I confess I started this book in an uneasy temper. Richard Holmes’s first major work, his 1974 biography of Shelley, had a more profound effect on me than anything I have ever read except Shelley himself, to whom, anyway, I was led by Richard Holmes. Though it merged my revolutionary opinions with Shelley’s majestic poetry, Holmes’s Shelley: The Pursuit was not a dogmatic book. Christopher Booker, whose political opinions have grown steadily more reactionary, also enjoyed it. It was a biography of such devoted and loving care that it was difficult to see how Richard Holmes, who published this book when he was 29 years old, could possibly move forward from it.
Though I knew pretty well nothing about Coleridge, except what Hazlitt (and Shelley) had written about him, it seemed indisputable that, on any reckoning, a move from Shelley to Coleridge was a step back. All through the 1980s I have imagined Richard Holmes working away on Coleridge, and worried about