Review of Owen Barfield, Earl Leslie Griggs, Norman Fruman, Jonathan Wordsworth, Reynold Siemens

["Some studies of Wordsworth and Coleridge." Review article on Owen Barfield, What Coleridge Thought, Earl Leslie Griggs, ed. Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Vols. 5 and 6, Norman Fruman, Coleridge, The Damaged Archangel, Jonathan Wordsworth, ed. Bicentenary Wordsworth Studies in Memory of John Alban Finch, Reynold Siemens, The Wordsworth Collection: A Catalogue. Dove Cottage Papers Facsimilies of the University of Alberta. Queen's Quarterly 81.2 (Summer 1974): 265-77.]


The bicentenary of William Wordsworth’s birth was celebrated in 1970; the bicentenary of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s birth was celebrated in 1972.  Centenaries (these days) provide a regular occasion for appraisals and reappraisals, and sometimes the topical pressure may bring into print fragmentary pieces of work-in-progress or trivial relics that would otherwise have had to wait to see the light.  These books however bear little or no connection with either centenary: they are simply part of the increasing volume of critical and textural studies that Wordsworth and Coleridge have attracted in recent years.  A glance at the selective list of articles and books given in the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature III for these two poets since (say) 1950 – the centenary of Wordsworth’s death – shows that neither of them needs to wait for the adventitious circumstance of an anniversary to be written about.

As the importance of any individual author increases, the need for reliable collective editions and for scrupulously accurate presentation of texts often calls for collaborative effort and intelligently coordinated programs that will produce editions sound enough not to need replacing for fifty or a hundred years.  Whether or not work progresses in a coordinated way, the area of inquiry tends (by mute or mutual agreement) to establish and recognize standards of editorial quality, an implicit purpose and useful procedural conventions; for each primary author makes peculiar demands upon the scholars who study his work.  Scholars working within any such implicit convention understand the convention as a step towards elegance; but it is easy for anybody not so aware of the unique method instilled by the matter under inquiry to suppose that work on any such author is conducted by two different kinds of people: the “establishment” and the free-booters (who, not being of the “establishment,” are by definition on the side of the angels).

This issue has been given journalistic prominence by Mr. Fruman’s The Damaged Archangel, not because it is a good book or one that is likely to advance our understanding of Coleridge much or to throw any light on the splendor of his work, but because it professes to carry out a withering assault on “the Coleridge establishment” and by implication to disclose a systematic plot to “white-wash” Coleridge.  If there is a “Coleridge establishment” – as even such grave witnesses as the TLS and New York Times in reviewing the book have hastened to assure the public there is – it would be identified (I suppose) as the group of Canadian, English and American scholars who have joined forces to construct (under conditions of unusual autonomy) a critical edition of Coleridge’s work.  Yet it is clear from his introduction that Mr. Fruman feels that he is tackling single-handed an establishment so conspiratorially entrenched behind earthworks and machicolated masonry that nothing but the most refined and murderous modern explosives can clear the air.  The term “establishment” may rightly attract contempt in a social and political climate where power, wealth and political influence are not always disposed with scrupulous honesty.  But since no scholar these days has any access to power, wealth or political influence the parallel is probably not a useful one, no matter how trendy it may be as a loose analogy.  A scholar becomes “established” when his peers recognize that his work is of good quality; the only influence is in the field of value and illumination.  I cannot imagine that any genuine scholar, confronted with the work of anybody who showed signs of virtue in that kind, would wish to exclude that person from labours that tend at best to be solitary, arduous, and – in the world’s eyes – unrewarding.

