Coleridge, Mary Elizabeth (DNB12)

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COLERIDGE, MARY ELIZABETH (1861–1907), poet, novelist and essayist, born at Hyde Park Square, London, on 23 Sept. 1861, was 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 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet. Her mother was Mary Anne, eldest daughter of James Jameson of Montrose, Donnybrook, Dublin. 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 [q. v. Suppl. I], taught her and influenced her development. At twenty she began to write essays for the 'Monthly Packet,' 'Merry England,' and other periodicals. In 1893 appeared her first novel, 'The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus,' a fantastic romance praised by R. L. Stevenson, but otherwise achieving scant success. Her first volume of poems, 'Fancy's Following,' which appeared in 1896, was published at the instigation of the poet Robert Bridges, by the Oxford University Press. In 1897 a selection from these was issued with additions. But it was the appearance in that year of 'The King with Two Faces' (10th. edit. 1908), an historical romance centering round Gustavus III of Sweden, which established her reputation. Its atmosphere of adventure tinged with mysticism lent it immediate success.

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 'The Times Literary Supplement,' as well as three short stories to the 'Cornhill Magazine.' She also wrote a critical preface to Canon Dixon's 'Last Poems' (1905). 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.

She died at Harrogate, 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. Her 'Poems, New and Old' were collected at the end of 1907 under the editorship of Mr. 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 the present writer.

Two portraits belong to her father, Mr. A. D. Coleridge, 12 Cromwell Place, S.W. one at about twenty by Miss Skidmore; the other painted after her death, by Mr. Frank Carter.

[Prefaces to collected Poems, 1907; Gathered Leaves, 1910; art. in Cornhill, by Mr. Robert Bridges, Nov. 1907.]

E. S.