This essay explores the relationships between Coleridge’s notebook entries and letters to Sara Hutchinson during his tour of the Cumbrian mountains in August 1802, focusing on his nearly disastrous descent from the summit of Scafell. It also revisits his controversial claim that he took those experiences and “transferred” himself “in Spirit” to the Alps in the process of composing “Hymn Before Sun-rise, in the Vale of Chamouny.” The question of how such experiences are “transferrable” has exercised critics from the beginning of Coleridge studies, and the essay offers a new approach by concentrating on the experiential content of the tour as the material of poetic composition.
Alan Vardy is Associate Professor of English at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the author of Constructing Coleridge: the Posthumous Life of the Author (Palgrave, 2010), and the editor of Essays in Romanticism, the journal of the International Conference on Romanticism. His current project is In Transit: Time and Terrain in British Romantic Writing of which this essay will form a part.
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