Samuel Taylor Coleridge is one of the most remarkable talents in English literature. He was both a leading poet and a leading philosopher, and his literary criticism has had considerable influence. The poet Robert Southey, who knew Coleridge well, said that his intellect was “as clear and as powerful as ever was vouchsafed to man.” But Coleridge’s liabilities were as great as his assets, his demons were a match for his talents, and his life was filled with suffering.
Coleridge’s father was a teacher and clergyman in southwest England (Devon). Coleridge was well-educated, first at home, then at his father’s school, then at a London school called Christ’s Hospital, then at Cambridge. He acquired a good grasp of Greek, Latin, and German, and he was an eager student of German philosophers like Kant. He had a special interest in words — tracing the roots of words, reviving archaic words, coining new words, etc.
In 1795, at the age of 23, Coleridge married Sara Fricker, but it wasn’t a happy marriage, and they often lived apart. Even before he was married, Coleridge anticipated problems. He wrote to Southey, “To marry a woman whom I do not love — to degrade her, whom I call my Wife, by making her the Instrument of low Desire — and on the removal of a desultory Appetite, to be perhaps not displeased with her Absence!” Coleridge felt that he had gone too far in the relationship to back out. “Mark you, Southey! I will do my Duty.1”
In the above portrait, Coleridge’s mouth is slightly open (if you look closely, you can see his teeth). Coleridge said, “I cannot breathe through my nose, so my mouth, with sensual thick lips, is almost always open.”2 Coleridge sometimes wrote about himself, wrote in a subjective way. The Romantic period was more subjective than earlier periods.
When he was 25, Coleridge rented a house in Somerset, near Devon, and a new friend, the poet Wordsworth, found a place nearby. Coleridge and Wordsworth combined their poems into a volume called Lyrical Ballads, which started the Romantic school of poetry. One of the poems in Lyrical Ballads was Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Here’s a stanza from that poem:
“I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand!
And thou art long, and lank, and brown,
As is the ribbed sea-sand.”
In a footnote, Coleridge tells us, “For the last two lines of this stanza, I am indebted to Mr. Wordsworth. It was on a delightful walk from Nether Stowey to Dulverton, with him and his sister [Dorothy], in the Autumn of 1797, that this Poem was planned, and in part composed.” This walk took several days, so there was ample time for poetizing. They began the walk at 4 in the afternoon of a November day, so they could “watch the transition from sunlight to moonlight over the sea.”3
Coleridge often took long walking tours. In the summer of 1794, for example, he walked through Wales, covering more than 500 miles. One of his recent biographers, Richard Holmes, calls this Welsh tour “the first of Coleridge’s many epic walks.”4 Coleridge often composed poetry while walking.
In 1798, Coleridge visited Germany with William and Dorothy Wordsworth. Coleridge studied German, and attended lectures at German universities. He also made some translations of German literature.
In 1800, Coleridge moved to the Lake District, where the Wordsworths were living. Tensions arose between Coleridge and Wordsworth, perhaps because Coleridge was now addicted to opium. Coleridge and Wordsworth began to drift apart, and they had little contact after 1810, but they retained considerable respect for each other, and their friendship is one of the remarkable friendships in literary history. “It is a moving experience,” wrote Owen Barfield, “to contemplate, in the pages of the Biographia Literaria and in Coleridge’s correspondence throughout his life, his unfaltering admiration, if not adoration, of Wordsworth’s genius and his love of the man.”5
Wordsworth said that he and Coleridge were
twins almost in genius and in mind...
Predestined, if two beings ever were,
To seek the same delights, and have one health,
In 1809, Coleridge began a one-man journal called The Friend, which ran for about ten months. According to Wikipedia, “The Friend was an eclectic publication that drew upon every corner of Coleridge’s remarkably diverse knowledge of law, philosophy, morals, politics, history, and literary criticism.” After it ceased publication, The Friend appeared in book form. Coleridge didn’t want his journal to add to the din about current events; the full title of his journal was, “The Friend: A Literary, Moral, and Political Weekly Paper, Excluding Personal and Party Politics and the Events of the Day.” Richard Holmes says, “he was taking issue with the very notion of journalism itself, the cult of ‘novelty,’ personality and current affairs, which he felt destroyed the true, inner life of the mind.”5B
In 1816, Coleridge began living with a doctor, James Gillman, in Highgate, north of London. He remained in Highgate for the remaining eighteen years of his life, traveling little, delivering lengthy monologues to his admirers. Younger writers, like Carlyle and Emerson, visited Coleridge at Highgate.
Coleridge was the youngest of ten children (nine boys and one girl). At the time of his birth, his father was 53, his mother 45. “They both adored him — a large, fat, greedy baby with a shock of unruly black hair, and huge grey astonishing eyes. ‘My Father was very fond of me, and I was my mother’s darling.’”6
When I began studying Coleridge, I thought he might be a “Son of Jocasta,” that is, a boy who had a very close relationship to his mother, a relationship that obstructed maturity and psychological health, but fostered literary genius. I now view Coleridge differently. I now think that he received occasional love from his mother, but on the whole, his mother was detached and distracted; Thomas McFarland speaks of her “coldness and inattentiveness.”6B Coleridge told his friend Tom Poole that Poole’s mother was “the only Being whom I ever felt in the relation of Mother.” When his mother was dying and asked to see him, he didn’t visit.
Coleridge’s brothers often treated him roughly; he said that his brother Frank, who was closest to him in age, “had a violent love of beating me.” At age seven, after quarreling with Frank, Coleridge ran away and spent a night alone, as if he couldn’t endure the home environment. Later he spoke of, “releasing my conscience wholly from all connection with a family, to whom I am indebted only for misery.” On his deathbed, Coleridge spoke of, “the unkindness with which he had been treated by his brothers.”
McFarland argues that, as a result of his mother’s coolness and his brothers’ cruelty, Coleridge developed anxiety, and this anxiety affected him throughout his life. As Coleridge put it, “I have been always preyed on by some Dread, and perhaps all my faulty actions have been the consequence of some Dread or other on my mind.” One of these “faulty actions” may have been taking opium; McFarland thinks that opium, procrastination, plagiarism, and hypochondria were all “neurotic attempts [by Coleridge] to cope with this deeper malaise,” i.e., to cope with anxiety, dread.
According to McFarland, Coleridge’s anxiety impelled him toward opium and other vices, and also gave him low self-esteem, a feeling of emptiness within. “I feel,” Coleridge wrote, “with an intensity unfathomable by words, my utter nothingness, impotence, and worthlessness, in and for myself.” He needed the love of the people around him to lift him out of this self-contempt; without friends, he said, “I feel my Hollowness.”
Freud said that the “dreaded final outcome” of anxiety is “paralyzing the will of the ego.” Coleridge called himself “a paralytic in mind,” and William Hazlitt called him, “a man without a will.” He not only couldn’t bring himself to write, he couldn’t even bring himself to read the letters he received. De Quincey says he often dropped letters into a “dead-letter bureau, and rarely, I believe, opened them at all.”
Coleridge’s anxiety didn’t prevent him from achieving much as a writer; indeed, it may have made him more interesting to himself and others. But his anxiety made him less happy. After visiting Highgate, Carlyle said that Coleridge “gave you the idea of a life that had been full of sufferings.” This is the message of Coleridge’s epitaph, which he wrote himself:
Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seem’d he.
O, lift one thought in prayer for S.T.C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!6C
McFarland argues that, with all his frailties, there’s a certain heroism in Coleridge. “He did not take refuge in suicide... he did not become mentally unbalanced... he did not become misanthropic.... ‘He was always full of kindly feelings’.... Though life bore him down, he fought from his knees.” Coleridge met death calmly; since his life was an ordeal, he didn’t fear the end of life.
A friend of mine works at a nursing-home. She told me that residents always say, “I’m ready to die, I’m not afraid of death,” but when the moment comes, they don’t want to die, they shrink back from death. But Coleridge died calmly. McFarland writes, “He not only said throughout his life that he did not fear death, he actually proved as much when the moment of agony arrived.”
Coleridge symbolizes the greatness and frailty of man; there’s a little Coleridge in all of us. McFarland writes, “Neurotic anxiety, as Freud contends, is an intensification of the anxiety that all men feel; while to Kierkegaard, anxiety is the mark of the human spirit itself.”
As an infant, Coleridge once “crawled to the fire and pulled out a live coal, badly burning his hand.”7 I’m reminded of an incident from Tolstoy’s childhood: Tolstoy jumped out of a 3rd-floor window, hoping to fly.8 Perhaps these incidents point to an unusually strong will, or an unusually strong love of the world.
As a young boy, Coleridge was unpopular with his peers. He later wrote,
|I became fretful, and timorous, and a tell-tale, and the schoolboys drove me from play, and were always tormenting me, hence I took no pleasure in boyish sports, but read incessantly. I used to lie by the wall, and mope.9|
One of the books he read was Philip Quarll, The English Hermit. An episode in this book was doubtless the inspiration for the albatross episode in Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Philip Quarll lived alone on a SouthSea island. “One of Quarll’s adventures was the shooting of a large and beautiful sea-bird with a home-made bow, an action he immediately regrets: ‘I have destroyed that as was certainly made for Nature’s Diversion with such a Variety of Colours.’”10
Coleridge’s father died when he was 8, so Coleridge was sent to a boarding school in London. He looked back on this “exile” in a poem called “Frost at Midnight”:
I was reared
In the great city, pent ’mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars....
Of my sweet birthplace, and the old church-tower....
Death often announces itself in advance, it says “I’ll stop by soon.” Before he died, Coleridge’s father “dreamed a strange allegorical dream, that Death ‘as he is commonly painted’ had touched him with his dart. He drank a bowl of punch, went to bed, and died that same night of a massive heart attack. Coleridge always remembered his mother’s ‘shriek’ in the night, and his instant realization that ‘Papa is dead.’”12
Coleridge wasn’t happy at boarding school, he was
|one small boy among 600, with his private world reduced to an iron bedstead in a “ward” or dormitory of fifteen others. For the next three years his existence was remembered with self-pity and righteous indignation: “Oh, what a change! depressed, moping, friendless, poor orphan, half starved.”|
So his early years were trying, both at home and at school. As he later said to a friend, “I was hardly used from infancy to Boyhood; and from Boyhood to Youth most, MOST cruelly.”14B
In his last years of boarding school, however, he was an academic star, and his social position was secure. Charles Lamb was two years behind Coleridge at the same school. “For Charles Lamb the genius of Coleridge was not solitary at all. He saw him already as a public figure, finding his natural audience in the gregarious cloisters of Christ’s Hospital — not exiled amidst the clouds but thoroughly at home amidst a circle of admiring boys, urbane, eloquent and sociable.”15
At Cambridge, Coleridge’s situation was similar, though he had a new problem to deal with: debt. He often had to ask his brothers for money.
The young Coleridge was drawn to radical views of politics and religion. “By 1793 his rooms were a renowned center both for political and literary discussions held long into the night.”16 One of the topics of political discussions was the situation in France — the latest episode in the French Revolution.
One of the most astute observers of the French Revolution was Edmund Burke. Burke was more than 40 years older than Coleridge, and more conservative than Coleridge. But Coleridge read his writings eagerly, and eventually became a conservative himself. A classmate of Coleridge’s remembered, “Ever and anon, a pamphlet issued from the pen of Burke. There was no need of having the book before us. Coleridge had read it in the morning, and in the evening he would repeat whole pages verbatim.”17
Burke’s best-known pamphlet was Reflections on the Revolution in France, published in late 1790. Burke isn’t as deep a thinker as Coleridge, but perhaps for that very reason, Burke’s writings are read and discussed today, while Coleridge’s philosophical writings are forgotten.
In late 1793, Coleridge joined the army, perhaps to escape his debts, perhaps for the bounty paid to new recruits. He joined under a false name, Silas Tomkyn Comberbache; his false name had the same initials (STC) as his real name. After a few months, his brothers arranged his discharge. The records of his regiment state, “Discharged S. T. Comberbache, Insane; 10 April 1794.”
In 1794, Coleridge met an Oxford student, Robert Southey, who was two years younger than Coleridge. Southey later became a prominent poet, a writer of biographies, and the target of Byron’s satire. Coleridge and Southey hatched a plan for a utopian community in Pennsylvania, a community in which property would be held in common; they called their community Pantisocracy (Greek for “everyone possesses equal power”).
Though the plan was never put into practice, it provided material for countless hours of discussion and debate. In later years, Coleridge looked back at Pantisocracy as “a peculiar product of the French revolutionary excitement.”18 Holmes calls it, “a heady cocktail of all the progressive idealism of the Romantic Age.”19
Coleridge debated Pantisocracy with various people, including William Godwin; Godwin was a political philosopher, novelist, husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, and father of Mary Shelley. Coleridge and Godwin remained friends for years to come. Coleridge felt that he learned much from the Pantisocracy scheme:
|To the intense interest and impassioned zeal, which called forth and strained every faculty of my intellect for the organization and defense of this Scheme, I owe much of whatever I at present possess, my clearest insight into the nature of individual Man, and my most comprehensive views of his social relations.20|
Compared to most philosophers, Coleridge was outgoing. Richard Holmes speaks of “his wild expenditure [as a Cambridge student] on books, drinking, violin lessons, theater and whoring (he later described this as the time of his ‘unchastities’) alternating with fits of suicidal gloom and remorse.”21 When he traveled to Germany at age 25, he made friends on the boat and also in the country.
The essayist Charles Lamb was one of Coleridge’s oldest and closest friends. They spent many evenings together at a London tavern called “The Salutation and Cat.” Coleridge made friends easily. Richard Holmes speaks of “Coleridge’s almost hypnotic effect on new acquaintances.”22
Coleridge acquired not only friends but patrons. Successful businessmen recognized his ability as a poet, journalist, and public speaker, and were willing to provide him with a steady income. In 1796, his patrons arranged an income of 40£ per year, and he could rent a house for just 5£ per year.23 But he provided 20£ per year to his mother-in-law, and his expenses often exceeded his income.
In 1798, he received an annuity of £150 per year from the Wedgwoods, whose fortune came from pottery. It seemed that he was becoming financially stable.
While Coleridge had friends and patrons, his relationship with his family was rather distant. His publisher, Joseph Cottle, said,
|He appeared like a being dropped from the clouds, without tie or connection on earth; and during the years in which I knew him, he never once visited (that I could learn) any one of his relations, nor exchanged a letter with them. It used to fill myself and others with concern, and the deepest astonishment, that such a man should, apparently, be abandoned.|
Holmes speaks of, “the painful division in the family and Coleridge’s deepening sense of being ‘abandoned.’”24
In the summer of 1797, Coleridge walked from Nether Stowey to Racedown to visit Wordsworth, eager to get Wordsworth’s feedback on his latest work, and see Wordsworth’s latest work. After walking about 35 miles over two days, he finally caught sight of the house where Wordsworth and his sister (Dorothy) were living. Forty years later, Wordsworth said, “We both have a distinct remembrance of his arrival. He did not keep to the high road, but leaped over a gate and bounded down a pathless field.”
Coleridge spent two weeks with the Wordsworths. Afterwards Dorothy wrote to a friend,
|You had a great loss in not seeing Coleridge. He is a wonderful man. His conversation teems with soul, mind and spirit. Then he is so benevolent, so good tempered and cheerful, and, like William, interests himself so much about every little trifle.... His eye is large and full... it speaks every emotion of his animated mind; it has more of the “poet’s eye in a fine frenzy rolling” than I ever witnessed.|
Coleridge was so excited about his new friends that he not only urged them to join him at Nether Stowey, he also urged Charles Lamb, Robert Southey, and other friends to come to Nether Stowey. Coleridge was trying to create a community of literati.
William and Dorothy Wordsworth rented a house near Nether Stowey, and some of the other literati visited. Some neighbors viewed the group as radicals and atheists. When the literati gathered for a dinner at Wordsworth’s house, the government paid a waiter to spy on the group. The group was suspected of French sympathies (the French Republicans were at odds with Britain’s conservative government). The group was suspected of helping the French to prepare an invasion of England.
Coleridge had long been critical of the conservative Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger. But Coleridge was moving toward the center politically; perhaps he was troubled by the excesses of the French Revolution. Though he was no longer a radical, his early reputation as a pro-French radical followed him for many years.
Coleridge and the two Wordsworths took many walks in the Quantock Hills. Often they made notes about the landscape as they walked, like painters making sketches; they planned to use their notes to write poems. They even took walks on winter nights.
When Coleridge was in Germany with the Wordsworths, he visited Klopstock, the grand old man of German letters. Klopstock had greeted the French Revolution with enthusiasm, but was later dismayed by the Revolution’s violent turn. Coleridge felt much the same way; Coleridge was especially troubled by France’s invasion of Switzerland in 1798. Coleridge became disillusioned with the Revolution, like those who became disillusioned 130 years later with the Russian Revolution, especially after Stalin’s pact with Hitler, and Stalin’s invasion of Poland.
In 1799, Coleridge wrote to Wordsworth: “My dear friend.... I wish you would write a poem, in blank verse, addressed to those, who, in consequence of the complete failure of the French Revolution, have thrown up all hopes of the amelioration of mankind, and are sinking into an almost epicurean selfishness.”
When Coleridge was in Germany, one of his children died. Coleridge felt that, if he’d been in England, he might have kept his child alive with will power. Coleridge wrote, “There are moments in which I have such a power of Life within me, such a conceit of it, I mean — that I lay the Blame of my Child’s Death to my absence — not intellectually; but I have a strange sort of sensation, as if while I was present, none could die whom I intensely loved.”24B
In an earlier issue, I discussed the film director Werner Herzog, and his connection with the film historian Lotte Eisner. I wrote,
|In 1974, when Eisner was sick in Paris, Herzog walked from Munich to Paris during the winter, believing that Eisner couldn’t die if he made this pilgrimage. Eisner lived. Herzog wrote a book about the journey, Of Walking in Ice. Since his childhood, Herzog had been a great walker, and had taken many long walks in Germany. “Eight years later [Eisner] complained to [Herzog] of her infirmities and said: ‘I am saturated with life. There is still this spell upon me that I must not die — can you lift it?’ [Herzog] says that he did, and she died eight days later.” I’m reminded of Proust’s mother, who asked Proust for “permission to die.” He granted permission, she died soon afterwards.|
Could Coleridge have kept his son alive if he were with him, or (like Herzog) traveling to him?
Coleridge enjoyed his stay in Germany, and felt that he learned a lot about the German language, German customs, German literature, etc. He said that all the women wanted to dance with him, and the professors treated him with respect since he was older than the other students, and he was a published writer. Though he had planned to stay three months, he ended up staying ten months.
But his wife struggled in his absence, and probably felt that Coleridge wasn’t fulfilling his family responsibilities. Was Coleridge suited to be a husband and father? Nietzsche felt that the philosopher should resist the temptation to be a husband and father; Nietzsche felt that the philosopher wasn’t suited for these roles.
When Coleridge and Wordsworth returned from Germany, Coleridge went back to his family in the “West Country,” and Wordsworth and his sister went back to their “home country” in the Lake District. After a few months, Coleridge visited the Wordsworths. Coleridge was ecstatic at exploring this new, wild area for the first time, and Wordsworth enjoyed showing his old haunts to Coleridge. They were joined by Wordsworth’s brother, John, but not by Wordsworth’s sister, Dorothy. Coleridge wrote to Dorothy, “You can feel... how deeply I have been impressed by a world of scenery absolutely new to me.” Holmes speaks of, “this dazzling discovery of the Lakes, with its high fells, its rocky waterfalls, its spreading waters.” Wordsworth hoped to entice Coleridge to move to the Lake District (eventually Coleridge did move there).
After leaving the Lake District, Coleridge settled with his wife and son in London, and took up the trade of journalist. He was in debt (as usual), and hoped to pay off debts. The political climate in London was highly polarized; Coleridge tried to stake out a position between the two poles, and he tried to encourage the Left to be more moderate. Coleridge’s theme, writes Richard Holmes, “was an attack on the fanaticism which now increasingly polarized British war-time politics into Jacobin and anti-Jacobin wings.... His argument was that extremism on the left only encouraged extremism on the right, leading to oppressive and hard-line attitudes and measures.”
Coleridge enjoyed being at the center of affairs, and having an impact on public opinion. He wrote, “It is not unflattering to a man’s Vanity to reflect that what he writes at 12 at night will before 12 hours is over have perhaps 5 or 6000 Readers!” Coleridge’s editor, Daniel Stuart, thought he was a first-rate journalist. Stuart said, “To write the leading paragraph of a newspaper, I would prefer him to Mackintosh, Burke, or any man I ever heard of. His observations not only were confirmed by good sense, but displayed extensive knowledge, deep thought and well-grounded foresight.”24C
His best newspaper-essay, according to Holmes, was his essay on William Pitt the Younger. Coleridge argued that Pitt had been raised in an unnatural environment, like a greenhouse plant. His father, who was himself a Prime Minister, treated his son as a statesman-to-be. “From his early childhood,” Coleridge wrote, “it was his father’s custom to make him stand up on a chair, and declaim before a large company; by which exercise, practiced so frequently, and continued for so many years, he acquired a premature and un-natural dexterity in the combination of words, which must of necessity have diverted his attention from present objects, obscured his impressions, and deadened his genuine feeling.”
While working as a journalist, Coleridge agreed to translate Schiller’s Wallenstein plays. He found translating to be tedious work. One might compare his translating to Carlyle’s translation of Goethe’s Apprenticeship of Wilhelm Meister.
After a few months as a journalist and translator, Coleridge began to feel burned out. He longed for the country, he longed for “the lazy reading of Old Folios.”
He decided to collaborate with Wordsworth on a new edition of Lyrical Ballads. He found a large house (Greta Hall) in the Lake District (Keswick), about fourteen miles north of Wordsworth’s house in Grasmere. Holmes writes,
|Greta Hall had originally been built as an astronomical observatory. Positioned on a small but commanding hill... it offered spectacular views of the surrounding fells and a huge, ever-changing dome of Cumberland sky. To this day, its white facade can be seen shining out of Keswick from almost every peak of the encircling fells... a sort of landlocked lighthouse, upon which the lonely fell-walker can always get an accurate compass fix in his wanderings.|
Coleridge wrote to Godwin, “I question if there be a room in England which commands a view of Mountains & Lakes & Woods & Vales superior to that, in which I am now sitting.” After completing a section of his poem “Christabel,” Coleridge was eager to read it to the Wordsworths (William and his sister Dorothy), so he walked the fourteen miles to Grasmere, climbing Helvellyn and other peaks as he went, pausing to make notes on the scenery, the trail, etc. (These notes have survived; a Coleridge biographer has a wealth of material to work with.) He didn’t reach the Wordsworths’ house until 11pm (perhaps he knew that the moon would throw some light on the trail).
Dorothy wrote in her Journal, “Coleridge came when I was walking in the still clear moonshine.... William was gone to bed.... We sat and chatted till half-past three, William in his dressing gown. Coleridge read us a part of ‘Christabel.’ Talked much about the mountains etc.”24D
But as the weeks passed, Wordsworth began to wonder if “Christabel” was appropriate for the new edition of Lyrical Ballads. Lyrical Ballads was originally a collaboration between Wordsworth and Coleridge, but Wordsworth had written most of the poems. Wordsworth probably hoped that the new, two-volume edition of Lyrical Ballads would make his reputation.