It is curious to imagine that 140 years after his death Coleridge could be dismissed as a deliberate plagiarist who, having no original ideas of his own, made up his head-dress entirely from other men’s feathers – that for almost a century and a half Coleridge scholars, duped by the master’s lies or collusively aware that the man was a fraud, have been engaged in the sepulchral activity of white-washing a man of questionable morals and making extravagant claims for both the originality and the importance of his writings.  Malice is not a modern invention, nor is an incapacity to perceive and interpret facts.  The charges Mr. Fruman brings have been brought often enough before; but Coleridge’s work prevails, and grows as an abiding presence, simply because of the amplitude of its life.  It can be assailed only by an intelligence comparable to his own in power and subtlety.  As soon as Coleridge was safely in his grave, De Quincey opened up an attack on Coleridge’s alleged “plagiarism.”  This bone has been thoroughly gnawed over from time to time ever since.  The issue has been minutely documented (often in parallel columns) by those who seem to be more interested in mustering evidence than in finding out what the evidence points to; it has also been carefully and intelligently examined by a number of writers of differing views ever since 1847, and received penetrating and probably definitive analysis by Thomas McFarland in Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition – a book published two years before Mr. Fruman’s book but not mentioned by him.  Mr. Fruman has certainly been over the ground; his references display a dismaying if unselective acquaintance with the undergrowth of Coleridge scholarship.  His grasp of the primary materials is less secure.  The book is laborious enough for a work of scholarship, but less chaste in purpose.  He shows a curious confidence that he is the first that ever burst into the silent sea of (what he calls) “this infinitely complex man”; and proceeds on the first principle of sensational journalism that (as Yeats put it) “if it’s bad enough it must be true.”  He regards himself as a crusader for “truth,” implying that everybody else has been engaged in a conspiratorial lie.  Unhappily the history of crusading is marred by some notable feats of rationalization and self-deception in the name of immaculate causes, having at one end of the list St. George (of whom we know too little to be able to attempt a psychoanalysis) and at the other Don Quixote.  Mr. Fruman’s book offers a fascinating study of the way a positivist attitude to verbal and biographical “evidence” can be turned into inverted pyramids of diffuse and equivocal judgment of both the man and his work – judgments that, when delivered, are either nugatory or bear only a parodistic relation to the reality of Coleridge as a man, a poet and a thinker.   

Mr. Fruman’s title The Damaged Archangel is taken mutatis mutandis from a letter that Charles Lamb wrote to Wordsworth in April 1816: Mr. Fruman prints the passage on a fly-title (but giving the date as August).  Lamb wrote – Lamb being Coleridge’s closest lifelong friend and Wordsworth once Coleridge’s intimate but now estranged: “He is at present under the medical care of a Mr. Gilman [Killman?] a Highgate Apothecary, where he plays at leaving off Laud[anu]m.  I think his essentials not touched: he is very bad, but then he wonderfully picks up another day, and his face when he repeats his verses hath its ancient glory, an Archangel a little damaged.”  To ignore the wit, admiration, and sorrow of what Lamb wrote, and to turn the half-punning Miltonic echo of the closing words into a blunt descriptive title is (I regret to say) indicative of Mr. Fruman’s sense of touch in handling biographical and literary materials when they turn into “evidence” under his hand.  It is in this same letter that Lamb told Wordsworth that Coleridge was about to publish Kubla Khan – “which said vision he repeats so enchantingly that it irradiates and brings heaven and Elysian bowers into my parlour while he sings or says it.”  He also added: “Coleridge is absent but 4 miles, and the neighbourhood of such a man is as exciting as the presence of 50 ordinary Persons.  ‘Tis enough to be within the whiff and wind of his genius, for us not to possess our souls in quiet.  If I lived with him or the author of the Excursion, I should in a very little time lose my own identity, and be dragged along in the current of other people’s thoughts, hampered in a net.”  Mr. Fruman, having taken his title from Lamb, would perhaps – so profound is his scepticism – not regard Lamb as an impartial witness because he knew Coleridge and had known him intimately since childhood.  But if we are thinking of detail, anybody who persists to the end of the book will find that for all his perverse industry Mr. Fruman is no geologist.  He really should have another look at the Coleridge memorial in St. Michael’s Church, Highgate; it is not marble.  Nor is this book bronze.

The history of scholarship as an activity that some people pursue with their life-blood is an area so far little explored beyond some cataloguing of it.  Such a study would throw light on our understanding of method as something broader than technique, the way-of-mind of each poet inducing in the scholars who study his work an appropriately resonant way-of-mind.  A history of Wordsworth and Coleridge studies, for example, would be worth attempting some time because they would be seen to be as different as Wordsworth and Coleridge were in intellect, poetic capacity and temperament – different enough that any scholar who ventures to deal with both needs a light hand if he is not to represent Wordsworth and Coleridge as rallying points for antagonists.  The group of books before us is not representative enough to attempt such a sketch here.  Yet as both editorial fields have become subject to coordinated attention I think I detect something of this difference: in the second generation (or is the third?) of Wordsworth editors a recovery of the magisterial tone of Ernest de Selincourt which is also perhaps an echo of Wordsworth himself; and in the Coleridge studies the multifarious and exuberant embrace of Coleridge’s intelligence not only making peculiar demands upon the “experts” but also leaving plenty of sea-room for the brilliant “outsider.”

