Derwent Coleridge—The Romantic Child


Raimonde Hainton


(The Coleridge Bulletin New Series No 8, Autumn 1996, pp. 24-46)


Derwent Coleridge was to be identified from the beginning with the world of romantic beauty which encircled Greta Hall, where he was born on the night of Sunday, September l4th, 1800. In far away London, Derwent’s birth was celebrated by an “Ode, inscribed to the Infant Son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Esq” which appeared in The Morning Post. The author was STC’s fellow journalist poet, Mary Robinson, known as ‘Perdita’, whom he had met in London the year before. She wrote that Derwent would hear “the soft voice of wood-wild harmony.”

As a small child Derwent had the freedom of the fields. His father wrote to Sotheby in September 1802: “It is in very truth a sunny, misty, cloudy, dazzling, howling, omniform Day and I have been looking at as pretty a sight as a Father’s eyes could well see—Hartley and little Derwent running in the Green, where the Gusts blow most madly—both with their Hair floating and tossing, a miniature of the agitated Trees below which they are playing/ inebriate both with the pleasure Hartley whirling for joy—Derwent eddying half willingly, half by the force of the Gust—driven backward, struggling forward, and shouting his little hymn of Joy.”



Writing in the 1870’s Derwent remembered: “I was called ‘stumpy canary’ [because of his yellow frock] and ‘Little John’ in my infancy and childhood...Being detected on my way to the orchard, a forbidden place, doubtless because of the river below as well as the apples, I addressed my mother ‘Not going to orset—not to pick appeys—that’s what I’se not going to do!”

Despite his estrangement from his wife and his increasingly prolonged absences from his family, STC had an undoubtedly deep affection for his children and exercised a powerful influence over them. He wrote to Southey in November 1801: “If my wife loved me, and I my wife, half as well as we both love our children, I should be the happiest man alive.”

In October 1803 STC described Derwent to Thomas Poole: “He is a fat large lovely Boy—in all things but his Voice very unlike Hartley—very vain and much more fond and affectionate—none of his Feelings so profound—in short he is just what a sensible Father ought to wish for—a fine, healthy, strong, beautiful child, with all his senses and faculties as they ought to be—with no chance, as to his person, of being more than a good-looking man, and as to his mind, no prospect of being more or less than a man of good sense and tolerably quick parts.” To Matthew Coates in December, 1803 he wrote: “Derwent is a large, fat, beautiful Child, quite the Pride of the Village, as Hartley is the Darling—Southey says that all Hartley’s Guts are in his Brains, and all Derwent’s Brains in his Guts—verily the constitutional Differences in Children are great indeed.”

STC was an acute observer, and it is remarkable how children’s characteristics do appear quite early in life. Derwent was always more practical than Hartley, with an appreciation of food and all the good things of life.

When STC arrived back in Keswick in October 1806, after two and a half years ‘ absence in Malta, Derwent later recalled: “I well remember his expected arrival. My Mother had taken my pillow for father’s bed, who required several.




In her telling me of this, I exclaimed ‘Oh! by all means, I would lie on straw for my father’, greatly to my mother’s delight and amusement. How well does this speak for my mother.” It does indeed show great forbearance on Sara’s part, and is an early example of the reverence which Derwent felt for his father, despite all his faults and absences.

In 1807 STC had determined to separate from his wife and had taken Hartley to stay with the Wordsworths and the Beaumonts at Coleorton in Leicestershire. In February he wrote to Derwent: “I am greatly delighted that you are so desirous to go on with your Greek; and shall finish this letter with a short Lesson of Greek. “Derwent was aged six years and five months. A month later STC sent him a letter about poetic metre, concluding:


If Derwent be innocent, steady and wise,

And delight in the things of Earth, Water and Skies;

Tender Warmth at his Heart, with these metres to shew it,

With sound sense in his Brains may make Derwent a Poet!

May crown him with Fame, and must win him the love

Of his Father on earth, and his Father above,

My dear dear Child!

Could you stand upon Skiddaw, you would not from its whole Ridge

See a man who so loves you, as your fond S.T.Coleridge.