Coleridge had various “irons in the fire”: political writing, books about Germany, translations, etc. But Wordsworth was focused on Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth was developing a new sort of poetry, poetry that dealt with simple life in simple language. Was a medieval story like “Christabel” appropriate? Or did it introduce a discordant element?
Wordsworth expressed his new vision of poetry in pastoral poems that dealt with contemporary life, and he also expressed his new vision in his “Preface to the Lyrical Ballads,” which became famous as a poetic manifesto. Coleridge later said, “Wordsworth’s ‘Preface’ is half a child of my own Brain & so arose out of Conversations, so frequent, that with few exceptions we could scarcely either of us perhaps positively say, which first started any particular Thought.”24E
One scholar said that the Preface “is a more remarkable theoretical document than we usually associate with Wordsworth”; in other words, it’s the sort of document that we associate with a great critic/philosopher like Coleridge. Holmes shows how Coleridge was probably the source of the famous remark, “Poetry... takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”24F
Wordsworth persuaded Coleridge that “Christabel” should be left out of the new edition, and that “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” should be moved from the front of the volume to the back (more precisely, to the back of the first volume of this new edition). “On Coleridge’s insistence, the collection was now to be published under Wordsworth’s name alone.”
Coleridge had moved to the Lake District largely to collaborate with Wordsworth, and prepare a new edition of Lyrical Ballads, and now Coleridge was being left out, shunted aside. Wordsworth even attached a critical comment to Coleridge’s “Ancient Mariner,” without Coleridge’s approval: “The Author [i.e., Wordsworth] was himself very desirous that [‘The Ancient Mariner’] should be suppressed,” Wordsworth wrote. “This wish had arisen from a consciousness of the defects of the Poem, and from a knowledge that many persons had been much displeased with it. The Poem of my Friend has indeed great defects.” Holmes says that Wordsworth’s criticisms led Coleridge to doubt his own work, and to doubt himself: “Most disturbing of all,” Holmes writes, “Coleridge later took on these criticisms as comments on the weakness, not of his poem, but of his own personal character.”24J
Coleridge began to refer to Lyrical Ballads as “his Lyrical Ballads.” “As to our literary occupations,” Coleridge wrote, “they are still more distant than our residences. He is a great, a true Poet. I am only a kind of Metaphysician. He has even now sent off the last sheet of a second Volume of his Lyrical Ballads.”
Coleridge began to experience “writer’s block,” perhaps as a result of the rejection of “Christabel.” Holmes says, “Wordsworth had shown extraordinary insensitivity to the effect that this rejection would have on Coleridge’s powers and self-confidence.” Coleridge described his blockage thus: “He knew not what to do — something he felt, must be done — he rose, drew his writing-desk suddenly before him — sat down, took the pen — and found that he knew not what to do.”
Meanwhile, Wordsworth himself was experiencing an illness that seemed to be psycho-somatic. Holmes says that, when Coleridge arrived in the Lake District, “it was Wordsworth who most worried Coleridge, seeming rather depressed and withdrawn, troubled with pains in his side when he attempted to write, and weighed down by the amount of work to be done on the new edition.” Several months later, Dorothy wrote in her journal, “William and I were employed all the morning in writing an addition to the preface. William went to bed very ill after working after dinner.”
It isn’t easy to launch a career as a poet. It’s natural to have doubts about one’s own work, and about the work of one’s collaborator. In retrospect, it may have been a bad idea to put the poems of Wordsworth and Coleridge in the same volume; their styles were different.
Coleridge had a weak ego, Wordsworth had a stronger personality, so Wordsworth could impose his will, his vision, on Lyrical Ballads. Coleridge said of Wordsworth, “He is all man.”24G Perhaps we shouldn’t blame Wordsworth for imposing his will on Lyrical Ballads; perhaps he was concerned about his health problems; perhaps he felt that this was his only chance to gain recognition.
Coleridge’s low mood didn’t disappear quickly; in the years to come, he was often depressed. Sometimes he succeeded in transmuting his low mood into literature, as in the poem “Dejection: An Ode,” where he wrote of,
A grief without a pang, void, dark, and drear,
A stifled, drowsy, unimpassioned grief,
Which finds no natural outlet, no relief,
In word, or sigh, or tear....
Sometimes Coleridge took to the hills to shake off a low mood. He went on long hikes by himself, trying to dispel mental clouds with physical challenges. After ascending a peak called Carrock Fell, he wrote to Humphry Davy,
|I descended by the side of a Torrent, & passed or rather crawled (for I was forced to descend on all fours) by many a naked Waterfall, till fatigued & hungry (& with one finger almost broken, & which remains swelled to the size of two Fingers) I reached the narrow vale, & the single House nested in Ashes & Sycamores.24H|
But when winter came, hiking was more difficult. Holmes says, “Opium took its hold, [and] he began to have a recurrence of those terrible nightmares which had seized on him in childhood.” Finally Coleridge “feared the onset of sleep itself, a characteristic of opium addiction, also described at length by De Quincey.” Coleridge managed to transmute these nightmares into a poem called “The Pains of Sleep”:
Yester-night I prayed aloud
In anguish and in agony,
Up-starting from the fiendish crowd
Of shapes and thoughts that tortured me....
So two nights passed: the night’s dismay
Saddened and stunned the coming day.
Sleep, the wide blessing, seemed to me
Distemper’s worst calamity.
The third night, when my own loud scream
Had waked me from the fiendish dream,
O’ercome with sufferings strange and wild,
I wept as I had been a child....
Perhaps one reason why Coleridge and Wordsworth were close friends for so long is that they were deeply impressed with each other’s abilities. Coleridge appreciated Wordsworth’s greatness as a poet, Wordsworth appreciated Coleridge’s greatness as a philosopher and literary critic. After Coleridge published Biographia Literaria, Wordsworth altered his poems in response to Coleridge’s criticisms.24I
But Wordsworth was keenly aware of the weaknesses of Coleridge’s character, of Coleridge’s lack of will. Wordsworth wrote, “He has no voluntary power of mind whatsoever, nor is he capable of acting under any constraint of duty or moral obligation.” In one of his poems, Wordsworth seemed to refer to Coleridge:
But how can He expect that others should
Build for him, sow for him, and at his call
Love him, who for himself will take no heed at all?
These lines are from a poem called “Resolution and Independence.” Resolution and Independence — aren’t these the very traits that Coleridge lacked? McFarland argues that Wordsworth wrote “Resolution and Independence” in response to Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode,” as if Wordsworth were saying to Coleridge, “Don’t be dejected, pull yourself together.” Thus, disagreements between Coleridge and Wordsworth sometimes inspired them to write “counter-poems.” The Thesis drew forth The Antithesis.
Many scholarly articles are written in response to other articles; a Thesis calls forth an Antithesis. McFarland’s article, “The Symbiosis of Coleridge and Wordsworth,” is a response to Norman Fruman’s argument that Coleridge was dependent on Wordsworth, it wasn’t an equal partnership. McFarland counters, It was an equal partnership, a 2-way street, a symbiosis.
In August 1802, Coleridge took a 9-day hike alone, starting from his home at Keswick in the Lake District, going west to the sea at St Bees, then circling back to Keswick, climbing various peaks and fells, and admiring various waterfalls. No sooner had he returned home than Charles Lamb and his sister Mary knocked on his door, and spent three weeks as his guest. Of course, he had to show them his peaks and waterfalls. This was a revelation to Lamb, who later told Coleridge, “I shall remember your mountains to the last day I live. They haunt me perpetually.”24K
Coleridge wrote about his hikes in letters and notebooks. He also wrote poetry about his hikes, poetry that he submitted to the same newspaper for which he wrote political pieces. Holmes thinks that his letters/notes are more vivid and natural than his “landscape poetry.”24L
One of the poems he published in the fall of 1802 was called “Hymn before Sunrise, in the Vale of Chamonix.” In a prefatory note, he said he’d written the poem at Chamonix, though he’d never been there. The poem draws on a poem by Friederike Brun, a Danish woman who wrote in German. Coleridge doesn’t acknowledge Brun’s influence, even in letters that he wrote about the poem.
This is an early example of Coleridge’s tendency toward plagiarism, a tendency that later appeared in his prose as well as his poetry. Holmes ascribes Coleridge’s plagiarism to “self-doubts about his own poetic authority.”24M It seems that Coleridge had a weak ego and a weak super-ego. He could read German, and he seemed to feel that he could borrow from German-language books, and no one would know. His borrowing from Brun wasn’t exposed until after his death.
Coleridge’s weak ego and self-doubts prompted him to pretend to be more than he was, to plagiarize other writers, and to play a role in social situations. One acquaintance, Kitty Wedgwood, said of Coleridge, “an excessive goodness and sensibility is put too forward, which gives an appearance, at least of conceit, and excites suspicion that it is acting.”24N
Coleridge had a reputation as an outstanding talker and an outstanding writer, so he tried to live up to that reputation, he tried not to disappoint his “audience.” A writer named Richard Warner published Tour Through the Northern Counties, and spoke of meeting Coleridge — “the gigantic Intellect & sublime Genius of COLERIDGE.” Warner described Coleridge as “animated, enthusiastic, & accomplished.”24O Coleridge seemed to feel that he couldn’t “be himself,” be natural, and live up to such a reputation. When the show was over, and the audience had left, he had to face himself, with all his flaws, and he was sometimes acutely depressed.
“The stimulus of conversation,” Coleridge wrote, “suspends the terror that haunts my mind; but when I am alone, the horrors... almost overwhelm me.”24U Coleridge was at the mercy of “Life-stifling Fear, Soul-stifling Shame.”
When Coleridge traveled to Malta in 1804, health problems depressed his spirits, and made the voyage an ordeal. He went to Malta because he thought it would improve his health, but opium caused constipation, a problem that plagued Coleridge for years to come. He often vowed to give up opium, but the withdrawals were so difficult that he always went back to it. He probably had an “addictive personality,” he was probably addicted to alcohol and snuff, as well as opium.
One of the best Coleridge commentators, Walter Pater, says that Coleridge takes an upbeat attitude, and notices the beauty around him, despite the challenges he faced. Pater quotes from “A Tombless Epitaph,” a poem that Coleridge wrote around 1809:
Sickness, ’tis true,
Whole years of weary days, besieged him close,
Even to the gates and inlets of his life!
But it is true, no less, that strenuous, firm,
And with a natural gladness, he maintained
The citadel unconquered, and in Joy
Was strong to follow the delightful Muse.
Coleridge sailed to Malta on the Speedwell. Wordsworth wrote about Coleridge’s travels in The Prelude, his longest and most highly-regarded poem:
Far art thou wandered now in search of health
And milder breezes...
Speed thee well!
The Prelude is dedicated to Coleridge, and sometimes addresses him by name, or addresses him as “friend.”
Of rivers, fields,
And groves, I speak to thee, my friend....
Thou hast sought
The truth in solitude, and Thou art one,
The most intense of Nature’s worshippers
In many things my Brother, chiefly here
While worshipping nature, Wordsworth never forgot that the mind is as important as the mountain. When he writes about the Alps, Wordsworth says that the scene alone can’t enrich our lives:
In hollow exultation, dealing forth
Hyperboles of praise comparative;
Not rich one moment to be poor forever;
Not prostrate, overborne — as if the mind
Itself were nothing, a mean pensioner
On outward forms — did we in presence stand
Of that magnificent region.
Coleridge was an accomplished political writer, a respected and well-paid journalist. In Malta, he wrote reports for the British governor, reports on Britain’s Mediterranean strategy; the governor forwarded these reports to his superiors. Thus, Coleridge enjoyed a prestigious position, good pay, elegant accommodations, etc. He also won the heart of a young opera singer, but when she wanted to take the relationship further, he drew back. He spent sixteen months on Malta. He spent much time with naval officers, and collected many sea stories, some of which later appeared in The Friend and other works.
While he was on Malta, he took a side-trip to Sicily, and climbed Mount Etna. He also took walks in the Sicilian countryside, and passed through fields of opium poppies. Hemp/marijuana was also grown in Sicily; Holmes says, “the whole island was a paradise of narcotics.”24R
His youth and health gradually ebbed away as a result of his addiction. He confessed to his notebook, “No night without its guilt of opium and spirits.”24S When he returned to England, Dorothy Wordsworth wrote, “Never did I feel such a shock as at first sight of him.... He is utterly changed.... He has been so dismally irresolute in all things since his return to England.” By 1810, he was hardly leaving his room, though he was just 38. “He lies in bed,” wrote Dorothy, “always till after 12 o’clock, sometimes much later, and never walks out. Even the finest spring day does not tempt him to seek the fresh air.”24T
Coleridge finally left Malta in September 1805. Before returning to England, he spent several months in Italy. There he became friends with the German poet Tieck, and the American painter Washington Allston. Holmes says that Allston
|loved to stay up all night talking. A friend said Allston could never paint the reflections of dawn sunlight on water, because he had never seen a sunrise.... Allston and Coleridge were soon walking all over Rome together — to the Forum, the Castello San Angelo, the Borghese Gardens — talking and comparing notes.... Years later Allston would say that he owed more “intellectually” to Coleridge than to any other man in Italy. “He used to call Rome the silent city; but I never could think of it as such, while with him; for, meet him when or where I would, the fountain of his mind was never dry... its living streams seemed especially to flow for every classic ruin.... And when I recall some of our walks under the pines of the Villa Borghese, I am almost tempted to dream that I once listened to Plato, in the groves of the Academy.”24V|
One of the pleasures of studying Coleridge is that he uses language very well. Whether he’s writing a poem, a treatise, a letter, or a notebook-entry, his language is always superb, his metaphors always striking. However, Coleridge’s terminology can be difficult. He sometimes uses the term “reason” to mean “intuition” or “unconscious.” And I’m still not sure what he means by “imagination.” Sometimes he seems to use “imagination” to mean “appreciation of scenery,” appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of a scene, grasping how a poet or painter could use a certain scene.
Coleridge returned from his Mediterranean sojourn in August 1806. His old friend Humphry Davy was giving a series of lectures at the Royal Institution on Albemarle Street (not to be confused with the Royal Society; the Royal Institution was founded in 1799, the Royal Society in 1660). Davy’s lectures and chemical demonstrations were so popular that there were traffic jams on Albemarle Street, so it became the first one-way street in London (Davy’s assistant, Michael Faraday, later gave popular lectures/demonstrations at the Royal Institution).
Davy admired Coleridge as a poet and thinker, so he urged Coleridge to give a course of lectures at the Royal Institution. Coleridge was short of money, as usual, so he agreed. Coleridge began by reading a script, and reading long quotations, but after three or four lectures, he realized that he was more effective when he talked extempore, using only an outline; he was more effective when his words came “warm from the heart.” One person who heard Coleridge remembered years later that Coleridge arrived “unprepared,” as if he had left his lecture at home:
|A conscious importance gleamed in his eloquent eyes.... Every whisper (and there were some hundreds of ladies present) was hushed, and the poet began. I remember there was a stateliness in his language, and... I began to think, as Coleridge went on, that the lecture had been left at home on purpose; he was so eloquent — there was such a combination of wit and poetry in his similes.24W|
Shortly after Coleridge began lecturing, Wordsworth visited London. Wordsworth wanted to discuss his latest poetry with a publisher, and also with Coleridge. Wordsworth attended the third and fourth of Coleridge’s lectures; he said that the lectures gave “great satisfaction” to the audience. Wordsworth had the pleasure of hearing Coleridge quote his own lines about Daffodils.
After the fourth lecture, Wordsworth went to Coleridge’s apartment, and they spent the entire night discussing poetry and the imagination. Early the next morning, Wordsworth left London. In a letter, Wordsworth said that, after he left Coleridge’s apartment, he
|walked towards the City in a very thoughtful and melancholy state of mind; I had passed through Temple Bar and by St Dunstans, noticing nothing, and entirely occupied by my own thoughts, when looking up, I saw before me the avenue of Fleet Street, silent, empty, and pure white with a sprinkling of new fallen snow, not a cart or carriage to obstruct the view... and beyond and towering above it was the huge and majestic form of St Paul’s, solemnized by a thin veil of falling snow. I cannot say how much I was affected at this un-thought of sight, in such a place and what a blessing I felt there is in habits of exalted Imagination.24X|
Notice how Wordsworth uses the term “imagination” to mean “appreciation of scenery,” appreciation of the aesthetic qualities of a scene. I understand how important such an experience is for an artist — for all people. I’ve often written about such moments, and photographed such moments. What I don’t understand is why Coleridge and Wordsworth would use the term “imagination” for such experiences. In my view, these experiences are real, not imaginary.
When I read some of Coleridge’s literary criticism, his concept of imagination became clearer. Perhaps we should think of Coleridge’s imagination as “imaginative power,” or as “creativity.” At any rate, he says there are different kinds of imagination. One kind is, “The power by which one image or feeling is made to modify many others, and by a sort of fusion to force many into one.” As an example, Coleridge cites King Lear, “where the deep anguish of a father spreads the feeling of ingratitude and cruelty over the very elements of heaven.” This kind of imagination, this “fusion imagination,” “tends to produce that ultimate end of all human thought and human feeling, unity.” A Shakespeare play has various digressions and asides, but everything is fused into one theme. Coleridge says that nature is “the greatest of poets,” and when we “open our eyes upon an extended prospect,” we see “a one-ness.”
Another kind of imagination is “impressing the stamp of humanity, and of human feelings, on inanimate or mere natural objects.” Coleridge quotes an example from Venus and Adonis:
the gentle lark, weary of rest,
From his moist cabinet mounts up on high
Another example of “humanizing imagery” from the same poem:
Even as the sun, with purple-colored face,
Had ta’en his last leave of the weeping morn
A third kind of imagination, according to Coleridge, is carrying the eye of the reader beyond words, so he suddenly sees a scene. Coleridge praises Wordsworth for using the term “flashed,” i.e., flashed a scene before the reader’s eye. Nature flashed a vision of daffodils before Wordsworth, then Wordsworth recalled the scene with his “inward eye,” then he described it for the reader — flashed it before the reader’s inward eye. When Wordsworth was walking through London, nature flashed a vision of St Paul’s veiled by snow. When he described that vision in prose, he flashed it before the reader.
An example of “flashing imagination” can be found in Hemingway’s “Snows of Kilimanjaro.” The protagonist is in a tiny plane, piloted by “Old Compton”: “Compie turned his head and grinned and pointed and there, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro.”
The historian Goitein gives us another example of flashing imagination: “[When] Yehuda Halevi describes how, while rising from his sleep at midnight, he was overcome by the majestic beauty of the starlit sky, we believe with all our hearts that he has actually had that experience.” Likewise, we believe that Hemingway saw Kilimanjaro, and Wordsworth saw the daffodils, and saw St Paul’s. Is it possible to have flashing imagination without nature’s help? Can flashing imagination be purely imaginary?
So Coleridge describes three kinds of imagination: fusion imagination, humanizing imagination, and flashing imagination. These three kinds of imagination overlap, so perhaps it makes sense to use the term “imagination” for all of them. Perhaps the study of literature and painting helps us to appreciate nature’s art, appreciate the scenes that nature flashes before us. Perhaps Wordsworth could appreciate St Paul’s more than the average Englishman, since Wordsworth had cultivated “habits of exalted Imagination.”
Imagination creates unity, creates one-ness, what German scholars called Einbildungskraft.A13 St Paul’s fills Wordsworth’s mind with one image, Kilimanjaro fills Hemingway’s mind with one image, the starry sky fills Yehuda’s mind with one image.
Coleridge argues that organic life is also about unifying, making one. Life makes many into one — makes all your cells and organs into one life. The human body is like an orchestra with thousands of instruments, all following one conductor. So the faculty of imagination is much the same as the power of life, they both unify, they both bring many into one.
It’s possible that the meaning of the word “imagination” has evolved over time. We think of imaginary things as not real, but perhaps, in Coleridge’s time, it was common to think of imagination as a creative power that operated on real things. George Eliot said, “Here undoubtedly lies the chief poetic energy: in the force of imagination that pierces or exalts the solid fact, instead of floating among cloud-pictures.” Barfield uses this quote as an epigraph for What Coleridge Thought, showing how important imagination is in Coleridge’s thought. For Wordsworth, as for Hemingway and Yehuda, imagination ‘exalted the solid fact,’ and led to ecstasy, led to the ecstatic appreciation of beauty.
Coleridge’s fourth lecture, and his all-night talk with Wordsworth, was in early April, 1808. By July, his relationship with Wordsworth had taken a turn for the worse. Though his lectures were well-received, and had made him something of a celebrity, Coleridge felt lonely in his city apartment, his health was poor, and he brooded.
He was obsessed with Wordsworth’s sister-in-law, Sara Hutchinson, whom he often called “Asra,” perhaps to distinguish her from his wife, Sara Fricker Coleridge. Coleridge’s obsession with “Asra” lasted for years. In a letter written around June 1808, Coleridge accused Wordsworth of interfering with his relationship with Asra. Wordsworth was hurt and angry, destroyed Coleridge’s letter, then wrote an angry response, but didn’t mail it; perhaps his sister (Dorothy) prevailed on him not to mail it. At any rate, the friendship between Coleridge and Wordsworth was injured but not dead.
The episode shows that Coleridge wasn’t an easy person to deal with; he seemed unable to be happy by himself, and unable to be happy with his wife, so he was dependent on various friends, male and female. One might say that, at this time of his life, Coleridge had failed to achieve maturity and detachment, failed to achieve the “diamond body.”
In the summer of 1808, Coleridge traveled north and re-joined his family at Greta Hall. He enjoyed his children — Hartley, Derwent, and Sara — and they enjoyed him. His relations with his wife were somewhat more amicable than they were before. Nonetheless, he preferred to live apart from his wife, so he moved into the Wordsworths’ large house, Allan Bank.
In September 1808, Coleridge took a walking tour with Wordsworth and Asra along the River Duddon (in the Lake District). Coleridge worried that, when Asra looked at Wordsworth, she seemed happier, and when she was alone with him (Coleridge), she was restless, impatient to leave. Coleridge worried that, if Asra loved him at all, she did so out of pity, pity for his mental and physical travails.
Perhaps Asra inspired Coleridge’s remark on love:
|Love [is] always the abrupt creation of a moment, though years of Dawning may have preceded.... Between the brightest Hues of the Dawn and the first Rim of the Sun itself there is a chasm — all before were Differences of Degrees, passing & dissolving into each other, but this is a difference of Kind — a chasm of Kind in a continuity of Time. And as no man who has never watched for the rise of the Sun, could understand what I mean, so can no man who has not been in Love, understand what Love is.A7|
Always ready with a metaphor from science, Coleridge “insisted that love was a primary element, in the chemical sense, and not a compound of other emotions like friendship or sexual attraction.”
Coleridge’s 1808 lectures were generally well-received, and enhanced his reputation. To capitalize on this reputation, he decided to write his own periodical, to be called The Friend. The first issue was printed in May 1809.
The Friend was a major undertaking, and not just because he had to write it. He had so much trouble finding a printer that he thought about starting his own printing operation. Even obtaining paper was a challenge; the government required periodicals to be printed on special stamped paper.