The Bicentenary Wordsworth Studies were collected in memory of John Alban Finch who died on 5 April 1967 at the age of twenty-seven “while saving graduate students in a fire which claimed eight lives in addition to his own.”  The accident of date has allowed his Festschrift to be called Bicentenary Studies, but it is in fact a collective tribute to him by his friends and associates.  The volume opens with three of Finch’s own papers: one (previously published) deals with the stages of composition of The Ruined Cottage, another with the dating of Home at Grasmere (he argues for 1806 rather than 1800), and the third with the location in time and place of the much disputed “glad preamble” at the opening of The Prelude.  Incomplete or inconsistent in some details though Finch may have felt these papers to be, they are the work of a scholar far beyond the stage of prentice work.  Distinct and identifiable for their crispness of handling, astute judgment and firmness of manner, they bespeak a man especially gifted to deal with manuscripts and with minute textual, factual, and biographical evidence – qualities that had already been recognized in his association with the Cornell Wordsworth Collection.  He was to have prepared the edition of Home at Grasmere and of the “proto-Prelude,” and was beginning to form a highly detailed descriptive catalogue of Wordsworth’s poetic manuscripts at Grasmere.

In his doctoral thesis John Finch had tackled the largest and most complex task remaining in technical Wordsworth studies: to sort out the successive texts and the history of composition of The Prelude and The Excursion.  If Finch’s feeling for the manuscripts provides this volume with what internal order and colour it has, The Prelude represents the other centre of gravity, five of the sixteen papers being devoted to it.  Much the longest of these is M. H. Abrams’ “The Prelude as a Portrait of the Artist”; dense and precise in argument, written with his customary breadth of learning and insight for unexpected parallels and analogies, this is a shorter version of part of his Natural Supernaturalism (1971).  This essay considers the originality of the Prelude in the light of the history of spiritual autobiography from Augustine to Proust, and finally sees it through Wordsworth’s eyes as a deliberately conceived counterpart for his own age of Milton’s “great Protestant English epic.”  Mark Reed’s “The Speaker of The Prelude” shows in an impressive way what happens if you read that long poem “as an organized structure containing ‘in itself’ (to use the terms of the Biographia Literaria) ‘the reason why it is so, and not otherwise.’”  He clears the line of vision for such an enterprise by tracing the alterations of the “speaker’s stance and voice” as a way of defining “the point of view from which the speaker’s mind recounts its own growth [as] the condition of imaginative vision toward which the mind’s growth was tending.”  Subtle and difficult though this essay is, it provides a valuable impulse towards a unitary reading of that long and variable poem.  Jonathan Wordsworth seeks to set the record straight about the interpretation of the Mount Snowdon incident; Ford T. Swetnam in “The Satiric Voices of The Prelude” discusses comic and satiric resources that some of us may not have expected to find in the poem; and Carol Landon finds in various scraps of unpublished material anticipations of some of the set pieces of landscape in the Prelude and considers Wordsworth’s attitude to landscape within the long evolution of English descriptive, topographical and narrative writing.  If these last three point towards an ideal annotated edition of Wordsworth’s poems, Stephen Gill’s presentation of the text of “The Original Salisbury Plain” and Beth Darlington’s presentation of A Night Piece and The Discharged Soldier make a direct connection with what was perhaps John Finch’s view of an ideal style of textual presentation for Wordsworth’s poems.  These seem to represent a declaration for the Cornell Series and the Dove Cottage Trust of the format and standard of minuteness conceived by a generation of editors that would carry forward the work of Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire.

Robert Woof has contributed a penetrating discussion of the date of the first meeting between Wordsworth and Coleridge.  John E. Jordan argues – a little laboriously, I thought – that Lyrical Ballads, coming out as it did and when it did, was “commonplace”; he provides very interesting information about late eighteenth-century verse published in periodicals and separate volumes.  Robert Osborne’s examination of the character of Rivers in The Borderers seems a little excessive when we consider that Wordsworth did not succeed in staging this abortive play and did not bother to publish it until he was “induced” to do so in 1842; but it brings us to terms with a text that many of us know only from the striking lines on action and suffering used as epigraph to The White Doe.  Stephen Parrish’s essay on “Michael and the Pastoral Ballad” shows how a mature and experienced scholar manages to combine textural minuteness with the comprehensive grasp and judgment of a critic in tracing the transition from the ballad-form (which he prints) to the blank verse Michael that we all know.  That his essay should immediately follow Finch’s papers is appropriate.  They were colleagues, Parrish being Finch’s senior; what Parrish does here is perhaps what Finch would have learned to do if he had lived.

