Samuel Taylor Coleridge


  • Title: Biographia Literaria; or, Biographical sketches of my literary life and opinons
  • Author: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • Publication Date: 1817
  • Publisher: London, R. Fenner
Source: Wu, D.,
(National Portrait Gallery, London)

Coleridge the Critic

“I have often thought, that it would be neither uninstructive nor unamusing to analyze, and bring forward into distant consciousness, that complex feeling, with which readers in general take part against the author, in favor of the critic” (Coleridge, p. 30). This quote from Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria: or, Biographical Sketches of my Literary Life and Opinions illustrates how the function of literary critic , in the book cycle, separated the author from their work. Once literature was created by the author, and then printed and shared, the critic then interprets the meaning disconnecting the author.

Coleridge and Wordsworth were contemporaries with Coleridge acting as pupil and critic to Wordsworth’s work and ideals. Wu notes that, “Wordsworth’s influence registered immediately in “This Lime-Tree Bower my Prison”, which contains an element to new to Coleridge’s writing; love of nature. At its conclusion he is no longer the self-pitying solitary” (L. 19476-19477). Coleridge struggled with the transition to “Romanticism”, he was by trade a minister and many romantic ideals did not correspond with that of the church. A benefactor made it possible for Coleridge to write poetry rather than serve in ministry which resulted in many creative poems. Below: manuscript of The Ancient Mariner (1806) in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s own hand. An illustration by Gustave Dore of The Ancient Mariner (source: British Library).

Coleridge, like Wordsworth, authored poetry that developed a strong sense of self. In fact, his unique work, “Kubla Khan”, features an interesting moment of self deprecation. In the author’s introduction to the poem claims, “The following fragment is here published at the request of a poet of great and deserved celebrity, and as far as the author’s own opinions are concerned, rather as a psychological curiosity than on the ground of any supposed poetic merits” (Wu, 2013, p. 639). The poet of “great and deserved celebrity” is reportedly Lord Byron (Wu). The statement is a sort of “humble brag” that is followed by Coleridge describing how he dreamed the poem during an opium-induced sleep. Upon awakening, he wrote the poem down when he was interrupted by a knock on and door and “business” from town. These statements show a strong self awareness. Coleridge is able to produce a remarkable poem, now considered canonical, all the while claiming it was done subconsciously and not even completed. The note that the poem is interrupted by “business” is a strong indication of the Romantic print culture of the time, which prized dangerous imagination rather than ordinary daily roles.

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