Monday, April 06, 2009


Lingomania and Opsimathy

Thanks to Eric Thomson for this excerpt from Raymonde Hainton and Godfrey Hainton, The Unknown Coleridge: The Life and Times of Derwent Coleridge, 1800-1883 (London: Janus, 1996), pp. 283-284:
Derwent was a voracious reader, but his great mental recreation was the comparative study of language. He told Moultrie in 1873: 'I am looking up my Syriac - it occupies my head without troubling my heart - and requires no effort of the will.' STC had trained him in grammar from his infancy. In the 1830s H.N. Coleridge wrote to Sara from Helston: 'Derwent is at the height of the Lingomania.' By 1870 Augustus Swift tells us: 'Mr Coleridge had complete mastery of about fourteen languages, and was sufficiently well versed in eight or nine more for all practical purposes.' He recalls Derwent writing a letter in Hungarian one day, without premeditation, to one of the Budapest newspapers. 'He began Icelandic at seventy, and in six weeks could translate the Reykjavik news to us, without a halt. When Bishop Staley (one of his former Vice-Principals at St Mark's) brought him from Honolulu one or two volumes in Hawaiian, he worked at them for weeks till he had mastered the curious grammatical forms of the language, composing a little grammar of his own,' Swift recalls.
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