Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Brian Goldberg, The Lake Poets and Professional Identity

Brian Goldberg, The Lake Poets and Professional Identity (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007). viii + 297pp. ISBN 978-0-521-86638-5 (Hdbk.), $100.00.

Reviewed by
Mark L. Barr
Saint Mary's University

Brian Goldberg's The Lake Poets and Professional Identity is a careful and subtle exploration of the cultural tropes and social forces that William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey invoked and struggled against in attempting to forge their distinct notions of authorial identity. Goldberg's central thesis is that the Lake School poets, caught between the unsustainable binary conception of the author either as reclusive (and unpaid) genius or as remunerated hack, sought in legal, medical, and clerical professionalism a more palatable model to help reconfigure the authorial relationship to both work and audience. In this intensive and necessarily episodic study, Goldberg manages a fine balance between both obscure and well-read texts and between the Lake Poets and their eighteenth-century forebears to trace the often uncomfortable fit between the notion of "professional gentleman" and an emerging vocational identity arising alongside the economic model gradually replacing the patronage system.

Anya Taylor, Erotic Coleridge: Women, Love, and the Law Against Divorce

Anya Taylor, Erotic Coleridge: Women, Love, and the Law Against Divorce. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 232 pages. $80.00 (ISBN10: 1-4039-6925-6)

Reviewed by
David M. Baulch
University of West Florida

A book entitled Erotic Mary Robinson or Erotic Byron would not be all that surprising. By contrast, Anya Taylor’s Erotic Coleridge: Women, Love, and the Law Against Divorce is immediately unsettling—and interesting—precisely because tradition has constructed Samuel Taylor Coleridge as one of the least erotic beings imaginable. Canonizing Coleridge alongside “Dry Bob” Southey, Byron’s Don Juan set the terms for reception, contrasting the success of Coleridge’s metaphysical interests with the failure of young Juan’s attempts to sublimate erotic attachments through abstruse contemplations. Slightly less than two centuries of subsequent critical treatment have done little to challenge the orthodoxy of Byron’s irreverence. While Anthony John Harding’s Coleridge and the Idea of Love: Aspects of Relationship in Coleridge’s Thought and Writing (1974) accords a centrality to love in its broadest possible sense as a moral/relational metaphysic, and Raimonda Modiano’s Coleridge and the Concept of Nature (1985) recognizes love as an important element in Coleridge’s complex and shifting engagements with aesthetic theory, Anya Taylor’s remarkable book asserts that Coleridge, throughout his life, was positively sexy and charmingly flirtatious. In short, Erotic Coleridge argues that the vicissitudes of Coleridge’s life, the complexities of his thought, and the protean character of his literary achievement need to be seen alongside his consistent interest in women.

Adam Potkay, The Story of Joy: From the Bible to Late Romanticism

Adam Potkay, The Story of Joy: From the Bible to Late Romanticism. New York and Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007. 318pp. ISBN-13: 9780521879118 (Hdbk.), $103.99

Reviewed by
Matthew VanWinkle
Ohio University

Adam Potkay’s ambitious study provides a deep background for a word of particular interest to Romantic era writers, a word that since has fallen into relative disfavor. By tracing instances of joy through a range of religious and literary texts, Potkay seeks to establish two constants in its variable history. The first is that joy, as distinct from words or concepts nearly synonymous, bears a close relationship to narrative. The second is that joy is inextricably involved with questions of ethics. Given how rapidly he surveys two and a half millennia of cultural history in the West, Potkay cannot always give each of these claims equal or consistent attention. Even so, he develops these claims persuasively, supporting them with a richness of detail and a clarity that still recognizes complexity. The result is a thoughtful and a bracing book that suggests both the need for and the appeal of further scholarly interest in its subject.

