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BY S. T. COLERIDGE
WITH HIS AESTHETICAL ESSAYS
AT THE CLARENDON PRESS
THE aim of the present edition of Coleridge's Biographia Literaria is to furnish an accurate reprint of the edition of 1817, with such additional matter as may contribute to a fuller understanding of the text. For this purpose there have been appended, first, a reprint of Coleridge's strictly aesthetical writings; secondly, notes elucidatory of the text; and thirdly, an introductory essay dealing with Coleridge's theory of the imagination.
The only annotated edition of the Biographia Literaria hitherto published is the second edition of 1847, edited by Coleridge's daughter and son-in-law, and now long out of print. The notes on the philosophical portion of the text in this edition are very exhaustive, and I have found them of great assistance in preparing my own; but, as a whole, the edition does not meet the needs of the reader of to-day. My own aim has been to provide such a commentary on the text as will prove serviceable both to philosophical and to literary students; and, above all, to furnish adequate references to other passages in Coleridge's published writings on the various topics dealt with in the text, and thus to illustrate the continuity of his opinions, especially as they regard the nature of art and the principles of artistic criticism.
It cannot, I think, be said that Coleridge's philosophy of art has ever received in England the consideration which it deserves. For this neglect many causes might be
suggested: the chief of them are probably the languid interest which attaches to questions of aesthetic, and the prejudice existing with regard to all Coleridge's speculative writings, that they are dearly purchased at the expense of more poetry of the type of Christabel or The Ancient Mariner. This prejudice is an old one, and has received some countenance from Coleridge himself; but it is not confirmed by the facts of his life, nor, if it were, would it justify the neglect of his actual production.
Another reason is, perhaps, to be found in the fragmentary nature of his aesthetic. This, again, is a defect which attaches to all Coleridge's speculations. But it must be remembered that the very qualities in his genius, to which his writings owe their vitality, were antagonistic to complete and systematic exposition. Coleridge was essentially a teacher, and conscious of a message to his age; and his examination of principles was rarely directed by a purely speculative interest. The search for a criterion of poetry involved him in the wider search for a criterion of life. His theory of the imagination, upon which his whole art-philosophy hinges, was primarily the vindication of a particular attitude to life and reality. This width of vision was fatal to his success as a specialist; but while it vastly increases the general interest of his views, it by no means lessens their value for the artist and the critic.
It is this significance of the imagination, as Coleridge conceived it, which I have endeavoured, in the following introduction, to set forth and explain. In particular I have aimed at tracing the development of the conception in his mind, and at showing that it was a natural growth of his genius, fostered, as every growth must be, by such external influences as it found truly congenial. In this connexion it was impossible to ignore Coleridge's relation to German thought; and I have dealt at some length with his
affinities to Kant and Schelling. But an investigation of the exact amount and nature of his debt to German contemporaries would be a task of but doubtful value or success. Nothing, I believe, is more remarkable with regard to Coleridge than the comparatively early maturity of his ideas, or, as a less favourable judgement may interpret it, their too rapid crystallization. And it is least questionable whether the influence of German thought did not after a certain point tend more to arrest than to stimulate his mental growth.
The student of Coleridge's position in his earlier life is placed at some disadvantage by the paucity of material on which to depend. Until he was nearly forty years of age, Coleridge gave no public expression in writing to his critical or philosophical views. Of his earlier lectures the remains are scanty in the extreme. We are therefore thrown back, for our sources of information, on the private correspondence of these years, the detached utterances of his notebooks, the poems, and the Biographia Literaria itself; and even of this material a considerable portion is yet in manuscript. In availing myself of the published sources, I have endeavoured to base my conclusions on the evidence before me, and as far as possible to avoid giving currency to mere conjecture.
My obligations to past and present writers upon Coleridge, and editors of his writings, are too numerous to be recorded in detail here. In the notes and elsewhere I have endeavoured to give full references to my authorities, and these will provide the best evidence of my indebtedness. But to those personal friends who have helped me with advice and criticism I should like to record my thanks, and in particular to my brother-in-law Mr. Ernest de Sélincourt, whose ripe knowledge of the period and sure critical insight I have found of the greatest service throughout, and especially so in dealing with the contro