Irony and Clerisy
The Multeity of Coleridgean Apostasy
Charles Mahoney, University of Connecticut
"Once a Jacobin always a Jacobin," Coleridge maintained in 1802. And 1809. And 1818. In itself, the recurrence of this adage might appear to be nothing more than a piece of journalistic ephemera, a detail rightly relegated to the footnotes by various editors of the Collected Works. But the near-pathological obsession Coleridge's writing belies regarding this curious formulation--repeating or alluding to it, claiming its originality while disclaiming its implications, not once or twice but on numerous occasions between its original appearance in the Morning Post in 1802 and its nth revivification in The Friend in 1818--suggests that it is more than merely a successfully catchy slogan for (or is it against?) the revolutionary politics of the day. In league with its heretical relation, "apostate," "Jacobin" emerges in Coleridge's treatment as a word to watch with skepticism and vigilance. Indeed, the entire phrase, and the implicit ideological indictment it contains, presents us with a prism through which we can observe the numerous refractions not only of Coleridge's personal politics of the 1790s but also, increasingly, of his transmogrifications of politics into metaphysics in the 1810s. With its converse insight into the modality of romantic apostasy, this volatile epigram is nothing less than the fulcrum with which we can gain sufficient purchase to negotiate the critical conversions of Coleridgean recantation, from the odes of the 1790s through the desultory journalism of the 1800s and 1810s to the "Logosophia" of 1817 and after.
These six words summarize the tortuously circuitous "logic" of Coleridge's notoriously lax "foundational principles." Indeed, as we shall see, they epitomize in an altogether perverse fashion the "consistency" of political principle that he regularly claimed for himself, as eloquently as (and far more succinctly than) such habitual sites of interrogation as the Bristol lectures of 1795, numerous articles written for the Morning Post, and Chapter 10 of the Biographia. By examining the putative logic of (as well as the spell cast by) this enigmatic adage, we can obtain a far more nuanced understanding of the critical question pertaining to Coleridge's politics: not was he (once) a Jacobin, but was he (always) an apostate? Concentrating on this adage can provide us with an answer that will be at once more discriminating and more comprehensive than would be possible through looking at either the revolutionary Coleridge of the "Conciones ad Populum" or the reactionary Coleridge of the Statesman's Manual--or even (à la Hazlitt, Thelwall and others) through repeatedly juxtaposing the two personae with the intent to expose either their chaotic inconsistency or their fundamental consistency. For there may in fact be an unanticipated consistency to Coleridge's political reasoning, albeit not what either his apologists or his detractors have claimed, one better described as "hypostatic" than as apostatic; that is, closer to an under-standing than a standing-away (hypo-under; apo-away; stasis-standing). "To hypostasize" is in fact a Coleridgean neologism, one concocted to denominate the recognition of a substance (or power or person) as self-existent; thus, to speak of a hypostatic Coleridge is to acknowledge an abiding sub-stance between the "Jacobin" of the 1790s and the "Tory" of the 1810s. To postulate a hypostatic union at the outset serves to underline the temporal dimensions of any inquiry into the question of Coleridge's apostasy. How long does Coleridge have to stand for his standing to count as such? What does it mean for "He Hath Stood" to make a stand? That is to say: what is the time of apostasy?
As we shall see, the operations of the term "apostasy" are fundamentally uncontrollable. Whenever put in play (or even merely conjured, as above), "apostasy" elides any attempt to fix the terms according to which it might be managed. While, etymologically, "apostasy" may signify a standing-off or -away, it repeatedly figures a standing so precarious as finally to be indistinguishable from a falling—and not an isolated fall at that, but an always- or always-already falling that can be seen to occur with reference not merely to political principle but, far more unpredictably, literary language. The unmanageability of the term is such that any definition of apostasy as merely a standing off postulates a limit to which, in its seemingly inevitable performance of falling, it cannot be held. In this sense, apostasy is an exemplary mot glissant—or, as Coleridge would have it, it is a word with a multeity (i.e. multitude) of registers.
If there is a logic to Coleridge's politics, it is not one of principle so much as of figure, of apostasy considered as a trope according to which a standing converts or turns into a falling. This disruptive interruption is an operation of irony, of irony considered as the undoing of any narrative of apostasy. To represent apostasy narratively entails an attempt to render the movement of standing away (the stepping from one stasis to the next) both consistent and stable, in order that the subject might be understood to have maintained a coherence of self in the interim. When the discourse of romantic apostasy shifts to represent the standing-away of apostasy as something other than simply another stand—as something more akin to a turn, which in turn raises the possibility of a fall—the register of apostasy must be reconfigured to accommodate this new, tropological attention to inconsistency and inversion. Irony, then, can be said to name the precipitous conversion of apostasy from a standing-away into a falling, a falling that is neither isolated nor terminal but vertiginous and never-ending, as a "once" turns out to be an "always." And it is this repetition (as it is articulated in the Coleridgean economy of "once / always") that finally determines apo-stasis as a "state" of always falling. Recognized in the tangle of Coleridgean politics, irony does not afford an alternative to apostasy, a heading under which to explain Coleridge's "virtual consistency" or his "habitual method of disunity" (irony in lieu of apostasy). Instead, by dint of interrogating the very possibility of standing, irony interrupts romantic narratives of both his political consistency (the Coleridgean "He hath stood") and inconsistency (Hazlitt's articulation of Coleridge's "own specific levity" [7.117]). The question thus becomes, how long does Coleridge have to have stood for falling to count as such?