When Derwent was eight years old his father returned to stay with the Wordsworths at Allan Bank until May 1810. On September 16th 1808 STC saw the Rev. John Dawes and arranged for him to take Hartley and Derwent into his small school at Ambleside. They lodged with old Mrs Longmire and her son, James, a maltster, at Clappersgate, a small hamlet a mile from Ambleside. Clappersgate is a row of cottages overlooking the Brathay River which runs into Lake Windermere. The fells rise steeply behind the cottages. The little river is a marvellous play-place for small boys. In his




Memoir of Hartley, Derwent remembers “Our freedom, out of school hours was unlimited; our play-place was the hill-side, the river-bank or the broad bosom of the lake, and our bounds the furthest point to which our inclinations led, or our strength could carry us.” They were joined by two companions, sons of a Liverpool merchant. After they went to bed Hartley held them spell-bound by a long continuous improvised story, which went on for years. “It turned upon the injustice of society, and the insufficiency of conventional morals to determine the right or wrong of particular actions.”

At the beginning and end of term the boys walked the seventeen miles between Keswick and Ambleside by way of Dunmail Raise and Grasmere. In later years Derwent had on his study wall a map of the Lake District, and he would trace this route with his finger. But Ambleside was only four miles south of Grasmere and Derwent and Hartley would frequently walk over there for weekends.

In April 1810, when Derwent was nine and a half, STC wrote to his wife how pleased he was with the accuracy of Derwent’s knowledge in Greek.

STC left Keswick for good on 26th March 1812 and returned to London. He did not see Derwent again until 1820.

Derwent and Hartley continued to visit Wordsworth regularly in term-time and used Wordsworth’s library. Derwent went for long walks with Wordsworth discussing poetry and Nature; according to his daughter, Christabel, Derwent said that Wordsworth had done far more to form his mind than anyone else.

The school holidays were spent at Greta Hall, where Southey acted as father to his own seven children, to the three Coleridge children and to the orphan Robert Lovell, who lived there with his mother, widowed sister of Mrs Southey and Mrs Coleridge. Southey always found time to play with the children, to teach them and to take them out for picnics, swimming, boating and climbing. He was a life-long book-




collector, books overflowed the whole house, and Derwent had the run of this vast library of 14,000 volumes.

During the summer months there was a constant flow of visitors to Greta Hall. Among them were the Wordsworths, Hazlitt, De Quincey, Walter Scott, Shelley and his wife, Thomas Clarkson, Humphry Davy, William Wilberforce and Dr. Bell. Southey’s study on the first floor, with its view of Derwent Water, was used as a drawing-room for company. Here the visitors would drink tea and Derwent would listen to their talk of philosophy, literature, politics and religion.

The fact that he could not be sent off for the conventional public school education of the time deprived Derwent of that ‘influence’ which contributed largely to a successful career, so that later in life he suffered constant rebuffs to his efforts to fulfil his talents and his vision. But his unconventional upbringing greatly influenced Derwent’s future attitudes to education.

On 16th May 1862 he delivered a lecture in Chelsea on “Poetry as a Teacher”. He began:


The child is father of the man. To explain what I am, I must tell you what I was. I was born in the loveliest of our English vales.... But nature, as such, is not poetical. It is not only blind and deaf, but mute, and men may live long lives among what we account most speaking forms and hear no message... there must be an interpreter. Such interpreters spoke to my childhood.

   One grey-haired man there was—a noticeable man, with large grey eyes, whose voice was as the sound of many waters, led by whom and holding by his hand, I have climbed the mountain side—and his speech has ever come back to me in soft mysterious echoes.

   I lived too in the presence of another man, with quick electric eyes, and locks that covered his head as with a glory—who, living in a world of books, looked out from them upon the world of nature—his vocation being to tell in varied numbers what he daily learned from both.

   Similar influences surrounded me at was my




lot to listen, weekly, to the deep bourdon of another voice, not less impressive. I lived much, as a child and growing boy, with him, who has been styled the Priest of Nature—rather let us say the Prophet....The men of whom I speak were Poets. Knowing them as I did, I grew up in the belief that this was a title of high and special privilege—almost divine....


This upbringing gave Derwent a lasting love of nature and of the Lake District in particular; he retained throughout his life a poetic vision of the natural world. It gave him poetic aspirations and it took him many years to realise that his strengths lay elsewhere. It nurtured his imagination and he applied this fully to educating others. He developed a warm-hearted and affectionate nature. Throughout his life he had a deep love for Hartley, with all his faults, and for Sara. He was tremendously hard-working and enthusiastic for projects which interested him. Throughout his life he was careless about money and borrowed freely from relatives and friends. As a young man he found his mother’s caution and prudence irritating—he wrote to her from Buckfastleigh that he wished she could forget his existence for one short year; she replied that he wished to still “the warning, the enquiring voice.” But he did have his mother to live with him and Mary in Helston for a year after Sara’s marriage, and he kept in close touch with her when they both lived in London. His father’s ideas had a profound influence on him, although he did not see him between the ages of eleven and nineteen; in many ways his whole career was an effort to put into practice his Coleridgean inheritance. His upbringing also gave him a deep love for the classics and an extraordinary flair for languages, which were his greatest recreation. By the age of seventy he spoke fourteen.

