IMAGINATION
IN COLERIDGE

©   John Spencer Hill


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Introduction
[1]   The prevailing concept of "mind" in eighteenth-century England was that advanced by empirical philosophers like Hobbes, Locke, Hume, and Hartley.   In their systems the mind is represented as a tabula rasa or as a sheet of "white paper void of all characters, without any ideas" on which external impressions conveyed through the five senses are printed.   "Whence has [the mind] all the materials of reason and knowledge?   To this I answer, in one word, from experience; in that all our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself."1   The mind, then, functions merely as the passive recorder of sense impressions, especially those originating in sight.   These mental "images" or replicas of original sense impressions are stored in the memory, and in the acts of thinking or reflection they are recalled and combined with other stored-up images by the faculty of association.   William Godwin has left the following summary of empirical epistemology:
The human mind, so far as we are acquainted with it, is nothing else but a faculty of perception.   All our knowledge, all our ideas, every thing we possess as intelligent beings, comes from impression.   All the minds that exist, set out from absolute ignorance.   They received first one impression, then a second.   As the impressions became more numerous, and were stored up by the help of memory, and combined by the faculty of association, so the experience increased, and with the experience the knowledge, the wisdom, every thing that distinguishes man from what we understand by a "clod of the valley".2
In such empiricist systems and in the aesthetic theories derived from them, the role of Imagination is severely restricted and its operation regarded with suspicion.   Functioning only as a mode or aspect of Memory, it is an illusion-making, "castle-building" faculty diametrically opposed to the sovereign faculty of Reason; its concern [2] is with fiction rather than fact, and it takes as its object not truth but intentional falsehood.   (It may be added that, although there are some exceptions,3 neoclassical criticism generally did not discriminate between the terms Imagination and Fancy.)   The orthodox eighteenth-century theory is stated concisely in Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (1755), where Imagination is defined as "Fancy; the power of forming ideal pictures; the power of representing things absent to one's self or others."   One or two examples will make his meaning clearer.   In the first place, Imagination is an aspect of Memory and its function is to reproduce past sensory experience (tastes, smells, objects of vision, &c.) in the form of mental images recalled and constructed out of materials stored in the Memory.   Thomas Hobbes, for example, holds that "Imagination and Memory are but one thing [namely, 'decaying sense'], which for divers considerations hath divers names"; and John Dryden develops the same point in an image, likening "the faculty of imagination" to "a nimble spaniel, [that] beats over and ranges through the fields of memory, till it springs the quarry it hunted after . . . .   It is some lively and apt description, dressed in such colours of speech, that it sets before your eyes the absent object, as perfectly, and more delightfully than nature".4 But Imagination is more than simply a mode of Memory; it is also the power by which originally distinct impressions are welded together -- but not fused or blended -- to form images that have no existence or counterpart in sense experience:   for example, the image of a horse combined with that of a man yields a hybrid known as a centaur.   The production of such mythological grotesques was often adduced by neoclassical aestheticians as an illustration of the way in which Imagination combines originally discrete images in its fabrications.   In these terms, however, Imagination is a combining and associative but not a truly creative faculty; and it is therefore with a heavily qualified definition of "creativity" that one must approach such statements as William Duff's assertion that the Imagination, "by its plastic power of inventing new associations of ideas, and of combining them with infinite variety, is enabled to present a creation of its own".5   The same limitation applies to Dugald Stewart's description:   "The province of Imagination is to select qualities and circumstances from a variety of different objects; and, by combining and disposing these, to form a new creation of its own.   In this appropriated sense of the word, it coincides with what some authors have called Creative or Poetical Imagination".6

It is in opposition to these theories and the mechanical faculty [3] psychology on which they depend that Coleridge gradually develops his conviction that Imagination is a more truly creative power.   Rather than being simply a faculty for rearranging materials fed to it by the senses and the memory, the Imagination is a shaping and ordering power, a "modifying" power which colours objects of sense with the mind's own light:

Ah! from the Soul itself must issue forth
A Light, a Glory, and a luminous Cloud
          Enveloping the Earth!
And from the Soul itself must there be sent
A sweet & potent Voice, of it's own Birth,
Of all sweet Sounds the Life & Element!7
The mind is not the passive recorder of sense impressions; it is not (as for the empiricist) like an inert block of wax on which external objects imprint themselves.   On the contrary, for Coleridge as for Wordsworth, perception is a bilateral rather than a unilateral activity; sense experience is a stimulus that evokes a response and involves (to borrow a phrase from Wordsworth) "A balance, an ennobling interchange Of action from within and from without".8   Thus the product in any given act of perception is a modified combination of the percipient and the thing-perceived and is, as Coleridge asserts in Biographia Chap xii, neither a subject (perceiver) nor an object (thing-perceived) exclusively, but rather the most original union of both.   In and through the act of blending "thoughts" and "things," the (primary) Imagination functions as a fusing, synthesizing power -- an esemplastic power whose operation generates a new reality by shaping parts into wholes, by reconciling opposites and drawing unity from diversity.   It is not, as for the neoclassical critic, a mechanical faculty ("aggregative and associative"); it is, rather, a vital and organic power common to all men, which permits the mind to penetrate beneath the transitory surface of the material world, that is, to see into the life of things and experience the intimate relationship between the perceiving mind and the objects of its contemplation.   The germinal potency of Coleridge's theory of Imagination lies in his rejection of passive perception, his recognition of perception as integrative, poietic, and necessarily correlative with feeling, and his understanding that the poetic Imagination grows out of a seamless bond between perception, memory, association, feeling, intellect, and a sense of language as being in some way autonomous.   But this is to anticipate.   Before we [4] come to his mature theory we must travel a little way along the path that led him to its formulation.

