Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts


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These questions haunt the reflective idiom which he developed in the course of this residence of a year and a half at Nether Stowey, with storm clouds brewing on the horizon. Speech replaces stale poetic convention from the start. The character of the poet lies at the center of the exercise. It provided the fresh air which their assumptions required. If Nature were to be their muse, and the source of their living values, it would have to be observed in all its sorts and conditions. At loose ends Coleridge found in Wordsworth a catalyst for his thinking about poetry.

The poem was not liked even then. It might be verse, but it was not good poetry. The story of its genesis is one of the prodigies of English literature. In the course of a solitary walk in the combes near the Bristol Channel in the fall of , Coleridge took two grains of opium for the dysentery which had been bothering him for some time.

He retired to an old stone farmhouse some distance from Porlock, where he fell asleep while reading an old travel book, Purchase His Pilgrimage , by Samuel Purchase. He awoke hours later to record the extraordinary train of images which arose during his opiated stupor. If they are significant at all it is because they epitomize his reputation as the truant phantast of romantic legend. He did much to encourage it, certainly, but he lived to regret what his friends made of him and to defend himself against charges of idleness and premature decay.

The Coleridge phenomenon, as it might be called, has been recounted in every literary generation, usually with the emphasis on wonder rather than disappointment, though sometimes—among moralizing critics, never among poets—with a venom which recalls the disillusionment of his associates. This became the germ of a momentous project in which Wordsworth acted as collaborator. He contributed some few lines of verse to the poem in addition. It underlines the collective enterprise involved in the inauguration of the new poetic idiom which would eventually be called Romantic. Creation of this kind is more than a matter of oracular power.

It has much to do with rational inquiry and exchange. Further, the episode gives some idea of the working relations between Coleridge and Wordsworth at the moment when the scheme for Lyrical Ballads was being hatched. Their constant companionship on walks, at Alfoxden and elsewhere, gave rise to extended discussion of poetry present and past. Both proved open to suggestion; both grew as poets through their conversations. It is the story of a project. And real in this sense they have been to every human being who, from whatever source of delusion, has at any time believed himself under supernatural agency.

Lyrical Ballads was deliberately experimental, as the authors insisted from the start. The fact that it was a collaboration meant that both authors took responsibility for the design of the experiment. This was more than a volume of poems from various hands. Wordsworth frankly disliked it after the reviews came in, but Lamb led the way in appreciating its odd mix of romance and realism.

Whatever their liabilities of dramatic construction, the highly charged imagery of these poems has made a strong impression. Its influence rings clear in Shelley and Keats in the next generation, and in Tennyson , Browning , Rossetti , and Swinburne among their Victorian inheritors.

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In the title of W. It stands out, a monument to the realized achievement of the experiment. What Wordsworth would make of the conversation poem is the story of the most distinguished poetic career of the period. Their achievement in the developing conversational line has seemed more momentous in retrospect than it did at the time. Yet the example of the conversation poems took where it mattered most, among the poets of the next generation and every generation since.

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Matthew Arnold and T. Eliot in England and Robert Frost in America elaborated variously on the conversational convention. Wordsworth made the conversation poem the vehicle of his celebration of enlightenment values: The conviction of a benevolent nature is compromised by mounting fears. In the earlier poems of the kind these are indicated only indirectly.

Part of this feeling must have come from the growing hostility of the community in which he was living.

Fear of a French invasion was widespread, and the outsiders were suspected of democratic sympathies, even of collusion with the national enemy. For it exposes the deep fears behind the passion for Nature conceived in this way, as an intentional agent and life companion. It is an uncertain performance, rambling and disjointed, yet interesting as a portrait of political conviction under pressure.

Despite the difficulties, this was a time of rare promise for the young writer. While Wordsworth would carry on with the experiment for some ten years after that spring in the Quantocks, his companion in the art was all but finished with it. Reasons for the divergence are bound to be conjectures after the fact, but two at least remain worth considering. There was room for only one strong voice of this kind.

Coleridge was drawn to other roles in any case, and to other causes. Poetry was his means, not his vocation. What was his vocation then? He is usually described as a man of letters—as the prototype of the modern writer who lives from his earnings as journalist, book reviewer, and jack of all literary trades. Coleridge was provided, quite unexpectedly, a life annuity of pounds sterling by Josiah and Thomas Wedgwood, heirs to the pottery and friends of reliable standing. There were no strings attached.

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The point was to free him of the routine material difficulties which were already closing in on him from all sides. This was a godsend, but it also put Coleridge on his mettle. For he was now faced with the imperative to choose and define a vocation for himself. Freedom imposes its own obligations, and patronage remains patronage even without the strings. The imminent departure of the Wordsworths, whose one-year lease at Alfoxden was not renewed in June due to local doubts about their character, precipitated a personal crisis of sorts.

The upshot was an extended residence in Germany, separation from family and friends in Nether Stowey, and a change of direction. Coleridge was drawn to Germany for its literary ferment and new learning. Germany opened doors whose existence he had hardly imagined. It was here that he learned the language sufficiently to approach the critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant, which consumed his thinking from about And it involved him in historical inquiries—on the origin of the free farming class, for example—which he communicated to his correspondents at home.

The impression left by his notebooks and letters of this period of residence abroad is of unusual intellectual attentiveness. The intellectual turn is what distinguishes Coleridge from others, including his friends William Hazlitt and Lamb, whose activity as writers in the period was more clearly in the native grain. Verse and prose did not live separate lives; they were distinctive in means but not different in ends as Coleridge explained them. Both gave scope to the same human understanding. Coleridge rejoined his family in Nether Stowey in midsummer , some time after having returned from Germany.