There was no money to send Derwent to university, and from the age of seventeen to nineteen he acted as tutor to the two boys of the Hopwood family, at Summerhill, just outside Ulverston.




In Derwent’s Commonplace Book for 1818 there are many poems of unrequited love:


What is that darling wish, that fondest theme

My daily vision and my nightly dream?

A Maid who free from Interest’s sordid rules

(Pride’s selfish mandates, kept by gaping fools)

Would seek for naught in me but me myself

Careless of rank, or rank’s supporter pelf,

Guileless her soul, and beautiful her face

Her form all elegance, her motions grace,

Soothing her love, for sorrow’s wounds a cure,

Warm as mine own, as smiling infants pure.

With her to fly to some lone lovely dell

The world forsake and there forever dwell...


... I never saw a Mary (Oh! shall I ever see a Mary) who combining intellect, mildness and beauty, might be my conpanion, my soother and my love—No—In my imagination I have pictured such a being, and in my imagination alone must she exist.


There follows an “Ode to Abstraction”.


Eventually STC’s friends came to the rescue and contributed enough money to send Derwent to university.

He was entered at St John’s College, Cambridge and went up in October 1820. Since the days of Newton mathematics were pre-eminent in studies at Cambridge, whereas classics were still the principal study at Oxford. At Cambridge it was not possible to take Honours in Classics without obtaining Honours in Mathematics first. It is likely that Derwent would have gained a much higher class degree in classics at Oxford. The choice of Cambridge must have been his father’s and one can only suppose that STC wanted Derwent to succeed where he had failed.

Derwent’s cousin, Henry Nelson Coleridge, introduced him to Cambridge society, especially to his fellow Old Etonians. One of the most brilliant of the group was Winthrop




Mackworth Praed, who had strong literary aspirations. Others were Thomas Babington Macaulay, his cousin, John Heyrick Macaulay, Charles Austin and John Moultrie, who became Derwent’s closest friend.

By the summer of 1822 Derwent, Praed and Moultrie were engaged in getting some of their writings published in a new periodical, Knight’s Quarterly Magazine, of which Praed was the leading spirit. Derwent’s major contribution was “Beauty: a Lyrical Poem”, originally entitled “Dream Love”. It describes a vision of an impossible “ideal of a poet’s love”.

During his last year at Cambridge Derwent had a deep quarrel with Moultrie over religious and philosophical beliefs. Derwent had gradually lost all religious faith, whereas Moultrie, once a free-thinker, had changed his mind and decided to go into the Church. This quarrel plunged Derwent into deep depression. He wrote in his farewell to Moultrie:


As for my way of life, I sometimes fancy I resemble the Moriscoe in The Remorse as he was passing out of the cheerful sunshine into the dark and damp cavern whose termination was an empty and unfathomable pit, first a horrible dream and then destruction!


Derwent gave up the unequal struggle to gain honours in Mathematics and in January 1824 he was admitted to a pass degree. However, J.H.Macaulay was now Master of the new Proprietary Classical Mathematical School in Plymouth and he offered Derwent the post of Third Assistant Master.

Derwent arrived in Plymouth in January 1824 with a pass degree, pursued by bills and love letters, a handsome young man of twenty-three with romantic ideals but uncertain of what he wanted to do with his life. He had literary aspirations but no prospects, and had become estranged from his family and his closest friend. He had lost the faith he had absorbed from Southey. He was deeply depressed, but nevertheless resolved to improve himself by the acquisition of knowledge in pursuit of that “grandeur d’âme” to which he




had always aspired. he wrote to his mother that he was “heartless and aimless” and “lounged into school half alive”.

The turning point in Derwent’s life was his meeting with Mary Pridham, late in 1824. She was to give him a new sense of the beauty of the world and a new sense of purpose. Mary was a beautiful, dark-haired girl of seventeen, the eldest daughter of John Drake Pridham, director of the Naval Bank in Whimple Street. She had been to school in Bath and when Derwent met her she was studying art under Ball and Italian under Signor Bezzi, an Italian political exile. She was in touch with current poetry and had copied into her album in 1824 some of Derwent’s poems from Knight’s Quarterly, published at the end of 1823. Derwent had a tempestuous courtship, minutely recorded in a little book entitled “Mary—A Record of Feeling”, which he kept from January to April 1825. “In lack of a friend”, he wrote, “I commit my thoughts and feelings, when they would otherwise be intolerable, to this book, quasi fido amicus”.