Detailed and convincing extended readings of separate poems are also included: Mary Jacobus on The Idiot Boy and David Pirie on Coleridge’s Letter to Asra – the first version of Dejection: an Ode.  In a style pungent and vivacious, Miss Jacobus unfolds The Idiot Boy – a poem traditionally mocked or maligned, or half-rescued on the grounds of psychopathological interest of socio-economic passion – as representing Wordsworth’s sardonic and buoyant humour at its rare best, leaving us no excuse for future misreading of Wordsworth’s intent.  Mr. Pirie is in no doubt that the Letter to Asra is not only more important than Dejection as a single poem but also that it is a necessary preface to any reading of Dejection.  Assured, well-informed, and beautifully controlled in tone and emphasis, this essay is a fine example of sustained attention and critical tact.  I am happy to see that Mr. Pirie has courteously corrected a few misreadings of the manuscript that escaped my eye some years ago when I was writing Coleridge and Sara Hutchinson.

The other three essays are all different in kind and all splendid.  Basil Willey’s “Wordsworth Today” – the only essay that might have been written for the centenary – is a sensitive and somber reflection upon the changes in our whole way of life that make it unlikely that Wordsworth’s poetry would “naturally” speak directly to any young person these days – and yet, as poetry which does not depend either upon a topical context or the prior sympathy of a reader, it must command our attention for its sheer internal energy and the fineness of poetic execution.  Mary Moorman, in “Wordsworth and his Children,” has written a valuable addition to her biography by setting forth, with deep emotional veracity, an aspect of Wordsworth’s life which is almost too sorrowful to bear thinking much about.  And last of all I would notice the late George Healey’s essay on Cynthia Morgan St. John, the Ithaca housewife whose Wordsworth collection, acquired with the leftovers from her housekeeping allowance, became the finest private collection of Wordsworthiana in the world, and provided the nucleus for the Cornell Wordsworth Collection.  Urbane, witty, learned, this essay is written with a genuine tenderness that betrays one of the great sources of pleasure and vitality in literary scholarship – the collaboration of librarians, bibliographers, collectors and scholars.  I can lament John Finch’s death only vicariously; I did not know him, and such work as we have from him is work of promise rather than of genius.  But I did know George Healey.  His Bibliography of the Cornell Wordsworth Collection (1957) stands as a monument to his skill, patience, accuracy and imagination as a bibliographer.  This essay – perhaps one of the last things he was to write – marks the warmth and lyricism of his nature, and his outstanding quality as a Curator of Rare Books.

Reynold Siemens’ Catalogue presents a list of the photographic facsimiles of Wordsworth’s poetic manuscripts, deposited by the Dove Cottage Trust in the University of Alberta Library.  A set of these facsimiles was also deposited with the Bodleian and with Cornell with the intent that the photographs would “prove useful for any graduate and research work in which scholars in your part of the world may be engaged.”  The catalogue therefore applies not to one library-holding, but to three, and also provides a catalogue to part of the manuscripts in Dove Cottage.  The publication of this book was greeted with vigorous controversial response in the TLS.  One would have wished that Mr. Siemens had received better advice in matters of physical presentation and indexing; and some such straightforward title as The Alberta Wordsworth Facsimiles would have removed at a stroke any misunderstanding about the nature, scope and location of what was being catalogued.  I do not understand why sixteen-inch guns should have been trained upon so modest a vessel.  The fact that the elaborate descriptive catalogue of Dove Cottage manuscripts, begun by John Finch, is in progress and that it will use a classified numeration different from that taken over by Mr. Siemens, does not seem to detract in any way from the value of what Mr. Siemens has put together here.  Until the complete catalogue is finished – and we have no information when that will be – this is the only published catalogue of a substantial part of the Dove Cottage manuscripts.  Until this catalogue is superseded by the complete and authoritative catalogue of the originals it will be of considerable use to Wordsworth scholars.  I could wish that the University of Alberta Press had not chosen for its first publication a book that calls for the utmost subtlety in book design and production; and (perhaps inevitably) I should have welcomed more extensive and wide-ranging annotation.  But at very least the twenty-five reproductions of manuscript pages provide a means of identifying the hand-writing of the members of Wordsworth’s scribal household; and one of these – Plate VI – establishes at a glance a detail that neither de Selincourt nor Mr. Siemens mentions: that the Book-headings of MS A of The Prelude were, like the headings in MS B, engrossed by George Hutchinson, and that therefore the missing title-page of MS A was almost certainly engrossed by George Hutchinson in the same was as the title-page of MS B.

