The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge by Adam Sisman - review by Diana Athill

Diana Athill

The Odd Couple

The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge


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Not again! That was my first reaction on hearing about this book. Anyone interested in Wordsworth and Coleridge will probably have read the admirable biographies available about both men, the diaries of Dorothy Wordsworth, and perhaps a life of Coleridge's wife, and will therefore be familiar with pretty well every inch of the territory. But – one doesn't refrain from walking through a landscape because one has done so before, and Adam Sisman is a guide to be trusted. So I took a deep breath and off I went. And before saying anything else I can state that this is a very good book, telling the oddest story in the history of English writers – perhaps of writers anywhere – in a way which makes it unputdownable.

It is as though those two young men lived at the dawn of time, so eager and passionate were they, so dottily innocent their ideals, Coleridge with his schemes for a ‘pantisocracy’, Wordsworth with his intoxicated response to the French Revolution (Sisman is particularly illuminating on the repercussions of the

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