Coleridge managed to attract about 500 subscribers, including 28 members of Parliament, and eminent writers like Walter Scott and Walter Savage Landor. But even with 500 subscribers, The Friend wasn’t profitable; Holmes speaks of, “a grave financial loss.” Friends like Wordsworth thought Coleridge was incapable of carrying out such a project.
But somehow Coleridge rose to the occasion, and “astonished [his] severest critics.” He managed to produce 28 issues, or 140,000 words, over a period of 10 months. Dorothy Wordsworth was astonished at how fast Coleridge could write, when he put his mind to it:
|There have been weeks and weeks when he has not composed a line. The fact is that he either does a great deal or nothing at all; and that he composes with a rapidity truly astonishing... He has written a whole Friend more than once in two days. They are never re-transcribed, and he generally has dictated to Miss Hutchinson [i.e., Sara Hutchinson, “Asra”], who takes the words down from his mouth.24Z|
When The Friend was over, Coleridge could revise it, and print it in book form. It became one of his major works — he sometimes called it his chief work — and its influence was felt even by American writers like Poe and Emerson. All things considered, The Friend was a successful project, and proved his doubters wrong.
The Friend forced Coleridge to produce, and made him aware of what he had within him; as Southey put it, “there is so much got out of him which would never otherwise have come out.”A1 Southey appreciated the depth and range of Coleridge’s knowledge; he said that Coleridge was producing “an accumulation of knowledge equal to that of any man living and a body of sound philosophy superior to what any man either of this or any former age has possessed — all of which will perish with him.” Southey would be surprised to know that it didn’t perish with him, that every poem, every letter, every notebook-entry that Coleridge wrote has been pored over by generations of critics.
Just as The Friend was ending after ten months, Asra left. She moved out of Allan Bank (the Wordsworth home), and went to live with her brother in Wales. Coleridge was devastated. And when she didn’t write to him, he was doubly devastated. He wrote in his notebook,
I have experienced
The worst, the World can wreak on me; the worst
That can make Life indifferent...
I have beheld the whole of all, wherein
My Heart had any interest in this Life,
To be disrent and torn from off my Hopes,
That nothing now is left. Why then live on?24Y
He didn’t feel comfortable at Allan Bank, so he moved to Greta Hall, where his wife and children were. Southey also lived at Greta Hall, with his wife and children; Southey’s wife and Coleridge’s wife were sisters.
Coleridge spent five months at Greta Hall, then in October 1810, he was invited to London by a wealthy lawyer, Basil Montagu. Coleridge may have felt that he could resume his journalism in London. So he traveled to London with Montagu and his wife, riding in Montagu’s fancy carriage, but the carriage didn’t go to Montagu’s upscale address. It stopped in an ordinary neighborhood, where Montagu was intending to deposit Coleridge.
As Montagu was passing through the Lake District, Wordsworth had warned him that Coleridge was an unbearable guest, chiefly because of his drugs and alcohol. Montagu told Coleridge what he had heard from Wordsworth. Coleridge was devastated at what seemed like a betrayal by his close friend. This affair was the origin of the estrangement between Coleridge and Wordsworth. Instead of living in Montagu’s elegant home, he found himself in a humble hotel, abandoned by Asra, betrayed by Wordsworth, his whole life apparently in tatters.
But he still had his notebook, so he took stock of his situation. He began by expressing his love for Asra — expressing it with “religious intensity.” Then he declared his Christian faith, using the doctrine of Original Sin to explain his vices. “I am a fallen creature... capable of moral evil, but not of myself capable of moral good.”A2
Then he turned to his “emotional predicament.” He wrote, “‘One human Being, entirely loving me (this, of course must have been a Woman)’ would have satisfied ‘all my Hopes. The events of last year, and emphatically of the last month, have now forced me to perceive — No one on earth has ever LOVED me.’”
Holmes says, “the very fact that he could examine and describe his feelings and his beliefs held out some possibility of a future.” His notebook was a valuable outlet. As Coleridge put it, “Dear Book! now my only Confidant, my only faithful Friend.”
Then he was rescued by John Morgan, a wealthy friend — an older friend, and a closer friend, than Basil Montagu. Morgan brought Coleridge to his house on the outskirts of London, where Coleridge remained for eighteen months, looked after by Morgan, his wife, and his wife’s sister.
While staying with the Morgans, he re-connected with his old London friends, like the writer Charles Lamb. Lamb noted that Coleridge was drinking as much as ever: “He is going to turn sober, but his Clock has not struck yet, meantime he pours down goblet after goblet, the 2d to see where the 1st is gone, the 3d to see no harm happens to the second, a fourth to say there’s another coming, and a 5th to say he’s not sure he’s the last.”A3
A new acquaintance, Henry Crabb Robinson, kept a diary in which he wrote about the leading literary people of the time. After meeting Coleridge, Robinson wrote, “He kept me on the stretch of attention and admiration from half-past three till twelve o’clock. On politics, metaphysics and poetry... Kant and Shakespeare, he was astonishingly eloquent.” Holmes writes, “Robinson was struck by Coleridge’s fantastic range of intellectual reference.... He was also surprised by the originality of his views.”
Robinson described a conversation with Lamb: “We spoke of Wordsworth and Coleridge. Lamb, to my surprise, asserted Coleridge to be the greater man. He preferred [Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner] to anything Wordsworth had written. Wordsworth, he thought, is narrow and confined in his views compared with him.”A4
Since Coleridge had a gift for talking, and enjoyed talking, city life seemed to suit him better than country life. In the country, there were fewer people to talk to; in the country, his audience had already heard his theories and his stories, and didn’t want to hear them again. Doubtless Coleridge could feel the admiration of people like Robinson, Lamb, and Godwin. His self-esteem rose. Holmes says he was “unbending in the unaccustomed light and warmth.” In his notebook, Coleridge wrote,
|Man of genius places things in a new light... adds something, namely, Lights & Relations. Who has not seen a Rose, or a sprig of Jasmine, of Myrtle? But behold these same flowers in a posy or flowerpot, painted by a man of genius, or assorted by the hand of a woman of fine Taste & instinctive sense of Beauty.A5|
But not everyone was in Coleridge’s Fan Club. Some radical editors, like Leigh Hunt, were annoyed with Coleridge for supporting the conservative government. Holmes writes,
|[Coleridge] was now stepping back onto the public stage as a figure of controversy. Over the next two years he was to become a recognized “lion” of Regency London, an object of unceasing curiosity, his doings and sayings widely recorded in diaries, memoirs, letters and newspaper articles. Adrift in his private life, he proved surprisingly resilient and stubborn in this public role, facing down criticism and personal hostility that would have destroyed many men. At some level controversy sustained him.A6|
In early 1811, Coleridge dove back into journalism. “Over the next five months,” Holmes writes, “Coleridge produced ninety-one articles.” British politics were polarized: conservative Tories were in power, reform-minded radicals out of power. Meanwhile, the long war against France was still in progress.
Coleridge took a moderate, centrist position (as he had during his prior stint as a journalist, about ten years ago, and as he had in the political essays that he wrote for The Friend). Coleridge “questioned the popular cry of universal government corruption.” Coleridge conceded that progress and reform were important, but he argued that The Left should compare the current situation of the country, not to some ideal, but to “that of former times at home, and of other countries at the present day.” Coleridge scolded The Left for “pandering to the ‘mob.’” Finally, he struck a patriotic note, suitable for wartime.A8
Holmes says that Coleridge’s journalism damaged his reputation. Dorothy Wordsworth lamented the “waste and prostitution of his fine genius.” William Hazlitt thought that Coleridge had betrayed the radical cause, which he had once espoused. Holmes says that Coleridge needed to be busy, needed “to tie himself to deadlines, to commute to an office.”
In November 1811, Coleridge began a series of lectures on Shakespeare, Milton, and poetry in general. He lectured twice-weekly until January 1812. The lectures were well-attended and well-received. “The gathering impact of the lectures was formidable,” Holmes writes, “and news of the series began to spread in various influential quarters.”A9 Byron heard the buzz about the lectures, and came to a couple. Coleridge had a superb command of English, whether speaking from notes or extemporaneously; he was a natural lecturer.
Coleridge said that “The mature poet remained in some sense ‘unsubdued, unshackled by custom.’ He combined ‘the wonder of a child’ with the ‘inquisitive powers of his manhood.’” Poetry comes from excitement, “passion united with order.”A10
One of the highlights of Coleridge’s lectures was the discussion of Hamlet. Coleridge said that the protagonist suffered from “paralysis of the will” and “aversion to action,” not because he was cowardly or sluggish, but rather because he was introverted, he was one of those who have “a world within themselves.” Was Coleridge thinking of himself as well as Hamlet? “To the end of his life,” Holmes writes, “Coleridge would mildly claim, ‘I have a smack of Hamlet myself, if I may say so.’”
Coleridge was rather critical of Hamlet: “Hamlet has a natural inclination to devious behavior.... His far-fetched scruples are often mere pretexts to cover his want of resolution.... He has no compassion for others. He takes malicious joy in his schemes.” In earlier issues, we found similar criticisms of Hamlet in D. H. Lawrence and G. Wilson Knight.
Coleridge compared Milton’s remarks on the creation of the universe with those of Erasmus Darwin. Darwin anticipated the Big Bang Theory, he
|imagined the creation of the universe to have taken place in a moment, by the explosion of a mass of matter in the womb or center of space. In one and the same instant of time, suns and planets shot into Systems in every direction.|
Coleridge couldn’t accept this theory, he couldn’t connect “all the beauty and harmony of nature to something like the bursting of a barrel of gunpowder.”
Coleridge borrowed from the German critic Schlegel, without acknowledging Schlegel by name (Schlegel’s Lectures on Shakespeare had just appeared). Holmes says that plagiarism was “the specter that would haunt the rest of his career.”
The lecture series “ended with éclat,” wrote Henry Crabb Robinson. “The room was crowded; and the lecture had several passages more than brilliant; they were luminous. And the light gave conscious pleasure to every person who knew that he could... see the glory.”A11
In Paradise Lost, Milton tried to set forth the structure of the universe — the physical structure, the moral structure, the religious structure. Wordsworth didn’t seem to have these cosmic ambitions. Wordsworth attempted a big epic, The Prelude, but his epic doesn’t try to capture the universe, it focuses on his own mind, his own experiences. Wordsworth finds in nature
A never-failing principle of joy,
And purest passion
Wordsworth focuses on his own positive thoughts and high goals. He writes thus of human destiny:
With hope it is, hope that can never die,
Effort, and expectation, and desire,
And something evermore about to be.
The mind beneath such banners militant
Thinks not of spoils or trophies, nor of aught
That may attest its prowess, blest in thoughts
That are their own perfection and reward
When Wordsworth and Coleridge became estranged in 1810, Henry Crabb Robinson tried to make peace between them, tried to draft a “peace treaty.” Robinson was a lawyer, and a friend of Coleridge. Robinson didn’t know Wordsworth, but regarded him as “the greatest man now living in this Country.”A12
Robinson had a long conversation with Wordsworth, and later described the conversation as “highly interesting and exhibited Wordsworth in a most honorable light. His integrity, his purity, his delicacy are alike eminent. How preferable is the coolness of such a man to the heat of Coleridge.”
Both Wordsworth and Coleridge agreed to the “peace treaty,” but the old warmth between them was gone. Wordsworth had moved on, he didn’t want to get involved in Coleridge’s passionate love, passionate penitence, hopeless addiction, etc. Been there, done that.
But Wordsworth did attend a new series of lectures by Coleridge, a series that took place in May and June of 1812. Wordsworth’s attendance at these lectures was a public expression of loyalty to his old friend.
Wordsworth’s visit to London in 1812 may have been the high point of his public life. He attended “a number of smart literary salons.... For the first time in his life he was lionized, and felt clearly the position he had established.” Robinson said, “Everybody was anxious to get near him.”
But Wordsworth had no regular income, and he could barely support his large family. His poetry didn’t sell briskly, as the poetry of Walter Scott and Lord Byron did. So he sought, and eventually obtained, a place in the bureaucracy, a place as stamp distributor. (Southey was also on the government payroll. Southey, Wordsworth, and Coleridge were all criticized by The Left as sell-outs.)
While Wordsworth was in London, he missed his wife, Mary Hutchinson Wordsworth, and wrote her a series of love letters. Meanwhile, Coleridge was still in love with Mary’s sister, Sara or “Asra,” but he could feel that his love was slowly cooling. Asra lived with the Wordsworth family, and sided with Wordsworth in his quarrel with Coleridge; there was little or no contact between Coleridge and Asra.
The high point of Wordsworth’s public life coincided with the most painful chapter of his private life: two of his children died in 1812. “He grew thin,” Holmes writes, “and Dorothy thought he looked ten years older. He could not bear the thought of remaining at the Grasmere Parsonage, so near the graveyard with its little tombs. He busied himself with finding a new house, two miles away at Rydal Mount, where they moved in May 1813.”
Meanwhile, Coleridge seemed to be flourishing. His play Osorio (also known as Remorse) was staged at a DruryLane theater, and became a hit. Coleridge’s profits were substantial. The play blended poetry, song, and music. One person who witnessed a performance said, “A thrilling sensation appeared to pervade the great mass of congregated humanity... and at the conclusion the applause was loud and protracted.” Holmes writes, “Here was an attempt to embody the ‘witchery’ of Coleridge’s poetry in a form of ritualized, orchestrated psycho-drama intended to hold a mass audience spellbound.”A14 Even Coleridge’s old foe Leigh Hunt was impressed; Hunt called Osorio “the only tragedy touched with real poetry for the last fifty years.” Holmes says that Osorio breathed new life into the London theater world.
Meanwhile, the British economy was stumbling, weighed down by the long war with Napoleon, and by taxes designed to finance the war. The Wedgwood family suffered losses, and reduced Coleridge’s annuity by 50% (they had been giving Coleridge £150/year for the last fifteen years). The Morgan family, with whom Coleridge was living, suffered losses, too, and John Morgan fled to Ireland to escape creditors.
Coleridge decided to help the Morgans in their hour of need. He visited John Morgan’s Unitarian friends in Bristol, and solicited funds for the Morgans. He also lectured in Bristol, to raise money for the Morgans. He began with lectures on Hamlet and Macbeth; by this time, he had done so much lecturing that he could speak without notes. The Bristol audience was captivated, and the lectures drew large crowds. Coleridge’s audiences preferred to hear him speak from his own mind, rather than read from a text. Coleridge’s fund-raising efforts were successful, John Morgan’s creditors were satisfied, and John came back from Ireland.
Before John returned, however, Coleridge rented humble lodgings for the Morgan women (John’s wife and her sister), and lived with them. The arrangement ended quickly, perhaps due to some sort of quarrel, or some sort of misbehavior on Coleridge’s part. Now Coleridge was alone, in deep despond, thinking of suicide. Holmes writes,
|Lying on his sweat-soaked bed in the Grey Hound Inn, Bath, as homeless now as he had ever been in his life, a man with a bag of old clothes and some borrowed books, addicted to opium, incapable of work, clutching a tortoiseshell snuffbox as the only proof that he had ever achieved anything, Coleridge looked into his own dark night of the soul.A15|
And to think that, just a few months ago, he had been the toast of London — a famous dramatist, poet, philosopher, and lecturer! Now he doubted the universe. Life seemed meaningless, man a mere accident, all our restless activity signified nothing. Now he wrote what Holmes calls “perhaps the darkest of all Coleridge’s poems,” a poem called “Human Life: On the Denial of Immortality.”
O Man! Thou vessel purposeless, unmeant,
Yet drone-hive strange of phantom purposes!
It was December 1813. Coleridge was 41.
Then another wealthy friend, Josiah Wade of Bristol, gave Coleridge a room in his house. Coleridge spent nine months with Wade. Coleridge wrote numerous confessions to his friends (confessions of addiction, etc.), and these confessions may have been an important step in his resurrection.
Holmes says that these confessions have a strong “religious dimension,” and emphasize “the corrupted human will... which is so prominent in all his later writing.” Coleridge had a “renewed belief in the Trinity and the healing powers of Christ.” He said that the “Christian doctrine of the resurrection [was] an exhilarating belief.”
Coleridge was under the care of a doctor, who tried to regulate and reduce his intake of opium. His mental and physical condition slowly improved. He told Charles Lamb that he was “crucified, dead, and buried, descended into Hell, and am now, I humbly trust, rising again, though slowly and gradually.”
In 1814, Napoleon was exiled to Elba, and Bristol celebrated with bonfires and window-decorations. Coleridge made a decoration that showed Napoleon chained to a rock. “The rhyming motto he attached,” Holmes writes, “was curiously prophetic of Napoleon’s escape from Elba, and the Hundred Days leading to Waterloo the following June. ‘Britons, rejoice! and yet be wary too! The Chain may break, the Clipt Wing sprout anew.’”
Below is a painting of Coleridge made at this time by his old friend Washington Allston.
Allston said of the painting,
|It is not Coleridge in his highest mood, the poetic state, when the divine afflatus of the poet possessed him. When in that state, no face that I ever saw was like his; it seemed almost spirit made visible without the shadow of the physical upon it. Could I then have fixed it upon canvas! but it was beyond the reach of my art.|
After nine months in Wade’s house, Coleridge re-joined the Morgans, who were living in a small house in the country, near Bath. Perhaps Coleridge wanted female company, perhaps he wanted rural surroundings. He wrote,
|I am now joint-tenant with Mr Morgan of a sweet little cottage.... I breakfast every morning before nine, work till one, and walk or read till 3, thence till Tea time, chat or read some lounge-book, or correct what I have written, from 6 to 8, work again, from 8 to Bed time play whist, or the little mock-billiard, called Bagatelle, and then sup and go to bed.|
He was catching-up on current affairs by reading periodicals, and he was hoping to write for a newspaper to earn money. But he also had higher goals:
|His Notebooks and letters suggest a return to intense philosophical reading — Spinoza, Fichte, Schelling — and the problem of reconciling his renewed Christian faith with German idealism. This was his “most important Work,” for which he kept his morning hours “sacred.”A16|
He was planning a great philosophical work, Opus Maximum, “a philosophical argument advancing from the secular to the sacred.” He sometimes titled the work “Christianity the one true Philosophy.” Opus Maximum was never completed (though it does form one volume in Coleridge’s Collected Works).
He began writing a prefatory essay for Opus Maximum. This essay was a history of his intellectual life; it was eventually published, and became one of his chief works, Biographia Literaria. So the great work was never completed, but the preface became an important work, just as Wordsworth’s epic The Recluse was never completed, but the preface or Prelude was completed, and became Wordsworth’s chief work. I think Coleridge and Wordsworth deserve credit for attempting ambitious works, though they may have “bit off more than they could chew.” They strove to capture The Whole in their writings, they didn’t aim to entertain readers and sell books.
It’s unfortunate that Coleridge never met Goethe, and had only a cursory knowledge of Goethe’s scientific writings. Like Coleridge, Goethe was a leading thinker as well as a leading poet. Coleridge and Goethe would have had much to talk about, and Coleridge could speak German quite well.
When Coleridge was a young man, traveling in Germany, learning the German language, and studying German literature, Goethe was in his prime, about 50 years old, but Goethe wasn’t well-known in England. Coleridge was more interested in Lessing, who had already died, than in Goethe. Coleridge spent much time gathering materials, and transcribing materials, for a book about Lessing, a book he never completed.
Coleridge was also interested in Schiller, who was younger than Goethe. Schiller’s play The Robbers, which he wrote as a teenager, was well-known, and some of his other plays were also known to English intellectuals like Coleridge. Schiller was an established playwright, while Goethe was known only for his novella The Sorrows of Young Werther.
But when Coleridge reached middle age, Schiller had died, and Goethe’s reputation had continued to rise, surpassing the reputations of Lessing and Schiller. In 1817, Coleridge published Biographia Literaria, using a passage from Goethe as an epigraph. In this passage, Goethe describes his reasons for starting a new magazine, The Propylaea:
|However little he may be fitted to teach others, he wishes to share his thoughts with those whom he feels congenial, but who are scattered far and wide in the world. By this means he wishes to re-establish his relation with his old friends, to continue it with new ones, and to gain in the younger generation still others for the remainder of his life. He wishes to spare youth the circuitous paths upon which he himself went astray.24Q|
Perhaps Coleridge felt that his own purposes in writing Biographia Literaria were similar to Goethe’s purposes. The idea of writing-and-reading as a form of friendship is one that I discussed in my book of aphorisms.
In the preface to my Realms of Gold, I said that I was making a map of the literary world; I said that I myself had been without a map, so I knew the value of a map. As Goethe puts it, “He wishes to spare youth the circuitous paths upon which he himself went astray.”
More than any other writer, Goethe insists that writing-and-reading is a relationship between people. Goethe said, “personality is everything in art and poetry.” Goethe “only rarely discusses a specific work and its literary characteristics; instead, his interest in the writer’s personality nearly always supersedes textual analysis or any explicit discussion of aesthetic qualities.” Tolstoy took the same approach as Goethe, Tolstoy was “not very fond of talking about literature, but he was vitally interested in the personality of an author.”
Goethe noticed that critics often overlook personality. In our time, critics argue that literature should be impersonal, and many critics pride themselves on ignoring the author’s biography. Goethe would be more interested in Holmes’ biography of Coleridge than in Coleridge’s poetry. And I’m sure Goethe would have enjoyed meeting Coleridge.
Goethe’s close association with Schiller could be compared to Coleridge’s association with Wordsworth. Goethe said, “It [was] fortunate for me... that I had Schiller; for, different as our natures were, our tendencies were still towards one point, which made our connection so intimate that one really could not live without the other.”24P
Coleridge is a good example of an intellectual with a weak ego. In an earlier issue, I said that one of the chief characteristics of the intellectual is a weak ego, and I cited Proust and Fitzgerald as examples. Perhaps it was Coleridge’s weak ego that made his personal life messy, and his thinking profound. Perhaps it was his weak ego that made him likable to his contemporaries and to posterity.
One of Coleridge’s friends was a businessman named Tom Poole. When Poole first met Coleridge in 1794, Poole thought he had “splendid abilities,” and Poole said, “He speaks with much elegance and energy, and with uncommon facility.” Poole “saw at once his mixture of genius and impracticality, someone struggling with themselves, a ‘shining scholar’ bursting with ideas but almost dangerously adrift and confused in his personal life. [Poole] also sensed immediately the undercurrent of guilt.”25 The word “guilt” reminds one of Coleridge’s carousing at Cambridge, and his remorse afterwards. It also reminds one of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, who slays the Albatross, and feels remorse afterwards.
Henry James wrote a story about Coleridge called “The Coxon Fund.” James calls the Coleridge character “Frank Saltram.” James says of Saltram/Coleridge, “He doesn’t seem to have much force of character.” (Fitzgerald would call this a lack of “self-sufficiency.”) James also says he has a “want of dignity.” “He wasn’t a man of monumental bronze,” James writes. “He was like a jelly without a mold, he had to be embanked.”
