COLERIDGE, Samuel Taylor (1772-1834). Autograph letter signed to 'Miss Edith' [Edith Fricker], Jesus College, Cambridge, 17 September 1794, one page, 4to; in a brown morocco backed slip case.
A LAMENT FOR HIS DEAD SISTER. The letter opens in Coleridge's highest emotional register, 'I had a sister -- an only sister. Most tenderly did I love her! Yea, I have woke at midnight, and wept -- because she was not'; he praises the value of the bond between a brother and sister, that 'gentle Friend, in whose soft Bosom he may repose his Sorrows', before tracing a link between his dead sister and the recipient of the letter -- 'My sister, like you, was beautiful and accomplished' -- and proposing a like relationship between them: 'I would, that you would say to me, "I will be your sister"'.
The letter refers to Coleridge's adored older sister Anne (known as 'Nancy'), whose death in 1791 after a consumptive illness inspired a number of his early sonnets. The recipient, Edith Fricker, became Coleridge's sister-in-law when he married her sister Sara; Edith herself married Coleridge's close friend Robert Southey. Its date is intriguing: Coleridge had only returned to Cambridge from Bristol, where he had been associating with Robert Southey and the Fricker sisters, that evening. His letter on the 18th September to Southey extolled the delights of their Pantisocratic schemes and of the Fricker sisters: 'America! Southey! Miss Fricker! ... I certainly love her ... Make Edith my sister'; on the 19th he wrote a further letter to Southey, evidently responding to a rebuke for having not written sooner, and justifying his conduct on the basis that his letter to Southey had been the second he wrote on arriving in Cambridge, after the obligatory letter to Sara Fricker. It is now clear that, either through subterfuge or oversight, he was concealing the existence of another letter, to Southey's own fiancée.