It is not surprising that initially Coleridge's understanding of the word Imagination should be determined by neoclassical usage; accordingly, in the years 1790-1801 he uses the terms Imagination and Fancy interchangeably to denote the mental faculty opposed to Reason and characterized by the ability either of recalling past images or of creating illusions of its own.   Thus he writes of "the wanderings of my castle building Imagination," inveighs with mock gravity against "Truth, that Poisoner of Imagination," and in a more serious vein observes that "this bodily frame is an imitative Thing, and touched by the imagination gives the hour that is past, as faithfully as a repeating watch" (CL i 48-9, 478 and vi 1012).   Similar examples might easily be multiplied from the letters of this period and from the early poetry.9

Occasionally, however, there are hints in these early writings of a departure from normal neoclassical usage.   In a letter of March 1798 to John Wicksteed, for example, the Imagination shows signs of emerging from its subordination to the Memory and is hesitantly invested with a mimetic function of its own:   "People in general are not sufficiently aware how often the imagination creeps in and counterfeits the memory -- perhaps to a certain degree it does always blend with our supposed recollections" (CL i 394).   In November 1800 the Imagination is more confidently disengaged from its associative, purely mnemonic role in empiricist theory:   "she appears to me to have been injured by going out of the common way without any of that Imagination, which if it be a Jack o'Lanthorn to lead us out of the way is however at the same time a Torch to light us whither we are going.   A whole Essay might be written on the danger of thinking without Images" (CL i 646).   Here, the Imagination is an autonomous faculty and, instead of being the antagonist of Reason (as in neoclassical theory), is a complementary power functioning as its correlate in rational inquiry.   Perhaps more remarkable than the two passages just quoted in terms of Coleridge's mature position are the adumbration of the later theory of "primary" Imagination in the Slave-Trade lecture of 1795 (Extract 1) and the description in The Destiny of Nations (1796) of how Fancy-Imagination "unsensualises the dark mind" (Extract 2).   But such early statements must be approached with a degree of caution.   Interesting though they may be, it is dangerous to assign to them a greater conceptual or theoretic sophistication than they deserve or require.   Because these passages [5] include details that, with hindsight, we recognize to be part of the mature formulation, there is a temptation to construe them as premonitions and to make them more important than they really are.   But hindsight must not be confounded with prescience.   In the final analysis the early deviations from the empiricist view of Imagination cannot be seen as material anticipations of the later theory.   What they represent, in fact, are emergent occasions which did not come to fruition; many of the apparent correspondences with later theoretic developments are verbal rather than in any sense substantive, are merely echoes of ideas that were in the air at the time.

Although largely extrinsic to Coleridge's mature theory, these early statements nevertheless provide valuable evidence of his inherent dissatisfaction with the purely materialistic explanation of perception and the role of Imagination, and they imply a quality of mind that will lead him inevitably to reject the empirical hypothesis and to greet his later discovery of Kant's epistemology with the enthusiasm of a homecoming.   According to Coleridge's own account in one of the autobiographical letters (16 October 1797) written at the request of Thomas Poole, he had longed in childhood and youth for "the Vast" and a unified view of life which lay beyond the testimony of the senses and (consequently) outside the grasp of an empirical psychology:

I remember, that at eight years old I walked with my father one winter evening from a farmer's house, a mile from Ottery -- & he told me the names of the stars -- and how Jupiter was a thousand times larger than our world -- and that the other twinkling stars were Suns that had worlds rolling round them -- & when I came home, he shewed me how they rolled round -- / .   I heard him with a profound delight & admiration; but without the least mixture of wonder or incredulity.   For from my early reading of Faery Tales, & Genii &c &c -- my mind had been habituated to the Vast -- & I never regarded my senses in any way as the criteria of my belief.   I regulated all my creeds by my conceptions not by my sight -- even at that age.   Should children be permitted to read Romances, & Relations of Giants & Magicians, & Genii? -- I know all that has been said against it; but I have formed my faith in the affirmative. -- I know no other way of giving the mind a love of "the Great," & "the Whole." -- Those who have been led to the same truths step by step thro' the constant testimony of their senses, seem to me to want a sense which I possess -- They contemplate nothing [6] but parts -- and all parts are necessarily little -- and the Universe to them is but a mass of little things. -- It is true, that the mind may become credulous & prone to superstition by the former method -- but are not the Experimentalists credulous even to madness in believing any absurdity, rather than believe the grandest truths, if they have not the testimony of their own senses in their favor? -- I have known some who have been rationally educated, as it is styled.   They were marked by a microscopic acuteness; but when they looked at great things, all became a blank & they saw nothing -- and denied (very illogically) that any thing could be seen; and uniformly put the negation of a power for the possession of a power -- & called the want of imagination Judgment, & the never being moved to Rapture Philosophy! --  (CL i 354-5)
Here is the seed, the special quality of mind, whose growth and divaricaton must eventually choke the materialistic epistemology and lead to a rejection of the "mechanical" psychology that treats the Imagination as no more than an "aggregative and associative" faculty.   Here too, although it is not yet endowed with any systematic depth or precision, is the germ of Coleridge's life-long campaign against what he called in Biographia Chap vi "the despotism of the eye," that is, the natural inclination to reduce all thought to visual terms:   "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".(BL i 74)10   But the full working out of these ideas lies still in the future.   In 1797 they bespeak only a quality and habit of mind that has been neither fully articulated nor integrated into any meaningful conceptual framework; indeed, there is a passage in a letter to John Thelwall analogous to that quoted above from the autobiographical letter to Poole and written only two days before it, which shows clearly that while he yearned for "the Vast" and a unified view he had not yet discovered it:
I can at times feel strongly the beauties, you describe, in themselves, & for themselves -- but more frequently all things appear little -- all the knowledge, that can be acquired, child's play -- the universe itself -- what but an immense heap of little things? -- I can contemplate nothing but parts, & parts are all little -- ! -- My mind feels [7] as if it ached to behold & know something great -- something one & indivisible -- and it is only in the faith of this that rocks or waterfalls, mountains or caverns give me the sense of sublimity or majesty! -- But in this faith all things counterfeit infinity! -- (CL i 349)

Coleridge recognized that discovery comes as a saltus, with a leap, and involves an irrevocable change of state.   (Keats's formulation of Negative Capability in a letter provides a fine dramatic instance of how this happens:   he was having "not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects" when suddenly "several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature . . . . " 11)   Fortunately, in the case of Coleridge's initial insight into the nature and role of Imagination we have a record of the leap, although we cannot date it accurately.   It occurs in Biographia Chap iv where, having observed that "genius produces the strongest impressions of novelty, while it rescues the most admitted truths from the impotence caused by the very circumstance of their universal admission," he continues:   "This excellence, which in all Mr. Wordsworth's writings is more or less predominant, and which constitutes the character of his mind, I no sooner felt, than I sought to understand.   Repeated meditations led me first to suspect, (and a more intimate analysis of the human faculties, their appropriate marks, functions, and effects matured my conjecture into full conviction,) that fancy and imagination were two distinct and widely different faculties, instead of being, according to the general belief, either two names with one meaning, or, at furthest, the lower and higher degree of one and the same power"  (BL i 60-1; Extract 33-C).   Since this passage occurs within the context of Coleridge's first meeting with Wordsworth and the latter's recitation of Guilt and Sorrow, the probable date of the initial insight and consequent determination to investigate the seminal principles of Wordsworth's art is the autumn of 1795.12   But the original leap was not final; it pointed the path but did not immediately bring him to the goal.   The overthrow of Hartleian psychology and the concomitant desynonymization of Fancy and Imagination required "repeated meditations" and "a more intimate analysis of the human faculties" before the initial "conjecture" was finally matured into a "full conviction".   The precise length of this maturative process cannot with certainty be determined; however, the first clear formulations of the nature of Imagination appear in a series of letters to William Sotheby [8] dating from mid-1802 (Extracts 7, 8, 9) which culminate in the earliest direct statement of the Imagination-Fancy distinction:   "At best, it is but Fancy, or the aggregating Faculty of the mind--not Imagination, or the modifying, and co-adunating Faculty".   There are compelling reasons (which I shall examine presently) for believing that July-September 1802 -- the period when the letters to Sotheby were written -- were crucial months in the shaping of the theory of Imagination.   Although it is an exaggeration to say that the literary aspects of the theory had been fully developed by mid-1802, it is nevertheless true that earlier statements are fragmentary and inchoate and that later statements, while they refine and give theoretic precision to the 1802 formulation, do not substantially alter its terms or character.   If Coleridge plunged impulsively into the Rubicon in 1795, it is equally clear that he emerged on the further shore in the late summer of 1802 and advanced directly on Rome with confidence and a firmly defined sense of mission.

