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- Biographia Literaria - 1/72 -


by Samuel Taylor Coleridge



I Motives to the present work--Reception of the Author's first publication--Discipline of his taste at school--Effect of contemporary writers on youthful minds--Bowles's Sonnets- Comparison between the poets before and since

II Supposed irritability of genius brought to the test of facts--Causes and occasions of the charge--Its injustice

III The Author's obligations to Critics, and the probable occasion--Principles of modern criticism--Mr. Southey's works and character

IV The Lyrical Ballads with the Preface--Mr. Wordsworth's earlier poems--On Fancy and Imagination--The investigation of the distinction important to the Fine Arts

V On the law of Association--Its history traced from Aristotle to Hartley

VI That Hartley's system, as far as it differs from that of Aristotle, is neither tenable in theory, nor founded in facts

VII Of the necessary consequences of the Hartleian Theory--Of the original mistake or equivocation which procured its admission--Memoria technica

VIII The system of Dualism introduced by Des Cartes--Refined first by Spinoza and afterwards by Leibnitz into the doctrine of Harmonia praestabilita--Hylozoism--Materialism --None of these systems, or any possible theory of Association, supplies or supersedes a theory of Perception, or explains the formation of the Associable

XI Is Philosophy possible as a science, and what are its conditions?--Giordano Bruno--Literary Aristocracy, or the existence of a tacit compact among the learned as a privileged order--The Author's obligations to the Mystics- To Immanuel Kant--The difference between the letter and The spirit of Kant's writings, and a vindication of Prudence in the teaching of Philosophy--Fichte's attempt to complete the Critical system-Its partial success and ultimate failure--Obligations to Schelling; and among English writers to Saumarez

X A Chapter of digression and anecdotes, as an interlude preceding that on the nature and genesis of the Imagination or Plastic Power--On Pedantry and pedantic expressions-- Advice to young authors respecting publication--Various anecdotes of the Author's literary life, and the progress of his opinions in Religion and Politics

XI An affectionate exhortation to those who in early life feel themselves disposed to become authors

XII A Chapter of requests and premonitions concerning the perusal or omission of the chapter that follows

XIII On the Imagination, or Esemplastic power

XIV Occasion of the Lyrical Ballads, and the objects originally proposed--Preface to the second edition--The ensuing controversy, its causes and acrimony--Philosophic definitions of a Poem and Poetry with scholia

XV The specific symptoms of poetic power elucidated in a Critical analysis of Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis, and Rape of Lucrece

XVI Striking points of difference between the Poets of the present age and those of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries--Wish expressed for the union of the characteristic merits of both

XVII Examination of the tenets peculiar to Mr. Wordsworth-- Rustic life (above all, low and rustic life) especially unfavourable to the formation of a human diction-The best parts of language the product of philosophers, not of clowns or shepherds--Poetry essentially ideal and generic-- The language of Milton as much the language of real life, yea, incomparably more so than that of the cottager

XVIII Language of metrical composition, why and wherein essentially different from that of prose--Origin and elements of metre --Its necessary consequences, and the conditions thereby imposed on the metrical writer in the choice of his diction

XIX Continuation--Concerning the real object, which, it is probable, Mr. Wordsworth had before him in his critical preface--Elucidation and application of this

XX The former subject continued--The neutral style, or that common to Prose and Poetry, exemplified by specimens from Chaucer, Herbert, and others

XXI Remarks on the present mode of conducting critical journals

XXII The characteristic defects of Wordsworth's poetry, with the principles from which the judgment, that they are defects, is deduced--Their proportion to the beauties--For the greatest part characteristic of his theory only


XXIII Critique on Bertram

XXIV Conclusion

So wenig er auch bestimmt seyn mag, andere zu belehren, so wuenscht er doch sich denen mitzutheilen, die er sich gleichgesinnt weis, (oder hofft,) deren Anzahl aber in der Breite der Welt zerstreut ist; er wuenscht sein Verhaeltniss zu den aeltesten Freunden dadurch wieder anzuknuepfen, mit neuen es fortzusetzen, und in der letzten Generation sich wieder andere fur seine uebrige Lebenszeit zu gewinnen. Er wuenscht der Jugend die Umwege zu ersparen, auf denen er sich selbst verirrte. (Goethe. Einleitung in die Propylaeen.)

TRANSLATION. Little call as he may have to instruct others, he wishes nevertheless to open out his heart to such as he either knows or hopes to be of like mind with himself, but who are widely scattered in the world: he wishes to knit anew his connections with his oldest friends, to continue those recently formed, and to win other friends among the rising generation for the remaining course of his life. He wishes to spare the young those circuitous paths, on which he himself had lost his way.



Motives to the present work--Reception of the Author's first publication--Discipline of his taste at school--Effect of contemporary writers on youthful minds--Bowles's Sonnets--Comparison between the poets before and since Pope.

It has been my lot to have had my name introduced both in conversation, and in print, more frequently than I find it easy to explain, whether I consider the fewness, unimportance, and limited circulation of my writings, or the retirement and distance, in which I have lived, both from the literary and political world. Most often it has been connected with some charge which I could not acknowledge, or some principle which I had never entertained. Nevertheless, had I had no other motive or incitement, the reader would not have been troubled with this exculpation. What my additional purposes were, will be seen in the following pages. It will be found, that the least of what I have written concerns myself personally. I have used the narration chiefly for the purpose of giving a continuity to the work, in part for the sake of the miscellaneous reflections suggested to me by particular events, but still more as introductory to a statement of my principles in Politics, Religion, and Philosophy, and an application of the rules, deduced from philosophical principles, to poetry and criticism. But of the objects, which I proposed to myself, it was not the least important to effect, as far as possible, a settlement of the long continued controversy concerning the true nature of poetic diction; and at the same time to define with the utmost impartiality the real poetic character of the poet, by whose writings this controversy was first kindled, and has been since fuelled and fanned.

In the spring of 1796, when I had but little passed the verge of manhood, I published a small volume of juvenile poems. They were received with a degree of favour, which, young as I was, I well know was bestowed on them not so much for any positive merit, as because they were considered buds of hope, and promises of better works to come. The critics of that day, the most flattering, equally with the severest, concurred in objecting to them obscurity, a general turgidness of diction, and a profusion of new coined double epithets [1]. The first is the fault which a writer is the least able to detect in his own compositions: and my mind was not then sufficiently disciplined to receive the authority of others, as a substitute for my own conviction. Satisfied that the thoughts, such as they were, could not have been expressed otherwise, or at least more perspicuously, I forgot to inquire, whether the thoughts themselves did not demand a degree of attention unsuitable to the nature and objects of poetry. This remark however applies chiefly, though not exclusively, to the Religious Musings. The remainder of the charge I admitted to its full extent, and not without sincere acknowledgments both to my private and public censors for their friendly admonitions. In the after editions,

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