This process of “embankment” took the form of practical help (money, housing, food), and also intellectual support — leaning on another writer, worshipping another writer, quoting another writer, even plagiarizing another writer. Coleridge wrote, “My nature requires another Nature for its support, and reposes only in another from the necessary Indigence of its Being.”25B
Coleridge couldn’t manage his affairs, so he was dependent on the generosity of others. But James notes that Saltram/Coleridge didn’t calculate, he was naive, ingenuous. “He took whatever came, but he never plotted for it.... He had a system of the universe, but he had no system of sponging.”26
Coleridge seemed to have an unusually weak ego, even when compared to other writers. It was as if he could receive the “radio waves” of the universe, the signals from the nature of things, because he wasn’t surrounded by the carapace, the “ego shell,” that surrounds most people. He was like a clam without a shell, exposed to the world, able to understand the world on a deep level, but unable to survive without constant help. As Tom Poole said, Coleridge lacked “those inferior abilities which are necessary to the rational discharge of the common duties of life.”27
“The Coxon Fund” is about a fund or endowment that has been created to help an impoverished genius, but first a deserving person must be found. The story deals with the question, Is Saltram/Coleridge deserving of the money?
The story draws you in, holds your interest, though the prose is often obscure. One might say that James is good company — for the reader and for actual companions (one website says, “he was famous for dining out almost every night of the week”). James included “The Coxon Fund” in the New York Edition of his work (the best indication of merit for a James work). James wrote a preface to “The Coxon Fund” for the New York Edition, but I don’t think this preface throws much light on the story, and I didn’t find any other critical essays on the story. In his preface, James says that Saltram isn’t Coleridge, but he seems like Coleridge to me.
[Spoiler Warning: Skip the rest of this section, if you’re thinking of reading the story.]
At the end of “The Coxon Fund,” the money (or rather, the interest on the money) is given to Saltram/Coleridge, and he promptly loses whatever drive he had, and stops working altogether. In an earlier issue, I discussed how patronage sometimes has a harmful effect.
The female protagonist of “The Coxon Fund,” Ruth Anvoy, reminds one of other James women — beautiful, spirited, high-minded. Like other James characters, Ruth comes close to marriage, but doesn’t actually marry.
Coleridge deserves a place among philosophers since he gave us the best description of philosophical study:
Piercing the long-neglected holy cave,
The haunt obscure of old Philosophy,
He bade with lifted torch its starry walls
Sparkle, as erst they sparkled to the flame
Of odorous lamps tended by saint and sage.
Coleridge was interested in philosophy from a young age. “Even before my fifteenth year,” Coleridge wrote, “I had bewildered myself in metaphysical, and theological controversy. Nothing else pleased me.”28 One scholar said, “He was a metaphysician long before he studied the German philosophers.”29 Coleridge named his first child, not after a poet, but after a philosopher, David Hartley. He named his second child “Berkeley,” probably after the philosopher George Berkeley.
Many of Coleridge’s writings, such as The Friend and Biographia Literaria, deal with philosophical topics, at least in part. Shortly before his death, Coleridge published On the Constitution of the Church and State. In this book, he introduces the term “clerisy,” meaning the teachers, clergymen, and intellectuals who maintain civilization. Coleridge describes the clerisy as a “national church” that includes “all the so-called liberal arts and sciences, the possession and application of which constitute the civilization of a country.”
The purpose of the clerisy is
|to form and train up the people of the country to obedient, free, useful, organizable subjects, citizens, and patriots, living to the benefit of the state, and prepared to die for its defense. The proper object and end of the National Church is civilization with freedom; and the duty of its ministers [is] the communication of that degree and kind of knowledge to all, the possession of which is necessary for all in order to their civility.|
Both teacher and pastor find their purpose “in producing and re-producing, in preserving, continuing, and perfecting, the necessary sources and conditions of national civilization; this being itself an indispensable condition of national safety, power, and welfare.” Is this also the philosopher’s purpose? Isn’t this what Confucius did for Chinese civilization, and what Maimonides did for Jewish civilization? Much of my work is an attempt to preserve, organize, and transmit Western civilization, especially literature. (I also try to find elements of non-Western culture, such as Japanese poetry and Chinese painting, that can enrich the Western tradition, and perhaps create a global civilization.)
Coleridge is respectful of religion. He takes a broad view of religion, and doesn’t argue about the merits of particular denominations. He likes the idea of an established church that owns land and receives funding, provided that the church serves the chief goal, “civilization with freedom.” He says that “Religion [is] and ever has been the center of gravity in a realm, to which all other things must and will accommodate themselves.”
But Coleridge doesn’t overlook philosophy; he thinks that philosophy guides religion. “The existence of a true philosophy,” he writes, “or the power and habit of contemplating particulars in the unity [of] the idea — this in the rulers and teachers of a nation is indispensable to a sound state of religion in all classes.” Coleridge assumes that the philosophers really believe in the prevailing religion. He doesn’t ask the question that Mill asked thirty or forty years later: What happens when the philosophers and leaders can’t believe the religion? Isn’t it then necessary to develop a new religion?
Traditionally, theology had a preeminent place in Western learning, and Coleridge thinks that this is fitting and proper:
|The science of theology was the root and the trunk of the knowledges that civilized man, because it gave unity and the circulating sap of life to all other sciences, by virtue of which alone they could be contemplated as forming, collectively, the living tree of knowledge. It had the precedency because, under the name theology, were comprised all the main aids, instruments, and materials of national education....
And lastly, because to divinity belong those fundamental truths, which are the common ground-work of our civil and our religious duties, not less indispensable to a right view of our temporal concerns, than to a rational faith respecting our immortal well-being. (Not without celestial observations can even terrestrial charts be accurately constructed.)
Coleridge’s approach to religion was conservative. Emerson visited Coleridge at Highgate when Emerson was 30, and Coleridge was in the last year of his life. Emerson described Coleridge as a “short, thick old man, with bright blue eyes.... He took snuff freely.”30 The conversation turned to William Ellery Channing, the famous Unitarian minister from New England; Channing had visited Coleridge ten years earlier. Coleridge “burst into a declamation on the folly and ignorance of Unitarianism.... He (Coleridge) knew all about Unitarianism perfectly well, because he had once been a Unitarian, and knew what quackery it was.” (As a young man, Coleridge had been something of a radical in both politics and religion.)
Emerson was somewhat disappointed by his meeting with Coleridge. Coleridge delivered monologues, recited his poetry, etc. But he had little interest in Emerson, he didn’t draw Emerson out, it wasn’t a conversation. “He was old and preoccupied,” Emerson wrote, “and could not bend to a new companion and think with him.”
Clearly Coleridge was opposed to innovations in Christianity, such as Unitarianism. Coleridge saw little merit in English Radicals like Bentham, and he saw little merit in the French philosophes. Though Coleridge was born just 16 years before Schopenhauer, Coleridge wasn’t ready to make a clean break with traditional religion, such as Schopenhauer made.
But Coleridge was a deep thinker, and he would have been interested in Schopenhauer’s theory of will. Likewise, Schopenhauer would have been interested in Coleridge’s speculations on the nature of matter, etc. One wonders if Schopenhauer was familiar with Coleridge’s work. Coleridge died before Schopenhauer became known, so Coleridge couldn’t have heard of Schopenhauer, but Schopenhauer had probably heard of Coleridge.
A few weeks after Emerson called on Coleridge, he called on Wordsworth at his home in the Lake District. Wordsworth and Coleridge were contemporaries and old friends, but they had drifted apart (Wordsworth was two years older than Coleridge).
Wordsworth told Emerson that “he had always wished Coleridge would write more to be understood.” Doubtless many readers of Coleridge’s prose have had the same wish. Coleridge could say that, given the depth and obscurity of his subjects, perfect clarity was impossible. But Coleridge didn’t try hard enough to be clear, he didn’t try as hard as Schopenhauer to be clear. Coleridge seemed to think that a stilted, formal language was appropriate for serious philosophy. On the other hand, Schopenhauer believed that direct, simple language is best for any sort of writing or speaking.30B
Emerson had a pleasant visit with Wordsworth; it was a conversation rather than a monologue. They discussed literature. Emerson wrote, “Lucretius he esteems a far higher poet than Vergil: not in his system, which is nothing, but in his power of illustration.”31 Wordsworth had just returned from a visit to the west coast of Scotland. He recited to Emerson “with great animation” several poems he had composed about the places he’d seen. Then he walked with Emerson toward Emerson’s inn, before taking his leave “with great kindness.”
Emerson summarized his visit with Wordsworth thus:
|Wordsworth honored himself by his simple adherence to truth, and was very willing not to shine; but he surprised by the hard limits of his thought. To judge from a single conversation, he made the impression of a narrow and very English mind. [He had a] general tameness and conformity. Off his own beat, his opinions were of no value.|
Coleridge was a deeper thinker than Wordsworth — more wide-ranging, more learned, more original. No one would ever say that Coleridge had a narrow mind.
In religion, Wordsworth was more Zennish, Coleridge more orthodox. Coleridge wanted to find God in nature, or at least he respected those who found God in nature. Coleridge said that Wordsworth was “at least a semi-atheist.”32 Wordsworth didn’t try to find God in nature, he appreciated nature for itself — the sights and sounds of the world around him. Coleridge said that Wordsworth wanted “always to look at the superficies of objects for the purpose of taking delight in their beauty, and sympathy with their real or imagined life.”33 On the other hand, Coleridge admitted “I think too much for a poet.”34
Coleridge wasn’t a fan of Wordsworth’s Zen, he complained that Wordsworth’s approach was “deleterious to the health and manhood of intellect.” These differences, Coleridge wrote, led to a “most unpleasant dispute” with Wordsworth; Coleridge complained that Wordsworth had spoken “so irreverently... of the Divine Wisdom.” This dispute took place was Coleridge was about 30.35
R. H. Blyth wrote Zen in English Literature. Blyth is a fan of Wordsworth’s Zen; indeed, he devotes an entire chapter to Wordsworth. On the other hand, Blyth takes a dim view of Coleridge. He says Coleridge is
|on the black list, partly for insincere imitation of Wordsworth, partly for his own native lack of religion and poetry. [Coleridge is] unable to free himself from the cruder interpretations of the Christian dogma.... Coleridge is so sickening, in poetry so vulgar, in religion so sanctimonious, that I cannot bear to give any more extracts.36|
In “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Coleridge wrote,
He prayeth best who loveth best
The things both great and small,
For the good God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.
Blyth calls this “milk and water, wishy-washy,” not “a real religious poem.”37 Blyth may be Coleridge’s toughest critic.
Blyth’s criticisms are penetrating, but Coleridge’s poetry may have virtues that Blyth doesn’t appreciate. Blyth thinks poets should have a Zennish appreciation of the Here and Now. But perhaps poets should stir up the ancient archetypes, too. Later we’ll look at Maud Bodkin’s interpretation of Coleridge’s poetry; her interpretation is Jungian, and more positive than Blyth’s.
Whatever we think of Coleridge’s poetry, Coleridge was a great literary critic and a great philosopher. T. S. Eliot said that Coleridge was “perhaps the greatest of English critics, and in a sense the last.”38 I’m struck at how Coleridge-the-philosopher anticipates my theory of life- and death-instincts. John Stuart Mill was impressed by other aspects of Coleridge’s philosophical writings.
Like his fellow conservative Hegel, Coleridge believed that there was reason in history, that old institutions had some justification, that old beliefs had some truth. Coleridge “considered the long or extensive prevalence of any opinion as a presumption that it was not altogether a fallacy.”39
The French philosophes had a different view, they had little respect for history. They were going to build the world anew, and build it better. As Mill put it, “the disrespect in which history was held by the philosophes is notorious; one of the soberest of them, D’Alembert we believe, was the author of the wish that all record whatever of past events could be blotted out.”40
But the age that followed the Enlightenment — the age of Hegel, Coleridge, etc. — studied history assiduously, and even developed philosophies of history. Writing in 1840, Mill speaks of, “the brilliant light which has been thrown upon history during the last half century.” Mill speaks of, “that series of great writers and thinkers, from Herder to Michelet, by whom history [has] been made a science of causes and effects.”41
Mill says that these historians developed a theory of how society works, how a nation is held together. They understood that European nations didn’t arise quickly or easily. “The very first element of the social union, obedience to a government of some sort, has not been found so easy a thing to establish in the world.”42 Such obedience is “repugnant to man’s self-will and love of independence.” To establish a nation, Mill argues, three things are needed:
The French philosophers of the eighteenth century, Mill argues, didn’t appreciate the difficulties of establishing a nation, so they assumed that if they destroyed old institutions, a better society would arise automatically.
Coleridge was a conservative, and he aims to justify the existing order, not destroy it. “In England,” Coleridge writes, “where the ground plan, the skeleton, as it were, of the government is a monarchy, at once buttressed and limited by the Aristocracy... a far greater degree of liberty is, and long has been enjoyed, than ever existed in the ostensibly freest, that is, most democratic Commonwealths of ancient or of modern times.” Coleridge doesn’t accept the view that democracy is better than constitutional monarchy, and he doesn’t even conceive of the Marxist idea that the working-class is the core of the nation, and the aristocracy is parasitic.
One of the chief ideas in my philosophy is connectedness. I haven’t found evidence of connectedness in Coleridge’s thought, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were there somewhere. The opposite of the connected/organic worldview is the mechanical worldview, and Coleridge scoffed at the “Mechanico-corpuscular Theory,” which became popular in England around 1700. Coleridge spoke of, “the philosophy of mechanism which in everything that is most worthy of the human Intellect strikes Death.”44
In an earlier issue, I noted that William Blake, Coleridge’s fellow Romantic, was opposed to Bacon, Locke, and Newton, opposed to the mechanical worldview. Blake and Coleridge shared a preference for the organic worldview, and for philosophers like Bruno who championed the organic worldview.
The Organic School sees the world as an organic whole, an inter-connected whole; it says we can only understand the world by looking at wholes; it’s akin to Systems Theory. The Newtonian/Mechanical School says that the world is made up of separate objects; action-at-a-distance is impossible, a silly superstition; we can only understand the world by breaking things down and studying them in isolation. The Organic School can also be called The Hermetic School; even as a teenager, Coleridge was a fan of Hermetists like Plotinus.44E
The Hermetic/Organic School thinks of the world as alive, while the Mechanical School thinks that the world is made up largely of dead matter. Descartes, a pioneer of the Mechanical School, believed that even plants and animals were mere mechanisms. Coleridge rejected Descartes, Coleridge extended the domain of life to occupy almost the entire universe. Coleridge poses the question, “What is Life?” and answers “What is not Life that really is? ....Whatever is, lives. A thing absolutely lifeless is inconceivable.” Coleridge points out that “Life may exist in other forms than those of consciousness, or even of sensibility,” so the burden of proof is on those who deny life to anything.
Coleridge seemed to believe that anything that arises, then passes away, is alive. But that’s true of all nature; rocks arise, then pass away, just as trees do, but they do it more slowly than trees, so we don’t notice it. “Of course the word life is most commonly applied to organic phenomena,” Barfield writes. “But that is only because it is in the realm of organic life that the process of transformation is most rapid and therefore noticeable. All nature is in a perpetual evolution, for which the words change, life and growth become appropriate at one point and another.”
So what’s the difference between a rock, a tree, and a human being? Coleridge would say that a human being has a higher level of life because man holds more disparate parts together. Coleridge defines life as “the power which discloses itself from within as a principle of unity in the many.... the power that unites a given all into a whole that is presupposed by all its parts.”
I subscribe to the organic theory of society, which says that a society has life, a society unites the many, unites its members into a whole. The organic theory of society may have originated with Hegel, certainly it was an important idea for Hegel. We’ve noted the kinship between Coleridge and Hegel. Did Coleridge view society as an organism? If so, did he reach this view independently of Hegel, or was he influenced by Hegel?
I’ve argued that what unites the members of a society into a whole, an organic whole, are shared instincts, shared life- and death-instincts. In a renaissance-type society, the life-instinct is predominant; in a decadent society, the death-instinct is predominant. Again, one is struck by how my view of society resembles Coleridge’s view of life. According to Coleridge, “an explanation of life would consist in ‘the reduction of the idea of Life to its simplest and most comprehensive form or mode of action; that is, to some instinct or tendency, evident in all its manifestations.”44B
Like William Blake, Coleridge rebelled against Newton and Locke. Coleridge rebelled against the Mechanical Worldview, with its emphasis on matter rather than mind. Coleridge wrote,
|Deep Thinking is attainable only by a man of deep Feeling.... The more I understand of Sir Isaac Newton’s works, the more.... I believe the Souls of 500 Sir Isaac Newtons would go to the making up of a Shakespeare or a Milton.... Newton was a mere materialist — Mind in his system is always passive — a Lazy Looker-on on an external World.... There is ground for suspicion, that any system built on the passiveness of the mind must be false, as a system.44C|
I’m reminded of Tolstoy’s comment about Ruskin: “He was one of those rare men who think with their hearts.” Perhaps a thinker is one who connects with the world deeply, emotionally, and is therefore able to understand the world on a deep level. A thinker’s ideas often emerge from his experiences/emotions, as Thoreau’s work comes from living at Walden Pond, and Kierkegaard’s work comes from loving Regina. The world is not a machine, and the mind is not a machine. The world is shaped by the mind, and the mind is shaped by feelings. In my chapter on genius, I said that genius has “exceptional passion and energy.” Nietzsche’s passions often got the better of him, and his monologues ended in tears.
Coleridge would find much to like in modern physics, which has given up the mechanical view. In an earlier issue, I quoted the physicist James Jeans:
|“The stream of knowledge is heading towards a non-mechanical reality; the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine” ....Eddington summed up the new approach when he said, “The stuff of the world is mind-stuff.”|
Locke had argued that our ideas come from our senses, the mind is built up from sensation. Coleridge reversed this, Coleridge argued that the senses are shaped by the mind. If we’re relaxed, we can actually hear music. If we’re preoccupied, we don’t hear the song. If someone is stressed and anxious, they don’t see the sunset. If we’re in a good mood, the crowing of a cock will send us into ecstasy. Proust saw beauty in Venice because Ruskin had taught him that Venice was beautiful; Proust’s mind was convinced first, then his eyes followed. Coleridge said, “The pith of my system is to make the senses out of the mind — not the mind out of the senses, as Locke did.”44D
So Coleridge disagreed with Locke. Coleridge also disagreed with Wordsworth. Wordsworth believed that nature influences us, while Coleridge believed that nature reflects our own mind. Wordsworth wrote,
The eye — it cannot choose but see;
We cannot bid the ear be still;
Our bodies feel, where’er they be,
Against or with our will.
Nor less I deem that there are Powers
Which of themselves our minds impress
Coleridge countered with,
I may not hope from outward Forms to win
The Passion & the Life, whose Fountains are within.
O Wordsworth! we receive but what we give,
And in our Life alone does Nature live
This is an old debate in philosophy, and as with other debates, both sides are probably right, truth is both/and. Shakespeare wisely was on both sides. Shakespeare wrote, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” This is mind shaping circumstances. Elsewhere Shakespeare expresses the other view:
I see men’s judgements are
A parcel of their fortunes; and things outward
Do draw the inward quality after them
Coleridge doesn’t explicitly discuss what I call connectedness, he doesn’t discuss the telepathic connectedness that we see between human beings, or the telepathic connectedness that we see between particles in the Paired Particles experiment. But since I haven’t read all of his works, he may discuss this connectedness somewhere. Even if he doesn’t discuss it, his whole approach tells me that he would find connectedness congenial. Connectedness is non-material, and Coleridge’s approach is non-material.
So much for connectedness. Another one of my chief ideas is polarity (such as the polarity between life- and death-instincts). I found clear evidence of polarity in Coleridge’s thought. “Extremes meet” was his favorite proverb.45 He created his own symbol for polarity:
Coleridge believed that life is
|the product of a polarity of forces and energies.... For Coleridge, the essence of the universe is motion, and motion is driven by a dynamic polarity of forces. [Coleridge spoke of] the essential dualism of Nature.... [Coleridge wrote] two forces should be conceived which counteract each other by their essential nature.... These forces should be assumed to be both alike infinite, both alike indestructible.... Life itself is not a thing — a self-subsistent hypostasis — but an act and process.|
Coleridge was a genuine philosopher, he was somehow able to see into the essence of life, the essence of the world. His comments on polarity/dualism fit the life- and death-instincts perfectly.
The theory of life- and death-instincts applies only to living things, not to the whole universe. But Coleridge seemed to apply his concept of polarity to the whole universe. Perhaps there’s a polarity in electricity, magnetism, etc. that justifies an extension of the concept of polarity to the whole universe. But I’ll continue to focus on polarity in living things, and on connectedness in the universe as a whole. Subatomic particles display connectedness (in the Paired Particles experiment), but I’m not sure they display polarity.46
Coleridge’s polarity is strikingly similar to the Chinese yin-yang. Both are throughout the universe — matter as well as organic life. Let’s look at the yin-yang symbol:
Coleridge’s words match the yin-yang symbol perfectly; it’s as if he were writing a caption for the symbol. He says,
|Polarity is dynamic, not abstract. It is not “a mere balance or compromise,” but “a living and generative interpenetration”.... Polar opposites are generative of each other — and together generative of new product. Polar opposites exist by virtue of each other as well as at the expense of each other. [They exist not by “the absolute exclusion of the other,” but “by predominance of the one character or quality.”] Moreover each quality or character is present in the other. We can and must distinguish, but there is no possibility of dividing them.”|
Notice that, in the yin-yang symbol, the opposites aren’t divided, they’re in each other, they inter-penetrate.
Let’s compare Coleridge’s words with what I wrote (about 40 years ago) of the life- and death-instincts:
|Every organism is a combination of the life-instinct and the death-instinct. Since the death-instinct shares power with the life-instinct, it usually doesn’t bring about the death of the organism to which it belongs. The death-instinct doesn’t prevent one from living, but it does put a brake on activity, just as ankle weights don’t prevent a runner from running, but they do reduce his speed.|
So we never see the life-instinct by itself, or the death-instinct by itself, we see combinations, mixtures. As Coleridge said, “In all pure phenomena we behold only the copula, the balance or indifference of opposite energies.”46B
My theory of history may make it easier to visualize polarity. We can see renaissance and decadence (building up and sinking down, life- and death-instincts), we can see renaissance emerging from decadence, we can see these two forces co-existing and inter-penetrating, both eternal, both infinite, active and real but not visible or tangible.47
How can we explain the kinship between Coleridge’s polarity and the Chinese yin-yang? I think it’s a case of independent discovery, independent understanding. Coleridge is part of a Western philosophical tradition — Heraclitus, Bruno, various German thinkers. Western thinkers discovered polarity/dualism independently of Eastern thinkers. Polarity is more important in the Eastern tradition than in the Western tradition. Indeed polarity is so important in the Eastern tradition that the yin-yang symbol is on South Korea’s national flag!
What will happen when the sun burns out, and the last living organism perishes? The life- and death-instincts will no longer exist. Will there still be some sort of polarity? Some sort of yin-yang in an inanimate world? Perhaps there is some sort of polarity in the inanimate world, but polarity seems more conspicuous in the living world.
Coleridge sometimes comes close to the life- and death-instincts. He said that “an explanation of life would consist in ‘the reduction of the idea of Life to its simplest and most comprehensive form... that is, to some instinct or tendency, evident in all its manifestations.’”48 Since he saw the importance of polarity/dualism, it’s surprising that he didn’t see the possibility of two instincts.
Most Coleridge commentators focus on his poetry, and ignore his philosophical work. English professors feel that they can ignore Coleridge’s philosophy, and philosophy professors don’t regard him as a real philosopher. Owen Barfield deserves credit for trying to understand Coleridge’s philosophy; Barfield wrote What Coleridge Thought. But alas! Barfield is as obscure as Coleridge himself.