The question of Coleridge's "apostasy" continues to matter. It is the most telling example of what E.P. Thompson long ago recognized as "the intellectual complexity of [romantic] apostasy" ("Compendium of Cliché" 149), the "riddle" of which, as Alan Liu more recently affirmed, "has so haunted Romantic studies" (426). And there is no shortage of possible solutions. In positions remarkably similar to those first articulated by Hazlitt and Coleridge, Thompson and Thomas McFarland maintain, respectively and unequivocally, that Coleridge "was, of course, an apostate" ("Compendium of Cliché" 149) and "that Coleridge was a committed Jacobin who then became an apostate Tory is, on the evidence, demonstrably not the case" (80). Of these was neither and was both at once: as Jerome Christensen (the most astute reader of the sinuousness of Coleridge's apostasy) has noted on several occasions, "Coleridge was always slightly away from a political position; ...he was always technically an apostate" ("Once an Apostate" 464). And, in a more complex formulation: "At every point we examine him, even at the beginning, Coleridge is already falling away from every principled commitment" ("Guilty Thing" 772). We will return to Christensen's reading as it bears on Coleridge's "metaphysics" of apostasy in the 1810s, but for the moment we might simply note that, presented in immediate juxtaposition to one another, these two brief citations reveal a crucial shift in Christensen's thinking on Coleridge: how did "always slightly away" turn into "already falling away"? As suggested above, irony can be said to name the conversion of a standing into a falling and thus to designate the disruption of any narrative of political consistency, however involuted. And Coleridge's word for irony, it turns out, is apostasy.
Before proceeding any further toward a reading of the tangled skein of Coleridge's "apostasies"—of the multeity of his apostasy—however, we would do well to sketch a trajectory of the inception, deployments, and appropriations of his youthful political squib, if only to situate both its ungovernable afterlife and Coleridge's peculiarly specular relation to it.* * *
With the Peace of Amiens faltering and English support growing for a resumption of the war with France, Coleridge wrote a lengthy article in October, 1802, for the Morning Post, "Once a Jacobin Always a Jacobin," with the professed purpose of answering, once and for all, the question "What is a Jacobin?" and thereby provoking the English (with a decidedly Burkean indignation) into consolidating their own increasing anti-Jacobinism. While this piece is, as Erdman has noted, a "threshold-crossing essay" (insofar as it signals that Coleridge is backing away from the support he manifested for Napoleon during the overtures for peace), it is also, ironically, an essay that reveals the difficulties—if not the impossibility—of crossing or re-crossing any border marked "once / always." For if Coleridge's purpose is to provide a suitable rationale for recantation to English Jacobins (EOT 1.cix)—staunch devotees of Liberty, such as he, still walking with awe and singing his stately songs—his own performance of crossing over repeatedly erodes the stable ground of consistency he would claim for himself as an enlightened anti-Jacobin of long-standing. While the essay's polemic seems straightforward enough—to provide a detailed substantiation of Pitt's claim (recorded and embellished by Coleridge two years earlier) that "the mind once tainted with Jacobinism can never be wholly free from the taint"—it is complicated first by Coleridge's favorable (indeed, often sentimental) representation of Jacobinism and later by his disdainful mockery of Pitt's maxim as a presumptuous life-sentence passed "by those who would turn an error in speculative politics into a sort of sin against the Holy Ghost, which in some miraculous and inexplicable manner shuts out not only mercy but even repentance!" (1.373). Admitting at the outset that "definite terms are unmanageable things" (1.367), Coleridge nevertheless attempts to micromanage the term Jacobin here sinuously enough to "prove" the truth of what is in effect his own adage at the same time as he exculpates himself from its implications. No wonder, then, that it is "our duty to have clear, correct, and definite conceptions" (1.370).
Though Coleridge reminds us at various moments that he never succumbed to the temptations of Jacobinism (and thus is ostensibly free of its indelible "taint"), both his passionate defense of a Jacobin as a sincere advocate of Liberty and his ridicule of the postulate "once / always," as applied to a speculative error, suggest otherwise. The assertion "once a Jacobin always a Jacobin" requires, it turns out, not a counter-argument but merely a rejoinder—in this case, the blunt "we were never, at any period of our life, converts to the system of French politics" (1.372)—for, as Coleridge reminds us, the adage is not an argument but merely an assertion, and therefore cannot be disproved but only rebutted in like form. So Coleridge does, with a signature pronouncement that he will repeat time and again over the years. The two declarations remain locked in a strenuous tug-of-war over the fulcrum of apostasy ("once / always" balanced against "never a convert"), until the "turn" and "conversion" implicit in Jacobinism itself are articulated (by Hazlitt, in 1816), after which the modality of the term "apostasy" shifts from a standing-apart to a falling-away in such a fashion that Coleridge can then "convert" politics into metaphysics—which, it would appear, is precisely what he was trying to do all along.
In the interim, Coleridge reprinted a lengthy section from "Once a Jacobin Always a Jacobin" in Nos 10 and 11 of The Friend (October, 1809), as part of a disquisition on the "Errors of Party Spirit." While he proudly signals this incorporation of earlier material by pointing out to the reader that it was he who formulated "the first fair and philosophical statement and definition of Jacobinism and of Jacobin" in 1802 (Friend 2.144), Coleridge abjures the discriminating analysis of the varieties of English Jacobinism that would substantiate this claim, in favor of reprinting the essay's attempt to demystify the adage that continues to haunt him. "'Once a Jacobin, always a Jacobin'—O wherefore?" demands Coleridge:
From what source are we to derive this strange Phaenomenon, that the Young and the Enthusiastic, who as our daily experience informs us, are deceived in their religious Antipathies, and grow wiser...; should, if once deceived in a question of abstract Politics, cling to the Error for ever and ever? (2.145)Coleridge's expostulations equating Jacobinism and heresy sound more hysterical than philosophical, and fail to address (let alone answer) the question of why one cannot shake it off, particularly when, in retrospect, the consequences of Jacobinism have proved to be such that "every good Man's heart sickens and his head turns giddy at the retrospect" (2.145). There is no reason per se, but simply the incommutable sentence passed by the adage. The use of "giddy" at this juncture is telling: denominating a confused sensation or mental dizziness and suggesting a susceptibility to falling, "giddy" foreshadows the vertiginous valence that "apostasy" will acquire in the 1810s, and turns the "retrospect" from a looking-back into a turning-back. Occurring as it does in the final sentence of the essay, "giddy" describes the verge from which to re-view Coleridge's theory of Jacobinism as well as the sensation attendant upon any attempt to unravel the temporal logic of the adage which he won't allow his readers to forget. How is one to survey the past when it is repeatedly conflated with and rolled into the present, as happens in the disconcerting temporal vise of "once / always"? Coleridge's formulation precludes the very retrospect that might free us from the snares of Jacobinism.