Edoardo Zuccato, Petrarch in Romantic England

Edoardo Zuccato, Petrarch in Romantic England. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Xiv + 241 pp. $80.00 (Hdbk; 0-230-54260-3)

Reviewed by
Mary Anne Myers

With Petrarch in Romantic England, Edoardo Zuccato refines and updates the meaning of "Italian influences" in British literature from the late eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, tilling rich ground for additional study from several critical and cultural perspectives. While Dante's influence on the "Canonic Six" has long been duly noted, Zuccato's historical approach demonstrates that Petrarch was actually more popular among the period's writers, particularly among those women and men who have more recently been included in the field of Romantic studies. Not only does Zuccato's enterprise dovetail with the expansion of the Romantic canon, it also illustrates how a central question in the period's debates over Petrarch is keyed to the larger English Romantic movement and its subsequent critical reception. As the author positions the apparent paradox: "Petrarch was recognised simultaneously as one of the masters of love poetry and an extremely skilled rhetorician who exhibited his technical devices with unashamed pride. How could exalted passion and extreme artificiality coexist?" (15). Then as now, disagreements hinged on the issue of sincerity and the connections among feeling, truth, art, and action.

Nicola Trott and Seamus Perry, eds. 1800: The New "Lyrical Ballads." Romanticism in Perspective: Texts, Cultures, Histories

Nicola Trott and Seamus Perry, eds. 1800: The New "Lyrical Ballads." Romanticism in Perspective: Texts, Cultures, Histories, gen. eds. Marilyn Gaull and Stephen Prickett. Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave/St. Martin's, 2001. x + 245 pp. £60.00 (US$70) (Hdbk.; ISBN 0-333-77398-5).

Reviewed by
Alison Hickey
Wellesley College

"'1800' is not one of the most famous dates in English literary history, but it should be" (1), declares the Introduction to this outstanding collection of essays. The idea that the literary-historical importance of the 1800 Lyrical Ballads equals or even surpasses that of its "more celebrated rival of 1798" is not itself new, but it has never before been so convincingly borne out by sustained, multifaceted, and rigorous critical inquiry.

The essayists, among the most highly respected Wordsworth and Coleridge scholars now writing in the UK and the US, define 1800's "newness" in various ways, and their approaches range from "revisiting the title" (Zachary Leader) to delving into "Wordsworth's Loves of the Plants" (Nicola Trott). Yet the volume as a whole, for all its diversity, possesses a coherence not often found in collections of essays by multiple authors. The tension between unity and multeity, comparable to tensions in Lyrical Ballads itself (or "the" Lyrical Ballads "themselves"), gives the critical volume a rare integrity.

David P. Haney, The Challenge of Coleridge: Ethics and Interpretation in Romanticism and Modern Philosophy

David P. Haney, The Challenge of Coleridge: Ethics and Interpretation in Romanticism and Modern Philosophy. Literature and Philosophy Series. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001.  xviii + 309pp.  $59.00. (ISBN 0-271-02051-2).

Reviewed by
Anya Taylor
John Jay College of Criminal Justice - CUNY

The Challenge of Coleridge aims to demonstrate the overlap between hermeneutics and ethics, to show how reading deeply may lead to acting morally, how reading and respecting the otherness of a written text resembles hearing and respecting the otherness of an individual person. The book hopes to encourage a new way of teaching the humanities, by "placing the texts of the past and the present into a conversation in which the attention of both partners is focused, albeit from different historical horizons, on important issues of mutual concern" and thus to remove the humanities from "the criteria of technological production" by which university administrators often evaluate their worth (xiii). Even as it promotes the idea of conversations and dialogues on issues, the book engages in such conversations, ranging widely over living and dead philosophers. As Haney ventures into his vast terrain, he is guided by "Gadamer's notion of a transhistorical conversation that is more comprehensive than the horizon of either the modern interpreter or the historical text, a concept which . . . can provide an important alternative to the currently dominant ideological interpretations of history" (xii). Those of us who teach the humanities enter the field of this book with great hope that ethics, morality, and the conscience will be clearly applied to actions as well as interactive words to deepen our teaching of texts and perhaps even our engagements with actual persons. Chapter headings such as "Knowledge, Being, and Hermeneutics," "Oneself as Another: Coleridgean Subjectivity," and "Love, Otherness, and the Absolute Self" promise opportunities for meaningful contemplation. The recollection of Haney's fine "Aesthetics and Ethics in Gadamer, Levinas, and Romanticism: Problems of Phronesis and Techne" (PMLA 114.1 1999, 32-45) adds to the anticipation.

