The page of a notebook that Samuel Taylor Coleridge was writing on in 1798 records that his son Hartley, age two, fell down and skinned his knee and that in the swamps of Florida the dominant bull alligator bellows like nothing on earth to keep away fifty bachelor contenders for his wives. Hartley was comforted by being shown the moon, after which his father went back to making notes on William Bartram’s Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws (1791), a book that, as John Livingston Lowes’s classic study of Coleridge’s reading, The Road to Xanadu (1927), demonstrated in 574 scholarly pages, was a gold mine of images and exotic information. “I am,” Coleridge once said, “well up on the far out.”

Wordsworth, too, got a poem...


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