The formulation of 1802 was made possible by three cardinal factors.   First, the innate platonising quality of Coleridge's mind bred a natural distrust of purely materialistic explanations and led him eventually to reject the "mechanical" faculty psychology and passive perception of the rationalist school.   Second, there is the inductive leap occasioned by the recognition of Wordsworth's genius and the implications for Coleridge's criticism of his puzzling over the nature and special characteristics of Wordsworth's art.   Third, there is the fecundating relationship between Coleridge's own experience of poetic creativity and the growth of his critical faculty.   I shall take these points in turn.

In December 1794 Coleridge bluntly declared to Southey that he was "a compleat Necessitarian -- and understand the subject as well almost as Hartley himself -- but I go farther than Hartley and believe in the corporeality of thought"  (CL i 137), and in May 1796 he made a similar assertion in a letter to John Thelwall  (ibid., 213).   However, despite his obvious debt to empiricism and to Hartley in particular, there is as I mentioned earlier a constitutive transcendental strain in Coleridge's thought that precludes his resting at ease within the materialistic framework of empiricism.   According to his own retrospective account in the autobiographical letters to Poole, the yearning for truths beyond the grasp of sense experience originated in his reading fairy tales and "all the gilt-cover little books" that were to be had in the Ottery vicarage or in his aunt's "every-thing Shop" at Crediton  (CL i 347-8).   This early reading prepared a fertile [9] seed-bed for his introduction to the writings of Plato and the Neoplatonists during his years (1782-1791) at Christ's Hospital School.   There, he steeped himself in the works of philosophers like Proclus, probably with the aid of Thomas Taylor's recent translations; by 1787 he had himself apparently translated into anacreontics eight hymns of Synesius, "the hyper-platonic Jargonist" as he later called him  (CN i 200); and many years afterwards Charles Lamb recalled how "the young Mirandula" had unfolded to his fellow-students and entranced passers-by "the mysteries of Jamblichus, or Plotinus" in the school cloisters.13   Later, he discovered the Cambridge Neoplatonists, and in May 1795 and again in November 1796 he borrowed the 1743 edition of Ralph Cudworth's True Intellectual System of the Universe from the Bristol Library.14   Such reading established a dissonant counterpoint to the ideas gathered from Hume, Hartley, and Priestley.   So, too, did the diffused Christian figuration (itself deeply tinged with Platonism) that he absorbed from sources as diverse as the sermons of Jeremy Taylor, Thomas Burnet's Telluris Theoria Sacra, and George Berkeley's Treatise on the Principles of Human Knowledge.

In terms of Coleridge's intellectual development, his discovery in 1795 of Cudworth's True Intellectual System was an event of great importance.   Cudworth had challenged the rising tide of empiricism in his day by asserting that the universe was not (as Hobbes and others believed) composed merely of inert material atoms governed by mechanical laws; rather, the natural world was symbolic of a transcendent reality that lay beyond material appearances.   The explanation of organic life, that is, the explanation of the interrelations of the corporeal and the incorporeal, Cudworth finds in what he calls the "spermatic reason or plastic nature" which is held to be the life-force and principle of growth in the universe.15   Cudworth's doctrine of nature as an adumbration of deity, a second book of Scripture through which God continuously reveals himself, was promptly appropriated by Coleridge in his lectures on revealed religion of May-June 1795; he borrowed The True Intellectual System on May 15 and in the first lecture, delivered only four days later, we find him asserting that "The Omnipotent has unfolded to us the Volume of the World, that there we may read the Transcript of himself"  (CC i 94; cf also Lecture 3, ibid., 158).   Hereafter, the theme becomes a commonplace in his writings, particularly in his poetry.   In August 1795, for example, it turns up linked with the principle of "plastic nature" in lines 44-8 of The Eolian Harp:
[10]

Or what if all of animated nature
Be but organic Harps diversely fram'd
That tremble into thought, as o'er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the Soul of each, and God of all?
Perhaps about this same time it was incorporated into Religious Musings (lines 126-31); in 1796 it resurfaces in lines 13-26 of The Destiny of Nations (Extract 2), and in 1798 it is given its finest expression in lines 58-62 of Frost at Midnight:
                    so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
The relevance of this neoplatonic pantheism to Coleridge's theory of the Imagination is made clear in his lecture on the slave-trade of June 1795  (Extract 1): "The noblest gift of Imagination is the power of discerning the Cause in the Effect[,] a power which when employed on the works of the Creator elevates and by the variety of its pleasures almost monopolizes the Soul.   We see our God everywhere -- the Universe in the most literal Sense is his written Language."   Imagination, then, is the mental faculty that allows man to interpret the symbolic language in which God has written himself into the natura naturata and to discover an all-embracing unity extending through the multiform appearances of the material universe.