Leaving this critical question unanswered at the end of The Friend No 10, Coleridge abruptly begins No 11, "I was never, at any period of my life, a Convert to the System" (2.146). We have heard this before (1802) and will hear it again (1817-18). What is of note in this particular formulation of Coleridge's claim for political consistency is the allegorical emphasis on French Jacobinism not as a "speculative error" (a matter of belief, akin to an heretical opinion regarding the Holy Ghost) but as a "system" (a formal set of rules, modulated according to its own logic) and, more importantly, for the explicit characterization of Jacobin politics as a matter of conversion. Before one can attempt to turn away from Jacobinism (before one can turn apostate), one must turn away from an anterior ideology and toward Jacobinism. Jacobinism is thus a product of an initial apostasy—indeed, of an initiating apostasy, once we consider (as Coleridge propels us to here) the taint of the "once / always" as pertaining not so much to the -ism of Jacobinism as to the conversion to it: once a convert always a convert. This shift in emphasis, from the temporality of Jacobinism to that of conversion, of apostasy, prefigures the ironization of apostasy that comes into play when Coleridge next rejuvenates the adage in the 1810s.
Coleridge's revivification in 1809 of the adage "once a Jacobin always a Jacobin" is representative not only of his insistence on restaging his own past but also his vulnerability regarding the past, both the status of his personal history and the operations of past tenses. Can the past (whether earlier political positions or antecedent conversions) be treated as such when organized under the heading "once / always"? The greater the lapse of time, the more susceptible Coleridge becomes to the curious, somehow binding temporality of his own adage. This sense of the progressive time of the past is complicated for us, as it was for his contemporary readers, by the knowledge of Coleridge's susceptibility to charges of having been once—and thus still—a Jacobin. Robert Southey, Coleridge's accomplice in the pantisocratic scheme of 1794-95 (which, predicated as it was upon the communality of property, bluntly violates Coleridge's later claims always to have endorsed the rights pertaining to individual property), was quick to vent his irritation with Coleridge's insufferable "canting" and downright manipulation of the past in The Friend, writing to a correspondent, "It is worse than folly, for if he was not a Jacobine, in the common acceptation of the name, I wonder who the Devil was. I am sure I was, am still, and ever more shall be" (1.511). What is at stake in the objections of Southey and others to Coleridgean historicism is not simply the question of whether Coleridge was or was not a Jacobin according to the "common acceptation of the name," but whether, despite Coleridge's self-congratulatory claims to the contrary, the term itself can be governed. Never hesitating to assume for himself the merit of having been the first to have "explicitly defined and analyzed the nature of Jacobinism," Coleridge even goes to far in the Biographia as to claim that "I both rescued the word from remaining a mere term of abuse, and put on their guard many honest minds, who even in their heat of zeal against jacobinism, admitted or supported [its worst] principles" (1.217). Whether or not it was "fair and philosophical," Coleridge's 1802 analysis of the nomenclature of the term Jacobin repeatedly provides his "honest mind" with sufficient latitude in his oblique evasions of every accusation of ever having been one.
Beyond the barbed j'accuse! of the contemporary responses to Coleridge's performances of political versatility, the abiding significance of these repeated juxtapositions and conflations of the 1790s with the 1810s has more to do with the propriety and manageability of the terms themselves. Coleridge's concern at the outset of his 1802 essay—that "definite terms are unmanageable things," either bereft of any meaning whatsoever or hampered by too many—is all the more the case in the period between the composition of Chapter 10 of the Biographia (autumn 1815) and the re-publication of "Once a Jacobin Always a Jacobin" in the three-volume edition of The Friend (1818), and at no time more than the winter of 1816-17, when England was beset by a series of calamities (literary as well as political) which did not merely recall the tumultuousness of the 1790s but largely restaged them. Chief amongst these was the pirated publication, in February, 1817, of Southey's jacobinical drama of 1794, Wat Tyler. The publication of this seemingly insignificant piece of juvenilia ignited a ferocious public debate regarding the status of English Jacobinism and apostasy, a debate which can be read as a critical referendum on the validity of Coleridge's adage and its ties to the modality of romantic apostasy.
Within a month of the appearance of Wat Tyler, Southey had been accused of sedition in the House of Commons not once but twice (by Henry Brougham and William Smith) and was further ridiculed by Hazlitt in the Examiner for disclaiming the "hypostatical union" between the dramatic poet of Wat Tyler and the critic of "On Parliamentary Reform," his vehement and nearly simultaneous attack in the Quarterly Review on the seditious liberties of the press (7.169). Soon thereafter, Southey defended himself in a letter to the Courier, prompting Coleridge to write a four-part vindication for the same paper, all the while Hazlitt and Hunt continued their merciless assault on both Southey's apostasy and his subsequent apologia, the Letter to William Smith. Southey was moved to rebut Smith following Smith's designation of him as a malignant "renegado," and his indignation at being branded by this word in particular reveals the degree to which this climactic debate over revolutionary apostasy took shape as a struggle for control over several notoriously unmanageable terms—to wit, Jacobin, apostate, and now renegado—as well as over the problem of consistency, political or otherwise. More precisely, the furor provoked by Wat Tyler prompted Coleridge to re-examine the efficacy of his pet adage and finally to forge a way out of its previously binding atemporality. It catalysed his transformation of apostasy from a political dilemma into a metaphysical principle.
When revising The Friend in the spring of 1817, Coleridge introduced a footnote à propos his inclusion, yet again, of the extract from the self-consuming article of 1802 exculpating him from any charge of youthful Jacobinism. Reminding his readers that what followed was "the first philosophical appropriation of a precise import to the word Jacobin," Coleridge went on to note that "the whole Essay has a peculiar interest to myself at the present moment, (1 May 1817) from the recent notorious publication of Mr. Southey's juvenile Drama, the Wat Tyler, and the consequent assault on his character by an M.P. in his senatorial capacity" (Friend 1.221). Dating the present as precisely as he does, Coleridge brings his own writing of the moment (the four-part "Mr. Southey and Wat Tyler" of March-April 1817) into collision with the entirety of "Once a Jacobin Always a Jacobin." The "present moment" designates not only the "now" of discourse but, of greater consequence, the time that will interrupt the vise-like grip of "once / always" on Coleridge's thinking about consistency and selfhood. As such, it operates as a fulcrum, the apex over which Coleridge lists as he begins to abjure the putative stasis of Jacobinism in formulating the apo-stasis and, finally, the falling of apostasy. The opportunity to defend Southey enabled Coleridge to shake off the binding decree of "once a Jacobin always a Jacobin" and formulate an economy of conversion in such a way that it would no longer be necessary for him to maintain the illusion that he had never been a Jacobin. Indeed, Coleridge's apologia ought to be considered not as a defense of but a eulogy on apostasy.
