Sex and drugs and English literature: Coleridge and a Faustian pact

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The year was 1814 and Samuel Taylor Coleridge had not only confirmed his reputation as a literary genius but also as a chaotic figurehead of the Romantic movement who disappeared on opium-fuelled sojourns across the Somerset valleys for days.

So it may have come as little surprise to his publishers, who had paid Coleridge an advance of £100 that year to translate Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's seminal poem, Faust, from its original German into English, when nothing was produced by the mercurial, and infamously unreliable poet.

It had been at least a decade since Coleridge's most fruitful years when he had risen to literary fame, and infamy, with groundbreaking poems such as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan - composed as a result of an opium dream.

By the early part of the 19th century, Coleridge was beset by marital problems, increased opium dependency and a dampening of confidence in his creative powers. So the publishers shelved the Goethe project and the translation work has been long forgotten since Coleridge's death in 1834.

But now, nearly 200 years later, an American academic claims to have discovered that astonishingly, the poet may well have fulfilled his promise to complete a meticulous translation of the classical German tale - but could not put his name to it due to his dubious financial dealings.

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