Michael John Kooy, Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education

Michael John Kooy, Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education. New York: Palgrave, 2002. xii + 241pp.  $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-74936-7).

Reviewed by
Tilar J. Mazzeo
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Although much has been made of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's interest in and intellectual obligations to German Romantic figures such as Schelling and Kant and to the Jena Romantics more generally, his relationship to his older contemporary, Friedrich Schiller, has not been the subject of extended critical inquiry.  In his recent study of Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education, Michael John Kooy remedies this imbalance, offering the first sustained account of Coleridge's relationship to Schiller and while tracing the poet's evolving investment in the psychological and historical effects of Bildung, a term that encompasses both "aesthetic education" and its "cultivation."  Drawing upon extensive new research into Romantic print culture and offering lucid insights into subtle philosophical distinctions, Kooy charts the contours of a sustained intellectual engagement and offers Coleridge's readers a fresh perspective on his early German translations, his attitudes toward female education and genius, and his privileging of clerical history.

Kooy suggests that Coleridge's relationship to the writing of Schiller has been obscured for several reasons.  On the one hand, Kooy identifies and refutes the "unexamined presumption" (4) that, because Coleridge does not call attention to Schiller as a source, there was no substantial interest or influence.   In fact, Coleridge not only owned copies of Schiller's Muse's Almanac (1797), Poems (1800, 1803; 2 vols.), and Shorter Works in Prose (1792-1802; 2 vols.)--a collection representing the majority of the philosopher's corpus--but he also had access to any number of contemporary periodicals publishing works of German literary interest for an engaged British reading public.  Perhaps most importantly, Kooy shows that Coleridge was at least loosely affiliated with a circle of English Germanophiles, which included intimates such as Thomas Beddoes, William Taylor, and Henry Crabb Robinson, all of whom were writing reviews and completing German translations for these periodical journals.  Kooy suggests that Coleridge's fraught relationship to his other German sources has made critics wary of engaging his intellectual debts to Schiller, especially in the Biographia Literaria.  Although "Coleridge clearly did not rely on Schiller textually in the same way as he did on the Schlegels or on Schelling," Kooy proposes that there has been a "nervous fixation on sources" and that "we have become unaccustomed, even unwilling, to think of Coleridge's relationship with the other thinkers except in terms of either slavish dependence or absolute ignorance" (96).  As a result, Kooy maintains that important aspects of both Coleridge's compositional method and his investment in the social role of aesthetics have been elided.

Kathleen Jones, A Passionate Sisterhood: Women of the Wordsworth Circle

Kathleen Jones, A Passionate Sisterhood: Women of the Wordsworth Circle. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. xix + 313pp. illus. $29.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-312-22731-0).

Reviewed by
Judith Thompson
Dalhousie University

The Romantic period, with its literary circles and coteries, its close collaborations and incestuous alliances, has long offered fertile ground for the development of a new form of literary biography, that would be more intersubjective, intertextual and historicized, taking into account recent research into plural nature of subjectivity and textuality as well as new historical understanding of the way the "lives of the poets" are interwoven with, and constructed in collaboration with, their others (readers, editors, publishers) and their material and economic circumstances. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the presence of such group biographies as William St. Clair's The Godwins and the Shelleys, or Nicholas Roe's carefully historicized and intertextual Wordsworth and Coleridge: the Radical Years, little has been done to break down prevailing and longstanding notions, originating in the Romantic period, of biography as the writing of a singular self. While the loosening of the canon and the rediscovery of women writers have, as it were, enlarged the optical field to take in ever more moons and satellites, the gravitational pull of the Romantic ideology is so powerful that our attention seems inevitably drawn to the center of any subjective universe.