At this time Derwent still seems to have hoped for a literary career. He lectured at the Plymouth Athenaeum on Wordsworth in February 1825 and later on “The Nature of Poetry”.

At the end of July 1825 Derwent went to teach at the school conducted at the Vicarage in Buckfastleigh. He sent Mary a thirteen page letter “On Intellectual Development and mental training—a letter of advice and counsel” which contains the hard core of his educational philosophy; the aim of all teachers should be to prepare the taught for their own self-education, and moral and intellectual education are inseparable.

Mary was a deeply religious girl and was perturbed by Derwent’s loss of faith. In his love for Mary, Derwent found a new sense of purpose and a gradual awareness of ultimate meaning in life. He eventually became able to appreciate his father’s religious ideas. The essence of Coleridge’s religious teaching, based on a lifetime of voracious reading, deep




thinking and intense inner struggle, was that the truths of religion are evolved from within, in man’s need for a God who comes to meet and redeem him. Coleridge’s religion was founded on Faith that his response to truth, beauty, goodness and a sense of duty was response to a higher reality discerned by Reason in his sense of the eye of the spirit, rather than by logical demonstration. By mid-November Derwent had resolved his intellectual struggles and had decided to make the leap of faith and even to go into the Church. He wrote to his friend Henry Malden in Cambridge: “I am in many respects a Changed Being—indeed I have [been] subjected during the last twelve months, to such influence, from without and within—have been made the vessel of such heart—awing emotions—that not to have suffered change would have been to have been God or Devil or Dead matter—mere clay.”

In January 1826 Derwent returned to Cambridge for four and a half months to read for Orders. He managed to combine this with writing a review of Shelley’s Poetical Works for the Metropolitan Magazine, learning German, attending lectures on Chemistry and leading a very active social life, including a friendship with Edward Fitzgerald (future translator of Omar Khayyam) until Fitzgerald was rusticated.

Derwent and his father were anxiously seeking a curacy for him, but their lack of influence was an insurmountable barrier. Derwent’s respectable cousin, James Duke Coleridge, son of Colonel James Coleridge of Ottery St Mary, and Vicar of Kenwyn and Kea in Cornwall, eventually came to the rescue. Derwent was ordained Deacon in Exeter Cathedral on October 29th 1826. At the end of November cousin James recommended Derwent to the post of Master of the Grammar School and Lecturer (equivalent to curate) at Helston in Cornwall. Borrowing the fare money from Mama Pridham, Derwent headed west. From the Angel Inn, Helston, he wrote in quiet triumph on Christmas Eve, 1826: “I have accepted the cure of Helston, I have accepted the school.”




Helston was a stronghold of Methodism—the legacy of Wesley’s work among the miners. Derwent wrote to Mary on the first Wednesday that he had read prayers in church for an hour to one old gentleman, Miss Emily Trevenen and two girls in black—“a large congregation”. At the Grammar School, an old foundation, Derwent started with only two pupils.

He set to work with great energy and enthusiasm to build up his rundown parish and school. He wrote to Mary how he was compiling a little notebook of the parish. “In this way I make myself known to about 10 families daily... and I discover my sick and bed-lying parishioners, who for some time have been without spiritual assistance... I now visit 4 daily.” He started services in the workhouse. He wrote to Mary in February that his congregation was increasing: “The upper class express themselves highly pleased with my exertions and I am gradually getting loved and respected by the lower. On Saturday I had two applications to visit sick people.” He took enormous pains with his sermons. He started a Sunday school and, with the financial help of Miss Emily Trevenen, built a National School for the education of poor children.

Derwent’s efforts in Helston were rewarded in April when the Duke of Leeds, the local patron, endowed the Grammar School with a house. This enabled Derwent to take boarders and to marry Mary at the end of 1827. Derwent’s enthusiastic furnishing of the house included the purchase of a four-poster bed with black velvet curtains and six gilt pineapples on top, and having clouds painted on the drawing-room ceiling.

Derwent gradually increased the numbers and reputation of the Grammar School at Helston. In January 1833 he wrote that he had over 20 boarders and a considerable number of day-boys.