The nature and extent of Coleridge's debt to Cudworth's True Intellectual System is difficult to assess with any precision.   On the one hand, the work clearly pleased him and in some way spoke to his condition; he borrowed it twice from the Bristol Library, read it with enthusiastic attention, and drew on it immediately and repeatedly for lectures, poems, and notebook entries  (cf. CN i 200-5, 244-7, and nn).   On the other hand, however, there is nothing particularly remarkable in the ideas which he took from Cudworth; they are by and large the staples of second- and third-hand Platonism and he knew many of them already from other sources (particularly the Enneads of Plotinus which he read long before he came to Cudworth) and would meet them again shortly in works like Henry More's Enthusiasmus triumphatus and An Antidote against Atheism.   Nevertheless [11] Cudworth seems to occupy a special place.   The most reasonable explanation is simply that Coleridge stumbled upon The True Intellectual System at an opportune moment, that the innate platonising strain in his faith and thought had grown too acute to remain tranquil for long within the enclosure of Priestley and Hartley, and that Cudworth's book was the lens which focused this dissatisfaction and so was instrumental in releasing him from the confines of their narrow mechanistic rationalism and materialism.   If this is indeed what happened, it is not surprising that he should call Imagination a "restless faculty" (Extract 1).

However, it is important to recognize that although Coleridge appropriated the neoplatonic pantheism of Cudworth and others he did not immediately succeed in assimilating it and stamping it with his own personality.   In the form in which we have it the "One Life" theme (beloved of recent critics because it is "portable") is so unremarkable and pervasive as to be almost banal.   The "Volume of the World" and nature as "one mighty alphabet For infant minds" is a widely dispersed notion, current certainly among the Cambridge Platonists (especially Cudworth and Henry More) but still very much in the air in the 1790s.   Moreover, the dreamy versified philosophy of poems like Religious Musings or The Destiny of Nations -- philosophising which offers sonorous short-cuts at the very points where speculative clarity is demanded -- does less than justice to the acuity and power of Coleridge's mind.   And it may be added that what is true of Coleridge's early adoption of Neoplatonism is also true of his attitude to Christianity.   Although his faith was certainly sincere by the mid-1790s, it was not "carried alive" into his heart but was rather manipulated with an almost secular enthusiasm as it swam up in response to the threat of materialism.   "But tho' all my doubts are done away," he confessed to J.P. Estlin in 1798, "tho' Christianity is my Passion, it is too much my intellectual Passion:  and therefore will do me but little good in the hour of temptation & calamity"  (CL i 407).16

Despite these reservations, however, the fact remains that Cudworth's True Intellectual System, encountered in May 1795, sparked a reaction -- given Coleridge's inherently Platonic cast of mind, an inevitable reaction -- against the Hartleian epistemology; and at the same time it supplied him, for the moment, both with a systematic vision and a terminology with which to combat the doctrine of mechanical necessity.   It also, as we know from the Slave-Trade lecture of 1795, prompted him to see the Imagination as an [12] interpretative rather than merely an associative faculty of the mind.   But the symbol-reading power assigned here to Imagination is still a long way from the dynamic, integrative, poietic energy ascribed to it in the mature formulation.   In the final analysis, Cudworth's system was no more Coleridge's own than Hartley's had been; but by extricating him from necessitarianism, it prepared the soil and left it tilled and fertilized, ready for the sowing of new seed.   That seed was planted, as Coleridge tells us in Biographia Chap iv  (above, p. 7), by the sudden revelation of Wordsworth's genius in the autumn of 1795; it germinated in a "conjecture" of the difference in kind between Fancy and Imagination, broke into bud with the desynonimization of these two powers in the letters of 1802 to Sotheby, and achieved fruition in 1815 in a literary autobiography culminating in a mature assessment of Wordsworth's art and genius.   From there, releasing the new seed that had been ripening for some time in the pods of the parent stalk, the plant began to spread growth into the neighbouring fields of philosophy, psychology, science and theology.

In experiential terms, the "leap" occasioned by the insight of 1795 into the nature of Wordsworth's art (and the subsequent desire to isolate and define its characteristic genius) led first to a recognition of the difference between himself and Southey, with whom he lodged and worked in Bristol in 1795-6.   In his own case, as he told Thelwall in December 1796, thought and feeling are inextricably linked, and in some vague way Imagination (which he still calls Fancy) is bound up with both:

I feel strongly, and I think strongly; but I seldom feel without thinking, or think without feeling.   Hence tho' my poetry has in general a hue of tenderness, or Passion over it, yet it seldom exhibits unmixed & simple tenderness or Passion.   My philosophical opinions are blended with, or deduced from, my feelings:   & this, I think, peculiarizes my style of Writing.   And like every thing else, it is sometimes a beauty, and sometimes a fault.   But do not let us introduce an act of Uniformity against Poets -- I have room enough in my brain to admire, aye & almost equally, the head and fancy of Akenside, and the heart and fancy of Bowles, the solemn Lordliness of Milton, & the divine Chit chat of Cowper; and whatever a man's excellence is, that will be likewise his fault.  (CL i 279)
Southey, on the other hand, as he told Thelwall a fortnight later, [13] possessed fluency but wanted Imagination:   "In language at once natural, perspicuous, & dignified, in manly pathos, in soothing & sonnet-like description, and above all, in character, & dramatic dialogue, Southey is unrivalled; but as certainly he does not possess opulence of Imagination, lofty-paced Harmony, or that toil of thinking, which is necessary in order to plan a Whole"  (CL i 293-4).   Here again Imagination is connected with thinking; and the nature of that relationship is made somewhat clearer four months later in a letter to Joseph Cottle, where Southey is contrasted with Milton:
Wordsworth complains, with justice, that Southey writes too much at his ease -- that he seldom "feels his burthened breast
Heaving beneath th' incumbent Deity".17
He certainly will make literature more profitable to him from the fluency with which he writes, and the facility with which he pleases himself.   But I fear, that to posterity his wreath will look unseemly -- here an ever living amaranth, and close by its side some weed of an hour, sere, yellow, and shapeless -- his exquisite beauties will lose half their effect from the bad company they keep.   Besides I am fearful that he will begin to rely too much on story and event in his poems, to the neglect of those lofty imaginings, that are peculiar to, and definitive of, the poet.   The story of Milton might be told in two pages -- it is this which distinguishes an Epic Poem from a Romance in metre.   Observe the march of Milton -- his severe application, his laborious polish, his deep metaphysical researches, his prayers to God before he began his great poem, all that could lift and swell his intellect, became his daily food.   (CL i 320)
The precise relation between thought and Imagination is by no means clear to Coleridge here, but he senses that in some way they are connected and correlative.   Looking ahead, we can see where this line of thought will ultimately lead, for from the security of his mature formulation he will assign to Southey "great fancy but no imagination"  (Extract 18).

