Coleridge’s Dreaming Gut

Digestion, Genius, Hypochondria
  • George Rousseau


Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), the great Romantic poet and symbol maker, would seem to be an odd figure to include in a book about the diverse cultures of the abdomen. Diet, weight, physique, even his own health, are concerns not usually associated with this major figure in Western civilization.Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Coleridge worried about his health to the point of distraction: it is an understatement to call him hypochondriacal. He situated his gut—specifically the anatomical pathway from stomach to bowels—as the site of all his troubles, to such degree that were he alive today he would be a primary candidate for IBS: irritable bowel syndrome. Rarely overweight, he was nevertheless preoccupied with the look of his corpora fabrica, and monitored much that he allowed to pass down his oesophagus. Digestion, above all, consumed him with angst, and he worried about his indigestion in every possible way except along the lines of gender. The idea never crossed his mind, it seems, that he might be in possession of a female stomach.2 He was persuaded that digestion or its opposite—indigestion—was the key to all his troubles in waking and sleeping life; and he eventually developed a theory of dreams that was in large part predicated on the state of the digesting gut at night. The role played by digestion in this context of the body’s regimen and its degree of health, forms the heart of my exploration here.


Irritable Bowel Syndrome Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Rheumatic Fever Medical Imagination Nervous Irritability 
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© Christopher E. Forth and Ana Carden-Coyne 2005

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  • George Rousseau

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