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Ideologies in Readings of the Late Coleridge: Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit

  • E. S. Shaffer

…plus d’informations

  • E. S. Shaffer
    School of Advanced Study, University of London

Corps de l’article

There is no 'end to ideology'. Specifically, 'after ideology' in the title of this special issue may mean, or may have been intended to suggest, after the ideology of Romantic aesthetics. Or even after the ideology of ideologizing Romantic aesthetics. But I wish to argue that the Romantic period, and figures within it, have been subject to successive ideologies, not to one ideology that has been overcome, whether that one is seen as the ideology of the Romantics themselves, or that of (a particular selection of) their twentieth-century interpreters. I wish further to argue that the Romantics are still subject to ideologies we imagine have been put behind us, sometimes openly, sometimes in a concealed or veiled way. Coleridge is a major case in point. I shall also suggest or introduce into the discussion another mode of ideological reading.

There is much unfinished business before we could with any plausibility claim to be 'after ideology'. 'The Late Coleridge' is itself a conception formed and deformed by the remains of political, religious, nationalist and gender ideologies, and their subsets in 'Eng Lit'. We have no accurate or adequate conception of the late Coleridge from 1819 to his death in 1834. Those are the years of prodigious productivity and mature thought which included the Philosophical Lectures, the last series of Shakespeare lectures, the Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit, Aids to Reflection, the Prometheus Lecture to the Royal Institution, the related MSS that make up the 'Opus Maximum', and On the Constitution of the Church and the State, as well, of course, as the continuing notebooks and extensive marginalia. The later Notebooks, the last volume of Marginalia (which are arranged of course in alphabetical not chronological order), and the large item of the 'Opus Maximum' are still missing from the corpus—none of them published yet. Further delay in the appearance of the 'Opus Maximum' was occasioned by an inadequate transcription of the text, and an overlength prolegomenon. Much of the rest has now been edited or reedited; it is the newly edited text as much as the outright lacunae which so tellingly reveals the play of ideologies.

The figure of the late Coleridge has long been subject to belittling comment. On the one hand, he is presented by his rivals as the political turncoat, the butt of Hazlitt's satire (not only as a political opponent, but also as a rival literary critic; as James Chandler has shown, in 1819 Hazlitt was busily vying with Coleridge in the arena of the public lecture); on the other hand, he is the nascent 'sage of Highgate' presaging (if I may so trope) the full-blown Victorian sage (and again Coleridge's qualifications were undermined by the major rival for the honour, Carlyle, in the familiar passage depicting a droning, shuffling old poseur). It is perhaps indicative of the reluctance to take on the late Coleridge that Chandler claims it was the publication (1817-18) of Biographia Literaria, Sibylline Leaves, the Lay Sermons and The Friend that 'established his later reputation as the "Sage of Highgate".'  [1] This backdating to the works of Coleridge's middle years is the more remarkable, as the stream of visitors to the 'Sage of Highgate' began with the appearance of Aids to Reflection—published in England in 1825, and in the United States in 1828, with James Marsh's Preface that acknowledged its Kantian basis and made it a central text for New England Transcendentalism. Only after this did Coleridge himself become an object of pilgrimage. This late work continued to be his most influential writing throughout the nineteenth century, and best fulfils the aims that were seen to merit the title of 'Sage' in a positive sense.