Most Coleridge biographers give us anecdotes, and treat his philosophizing as an unfortunate detour. Richard Holmes, for example, says that the young Coleridge’s study of poetry, and his social life, “drew him out of the bookish maze of metaphysics and classical philosophy, into the living world.”49
Holmes seems to think that the quest for truth, the quest for the essence of the universe, isn’t part of real life, isn’t part of the “living world.” Coleridge could have told him that the quest for truth, though more difficult than gathering anecdotes, is an important part of humanity, and when we stop pursuing ultimate truth, it will be an extinction almost as important as the burning out of the sun.
How did Coleridge become interested in polarity, and why does he use the term “polarity”? Coleridge had a strong interest in science, especially in electricity and magnetism. “He was an intimate friend of Sir Humphry Davy.”50 The term “polarity” was first used in the field of magnetism.51 Coleridge viewed electricity and magnetism as illustrations of polarity, illustrations of the two basic forces, as I view quantum physics as an illustration of connectedness.
But Coleridge’s two basic forces aren’t identical with any electrical or magnetic forces. Electrical forces are material and “precisely quantifiable,” as is gravitation. But Coleridge’s two basic forces are “behind” the material world, invisible, intangible, and un-quantifiable. In all these respects, Coleridge’s two basic forces are much the same as the life- and death-instincts.
So there’s something mystical and metaphysical about the life- and death-instincts, about Coleridge’s two basic forces, about yin-yang. The idea of connectedness is easier to grasp, we can see it in our daily lives, we can see it in the Paired Particles experiment.
Coleridge used the old term Natura naturans for the forces/energies/instincts that are hidden in nature. On the other hand, nature itself, visible nature, the physical objects we see around us, are called Natura naturata. The terms Natura naturans and Natura naturata probably originated in the Middle Ages, but the ideas behind the terms may go back to antiquity.
My theory of history (my theory of decadence and renaissance) shows the two opposing forces operating on a grand scale. We can see opposites on a smaller scale if we look at Jung’s theory of introvert/extrovert. Jung believed that inside the introvert was a hidden extrovert, an unconscious extrovert, and inside the extrovert was a hidden introvert, an unconscious introvert. Jung wrote, “in every pronounced type there is a special tendency to compensate the one-sidedness of that type, a tendency which is biologically purposive since it strives constantly to maintain the psychic equilibrium.”53 So the unconscious compensates for consciousness, there’s a polarity in the human soul, as in electricity and magnetism. No thinker in the Western tradition has thought more deeply about opposites, about polarity, than Jung.
We can think of Natura naturans as the laws of nature. Coleridge spoke of, “A Law which reigns through all Nature, viz. the law of polarity.”53B Barfield writes, “We may say that, in addition to the phenomena [i.e., the objects around us], there are the so-called ‘laws’ of nature, without which it is impossible to understand the phenomena. The laws themselves are not phenomenal and we only become aware of them in their effects. But we have, all the same, to distinguish them from the phenomena themselves. They are not the less real because they are not things.”53C The notion of “laws” seems less mystical than the notion of forces/instincts, and therefore laws are more congenial to the rational mind.
One could argue that the distinction between Natura naturans and Natura naturata is an artificial distinction. The two things are always combined, interwoven. Visible nature contains forces/energies. And forces/energies are never found in isolation, they’re always bound up with physical objects. Perhaps Coleridge would say, “The distinction between Natura naturans and Natura naturata is an important distinction even though they’re always found together. It’s not an artificial distinction, it’s an important distinction.”
Coleridge argued that Reason was a higher power than Understanding, as Imagination was a higher power than Fancy. Reason and Imagination are akin; “It is wonderful,” Coleridge said, “how closely Reason and Imagination are connected.”53D
Understanding uses an inferior kind of Reason; Barfield writes,
|The moonlight of reason negative in the understanding can prompt the mind’s eye to turn towards the positive sunshine, of which it is the pale and the dead reflection. To do so is to proceed from natura naturata into natura naturans; it is to pass on from fancy’s business of arranging and re-arranging the “products of destruction, the cadavera rerum,” to imagination’s business with “the existence of absolute life,” which is “the correlative of truth.”|
So the highest powers of the mind, Reason and Imagination, deal with the intangible forces in nature (natura naturans). The Understanding can’t grasp these intangible forces; the Understanding can’t grasp change, life, evolution. Barfield writes,
|What does it mean to say a car “begins to move”? As far as the understanding is concerned, it is either already moving, or it is at rest. Beginning, change, motion itself, development, evolution, life — anything whatever that is naturans as well as naturata — eludes the rigorous either/or of the mere understanding.53E|
Sometimes the poet depicts the moment of action, the beginning of movement. In an earlier issue, I wrote,
|“A big bird spreads its wings, and begins to fly” — a famous image in Chinese literature. “A frog jumps into an old pond — splash!” — a famous image in Japanese literature. Both these images are images of a moment in time, The Moment, The Eternal Now. And both these images are images of action, spontaneous action, unreflecting action.|
If we turn to Coleridge’s work in the field of literary criticism, we find that, here again, Coleridge has the ability to grasp reality. Coleridge realized that Shakespeare was highly educated. Coleridge’s description of Shakespeare agrees with the Oxford Theory, and is often quoted by Oxfordians:
|Shakespeare, no mere child of nature; no automaton of genius; no passive vehicle of inspiration, possessed by the spirit, not possessing it; first studied patiently, meditated deeply, understood minutely, till knowledge, become habitual and intuitive, wedded itself to his habitual feelings, and at length gave birth to that stupendous power, by which he stands alone, with no equal or second in his own class.54|
According to the Oxford Theory, Shakespeare was very well educated; the Oxford Theory details the teachers he had, the books he read, the schools he attended. On the other hand, the Stratford Theory can’t come up with evidence that Mr. Stratford was educated — no evidence of teachers, books, or schools — so they’re forced to argue that the poet was a “child of nature,” and that his works exhibit little knowledge.
Coleridge’s grasp of Shakespeare, like his grasp of polarity, shows his exceptional ability as a thinker. Philosophy is about grasping reality. As Coleridge put it,
|Logical and mathematical truths... express not realities, but only the necessary forms of conceiving and perceiving, and are therefore named the formal, or abstract sciences. Ideas, on the other hand, or the truths of philosophy... correspond to substantial beings.55|
In Coleridge’s view, ideas are not only at the heart of philosophy, they’re also at the heart of humanity. “Try to conceive a man,” Coleridge wrote, “without the ideas of God, eternity, freedom, will, absolute truth, of the good, the true, the beautiful, the infinite. An animal endowed with a memory of appearances and of facts might remain. But the man will have vanished.” Philosophical ideas are an important part of our humanity.
In an earlier issue, I discussed the dreams/fantasies of two philosophical thinkers, Nietzsche and Ruskin. Both thinkers imagined that they were bitten in the neck by snakes. I interpreted this as an indication of tension between conscious and unconscious, and I said that such tension was typical of a philosopher. I wrote, “Any extreme position in consciousness is balanced by a counter-movement in the unconscious. [Again we see the polarity in the human soul.] A philosopher is one who reaches new heights of consciousness, but when he reaches the mountaintop, he’s snake-bitten.” Both Nietzsche and Ruskin went insane.
In Coleridge’s poem “Christabel,” a snake coils around a bird’s neck, and the Baron vows to “crush the snake.” Did Coleridge have the sort of psychological tensions that Nietzsche and Ruskin had? Did Coleridge become a philosopher by repressing the unconscious? Philosophy is useful to civilization, but it takes a toll on the philosopher.
Coleridge seemed to have psychological tensions from an early age. His recurring nightmares started before his opium addiction. When he was 7, he first experienced
|the terrible nightmares that returned to him intermittently for the rest of his life, dreams so vivid and overmastering that he would wake whole households at Stowey, at Grasmere, and even at Highgate with his screams, and which are the subject — and indeed the inspiration — of many poems.56|
Horace spoke of the irritable race of bards (genus irritabile vatum), but Coleridge argues that the intellectual is calm and composed, above the fray:
|Where the ideas are vivid, and there exists an endless power of combining and modifying them, the feelings and affections blend more easily and intimately with these ideal creations than with the objects of the senses; the mind is affected by thoughts, rather than by things.... For the conceptions of the mind may be so vivid and adequate, as to preclude that impulse to the realizing of them....
The men of the greatest genius, as far as we can judge from their own works or from the accounts of their contemporaries, appear to have been of calm and tranquil temper in all that related to themselves. In the inward assurance of permanent fame, they seem to have been either indifferent or resigned with regard to immediate reputation.58
Coleridge speaks of “the creative and self-sufficing power of absolute genius.”
I’ve tried to show that Coleridge’s philosophy overlaps with my theory of history (my theory of decadence and renaissance, my theory of two opposing forces). I’ve also tried to show that Coleridge’s philosophy overlaps with the Chinese theory of yin-yang. So Coleridge’s philosophy overlaps with (what I consider to be) the cutting-edge of philosophy, and also with philosophy’s oldest and deepest wisdom. If I’m right, Coleridge’s philosophy is worth studying; it buttresses, and is buttressed by, my theory of history and the yin-yang theory.59
Lovejoy looks at a different aspect of Coleridge’s philosophy.60 While I look at Coleridge’s attempt to see into the nature of things, Lovejoy looks at Coleridge’s attempt to reconcile the idea of Original Sin with the idea of God. Lovejoy shows how Coleridge trips over his own feet, contradicts himself, and accepts weak arguments because they satisfy his longings.
If this were all Coleridge had to offer, we should perhaps ignore his philosophical writings entirely — they wouldn’t be worth refuting. In earlier issues, I described how Lovejoy demolishes Plato and others in a similar way. No one is better than Lovejoy at demolishing the arguments of eminent philosophers — especially arguments used to prop up traditional religion and morality. But why study philosophy at all if its arguments are so weak? Why not consign it to oblivion?
Lovejoy shows how Plato, Coleridge, and others get all tangled up when they try to reconcile the evil in the world with the notion of a benevolent Creator. Likewise, philosophers get all tangled up when they try to reconcile the idea of a wise Creator with the existence of a world, and with the existence of so many different species. Why did God make the world at all? And why did He make so many different species?
If we abandon the notion of a wise and benevolent Creator, then all these questions melt away, philosophy becomes untangled. But Coleridge wasn’t ready to take the step Schopenhauer took, Coleridge wasn’t ready to abandon the idea of a Creator, so Coleridge got all tangled up, and Lovejoy exposes his pretzel logic. Perhaps Coleridge’s confusion is one reason why he never completed his Opus Maximum.
When Coleridge was in his 30s, his marriage had broken down, and he was addicted to opium. Lovejoy says he was “deeply conscious of guilt.”61 Lovejoy quotes a poem that Coleridge wrote, a poem called “To Wordsworth,” written when Coleridge was 35.
Sense of past youth, and manhood come in vain,
And genius given, and knowledge won in vain.
Lovejoy says, “After his youthful self-confidence and optimism were broken by a series of tragic experiences and disappointments — above all, disappointments with himself — he manifestly was often accompanied by a feeling of self-reproach.” To deal with this self-reproach, Coleridge fell back on traditional religion — Original Sin, humility, redemption, etc. Kant provided him with a philosophical justification for these traditional beliefs. “Kant opened for him the gate back into the emotionally congenial fields of evangelical faith and piety.”62
Kant wanted to believe, Coleridge wanted to believe, many people want to believe in traditional religion and morality. They use sophistical arguments to support the conclusions they long for. And Lovejoy demolishes these arguments.
Thomas McFarland argues that Coleridge got the distinction between Fancy and Imagination from a forgotten German philosopher, Tetens. Tetens distinguished between Poetic Power (Dichtkraft) and Fancy (Phantasie).
Fancy stays with the world of observed things, aggregating and associating. Tetens mentions Linnaeus “as an example of a man with a fanciful mind,” a man who collects clear images. Hence a deep thinker wants more than Linnaeus offers, he wants to focus on hidden forces and energies, growth and change, natura naturans. As I wrote in an earlier issue,
|Goethe was initially an enthusiastic student of Linnaeus, but he became disillusioned with Linnaeus’ static system, Linnaeus’ cubbyholes; in the Linnaean system, “nothing can come to be except what already is.” Goethe developed a dynamic, creative botany, as opposed to Linnaeus’ static botany; Goethe’s botany emphasized change and adaptation. Goethe believed that plants had evolved from a primal plant, which he called the Ur-Plant.|
The true poet, and the true scientist, go beyond the visible, beyond Fancy. Hartley’s philosophy of associationism deals with Fancy, hence Coleridge outgrew Hartley.
What is true of Linnaeus may also be true of Ptolemy. Ptolemy uses what Coleridge would call Fancy or Understanding; Ptolemy gathers lots of sense impressions, and organizes them into a system of astronomy. Newton, on the other hand, focuses on the forces that underlie the phenomena:
|The dependence of the Understanding [Coleridge wrote] on the representations of the senses, and its consequent posteriority thereto, as contrasted with the independence and antecedency of Reason, are strikingly exemplified in the Ptolemaic system — that truly wonderful product and highest boast of the faculty, judging according to the senses compared with the Newtonian, as the offspring of a yet higher power, arranging, correcting, and annulling the representations of the senses according to its own inherent laws and constitutive ideas.56B|
Notice the phrase “antecedency of Reason.” This means reason/intuition operate prior to sense impressions. I’m reminded of Ortega’s view that the philosophy of history would flourish when the philosopher developed his theory prior to looking at the facts of history. Ortega said, “We are now approaching a splendid flowering of the historic sciences” since historians will first “construct an imaginary reality” then compare it “with the actual facts.”
Notice that word “imaginary.” A scientific or philosophical theory is, in many ways, an act of imagination. Hence Coleridge said that an idea is “an educt of the imagination actuated by the pure reason.”
Coleridge believed that imagination is part of the process that leads to truth, imagination isn’t just for making up stories. A second-rate thinker, like Linnaeus or Ptolemy, organizes phenomena using Understanding, but lacks the Imagination that’s needed to create a new paradigm. Coleridge writes,
|Of the discursive understanding, which forms for itself general notions and terms of classification for the purpose of comparing and arranging phenomena, the characteristic is clearness without depth. It contemplates the unity of things in their limits only, and is consequently a knowledge of superficies without substance.... The completing power which unites clearness with depth, the plenitude of the sense with the comprehensibility of the understanding, is the imagination, impregnated with which the understanding itself becomes intuitive, and a living power.|
Coleridge’s categories — Fancy, Imagination, Understanding, Reason, etc. — sometimes overlap. For example, we can classify Linnaeus’ thinking as Fancy or as Understanding. The highest category is Reason, and sometimes Coleridge mixes Reason with religion, as when he calls it, “a pure influence from the glory of the Almighty.”
I’ve often argued that the deepest truths come by intuition, not by reasoning or sensation or research or experiment or study. Coleridge would agree with me about the power of intuition, of sudden vision, of effortless discovery. But following his German teachers, he termed this power Reason, and distinguished it from Understanding (the German term for Reason was Vernunft, Understanding was Verstand).
|[Understanding] judges of phenomena, or the appearances of things, and forms generalizations from these: to [Reason] it belongs, by direct intuition, to perceive things, and recognize truths, not cognizable by our senses. These perceptions are not indeed innate, nor could ever have been awakened in us without experience; but they are not copies of it: experience is not their prototype, it is only the occasion by which they are irresistibly suggested.57|
Consider, for example, Einstein’s e = mc2. I would argue that such truths come by intuition (what Coleridge calls “Reason”). Such truths aren’t innate, but they aren’t copies of experience, either. One might say that experience is a kind of trigger or catalyst, awakening something in the unconscious. Or one might say that the idea is received from the world as a radio wave is received; a genius like Einstein is a kind of receiver, a passive receiver, able to pick up signals from the nature of things.
Coleridge defines an idea as “an educt of the imagination actuated by the pure reason, to which there neither is nor can be an adequate correspondent in the world of the senses.” He says that “the highest problem of philosophy” is whether ideas are “constitutive” or merely “regulative.” In other words, whether ideas are “one with the power and life of nature” (as Plato and Plotinus believed), or merely “regulative,” as Aristotle and Kant believed. If we think of e = mc2 as an idea, then I would say Plato and Plotinus were right, ideas are “one with the power and life of nature.”
If we think of ideas as laws of nature, it might be easier to see ideas as “one with the power and life of nature.” And indeed, ideas are closely related to laws of nature, according to Coleridge. Coleridge wrote, “That which contemplated objectively (that is, as existing externally to the mind), we call a law; the same contemplated subjectively (that is, as existing in a subject or mind), is an idea. Hence [Bacon] describes the laws of the material universe as the ideas in nature.”
Coleridge confuses the issue of “reason” (i.e., intuition) by mixing it with religion. He says that, while the eye sees “material and contingent phenomena,” reason sees “spiritual objects, the universal, the eternal.”57B Then he argues that the soul and God are not only seen by reason, they are themselves reason; God is “the Supreme Reason.” This implies that our own power of reason/intuition is a god-like power.
“The human understanding,” Coleridge writes, “possesses two distinct organs, the outward sense, and ‘the mind’s eye’ which is reason.” With our outward sense, we never see spiritual realities, we never see the soul or God. But with “the mind’s eye,” we can see spiritual realities. Thus, Coleridge reconciles “the promise of revelation, that the blessed will see God, with the declaration of St. John, God hath no one seen at any time.”
Coleridge tries to protect Christianity by distinguishing between Reason and Understanding, by saying that Christianity is about Reason, and therefore Christianity can’t be criticized by Understanding. Kant did something similar, Kant protected religious belief by saying it concerns the thing-in-itself, which cannot be known. So Coleridge and Kant made similar arguments, from similar motives.
I view reason/intuition in a secular way, a non-religious way. The importance of intuition, for me, is that it can see a new aspect of reality, a new theory. I agree with Coleridge that these new theories are often seen only by “the mind’s eye,” not the physical eye. For example, Freud’s theory of life- and death-instincts — no one has ever seen or touched a life-instinct. My main theories, which I call Connections and Cycles, both deal with the invisible, the non-physical, and I’m comfortable with terms like “spiritual” and “soul.” So one might say that my philosophy overlaps with the philosophy of a religious thinker like Coleridge.
Maud Bodkin’s reputation rests on one book, a Jungian study of literature called Archetypal Patterns in Poetry. Even Freudians admit the merit of this book. One of the writers whom Bodkin analyzes is Coleridge (I started my study of Coleridge in order to prepare myself for Bodkin’s book). Bodkin’s book has some interesting ideas, but the style is cloudy, it’s not enjoyable to read.
In the first paragraph of Archetypal Patterns, Bodkin clarifies the concept of an archetype. Archetypes come from the experiences of our ancestors; Jung describes archetypes as “psychic residua of numberless experiences of the same type.” These experiences, Bodkin writes, “have happened not to the individual but to his ancestors, [and] the results are inherited in the structure of the brain, a priori determinants of individual experience.”
In my view, these remarks throw a flood of light on human nature. First, they indicate that man has a nature; the mind isn’t a tabula rasa, as Locke said, and man doesn’t make himself, as Sartre said. Man comes into the world with hopes and fears and ideas and impulses, man comes into the world with a nature; man is a furnished apartment, not empty rooms.
Where does human nature come from? It comes largely from history, from ancestral experiences, experiences that etch themselves on his brain after being repeated countless times, over the course of 100,000 years or more.
Consider, for example, the archetype of the Wise Old Man. Your ancestors encounter this person countless times, so you’re born with an image, an “archetype,” of the Wise Old Man. It’s not a matter of “culture,” it’s not something that varies in different societies. It’s a matter of historical fact, it’s universal.
On the other hand, there are some experiences that differ by society, hence there are some differences of culture, some differences of national character. The desert-dwelling Arab isn’t the same as the arctic-dwelling Eskimo, or the Protestant Englishman. Different ancestral experiences produce different natures. Ancestral experiences are historical facts, not cultural preferences.
If human nature is the product of ancestral experience, then there’s a parallel between human nature and the human body. Our bodies, too, are the products of ancestral experiences — ancestral habits, strivings, etc. The Jungian view of human nature is akin to the Lamarckian view of evolution. (Mill pointed out that in a dispute like the Darwin-Lamarck dispute, both sides are often right, and it’s necessary to merge the two theories in order to reach truth. Likewise, Jung said that posterity would find merit in his theories and in Freud’s theories; posterity would combine Jung and Freud.)
What I’m calling “the Lamarckian view” was actually close to Darwin’s own view; as Darwin grew older, he moved closer to Lamarck, and he changed his Origin of Species. Our biology establishment is uncomfortable with will and striving, uncomfortable with the inheritance of acquired characteristics; the establishment prefers a theory of evolution that emphasizes hard matter and random mutation. Jung’s view of the mind resembles Lamarck’s view of the body; both Jung and Lamarck emphasize the inheritance of acquired characteristics, the inheritance of ancestral experiences. We’re on the edge of a deeper understanding of man; on the edge of developing a theory that applies to both body and mind.
Bodkin’s remarks on archetypes not only remind me of evolution, they also remind me of animal behavior. A dog is born with a fear of bees, a bird is born with a knowledge of nest-building. Where does all this innate knowledge come from? It’s likely that ancestral experiences etched themselves on each succeeding generation. Perhaps we should say that animals have archetypes just as people do; animals are the product of history as people are; animals have a nature, they aren’t a tabula rasa.
Bodkin quotes the following lines from “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”:
where the ship’s huge shadow lay,
The charmèd water burnt alway
A still and awful red.
Bodkin says “the word ‘red’ has a soul of terror that has come to it through the history of the race.” Ancestral experience has etched this into the human mind; universal experience has become a universal archetype. Words are little bits of history.
Poetry stirs us because it awakens the archetypes, it touches the primordial experiences that are embedded within us. Literary critics recognized this even before Jung developed his theory of archetypes. The classical scholar Gilbert Murray wrote an essay on Hamlet and Orestes in which he argued that such stories are
|deeply implanted in the memory of the race, stamped as it were upon our physical organism.... There is that within us which leaps at the sight [of such themes], a cry of the blood which tells us we have known them always.... How far into past ages this stream may reach back, I dare not even surmise; but it seems as if the power of stirring it or moving with it were one of the last secrets of genius.64|
Murray’s argument anticipates Jung; Murray and Jung are in agreement. Since Murray’s essay was written in 1914, it’s unlikely that Murray was influenced by Jung. It’s likely that Murray and Jung reached the same conclusion independently of each other. As Schopenhauer said, truth agrees with itself and confirms itself.
Ancestral experience becomes etched in our being, forming archetypes. The poet draws on these archetypes, consciously or unconsciously. The reader or spectator is stirred by the poetry since it awakens the archetypes in his own mind. He forgets his own struggles while turning his mind to the primordial experience of mankind.
