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Coleridge in the Harz, 1799

self guided walking holidays in Germany

It isn’t well known that the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), author in 1797-8 of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, and Christabel, was one of the first Englishmen to introduce German literature and philosophy into England at the beginning of the 19th Century.

He left the University of Cambridge in December, 1794 without completing a degree, but, in February, 1799, he enrolled at the University of Göttingen with a view to improving his German and so as to research and write a biography of Lessing. The biography was never written, but his borrowings from the university library suggest that Coleridge immersed himself in German literature. After his return to England in July, 1799, he translated two of Schiller’s plays.

self guided walking holidays in Germany

While at Göttingen, Coleridge went on a walking tour in the Harz with several English companions for a week from May 11th to May 18th, 1799. He gave a detailed account of his trip in two long letters to his wife, both written at ‘Clausethal’ (Clausthal) on the day before returning to Göttingen.

These are to be found as letters 280 and 281 (pages 496-510) of Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E.L. Griggs, Volume 1, 1785-1800, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1956. The account is typically vivacious throughout. As a sample, here is his description of the visit to the Brocken:

“…we descended & came to the foot of the Great Brocken / without a rival the highest mountain in all the north of Germany, & the seat of innumerable Superstitions. On the first day of May all the Witches dance here at midnight / & those who go may see their own Ghosts walking up & down with a little Billet on the Back, giving the names of those who had wished them there: for ‘I wish you on the top of the Brock[en’] is a common Curse throughout the whole Empire. – well – we ascended, the soil boggy, & [at] last reached the Height, which is 573 Toises* above the level of the Sea. We visited the Blocksberg, a sort of Bowling Green inclosed by huge Stones, something like those at Stonehenge; & this is the Witches’ Ball-room / thence proceeded to the house on the [hill] where we dined / & now we descended.”

self guided walking holidays in Germany

It may be of interest to Inntravellers to note that Coleridge immediately continued:

My Toe was shockingly swoln, m[y feet] bladdered, and my whole frame seemed going to pieces with fatigue[e – however] I went on, my key-note Pain, except when, as not unseldom happe[ned, I struck] my Toe against a Stone or Stub – & this of course produced a bravura [of Torture].”

They spent that night in an inn in ‘Elbinrode’ (Elbingerode). Coleridge wrote some lines in a visitors’ book (“I stood on Brocken’s Sovran height …" to be found in The Complete Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E.H. Coleridge, Volume 1, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1912, p. 315).

[*1 Toise was exactly 6 pieds (feet) (about 1.949 metres) in France until 1812.]

self guided walking holidays in Germany


The Harz Mountains

Walking from one welcoming hotel to the next, explore the paths which crisscross the Harz uplands to discover different aspects of this fascinating region: man-made waterways, medieval towns, colourful legends, impressive castles, and the focal point of the region, the Brocken, the ‘mountain of the German people’.

More about our walking holiday in the Harz Mountains >

Posted: 31/03/2016 17:36:55 by Derek Robbins, Inntraveller | with 0 comments
Filed under: Germany, heritage


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