But the opposition between a nineteenth-century and a twentieth-century critical view of what is valuable in Coleridge (our century has elevated Biographia Literaria above Aids to Reflection) is underscored by the Romantic myth that makes the very notion of 'old Romantic poet' an oxymoron. The earliest book-length biography of Coleridge was H.D. Traill's 1884 volume in the 'Men of Letters' series (started in 1869). Traill represents the myth in extreme form: for him, the true Coleridge, the young Romantic poet, is dead by 1803. As the 'Men of Letters' series soon became a national institution, this extreme (but popular) view left 'the late Coleridge' completely obscured. The 1894 biography by James Dykes Campbell rights the balance to some extent by pointing to Coleridge's late productivity, yet his book is so wholly innocent of intellectual interest that it does nothing to unfold the meaning of that productivity. Leslie Stephen, in his Memoir of Dykes Campbell, rightly praised him for his diligent gathering of the facts from the scattered memoirs and letters of those who had known Coleridge, yet these too were primarily the testimonies of the friends of his youth—Poole and Wedgwood, for example. The recent biography by Rosemary Ashton (1996) is still squarely in Dykes Campbell's debt and tradition. It is also symptomatic that the first volume of Richard Holmes's two-volume biography left off where Traill saw the end of Coleridge's poetic life, with 'Dejection: An Ode' and the departure for Malta. While Holmes delivers a notable portrait of the active, dynamic, charismatic 'Young Sam', the exhilaration of hill-walking stands in for mental fight. The second volume executes a similar movement, only postponing the 'premature aging' of Coleridge, beyond which it is not profitable to trace his production, to 1819, and covering the last fifteen years of his life in a hurried elegiac thirty pages.  [2] The flourishing sub-genre of treatments of Coleridge and Wordsworth in the days of their collaboration rests on the hermeneutic myth of the young (male) geniuses who alone can achieve true communication. Marilyn Butler too has perpetuated this negative notion of the Poet (and projected it as the basis of the later figure of the 'Man of Letters' that we have seen adopted by Traill) by arguing that Coleridge's influence in the 1820s was 'personal'—indeed, was based on his 'personal failure'.  [3] The poet having lamentably failed to die young, the next best thing was to be a personal failure. I am not going into the visual representations of the later Coleridge, for my concern here is with the texts—though from Cruickshank to Max Beerbohm's drawing of 'Coleridge the Talker' monologuing at a table full of sleeping guests, the images provide quick and memorable clues to ideologies.

My concern is that the intellectual work of the later years has been occluded. The most striking evidence of this is not in cartoons or biographical caricatures but in the loss of the texts themselves. If we attempt to look directly at the intellectual life of the late Coleridge, we are baulked or misled. Much of it became the property (fiefdom) of his editors—first, the family editors who stepped in to protect his and their good name, and more recently the editors of the Collected Coleridge who in the case of Kathleen Coburn from as long ago as the late 1920s undertook to carry on the family trust in return for access to the papers. Despite the immense amount of activity—laudable activity for the most part without which we would have much less of Coleridge than we do—as we approach the millennium we are still without the means fully to assess Coleridge's work of the 1820s. Crucial texts are missing or misappropriated. I shall return to this.

The most notorious case is of course that of the 'Opus Maximum'. In 1996 in Oxford I gave a paper on the MSS of the 'Opus Maximum' and its place in Coleridge's conception of his 'Opus Magnum' (for him the larger conception), and we are still where we were then, without a published text of the 'Opus Maximum'.  [4] The story of the 'Opus Maximum' has been an unhappy one from the start. We are faced with a complex history of the suppression of the MSS in the nineteenth century, to the point where by century's end the very existence of the texts was doubted. The rumours of the existence of such a work, scepticism about the texts (were they all mere figments of Coleridge's capacious imagination?), conflicting claims about their worth, the failure of his apparently faithful executor to publish them, and their ghostly near-extinction have perhaps more than any other single factor given an air of unreality to Coleridge's last years. Yet these manuscripts will amount to five hundred printed pages.

The MSS were entrusted to Joseph Henry Green; he was not a 'family editor', but a young disciple, as close to Coleridge as anyone, often in his household at Highgate over ten years (Green first met Coleridge in 1818). Green spent long hours closeted with Coleridge discussing and transcribing the MSS. He had even more directly than H.N. Coleridge or Sara Coleridge been entrusted by Coleridge himself with the task of making the work public. Moreover, there are grateful letters from Green to Coleridge which speak of how his weekly visits to Coleridge threw a ray of light into the gloom of existence. His own description of Coleridge's talk and the movement of his mind is the best we have—and only just published for the first time in an obscure appendix in Shorter Works and Fragments.