The second stage of development is marked by the association with Wordsworth and especially by the events of the annus mirabilis, 1797-8.   In his retrospective account in Biographia Chap iv of the sudden revelation produced by the recitation of Wordsworth's Guilt and Sorrow in 1795, Coleridge remembered that what had "made so unusual an impression on my feelings immediately, and subsequently [14] on my judgement . . . was the union of deep feeling with profound thought; the fine balance of truth in observing , with the imaginative faculty in modifying the objects observed; and above all the original gift of spreading the tone, the atmosphere, and with it the depth and height of the ideal world around forms, incidents, and situations, of which, for the common view, custom had bedimmed all the lustre, had dried up the sparkle and the dew drops"  (Extract 33-C).   As we have just seen, he was soon led to the recognition that Southey lacked the requisite "union of deep feeling with profound thought" that Wordsworth (and Milton) possessed and that he believed himself to possess, though in a less developed state than Wordsworth.   And the perception of the differences between his own ideas and Southey's poetic practice drove him to consolidate his original insight, to attempt to understand and explain the "unusual impression" made on his feelings by the strange and powerful impact of Wordsworth's genius.

Although Coleridge apparently did not see Wordsworth again until over a year after their first meeting in late 1795, the two men did carry on a correspondence, either directly or through Cottle, the Bristol publisher.   In March 1796 Cottle transmitted a copy of Guilt and Sorrow to Coleridge, who (according to Azariah Pinney) read the poem "with considerable attention" and "interleaved it with white paper to mark down whatever may strike him as worthy your [i.e., Wordsworth's] notice".18   In fact, Coleridge kept the manuscript for over a month, and his careful study of the text more than confirmed the opinion of original genius formed when the poem had been read to him the previous autumn, for on May 13 he described Wordsworth as "a very dear friend of mine, who is in my opinion the best poet of the age"  (CL i 215).   Coleridge moved to Nether Stowey at the end of December 1796; the following March Wordsworth paid him a visit and Coleridge reciprocated by spending three weeks with the Wordsworths at Racedown in June.   The effect of renewed personal contact deepened further Coleridge's estimate of his friend's abilities:   "I speak with heart-felt sincerity & (I think) unblinded judgement," he wrote to Cottle from Racedown, "when I tell you, that I feel myself a little man by his side; & yet do not think myself the less man, than I formerly thought myself"  (CL i 325).19 By the middle of July the Wordsworths had settled at Alfoxden, some three miles from Stowey, and the two men were together almost daily.   They discussed poetry and poetic theory in rambles over the Quantocks and on sheltered hill-sides overlooking the Bristol Channel and the low [15] purple outline of the Welsh coast ten miles distant.   These talks led to the composition of such poems as Kubla Khan, Frost at Midnight, The Nightingale, and Part I of Christabel.   A walking tour to the Valley of Stones near Lynmouth in November 1797 resulted in the composition of The Ancient Mariner, although the poem was not finally completed until the following March.20   The Ancient Mariner was originally conceived as a joint-production, but Wordsworth, realizing that he "could only have been a clog" upon it, withdrew at an early stage.   Nevertheless, the poem and the literary discussions surrounding it did lead in the spring of 1798 to the plan of the Lyrical Ballads:   see Extract 33-G and n 2.

The effect of the collaboration with Wordsworth on the development of Coleridge's thought is too complex and extensive a subject to admit detailed exposition here.   It will, I hope, be enough for the moment to point out that their intimate association found an immediate outlet not so much in poetic theory as in practice, not in philosophic elaboration of a theory of Imagination so much as in its actual application in the writing of poetry.   And what characterizes his verse in this annus mirabilis and sharply distinguishes it from that composed before mid-1797 is its heightened rendering of perceptual experience:

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet's cry
Came loud -- and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings:   save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
'Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness.   Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village!   Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams!  the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
[16] Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.
      Frost at Midnight, 1-23
Here, in fact, in practice rather than in theory, illustrated rather than expounded, are the very elements which first drew his attention to Wordsworth's genius:   the fusion of thought and feeling, the blending of sight and insight, and "above all the original gift of spreading the tone, the atmosphere, and with it the depth and height of the ideal world around forms, incidents, and situations, of which, for the common view, custom had bedimmed all the lustre, had dried up the sparkle and the dew drops."   The theory would follow in due course; and when it came, when it was finally articulated, it would owe its birth as much to the actions of his own poetic genius as to his meditations on the operation of Wordsworth's.

Although the theory itself lay still in the future, the association with "the Giant Wordsworth" and the intense experience of the exercise of Imagination in his own poetry were quickly guiding him toward its formulation.   The answer, he now saw clearly, was rooted in the doctrine of perception.   What precisely was the relationship between the percipient and the perceived?   To answer that question he would need to explore more fully and philosophically the connections between man and nature, and the investigation would centre on a close study of the functions and potential of the human mind:   "I have for some time past," he told his brother George in March 1798,

withdrawn myself almost totally from the consideration of immediate causes, which are infinitely complex & uncertain, to muse on fundamental & general causes -- the "causa causarum." -- I devote myself to such works as encroach not on the antisocial passions -- in poetry, to elevate the imagination & set the affections in right tune by the beauty of the inanimate impregnated, as with a living soul, by the presence of Life -- in prose, to the seeking with patience & slow, very slow mind "Quid sumus, et quidnam victuri gignimur" -- What our faculties are & what they are capable of becoming. -- I love fields & woods & mountains with almost a visionary fondness -- and because I have found benevolence & quietness growing within me as that fondness has increased, [17] therefore I should wish to be the means of implanting it in others -- & to destroy the bad passions not by combating them, but by keeping them in inaction.   (CL i 397)21

The third stage of Coleridge's developing theory of Imagination opens with his trip to Germany in 1798-9 and closes with the letters to Sotheby in 1802.   The search for "fundamental & general causes" prompted him to devote most of his energies while he was in Germany to compiling materials for a biography of Lessing, which he believed would give him "an opportunity of conveying under a better name, than my own will ever be, opinions, which I deem of the highest importance"  (CL i 519).   But the Life of Lessing was never completed.   The main reason for the failure to write the work was that, as he read and thought and gathered materials, Coleridge was developing his own theories; what he wanted increasingly to do was to state not Lessing's views but his own, and his interest shifted from the biography proper to the general essay on poetry planned originally as an introduction to the work:   "The works which I gird myself up to attack as soon as money-concerns will permit me, are the Life of Lessing -- & the Essay on Poetry.   The latter is still more at my heart than the former -- it's Title would be an Essay on the Elements of Poetry / it would in reality be a disguised System of Morals & Politics--"  (CL i 632).