In 1831 he appointed as Assistant Master Charles Alexander Johns, a young man of 19, from Plymouth. Johns




had a life-long interest in botany and wild-life and later wrote books on wild flowers and birds, which remained in print until 1949. He kept a journal from 1832-6 which throws interesting side-lights on the school and the Coleridge family. In February 1833 he recorded that he walked with Derwent to Loe Bar. There were mountainous seas and they got wet up to the knees several times. In some ways Derwent never grew up.

Charles Kingsley, aged 14, came with his younger brother to board at Helston School in 1833. Derwent described Charles as “half mad”. He used to jump from the playground wall across the deep lane to the wall opposite; there was a drop of at least ten feet. Luckily young Charles had a passion for botany and geology and Derwent largely kept him out of mischief by sending him off with C.A.Johns on long plant-hunting expeditions in the Lizard peninsula, and he had the run of Derwent’s library. While at Helston Charles wrote poetry and stories based on his love of nature and the surrounding countryside; the encouragement he received from Derwent and C.A.Johns was deeply formative.

From the beginning Derwent’s position at Helston was precarious. He did not have a perpetual curacy and the school, in the remote south-west peninsula, was ill-placed to compete with schools like Harrow, Eton, Rugby and Repton in much more populated and accessible parts of the country.

In 1834 Derwent took a calculated risk in rebuilding the school as an attachment to the Master’s house, which was also much enlarged. Derwent became very involved with the architectural plans for the new school. He had an enthusiasm for Gothic architecture and at the end of 1834, when the building was finished, he sent to Wightwick, the architect, a carefully drawn detailed plan for a complete reconstruction of the Master’s House as a Gothic miniature mansion with vaulted ceilings and a grand library. It was never built, as funds would not run to it.




Derwent applied his imagination to schooling his pupils. they had visiting teachers of music and dancing. They enacted debates in the House of Commons and recited Shakespeare and Milton as well as the classics. C.A.Johns took them out for field-work on holidays. The boys had much freedom, with half-holidays on Wednesday and Saturday, and whole holidays on Saints ‘ days. They went out in pairs and had to put their names and destination on a slate. They played cricket on Helston Downs and went fishing in Loe Pool. On Flora Day, the 8th of May, the boys went out early to fetch branches and spring flowers to decorate the school-room and the playground. Later in the day the boys joined the dance of the gentry through the town, through the front door of Derwent’s house, through the playground and the schoolroom and out at the school entrance. Soon after his arrival in Helston, Derwent wrote to Mary about Flora Day that his predecessor used to lock up his boys or carry them out of town during the festival. “I like these celebrations; they tend to soften the asperities of life, with music and good humour, and to connect the present with the past.”

At the end of 1834 Derwent had to give up the curacy as the demands of the school had become so great. He wrote to his friend Moultrie that his busy life left him no time for versifying. “I believe myself, contrary to what is usually thought of me, to be a man of more judgement than fancy, of more logic than invention, of more taste than genius.”

H.N.Coleridge was able to visit Helston from time to time, as a barrister on the Western circuit. He wrote to his wife in 1834: “Today I was hearing 2 classes in Greek—they did exceedingly well—the first class quite equal to their co-equals at Eton.”

Derwent’s pupils did well at university but, despite his undoubted talent as a schoolmaster, the financial problems of the school at Helston multiplied. The coming of the railways fostered the growth of many Victorian boarding schools, but the railway did not cross the Tamar until 1859 and owing




to its remote location numbers at Helston school declined. Derwent began to plan for a future elsewhere. But where to go, with the ‘influence’ on which careers depended? After a fruitless application for the headship of the City of London School and a vain search for a beneficed curacy, they even considered emigrating to the Cape of Good Hope.

Late in 1840 Derwent prepared to retreat from Helston, though there was nothing assured for him to fall back on. He knew he was being considered for a new post—Principal of a new kind of training institution for teachers, projected by a group of High Churchmen in the National Society, which included his cousin, Henry Nelson Coleridge, but it was all very uncertain and was not what he really wanted. Then his old friend J.H.Macaulay died suddenly; he had left Plymouth to reform Repton School. Derwent set his heart on succeeding him. He wound up his affairs, preached his farewell sermon at Helston and sailed the “City of Glasgow” for London and an unknown future. He was accompanied by Mary, their 12 year old son, Derwent Moultrie, and Damain, a young Frenchman from Mauritius whom Derwent was coaching for university.

Derwent was rejected by Repton and on 6th February 1841 he was appointed Principal of the new college at Chelsea, which was to become St Mark’s.

