The Friendship: Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Viking, 480 pages, $27.95
Writers, craving praise and hating criticism, are unusually contentious. Their personal quarrels, which spill into print, are notorious: Pope and Colley Cibber, Johnson and Lord Chesterfield, Ruskin and Whistler, Wells and Henry James, Wilson and Nabokov. These bitter fights are balanced by many warm, stimulating friendships: Pope and Swift, Johnson and Boswell, Byron and Shelley, Frost and Edward Thomas, Owen and Sassoon. Adam Sisman’s book focuses on the apparently ideal six years of friendship (1797–1803), first in Somerset and then in the Lake District, of Wordsworth and Coleridge. Ultimately their poetic alliance bred rivalry and tension, and erupted in a destructive quarrel.
Before their meeting, Coleridge had enlisted in the dragoons under the pseudonym S. T. Comberbache; four disastrous months later he was...