Taking exception to Smith's aspersions regarding the virulence and fury of the renegade, Coleridge presumed to explain in the Courier that "it is natural and necessary for a renegade ... to be more violent than another":
He is ashamed of the errors he has committed, he regards those who delude others into such errors as the worst of men; and feeling the pangs of remorse, he seeks to make reparation for his sins, by preventing others from falling onto similar courses. He has been stung, knows the mischief of the poison, and cautions society. (EOT 2.451)It is in his capacity as defender of the faith, then, that the apostate emerges from Coleridge's defense as a member of a new clerisy—those select few who know just enough about the dangers of Jacobinism to warn others of the armed jacobin revolution that seemed imminent in 1816-17. This is the crux of what we might call Coleridge's construction of heroic apostasy, of apostasy in terms of clerisy, a position he maps out with even greater élan in the final article, where we are to consider the apostate not as a political opportunist but as "the Shield-Bearer of the Faith, the Crusher of Heresy":
Had no other fragments of the works of the heretic Faustus been preserved but those in which he calls St. Augustine, Apostate and Deserter, yet these would have been amply sufficient to make it certain that Faustus himself had remained a Manichean. The very hatred attached to the name Apostate is the clearest proof that the most puissant and formidable enemies, are those who have themselves held the same doctrines, who are familiar therefore with all the sophisms which had ensnared them..., and who above all are able and eager to detail the fatal consequences of the error, with an authorised voice of warning, and the strong, persuasive eloquence of personal sympathy. (EOT 2.475)Apostates are the greatest defenders of the faith because they alone know the sophistical attractions of the error which they have renounced; they alone are qualified to prevent others from "falling" into the same trap.
The apostate's use of violent language establishes the authority of his voice in order that he may check others before they fall (as above) and, more critically, to demonstrate that his own conversion is complete, for the use "of qualified language respecting those who are deluding others into sin, as they deluded us, would prove the conversion to be insincere, or only half effected" (EOT 2.451). Equivocal language would belie an incomplete or merely "half effected" conversion, leaving the would-be apostate either suspended over the abyss into which he might again fall, or at the very least in danger of a relapse. Indeed, how can we know that the conversion is terminal? Though Coleridge represents conversion as a one-time affair (once I was a Jacobin, now I am not, with the clear implication that neither will I be one in the future; I will never again hold the opinions I held then), somehow guaranteed by the virulence of the apostate's language, the language of apostasy repeatedly shows itself—as we have seen—to be critically unstable. To infamize another as a renegade or apostate is to confess oneself, Coleridge explains, as continuing to retain the principles "which the other had reneged and stood off from—in modern phraseology disowned and turned against" (474). The shift which Coleridge concedes to contemporary usage—that apostasy is not a simple matter of "standing off" but "turning against"—is significant: the introduction of turning destabilizes an operation which is otherwise to be understood as terminal and, furthermore, completed in the past. If apostasy is not in fact a matter of standing but of turning, how are we to know if and when the turn has been completed? The versatility of the apostasy (not merely a standing away but a turning against) points out the giddiness of the transition from one state to another and alerts us to the implicit dangers of a lapse or, indeed, a relapse (as "the head turns giddy at the retrospect"). It furthermore implies the possibility of a "once / always" economy lurking in the "conversion" of apostasy—both as a turning that cannot arrest itself and, more vertiginously, as the turning of a standing into a falling.
Subsequent to his defense of Southey, Coleridge's considerations of apostasy abjure the term's contemporary political connotations in favor of more traditional theological implications (initially put in play above), as appropriated and reinvigorated by Coleridge in order that he might deploy apostasy as a standing away from the divine—a standing of little or no stasis, however, designating as it repeatedly does the fall from God. Thus in a fragmentary essay from 1820, "On Love, the Holy Spirit, and the Divine Will," "apostasis" names "the willing of a station ( [stasis, standing]) from ( [away, from God]) merely potentially" (SWF 868), and in Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit (1824), it is the Second Class of Coleridge's "System of Credenda" (SWF 1118). Following upon the First Class, designated stasis (the transcendent cause, or "whatever verily is"), the spiritual chaos of the fall from God (apostasis) results in the Third Class, "metastasis" (understood as a change of state), which is itself antecendent to the Fourth Class, "anastasis," or a rise in state (i.e. Redemption) (SWF 1118-9). Given the multeity of significations overdetermining apostasis in Coleridge's writing, it should not come as any surprise that Coleridge and his critics have increasing trouble reining it in. Indeed, though Coleridge may not ever have presumed to have managed the term apostasy to the degree that he claims to have purified Jacobinism, it becomes for him yet another unmanageable term when, in conjunction with his re-reading of Schelling with T.H. Green in 1817-18 (crucial to much of his later thought, including the "System of Credenda" above), he would subsume it into the metaphysical operation of his emerging "Logosophia" as an initiating fall. Whether consequence or coincidence, it was in the immediate aftermath of the public spectacle of Southey's apostasy that Coleridge began to convert a political liability into a metaphysical necessity.* * *
Hazlitt suggests something similar when, in castigating Coleridge for moving always "in an unaccountable diagonal between truth and falsehood," he notes the versatility with which Coleridge "slides out of a logical deduction with the help of metaphysics" (7.116). Here and elsewhere, Hazlitt repeatedly draws our attention to Coleridge's sinuous logic in order to expose the "perverse obliquity" of his writing and its consequent inconsequentiality. Unaccountably oblique, Coleridge's apostasy is not, Hazlitt intimates, finally reconcilable with any static model of apostasy which would attempt to arrest the "always" that characterizes its falling away.
