Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 11.djvu/321

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Coleridge
Coleridge
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give the finest examples of the class. ‘Kubla Khan’ was actually a dream, and his best poems are all really dreams or spontaneous reveries, showing a nature of marvellous richness and susceptibility, whose philosophic temperament only appears in the variety and vividness of the scenery. His unique melody is the natural expression of his surprising power of giving the mystical beauty of natural scenery. Coleridge's combination of poetic sympathy with logical subtlety gives unsurpassed value to his criticism, especially to the discussion of Wordsworth's principles and practice in the ‘Biographia Literaria,’ and to the fragmentary, but not less suggestive, criticisms of Shakespeare and the old English divines and poets. His strong prejudices render his estimate of the eighteenth-century writers less trustworthy.

Coleridge's claims as a philosopher are more disputable. His antagonists may hold that, though his imagination was not injured by his metaphysics, his metaphysical subtlety was too much at the service of his imagination. It is undeniable, however, that he took a leading part in the introduction of English thinkers to the results of German thought; and that his criticism of the national school of Hume, Bentham, and the Mills was frequently most effective and serviceable, even to his opponents. His influence upon Maurice and other writers of the rising generation was of great importance. He put a new spirit into the old conservatism by his attempt in his political writings to find a philosophical basis for doctrines previously supported by sheer prejudice; and his services in this respect are fully recognised in Mill's essay (Dissertations, 1859, i. 393–466). His detached remarks are frequently most instructive. ‘A living spirit breathes from Coleridge's pages which I at least can find in no others,’ says a distinguished metaphysician, Mr. Shadworth Hodgson (Philosophy of Reflection, i. 18–22), and Mr. Hodgson proceeds to show that he has himself learnt his most distinctive principles from Coleridge, especially from the ‘Aids to Reflection.’ Coleridge, however, suffers when any attempt is made to extract a philosophical system from his works. He never had, or soon lost, the power of sustained and concentrated attention necessary for the task. The distinction to which he attached primary importance between ‘the reason and the understanding’—borrowed from Kant, though completely altered in the process—has not satisfied even his disciples, though it is doubtless an attempt to formulate an important principle. The most careful account of his doctrine is given by Professor Hort in ‘Cambridge Essays’ for 1856 (pp. 292–351. See also ‘Coleridge’ in Shairp, Studies in Poetry and Philosophy, 1868). Joseph Henry Green, Coleridge's disciple in later years, spent almost a lifetime in trying to elaborate a system of Coleridgean philosophy. Coleridge had not really dictated anything more than a few fragmentary contributions to such a system, though upon this point he was under one of his usual delusions. The result appeared after Green's death in ‘Spiritual Philosophy, founded on the teaching of the late S. T. Coleridge’ (2 vols. 1865), edited by John Simon, F.R.S. (see Spiritual Philosophy, i. xxxviii; and Notes and Queries, 1st ser. ix. 543, for an account of Coleridge's share in them). It contains a statement of first principles and a deduction of the essential doctrines of the christian faith upon philosophical grounds. The book, however, is in any case a very imperfect sketch, and was published at a time when philosophic speculation had raised very different issues. Coleridge's most elaborate metaphysical exposition is inserted in the ‘Biographia Literaria,’ but is to so great an extent a translation from Schelling as to have little value as original matter, whatever excuses may be made for the plagiarism (see Ferrier's article in Blackwood's Magazine for March 1840 for a full account of this. Julius Hare had discussed the charge in the British Magazine for 1835). Mr. Hutchison Stirling (Fortnightly Review, July 1867) shows forcibly the superficial nature of Coleridge's acquaintance with Kant and the weakness of his claim to independent discovery of principles. In truth it seems that Coleridge's admirers must limit themselves to claiming for him, what he undoubtedly deserves, the honour of having done much to stimulate thought, and abandon any claim to the construction of a definitive system.

Coleridge's works are: 1. ‘Fall of Robespierre,’ 1794 (first act by Coleridge). 2. ‘Moral and Political Lecture delivered at Bristol,’ 1795. 3. ‘Conciones ad Populum,’ 1795; (the first of these is No. 2 slightly altered). 4. ‘The Plot discovered,’ in an address to the people against ministerial treason, 1795 (3 and 4 in ‘Essays on his own Times’). 5. ‘The Watchman’ (ten numbers, 1 March to 13 May 1796). 6. ‘Poems on various subjects,’ 1796 (three sonnets by Charles Lamb); 2nd edition in 1797, with poems by C. Lamb and C. Lloyd; 3rd in 1803, omitting Lamb's and Lloyd's poems. (Four of his sonnets appeared in a small collection privately printed by him in 1796 to bind up with Bowles's.) 7. ‘The Destiny of Nations’ (originally contributed to Southey's ‘Joan of Arc;’ republished under this title with alterations in 1828 and 1834;