Session 8B: Coleridge: the New Text

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8B. Coleridge: the New Text

Nicholas Halmi (McMaster): "The Norton Critical `Coleridge's Poetry and Prose'"
Murray J. Evans (Winnipeg): "What's New in Coleridge's Opus Maximum?-and the Case of the 'Unsatisfactory' Ending to the 'Essays on Method' in The Friend"
Alison Hickey (Wellesley): "The Body of My Father's Writings: Sara Coleridge's Genial Labour"

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"The Norton Critical 'Coleridge's Poetry and Prose'"
Nicholas Halmi
McMaster University

The need for an edition of Coleridge's writings which is at once reliably edited on currently accepted editorial principles and adequately annotated for the needs for undergraduates has long been felt. The new Norton Critical Edition of Coleridge's Poetry and Prose, edited by Paul Magnuson, Raimonda Modiano, and myself, attempts to fill this need, supplying texts and criticism that will be use not only to undergraduates and graduate students, but also to instructors and researchers for whom the twenty-three volumes of The Collected Coleridge, the eight volumes of Coleridge's Notebooks, and six volumes of his Collected Letters are not affordable or otherwise easily accessible.

The text part of the NCC is divided roughly equally between poetry and prose, which means that the poetry is a good deal more fully represented than the prose. The basic editorial principle has been to use the first published versions of texts, though this principle has been applied flexibly in order to take account of Coleridge's own habits of revision and to accommodate those who prefer to teach later, better-known versions of particular texts. Thus, for example, both the 1798 and 1817 versions of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner are included, printed on facing texts, the first time this has been done, as far as I'm aware, in a paperback edition of Coleridge. A few other extensively revised poems, such as Frost at Midnight and Dejection, are treated similarly. A unique feature of the annotation of the poems is the inclusion of numerous marginalia by Coleridge in presentation copies of his works. In general we have tried to present the poetry in the form in which it was first received by the public, while at the same time calling attention to the processes of revision and self-commentary that have led current editorial theorists to reject the notion of a single, authoritative text.

The chief difficulties in the presentation of Coleridge's prose writings are their sheer volume and allusiveness. Unlike Heather Jackson, who included the whole of the Biographia in her Oxford Authors selection, we chose to extract from the Biographia in order to leave more room for other prose works. Although none of the longer prose works has been included in its entirety, there are generous selections from the early political writings, the literary lectures of 1811-12 and 1818, the Essays on the Principles of Genial Criticism, The Statesman's Manual, The Friend (a re- edited version of the text, incorporating Coleridge's annotations), Aids to Reflection, and Church and State, as well as from the Biographia. Letters from the whole of Coleridge's life are included in a separate section, and there is a thematically arranged selection from the notebooks, marginalia, and table talk. Although we began with the assumption that we could merely recycle the notes from The Collected Coleridge, we soon discovered that a student edition requires notes of a different kind, and that in some places (notably in The Friend) The Collected Coleridge was inadequately annotated by any standard.

A special difficulty confronting the editors of a student edition of Coleridge is the plagiarisms, since it will hardly do to dismiss in Coleridge's prose what we repeatedly tell our students we will not tolerate in theirs. In the handful of texts we've included where this is an issue, parts of the Biographia and two of the literary lectures, we have given our rationale for including the text despite the fact that parts of it are plagiarized, and presented the relevant passages of the original texts in translation in the notes. Unlike some earlier editors, we have not avoided the word 'plagiarism.'

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Last updated June 1, 1999
by Kathleen McConnell

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