Christensen (Hazlitt and Coleridge's most sophisticated reader on this count), argues otherwise. Reading the "unaccountable diagonal" of Coleridge's thinking more recuperatively than Hazlitt, he argues that "Coleridge makes history by turning political vacillation into philosophical equivocation," then identifying as Coleridgean the strategy "that equivocates politics and political philosophy and that imaginatively converts the former into the latter" ("Once an Apostate" 463, 464). Christensen's elaborate reading of Coleridgean sublimation would ground Coleridge through delineating apostasy as a principle, one with a concomitant "logic of equivocation proper to principles as principles" (464), and thus arresting Coleridgean vacillation by insisting on the status of swaying as a principle. Such a strong reading of apostasy as a strategic susceptibility to double signification, while both erasing and remarking the stigma with which Thompson and others would brand the apostate, furthermore "turns apostasy into a kind of power" (464), namely the power of standing slightly away from both history and apostasy. Unequivocally an apostate, according to Christensen, "Coleridge was always slightly away from a political position; never a Jacobin revolutionary or a Burkean compromiser, he was always technically an apostate" (464). Fixing apostasy as the principle of standing always away, Christensen arrests Coleridge's fall from principle and ironically establishes the continuity of his career through empowering apostasy as a position resistant to power by virtue of being always away, always on the verge of falling out or in with power. Such a position is equivocal in the sense that it is susceptible of being assigned to either of the extremes between which it presumably wavers, an equivocation which, "proper to principles as principles" (emphasis mine), insists on the apo- of apostasy as both "off" and "against." By virtue of Christensen's complicitous sublimation of politics into philosophy (and etymology), Coleridge can be said to be always off—off the mark and away from the principled position where both his supporters and detractors would locate him. And this includes Christensen, who of course cannot always control the numerous conversions to which his own reading is liable: if always away, may not Coleridge be said to be in all ways away (now as ever)?
As is the case with any significant consideration of Coleridgean apostasy, Christensen's is both guided and haunted by Hazlitt, whose own reading qualifies the salutary continuity of equivocation which Christensen constructs through attending to the variety of ways that Coleridge has of being away. Hazlitt is valuable as a critic of romantic apostasy because, beyond the vigilance and severity of his critique, his own writing practice can be said to succumb to the very falling it so ruthlessly exposes. That is to say: what Christensen means by "Burke" (the identification of politics with the forcefulness of tropes ) is what, for the purposes of reading Coleridge's apostasy, I mean by "Hazlitt." Though Thompson invokes Hazlitt as somehow exemplary of a committedly (empirical) political critique of Coleridge's apostasy, Hazlitt's writing is in fact distinctive for its contamination of the political with the literary, and therefore for the reminder it provides that there can be no stable ground of judgement regarding such a self-violating word as apostasy.
The ground of Hazlitt's critique repeatedly falls away under pressure from the ever-shifting modalities of Coleridge's apostasy. Indeed, Hazlitt's pointed deployment of Coleridge's adage on jacobinism against him provides a telling scenario of the complexity of an apostasy that can here be seen to contaminate Hazlitt as well as Coleridge. If, as Thompson puts it, apostasy is a matter of falling back in with the forms and sensibility of "traditional culture" ("Disenchantment" 155; emphasis mine), then, as we noted earlier, it is predicated upon a previous falling—a falling out with that culture prior to a falling back in. It is not surprising that Hazlitt should make this point apposite Coleridge's own anti-jacobinical definitions of Jacobinism (which are themselves "not slightly infected with some of the worst symptoms of the madness against which they are raving" [EOT 1.370]), as he does in the second of his "Illustrations of The Times Newspaper" ("On Modern Apostates") in December 1816. Questioning the "liberal turn" that has of late been given to apostasy, Hazlitt clarifies the implications of Coleridge's notorious formulation:
Once a Jacobin and always a Jacobin, is a maxim, which, notwithstanding Mr. Coleridge's see-saw reasoning to the contrary, we hold to be true, even of him to this day. Once an Apostate and always an Apostate, we hold to be equally true; and the reason why the last is true, is that the first is so. A person who is what is called a Jacobin (and we apply this term in its vulgarest sense to the persons here meant) that is, who has shaken off certain well known prejudices with respect to kings or priests, or nobles, cannot so easily resume them again, whenever his pleasure or his convenience may prompt him to attempt it. And it is because he cannot resume them again in good earnest, that he endeavours to make up for his want of sincerity by violence, either by canting till he makes your soul sicken, like the author of The Friend, or by raving like a Bedlamite, as does the Editor of The Times. (7.135)According to Hazlitt's appropriation of Coleridge, Jacobinism is itself an apostatic position, characterized here as a shaking off of accepted prejudices. Furthermore, while the attempted resumption of these same prejudices is equated with the preliminary apostasy as a shaking off, it is not as simple as falling back. It is in fact the inability simply to fall back that prompts the violence of the apostate's condemnation of the jacobinism which he can now never entirely shake off—"He blusters and hectors, and makes a noise to hide his want of consistency.... He has ... no feeling of any thing but of hatred to the cause he has deserted" (7.136). The residue of what Hazlitt figures as "old jacobinical leaven," however, renders such blustering completely ineffectual: "You see the Jacobinical leaven working in every line that he writes, and making strange havoc with his present professions ... [as] the spectre of his former opinions glares perpetually near him, and provokes his frantic zeal" (7.136). Recalling that "old leaven" is both that residue which remains behind, and that fermenting agent which enables a rising up, if the "logic" of the maxim "Once a jacobin and always a jacobin" is predicated upon leaven-as-residue, then that of "Once an apostate and always an apostate" relies on leaven-as-levity. The levity of apostasy names a falling up—especially as applied to the case of Coleridge's "own specific levity" (7.117).
