BACK TO CAMBRIDGE AND BEYOND
From Mariner, Chapter Three
…when the holidays began and he set off from Cambridge in mid-June, not for home, but on a walking tour of England and Wales with a fellow undergraduate, there was a sense of the bird ﬂying free from the cage and new adventures beginning. He would not return to Cambridge and would never complete his degree.
As he strides out from Cambridge that June day, at a great pace that would take him to Oxford in just two days, on the ﬁrst of the many walking tours which became so signiﬁcant for his life and poetry, we have a sense of the real Coleridge coming into focus, of his becoming before our very eyes the man who has equally enthralled, intrigued, and infuriated his many biographers. At the start of this tour he bought the ﬁrst of his famous notebooks with a portable ink-horn and so began the lifetime habit of brilliant and acute observation, both of nature and of himself, and ultimately of the connection between the two, which was to form the center of his mature work.
A crisis is that decisive moment when, due to circumstances and the diminished ability to cope, the status quo is no longer sustainable, and something must change. Out of crisis, something new must and will emerge—hence the frequent association of crisis with an emergency. The trajectory of an entire life is often determined by how crisis moments are navigated; such intense junctures (also known as “tipping points”) are pregnant with promise and peril.
In Chapter Three of Malcolm Guite’s Mariner, we journey with Coleridge as he quits school and with it, all hope for a predictable life. Unable to align his direction with a previously cleared road, he joined ranks with Robert Southey to create a “Pantisocratic scheme for a new life.”
Malcolm Guite explains:
The word Pantisocracy was invented by Coleridge, as combining the Greek pan for “all” and isocratia for “government.” So this was to be not an aristocracy, but a pantisocracy: all members of a community were to govern their society equally. One might object that the word democracy would have done equally well, but Coleridge, in inventing this word, had something more in mind. Con- temporary democracies, in so far as they existed at all, delegated power from the people to elected representatives, so in some sense the “demos”—the people—were still not directly in power. In the small community that Coleridge and Southey were imagining, it would be possible for everybody to debate and take part directly in all decisions.