The Deadly Bolt

Sad and Tragic Letters
Sara Coleridge

24 March 1799

My darling infant left his wretched Mother on the tenth of February, and tho’ the leisure that followed was intolerable to me, yet I could not employ myself in reading or writing, or in any way that prevented my thoughts from resting on him—this parting was the severest trial that I have ever yet undergone and I pray to God that I may never live to behold the death of another child for O my dear Samuel! it is a suffering beyond your conception! You will feel, and lament, the death of your child, but you will only recollect him a baby of fourteen weeks, but I am his Mother, and have carried him in my arms and have fed him at my bosom, and have watched over him by day and night for nine months; I have seen him twice on the brink of the grave but he has returned, and recovered and smiled upon me like an angel—and now I am lamenting that he is gone!

. . . and now my dear Samuel I hope you will be perfectly satisfied that every thing was done for the dear babe that was likely to restore him and endeavour to forget your own loss in contemplating mine. I cannot express how ardently I long for your return, or how much I shall be disappointed if I do not see you in May; I expect a letter from you daily, and am much surprised that you have not written from Gottingen; your last is dated Jan. the 5th and in it you say you will write again immediately—now this is Easter Sunday March the 24th. You will write once probably after you receive this, from Germany—and I wish you would be so good as to write me a few lines from London that I may know the very day when I may see you; . . .

I am much pleased to see you wrote that you “languish to be at home.” O God! I hope you never more will quit it! . . .

God almighty bless you my dearest Love!

Sara C—


Communication between husband and wife can be difficult under good circumstances. A spouse will say and do inexplicably cruel things to the dearest human in their life as if the inflicted wound will heal without scar.  This is never true.  Here, when Sara Coleridge wrote to Samuel with the tragic news of their child’s death, rather than return to her immediately from Germany, he composed a letter which must have caused untold pain.

As Malcolm Guite writes in Mariner, Chapter Six:

And here we come to a mystery. It seems inconceivable that a man of Coleridge’s love and sensitivity on receiving such a letter could have done anything but pack his bags and return. Instead he persuaded himself that it was his duty to stay, even refusing the opportunity provided by the sudden appearance of the Wordsworths on their way back to England and eager for him to travel with them. Strangely, perversely, suddenly, he was shooting a deadly bolt into the heart of his marriage and, indeed, into the heart of the woman he loved, just as suddenly and irrevocably as the mariner shot his albatross.

When did your failure to act have grave consequences?

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Rick Wilcox is Editor in Chief