In his own reading of Hazlitt's diatribe (in a second examination of Coleridge's apostasy), Christensen overlooks the havoc wreaked by residual Jacobinism in suggesting that Hazlitt unwittingly lets Coleridge off the hook:
if Hazlitt shows that Coleridge is constrained by a compulsive rhetoric of reversal, Hazlitt himself is not free of the Coleridgean figure. By equating Jacobin and apostate under the act of "shaking off," he curiously vitiates the moral force of his indictment; he formalizes change into a pattern of mechanical repetition that is more exigent than any ethical posture or political program. Hazlitt captures Coleridge within the restraints of his ironic equation only to open a trapdoor through which Coleridge escapes, leaving behind any responsibility, let alone culpability, for actions that are compulsive rather than wicked, paradigmatic rather than perverse. ("Guilty Thing" 772)According to Christensen, Hazlitt's indictment loses its force when, in inscribing Jacobinism within apostasy as a pattern of repetition that is finally mechanical, it relieves Coleridge from any sort of responsibility for his actions and thereby sets him free. But perhaps that is exactly the "force" of Hazlitt's critique: if apostasy is unavoidable, then not only is Hazlitt subject to it himself (the real trapdoor here), but its never-ending economy (whether figured in terms of falling or of fermentation) gives it a far more radical agency than either Hazlitt or Christensen seems to realize. Although Coleridge may "leave behind" any responsibility, he cannot, according to Hazlitt, so easily leave behind the jacobinical leaven that will (mechanically?) continue to rise up and implicate him. While Coleridge may "escape" via a slide from logic to metaphysics (the performance of the sublimation that Christensen previously read), it does not follow that he will then be free from the "necessity of yielding to the slightest motive" (7.117). As a "pattern of mechanical repetition," operating without the exercise of thought or volition, apostasy can not be stopped by the application of critical will—which as we will see, both Coleridge and Christensen (in a decidedly Coleridgean strategy) would bring to bear. As with his previous diagnosis of Coleridge's apostasy, Christensen's reading here is valuable for its liberation of the charge of apostasy from the ethical overtones that so often determine it; what it doesn't do, however, is clarify or finally abide by the exigencies of repetitive falling it would articulate.
Whereas Christensen previously constructed Coleridge's apostasy in terms of the equivocation of his standing always slightly away, here, standing gives way to falling, but a falling which in no way compromises the "power" of Coleridge's apostasy. As Christensen continues:
Hazlitt's assertion, "Once an Apostate and always an Apostate," is true but only if modified in a way that discharges it of its polemical force: "Once an apostate and always already an apostate" is the better, not to mention more fashionable, motto. At every point we examine him, even at the beginning, Coleridge is already falling away from every principled commitment—commitments which are, indeed, endowed with significance solely by that lapse and the critical reflection it allows. (772)Apostasy here is not merely a "lapse," nor even an "already falling," but an "always already" falling. The mechanics of this economy of falling seem to be already compromised, however, by Christensen's valorization of apostasy in terms of an attendant critical reflection. Indeed, Christensen's turn from the mechanical to the critical suggests that if Coleridge elides responsibility through escaping as he does out of a trapdoor, that exit is opened not by Hazlitt so much as by Christensen-as-Coleridge. If the trapdoor turns out to be metaphysically rather than ironically hinged, it can be seen to be held open by Christensen, who, in his apocryphal reading of Coleridge's apostasy, turns to Coleridge's notebooks to explicate what he terms a "metaphysics of apostasy" (772).
In an important 1818 entry on Schelling's "two fundamental errors" with regard to the "establishment of Polarity in the Absolute," (in the Einleitung zu seinem Entwurf eines Systems der Naturphilosophie) Coleridge attempts, according to Christensen's reading, to construct "apostasis as the crucial articulation of a cosmogonic paradigm that would take account of the law of polarity and yet preserve the determinant, singular unity of an absolute" (773). As cited by Christensen, the entry reads as follows:
...there must be the way downwards and the way upwards—but this is because there are two spheres, ...the Plenitude and nature—the way downwards commencing with the Fall from God, Apostasy—the path of transit with the Chaos and the descent of the Spirit—the way upwards with the genesis of Light.—Thus in my Logosophia I have four great Divisions, I. That which is neither ascent or descent—for instead of a way, it's that "from which" and "to which," not a road at all, but at once the starting-post, and the Goal.—Call it then Stasis. II. Apostasy or the way downwards. III. Metastasis. IV. The way upwards. More neatly thus: I. Stasis II. Apostasy III. Metastasis IV. Anastasis.Repeating Coleridge's immediate query, "Well but what is the use of all this?", Christensen clarifies:
The use, clear from our neo-Hazlittian perspective, lies in the transformation of "Once an Apostate and always an Apostate" into a cosmogonic crux. Apostasy is the crucial, or rather, the critical stage of Coleridge's paradigm because it is the first break in the stasis that precedes all paradigms, the standing away that precipitates the creation. (773; emphasis mine)While this makes a great deal of sense as a distillation of such a significant Coleridgean meditation, our neo-Hazlittian perspective suggests a somewhat different reading. Whereas he previously championed Hazlitt's maxim for its insight into the Coleridgean modality of an always already falling, Christensen now withdraws from the implication of always falling in this climactic deployment of apostasy as a "standing away." As an always falling, apostasy doesn't precipitate creation so much as chaos (according to the order of Coleridge's Logosophia), and it remains for metastasis to check this fall. Indeed, as the medial position which arrests the movement downward and re-orients its "path of transit," metastasis is far more crucial to the coherence of the Logosophia. Rhetorically, as a rapid transition from one point to another, metastasis enables Coleridge and Christensen to escape the precipitous state of always falling that is proper to apostasy as apostasy.
My point here is not to quibble with Christensen regarding an arcanely apposite entry in Coleridge's notebooks but rather, in pointing out the way in which Christensen's reading falls away from its own most challenging insight (namely, the implications of thinking apostasy as a formalized "pattern of mechanical repetition"), to focus on the unpredictable yet seemingly unavoidable exigencies of apostasy from which the critical discourse on apostasy is not immune. While the escape into metaphysics (Coleridge's or Christensen's) depends on the sleight of falling back upon a strict etymological denotation, such a construction is explicitly at odds with the usage of apostasy that is everywhere apparent in Coleridge's notebook (in terms of "the Fall ... the descent ... [and] the way downwards") as a falling and a lapse. Perhaps what is needed here is a different lexicon for apostasy, one more representative of the elusive operations of such a perverse mot glissant: slipping in this manner, apostasy revolts (in line with a second, Greek usage of stasis as faction and strife), and operates more like catapipty (cata-down; pipto-to fall), if not apopipty (to fall away; to fall and end up in a different place). Indeed, the word that the turn to (or is it against?) metaphysics really needs is apocatapipty (an apart-downward falling), a neologism so appropriate to the economy of Coleridgean apostasy that one would like to imagine his assent scribbled in the margins with a simple stet.
