Pamela Edwards on Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Date: February 22nd, 2015

While best known for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) also was a philosopher, historian, and theologian who had a great deal to say about the politics of his day.   Dr. Pamela Edwards, an expert on Coleridge’s thought and the director of academic programs at the Jack Miller Center, discusses the life and times of this interesting figure.

Our conversation begins with a biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, including his youth as one of 13 children to an Anglican minister and his education in Christ’s Hospital, a school dispossessed children of clergy.  We follow him through a period of turbulence at Cambridge University, where he never completed his degree and toyed around with a number of different theological and political ideas.  Dr. Edwards then explains how Coleridge made his living after leaving Cambridge, finding friends and patrons that would sponsor his work and serving as a writer in various formats including poetry, journalism, and pamphlet writing.  We discuss his various influences, including Edmund Burke, and how the unfolding of events of the era, namely the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, had an impact on him.  As the podcast progresses, we note his unique historical position of straddling the very tail end of the feudal aristocratic period and the emergence of the Industrial Revolution.

Pamela then walks us through the development of Coleridge’s thinking on politics and how it blended his philosophical thoughts on Christianity and history.  This journey begins with The Statemen’s Manual; or The Bible, the Best Guide to Political Skill and Foresight.  Pamela makes note that the full titles of all his work are very important to understanding the content of his writing.  This Lay Sermon, was aimed at educating politicians and diplomats about good governance.  We discuss how much of this was rooted in the ideas of covenant and contracts in the Old Testament.

Our discussion then takes a look at On the Constitution of Church and State According to the Idea of Each.  Again, Pamela notes the importance of the full title of the work and how it mattered that the term “Idea” was capitalized throughout the work.  Here we dip into Coleridge’s view of history as an emanation of the divine and the living memory of the nation.  Coleridge argues that the Church is a fulcrum point in history balancing the permanence of history (represented by the landed gentry) and progress (the coming commercial age).  Coleridge’s political philosophy was to infuse an aristocratic spirit into an increasingly democratic world.

The interview finishes with some of Pamela’s reflections on how Coleridge would view our world today, noting that the fragmentation that we tend to have amongst specialized departments in modern universities would be unsettling to him, as he saw things in a much more holistic light.  Dr. Edwards also discusses the importance of having a moral foundation for both “experts and amateurs” that helps to anchor our increasingly technical world.  Recorded: February 11, 2015.



Pamela Edwards bio at the Jack Miller Center for Teaching America’s Founding Principles & History.

The Statesman’s Science: History, Nature, and Law in the Political Thought of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, by Pamela Edwards.

The Oxford Handbook on Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by Frederick Burwick.

The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, by Deidre McCloskey (mentioned in podcast).


John Mark Reynolds on Dickens and “A Christmas Carol.”

Jason Jewell on John Locke and Religious Toleration.

Jason Jewell on Why Christians Should Read the “Great Books.”

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