Pantisocratic Echoes in the Coleridge Family Archives

Stream: Romanticism
Date: Wednesday, 18 May 2022
Time: 1.30 pm – 3.00 pm

Abstract

As young men, aged 20 and 22 respectively, the Romantic poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey conceived the idea of establishing a utopian community on the banks of the Susquehanna River in the State of Pennyslvania, North America. This perfect society, named the "Pantisocracy” by Samuel Coleridge, was to be an egalitarian democracy where all personal property was banned. In letters to Southey and other friends in their circle whom they hoped to recruit to their immigration scheme, Samuel Coleridge outlined the principles upon which the community was to be founded and to function. For lack of funds and recruits, the original Pantisocracy never came to fruition. There are however, echoes of Samuel Coleridge’s anti-materialistic ideology throughout the family archives. In particular, reflections of his ideology can be found in his son Hartley’s imaginary kingdom of Ejuxria. In “The Tale of St Malo”, Hartley Coleridge describes a country ruled by a cruel despot. The people, however, are eventually liberated by a child-prophet who, after receiving instruction in a dream which he relates to his father, preaches freedom from tyranny and the dissolution of private property. From the banks of the Susquehanna to an imagined cataract bursting forth in the garden at Nether Stowey to an Australian river trickling out in the desert, first the Pantisocracy and then Ejuxria were mapped against geographies both physical and imaginary and philosophies which proved impracticable. While neither of the imagined places ever came to fruition in America, England, Australia, or anywhere in between, both provided their authors the grounds to explore and expound upon the democratic principles and particular anti-materialist ideologies circulating in England at the end of the Eighteenth Century. This paper will consider the extent to which these two imagined communities of the Coleridges, father and son, speak to one another. It will look to answer the questions such as how much of Hartley’s vision was based on the earlier plans of Samuel Taylor and how much of Hartley’s early writing is a continuation or enactment, of Pantisocratic principles? And how much of the description of Hartley’s juvenilia given by his younger brother Derwent, owes its tone to earlier accounts of the Pantisocracy?

Author

Joetta Harty (Presenter), Independent Scholar
Joetta Harty is an independent scholar and librarian currently living in San Francisco, California. Her doctoral dissertation is on British Romantic-era juvenilia. She has published book chapters and essays on Early Nineteenth-Century British Paracosms (2016), Piracy and the Real and Imaginary Angrias in Branwell Brontë’s Writing (2011), and recently co-wrote with Christine Alexander the introduction to the Juvenilia Press edition of Branwell Bronte’s The Pirate (2018). Her current recent interests include the hidden lives and work of children in the archives.