Coleridge was a profound critic, and he understood that a great poet draws on the collective experience of mankind, not just on personal experience; a great poet draws on the collective nature, the collective unconscious. Coleridge wrote,
|Shakespeare shaped his characters out of the nature within; but we cannot so safely say, out of his own nature as an individual person. No! ....It was Shakespeare’s prerogative to have the universal, which is potentially in each particular, opened out to him, the homo generalis, not as an abstraction from observation of a variety of men, but as the substance capable of endless modifications, of which his own personal existence was but one.64B|
As the imaginative writer draws on the collective nature, so the philosopher draws on what might be called “collective truth.” Coleridge said that reason is “super-individual”; “it is not reason, except as far as it is of universal validity.”64C “My concept [is] not my private property.”64D
The same concept can exist in two minds. It’s a mistake, Coleridge argued, to think that the same concept in two minds is two concepts; he called this, “The queen bee in the hive of error.”64E
When Coleridge talks about “universal reason,” I’m reminded of Hegel; I think Hegel would agree with Coleridge that truth/reason/philosophy is collective, not individual. When Copernicus said that the earth revolved around the sun, he was giving us a slice of Universal Truth. If you and I think about the heliocentric theory, that’s one concept in two minds, not two concepts.
On the other hand, morality and religious faith are personal, hence Kierkegaard protested against Hegel, protested against Hegel’s tendency to make philosophy super-individual. Kierkegaard tried to bring the individual back to himself, to his own conscience, his own subjectivity. When Kierkegaard had to decide whether to marry Regina, that was a personal decision. Morality is a personal matter, and philosophy shouldn’t ignore the personal and subjective.
Bodkin discusses an author named Charles Baudouin. Baudouin wrote a psychological study of literature called Psychoanalysis and Aesthetics. Baudouin wrote in French, but several of his books have been translated into English. He drew on both Jung and Freud. Baudouin wrote fiction and poetry as well as non-fiction; he was a wide-ranging intellectual and a prolific writer.
Baudouin wrote about a Belgian poet named Émile Verhaeren. Verhaeren was about one generation older than Baudouin (he was born in 1855, while Baudouin was born in 1893). Verhaeren wrote about depression/stagnation, followed by recovery/deliverance — the same cycle that Bodkin traces in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Verhaeren suffers from “morbid introversion,” but later he connects with nature and the world. Verhaeren wrote,
In order to live serenely and firmly and justly,
With my heart, I admire everything
Which vibrates and ferments and boils
In human tenderness and on the august earth....
If we really admire one another,
We bring, drunken with the world and with ourselves,
The hearts of new men into the ancient universe.65
Goethe experienced a similar transition from gloomy introversion to love of nature. Goethe wrote, “I said to myself that to deliver my mind from this state of gloom in which it was torturing itself, the essential thing was to turn my attention toward nature, and to share unreservedly in the life of the outer world.”66
In Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” depression is symbolized by a ship becalmed, a windless atmosphere.
Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down,
’Twas sad as sad could be;
And we did speak only to break
The silence of the sea!
All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody Sun, at noon,
Right up above the mast did stand,
No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.
When the wind rises, the Mariner’s spirits rise, and the ship begins to move.
And soon I heard a roaring wind:
It did not come anear;
But with its sound it shook the sails,
That were so thin and sere....
And the coming wind did roar more loud,
And the sails did sigh like sedge,
And the rain poured down from one black cloud;
The Moon was at its edge.
Verhaeren also celebrates the rising wind:
If I love, admire, and fervently sing the praises
Of the wind...
It is because the wind enlarges my whole being, and because
Before permeating through my lungs and through my pores,
The very blood, which is the life of my body,
It has with its rugged strength or its consummate tenderness,
Clasped the world in its titanic embrace.67
One of the oldest debates in literary criticism is whether literature should be objective or subjective. Some critics, like T. S. Eliot, argue that a great poet doesn’t write about himself, about his own life; they argue that literature should be objective, not subjective. Such critics can draw on the Jungian view that literature is based on archetypes, ancestral experience, the group mind, the collective unconscious. According to Bodkin, Eliot believed in “a racial or traditional mind, a ‘mind of Europe’ which to the poet is more important than his private mind.”68
Academics generally favor the objective view, Eliot’s view, while I favor the subjective view. Bodkin and other Jungians provide the strongest argument for the objective view. Perhaps both views are right; Mill argues that disputes like this can only be resolved by combining both views.
The Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle took a dim view of Coleridge. This is somewhat surprising since Carlyle and Coleridge were both champions of German literature, both conservative in their politics, and both had a philosophical bent. Carlyle met Coleridge several times, and the more he saw him, the less he admired him. He didn’t appreciate the depth of Coleridge’s thought. Is this because many of Coleridge’s works weren’t yet available? But Mill appreciated Coleridge, and Mill was only a few years younger than Carlyle.
Perhaps there was a temperamental difference between Carlyle and Coleridge. Coleridge lived off the generosity of his fans. Carlyle wrote, “A man that is not standing on his own feet in regard to economical affairs, soon ceases to be a man at all. Poor Coleridge is like the hulk of a huge ship; his mast and sails and rudder have rotted quite away.”69
Carlyle seemed disgusted by Coleridge’s bearing. He wrote, “Coleridge is sunk inextricably in the depths of putrescent indolence.” Carlyle thought that the only road to success was hard work, “rigid and stern perseverance through long years of labor, in London or any other spot in the universe.”
Carlyle says of Coleridge’s conversation,
|Nothing could be more copious than his talk; and furthermore it was always, virtually or literally, of the nature of a monologue; suffering no interruption, however reverent; hastily putting aside all foreign additions, annotations, or most ingenuous desires for elucidation, as well-meant superfluities which would never do. Besides, it was talk not flowing anywhither like a river, but spreading everywhither in inextricable currents and regurgitations like a lake or sea; terribly deficient in definite goal or aim, nay often in logical intelligibility; what you were to believe or do, on any earthly or heavenly thing, obstinately refusing to appear from it. So that, most times, you felt logically lost; swamped near to drowning in this tide of ingenious vocables, spreading out boundless as if to submerge the world.70|
This passage is a good example of Carlyle’s distinctive prose.
When Coleridge died, Carlyle wrote Emerson: “Coleridge, as you doubtless hear, is gone. How great a Possibility, how small a realized Result!” But Coleridge’s complete works don’t seem “small” today. On the contrary, he seems like a prolific writer, especially if you take into account the 60 notebooks that have survived, the printed lectures, and the posthumous publications. Lovejoy spoke of “the vast range of Coleridge’s writings.”71
Though Carlyle found much to criticize in Coleridge, he couldn’t deny the profundity of some of Coleridge’s ideas. In his essay “The Hero As Poet,” Carlyle wrote,
|Coleridge remarks very pertinently somewhere, that wherever you find a sentence musically worded, of true rhythm and melody in the words, there is some good in the meaning too. For body and soul, word and idea, go strangely together here as everywhere.... It is only when the heart of him is rapt into true passion of melody, and the very tones of him, according to Coleridge’s remark, become musical by the greatness, depth, and music of his thoughts, that we can give him right to rhyme and sing; that we call him a Poet.72|
This might be the best aphorism I’ve ever seen on poetry; Coleridge deserves credit for originating it, and Carlyle deserves credit for quoting it and expanding it. It’s true of philosophy as well as poetry; in my book of aphorisms, I wrote,
In order to write well, one must have something to say. If one has something to say, if one has profound ideas and strong convictions, style comes naturally.
Great thinkers are great stylists, and great stylists are great thinkers. Plato, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are considered models of Greek style, Danish style and German style respectively, and they’re also the deepest thinkers that those three nations have produced. Emerson is the deepest thinker that America has produced, and also America’s best prose writer.
In philosophy as in poetry, “body and soul, word and idea, go strangely together.”
Carlyle also found merit in Coleridge’s thoughts on the meaning of life:
|In “The Hero as King” [Carlyle] approves Coleridge’s doctrine of individual fulfilment: “The meaning of life here on earth might be defined as consisting in this: To unfold your self, to work what thing you have the faculty for. It is a necessity for the human being, the first law of our existence. Coleridge beautifully remarks that the infant learns to speak by this necessity it feels.”73|
Carlyle also felt that Coleridge understood contemporary religious feeling:
|In “The Hero as Priest” [Carlyle] quotes with approval Coleridge on the subject of religious faith: “Souls are no longer filled with their Fetish; but only pretend to be filled, and would fain make themselves feel that they are filled. ‘You do not believe,’ said Coleridge, ‘you only believe that you believe.’ It is the final scene in all kinds of Worship and Symbolism; the sure symptom that death is now nigh.”74|
The young writer is full of respect for “the mighty dead,” and doubts his own abilities. He writes little, he prefers to read. In a letter to his wife, Jane, Carlyle wrote, “Coleridge says he never knew a youth of real talents that did not labor under bashfulness and disbelief in his own ability.”75 Carlyle congratulated Jane on her diffidence. Here again, Carlyle is quoting Coleridge with respect, viewing him as an authority.
Coleridge himself was probably diffident in his youth, and even later in life. Coleridge much preferred reading to writing: “I am, and ever have been, a great reader, and have read almost everything — a library cormorant.... I compose very little, and I absolutely hate composition, and such is my dislike that even a sense of duty is sometimes too weak to overpower it.”76 Coleridge had a tendency toward reverence (Barfield speaks of, “his highly developed bump of reverence”), and “the twin-brother of reverence is reticence.” Today they are “both disappearing hand in hand.”76C
In his Life of John Sterling, Carlyle includes a balanced portrait of Coleridge:
|Coleridge sat on the brow of Highgate Hill, in those years, looking down on London and its smoke-tumult, like a sage escaped from the inanity of life’s battle; attracting towards him the thoughts of innumerable brave souls still engaged there. His express contributions to poetry, philosophy, or any specific province of human literature or enlightenment, had been small and sadly intermittent; but he had, especially among young inquiring men, a higher than literary, a kind of prophetic or magician character.
He was thought to hold, he alone in England, the key of German and other Transcendentalisms; knew the sublime secret of believing by “the reason” what “the understanding” had been obliged to fling out as incredible; and could still, after Hume and Voltaire had done their best and worst with him, profess himself an orthodox Christian.... A sublime man; who, alone in those dark days had saved his crown of spiritual manhood; escaping from the black materialisms, and revolutionary deluges, with “God, Freedom, Immortality” still his: a king of men.
So Carlyle found merit in Coleridge’s work, but he let Coleridge’s personal foibles warp his judgement, and carry him into some harsh criticisms. Mill had a higher opinion of Coleridge, perhaps because he ignored his personal foibles.
Mark Edmundson is an English professor at the University of Virginia (I discussed Edmundson in an earlier issue). He published an essay called “Coleridge!” in 2018. Note the exclamation point in the title: Edmundson favors enthusiasm and exclamation points over cool sophistication and postmodern irony.
Like most English professors, Edmundson focuses on Coleridge’s poetry. Edmundson says that Romantics like Coleridge can enrich our lives, the Romantics teach us to have more respect for love, nature, dreams, and childhood. Unlike some critics, Edmundson looks for ways to connect literature to life.
Too often, Edmundson says, we view love as a sickness, and speak of “incurable Romantics.... Perhaps, the Romantics say, one should speak in turn of incurable modernists and incurable post-modernists. Perhaps it is time to deride all of those ironists and abstractionists whose highest desire seems to be to have no desires.”
Edmundson doesn’t understand why we commonly ignore dreams. “It’s surprising,” he writes, “how uninterested we as a culture and as individuals are in our dreams.... No creation in the outer world can possibly rival the raucous pizazz and the half-cracked gusto of our dreams. And yet most of us pay them no attention at all.”
Coleridge didn’t make this mistake, Edmundson tells us:
|Coleridge is devoted to dreams. They surface in his poetry; he writes about them in his wonderful letters; he describes some of his horrifying night visitations in his journals. What does Coleridge think that dreams are? In the end, he does not seem to know for certain. But he does connect them with creativity. He thinks that by paying attention to his dreams, writing them down, trying to understand them without reducing them to this simple formula or that he is feeding his imagination. Coleridge is one of the first writers in English to use the word unconscious — he seems to take it from the German, das Unbewusste.76B|
Coleridge questioned the “present dogma, that the Forms & Feelings of Sleep are always the reflections & confused Echoes of our waking Thoughts, & Experiences.” Coleridge correctly perceived that some dreams refer to the day’s happenings, and some don’t. There are different kinds of dreams. Some foretell a future event; most people call these “prophetic” dreams, but Coleridge seemed to prefer the term “divination.” Some primitive people speak of “big dreams,” i.e., dreams that point the way on an important question; not all dreams are “big.” Holmes writes,
|Coleridge suggested, before Freud, that a certain universal symbolic language might be employed in the “Night World”; and speculated that there were several levels of human dreaming.... My narrative shows him recording and carefully classifying various “genera and species” of them: “nightmares” characterized by a continually frustrated sense of rational control; half-conscious “reveries”; dreams produced by physiological impulses in the body; dreams connected with forms of “passive” memory-association; dreams actively directed by a “dramatizing” and creative power apparently still awake in the mind; and dreams entering a deeper and more mysterious world of “divination”. [Dreams] were analogies of the creative act whenever the poet was writing freely from his inspiration.76G|
On the whole, Coleridge’s understanding of dreams is impressive, like his understanding of other subjects.
Coleridge and other Romantics were champions of nature. Nature would bring us close to God, they believed, it would give us inner peace, it would inspire the poet and the artist. In a poem called “Lime-Tree Bower,” Coleridge celebrated the broad views from the Quantock Hills:
The many-steepled tract magnificent
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea,
With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up
The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles
Of purple shadow!
For those who aren’t strong enough to climb mountains, smaller views can be equally attractive:
Nor in this bower,
This little lime-tree bower, have I not marked
Much that has soothed me....
though now the bat
Wheels silent by, and not a swallow twitters,
Yet still the solitary humble-bee
Sings in the bean-flower! Henceforth I shall know
That Nature ne’er deserts the wise and pure;
No plot so narrow, be but Nature there....
Edmundson says that we’ve cooled toward nature:
|Now many of us believe that we know nature and for the most part our knowing has nothing Romantic about it. To put it crudely, our knowing is Darwinian. Nature is the struggle for survival. Nature is the battle of one species with another. Nature is red in tooth and claw. The pretty and even the beautiful are defensive fabrications that put a shield in front of the brutal war of all against all that is the natural world.|
Darwinism is rather dismal, and it has darkened the contemporary attitude toward nature. Our beliefs about nature shape our feelings toward nature, our feelings toward the world, our feelings toward life. Do we have any choice but to subscribe to a dismal Darwinism? Does respect for truth force us to subscribe to Darwinism?
My chief objection to Darwinism isn’t its view that nature is a “brutal war.” In nature, as in the human sphere, violence plays an important role, and we can’t deny that. My chief objection to Darwinism is that it isn’t true, it isn’t the whole story, as Darwin himself realized as he grew older. Darwinism emphasizes hard matter, but modern physics has shown that hard matter is an illusion; materialism is clear and comprehensible, but it isn’t true.
Darwinism also emphasizes random mutation. Scholars are comfortable with random mutation because it’s clear and comprehensible — as clear and comprehensible as flipping coins — but it isn’t true, it’s illusory like hard matter. If you give a family of monkeys a typewriter, they’ll never create Hamlet by hitting keys randomly, not even in 10,000 generations. The creation of something as complicated as a cell, or the human body, or the human brain, requires some sort of intelligence, though it may be unconscious intelligence; it requires some sort of synchronicity; it requires some sort of urge or will; it requires some sort of creativity.
One might compare the creation of a cell to the creation of an art work, such as Hamlet. Evolution is a creative process, though it’s largely an unconscious process. Darwinism is dismal because it denies creativity, it denies urge and will. It turns the creativity of nature into a mechanical process, a process of hard matter undergoing random mutations. Darwinism turns what is beautiful and mysterious into something drab and mechanical. Coleridge would have been skeptical of Darwinism; Coleridge said, “There is ground for suspicion that any system built on the passiveness of the mind must be false.”77 As Barfield said, “The concept of mutation has nothing in common with Coleridge’s analysis of the origin of change in nature.”77B
Coleridge would have understood, better than anyone else, why mechanical Darwinism is popular. Coleridge knew that people like something that can be visualized; he spoke of “the despotism of the eye,” “slavery to the eye,” etc. The highest powers of the mind, in Coleridge’s view, broke free from this despotism (he called these powers “reason” and “imagination”). Lower mental functions, such as “fancy,” were in thrall to the despotism of the eye. Lower mental functions, Coleridge argued, equated “irrepresentable” with impossible.77C
Mechanical Darwinism deals with DNA molecules, which can be visualized, perhaps even seen, while Lamarckism deals with things that are difficult to visualize, such as will and synchronicity and the inheritance of acquired characteristics. “We are restless,” Coleridge wrote, “because invisible things are not the objects of vision; and metaphysical systems... become popular, not for their truth, but in proportion as they attribute to causes a susceptibility of being seen, if only our visual organs were sufficiently powerful.”77D A holistic process, such as Lamarckian evolution, is inherently difficult to visualize; linear causality is easier to visualize.
One of the attractions of the atomic theory is that it can be visualized, if not actually seen; Coleridge refers to the atomic theory as “the corpuscularian philosophy,” and speaks of it scornfully. Quantum theory is harder to visualize; in an earlier issue, I wrote, “Particles are inherently ‘ambiguous and elusive,’ airy nothings. We can’t even make a model of them. Heisenberg said, ‘The very attempt to conjure up a picture [of particles] and think of them in visual terms is wholly to misinterpret them.’” Quantum physics, like Lamarckism, breaks free from the despotism of the eye, and establishes truths that can’t be visualized.
The Establishment clings to Darwinism because it’s clear and comprehensible; the Establishment loathes the mysterious and the occult. You can’t became a Biology professor unless you accept materialistic Darwinism, just as you can’t become an English professor unless you accept The Stratford Theory, and you can’t become a Psychology professor unless you reject telepathy, precognition, etc. The Establishment (academia and the mainstream media) often suppresses truth, so perhaps we need to rely on intellectual populism, on solitary intellectuals persuading “the man on the street.”
We need the truth in order to develop a positive attitude toward nature. But the Establishment will cling to mechanical Darwinism; the Establishment loves theories that are clear and comprehensible. We need a non-material philosophy, a philosophy that acknowledges the invisible, the intangible, a philosophy that emphasizes will, urge, and instinct, a philosophy that’s comfortable with the mysterious and the occult.
Like many philosophers, Coleridge felt that he had surpassed all previous philosophers:
|My system, if I may venture to give it so fine a name, is the only attempt I know ever made to reduce all knowledges into harmony. It opposes no other system, but shows what was true in each; and how that which was true in the particular, in each of them became error, because it was only half the truth.76E|
I’m reminded of Mill’s view that one of the most common kinds of error is to take half the truth, and then call it the whole truth. This is what the Darwinians do: they take mutation and selection, and then say, “Now we have the whole truth about evolution.” In my view, they need to combine Darwinism with Lamarckian urge, will, instinct, creativity, they need to combine Darwinism with the inheritance of acquired characteristics, in order to reach the whole truth.
Coleridge’s ambition to “reduce all knowledges into harmony” included the ambition to combine the sciences and the humanities. “I wish... to connect by a moral copula natural history with political history; or, in other words, to make history scientific, and science historical — to take from history its accidentality, and from science its fatalism.”
This sounds like my theory of history, I take a principle from biology (i.e., from “natural history”) and apply it to history (I apply life- and death-instincts to history). The result is to “make history scientific,” that is, to view history in terms of law rather than accident. As for Coleridge’s ambition to make science historical, and take from science its fatalism, this reminds me of my view that evolution is about will and creativity, not just mutation and selection.
When Coleridge says that he “opposes no other system, but shows what was true in each,” I’m reminded of Hegel, who felt that all philosophies were partially true. Coleridge and Hegel were almost exact contemporaries, and have much in common.
Poets like Coleridge and Wordsworth are looking for Truth, looking for The Good Life. Many poets, like Robert Frost, are looking for beautiful phrases, beautiful images, they’re not trying to find Truth, find the secret of the universe. Were Coleridge and Wordsworth better poets than Frost because they had higher goals, because they had a higher conception of poetry? Or was Frost a better poet than they were because he had no philosophical aspirations? Because Coleridge and Wordsworth aimed so high, they both failed to complete their chief works; Wordsworth never completed his philosophical poem The Recluse, and Coleridge never completed his philosophical synthesis, his Opus Maximum. They deserve credit for their high aims, whether or not they attained those aims.
The biology establishment has embraced materialistic Darwinism. In doing so, they haven’t embraced a falsehood; rather, they’ve decided that a partial truth is the whole truth; they need to combine Darwin and Lamarck. As Mill said,
|the besetting danger is not so much of embracing falsehood for truth, as of mistaking part of the truth for the whole. It might be plausibly maintained that in almost every one of the leading controversies, past or present, in social philosophy, both sides were in the right in what they affirmed, though wrong in what they denied; and that if either could have been made to take the other’s views in addition to its own, little more would have been needed to make its doctrine correct.76F|
Barfield says that Coleridge had his own view of evolution, Coleridge developed “a full-fledged theory of evolution alternative to, and largely incompatible with” the widely-accepted Darwinian view. Coleridge seemed to believe that life is always moving and active, always pushing forward, driven by the two fundamental forces, the two opposing forces. If we think of these forces as the life- and death-instincts, then Coleridge’s argument becomes stronger — the life-instinct probably is an important force behind evolution.
Ideas are a philosopher’s stock in trade. Ideas usually try to capture reality. Sometimes ideas deal with ideas — the origin of ideas, the history of ideas. Philosophers create new ideas, but they’re also interested in the history of ideas, just as Einstein was interested in Newton. That Coleridge was a genuine philosopher is evident from his ideas about reality, and also from his remarks on intellectual history.
Coleridge realized that, when people make an intellectual breakthrough, they become obsessed with it, and carry it too far. I made the same point in an earlier issue: “Greek philosophers pioneered the rational approach, and were as fond of it as a child is of a new toy. Likewise, the pioneers of the scientific approach placed too much faith in their new methods, and were too contemptuous of the age-old wisdom of mankind, too contemptuous of mystics and alchemists.”
Coleridge makes the same point:
|It is a wonderful property of the human mind, that when once a momentum has been given to it in a fresh direction, it pursues the new path with obstinate perseverance, in all conceivable bearings, to its utmost extremes. And by the startling consequences which arise out of these extremes, it is first awakened to its error, and either recalled to some former track, or receives some fresh impulse, which it follows with the same eagerness, and admits to the same monopoly.... Our Gilbert, a man of genuine philosophical genius, had no sooner multiplied the facts of magnetism, and extended our knowledge concerning the property of magnetic bodies, but all things in heaven, and earth, and in the waters beneath the earth, were resolved into magnetic influences.
Shortly after a new light was struck by Harriot and Descartes... and the restoration of ancient geometry, aided by the modern invention of algebra, placed the science of mechanism on the philosophic throne. How widely this domination spread, and how long it continued, if, indeed, even now it can be said to have abdicated its pretensions, the reader need not be reminded. The sublime discoveries of Newton... gave almost a religious sanction to the corpuscular system and mechanical theory. It became synonymous with philosophy itself. It was the sole portal at which truth was permitted to enter. The human body was treated of as an hydraulic machine.76D
Coleridge’s argument has affinities to Hegel’s dialectic, to Hegel’s theory of Thesis ==> Antithesis ==> Synthesis. Because a new idea is often pushed to an extreme, it naturally calls forth a corrective, a counter-argument, an Antithesis. Then perhaps people realize that both sides are partly right, and a Synthesis develops.