In the turbulent decade of the 1830’s education was increasingly regarded as vital for social control. A growing body of Whig opinion wanted to see the State take the initiative, instead of the voluntary religious societies, to supply the appalling need in education. They wanted the State to set up a normal school for training properly qualified teachers. The Anglican National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church believed that national education should remain the prerogative of the Church. They determined to set up a network of local diocesan training schools for teachers, with a national training college in London to provide the best




students with a higher education.

Derwent’s appointment as Principal of St Mark’s came by one of the quirks of fortune which determined his career, but it was a turning-point in his life and in the history of English education.

Derwent retained his ‘grandeur d‘âme’ and his enthusiasm for all he undertook. He now moved from the small society of Helston onto a much wider national stage. At St Mark’s he was faced by a much bigger challenge. The new college was the first really national college for the education of teachers of the poor, as distinct from merely training them in the monitorial system. Derwent had to deal with the narrowly sectarian views of the Committee of the National Society and with the government represented by the Committee of Council on Education. He spent the next twenty-three years trying to use these bodies for the realisation of his ideals.

Derwent’s ideas on education were essentially based on his father’s philosophy. STC taught in “On the Constitution of Church and State” that the ultimate aim of the State should be to balance the opposite interests of permanence (represented by the landed interest) and progression (represented by the mercantile and manufacturing classes). ‘Progress’ had merely produced a ‘wealth machine’ accompanied by pauperism, and the general well-being and happiness of the people had not advanced. The balance was to be effected by the National Church, concerned with spiritual and cultural advancement. The National Church was not merely the clergy, but the clerisy, which included all learned men, not only in universities, but schoolmasters as well as parsons who must be so distributed as to leave no corner of the country “without a resident guide, guardian and instructor”. The State must set aside adequate funds, the Nationalty, for the maintenance of the clerisy.

The task of the clerisy was “to diffuse through the whole community, and to every native entitled to its laws and rights, that quantity and quality of knowledge which was indispensable




both for the understanding of those rights, and for the performance of the duties correspondent.” The Nationalty is consecrated to “the potential divinity in every man, which is the ground and condition of his civil existence, that without which a man can be ‘neither free nor obliged and by which alone, therefore, he is capable of being a free subject—a citizen.” STC wished to establish “Education of the Intellect, by awakening the Method of self-development”.

At the new college Derwent sought to put Coleridgean principles of education into practice, and there was a conflict from the start with the ideas of the founders of the college. The National Society wanted a Principal who would see the new college primarily as a High Church Tractarian bastion against State encroachment on the prerogatives of the Church. Derwent did not see the college as primarily a means of supporting the power of the Church against the State. High Church Tory though he said he was, Derwent was a Coleridgean High Church Tory, and he deplored fanaticism of any kind. As he wrote to Arnold of Rugby in 1833: “I am a Conservative of the school of Burke but I trust not a Bigot.” He welcomed State aid. He praised and defended the Committee of Council set up in 1839, the destruction of which had been the underlying purpose of the founders of the college.

The Committee of the National Society expected in the Principal a man who would see the new college primarily as a supplier of teachers, equipped to inculcate in the children of the poor “the Principles of the Established Church” but not much else. Derwent wanted to teach people to think for themselves.

Although he accepted without question the stratified society of his time, he wanted to develop “the potential divinity in every man” through education. All who had the capacity should have the opportunity to grapple with the classics, which seemed at the time to be the best means of education, and to read English literature.




The National Society believed it was important that the education and training of the students should teach them humility and not give them ideas above their station. But Derwent Coleridge wanted to raise the status of teachers and to enable them to climb the social and professional ladder, even into the Church. He saw the college as the modern counterpart of the medieval Oxford and Cambridge colleges, educating not only clerics but teachers, fit to take their place in his father’s clerisy, with whom lay the duty and only real possibility of advancing civilisation and social progress.

The National Society regarded the building of a chapel at Stanley Grove as a matter of first importance and employed Edward Blore as architect. It is now clear, however, that Derwent drew up the original plan for the chapel and he also designed the octagonal Practising School.

