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date: 05 July 2020


Abstract and Keywords

This introductory article explains the coverage of this book, which is about the works of the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This book provides biographical information about Coleridge, including his early years at Jesus College Cambridge and his later collaboration with William Wordsworth, and presents critical analysis of some of his most notable prose and poetic works. It examines sources and influences on Coleridge's writings and describes his literary influence throughout the world following his death.

Keywords: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, English poet, Jesus College Cambridge, William Wordsworth, prose, poetic works, literary influence

Forty years in production, the Bollingen edition of the Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge was completed in 2002. The Coleridge Notebooks (1957-2002) were also produced during this same period, five volumes of text with an additional five companion volumes of notes. The Clarendon Press of Oxford published the letters in six volumes (1956-71). The Coleridge scholar today has ready access to a range of materials previously available only in library archives on both sides of the Atlantic. In spite of the new insight provided by these volumes into the range and complexity of Coleridge's literary career, there has yet been no adequate guide to their potential value. With a voracious appetite for books, Coleridge characterized himself as ‘a library cormorant’. Thomas McFarland, editor of Coleridge's Opus Maximum(2002), the last volume to appear in the Bollingen edition, said that Coleridge was a ‘graveyard for biographers’ because no single author could begin to comprehend the extensive knowledge invested in the vast array of his literary, critical, philosophical, and theological pursuits. A Handbook, bringing together the wisdom of thirty-five Coleridge scholars, will provide the proper tool for assimilating and illuminating Coleridge's rich and varied accomplishment, as well as offering an authoritative guide to the most up-to-date thinking about his achievements.

Each of the thirty-seven chapters provides an ample summary of its topic and also a depth of probing analysis. The principal aim of this Oxford Handbook is to provide a guide to Coleridge studies with comprehensive reference to the Collected Works, the Notebooks, and Letters as well as to current scholarship.

(p. 2) Part I Biography

This part covers aspects of Coleridge's life not addressed, or not addressed in the same manner, in the subsequent parts. Coleridge's early years at Ottery St Mary, Christ's Hospital, and Jesus College Cambridge, and his later collaboration with William Wordsworth are topics that are also relevant to the commentary on Biographia Literaria in Part II on the Works. The difference, of course, is that the chapter on Biographia Literaria will focus on Coleridge's critical principles rather than on the experiences crucial to the biographical context. Similarly, biography will also be addressed in Part V on the Reception. But again, there is governing difference in the focus. Especially important to this first part is the coverage of Coleridge's relationship with friends, collaborators, patrons, and publishers as well as his relationship with his wife, with other women in his life, and with his children Hartley, Derwent, and Sara Coleridge. Following a commentary on Coleridge's later years, this part closes with a study of Coleridge's self-representation in his poetry and other works, letters, and notebooks.

Part II The Prose Works

In addressing the works of Coleridge, the chapters in this part provide an integration rather than a reworking of what already exists in the Introduction to each of the sixteen (in thirty-four) volumes of the Collected Works. To fulfil the purpose of the Handbook, these chapters clarify the interconnections and relate the parts to the whole of Coleridge's career. Emphasis here is given to his work as editor, chapterist for the periodicals, lecturer, writer on politics and religion, literary critic, and philosopher.

Part III The Poetic Works

This part is dedicated to perspectives on Coleridge's achievement as a poet. As a critic, Coleridge defined many of the criteria and terms of genre, which for the past century have directed the reading and interpretation of his poetry. In recent years, however, his own pronouncements on the nature and constraints of language have (p. 3) been challenged and reassessed. Similarly, debate has stirred about the implications of his privileging symbol over allegory. Essays in this part examine what Coleridge called a ‘conversation poem’, and what he identiied as his concern with supernat-uralism in his contributions to the Lyrical Ballads. When Coleridge and Wordsworth first came together, they were both writing plays: Wordsworth his The Borderers, and Coleridge his Osorio, later revised as Remorse, which met with remarkable stage success at Drury Lane in 1813. Following that success, Coleridge went on to write another play, Zapolya, in 1816. Following the study of Coleridge's practice as playwright, this part concludes by examining his lifelong commitment to translation, especially of contemporary German literature.

Part IV Sources and Influences

Significant sources and influences on Coleridge's writings have long fascinated critics, and the commentary has ranged from condemnation for plagiarism to praise for myriad-minded weaving together of a manifold cultural materials. The attack on Coleridge's plagiarism commenced in 1840 with James Frederick Ferrier, who discovered Coleridge's use of passages from Friedrich Schelling while he was busily borrowing from the same source in his ‘The Philosophy of Consciousness’ (1838/9). John Livingston Lowe, in The Road to Xanadu(1927), revealed that ‘Kubla Khan’ was an encyclopedic repository of sources. The Coleridge Connection(1990), edited by Richard Gravil and Molly Lefebure, examined the ‘symbiotic nature’ of Coleridge absorption of ideas from his readings and from his friends and collaborators. This part opens with chapters on Coleridge's borrowings from biblical and classical tradition, and moves on to his indebtedness to English and European authors, and his incorporation of themes and motifs adapted from philosophy, science, and the arts.

Part V Reception

The previous part addressed the influences on Coleridge. Part V opens with an appraisal of Coleridge's literary inluence throughout the world following his death. The second chapter examines the revisions of his published works and the editing of the many previously unpublished manuscripts. As more and more of (p. 4) his letters, notebooks, and other documents came to light, the insight into Coleridge's life and accomplishment evolved and changed. That process of change will be examined irst in an overview of the numerous biographies, from Thomas De Quincey (1839/51) to Richard Holmes (1990/7), and again in the course of the critical reception from his own day to the present.