Coleridge was a great writer, though not without flaws. He was flawed as a poet, and flawed as a philosopher. But if we judge him by his strengths, he’s one of the best English writers. And we should judge writers by their strengths. Coleridge himself opposed the principle of “judging a work by its defects, not its beauties. Every work must have the former — we know it a priori — but every work has not the latter.”78
The best description of Coleridge comes from Coleridge’s own poem “A Tombless Epitaph”:
O studious Poet, eloquent for truth!
Philosopher! contemning wealth and death,
Yet docile, childlike, full of Life and Love.
A recent piece in Commentary is called “The Trust Crisis.” The author, Abe Greenwald, writes:
|According to poll after poll, we’re losing our trust in government, the economy, media, a slew of institutions, and one another. Pew estimates that in 1973, 47 percent of Americans believed that most Americans could be trusted. Today, it’s down to 32 percent. That 15-point drop explains a lot: Our political division and extremism, our rejection of faith and tradition, and our social isolation are connected to waning trust.|
Greenwald mentions Francis Fukuyama, who wrote a book called Trust: Social Virtues and Creation of Prosperity. “Francis Fukuyama defines trust as ‘the expectation that arises within a community of regular, honest, and cooperative behavior, based on commonly shared norms, on the part of other members of that community.’ Trust is the key ingredient in what’s known as ‘social capital.’”
America is fraying, declining. Republicans blame Democrats, Democrats blame Republicans, but this decline may be an inevitable part of the aging of the nation. I don’t think Tocqueville would be surprised if he could see our current decline; on the contrary, he’d be surprised if we weren’t declining. Nations fray when they age, as a pair of pants frays when it ages. We lack the cohesion that Mill said was essential for a nation.
Greenwald mentions Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Putnam argued that trust, cooperation, and “social capital” have been declining in the U.S. since the 1960s. But Greenwald doesn’t mention Putnam’s most troubling conclusion, that trust and cooperation decline as diversity advances, that it’s harder for people to trust someone from a different ethnic group. As Jonathan Haidt put it, “Having a shared sense of identity, norms, and history generally promotes trust.” If Putnam and Haidt are right, Biden’s open-border policy will further erode trust, cooperation, and social capital.
And Greenwald doesn’t mention the issue of swindlers. Swindlers succeed when people trust them, swindlers take advantage of people’s trust, and swindlers make people less trusting. America has countless swindlers, eating away at our last scraps of trust. Just ask yourself, How many scam e-mails and phone calls have I received in the last 24 hours?
But this isn’t a new phenomenon, it didn’t start in the 1960s. When Dickens visited the U.S. around 1840, he was horrified at the number of swindlers, and at society’s tolerance of them. William James felt the same way as Dickens. James asked, “What are the bosom vices of the level of culture which our land and day have reached? ....Swindling and adroitness and the indulgence of swindling and adroitness.”
Imagine that you’re talking to students at Harvard Law School, and asking them why they want to be lawyers. How many of them will say, “I want to be a lawyer in order to defeat swindlers, and protect the victims of swindlers”? None of them will say that. Our society doesn’t understand the problem of swindlers, and doesn’t sympathize with the victims of swindlers.
Too many American lawyers are swindlers themselves, and this is one reason why American lawyers have a low reputation. American lawyers inflate their hours; they admit it, they joke about it. Here’s a joke that was told by a lawyer:
A lawyer dies and comes before God. God asks him,
“How old are you?”
“Only 45? If I add up your hours-billed, you must be at least 65.”
As Yuval Levin argued, institutions like the law must mold the characters of their members, and make their members trustworthy. The most important task of a law school is to encourage students to resist the siren song of money and power, and follow the strait and narrow path of integrity. How can American lawyers have a decent reputation if they inflate their hours? Why don’t law schools make integrity a high priority?
A few lawyers worked overtime to defeat swindlers, and managed to put them into prison, but Trump pardoned them as he was leaving office. Perhaps one sign of a swindler is that he’s not outraged by swindlers, he has a certain sympathy for swindlers.
In this respect, as in many other respects, Biden is as bad as Trump; Biden let his son attend a state dinner even when it was clear that his son had broken a host of moral rules and legal rules; like Trump, Biden was pardoning a swindler.
As a person’s tolerance toward swindlers is often a sign that he himself is a swindler, so too a person’s outrage at swindlers is a sign of his own integrity. Dickens and William James had integrity, hence they were appalled by swindlers.
The decline of America is happening before our eyes, all the world sees it, it’s probably inevitable and irreversible. But this isn’t a reason for despair, just as our own personal aging, our own decline, isn’t a reason for despair. When Robert Bork was watching the ClarenceThomas hearings, Irving Kristol asked him, “What’s happening?” Bork responded, “The end of civilization.” “Of course it is,” Kristol said. “But it’ll take a long time. Meanwhile, it’s still possible to live well.”
Commentary publishes many good essays, besides Abe Greenwald’s essay on trust. Thirty years ago, I learned of Coleridge’s philosophical writings through a Commentary essay by Elie Kedourie. Kedourie was a man of vast learning, and he didn’t shy away from difficult writers like Coleridge. Alas, scholars like Kedourie are a dying breed.
Bees and butterflies are considered pollinators because they spread pollen, and thereby help plants. Many Americans have become enthusiastic about pollinator gardens — that is, gardens that provide sustenance for bees, butterflies, etc. Writers like Doug Tallamy urge people to shrink their lawns — i.e., have less grass and more pollinator-friendly plants such as Milkweed, Joe-Pye, and Anise Hyssop.
Lawns have little ecological benefit; indeed, the weed-killers put on lawns are often harmful to pollinators. Chemicals that kill mosquitoes, like those that kill weeds, are harmful to pollinators. Pollinator-decline leads to bird-decline, since birds get some of their food from pollinators (caterpillars, a form of butterfly, are a favorite food of birds). Advocates of pollinator gardens recommend “No Mow May,” i.e., leave your lawn un-mowed (or partially un-mowed) in May, to help pollinators.
Many bees/butterflies depend on a specific plant species; Monarch butterflies, for example, depend on Milkweed. Native butterflies depend on native plants (they’ve co-evolved with native plants), hence a pollinator garden emphasizes native plants, and avoids invasive species.
The word Psyche in Greek meant soul and also butterfly. Below is a mosaic from the Palais Garnier in Paris, showing Psyche and Hermes. A butterfly is above Psyche’s head.
Coleridge, with his keen interest in words, noted the link between soul and butterfly:
The butterfly the ancient Grecians made
The soul’s fair emblem, and its only name
|1.||Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 4, #10. Coleridge compared “a man who marries for Love” to “a Frog who leaps into a well — he has plenty of water, but he cannot get out again.”(Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 14, #4)
Coleridge is always alert to the roots of words. He writes, “The imagination of the worldling is wholly occupied by surfaces, while the Christian’s thoughts are fixed on the substance, that which is and abides, and which, because it is the substance, the outward senses cannot recognize.”
Then, in a footnote, he says that “substance” comes from the Latin for “standing under,”
|2.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 6, #6 back|
|3.||Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions, Ch. 8, #2 back|
|4.||Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions, Ch. 4, #2. For more on Coleridge’s walk through Wales, see this web-page. back|
|5.||Barfield, What Coleridge Thought, Ch. 6, p. 71
Coleridge and Wordsworth had some disagreements about poetry. Holmes says that Coleridge’s poetry had a tone of “Romantic strangeness” that was “much deprecated” by Wordsworth.(Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 8, #11) And Coleridge “lamented that Wordsworth was not prone enough to believe in the traditional superstitions of [the Quantocks], and that there was something corporeal, a matter-of-factness, a clinging to the petty, in his poetry, in consequence.”(Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 8, #10) back
|5B.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 4, #11 back|
|6.||Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 1, #3 back|
|6B.||Coleridge’s Variety, edited by John Beer, Ch. 6, “Coleridge’s Anxiety,” by Thomas McFarland, p. 148. The next five or ten quotes are from this essay. McFarland says that the coolness between Coleridge and his mother is comparable to that between Samuel Johnson and his mother. back|
|6C.||Coleridge’s Variety, edited by John Beer, Ch. 6, “Coleridge’s Anxiety,” by Thomas McFarland, p. 136.
McFarland says that Coleridge’s anxiety was due to the difficulty of his childhood, and also his appreciation of that difficulty, his “unusual mental receptivity.” McFarland quotes Kierkegaard: “The less spirit, the less anxiety.... The greater the anxiety, the greater the man.”(Ibid, p. 161) back
|8.||See Henri Troyat’s Tolstoy, Ch. 1 or Ch. 2 back|
|9.||See Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 1, #6 back|
|10.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 1, #5. Elsewhere Holmes tells us that, shortly before writing “Ancient Mariner,” Coleridge worked on “The Wanderings of Cain,” which also dealt with murder, guilt, and exile.(Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 8, #1) back|
|11.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 1, #7 back|
|12.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 2, #1 back|
|13.||Holmes writes, “he was not allowed back to Ottery, during the brief Christmas and summer vacations, more than three or possibly four times over the next nine years.”(Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 2, #2) back|
|14.||Holmes writes, “the sense of bereavement was very strong, and henceforth he would often refer to himself as an ‘orphan.’”(Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 2, #1) back|
|14B.||Coleridge’s Variety, edited by John Beer, Ch. 6, “Coleridge’s Anxiety,” by Thomas McFarland, p. 150, footnote back|
|15.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 2, #3 back|
|16.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 3, #4 back|
|17.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 3, #4 back|
|18.||This is a quote from Holmes, not Coleridge. See Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 4, #3. back|
|19.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 4, #2 back|
|20.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 4, #3 back|
|21.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 3, #6 back|
|22.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 4, #6 back|
|23.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 6, #2 back|
|24.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 7, #5 back|
|24B.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 9, #8 back|
|24C.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 10, #6 back|
|24D.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 11, #4. For more on this period of Coleridge’s life, see Holmes’ map of the Lake District, and Holmes’ bibliography. Holmes recommends the following three books about this period:
|24E.||The source of this quote and the next quote is an essay by Thomas McFarland called “The Symbiosis of Coleridge and Wordsworth,” Studies in Romanticism, Fall, 1972, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp. 263-303, jstor.org/stable/25599859 back|
|24F.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 11, #5 back|
|24G.||Quoted in McFarland, “The Symbiosis of Coleridge and Wordsworth,” p. 271 back|
|24H.||Quoted in Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 11, #7 back|
|24I.||Thomas McFarland, “Symbiosis...” p. 297, quoting Stephen Parrish, link here. My next paragraph is also McFarland-inspired.
Did Coleridge and Wordsworth both need the stimulus of their relationship, their conversations, their poems? After they became estranged, neither one produced any important poetry; both of them were only creative until about age 35. I’m reminded of E. M. Forster, who began writing novels in his early 20s, but stopped around age 35. back
|24J.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 11, #5, Footnote
What exactly were the defects of “Ancient Mariner,” in Wordsworth’s view? “The principal person has no distinct character... He does not act, but is continually acted upon.” Are these really defects? Perhaps real people are “continually acted upon.” Perhaps a clearly-defined character is unrealistic, a literary invention. Is it possible that Wordsworth is praising while he means to criticize? When Tolstoy criticized Shakespeare, Wilson Knight responded, These criticisms are actually compliments. Tolstoy criticized Hamlet on the same grounds that Wordsworth criticized “Ancient Mariner,” namely, that the protagonist has “no distinct character.” As I wrote in an earlier issue,
Is it possible that Wordsworth’s criticisms of “Ancient Mariner” were, unbeknownst to Wordsworth, compliments? When people are put in extreme situations, such as living on a life-raft, perhaps their individual differences melt away, perhaps they drop their persona. Does this justify the Mariner’s lack of character? Charles Lamb thought it did. Responding to Wordsworth’s criticisms, Lamb wrote, “The Ancient Mariner undergoes such Trials, as overwhelm and bury all individuality or memory of what he was, like the state of a man in a Bad dream.”(Lamb is quoted in McFarland’s “Symbiosis”) back
|24K.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 13, #4 back|
|24L.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 13, #6. The phrase “landscape poetry” is mine. back|
|24M.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 13, #6. The tendency to plagiarize went together with a tendency to fabricate. After the sudden death of Wordsworth’s brother, Coleridge exaggerated and dramatized his reaction to the tragic news. Holmes writes, “John Wordsworth’s ship... had been wrecked in a storm off Weymouth, with the loss of all cargo, three hundred men and the captain himself.” When Coleridge was informed, his friend saw him “go pale,” and he “staggered from the room. He walked back to his garret, supported by the Sergeant-at-Arms and pursued by [his friend]. As he got to his door, he collapsed.” But Coleridge later said that he “‘fell down on the ground in a convulsive fit’ in front of fifty people in the ‘great Saloon of the Palace’ itself.”(Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Reflections, Ch. 1, #13) back|
|24N.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 14, #2 back|
|24O.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 13, #3 back|
|24P.||Conversations With Eckermann, October 7, 1827 back|
|24Q.||Click here for Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria. I chose a translation from Bartleby. The original German is|
So wenig er auch bestimmt seyn mag, andere zu belehren, so wuenscht er doch sich denen mitzutheilen, die er sich gleichgesinnt weis (oder hofft), deren Anzahl aber in der Breite der Welt zerstreut ist; er wuenscht sein Verhaeltniss zu den aeltesten Freunden dadurch wieder anzuknuepfen, mit neuen es fortzusetzen, und in der letzten Generation sich wieder andere fur seine uebrige Lebenszeit zu gewinnen. Er wuenscht der Jugend die Umwege zu ersparen, auf denen er sich selbst verirrte. back
|24R.||Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 1, #9. Holmes speaks of “Indian hemp.” Hemp was often grown in India. There was an industrial variety of hemp — used to make rope, paper, clothing, etc. — and another variety with mind-altering properties. back|
|24S.||Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Reflections, Ch. 1, #12 back|
|24T.||Coleridge’s Variety, edited by John Beer, Ch. 6, “Coleridge’s Anxiety,” by Thomas McFarland, p. 137. In this essay, McFarland says that Coleridge’s first child, Hartley, was an “abject failure.” So Coleridge exemplifies the theory of “genius parenting” that I set forth in my book of aphorisms. back|
|24U.||Coleridge’s Variety, edited by John Beer, Ch. 6, “Coleridge’s Anxiety,” by Thomas McFarland, p. 141, footnote. This is a top-notch essay, Holmes deserves credit for recommending it in his Bibliography. Holmes has put together an excellent Bibliography. back|
|24V.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 1, #15 back|
|24W.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 3, #6 back|
|24X.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 3, #5 back|
|24Y.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 5, #2 back|
|24Z.||Quoted in Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 4, #18 back|
|A1.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 5, #1 back|
|A2.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 5, #7. In the Lovejoy section, I discuss how the doctrine of Original Sin helped Coleridge to accept himself. back|
|A3.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 6, #1 back|
|A4.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 6, #2. See the Emerson section for another comment on Wordsworth’s narrowness. back|
|A5.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 6, #2 back|
|A6.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 6, #3 back|
|A7.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 6, #3 back|
|A8.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 6, #5 back|
|A9.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 6, #12 back|
|A10.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 6, #12. I’m quoting Holmes, who’s quoting Coleridge. back|
|A11.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 6, #15 back|
|A12.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 7, #5 back|
|A13.||See the Norton Critical Edition of Coleridge’s writings, Coleridge’s Poetry and Prose, p. 417, footnote 6
As the artist uses a fusing or unifying imagination, so the art critic discovers a one-ness in works that seem multifarious. Holmes tells how Coleridge wrote essays about the paintings of his friend Washington Allston, essays that were collected under the title “On the Principles of Genial Criticism.” Coleridge looked for the underlying form/shape that was “‘concealed by the action and passion’ of the human participants.... Coleridge summed up his whole position in a formula that he was to use frequently in his later criticism: Beauty was the intuition of the one in the many.”(Coleridge: Darker Reflections, Ch. 8, #3)
Does this definition of beauty seem chilly, static, formal? It should be remembered that Coleridge also defined beauty as “Passion united with order.... an explosion of energy perfectly contained.... He linked this dynamic aesthetic with the moral nature of mankind: happiness required that we had the individual sense of ‘free will’ and ‘spontaneous action’, balanced and reconciled with ‘regular forms’ of duty and obligation.”(Coleridge: Darker Reflections, Ch. 8, #3) back
|A14.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections, Ch. 7, #13 back|
|A15.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections, Ch. 7, #18 back|
|A16.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections, Ch. 8, #6 back|
|25.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 4, #6. The Coleridge scholar Thomas McFarland speaks of Coleridge’s “masochism,” without explaining the origin or nature of this masochism. Masochism is close to what I call “weak ego,” but I think masochism suggests active self-injury, or at least active self-denial, and I don’t see that in Coleridge. The phrase “weak ego” is better than “masochism” at explaining Coleridge’s receptive attitude toward the world, his ability to forget himself in old folios, his ability to feel his way into the nature of things. back|
|25B.|| Quoted in “The Symbiosis of Coleridge and Wordsworth,” by Thomas McFarland, pp. 270, 271, link here back|
|26.||James, “The Coxon Fund,” #1. Carlyle also wrote a fictional work that has a Coleridge character. The story is called Wotton Reinfred, it’s regarded as an early version of Sartor Resartus, and it wasn’t published until after Carlyle’s death. Sanders says of Wotton Reinfred, “In this novel Dalbrook, identified with Coleridge, is a mystic philosopher and champion of transcendentalism, an ‘ardent seeker of truth and a worshipper of the invisible,’ who nevertheless is ‘incapable of action and without unity in himself.’”(Sanders, p. 442)
A friend of Carlyle’s named John Sterling wrote a story called “The Onyx Ring,” in which Carlyle is depicted as “Collins.” back
|27.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 4, #6 back|
|28.||Barfield, p. 214 back|
|29.||Barfield, Ch. 6, p. 72, quoting Shawcross back|
|30.||See Emerson’s English Traits, which is quoted in the Norton Critical Edition of Coleridge’s writings; see also this website, which describes Emerson’s meetings with Coleridge and Wordsworth. back|
|30B.|| Perhaps the best commentary on Coleridge’s prose style is by Walter Pater.|
“The chief offence in Coleridge [Pater wrote] is an excess of seriousness, a seriousness arising not from any moral principle, but from a misconception of the perfect manner. There is a certain shade of unconcern, the perfect manner of the eighteenth century, which may be thought to mark complete culture in the handling of abstract questions.
“[Coleridge’s] very language is forced and broken lest some saving formula should be lost — ‘distinctities,’ ‘enucleation,’ ‘pentad of operative Christianity’; he has a whole armory of these terms.... Everywhere [he] allows the impress of a somewhat inferior theological literature.”(Pater, Appreciations, “Coleridge”)
But even Pater didn’t really grasp Coleridge’s philosophy, he thought Coleridge was only important as a writer on aesthetics. Pater seems unaware of Coleridge’s concept of polarity, Coleridge’s concept of two fundamental forces. Is he unaware of it because he didn’t read the books in which it’s expressed, books like Hints Towards A More Comprehensive Theory of Life? back
|31.||In an earlier issue, I discussed Lucretius and Vergil: “Keightley prefers the poetry of Lucretius to Vergil’s Georgics; he says that Lucretius has ‘a natural vigor, a sweetness, and a sense for the picturesque, which Vergil did not possess.’ Keightley says that Vergil fell short of his models, i.e., fell short of Theocritus, Lucretius, and Homer.”
In Biographia Literaria, Coleridge says that, as a teenager at Christ’s Hospital, he learned to prefer Demosthenes to Cicero, Homer and Theocritus to Vergil, and Vergil to Ovid. He learned to prefer Lucretius, Terence, and Catullus to later poets, and even to prefer them to Vergil and Horace, “in the truth and nativeness both of their thoughts and diction.” back
|32.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 6, #2 back|
|33.||Anima Poetae, Oct. 26, 1803, p. 29 back|
|34.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 6, #6 back|
|35.||Anima Poetae, Oct. 26, 1803, p. 29 back|
|36.||Blyth, Ch. 16, pp. 228, 229 back|
|37.||Blyth, Ch. 17, p. 247 back|
|38.||“The Perfect Critic” (1920) back|
|39.||This is a quote from Mill (Mill’s essay on Coleridge). back|
|40.||See Mill’s essay on Coleridge. back|
|41.||Mill praises the historical writings of Guizot.
Mill says that the “Germano-Coleridgian doctrine” is a reaction against eighteenth-century philosophy. “It is ontological because that was experimental; conservative, because that was innovative; religious, because so much of that was infidel; concrete and historical, because so much of that was abstract and metaphysical; poetical, because that was matter-of-fact and prosaic. In every respect it flies off in the contrary direction to its predecessor.”(Mill’s Collected Works, edited by J. M. Robson, Vol. 10, p. 125)
Each generation reacts to the preceding generation, counters the preceding generation. As Proust said, “The critics of each generation confine themselves to maintaining the direct opposite of the truths admitted by their predecessors.” The history of thought is thesis followed by antithesis; there’s a polarity in the history of thought, a clash of opposites, a “dialectic.”
As the Enlightenment was often scornful of history, so Coleridge’s generation respected history. Barfield says that Coleridge was “thinking and writing in the early dawn of that new dimension of consciousness, for which perhaps the most satisfactory name is ‘historicism’.... The Philosophical Lectures... show an awareness, of the evolution... of consciousness itself, which has rarely been evinced before our own time.”(Barfield, Ch. 4, p. 56) back
|42.||Mill’s Collected Works, edited by J. M. Robson, Vol. 10, p. 132 back|
|43.||Mill’s Collected Works, edited by J. M. Robson, Vol. 10, p. 135, 136 back|
|44.||Letter to Wordsworth, quoted in Barfield. Barfield says that Boscovich was “familiar to and honored by Coleridge.”(Barfield, p. 244) Boscovich was a critic of “materialistic atomism.”
Barfield is surprised that Coleridge didn’t study Goethe’s scientific writings more closely. Barfield says that Coleridge was familiar with Goethe’s Theory of Color, but not Goethe’s botanical writings, such as his Theory of Metamorphosis (1790). Barfield says of the Theory of Metamorphosis, “Not only is its method based on precisely what Coleridge demands, namely penetration from natura naturata into natura naturans, but its ‘archetypal plant’ (Urpflanze) is the very embodiment of the idea of polarity as the basis of life.”(Barfield, p. 242) Polarity could indeed be the basis of life if we say that the polar opposites are the life-instinct and the death-instinct.
Barfield quotes Goethe: “There might well be another way of considering nature, not bit by separate bit, but as alive and actively working from the whole to the parts.”(ibid) Barfield says that such passages would have struck a chord with Coleridge.
Barfield himself was a student of Rudolf Steiner, who wrote much about Goethe’s view of nature.