In 1842 Derwent addressed a long letter to the Rev John Sinclair, Secretary of the National Society, entitled “An Account of the Training College for Schoolmasters at Stanley Grove, Chelsea”. He began with a manifesto, criticising the efforts so far made towards popular instruction by the monitorial system and outlining what he saw as the aims of the new college... “can any half-educated man from the working classes ( and the majority of those who seek to be schoolmasters are all but un-educated) be safely entrusted with duties, the very nature of which it would be impossible to make him understand? … But will not a little preparation suffice? May he not be taught a system? He may indeed be taught a system; but surely it will not suffice. He wants the first conditions of a teacher. He cannot teach what he does not know. He cannot explain what he does not understand … He must himself be educated before he can educate others … Here, then, I think we have the root of the evil. The object on which so much zeal and ingenuity has been bestowed has been—not to procure proper masters but to do without them. The attempt has been to educate by systems,




not by men.... My conclusion is that the schoolmaster must be an educated man.”

Derwent was determined to make the services in St Mark’s chapel as beautiful as possible, the service of the chapel being “the keystone of the arch”. From the beginning, with that in mind, vocal music played an important part in the education of the future teachers. The daily choral services were responsible for the growth of the Choral Revival throughout the whole country. In his Second Letter to Archdeacon Sinclair, Derwent maintained that “the education of the young cannot be attended with too much dignity or set off with too much grace.”

He stoutly defended the teaching of Latin on the grounds, first, that to drop it would impede the progress of the more promising youths; secondly, that it helped the others by strengthening the memory, teaching the meaning of words and enlarging the vocabulary.

The National Society was anxious to keep down the expense of the college and made several attempts to reduce the length of the course from 3 to 2 years, but Derwent fiercely defended the 3 year course. Despite the inadequate preparation of most of the entrants, by providing his future teachers with a liberal education Derwent assisted their social mobility. The learning of Latin was of course the key to entry to university or theological college, but many of the old students were ordained on the strength of their having been at St Mark’s. Of the 162 students who qualified in the first 8 years no less than 38 were ordained, and went on to distinguished and useful careers in education and the Church.

Greater help from the State towards education between 1846 and 1861 made possible a period of great improvement and expansion at St Mark’s. In 1846 Kay-Shuttleworth, Secretary of the Committee of Council on Education, introduced the pupil-teacher system, which gradually provided much better-educated entrants and provided financial




assistance to the college from the State.

Derwent could not afford to return to the Lake District until 1843, when he went to visit Hartley. He wrote daily to Mary, “My dearest love”, as he usually did when they were separated. He was pining to have her there. “Keswick far more than realises my fondest fairest recollections—and has so rekindled all my old love of natural beauty that I shall not be able without an effort to bring myself to think with pleasure of seeing York or Lincoln.” Derwent did not return to the Lake District until Hartley’s final illness with pneumonia in December 1848. He sat by Hartley’s death-bed and wrote a very moving letter to Mary. After going with Wordsworth to Grasmere churchyard to mark out the grave Derwent wrote to Mary: “So he is gone— and I did not think to shed so many tears over the thought of anyone going or gone for me out of my own household—tears not of sorrow, not altogether of regret—but of tenderness and affection—I did not shed so many for my dear Mother …” During the next two years, in the intervals of a busy professional life and despite much family worry and distress, Derwent collected from Hartley’s manuscripts and letters those poems and other writings he thought worthy of permanent preservation. In 1851 he had published by Moxon two volumes of Hartley’s poems with a long memoir of Hartley and two volumes of his essays.

After the death of his sister Sara in 1852 Derwent also took on her task of editing the works of STC.

In the summer of 1851 Derwent was at last able to take Mary and the children on a visit to the Lake District, which became an annual pilgrimage. He began to dream of semi-retirement in the Lake District in a country living where he could follow his literary pursuits. He wrote to De Quincey that he hoped one day. “to do something for my father’s memory.”

But a comfortable retirement, following upon his considerable achievements at St Mark’s, was not to be




Derwent’s fate.

The Whig Government was becoming concerned about the increasing cost to the State of education. They appointed as Vice-President of the Council Robert Lowe who disliked democracy and was determined to economise on education. Under his regime the Revised Code of regulations introduced the system of payment by results. The only grant for schools was to be based on the results of examinations. The teacher’s salary was to be largely determined by his success in cramming pupils for examinations. State grants for training colleges were reduced. Grants to pupil teachers were abolished.

Derwent saw the proposals of the Revised Code as a threat to all his aspirations for the higher education of schoolmasters and the improvement of elementary schools. He published in 1861 “The Education of the People” and in 1862 “The Teachers of the People—A Tract for the Time”, in which he set out the case against the Revised Code.

He argued that the art of elementary tuition demanded, on the part of the teacher, all the mental culture which could be bestowed on him. He admitted freely that he had modelled St Mark’s on a university. “Our duty, fully stated, is to educate the people, our fellow-citizens and ourselves, the nation as a whole.”