The desire to establish the general principles of poetry is reflected also in the preface which was added to the second edition of the Lyrical Ballads which appeared in January 1801 (although the titlepage bore the date 1800).   According to Wordsworth's marginal note in Barron Field's Memoirs of the Life and Poetry of William Wordsworth, it was an accident that the preface had been written by him instead of by Coleridge:   "In the foregoing there is frequent reference to what is called Mr Ws theory, & his Preface.   I will mention that I never cared a straw about the theory -- & the Preface was written at the request of Mr Coleridge out of sheer good nature.   I recollect the very spot, a deserted Quarry in the Vale of Grasmere where he pressed the thing upon me, & but for that it would never have been thought of".22   This is confirmed by Coleridge's statement that the "Preface arose from the heads of our mutual Conversations &c -- & the first passages were indeed partly taken from notes of mine / for it was at first intended, that the Preface should be written by me--"  (CL ii 811).

At first there was, Coleridge believed, a perfect agreement in their [18] theoretical views, and he informed Daniel Stuart in September 1800 that the "Preface contains our joint opinions on Poetry"  (CL i 627).   However, by the time the third edition (1802) of Lyrical Ballads was published with a revised preface and an appendix on poetic diction, the situation had changed and he found it necessary to set Sotheby right "with regard to my perfect coincidence with his poetic Creed":

In my opinion every phrase, every metaphor, every personification, should have it's justifying cause in some passion either of the Poet's mind, or of the Characters described by the poet -- But metre itself implies a passion, i.e. a state of excitement, both in the Poet's mind, & is expected in that of the reader -- and tho' I stated this to Wordsworth, & he has in some sort stated it in his preface, yet he has not done justice to it, nor has he in my opinion sufficiently answered it.   In my opinion, Poetry justifies, as Poetry independent of any other Passion, some new combinations of Language, & commands the omission of many others allowable in other compositions / Now Wordsworth, me saltem judice, has in his system not sufficiently admitted the former, & in his practice has too frequently sinned against the latter. -- Indeed, we have had lately some little controversy on this subject -- & we begin to suspect, that there is, somewhere or other, a radical Difference in our opinions . . . .  (CL ii 812)
And writing to Southey a fortnight later (29 July 1802) he indicates that this "radical Difference" has made it necessary that he should set down his own theoretical opinions on poetry:
I exceedingly like the Job of Amadis de Gaul23 -- I wish, you may half as well like the Job, in which I shall very shortly appear.   Of it's sale I have no doubt; but of it's prudence? -- There's the Rub. -- Concerning Poetry, & the characteristic Merits of the Poets, our Contemporaries -- one Volume Essays, the second Selections / the Essays are on Bloomfield, Burns, Bowles, Cowper, Campbell, [Erasmus] Darwin, Hayley, Rogers, C. Smith, Southey, Woolcot, Wordsworth -- the Selections from every one, who has written at all, any way above the rank of mere Scribblers -- Pye & his Dative Case Plural, Pybus, Cottle &c &c -- The object is not to examine what is good in each writer, but what has ipso facto pleased, & to what faculties or passions or habits [19] of the mind they may be supposed to have given pleasure / Of course, Darwin & Wordsworth having given each a defence of their mode of Poetry, & a disquisition on the nature & essence of Poetry in general, I shall necessarily be led rather deeper -- and these I shall treat of either first or last / But I will apprize you of one thing, that altho' 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 -- I am speaking of the Preface as it stood in the second volume [i.e., the second edition of 1800] -- yet I am far from going all lengths with Wordsworth / He has written lately a number of Poems (32 in all) some of them of considerable length / (the longest 160 lines) the greater number of these to my feelings very excellent Compositions / but here & there a daring Humbleness of Language & Versification, and a strict adherence to matter of fact, even to prolixity, that startled me / his alterations likewise in Ruth perplexed me / and I have thought & thought again / & have not had my doubts solved by Wordsworth / On the contrary, I rather suspect that some where or other there is a radical Difference in our theoretical opinions respecting Poetry -- / this I shall endeavour to go to the Bottom of -- and acting the arbitrator between the old School & the New School hope to lay down some plain, & perspicuous, tho' not superficial, Canons of Criticism respecting Poetry.  (CL ii 829-30)
Southey's less than charitable response was to say, "You spawn plans like a herring; I only wish as many of the seed were to vivify in proportion".24   However, as George Whalley has pointed out, the "various modifications of the Lessing scheme, the talks with Wordsworth that produced the 1800 Preface, and the attempts to resolve the 'radical difference' that he mentioned to Southey in July 1802, made the need for a personal statement imperative";25 and in fact the first crystal of this personal statement, destined to appear finally as the Biographia Literaria over a decade later, is to be found in a notebook entry dating from September-October 1803:   "Seem to have made up my mind to write my metaphysical works, as my Life, & in my Life -- intermixed with all the other events / or history of the mind & fortunes of S.T. Coleridge"  (CN i 1515).

But what exactly were these radical differences that he felt to exist between his views and those of Wordsworth?   The foundation on [20] which Wordsworth raised his poetic theories in the 1800 preface to Lyrical Ballads was the mechanistic faculty psychology of David Hartley's Observations on Man (1749), and at the heart of Hartley's system lay the doctrine of the association of ideas.26   Wordsworth made his debt to Hartley clear enough in the 1800 preface (italics mine):

The principle object, then, proposed in these Poems was to choose incidents and situations from commmon life, and to relate or describe them, throughout, as far as was possible in a selection of language really used by men, and, at the same time, to throw over them a certain colouring of imagination, whereby ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect; and, further, and above all, to make these incidents and situations interesting by tracing in them, truly though not ostentatiously, the primary laws of our nature:   chiefly, as far as regards the manner in which we associate ideas in a state of excitement . . . .   For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings:   and though this be true, Poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more than usual organic sensibility, had also thought long and deeply.   For our continued influxes of feeling are modified and directed by our thoughts, which are indeed the representatives of all our past feelings; and, as by contemplating the relation of these general representatives to each other, we discover what is really important to men, so, by the repetition and continuance of this act, our feelings will be connected with important subjects, till at length, if we be originally possessed of much sensibility, such habits of mind will be produced, that, by obeying blindly and mechanically the impulses of those habits, we shall describe objects, and utter sentiments, of such a nature, and in such connections with each other, that the understanding of the Reader must necessarily be in some degree enlightened, and his affections strengthened and purified.
Here was what dissatisfied Coleridge.   Wordsworth's poetry was the product of a shaping power, a power which fused and blended past and present impressions with thought and feeling, not simply of an associative faculty governed by blind, mechanical laws.

