Friday, 13 March 2015

More about Coleridge's 'Biographia Literaria'

I was writing yesterday about Samuel Taylor Coleridge. (Yes I was; perhaps you didn’t look.) For all that he is one of the best-known of the Romantic Era poets, his actual poetic output was quite small. Even his contribution to ‘Lyrical Ballads’, the book co-authored with Wordsworth which is generally considered about the most important volume, from the point of view of the history of poetry, in the whole Romantic movement, was only three poems, two of which were fragments. This is admittedly excluding that great work ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, which was probably only put in the book to fill it up and because it couldn’t find another home; it is quite out of place there.

Perhaps the main reason for his not having written, or at least published, as much poetry as his reputation might suggest, was that half the time he was stoned out of his skull on opium. He liked to make long lists of projected literary works, but rarely got further than compiling the list. But we do have one great, in two senses, prose work: the Biographia Literaria, from which I quoted yesterday. It is fascinating to dip into this, opening it at random: almost every page shows why he managed to complete such a long work; he so obviously enjoyed writing it, and that enjoyment comes through in the reading. I recommend it.

Here’s the title page of the first edition; sorry about the quality of the image; scanners didn’t have very high resolution back in 1817:

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