Romantic Patronage: Mary Robinson and Coleridge Revisited

  • Judith Hawley


In a frequently quoted letter written to Mary Elizabeth Robinson in 1802, Coleridge describes himself as the Defender, Apologist, and Encomiast’ of her mother, Mary Robinson.1 The impression given by this phrase, and by much of this letter, is that he was the senior partner in the relationship and, in some sense, Mary Robinson’s patron. Until the 1990s, most critics and biographers assumed this to be the case. Robinson has usually figured as a footnote to the career of the great Romantic, a minor poet less important for her achievement as a poet, novelist, playwright or feminist pamphleteer than for her scandalous life as the serially discarded mistress of the Prince of Wales, Charles James Fox and Barnastre Tarleton. Thus, in Richard Holmes’ biography of Coleridge, she first appears in a list of ‘various literary ladies who admired his poetry’. Holmes’ note to this passage identifies her as ‘Mary “Perdita” Robinson, fashionable beauty and Shakespearean actress, [who] had once been mistress to the Prince Regent, before turning her charms upon poetry and the gothick novel’.2 This identificatory note also records the much repeated information that ‘Coleridge urged Southey to include her work in the Annual Anthology’. So it appears as if Coleridge helped her into print, while she was just one of many female admirers who circled around him.


Eighteenth Century Woman Writer Client Relationship Subsequent Reference False Friend 
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© Judith Hawley 2005

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  • Judith Hawley

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