school increased; and he got money & knowlege: for he commenced a severe & ardent student. Here too he married his first wife, by whom he had three daughters; all now alive. While his first wife lived, having scraped up money enough, at the age of 20 he walked to Cambridge, entered at Sidney College, distinguished himself for Hebrew & Mathematics, & might have had a fellowship: if he had not been married. -- He returned -- his wife died -- Judge Buller's Father gave him the living of Ottery St Mary, & put the present Judge to school with him -- he married my Mother, by whom he had ten children of whom I am the youngest, born October 20th [21], 1772. These sketches I received from my mother & Aunt; but I am utterly unable to fill them up by any particularity of times, or places, or names. Here I shall conclude my first Letter, because I cannot pledge myself for the accuracy of the accounts, & I will not therefore mingle them with those, for the accuracy of which in the minutest parts I shall hold myself amenable to the Tribunal of Truth. -- You must regard this Letter, as the first chapter of an history; which is devoted to dim traditions of times too remote to be pierced by the eye of investigation. -- Your's affectionately S. T. Coleridge ____________________ 1 "Probably a mistake for Crediton". Letters, i. 5 n. -303-