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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
versy on poetic diction. It will hardly be necessary to add that for such errors as I have fallen into I am alone and entirely responsible. My acknowledgements are also due to the Trustees of Dr. Williams's Library for kindly allowing me to consult the manuscript of H. C. Robinson's Diaries; while to the readers of the Clarendon Press I am indebted for much valuable assistance in the correction of proofs.
The circumstances leading to the composition of the Biographia Literaria could not be fully dealt with in the Introduction itself without too marked a digression from the main theme. I have therefore made them the subject of a Supplementary Note, which will be found appended to the Introduction.