Derwent’s plea was unsuccessful. The Revised Code postponed for a century the working out of Derwent’s aspirations for the role of the college in higher education and it prompted his resignation in 1864.

The Church rewarded the years of struggle at St Mark’s College, not with a Bishopric, Canonry or a good country living, but with the Rectory of Hanwell, a poorly paid, problem ridden, outer London suburban parish. At the age of 64 Derwent set to work to meet this new challenge.

The population of the parish was growing on the Uxbridge Road far from the church, so Derwent started Sunday evening services in the schoolroom there. In January 1866 we find




him giving a public reading of Southey’s narrative poem “Thalaba” to raise money to pay for “making the schoolroom snug for his evening services.” In 1871 Derwent got the school enlarged. He set to work to raise money to build a new church in this part of the parish: the church was consecrated in December 1879 and dedicated to St Mark.

Still the Coleridge family could barely make ends meet. Besides himself and Mary, Derwent had to maintain their unmarried daughter Christabel, Sara’s orphan daughter Edith and Mary’s widowed sister. He was also helping their errant eldest son in Australia and their younger son, who went up to Balliol in 1866. So (as at Helston 40 years earlier) Derwent took in pupils—young Americans, coming to Europe for a classical and literary education. He took them on tours of Cornwall, to Wales and to the Lake District, where he was still climbing mountains in the seventies. Augustus Swift recalled: “Wordsworth he knew largely by heart... and when he would pause at the Yew Trees, or look down on Grasmere from Silver Howe, or scamper through Paterdale, what stores of lyric music would he roll out, in tones sonorous or tender at will!”

But by 1880 Derwent was incapacitated by acute neuralgia; he resigned the living and (at last) retired to a small villa at Torquay. He died in March 1883.

Fate was unkind to Derwent Coleridge from birth to death. He was born of an incompatible marriage; his father had no money nor the kind of influence which was essential to preferment at the time; he went to the wrong university for him to achieve academic distinction; his successful school at Helston failed because of the belated coming of the railway to Cornwall; his considerable achievement at St Mark’s was ruined by the Revised Code; his lack of political influence and refusal to placate the National Society meant that his efforts were not rewarded by the preferment he merited; he spent his old age struggling with financial problems, a difficult parish and increasing ill-health; his eldest son was




an alcoholic failure and two of his much-loved children died in infancy; his last years were racked by physical pain and saddened by the untimely death of his eldest son and grandson.


Why should Derwent be remembered?


In the first place, he overcame the blows of fate without bitterness, keeping to the last his idealism, his sweetness and light and his sense of humour. The turning-point of his life was his meeting with Mary Pridham, who inspired his new-found religious faith. Throughout the 56 years of their remarkable marriage partnership she gave him emotional and intellectual support and practical help in all his undertakings.

Derwent applied his father’s religious philosophy to the scientific findings of the later nineteenth century and retained a liberal but secure religious faith, as well as a poetic vision of the natural world.

At St Mark’s Derwent converted a college founded by the National Society as a political move by the Church to outwit the State’s bid to take over education into a college working in partnership with the government scheme of Kay-Shuttleworth, and very largely state-financed. The National Society saw the purpose of the college as training teachers of the 3Rs and religious dogma to the children of the poor. Derwent believed that every child or student is an individual and worthy of education to the top of his or her bent. He tried to provide all his students with a liberal education to the highest level of which they were capable. He sought to bridge the gap between teachers in elementary schools and teachers in secondary schools, between training colleges and universities. A large proportion of his students bridged the class gap and achieved successful careers in the Church and in grammar schools.

The Revised Code delayed the realisation of Derwent’s ideals until the second half of the twentieth century, but many




individuals owed Derwent Coleridge a deep debt of gratitude for their liberal education and their careers. His principal claim to be remembered lies in his conviction that the teachers of the people should be educated men. The controversy still continues over the higher education or the “training” of teachers.

Derwent, by his editorial work and memoirs, preserved the work of Hartley and of his friends Praed and Moultrie. He contributed substantially to the editing of his father’s works. He never achieved his ambition to write an extensive memoir of his father’s life and ideas, but he made a valiant and largely successful attempt to apply his father’s philosophy, both to his own religious and personal life and to the education of teachers.



(Raimonde Hainton is the author of Derwent, The Unknown Coleridge (London: Janus, 1996 - see review in New Series 10, Autumn 1997)



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