When Coleridge settled at Keswick in July 1800, he spent the first six months of his residence in the North penning enthusiastic [21] descriptions of the view from Greta Hall for his friends in Bristol and London, pushing on with his plans for the biography of Lessing, trying to finish Christabel -- and transcribing Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads for the press.   However, early in 1801 he embarked on a thorough and serious study of philosophy.   In the chest of "metaphysical books" he had sent from Germany were copies of the works of the great German philosophers of the preceding century, and he devoured them with a passion that brooked little interruption:   "Change of Ministry interests me not," he wrote to Poole in February; "I turn at times half reluctantly from Leibnitz or Kant even to read a smoking new newspaper / such a purus putus Metaphysicus am I become"  (CL ii 676).   From 1800, when he began to absorb Kant's theory of knowing, he found in it both a recognition and a liberation, although full understanding and appreciation came only later.   Nevertheless, the experience of German transcendentalism and especially of Kant who, as he said later (BL i 99), "took possession of me as with a giant's hand" prompted a detailed reconsideration of empirical epistemology; and in a series of philosophical letters addressed to Josiah Wedgwood he succeeded (in Wedgwood's phrase) in plucking "the principle feathers out of Locke's wings"  (CL ii 677).   Inextricably linked to his philosophical researches was a growing interest in psychology:   he watched the operation of his own mind, struggled to discover the relation between "thoughts" and "things," studied the phenomena of dreams and of what he called ocular spectra,27 tried to define the connections between thought and feeling, and explored the noumenal function of language.28   Increasingly, he began to understand that the operations of the mind were determined not by discrete, compartmentalized faculties but by interrelated powers; he became aware that the mind was essentially synthesizing rather than passive and associative, and he saw that in the doctrine of perception, rightly interpreted, lay the key to the poetic Imagination.

As I suggested earlier, the germinal potency of the theory of Imagination lies in Coleridge's rejection of passive perception.   The mind, he told Poole in 1801, is made in "the Image of the Creator"; it is not, as materialists maintain, "a lazy Looker-on on an external world" and there is, therefore, "ground for suspicion, that any system built on the passiveness of the mind must be false, as a system"  (Extract 4).   Perception -- or "Primary Imagination" as he later called it (Extract 33-F) -- is integrative, poietic, and necessarily correlate with feeling; it is a creative activity in which images, ideas and feelings are fused [22] and blended by the mind.   This power is supremely human and is a part of every man's birthright, and it makes each of us in a way a poet:   "We all have obscure feelings that must be connected with some thing or other -- the Miser with a guinea -- Lord Nelson with a blue Ribbon -- Wordsworth's old Molly with her washing Tub --Wordsworth with Hills, Lakes, & Trees -- / all men are poets in their way, tho' for the most part their ways are damned bad ones"  (CL ii 768).   Related to this activity and differing from it in degree but not in kind is the operation of the poetic (or Secondary) Imagination, a power which is latent but not equally developed in all men.   This power works, by breaking down and then refashioning original perceptions, to re-present the common universe in such a way that we see it as if for the first time.

Hartley's rigid empiricism and doctrine of mechanical association could not long survive in this atmosphere, and it is not surprizing that Coleridge began to suspect that somewhere or other there existed a "radical Difference" between his poetic theory and the Hartleian-based views that Wordsworth had propounded in the 1800 preface to Lyrical Ballads.   And when Wordsworth revised and reissued the preface without altering its conceptual foundation in the third edition (1802) of the Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge was immediately prompted to "go to the bottom" of their theoretical differences.   The new publication was the spur that drove him to set down his own views, the catalyst that brought together the various elements of his thought over the preceding two years and resulted, in September 1802, in the initial formulation of the Fancy-Imagination distinction in the letter to William Sotheby.   Wordsworth's theory did not explain his own poetry; mechanical association could produce only works of Fancy, and Wordsworth's poetry was the product of the shaping power of Imagination.   Coleridge proposed to establish the discrepancy between his friend's theory and practice, as he told Southey, by "acting the arbitrator between the old School and the New School" and laying down "some plain, & perspicuous, tho' not superficial, Canons of Criticism respecting Poetry."   This statement is important.   Hartley's system is not to be absolutely rejected; rather, Coleridge is to arbitrate between Wordsworth's associationist theory of poetry (based on Hartley) and his actual poietic activity in the making of poetry.   And it is to this mediation between "the old School & the New School" that we owe the Fancy-Imagination distinction.   There are indeed moods in which the mind merely aggregates and associates ideas and impressions, holding them in loose mixture where the separate [23] elements remain discrete and discontinuous:   this is the operation of Fancy, which in poetry is indicated pre-eminently in formal similes.   But this is not the highest and most characteristic form of association and it does not describe Wordsworth's poetic achievement.   There is another higher mood in which feeling, intellect, memory, and sense experience are fused and blended in such a way that the components are modified and coadunated:   this is the operation of Imagination, the distinctive quality of Wordsworth's poetry.   Here is Coleridge's own statement to Sotheby in September 1802:   "A Poet's Heart & Intellect should be combined, intimately combined & unified, with the great appearances in Nature -- & not merely held in solution & loose mixture with them, in the shape of formal Similies.   I do not mean to exclude these formal Similies -- there are moods of mind, in which they are natural -- pleasing moods of mind, & such as a Poet will often have, & sometimes express; but they are not his highest, & most appropriate moods.   They are 'Sermoni propiora' which I once translated -- 'Properer for a Sermon'"  (Extract 9; cf. Extract 12).   The theory of Imagination, then, is rooted in the qualitative nature of association as a function of perception.

One of the most significant features of Coleridge's statements to Sotheby and Southey in 1802 is his emphasis on the underlying principles of poetic activity.   While Wordsworth's purpose in the various prefaces to Lyrical Ballads had been to examine the manifestations of poetic Imagination, Coleridge proposed to explore the seminal principle and to lay down general "Canons of Criticism respecting Poetry."   As he later expressed it in Biographia Chap iv (Extract 33-C):   "My friend has drawn a masterly sketch of the branches with their poetic fruitage.   I wish to add the trunk, and even the roots as far as they lift themselves above ground, and are visible to the naked eye of our common consciousness."   However, the "abstruse metaphysical researches" undertaken in the search for this seminal principle led, he believed, to the impairment of his imaginative power:   see Extract 5 and n 3.   These reiterated declarations of the "loss of Imagination" must be handled with caution, and they must not be permitted to reinforce the uncritical notion that he ceased being a poet whenever he stopped writing poetry.   Coleridge's theory of Imagination is important (and germinal) not because he was a theorist but because he was a poet of great technical refinement who knew what it felt like to compose The Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, and Christabel, and who used that experience as a constant test for his theorizing about poetry.   It is significant, for example, that his first [24] clear formulations of the nature of Imagination and its function in the poetic process should have been written to William Sotheby, a poet whose intelligence and critical acumen he greatly respected.   Moreover, it may be added that Coleridge's protestations of a "loss of Imagination" -- in Dejection: An Ode, for example -- often have much that is positive to tell us about Imagination.29