Barfield is impressed with Donald Stauffer’s work on Coleridge. Barfield is also impressed with a scholar named John Shawcross, who edited a 2-volume edition of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria. And Barfield has high praise for J. A. Appleyard (Joseph A. Appleyard), a Jesuit who taught at Boston College. Barfield says that Appleyard “has employed the biographical/comparative approach so instructively and so well in his Coleridge’s Philosophy of Literature.” Barfield refers respectfully to Thomas McFarland’s Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition; McFarland is a major figure in Coleridge studies. As for Coleridge’s political thought, Barfield mentions David Calleo’s “excellent book on Coleridge and the Idea of the Modern State.” back
|44B.|| Barfield, Ch. 4, p. 47. The previous three or four quotes are also from the fourth chapter of Barfield’s book. back|
|44C.||Letter to Tom Poole, quoted in Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 12, #2. Coleridge writes, “That which we find in ourselves is the substance and the life of all our knowledge.” I found the idea of polarity (opposing forces) in my own experience, my own polar moods, and I found the idea of connectedness/telepathy in my own experience of telepathy. back|
|44D.||From Table Talk, quoted in Thomas McFarland, “The Symbiosis of Coleridge and Wordsworth,” link here. The next couple quotes (lines of poetry) are also from the McFarland essay.
McFarland says that in 1815, Coleridge wrote to Wordsworth, sketching a plan for Wordsworth’s never-completed philosophical poem, The Recluse. The first job, Coleridge wrote, was to lay “a solid and immoveable foundation for the Edifice by removing the sandy Sophisms of Locke, and the Mechanic Dogmatists, and demonstrating that the Senses were living growths and developments of the Mind & Spirit in a much juster as well as higher sense, than the mind can be said to be formed by the Senses.”(McFarland, “Symbiosis...” p. 299) back
|44E.||It would be false, however, to say that Coleridge became a Hermetist as a teenager, and remained a Hermetist. During his college years, Coleridge became a disciple of the philosopher David Hartley, who took a mechanical, Newtonian approach to the workings of the mind. In these years, Coleridge was sympathetic to the French Revolution and to Unitarianism. Later he rejected all these schools, took a more conservative approach to politics and religion, and became fond of mystics like Jacob Boehme. He blamed the radicals and Newtonians for harming “the Taste and Character, the whole tone of Manners and Feeling, and above all the Religious... and the Political tendencies of the public mind.” In his Biographia Literaria, Coleridge describes his transition from the rational approach to a more mystical approach. He hoped to move the public mind away from the radical, mechanical worldview.(Coleridge’s Variety, edited by John Beer, Ch. 5, by M. H. Abrams, p. 107) back|
|45.||A. O. Lovejoy, Essays in the History of Ideas, Ch. 13, p. 263 back|
|46.||Schopenhauer applied his theory of will to everything, even inanimate matter.
Owen Barfield quotes one of Coleridge’s notes, where Coleridge says that the idea of Matter as a given (a Datum) is a “gross prejudice.” Matter is “a product in time, the resulting phenomenon of the equilibrium of the two antagonist forces, Attraction and Repulsion, that the Negative and this the Positive Pole.”(Barfield, What Coleridge Thought, Ch. 2, p. 25)
Coleridge said that the “universal law” of “essential dualism” was “first promulgated by Heraclitus.” Heraclitus spoke of enantiodromia, running toward the opposite. Empedocles believed in two forces, Love and Strife (Philotes and Neikos); Love brought the four elements together, Strife separated them. Later the “two-forces view” was “made the foundation both of logic, of physics, and of metaphysics by Giordano Bruno.”(Coleridge, The Friend, quoted in Barfield, What Coleridge Thought, Ch. 3, p. 31)
Today we think of Hegel as the philosopher who made dualism the foundation of logic and metaphysics. Coleridge was familiar with Hegel, and read some of his writings, but didn’t have a strong interest in him; Barfield says that Coleridge paid “scant attention” to Hegel.(Barfield, p. 228)
Coleridge probably didn’t get his dualism from Hegel, or from his own mind, he probably got it from other German philosophers, dualism was “in the air.” Kant, for example, said that matter was “a product of the elemental powers of attraction and repulsion.” This theory (and other Kantian theories) made a deep impression on Coleridge; Coleridge said that Kant’s work “took possession of me as with a giant’s hand.”(Coleridge’s Variety, edited by John Beer, p. 116, footnote)
Perhaps there was a dualist tradition in Western philosophy (Nicholas of Cusa, etc.), and perhaps this tradition influenced Kant, Hegel, and Coleridge. If Bruno was dualist, as Coleridge says he was, then perhaps he was part of the dualist tradition, perhaps he was influenced by thinkers like Nicholas of Cusa.
The Coleridge scholar Alice Snyder says, “Bruno has always been recognized as one of Coleridge’s philosophical sources.”
Hegel is one of the German writers who sometimes reminds one of Coleridge; Hegel and Coleridge were contemporaries. Among French writers, Chateaubriand reminds one of Coleridge; Chateaubriand was in the same generation as Hegel and Coleridge. Like Coleridge, Chateaubriand was a defender of the monarchy and the church.
I’ve long regarded the Paired Particles experiment as a key experiment, a particularly revealing experiment. Coleridge had this to say about such experiments: “The naturalist, who cannot or will not see, that one fact is often worth a thousand, as including them all in itself, and that it first makes all the other facts, who has not the head to comprehend, the soul to reverence, a central experiment or observation (what the Greeks would perhaps have called a protophaenomenon), will never receive an auspicious answer from the oracle of nature.”
Richard Feynman felt that Double Slit was a key experiment: “There is only one mystery. If you can come to terms with the double-slit experiment then the battle is more than half over, since any other situation in quantum mechanics, it turns out, can always be explained by saying, ‘You remember the case of the experiment with the two holes? It’s the same thing.’” back
|46B.||Barfield, p. 202. The two fundamental forces mix and inter-penetrate. Barfield compares them to “two nations at total war, each with a network of spies and a resistance movement, distributed throughout the whole of the other’s territory — and each with a secret underground passage opening into the citadel in the heart of the enemy’s metropolis.”(Barfield, Ch. 3, p. 36)
The notion of two fundamental forces is found in ancient Greek philosophy as well as ancient Chinese philosophy. “Anaximander posited that every element had an opposite... (water is cold, fire is hot).... There was, according to Anaximander, a continual war of opposites.”(Wikipedia) Heraclitus saw opposites throughout the universe. back
|47.||Is the difference between the life-instinct and the death-instinct a difference of kind or degree? In my book of aphorisms, I wrote, “Instead of speaking of two separate instincts (a life-instinct and a death-instinct), one could speak of two versions of one instinct: a strong, healthy version of the life-instinct, and a weak, tired version of the life-instinct.” Coleridge debated whether to view Fancy and Understanding as different kinds, or different degrees of the same kind.(See Barfield, Ch. 7, pp. 82-84)
Barfield perceives the link between Coleridge and yin-yang, and the link between Coleridge and Jung, but he doesn’t seem to have any interest in yin-yang or in Jung.(Barfield, Introduction, p. 11)
Coleridge’s two forces, like my two instincts, can’t be seen or touched, so they aren’t causes in the usual sense of the word “cause.” Barfield writes, “The two forces [are] not body, nor in any conventional sense the ‘causes’ of what is bodily.”(Barfield, Ch. 3, p. 33) So Coleridge’s concept of fundamental forces (like my concept of instincts) shakes the ordinary concept of causality, as connectedness/synchronicity shakes the concept of causality. Here we have a possible link between polarity and connectedness, and a possible explanation of why both polarity and connectedness make rational thinkers uncomfortable. back
|48.||I’m quoting Barfield, who’s quoting Coleridge’s Hints Towards A More Comprehensive Theory of Life. See Barfield, Ch. 4, p. 47.
Coleridge believed that “the opposite forces... though they never act singly, and though they invariably interpenetrate, do alternate in the temporary predominance of the one over the other.”(I’m quoting Barfield, who’s paraphrasing Coleridge. See Barfield, Ch. 4, p. 55)
This belief resembles what I wrote about decadence and renaissance: “Just as all organic life contains both a life-instinct and a death-instinct, so too every society contains both a life-instinct and a death-instinct. Most epochs are neither completely renaissance-type nor completely decadent; most epochs are moderately renaissance-type or moderately decadent, that is, most epochs are a combination of the life-instinct and the death-instinct, with one of these instincts slightly stronger than the other.” In Coleridge’s concept and in my concept, there are two basic forces; one force predominates over the other, and this predominance is temporary, this predominance alternates. back
|49.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 2, #6
|50.||Barfield, Ch. 3, p. 37. In an essay called “Coleridge: A Bridge Between Science and Poetry,” Kathleen Coburn describes Coleridge attending Davy’s chemistry lectures, and making careful notes. Coburn says, “Coleridge’s excitement about the rapidly developing chemistry of his day was intense.”
Coleridge’s friend Tom Poole owned a tanyard, and Coleridge studied the chemistry of the tanyard. Another friend, Tom Wedgwood, owned a porcelain factory, and he studied the chemistry of porcelain-making. “Chemistry had meaning for [Coleridge] in daily experience,” Coburn writes, “simply because he asked questions about cause and effect everywhere.”
Coleridge also appreciated the aesthetics of chemistry — for example, the colors of burning gases. He noted, “Sulphur heated, burns blue, in higher heat white, in Oxygen gas a most beautiful purple.”
Coleridge realized that there were deep philosophical questions underlying chemistry. He said that things are held together by opposing forces, and he said that his view influenced Davy: “Sir H. Davy adopted my suggestion that all Composition consisted in the Balance of opposing Energies.” Coleridge would probably agree with me that a human being is a balance of life-instinct and death-instinct. Coleridge felt that everything — matter and organisms — was a balance of two opposing forces.
Coburn notes that, in addition to his scientific, aesthetic, and philosophical interests, Coleridge was loyal to the “Hebraic-Christian moral tradition.” Coleridge was “a writer of pamphlets attacking child labor, [and] advocating the Bible as the best guide for politicians.” Shortly before he died, he said “he wished to evince in the manner of his death the depth and sincerity of his faith in Christ.”
Coburn’s essay (“Coleridge: A Bridge Between Science and Poetry”) can be found in Coleridge’s Variety, edited by John Beer. The quote about Christ is on page 163.
In his writings, Coleridge often alludes to scientific facts. For example, he says that bees use hexagons when making their honeycombs, and he notes that, according to geometry, hexagons afford the largest number of rooms in a given space. Discussing the intelligence of animals, Coleridge mentions a poodle who was “trained up, not only to hatch the eggs of the hen with all the mother’s care and patience, but to attend the chickens afterward, and find food for them.”(The Friend, pp. 95, 96) back
|51.||Barfield, Ch. 3, p. 35 (I deleted Footnote 52, hence the jump from 51 to 53) back|
|53.||Psychological Types (Collected Works, Vol. 6), #3. Here’s another Jung quote that makes the same point: “The more complete the conscious attitude of extraversion is, the more infantile and archaic the unconscious attitude will be. The egoism which characterizes the extravert’s unconscious attitude goes far beyond mere childish selfishness; it verges on the ruthless and the brutal.”(“General Description of the Types,” probably in Collected Works, Vol. 6) back|
|53B.||Barfield, Ch. 3, p. 35 back|
|53C.||Barfield, Ch. 2, p. 24 back|
|53D.||Barfield, p. 112
|53E.||Barfield, p. 110 back|
|54.||Biographia Literaria, Ch. 16 back|
|55.||On the Constitution of the Church and State, “Paragraph the First,” footnote back|
|56.||Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 1, #9. “Stowey” means Nether Stowey in Somerset (there’s also a town in Somerset called “Stowey,” but Coleridge didn’t live there). Grasmere is in the Lake District, Highgate is near London (now part of London). back|
|56B.||Aids To Reflection (in Shedd’s edition of Coleridge’s Complete Works in 7 volumes, published 1884, Vol. 1, pp. 252, 253) back|
|57.||This is a quote from Mill (Mill’s essay on Coleridge). It should be noted that Mill doesn’t agree with Coleridge, Mill doesn’t believe in “direct intuition.” Mill says, “The truth, on this much-debated question, lies with the school of Locke and of Bentham. The nature and laws of things in themselves, or of the hidden causes of phenomena which are the objects of experience, appear to us radically inaccessible to the human faculties. We see no ground for believing that anything can be the object of our knowledge except our experience, and what can be inferred from our experience by the analogies of experience itself.... We are therefore at issue with Coleridge on the central idea of his philosophy.... We think the doctrines of Coleridge and the Germans, in the pure science of mind, erroneous.”(Mill’s essay on Coleridge)
On the other hand, Mill admits that Locke’s theory has been taken too far. Mill admits that “the doctrines of the school of Locke stood in need of an entire renovation,” and therefore the “Germano-Coleridgian” school was partly right.
At the start of Chapter 13 of Biographia Literaria, Coleridge quotes Milton at length. Milton distinguishes between discursive reason and intuitive reason. Intuitive reason is what I call intuition.
We think of reason as different from the unconscious, perhaps the opposite of the unconscious. But Coleridge used the word “reason” to mean something similar to the unconscious; Barfield says, “One way, for us, of approaching his whole conception of reason, is to think of it as ‘the unconscious.’”(Barfield, p. 108)
Barfield sees a kinship between Coleridge’s philosophy and Goethe’s. Goethe believed that one sees an idea, as one sees a sunset: “Thinking [is] no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colors and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas.”(Wikipedia)
Instead of saying, “Thinking perceives ideas,” perhaps we should say, “Intuition perceives ideas, intuition sees ideas.” The root of “intuition” is the Latin tueri, to look at. Coleridge said that intuition/reason sees ideas, sees truth: “Reason [is] much nearer to Sense [Coleridge wrote] than to Understanding: for Reason [is] a direct aspect of truth, an inward beholding, having a similar relation to the intelligible or spiritual, as Sense has to the material or phenomenal.” Coleridge is using “spiritual” to mean religious, “intelligible” to mean non-religious ideas.
Since this footnote started from Mill’s paraphrase of Coleridge, perhaps I should let Coleridge speak for himself:
“There is an intuition or immediate beholding, accompanied by a conviction of the necessity and universality of the truth so beholden, not derived from the senses, which intuition, when it is construed by pure sense, gives birth to the science of mathematics, and when applied to objects super-sensuous or spiritual is the organ of theology and philosophy.”(Aids to Reflection, Shedd’s edition of Coleridge’s Complete Works, published 1884, Vol. 1, pp. 252, 253)
“Reason... affirms truths which no sense could perceive, nor experiment verify, nor experience confirm.”(ibid, p. 252)
In an earlier issue, I defended the Lamarckian theory of evolution. I quoted a critic of that theory, who said it was “inconceivable”:
“Bateson was an avowed enemy of Lamarckism [I wrote]. Bateson said that the inheritance of acquired characters was ‘a process frankly inconceivable.’ Yes! Exactly! Lamarckism is inconceivable just as quantum physics is inconceivable, just as psychic phenomena are inconceivable. That something is inconceivable isn’t an argument against its existence.”
Coleridge says that all deep truths, all the truths affirmed by “reason,” are “inconceivable.” We’re often forced to express these deep truths as “two contradictory conceptions, each of which is partially true.” I’ve argued that Darwin and Lamarck are both partly right. And I’ve often argued that truth is contradictory; I’ve quoted Niels Bohr: “There are the superficial truths, the opposite of which are obviously wrong. But there are also the profound truths, whose opposites are equally right.” And finally, Coleridge and I agree that the deep truths of intuition (i.e., “reason”) carry a deep conviction of truth; Coleridge speaks of “absolute certainty.”
This is a long footnote. Do I need to apologize? Coleridge was an inveterate footnoter, and he says that no apology is necessary. At the end of a long footnote, he wrote,
“P.S. In a continuous work, the frequent insertion and length of notes would need an apology: in a book like this, of aphorisms and detached comments, none is necessary, it being understood beforehand that the sauce and the garnish are to occupy the greater part of the dish.”(Ibid, p. 250) back
|57B.||The Friend, pp. 96-97. The next couple quotes are also from this source. back|
|58.||Biographia Literaria, Ch. 2 back|
|59.||I’ve often mentioned Schopenhauer’s remark, Truth agrees with itself and confirms itself. (I haven’t been able to trace this remark; if Schopenhauer didn’t say it, I’ll say it.) Some might say this is circular reasoning. I suspect that circular reasoning deserves a higher reputation than it has. Kuhn said, “When paradigms enter... into a debate about paradigm choice, their role is necessarily circular. Each group uses its own paradigm to argue in that paradigm’s defense.... The resulting circularity does not, of course, make the arguments wrong or even ineffectual.... The status of the circular argument is only that of persuasion.”(The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Ch. 9)
I would say that persuasion is everything, and therefore we shouldn’t speak of “only” persuasion.
Coleridge understood the importance of circular reasoning:
|60.||Lovejoy, Essays in the History of Ideas, Ch. 13, “Coleridge and Kant’s Two Worlds” back|
|61.||Lovejoy p. 274 back|
|62.||Lovejoy, p. 275. One could argue that Coleridge’s Christianity wasn’t entirely orthodox. He once told Henry Crabb Robinson that “Christ was ‘a Platonic philosopher,’ miracles were not ‘essential’ to the Christian system, ‘historic evidence’ could never prove a religious faith, and religious belief was ‘an act not of the understanding but of the will.’ Yet despite what Robinson saw as ‘the skeptical tendency of such opinions,’ Coleridge affirmed passionate belief in the spirit of Christianity.”(Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Reflections, Ch. 6, #2) This was around 1810. Perhaps Coleridge became more orthodox later in his life, when he expressed his religious views in writing.
|64.||Bodkin, Archetypal Patterns, Ch. 1, #1, p. 2 (I deleted Footnote 63, hence the jump from 62 to 64) back|
|64B.||See Coleridge’s literary criticism, p. 257. This passage is also quoted in Barfield, p. 226, footnote 21. Barfield sees the link between Coleridge and Jung.
Barfield says that the source of the Coleridge quote is Coleridge’s Miscellaneous Criticism, edited by T. M. Raysor. Barfield also says that the Coleridge quote can be found in Herbert Read’s True Voice of Feeling. Read was a student of Jung, and an editor of Jung’s Collected Works. Read was also a noted critic of literature and visual art, and he had a particular interest in the poetry of the Romantics. Richard Holmes praises Read’s work on Coleridge, especially his essays “Coleridge As Critic,” “The Notion of Organic Form,” and “A Complex Delight.” These three essays are all in Read’s True Voice of Feeling. back
|64C.||Barfield, p. 226, footnote 19, quoting The Friend back|
|64D.||Barfield, p. 108. This is a quote from Barfield, not Coleridge. back|
|64E.||See Barfield, p. 108, or see Volume 6 of Coleridge’s Complete Works in 7 volumes, published 1884, edited by William G. T. Shedd, p. 133 back|
|65.||Bodkin Ch. 2, #3, p. 51 back|
|66.||Goethe quoted by Baudouin, who’s quoted by Bodkin. I inserted the word “thing.” back|
|67.||Bodkin, Ch. 2, #3, p. 51. Bodkin writes, “The image of a ship driving before the wind is used by [Coleridge] as a conscious metaphor to express happy surrender to the creative impulse. ‘Now he sails right onward’ [Coleridge] says of Wordsworth engaged upon The Prelude, ‘it is all open ocean and a steady breeze, and he drives before it.’”(Anima Poetae, p. 25, probably a notebook entry from October 1803) Wikipedia says that, for many years, Wordsworth worked on The Prelude but didn’t give it a title; he referred to it as “Poem to Coleridge”. Holmes’ biography of Coleridge mentions Book VI of the 1805 Prelude, suggesting that Book VI deals with Coleridge, perhaps with Coleridge’s youth.
Coleridge’s description of Wordsworth engaged on The Prelude reminds me of Max Brod’s description of Kafka engaged on Amerika: “Kafka is in ecstasy, writes whole nights through. A novel set in America.” back
|68.||Bodkin, p. 45, quoting Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” #1
Bodkin praises Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway. Bodkin says that Woolf records “the inner flow of thought and feeling.... ‘the pattern [which] each sight and incident scores upon the consciousness.’”(Bodkin, Ch. 2, #7, p. 86) Bodkin says that, even if you aren’t a novelist, you can study your inner life, your thought-associations, as Francis Galton did.(See Bodkin, Ch. 2, #2, p. 31)
Bodkin says that D. H. Lawrence tries to fuse flesh and spirit, serpent and eagle. But while his serpent comes to life, his eagle doesn’t (“the phrases ring thinly”). Lawrence shows “resistance and resentment” toward the “mountain-height.”(Bodkin, Ch. 6, #2) back
|69.||See this site, which puts Carlyle’s letters online. See also this essay by C. Richard Sanders. back|
|70.||See Carlyle’s Life of John Sterling back|
|71.||Lovejoy, Ch. 13, p. 266. Coleridge made notes in the margins of books he read. “In terms of the number and of the variety of books so adorned, and of the worth of the notations themselves, [Coleridge’s marginal commentary] has no real counterpart in either English or continental literature.”(Coleridge’s Variety, edited by John Beer, Ch. 6, “Coleridge’s Anxiety,” by Thomas McFarland, p. 158) Here again we see that Coleridge was a prolific writer, though he rarely wrote books. back|
|72.||Quoted in C. Richard Sanders, “The Background of Carlyle’s Portrait of Coleridge in The Life of John Sterling”; online here
When Coleridge was lecturing on poetry in 1811, he argued that “The first (prose) chapter of the Book of Isaiah could be ‘reduced to complete hexameters’ with only minor shifts in word-order, ‘so true it is that wherever Passion was, the language became a sort of meter.’”(Richard Holmes, quoting Coleridge, see Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 6, #12) I think it’s an interesting and valid argument, but it would be a stronger argument if Coleridge were talking about prose that hadn’t been translated. back
|73.||Quoted in Sanders, p. 449 back|
|74.||Quoted in Sanders, pp. 448, 449 back|
|75.||Quoted in Sanders, p. 436. Full letter here. back|
|76.||See this site, and Holmes, Coleridge: Early Visions: 1772-1804, Ch. 6, #6 back|
|76B.||Barfield says, “[Coleridge] was almost the discoverer of the unconscious mind.”(Introduction, p. 8) Here we have another parallel between Coleridge and his contemporary, Schopenhauer. back|
|76C.||These quotes are from Barfield, p. 10 back|
|76D.||Hints Towards the Formation of a More Comprehensive Theory Of Life, quoted in The Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by Donald Stauffer, pp. 564, 565|
|76E.||Table Talk, quoted in Barfield, Ch. 13, p. 158 back|
|76F.||Mill, Essay on Coleridge back|
|76G.||Coleridge: Darker Reflections: 1804-1834, Ch. 6, #3, especially the footnote. back|
|77.||Lovejoy, Essays in the History of Ideas, Ch. 13, p. 260 back|
|77B.||Barfield, p. 240 back|
|77C.||Barfield, p. 198 back|
|77D.||Barfield, pp. 219, 220. Barfield is quoting Biographia Literaria, where Coleridge writes,
“Under that despotism of the eye (the emancipation from which Pythagoras by his numeral, and Plato by his musical symbols, and both by geometric discipline, aimed at, as the first propaideutikon [preparatory education] of the mind) under this strong sensuous influence, we are restless because invisible things are not the objects of vision; and metaphysical systems, for the most part, become popular, not for their truth, but in proportion as they attribute to causes a susceptibility of being seen, if only our visual organs were sufficiently powerful.”(Biographia Literaria, Ch. 6, excerpted in Coleridge’s Poetry and Prose, p. 424)
|78.||Anima Poetae, p. 24, Oct. 1803 back|