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Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1861-1907), from Gathered Leaves: From the prose of Mary E. Coleridge, 1910. Courtesy Internet Archive.

Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (23 September 1861 - 25 August 1907) was an English poet and novelist.[1]


Family, youth, educationEdit

Coleridge was born at Hyde Park Square, London, the daughter of Arthur Duke Coleridge, clerk of the crown on the midland circuit. Her grandfather, Francis George Coleridge (1794-1854), was son of James Coleridge (1759-1836), elder brother of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Her mother was Mary Anne, eldest daughter of James Jameson of Montrose, Donnybrook, Dublin.[2]

Mary Coleridge was educated at home and early showed signs of literary gifts. As a child she wrote verse of individual quality and stories of mystical romance. Her father's friend, William Johnson Cory, taught her and influenced her development.[2]


At age 20 she began to write essays for the Monthly Packet, Merry England, and other periodicals. In 1893 appeared her 1st novel, The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, a fantastic romance praised by Robert Louis Stevenson, but otherwise achieving scant success.[2]

Her 1st volume of poems, Fancy's Following, was published in 1896 at the instigation of the poet Robert Bridges, by the Oxford University Press.[2] Coleridge never published her poems under her own name, having them printed either anonymously or under the pseudonym "Anodos" ("wanderer"), a name she took from poet George MacDonald's romance, Phantastes.[3]

It was the appearance in 1897 of her 2nd novel, The King with Two Faces (10th. edit. 1908), an historical romance centering around Gustavus III of Sweden, which established her reputation. Its atmosphere of adventure tinged with mysticism lent it immediate success.[2]

In 1900 Non Sequitur appeared, a volume of essays, literary and personal; in 1901 The Fiery Dawn, a story dealing with the Duchesse de Berri; in 1904 The Shadow on the Wall; and in 1906 The Lady on the Drawing-room Floor. Meanwhile she contributed reviews and articles regularly to the Monthly Review, The Guardian, and, from 1902 onwards, to Times Literary Supplement, as well as 3 short stories to the Cornhill Magazine. She also wrote a critical preface to Canon Dixon's Last Poems (1905).[2]

Her literary work did not absorb her. She devoted much time to teaching working-women in her own home and gave lessons on English literature at the Working Women's College.[2]

She died at Harrogatc, unmarried, on 25 Aug. 1907, after a sudden illness. She had just finished a short "Life of Holman Hunt" (Masterpieces in Colour series), undertaken at that painter's request and printed soon after her death.[2]


Critical introductionEdit

by Laurence Binyon

No one was ever less of a professional poet than Mary Coleridge. She was writing verse for 25 years, but the greater part of her poems were never printed in her lifetime, and she refused to publish under her own name. Yet assuredly her place is secure among the lyric poets of England. Perhaps just because they were produced with so little thought of the public, her poems have a fresh directness and intimacy which few lyrists attain so perfectly. They were the spontaneous overflow of her spirit; and that spirit was one of rare gift and charm.

The most obviously striking characteristic of Mary Coleridge’s nature was the combination of unusual depth with unusual vivacity. She was quick to be moved, but it was not only the surface which was stirred, it was her whole being. She was as gay as she was serious; but the gaiety was not a mere disguise to the seriousness, the imaginative humour from which it sprang was a fundamental part of her nature and gave it the strength of elasticity. The bright effervescence of her intellect did not prevent her from being as enthusiastic as she was warm-hearted. She was not less tender than high-spirited. And though her mind was nothing if not adventurous, at the core of her being was an exquisite humility.

With all this complexity of nature she had a great sincerity. What she wrote in one mood might be contradicted by what she wrote in another; but the reader of her poems feels that each is sincere, that it is even a part of her rich sincerity to give spontaneous utterance to those inconsistencies of thought and feeling which exist in all the most human hearts and minds, though philosophers may believe it a duty to reconcile or gloze them.

Mary Coleridge’s poetry was so direct an expression of her nature that it could not fail to be original, in the truest sense of originality. Though her reading was wide, she does not follow any master or tradition. Among English poets there is hardly one to whom she shows any essential affinity, though in evocation of a magic atmosphere she shows herself the kinswoman of the author of Christabel.

Now and again we may be reminded of Robert Browning at his most lyrical and direct; Mr. Bridges finds in some of her poems a likeness, both of matter and manner, to William BlakeBlake; and it is certainly remarkable in such things as the song called "Prosperity."

