Sarah Fricker was pretty, lively, intelligent, well educated, generous-hearted and abundantly healthy: an exceptionally suitable mate for a man bent on founding an ideal society in virgin territory. Not that Robert Southey had put much thought into choosing her for his friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge, when the two young men were planning their ‘Pantisocracy’ in America. She and her sister Edith just happened to be conveniently to hand as friends of his childhood, and Sarah, anyway (Edith, who become Southey’s wife, was always singularly ‘unanimated’), was eager to escape. Her family had been suddenly became penniless as a result of her father’s fecklessness. The Fricker girls were working as seamstresses when the would-be Pantisocratists pounced.
STC (his preferred form of address), intoxicated by his vision of utopia, accepted the idea of marrying Sara (he made her drop the ‘h’) with scarcely a thought – and was to insist in the future that it had been a tragic mistake. His youthful enthusiasm and his friend had