by N. Santilli
The Wanderings of Cain is an unfinished work, but, until now, its fragments have never been collected together. Coleridge published Canto II with a Prefatory Note that included a verse fragment in 1828 and 1834. E. H. Coleridge, in his 1912 edition of the Poetical Works included, by way of footnote, an edited transcript of the folio manuscript that was written for the work, possibly as a continuation. More recently, J. C. C. Mays has reprinted the 1834 version, moving the related fragments to a separate variorum volume. For this edition, I have placed those manuscript fragments beside Canto II, to show that the published texts were part of a larger, ongoing project.
The Wanderings of Cain has traditionally been regarded as a step in Coleridge's development of themes that he was later to handle more successfully in "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." This has been compounded by the fact that he published only Canto II with an apologetic preface and some incomplete verses in the Poetical Works of 1828 and 1834. Over the years, however, several other contributing fragments have come to light from his notebooks and papers, suggesting a work of more significance than has been attributed to it. Rather than confining the scope of an electronic text of The Wanderings of Cain to the fragmentary Canto II, therefore, the current edition seeks to present a fuller picture of the work by assembling all of the various fragments that were written towards the intended work.
Of course, an appreciation of Cain as a stimulating and searching work in its own right cannot detract from its well-known relationship to other texts written around the same time. The poem was conceived just prior to the famous walk on which the plot for "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" was first mooted. Indeed, Wordsworth initially agreed to collaborate with Coleridge on Cain, but later pulled out, just as he would do subsequently with "The Ancient Mariner." The two poems are thematically related, sharing concerns with the problem of evil, redemption and the supernatural. Both suffering protagonists are depicted as manifestations of the mythical Wandering Jew. But at the heart of each work is the problem of sacrifice and both texts share a striking image of blood spilled from the arm (see folio V; Ancient Mariner, III:160). Jack Stillinger has shown that Coleridge continued to work on "The Ancient Mariner" until 1834. It is significant, therefore, that he should also continue to work on Cain and did not abandon it in the light of the success of "The Ancient Mariner."
There is also a connection to "Christabel" and, indeed, Coleridge wrote to Byron of his intention to publish that poem together with Cain. The same preoccupations with the nature of evil and the Gothic link them both to "The Ancient Mariner." Moreoever, the narrative plot in "Christabel" reflects that of the Cain fragments: a disguised spirit tempts the protagonist, outside the city, to commit a terrible sin. This supernatural being holds a power over the protagonist by claiming an acquaintance with their beloved, deceased relative (the mother in "Christabel," the brother in Cain). Again, this thematic similarity is joined by a specific image that appears in both poems. The bird (a dove and vulture, respectively) caught in the coils of a snake. The image, which Coleridge returned to several times, appears in William Bartram's Travels through North and South Carolina [. . .], which he was reading in 1798 with Wordsworth and in 1800 with Sara Hutchinson. Other poems worth considering alongside Cain include "Kubla Khan" and "The Blossoming of the Solitary Date Tree."
Recent scholarship has tended to emphasize the textual plurality of all Coleridge's work, and Jack Stillinger's identification of 18 versions of "The Ancient Mariner" has even called into question our ability to determine a standard edition of a complete text. In the light of this, it seems timely to re-present Coleridge's poems in a way that illustrates this textual instability. Cain offers an ideal example of a work-in-progress—an appellation that describes virtually all of Coleridge's poetical works. Gathered together, these fragments display in microcosm many of his poetical concerns: the use of different media and genres; shifts from a Unitarian to an Anglican standpoint; and the emergence of his distinctive aesthetics of the supernatural. Presented in this way, they invite us to pursue Coleridge's accretion of literary texts and personal observations through his folios, notebooks, letters and published works: always with our focus on a single work. In the present edition, Canto II appears as one fragment among several that he conceived as possible representations of his subject. The work, now considered as a project rather than an abandoned work, opens itself up to internal analysis between the fragments as well as to more traditional comparison with other works of the same period. As an electronic text, Cain seeks to convey a sense of Coleridge's poetical composition as a continual process that bears witness to the various eras of his life, his thought and his works.