The fifth and sixth volumes of Earl Leslie Grigg’s edition of The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge appeared together at the turn of the year 1971/2.  These bring to a close the work announced in 1930 and to which the two volumes of Unpublished Letters (1932) were an introduction, the first two pairs of volumes appearing in 1956 and 1959.  This last pair of volumes embraces the letters for 1820-34, and adds an appendix of 23 new letters to be added to Volumes I-IV, five letters that were discovered too late to be included in the chronological sequence of Volumes V and VI, and the holograph text of 16 letters that he had previously printed from imperfect transcripts or printed sources.  The final total of surviving letters, beginning in 1785 at the age of thirteen, is 1853 – at a rapid calculation a little more than a million words.

These two volumes are of peculiar interest for what they tell us of Coleridge’s day-to-day activities, thoughts and afflictions in the last fourteen years of his life, not least because more than half the letters in these volumes have never been published before.  The Highgate Years, and particularly the years from 1820, have been so lightly considered by biographers as to leave the impression that all that time Coleridge sat like a loquacious sloth “on the brow of Highgate Hill,” receiving distinguished guests and youthful admirers and talking their heads off, taking an occasional nip of laudanum from a beer bottle smuggled in from the local chemist, saying he was writing when it was not clear even to a close observer that he was so engaged, swinging to an anchor under the headland of the Trinity, at peace in the certain hope of redemption.  Such a sketchy account can now be altered, and in such detail as to present a picture of markedly different configuration and colour.  Whatever the patterns of accident that attend the preservation of letters written more than a century ago, the letters for these years are fairly evenly distributed and, when compared with other evidence, delineate pretty clearly his periods of activity, illness, inanition, dismay and renewed activity.

Some things that we should like to know are simply not here at all, but incidents and episodes that were known – such as Hartley’s dismissal from Oriel – can now be extended and clarified.  Not only the rhythms of Coleridge’s intellectual activity can be traced, but also the sequence of his widening acquaintance – with Hyman Hurwitz (the Hebrew scholar), the young Thomas Allsop (who was to publish one of the earliest memoirs), Henry Francis Cary (the translator of Dante), Carl and Eliza Aders, Charles Augustus Tulk (the Swedenborgian), Gioacchino de’ Prati (the young Italian runaway revolutionary who first put a copy of Vico’s Scienza Nuova into Coleridge’s hands), Joseph Blanco White (the Spanish priest turned Anglican), Edward Irving (the apocalyptic preacher), and John Sterling.  Many familiar names move through the pages – Joseph Henry Green and Henry Crabb Robinson, and then Edward and Henry Nelson Coleridge.  Coleridge was in fairly regular touch with Lamb, but only one letter to him is preserved.  Other omissions mark a somber change in earlier relationships and affections: there are only two letters to Wordsworth, two to Southey, three to Thomas Poole, one to De Quincy, and none to Hazlitt (who had been hostile for some years and died in 1828); there is one formal letter to Mary Evans (then Mrs. Todd), three to Sara Hutchinson, none to Dorothy Wordsworth, four to his estranged wife; and the one letter to Mary Morgan and one to Charlotte Brent show how quickly and ineluctably, in choosing to live with the Gillmans, Coleridge had drifted away from the family that had been his sheet-anchor (and he theirs) in his most desolate years.

