How many English towns have generated their own verb? ‘O I wish,’ wrote Coleridge, ‘that we could all Ramsgatize till the midst of December.’ I know this from having had the honour of unveiling a blue plaque to Coleridge, put up by The Ramsgate Society; the ceremony involved reading a letter detailing the poet’s holiday arrangements. Like those of Wilkie Collins, another Ramsgate regular, they were not without scandal. Coleridge had battened onto the family of his Highgate doctor, James Gillman, who treated his opium habit. When Dr Gillman was busy with his practice in London, Coleridge would stay on at Ramsgate with his wife, Anne.
There was talk. ‘Such it is if Ladies will go gadding about with other people’s husbands at watering places,’ tutted Charles Lamb. They would come in autumn, but, even then, Coleridge found the water ‘not cold enough to my liking’. His technique was to stand on the top step of the bathing machine, wait for a high wave ‘and then with my utmost power of projection’ shoot himself ‘off into it, for all the world like a Congreve Rocket into a Whale’.
Around the corner from Coleridge’s plaque is one to Karl Marx, not a man whom one can easily imagine in a bathing suit.
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