Morton D. Paley, Coleridge's Later Poetry. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. ISBN: 0 19 818372 0 (hardback). Price: £25.Andrea K. Henderson, Romantic Identities: Varieties of Subjectivity: 1774-1830. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN: 0 521 48164 3 (hardback). Price: £30 (US$44.95).[Notice]

  • Kenneth Larry Brewer

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  • Kenneth Larry Brewer
    Stanford University

These two texts, as their titles suggest, represent very different approaches to Romanticism. Morton D. Paley's study takes the oeuvre as its object, and his aim is a modest one: "It is the argument of this book that [Coleridge's later poetry] is worth serious attention" (2). Andrea Henderson, on the other hand, not only wants to change the way we understand the literature of the period but to use Romantic texts to break through "the stalemated arguments within literary studies," as "historically remote texts . . . can provide ways not only to challenge the usefulness of a theoretical construct in a particular instance, but also to help us rethink the terms and assumptions of that construct" (6). That 'construct' is the notion that we must choose between a 'deep' subjectivity model of the self or a model which dispenses with the 'self' entirely. Certain "popular Romantic conceptions of identity," Henderson suggests, can lead us out of this dilemma. Paley in fact avoids a statement along the lines of "Coleridge's later poetry is worth serious attention because of X, Y, and Z," preferring instead to allow the reader to draw her own conclusions from his close readings. Among Paley's implicit criteria are a high level of craftsmanship—Paley demonstrates the considerable labor Coleridge put into much of this poetry—, density of meaning, and a constant theme Paley locates in the later poetry which is of considerable interest for studies of the creative process: Coleridge's "strategy of recuperation," the way "Coleridge makes his sense of loss a source of lyric expression, turning what he experiences as personal weakness into poetic strength" (77). Far from wallowing in self-pity, Paley suggests, Coleridge put his despair to work creatively, and these poems therefore have a unifying theme: they are more than the desultory productions of a wasted soul. "When a Man is unhappy, he writes damned bad Poetry, I find," Coleridge claimed in 1794, but what he discovered is that he could write quite good poetry if he made his unhappiness a poetic subject. Paley's book shows how Coleridge spent much of his poetic career disproving his statement of 1794. Of course, as Paley is quick to note, Coleridge was himself largely responsible for this view of him "as a burnt-out case wandering in a wilderness of abstraction" (3). By 1801 Coleridge was writing to William Godwin that "The Poet is dead in me" because of his research into metaphysics (2). To some extent, Paley suggests, we should question the standard division of 'early' and 'late' Coleridge, as "Coleridge always had a number of poetic voices" (2); we should also not accept Coleridge's dismissal of his later poems "at face value without considering the evidence of Coleridge's deep ambivalence" (2), evidence which Paley marshals convincingly in his discussion. Coleridge thought enough of this poetry to expend considerable effort on writing and revising, and he published poems such as "The Two Founts" in The Annual Register and the Monthly Repository to ensure that they "reached a very large reading public" (98). These are not the actions of someone who believes his work is not worth reading, and we often find in Coleridge "justifiable expression[s] of pride in his later accomplishments" (2). Andrea Henderson's study shares Paley's methodological approach of close reading. Henderson, as I have noted above, wants to show how certain Romantic texts provide alternative models of subjectivity to the 'deep' self that became so dominant that generations of critics had no trouble locating the source of this view in the Romantics. While De Man and his generation of critics resisted this model by changing …