Matters quotidian and personal are recorded in varying degrees of intimacy: his agonizing distress, tinged with we can scarcely guess what shafts of self-accusation, at Hartley’s personal and immedicable disaster, and the half-menace of Derwent’s “coxcombry”; the humiliating negotiations with Blackwood’s and the not much less humiliating correspondence with John Murray in search of a publisher; his disgust at the influence used in securing for him a Royal Associateship in the Royal Society of Literature and his dignified bitterness when withdrawal of the royal bounty took away his only certain income; the furtive transactions with the druggist Thomas Dunn which are the ledger records of a shame-ridden addiction never quite broken; the hypochondriac musings on his recurrent illnesses, less copious than they used to be and better informed from being in a surgeon’s household, but real and ominous enough as the post-mortem examination he had insisted on was to show.

The tone of the later letters is often subdued and generally less boisterous than in the earlier years (though those were by no means continuously bathed in sunshine), but all was not misery, despondency and the creeping menace of death.  He was hard at work whenever his health would allow and he could look forward, almost every year, to a long holiday at Ramsgate where music and other social delights were more readily at hand than they were at Highgate.  He was in touch with old friends in London and sometimes dined with them and was eloquent and was lionized a little and was happy then.  At the Aders’s there was music and he could look at pictures; Ludwig Tieck whom he had last seen in Rome came out to Highgate to talk Shakespeare, and when John Hookham Frere came home from his public service in Malta there was good talk about Aristophanes and prosody; there was the “Attic Nights” and the “Thursdays” when the company was sometimes notable, always mixed, and sometimes affectionate; only occasionally did he arouse – as in Carlyle – the jealousy and intolerance that were to leave indelible marks in ink.  Often in the background Henry Crabb Robinson would be gravely and unobtrusively paying attention so that afterwards, with his trained retentive memory, he could record in his diary what happened and what was said; and from December 1822 the nephew Henry Nelson, later the husband of Coleridge’s daughter and posthumous editor of his work, often brought the admiration and help of an intelligent young man.  Coleridge’s delight in his daughter Sara when she came down from the Lakes for the first time in 1822 knew no bounds – her beauty, her intelligence, her modesty, her accomplishment – and since many other more worldly persons thought so too he could believe that he was not indulging an old father’s folly.  To Tulk close exposition, to Green hard reasoning, and to James Gillman, Derwent, and John Sterling strict theology affectionately administered; yet for the right occasion or the right correspondent the poet peeps out and his love of word-play luxuriates – as in the one letter to Lamb (V, 472-3), or his apology to Eliza Aders for a new housemaid whose memory is “the Cock-loft or Lumber-garret of her Soul” and who has “an old crazy bird-cage with the door off and the bottom out by way of an Idea-pantry, or Lock-up Drawer, or intellectual Card-rack” (V, 262).  To Gillman he writes a Turneresque glimpse (knowing nothing of Turner’s painting) of a steamboat coming alongside at Ramsgate in the sunset, thereby accidentally providing a gloss on Youth and Age (VI, 706); a misprint in the pirated Paris edition of his poems (1826) in the text of Work without Hope brings forth a little vignette of himself in the style of Uncle Toby Shandy standing irresolute at the stair-head threatened by chimney-sweepers (VI, 903-4).  In the background of all this work-in-progress, the Opus Maximum steadily crystallizing with the help of Green and others so that he could at times believe that in that work he could outpace death; and then, very near the end, after the few productive months of remission in 1832-33, he sends Eliza Aders his epitaph asking that an engraved memorial be designed.  At times the darkness would gather threateningly and hope would be out to a split yarn; but whenever his body did not do him too grievous harm his mind was clear and energetic, his “armed vision” sharp as he wrote and talked and thought about flowers, or the song of the nightingales in Caen Wood, or ideas and books, or taxes and paper money, the impending Reform Bill, the American Revolution, a new secular university, the distresses of factory children, the brutality of the criminal code.  And if some friends, like Blanco White and Edward Irving, move like moths across the line of vision and suddenly disappear, others abide and the old instinct brings back the old names; he is fascinated by young people and the beauty of young people, aware – without jealousy or perhaps too much regret – of the terrible vulnerability of youth and hope.

The presence of Coleridge the man, the rhythms of his life in the last years and the rhythms of his thought and feeling as far as he was prepared to disclose them to others – these can now with some confidence be reconstructed from these letters.  Yet the edition itself, in its three long introductions and in the variable annotation that in these last volumes sometimes grows into separate monographs, gives the impression of expert and assiduous but joyless labour.  I regret very much that such a monumental effort, producing results of immeasurable value in the study of Coleridge, should seem to have given the editor so little pure enjoyment, so little of the exuberant enlargement and elasticity of mind that one had thought prolonged acquaintance with Coleridge’s more intimate writing would surely have generated.  Through sheer industry and devotion a task that would make the stoutest heart quail is now – except for an adequate index – complete.  All who are in any way interested in Coleridge or concerned for the study of the man and his work will be immensely grateful for this edition.  Surely it will be a great many years before it is ever attempted again. 