But the resemblance to Heine, which he also notes, may strike more readers. In what does this resemblance consist? For certainly the resemblance is not greater than the difference. Heine’s manner is often recalled by Mary Coleridge’s use of simple measures, her light touch, her bold and vivid fancy:

  “By a lake below the mountain
  Hangs the birch, as if in glee
The lake had flung the moon a fountain,
  She had turned it to a tree.”

But also it is recalled by the fusion of an intellectual element in the poignant treatment of emotion;

  “The weapon that you fought with was a word,
And with that word you stabbed me to the heart.
Not once but twice you did it, for the sword
            Made no blood start.
“They have not tried you for your life. You go
Strong in such innocence as men will boast.
They have not buried me. They do not know
            Life from its ghost.”

With a keen mind continually darting fresh light on the subjects of her thoughts and feelings, Mary Coleridge, like Heine, sometimes turns upon herself, but in a different way. With Heine it seems to be the sudden recognition of an over-indulgence in sentiment, which the other side of him turns upon and mocks. With Mary Coleridge it seems to be a sudden apprehension that some emotion she has expressed may not have been absolutely true to herself after all, and she seeks yet more exactingly to strip all disguise from the reality within. This is especially seen in some poems of religious inspiration, and these are the farthest removed from likeness to Heine’s spirit. Heine was easily bitter: Mary Coleridge could never have been made bitter, any more than she could have become sentimental, though she was capable of profound grief. Her spirituality of nature was too radiant and alive for either weakness. In that she was akin to Blake.

No one would suggest that Mary Coleridge’s actual production could be compared to Heine’s in power or range; but it is a tribute to her originality and lyric art that the best of her poems bear comparison with the work of so renowned a master.

Some of the most successful of the poems are impersonal or “dramatic” in Browning’s sense. They have a romantic strangeness for their beauty, and are concerned with mysterious themes or actual wizardry. The situation is suggested rather than defined; and the reader is left baffled in his curiosity yet content with an enigmatic effect, so powerful is the impression of magical atmosphere. Instead of telling a complete story, the poetess prefers to show a glimpse of figures in passionate action, as if seen in a momentary beam of intense light against darkness; and the verse in such pieces has a kind of gay vehemence that is very characteristic of her genius.

There was indeed in the movements of her mind, as her verse reflects them, something of the caprice of a bird’s motion and a bird’s singing; and, though the inconsequence is partly a weakness, it certainly belongs to her charm.

The little volume that contains all of Mary Coleridge’s poetical production is remarkable for lyric variety, but not less for the impression it gives of an impassioned unity beneath. The poems remain, in Mr. Bridges’ words, as “an absolutely truthful picture of a wondrously beautiful and gifted spirit;” and this, beyond all other qualities that they possess, is the main secret of their sometimes mysterious attraction.[1]

Recognition Edit

Her Poems: New and old were collected at the end of 1907 under the editorship of Henry Newbolt, and Gathered Leaves, a volume of stories and essays hitherto unpublished or little known, and of extracts from letters and diaries, came out in May 1910, with a preface by Edward Smith.[2]

2 portraits of her belonged to her father: one at about 20 by Miss Skidmore; the other painted after her death, by Frank Carter.[2]

3 of her poems were included in the Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse.[4]

Her poem, "The Blue Bird," was set to music by Charles Villiers Stanford. A family friend, composer Hubert Parry, also set several of her poems to music.




  • The King with Two Faces. London & New York: Edward Arnold, 1897.
  • The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus. London: Chatto & Windus, 1893.
  • The Fiery Dawn. London: Edward Arnold; New York: Longmans Green, 1901.
  • The Shadow on the Wall: A romance. London: Edward Arnold, 1904.
  • The Lady on the Drawingroom Floor. London: Edward Arnold, 1906; New York: Longmans Green, 1906.


Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[6]

Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (The Witch)

Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (The Witch)

See alsoEdit



  1. 1.0 1.1 from Laurence Binyon, "Critical Introduction: Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1861–1907)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Mar. 30, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Smith,382.
  3. Henry Newbolt, Preface to Mary E. Coleridge, Poems. London: Elkin Mathews, 1908, v. Internet Archive, Web, July 28, 2018.
  4. Alphabetic List of Authors, Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1917., Web, Apr. 2, 2016.
  5. Poems by Mary E. Coleridge (1918), Internet Archive. Web, July 22, 2013.
  6. Mary Elizabeth Coleridge 1861-1907, Poetry Foundation, Web, Aug. 23, 2012.

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