1 The two earliest examples cited by the OED are Coleridge's: "...for from the effect we may fairly deduce the inherence of a power producing it, but are not entitled to hypostasize this power (that is, to affirm it to be an individual substance) any more than the Steam in the Steam Engine, the power of Gravitation in the Watch, or the magnetic Influence in the Loadstone" (Friend 2.75); "The admission of the Logos as hypostasized (i.e. neither a mere attribute or a personification) in no respect removed my doubts concerning the incarnation and the redemption by the cross" (BL 1.204-5).
2 From 1802 forward, Coleridge often signed himself (ostensibly, punic Greek for or "He hath stood") as testimony to his non-apostasy. As he wrote to William Sotheby in September 1802, " signifies--He hath stood--which in these times of apostacy from the principles of Freedom, or of Religion in this country, & from both by the same persons in France, is no unmeaning Signature, if subscribed with humility, & in the remembrance of, Let him that stands take heed lest he fall--. However, it is in truth no more than S.T.C. written in Greek. Es tee see--" (CL 2.867; Griggs notes that " signifies 'He hath placed' not 'He hath stood.'").
3 The phrase is Bataille's, denoting a word which establishes a limit to which it cannot hold itself. The most immediately recognizable examples (e.g. Blanchot's le neant) behave according to Bataille's inflection of le silence: "Du mot il est déjà ... l'abolition du bruit qu'est le mot; entre tous les mots c'est le plus pervers, ou le plus poétique: il est lui-même gage de sa mort" (28).
4 The OED defines "multeity" as "the quality or condition of being many" and attributes it to Coleridge in both the "Principles of Genial Criticism" and the Biographia, where, in justifying his use of scholastic formulations, he prefers multeity to multitude for its greater precision in expressing "the kind with the abstraction of degree" (BL 1.287). Cf. Notebooks 4352 (on the laxity of philosophical language in English), 4449 (to which I will turn in conclusion), and 4450. For my purposes here, multeity denominates (in a succinctly Coleridgean fashion) the unmanageability of the term apostasy as deployed both by and regarding Coleridge.
5 Irony, as Paul de Man repeatedly argues, "is precisely what makes it impossible ever to achieve a theory of narrative that would be consistent" ("Concept of Irony" 179). In the context of a consideration of romantic apostasy, irony represents the threat of a systematic undoing of any understanding of the self-consistency of the apostate in any narrative of his standing-away as somehow stable. As will become increasingly apparent here, my consideration of irony closely follows the implications of de Man's own, particularly as developed in "The Concept of Irony" and "The Rhetoric of Temporality."
6 In this regard, the conversion of a standing into a falling resembles what F.W. Schlegel and, following him, de Man, have designated as a moment of parabasis, or "the interruption of a discourse by a shift in the rhetorical register" ("Concept of Irony" 178). Thus, the always falling that evolves from the economy of Coleridgean apostasy will be seen to resemble Schlegel and de Man's structure of "permanent parabasis."
7 De Man most explicitly considers the relation between irony and falling in the early "Allegory and Irony in Baudelaire," where he observes (à propos "De l'essence du rire") that for the subject to come "face to face with its own fallen condition" is for it to recognize the attendant "threat of a persistent falling" (111), a falling which has been initiated by "a passing from a mere extension of the self to an altogether different kind of self that results from a radical change of the level of consciousness"—which one can think of, in turn, "as a vertical movement of climbing and falling" (110). (See "The Rhetoric of Temporality," especially 211-16, for a further refinement of the connection between the multiplication of the self and a moment of falling.) For a detailed consideration of de Man's articulation not merely of irony but in fact of theory with falling, see Caruth.
8 As David Erdman notes in his introduction to Essays on His Times, Sara Coleridge described her father's politics in terms of a "virtual consistency," which Erdman then proceeds to consider in terms of the oscillation of an S-curve, concluding that Coleridge "is in truth 'ever the same' in the sense that he is never single-sided or single-minded but always both Jacobin and anti-Jacobin, Radical and Tory, poet and moralist, intermingled" (lxiv-v). In his analysis of Coleridge's "habitual mode of disunity," Alan Liu remarks, "It was not that Coleridge changed his mind from Yea to Nay, in sum, but that he consistently said Yea but Nay" (422). Liu's contribution to the consideration of Coleridgean apostasy is to substitute a synchronically self-doubling perspective for the traditionally chronological method--"...at every moment Coleridge faced in two directions such that the articulation of one view necessitated, as if structurally, the articulation of its opposite" (421)--the consequence of which, according to Liu, is that there never was any apostasy (423), for at precisely those moments when it was required of him to take a stand, Coleridge "was neither here nor there" (422).
9 During the preceeding week, the Morning Chronicle had published a revised version of "France: An Ode" and a 62-line excerpt from "Fears in Solitude," Coleridge's "recantation" poems of 1798. As was the case at the time of their initial publication, it is unclear whether the appearance of these poems (particularly the ode, which had been originally titled "The Recantation") signifies a recantation from or a steady adherence to Coleridge's (oscillating) politics of 1798, given their ambivalent endorsement of "Liberty" at the expense of both France and England. For the editorial introduction to the first appearance of "The Recantation," see Erdman's Appendix (EOT 3.287-8; for the corrections to the poems in 1802, see Erdman's notes (EOT 3.295-6).
10 In its entirety (as reported by Coleridge), Pitt's pronouncement reads, "The mind once tainted with Jacobinism can never be wholly free from the taint; when it does not break out on the surface, it still lurks in the vitals; no antidote can approach the subtlety of the venom, no length of quarantine secure us against the obstinacy of the pestilence" (EOT 1.186; see Erdman's note here for the relation between this formulation and Coleridge's "Letter to Fox" of November 1802).
