The aim of this special issue is to bring to bear on Coleridge and the writers he influenced some of the perspectives made available by recent developments in the field of Romantic Studies. After the conclusion of the Collected Coleridge, that massive effort of restoration of a fragmented career, with the publication of the Poetical Works (2001) and the Opus Maximum (2002) it became possible to bring neglected areas of Coleridge’s writings into focus. It was time for an investigation of Coleridge the poet as revealed in J. C. C. Mays’ edition—a writer of occasional verse and political squibs and a pioneer of new, hybrid genres as well as the self-mythologised Bard of “Kubla Khan,” the “Ancient Mariner” and “Christabel.” It was now possible, too, to take stock of the flawed but surprisingly large corpus of philosophical and theological writing.
If the completion of the Collected Coleridge gave one new impetus, the New Historicist turn of critics of Romanticism provided another. Situating Coleridge in the historical milieu in which his work was produced and consumed led to a revaluation of, among other aspects, his political involvements, his relationship with the reading public, his engagement with reviewers and his manipulation of (and by) the new forums and formats offered by a rapidly expanding print culture (in the literary annuals of the 1820s, for instance, Coleridge reinvented himself as a feminised poet, and took advantage of the opportunity to experiment with layout, typography and illustration).
This collection of essays aims to develop Coleridge Studies from several angles. Anya Taylor’s essay explores Coleridge’s little-studied verse on Catherine the Great, explicating the political context in which his ambivalent representation of the Russian Empress took shape and demonstrating its influence, years later, on Byron’s portrait of her. Alan Bewell also discusses Coleridge’s 1790s poetry, approaching its engagement with the philosophy of Bishop Berkeley from the perspective of contemporary communications theory: nature as a coded language of God apprehended sonically. Alan Vardy and Tim Fulford both focus on the early 1800s, viewing Coleridge’s notebook and letter writing, made on walking tours of the Lakes and of Scotland, through the lens of recent scholarship on pedestrianism as a social practice. Fulford also investigates the political context of “The Pains of Sleep” (a context hidden when Coleridge published the poem thirteen years after having composed it), contributing to a debate about the ideological function of significant absences in Romantic poetry that Marjorie Levinson provoked by her discussion of Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey.”
Julia S. Carlson, Matthew Sangster and Tom Duggett examine Coleridge’s relationships with other writers. Carlson casts new light on the Coleridge/Wordsworth interchange by investigating the development of a shared language of friendship and, later, of self-differentiation, through a textual exchange—verse sent across distance in letters and manuscripts. She shows that marks of emphasis—especially the exclamation mark—were crucial not only to the codification of existing feeling on paper, but to the engendering of further intimacy and further versemaking. Twentieth-century editors, she shows, omitted something significant from the poems’ textualisation of affect, as well as obscuring their compositional history, when they deleted exclamation marks from modern editions of The Prelude.
Wordsworth, worried about public reaction, had begged Coleridge not to publish his poetic tribute to The Prelude and its poet. And this anxiety about publication was not his alone. Here, Matthew Sangster discusses Coleridge’s uneasy relationship with the literary market as represented by the new, authoritative periodical reviews. He shows Coleridge was both keen to use the new journals to vindicate in public a literary friend—Thomas Clarkson the abolitionist—and also acutely afraid of Francis Jeffrey, the editor of the principal review. Coleridge’s ambivalence, Sangster shows, inflected his literary style and his authorial persona.
It is on Southey’s style and persona that Duggett focuses, in an essay that surveys his and Coleridge’s interventions in the debate about national education that centred on the schemes of Andrew Bell and Joseph Lancaster. Again, the opportunities and pressures produced by writing for periodicals are shown to have affected not just how they wrote, but also what they argued: Southey’s role as a journalist made him oppositional and partisan—always a taker of sides. But it also made him yearn for an institution that was above the fray, and thus unifying rather than divisive—even if he could not himself participate in it. He made the established church fit this bill—as Coleridge also did—but the bill, Duggett shows, was made by authorial experience in a bitterly divided periodical culture.
The collection concludes with a further examination of Coleridgean rewriting of an issue—and of another writer—in the image of his own dilemmas as a public intellectual. Nicholas Halmi, building on his editorial work on the Opus Maximum, studies Coleridge’s version of Spinoza, providing, in the process, a new interpretation of his views on the philosophical “pantheist tradition” as influentially outlined by Thomas McFarland in 1969.
Tim Fulford is a professor of English at De Montfort University, Leicester. He is the author of many books and articles on Romanticism and eighteenth-century literature, the co-editor of Robert Southey’s Collected Letters and Poetical Works and of Humphry Davy’s Collected Letters, and the Academic Director of the Biennial International Coleridge Conference. His monograph, The Late Poetry of the Lake Poets is forthcoming by Cambridge University Press in 2013.