Critical interest in The Wanderings of Cain is therefore partly due to its place in that historical period: its conception and initial composition just before "The Ancient Mariner" and "Christabel" (part 1 and possibly alongside part 2). In this collected version, however, the work also reveals something of the poet himself. Ultimately, Cain contributes one more piece to our torn map of Coleridge's development as a spiritual poet and psychologist of guilt and sin.
Dating the Fragments
Canto II was published in the Poetical Works of 1828 and 1834 together with the preface containing the verse fragment. Canto II appeared as "A Fragment" in the Bijou of 1828 without the preface or verses (and apparently without Coleridge's permission). The same lines of verse had already appeared in Aids to Reflection (1825) in which Coleridge refers to his unfinished poem to illustrate his discussion on "enthusiastic mystics."
Dating the composition of the Cain fragments remains problematic. J. C. C. Mays fixes two specific occasions in 1797 and 1807 (359). He does introduce some confusion, however, when he states that "the poem falls into two phases: his working plan for the whole and the writing of Canto I" (492). In addition, the manuscript of Canto II, in the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library, is also referred to as "Canto I" (493). In both cases, it may be assumed that "Canto II" was intended, as no other has been uncovered. Mays does, however, use the term "Canto I" quite specifically to describe the Preface (and the verse fragment contained within it) that appears before the poem in the 1828 and 1834 edition of Poetical Works.
The sources for "Canto II" used in this edition are the published 1828 and 1834 versions in Coleridge's Poetical Works and the Bijou. I have not included the Berg manuscript here because it is followed, with only minor emendments, by the Bijou edition. The Berg text can be consulted in J.C.C. Mays's variorum.
Canto II and the Preface (in the single text and parallel versions) were produced from the 1828 and 1834 editions of Coleridge's Poetical Works. Two typographical errors were silently corrected. Typescripts were created, which were then proofread back against their source. Further variants of the verse fragment in the Preface were found in Aids to Reflection and Coleridge's letter to Byron (22 October 1815; in Griggs's edition). These were compared against transcripts from both of the Poetical Works and the parallel texts created. The text of the folio fragments were transcribed directly from the manuscripts held at the British Library. They were later compared with the footnote in E. H. Coleridge's 1912 edition and J. C. C. Mays's reading text and variorum. I have provided E. H. Coleridge's and Mays's reading of a single word where creases in the folio paper, together with the somewhat hastily written script, rendered that word illegible to my eyes. Finally, I transcribed the notebook fragment directly from the manuscript source, also held at the British Library. I compared my transcript to the published edition in The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge edited by Kathleen Coburn. Following this, I transposed the transcripts of all the texts into HTML files, which I then proofread twice against their source. (Please refer to the primary sources listed in the Select Bibliography for full details of all material used in this edition.)
How To Use This Edition
This electronic edition offers several ways of reading the separate fragments that make up Coleridge's project, The Wanderings of Cain. The first, and clearest, approach is to begin with the Reading Text. For this, I have selected and arranged the texts to provide a clear and untrammelled reading from one fragment to the other. The texts may then be examined individually; each fragment is listed separately in the Table of Contents. Finally, the fragments that are extant in more than one source can be assessed comparatively in the Canto II and Verse parallel text display.
Throughout the edition you will find numbers in brackets, which are links to footnotes appearing in pop-up boxes. These footnotes are of two kinds: typical scholarly notations, and contextual notes, i.e. cross-references to supporting documentation, in the form of excerpts from letters or notebooks. The verse fragment, for example, appears in a letter to Lord Byron and phrases from Canto II appear as observations in the notebooks. The Prefatory Note to Canto II was substituted for an editor's note in the Introduction to the Bijou. All of this extraneous material can be accessed through the contextual notes in this edition.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- Jack Stillinger
- Wanderings of Cain
- Canto II
- Poetical Works
- Bijou literary annual
- Aids to Reflection
- The Ancient Mariner
- J.C.C. Mays
- poetical fragment
- Ernest Hartley Coleridge
- The Ghost of Abel
- Cain: a mystery
- Wandering Jew
- British Library manuscripts
- Coleridge notebook
- Valley of Rocks
- William Bartram
- Death of Abel
- Cain and Abel