The last book to be considered is Owen Barfield’s book What Coleridge Thought – a non-establishment book.  Here Barfield raises, as well as discusses, the question of method and Coleridge’s theory of method.  He also draws special attention to synthesis as a specific function of mind, a truly imaginative and unitary interpenetrative grasp of a complex rather than a mere recorrelation (synartesis) of the results of analysis.  Owen Barfield, whose distinguished work on metaphor might have prepared us to receive a book of this quality though we could scarcely have predicted it, has made a book of a kind that has not been attempted before: it is not only about Coleridge (indeed it is scrupulously that) but it is, in its conception and conduct, entirely Coleridgean.  Renouncing both the genetic and the biographical approaches commonly extended to Coleridge’s work, he has set about to discover (as Appleyard put it some time after Barfield had begun his work) “the idea or organizing insight . . . internal to his thought, so as to see what that thought is and not merely what it is like or unlike.”  Barfield is convinced – rightly, I think – that “later views are for the most part implicit in the earlier,” and that in seeking to set down as clearly and firmly as he could simply what his title announces – What Coleridge Thought – he is recording “What Coleridge Thought towards the End of his Life.”  This delineation of Coleridge’s “system” – as a system coherent in his own mind “and not a hodge podge of ‘inspired fragments’” – based on the conviction that Coleridge “had a muddled life, but not a muddled mind,” has been drawn primarily from six of Coleridge’s published works – the Biographia, the Friend, the Stateman’s Manual, the Theory of Life, Aids to Reflection, and Church and State – and the hitherto unpublished Treatise on Logic; in later stages of the work he has drawn confirmation and illustrative detail from letters, notebooks and marginalia.  I note particularly his reference in the Introduction to Coleridge’s “highly developed bump of reverence” – a quality that marks this book, and that is totally absent from Fruman’s.  This raises a contemporary clue of major importance: reverence, he says, “is an organ of perception for a whole range of qualities that are as imperceptible without it as another whole range is imperceptible without an ear for music.  And Coleridge’s aim . . . was precisely to supplement the current metaphysic, and the current science, of quantities with a metaphysic and a science of qualities.”

The text of this book runs to only 178 pages; to which are added an appendix of 15 pages on Coleridge’s “Polar Logic” and just over 70 pages of notes.  So closely organized and seamlessly argued is the book that it is impossible to summarize; and some of the notes, as they verge into the philosophical and scientific thought of our own time, are as trenchant and startling as anything in the text.  The titles of the thirteen chapters will sketch out the compass and line of exposition: “Thoughts and Thinking,” “Naturata and Naturans,” “Two Forces of One Power,” “Life,” “Outness,” “Imagination and Fancy,” “Understanding,” “Reason,” “Ideas, Method, Laws,” “Coleridge and the Cosmology of Science,” “Man and God,” “Man in History and in Society.”  These matters are treated, not as separate topics, but as indissoluble facets of a single coherent system which was both necessary to Coleridge’s intellect and emotions, and steady guide and criterion for all the multifarious activities of his mind.  Barfield’s unity of procedure will help the reader to grasp the book as it is intended – the subtle transfer to the reader’s mind of the active matrix of Coleridge’s mind-thinking.

Only about some details in the chapter on “Outness” do I feel slight misgivings where it seems to me that too little reliance has been placed upon the axioms of poetic experience that were also present to Coleridge’s philosophical intellect and impossible to leave out of account; but if those details were adjusted the effect would be to enlarge and endorse what is said here rather than to discredit or redispose any major element.  As a piece of sustained reconstructive thinking, and as a means of entering the real and fertile nucleus of Coleridge’s philosophizing, this book is without parallel in the canon of Coleridge scholarship.  If we had ever seriously considered the “relevance” of Coleridge’s thinking for our own time, Barfield’s grasp of modern mathematics, mathematical physics, genetics, and biology allows him to draw (usually in the notes) parallels that should help to hold in question – as Coleridge did throughout his life – the scientific modernity that commands our age without being truly scientific.