The Vices

Infidelity and Addiction: The Vices of Coleridge and Wordsworth

Coleridge’s Opium Addiction:OpiumPoppy.jpg

Coleridge’s opium addiction was no secret to those close to him and those that he was surrounded by. He started taking opium in 1796 as a pain reliever. At the time, he was suffering from things that needed a pain killer. A tooth ache and facial neuralgia were the causes of his pain and opium eased the pain even though he did not know of its addictive nature. One of his greatest works, “Kubla Kahn“, was admittingly wrote in an opium induced dream. In 1817 with this condition worsening and his addiction spriraling out of control, he took up residence with the physician James Gilman. Gilman thought that this would help his kick his addiction as he asked him to cut down on his use. This only made Coleridge find an alternate source for opium. He had seperated from his children and at one point went 8 years without seeing any of his children. He also seperated from his wife Sarah in 1808.

Photo courtesy of Ivor Hughes: Opium in its various preparations. To learn more about the effects of opium visit Herb Data New Zealand.

Extramarital Affairs:

It is likely that both of these poets were guilty of having romantic or sexual relationships with other women outside of their respective marriages. Wordsworth was never able to forget his relations with Annette Vallon of France; their affair resulted in the birth of his illegitimate daughter, Caroline, in 1792 . Although Wordsworth acknowledged the child as his, he chose not to be involved in Caroline’s life. Aside from making one visit to France to meet Annette and Caroline in 1802, Wordsworth never again corresponded or met with either woman again, as it would upset his relationship with his future wife, Mary Hutchinson. Little else is known about Annette Vallon and her child. The only documentation of their existence in the poet’s life is found in Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal. However, even in this context, Dorothy includes minimal detail and description about Annette. One can speculate that she did so to keep the affair as discreet as possible, out of respect for her brother. While Wordsworth did admittedly have an affair with this woman, he makes a point to avoid mentioning her or her child in his writings so that he may put the past behind him and separate himself from the scandal.

Coleridge’s infatuation with Mary Hutchinson’s sister, Sara, caused much strife within his marriage. In his poem addressed to Sara Hutchinson, “Dejection: An Ode”, Coleridge writes:

‘Tis midnight, but small thoughts have I of sleep:
Full seldom may my friend such vigils keep!
Visit her, gentle sleep! with wings of healing,
And may this storm be but a mountain-birth,
May all the stars hang bright above her dwelling,
Silent as though they watched the sleeping Earth !
With light heart may she rise,
Gay fancy, cheerful eyes,
Joy lift her spirit, joy attune her voice; To her may all things live, from the pole to pole,
Their life the eddying of her living soul! O simple spirit, guided from above,
Dear Lady ! friend devoutest of my choice,
Thus may’st thou ever, evermore rejoice. (Norton 469)

Even the casual reader could infer from this that Coleridge’s interest in Hutchinson exceeds friendly interaction. Interestingly though, Coleridge’s original version of this poem “A Letter to [Sara Hutchinson]” was even more direct – taking frankly about his failing marriage with Sarah Fricker and his desperate love for Hutchinson. While the poet’s love for Sara seems obvious to the modern reader of his poems and letters, he initially went to great lengths to hide his feelings from his wife. He even went as far as writing his journal entries about Hutchinson is latin, so that his wife would not be able to understand if she were to read them. Evidently though, not even writing in this dead language could conceal Coleridge’s true feelings for Hutchinson. Eventually, his wife Sarah discovered his affections which caused the additional strain of jealousy to their already troubled relationship.

Back to Coleridge and Wordsworth

Worthen, John. The Gang: Coleridge, The Hutchinsons & the Wordsworths in 1802. London: Yale University Press, 2002.
The Norton Anthology: English Literature 8th Edition