A woman making oat cakes. Her two children watching.

October 9, 1797 to Thomas Poole

My dearest Poole,

From March to October-a long silence!  But [as] it is possible that I may have been preparing materials for future letters, the time cannot be considered as altogether subtracted from you.

From October, 1775, to October, 1778.  These three years I continued at the Reading School, because I was too little to be trusted among my father’s schoolboys.  After breakfast I had a halfpenny given me, with which I bought three cakes at the baker’s close by the school of my old mistress; and these were my dinner on every day except Saturday and Sunday, when I used to dine at home, and wallowed in a beef and pudding dinner. I am remarkably fond of beans & bacon; and this fondness I attribute to my father having given me a penny for having eat a large quantity of beans on Saturday. For the other boys did not like them, and as it was an economic food, my father thought that my attachment and penchant for it ought to be encouraged.

I am remarkably fond of beans & bacon; and this fondness I attribute to my father having given me a penny for having eat a large quantity of beans on Saturday.

My father was very fond of me, and I was my mother’s darling: in consequence I was very miserable.  For Molly, who had nursed my brother Francis and was immoderately fond of him, hated me because my mother took more notice of me than of Frank, and Frank hated me because my mother gave me now and then a bit of cake, when he had none,–quite forgetting that for one bit of cake which I had and he had not, he had twenty sops in the pan, and pieces of bread & butter with sugar on them from Molly, from whom I received only thumps and ill names.

So I became fretful and timorous, and a tell-tale; and the schoolboys drove me from play, and were always tormenting me and hence I took no pleasure in boyish sports, but read incessantly.

Portrait of a boy at his desk holding a book. German School, early 19th Century. Pastel, 46 x 40 cm
“I took no pleasure in boyish sports, but read incessantly.”

My father’s sister kept an everything shop at Crediton & there I read thru all the gilt-covered little books that could be had at that time& likewise all the uncovered tales of Tom Hickathrift, Jack the Giant-killer, etc., etc., etc., etc. And I used to lie by the wall and mope, and my spirits used to come upon me suddenly; and in a flood of them I was accustomed to race up and down the churchyard and act over all I had been reading, on the docks…and the rank grass.
Robinson Crusoe, 1719 edition

At six years old I remember to have read Belisarius, Robinson Crusoe, and Philip Quarll; and then I found the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, one tale of which (the tale of a man who was compelled to seek for a pure virgin) made so deep an impression on me (I had read it in the evening while my mother was mending stockings), that I was haunted by spectres, whenever I was in the dark: and I distinctly remember the anxious and fearful eagerness with which I used to watch the window in which the books lay, and whenever the sun lay upon them, I would seize it, carry it by the wall, and bask and read. My father found out the effect which these books had produced, and burnt them.

dividerSo I became a dreamer, and acquired an indisposition to all bodily activity; and I was fretful, and inordinately passionate, and as I could not play at anything, and was slothful, I was despised and hated by the boys; and because I could read and spell and had, I may truly say, a memory and understanding forced into almost an unnatural ripeness, I was flattered and wondered at by all the old women.

And so I became very vain, and despised most of the boys that were at all near my own age, before I was eight years old I was a character.  Sensibility, imagination, vanity, sloth, and feelings of deep & bitter contempt for all who traversed the orbit of my understanding were even then prominent and manifest.


From October, 1778 to 1779.  That which I began to be from three to six I continued from six to nine.  In this year [1778] I was admitted into the Grammar School, and soon outstripped all of my age.

Going to School
Going to School

I had a dangerous putrid fever this year.  My brother George lay ill of the same fever in the next room.  My poor brother Francis, I remember, stole up in spite of orders to the contrary, and sat by my bedside and read Pope’s Homer to me.  Frank had a violent love of beating me; but whenever that was superseded by any humour or circumstances, he was always very fond of me, and used to regard me with a strange mixture of admiration and contempt.  Strange it was not, for he hated books, and loved climbing, fighting, playing and robbing orchards, to distraction.


My mother relates a story of me, which I repeat here, because it must be regarded as my first piece of wit.  During my fever, I asked why Lady Northcote (our neighbor) did not come to see me.  My mother said she was afraid of catching the fever.  “Ah, Mamma! the four Angels round my bed an’t afraid of catching it!”  I suppose you know the prayer:-

Matthew! Mark! Luke and John!
God bless the bed which I lie on.
Four angels round me spread,
Two at my foot, and two at my head.

This prayer I said nightly, and most firmly believed the truth of it.  Frequently have I (half-awake and half-asleep, my body diseased and fevered by my imagination), seen armies of ugly things bursting in upon me, and these four angels keeping them off.  In my next I shall carry on my life to my father’s death.

God bless you, my dear Poole, and your affectionate

 Samuel Taylor Colerige