11 John Thelwall, for example, recorded his own shock and indignation at Coleridge's repeated periphrases in the Biographia, most pointedly apropos Coleridge's anecdotal account of his youthful political opinions in Chapter 10, where Coleridge repeatedly alludes to "Once a Jacobin Always a Jacobin" in support of his claim that even during the production of The Watchman in 1796, "my principles were [opposite] to those of jacobinism or even of democracy" (1.184). A far more visible and "radical" Jacobin than Coleridge, Thelwall (who had corresponded with Coleridge at the time before meeting him the following year in Nether Stowey) disagreed. Conceding the difficulty of defining, let alone rescuing, such a term as Jacobin, Thelwall's immediate response upon reading the Biographia suggests that, in this case, Coleridge has failed to guard the honesty of his own mind:
What Jacobinism may mean I cannot tell: if the principles of the first leaders of the Jacobin club, what friend of liberty of human reason & human happiness would disown them? If the doctrines (or declamations, & the practices of the last, what friend of Man would not recoil from them with horror? If Jacobinism be antisocialism, I have never gone the lenghts [sic] in that way which the Pantisocratist went at any rate, nay I may say I never had the slightest tinge of that with which Mr C. was deep died: but that Mr C. was indeed far from Democracy, because he was far beyond it, I well remember--for he was a down right zealous leveller & indeed in one of the worst senses of the word he was a Jacobin, a man of blood. (Pollin 81)
Of Coleridge's reminiscences later in Chapter 10 regarding his "retirement" to Nether Stowey, Thelwall intervened, "Where I visitted him and found him a decided Leveller--abusing the Democrats for their hypocritical moderatism, in pretending to be willing to give the people equallity of privileges & rank, while at the same time, they would refuse them all that the others could be valuable for--equality and property--or rather abolition of all property" (Pollin 82).
12 The history of Wat Tyler (a fourteenth-century blacksmith who led an abortive Peasants' Revolt against Richard II to protest taxes levied during yet another war with France) had been circulating since December, 1816, when one of the leaders of the Spa Fields riots had invoked it (Carnall 161-2). Though the rioting was quickly contained, the spectacle of an armed mob of English Jacobins brandishing liberty caps and tricolor flags was sufficiently unnerving to provide Castlereagh's ministry with the necessary pretext for suppressing the Reformers, and when Parliament reconvened in January, 1817, the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act and the Seditious Meetings Act were passed in both Houses by the end of March. It was in the midst of the debates over this flurry of repressive legislation in the winter of 1817, when the British Government seemed intent on re-staging, act-by-act, the counter-revolutionary terror of the 1790s, that Southey's Jacobin drama of 1794 was anonymously published in a pirated edition. Disinterred on 13 February with the taunting Shakespearean epigraph, "Thus ever did Rebellion find rebuke," Southey's juvenile dramatization of Wat Tyler appeared in the same week as his reactionary article, "Parliamentary Reform," ran (also anonymously) in the Quarterly Review and the report of the Committee on Secrecy (established in the aftermath of the Spa Fields affair) was made public. The timing was perfect: on both a national and a personal level, this otherwise insignificant piece of juvenilia provided a final, melodramatic twist to the ongoing exhumation of the revolutionary politics of the 1790s. The publication of Wat Tyler provided Opposition critics with an irresistible opportunity not only to discredit a repressive ministry that was implementing extraordinarily harsh peacetime measures against the disaffected (Carnall 164) but also to spotlight the political apostasy of the Poet Laureate. If, as Marx quipped, all world-historical incidents of note occur as it were twice, then the "tragedy" of Wat Tyler might be said to have returned as both a farce and, in this case, an epitaph--an unsought inscription for the youthful Jacobinism that, for whatever reason, had not perished but lingered to haunt Southey throughout the 1810s. (For a detailed account of the political agitation during the winter of 1816-17--specifically, the significance of the three Spa Fields meetings of 1816--see Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, 631-41.)
13 For a detailed account of the furor in the periodical press over Wat Tyler, see Hoadley.
14 For extracts from Smith's speech in the House of Commons, see Madden 236-9.
15 Maintaining the division of the extract from "Once a Jacobin Always a Jacobin" that he had used in 1809, such that the subsequent essay begins, "I was never, at any period of my life, a convert to the system," Coleridge prefaced it in 1818 with this couplet (attributed to Coleridge by E.H. Coleridge): "Truth I pursued, as Fancy sketch'd the way, / And wiser men than I went worse astray." (Friend 1.223)
16 Southey strikes this pose repeatedly throughout the Letter to William Smith, even going so far at one point as to characterize the English Jacobins of the 1790s as a uniquely enlightened class: "[Wat Tyler] was written when republicanism was confined to a very small number of the educated classes; when those who were known to entertain such opinions were exposed to personal danger from the populace; and when a spirit of Anti-jacobinism was predominant, which I cannot characterize more truly than by saying, that it was as unjust and intolerant ... as the Jacobinism of the present day" (7).
17 Commenting on the editorial practice of Coleridge and T.G. Street in the Courier, Hazlitt wrote in the Morning Chronicle, 28 October 1813 (as cited in EOT 3.276): "...although I despair of reforming, yet I will occasionally undertake to expose, the inanity of their statements, and the perverse obliquity of their comments.
18 For Liu, such a position closely resembles the stance of Opposition politics, as epitomized by Burke: "...apostasy was endemic to the basic negational structure of opposition. Referenced on a pure relation, Opposition was in the final analysis a will to oppose independent of settled object" (411). See Liu 407-13.
19 Compare with "On Consistency of Opinion": "It seems that they [apostates] are afraid to look their old opinions in the face, lest they should be fascinated by them once more. They banish all doubts of their own sincerity by inveighing against the motives of their antagonists. There is no salvation out of the pale of their strange inconsistency" (17.24). See also "Arguing in a Circle": "Their zeal, their eagerness to distinguish themselves in their new career, makes them rash and extravagant" (19.276).
20 For a more detailed account of this lengthy entry, see the notes of the editor of the Notebooks, Kathleen Coburn (whose translations of Coleridge's Greek have been inserted here), as well as "Guilty Thing" 772-4. Closely related to Coleridge's reading here of Schelling are his letter of 30 September 1818 to T.H. Green (CL 4.873-6), the fragment "On the Error of Schelling's Philosophy" (SWF 786-7), and Coleridge's marginalia concerning the Naturphilosophie, where he asserts the superiority of his own conception of "multeity" over Schelling's positing of "original productivities" (Marginalia 4.381).Works Cited
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Romantic Circles / Praxis Series / Irony and Clerisy / Mahoney, "The Multeity of Coleridgean Apostasy"