The purpose of an Introduction is to introduce.   This is Coleridge's book, and he is his own best advocate.   I have no desire to produce another discursive account of his theory of Imagination; we have enough of these already and, while many of them are extremely helpful, there needs now to be some purifying of the wells in a return to the primary materials themselves.   The sole object of this Introduction is to establish a context, to shape the early materials so that the reader comes to the first entries with some measure of recognition.   For the rest, Coleridge shall speak for himself; and for the careful reader the modernity and originality of his thought will be a voyage of self-discovery:

Some one said:   "The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did."   Precisely, and they are that which we know.30


Notes
[Click on asterisk (*) at the end of a note to return to the point you left in Coleridge's text]

  1. Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) II i 2. *
  2. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) I v. *
  3. See Bibliography entries under Bate and Bullitt, and Wasserman. *
  4. Hobbes, Leviathan (1651) I ii;  Dryden, Annus Mirabilis (1667) Preface. *
  5. Essay on Original Genius (1767) 6-7. *
  6. Outlines of Moral Philosophy (1793) I viii. *
  7. Lines 302-7 of Coleridge's verse letter to Sara Hutchinson  (Extract 6). Cf also Wordsworth, The Prelude (1805) ii 387-93:
                                        An auxiliar light
    Came from my mind which on the setting sun
    Bestow'd new splendor, the melodious birds,
    The gentle breezes, fountains that ran on,
    Murmuring so sweetly in themselves, obey'd
    A like dominion; and the midnight storm
    Grew darker in the presence of my eye. *
    [25]
  8. The Prelude (1805) xii 376-7. *
  9. For other statements of this kind in the letters of 1791-9, see CL i 7, 67, 71, 93, 103, 204, 249-50, 378, 409, 459, 506.   Similar formulations appear frequently in the early poetry:  Monody on the Death of Chatterton (1790) 29-31; To the Evening Star (1790?) 10-12; Inside the Coach (1791) 23-7; Happiness (1791) 7-16; An Effusion at Evening (1792) 1-22 and passim; Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1800). *
  10. Cf. (Extract 42-A) and n. 8. *
  11. Letter to George and Tom Keats, 21 December 1817. *
  12. Coleridge almost certainly met Wordsworth for the first time in September-October 1795 when Wordsworth was in Bristol discussing the possible publication of Guilt and Sorrow with Cottle:   see L. Hanson, The Life of S.T. Coleridge:  The Early Years (London: Allen & Unwin, 1938) 84-5. *
  13. Elia, Christ's Hospital Five-and-Thirty Years Ago. *
  14. George Whalley, "The Bristol Library Borrowings of Southey and Coleridge," Library 4 (1949) 120, 124. *
  15. For an elucidation of these ideas, see R.L. Brett, "Coleridge's Theory of the Imagination," ES 20 (1949) 80-1, and W. Schrickx, "Coleridge and the Cambridge Platonists," REL 7 (1966) 77-9. *
  16. For much in this paragraph I am indebted to personal correspondence with George Whalley.*
  17. This quotation has a pointed touch of irony, since it is from Southey's own Joan of Arc (1796) i 461-2:
    From that night I could feel my burthen'd soul
    Heaving beneath incumbent Deity. *
  18. See E.L. Griggs's note:   CL i 216, n 2. *
  19. There is a similar statement in a letter to Southey a month later:   "Wordsworth is a very great man -- the only man, to whom at all times & in all modes of excellence I feel myself inferior"  (CL i 334). *
  20. Coleridge's references to The Ancient Mariner in his letters begin on 20 November 1797 when he tells Cottle that he has written "a ballad of about 300 lines"  (CL i 357); on 18 February 1798 he wrote again to say, "I have finished my ballad -- it is 340 lines"  (ibid., 387).   There must have been extensive revision over the next few weeks, for the poem eventually ran to 658 lines. *
  21. The anticipations in this letter of Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey (composed four months later) have often been pointed out.   What has not before been noticed (so far as I am aware) is the echo of Milton's elevated conception of the poetic office in the preface to Book Two of The Reason of Church-Government (1642):   "[Poetic] abilities, wheresoever they be found, are the inspired guift of God rarely bestow'd, but [26] yet to some (though most abuse) in every Nation:   and are of power beside the office of a pulpit, to imbreed and cherish in a great people the seeds of virtu, and publick civility, to allay the perturbations of the mind, and set the affections in right tune, to celebrate in glorious and lofty Hymns the throne and equipage of Gods Almightinesse, and what he works, and what he suffers to be wrought with high providence in his Church . . . "  (Complete Prose Works, Yale edition, i 816-17). *
  22. Barron Field, Memoirs of Wordsworth, ed. Geoffrey Little (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1975) 62n. *
  23. Southey's Amadis of Gaul was published in 1803. *
  24. The Life and Correspondence of the late Robert Southey, ed. C.C. Southey, 6 vols. (London, 1849-50) ii 190. *
  25. "The Integrity of Biographia Literaria, ES n.s. 6 (1953) 92.   This seminal article should be read in full. *
  26. For a helpful introduction to Hartley's thought, see Chap 8 of Basil Willey's Eighteenth-Century Background (London: Chatto & Windus, 1940; Penguin Books, 1962) 133-49. *
  27. "My eyes have been inflamed to a degree, that rendered reading & writing scarcely possible; and strange as it seems, the act of poetic composition, as I lay in bed, perceptibly affected them, and my voluntary ideas were every minute passing, more or less transformed into vivid spectra"  (CL i 649; 2 December 1800).   Cf. also ibid., ii 737, 961. *
  28. For Coleridge, words are not mere denotative cyphers:   "Is thinking impossible without arbitrary signs? & -- how far is the word 'arbitrary' a misnomer?   Are not words &c parts & germinations of the Plant?   And what is the Law of their Growth? -- In something of this order I would endeavor to destroy the old antithesis of Words & Things, elevating, as it were, words into Things, & living Things too"  (CL i 625-6; 22 September 1800). *
  29. George Whalley (to whom this paragraph owes a good deal) has pointed out to me that it is in the verse letter to Sara Hutchinson  (Extract 6) that Coleridge, perhaps for the first time, describes Imagination not as a "faculty" but as a state or condition of the person and as inseparable from the quality of perception.   The poem is, then, an important landmark in Coleridge's rejection of faculty psychology. *
  30. T.S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919). *



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