The Norton Critical Edition of Coleridge's Poetry and Prose[Record]

  • Nicholas Halmi

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  • Nicholas Halmi
    McMaster University

In the the last decade the field of Romantic studies, for all its traditional self-doubts, has implicitly staked a claim to its legitimacy in the form of textual production. This production, remarkable both in its amount and in its variety, has not been confined to the creation of new texts, or for that matter to the recovery of old texts, but has also—and perhaps most excitingly—manifested itself in the development of new kinds of texts which exploit the new digitizing technologies. My readers will be familiar with several ongoing projects, including British Women Playwrights around 1800 and the remarkable Blake Archive, which make exactingly edited texts and images easily accessible on the Web. I hope that the publication of the present article on the Web will prevent me from being misunderstood as hostile to the phenomenon of electronic publication when I state what I trust is self-evident, that for ease of access and use—i.e. user-friendlines—the old-fashioned printed book remains unsurpassed, which is why Northrop Frye called it the most democratic of media. I view the relation between electronic and print publication as one of complementarity rather than of competition, and adduce the fact that there has been no end to the making of books as the Web pages and CD-ROMS have appeared: witness, for example, the new editions of Hazlitt and De Quincey by Pickering and Chatto, and the new anthologies of the Romantic period by Blackwell, Harcourt, and Longman. If it is not "new", it is still valuable, indeed necessary, to produce texts that can be read, as M. H. Abrams said of the Norton Anthology, in the classroom, in a student's dormitory room, or under a tree. In the case of the edition I am going to discuss now, that will be more literally true than it is of the Norton Anthology itself. The Norton Critical Edition of Coleridge's Poetry and Prose, edited by Paul Magnuson, Raimonda Modiano, and me, was commissioned to fill a significant lacuna among the currently available student editions of Coleridge. Although there are several inexpensive paperback selections of the poetry, and a lightly annotated Oxford Authors/World's Classics selection of the poetry and prose, there is no edition that combines a reliably edited and thoroughly annotated selection of both the poetry and the prose in a relatively inexpensive paperback format. Although the editors and publishers expect that the principal users of our volume will be undergraduates, we are also aiming to make it useful to the large number graduate students and researchers who cannot afford or do not otherwise have ready access to the two volumes of Coleridge's Complete Poetical Works, the twenty-three published (and eleven forthcoming) volumes of The Collected Works, the eight published (and two forthcoming) volumes of the Notebooks, and the six volumes of the Collected Letters (this last long out of print). Ours will be an edition to own, but also, we want to ensure, to cite, and to that end we have approached the questions of text and annotation afresh, in ways that I shall elaborate now. This essay should not be taken as definitive, however, since we are still working on the volume and may be compelled by exigencies of space and the like to cut certain texts or alter certain details. Like all Norton Critical Editions, Coleridge's Poetry and Prose is divided into two major sections, one containing the texts themselves and the other containing criticism of Coleridge. Of the 700 printed pages to which we are limited by the publisher, roughly 100 will be occupied by the criticism. Since the …