Kathleen Jones's A Passionate Sisterhood: Women of the Wordsworth Circle exemplifies the difficulty of breaking prevailing paradigms. In choosing to write a group biography focused on the moons and satellites of planet Wordsworth, she makes an admirable effort to recenter and enlarge our perspective upon romantic subjectivity and life-writing. She moves the Great Men, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey, to the margins, where they appear only relationally, weaving in and out of the lives of one another and of the women in their lives, the multiplicitous Saras, Marys, Ediths and Dorothys who are the real subject of this biography. Their wifely, sisterly, motherly and daughterly talents as emotional and domestic managers, building and navigating an intricate web of relationships, facilitated the creation of great romantic poetry (and greater romantic egos), but took an enormous emotional and physical toll. This book opens up rich territory, and it is to Jones's credit that she attempts to look at it whole, to interweave multiple stories and trace patterns of similarity and difference between generations, all the while drawing our attention to the ineluctable realities, economic, material, domestic and physiological, that underlie, underwrite and undercut the grand romantic story. In the end, however, her book does not succeed—not because of its plural topic, but because of its theoretical reductiveness. Relying upon limited and outdated sources, reflecting not at all upon its own methodology, paying scant attention to its subjects as writers, A Passionate Sisterhood, like its subjects, fails to live up to its own creative potential.

Jennifer Ford, Coleridge on Dreaming: Romanticism, Dreams and the Medical Imagination

Jennifer Ford, Coleridge on Dreaming: Romanticism, Dreams and the Medical Imagination Cambridge Studies in Romanticism, no. 26. Cambridge University Press, 1998. xii + 256pp. illus. $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-521-58316-0).

Reviewed by
Richard Matlak
College of the Holycross

I believe it was Walter Jackson Bate who commented that one could quote Coleridge to support either side of almost any argument, and, one might add, believe wholeheartedly in its one-sidedness. Because of the subject of this review, let us consider Bate's part in creating the prevailing understanding of the Coleridgean imagination. His influential explication of Coleridge on imagination began with Criticism: The Major Texts (Harcourt, Brace,1952), continued in his lucid and once-standard biography, Coleridge (Macmillan,1968), and rests now at the permanent center of Coleridge studies in the editorial introduction to the Bollingen Bate-Engell edition of Biographia Literaria (Princeton University Press, 1983; pp. lxxxi–civ). This finely-honed and learned exposition of Coleridge's Primary and Secondary Imaginations, which was prepared by James Engell, is illustrated by a conceptual diagram that would please anyone with a rage for order. "God, The 'Great I AM'" sits at the top, "Philosophy scientia scientiarum," at its base, and the term Imagination is positioned right above a midline of demarcation identified as natura naturata and is connected to the meaningfully ordered concepts of Reason, Understanding, Perception, Senses, Art (Subjective & Objective), Organic Form, and Symbols by arrows shooting every which way (cf. p. lxxx). Jennifer Ford, however, suggests a surreal, more fleshly, image to represent another side of Coleridge on imagination in Coleridge on Dreaming: Romanticism, Dreams and the Medical Imagination. It is Henry Fuseli's painting of The Nightmare, with its Goblin sitting on the sleeping, restless virgin, and the head of an excited stallion leering out of the gloom at the foot of her bed. As opposed to the received Germanic-philosophical-aesthetic lineage of the Creative Imagination, the "Medical Imagination" has its grounding in contemporary medical debates whose arguments are to be found in tomes such as John Brown's Elementa Medicinæ (1780), Erasmus Darwin's Zoonomia (1794–96), John Haygarth's Of the Imagination as a Cause and Cure of Disorders in the Body (1800), and William Falconer's A Dissertation on the Influence of the Passions on Disorders of the Body (3rd ed, 1796). Coleridge's relationship to the contemporary debate, coupled with his private reflections on the mysterious functioning of (his) imagination as a translator of bodily ailments and sensations into the "dramatic dreaming spaces" of his consciousness, is not to be found primarily in the public pronouncements of his lectures, essays, or the Biographia, but rather in letters, marginalia, and especially the Notebooks, more than twenty of which still remain unpublished. Ford shows that "[i]n adopting a fundamentally physiological doctrine of the source and production of dreams, Coleridge was also able to explore the physiological, medical nature of the imagination" (3). In other words, Ford knowingly counters the quite convincing "spiritual, poetic, idealist" understanding of the Coleridgean imagination with a quite convincing description of the Coleridgean imagination as "a physical and medical faculty, . . . distinctly linked to the material, to the corporeal" (185).


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