It was an uncomfortable homecoming on several counts. Wordsworth was soon on his way to Dove Cottage at Grasmere in the remote north country, and Coleridge was not far behind. There was trouble with Southey and a difficult leave taking from Thomas Poole. On his way north he tarried in London as political correspondent for the Morning Post , writing a brilliant piece on Pitt, the prime minister, showing what his own convictions counted for.

His Essays on His Own Times , collected long after in three volumes, show how serious and capable a critic of society he was. The promotion of his most personal and individualistic work by later readers has obscured his constant attention to social arrangements and social ideals. His move to Keswick in summer not long before the birth of his third son, Derwent, on 14 September represented a kind of retreat from the discouraging world of city politics and city life. He came to feel that he was not a poet; not a great poet, at least not like Wordsworth.

This is his magisterial conversation poem, the most compelling though not the most celebrated achievement of his foreshortened poetic career. Coleridge was now on his own as never before, unsettled, constantly ill, searching for a way through his difficulties. It was refined but not fundamentally altered by subsequent reflection and formulation.

Their contents are known mainly from unreliable reports when they are known at all.

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The lectures of on Shakespeare were influential in the general revival of interest in the Elizabethan drama. In lecture notes on Shakespeare, Coleridge evokes organic form in terms which mimic the contemporary German critic August Wilhelm Schlegel. The structural variety of his plays—the seeming irregularities of The Tempest , in particular—arose from expressive requirements.

The importance of the organic metaphor and idea for later thinking about poetry can hardly be exaggerated. The sense of the work of art as an organism, self-germinating and self-enclosed, pervades modern writing and modern criticism. His definitions of primary and secondary imagination and of fancy have become canonical; they served I. This putative science of meaning was meant to shore up the foundations of English as an academic discipline and proved influential not only at Cambridge but throughout the English-speaking world, including the United States, where it provided impetus for the development of the New Criticism, as it was called.

Treating Coleridge as a provincial outpost of the new German critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant, English and American readers have usually abandoned the complex record of his reading and response in favor of one or two manageable ideas. The result has been general misapprehension about his orientation and commitments. Coleridge does not make sense as a model of aesthetic reading despite the efforts of Richards and others to bend him to this purpose.

What sort of reader was he, then? Moral and political, certainly, but something more. He was not interested in judging writing by current standards. Conventional judgments of good or bad relied on unspoken assumptions which he was concerned to test and modify, where appropriate, by the light of reason. The process was a fitful, often tortuous one. The metaphysical investigation assumed a life of its own, waylaid by deep plunges into Kant and Schelling, among others.

It culminates in the first volume of the Biographia Literaria with an effort to provide rational ground for the critical exercise which follows in the second. His definition of imagination remains an important part of his poetic legacy, nevertheless, since it underwrites the development of a symbolist aesthetic still associated with his name though at odds with his enduring commitments.

The defense of poetic diction in particular is important for understanding his idea of poetry. Its roots lie in a long meditation on language, not in a philosophically derived faculty of imagination. This meditation on language occupied Coleridge occasionally during the years between his return from Germany in and the composition of the Biographia Literaria. Among projects which he undertook during these long years of opium addiction, physical disability, and aimless wandering, The Friend stands out for its originality and influence.

Eclectic in approach, broadly literary in style, its various essays remain worth considering for what they indicate of the evolution of letters in the period. In the Wedgwood annuity was reduced by half due to financial difficulties related to the war. Coleridge continued to wander, staying with friends all over the kingdom and occasionally with his family in Keswick. He moved into the house of Dr. James Gillman, a physician in Highgate, now a north London village, trying to cure or at least to treat his opium problem.

Here he would pass the remainder of his life, writing only occasional verse while preparing philosophical lectures delivered in , revising the text of The Friend for publication as a book, and collating the moral and theological aphorisms which appeared as Aids to Reflection These were popular and influential in America as well as in England. He planned a comprehensive philosophical synthesis which he was unable to realize, conjuring with a system which lived only in his constantly working mind.

The most finished text from among his philosophical papers was published in as Hints towards the Formation of a more Comprehensive Theory of Life. The reconstruction of his abortive synthesis is in progress. Coleridge died in after years of personal discomfort and disappointment. A legend in his time, he came to be seen by friends and contemporaries as the genius who failed.

The failure was largely relative to early expectations, however, and to hopes defeated by disease and drugs. Despite everything, Coleridge can still be regarded as a groundbreaking and, at his best, a powerful poet of lasting influence. His idea of poetry remains the standard by which others in the English sphere are tried. As a political thinker, and as a Christian apologist, Coleridge proved an inspiration to the important generation after his own.

Recent publication of his private notebooks has provided further evidence of the constant ferment and vitality of his inquiring spirit. Prose Home Harriet Blog. Visit Home Events Exhibitions Library. Poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Christabel Constancy to an Ideal Object Dejection: Collections Poems of Sorrow and Grieving. Articles Bohemian Tragedy Herbert Sucks. Donne is a Pimp.

Podcasts The Rime of the Ancient Mariner excerpt. More About this Poet. Constancy to an Ideal Object. Sea-ward, white gleaming thro' the busy scud. The Three Sorts of Friends. I know 'tis but a Dream, yet feel more anguish. Come, come thou bleak December wind. As some vast Tropic tree, itself a wood. Whom should I choose for my Judge? The Moon, how definite its orb! Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts. Set up a giveaway. Feedback If you need help or have a question for Customer Service, contact us. Would you like to report poor quality or formatting in this book?

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Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts
Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts
Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts
Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts
Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts
Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Fine Arts

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