Green stresses that Coleridge's conversation was in fact a 'sustained discourse', and for those with sufficient staying power returned always to its point of origin. At the same time it was punctuated by surprising turns:

Nor must we forget the occasional vivid concentration of thought that, like a sudden flash of light, would leap forth in some argumentative discourse, illumining at once a long & tedious track of meditation, & revealing by a prophetic facility, the ultimate truth, towards which the mind might be slowly measuring its way;—the result of a power, which we might call wit, as far as the effect was that of a sudden & pleasurable surprise, had it not partaken far more largely of the character of profound thought, & of lofty imagination.

And in stressing how Coleridge always returned 'from the widest range of illustration, ... to the point, which had suggested the digression & led to the episode', he finishes with a fine metaphor worthy of his master:

And as in building an Alpine bridge between precipices severed by a sightless depth, the single thread is first thrown over that gradually increasing in strength is made to draw after it the massive chain till the supporting track is provided for the weighty materials, which are to construct the durable arch, & overbridge the before impassable abyss, & connect the barriers that had hitherto forbidden all hope of transit. I am the more inclined to seek for the explanation of the tendency to digressive illustration in the peculiar character of Coleridge's mind, & to trace its origin to a philosophic spirit, that so far from tending to dissipate, ever strove to integrate & to bring into relation to some given centre all that may be brought within the sphere of its ever expanding evolution.  [5]

Green's essay deserves to replace Carlyle's as the most authoritative description of the later Coleridge.

Already in Coleridge's lifetime his nephew Henry began to keep notes on the table talk of the voluble philosopher, and when two years after Coleridge's death he published his edition of Table Talk the arch-conservative Henry was seen to have doctored his uncle's table talk. Coleridge's son Hartley, with a number of others, was indignant but helpless. He wrote:

His conversation when I was last in the habit of hearing him authorized me to think that he did perceive the necessity of deep and vital changes, not in servile compliance with the spirit of the age,—(an odious phrase) but to approximate the practice of the constitution to its Ideal and final cause [he certainly did hold, or I grievously mistook him, that though the government did work well according to the money getting commercial principles of the economists who assailed it, it did not work well morally, did not perform its duty to God or to the divine in Man, did not supply those demands of human nature, which are at once rights and duties.]  [6]

Yet the early editors were in many ways more courageous than the later. Sara Coleridge in particular, who took over the major task—the life work—of editing her father's papers when her husband died in 1840, has never received her proper due. The suppression of the editorial and critical work carried out by the one who more than any other of his children inherited something of Coleridge's mental set and nervous organization, who more than any other identified with and relived his sensory and intellectual experience as far as constricted circumstances allowed, is one of the several scandals of the history of Coleridge scholarship. Gender ideology was and has continued to be shamefully employed to justify ignoring, deprecating, and simply shovelling under her highly intelligent, acute, and above all informed critical introductions and notes. Coleridge himself, with his overriding concern for his sons (especially Hartley), may have seemed to sanction this; yet he was proud of her linguistic abilities and her capacity to translate complex texts. From the start her role in the edition of Table Talk and her transcribing of Coleridge's note for the crucial four-volume Literary Remains (1836-9) received no public acknowledgement; both were published as her husband's, nor did he give her credit in the preface where he thanks a number of friends (though privately he acknowledged his debt to her exacting standards). After her husband's early death she continued the work they had begun, for her own part, an edition of Aids to Reflection, with her long essay on rationalism (1843); and her invaluable introductions to the Biographia Literaria (1847), tracing Coleridge's use of Kant; and her notes to Essays on His Own Times (1850), in which she identified for the first time the articles Coleridge had written for the Morning Post and the Courier.  [7] Although a sympathetic account of her has been given by Mudge, his book has unaccountable lacunae. I wish to single out one example: it does not mention the first publication of the Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit, which occurred only posthumously in 1840; he mentions, in passing, only a further reissue in 1849.  [8] I single this out because it is a key text in Coleridge's thought, and it has suffered a strange and telltale displacement and near-disappearance and not from Mudge alone (who is, to coin a phrase, a minnow among tritons) but from the history and interpretation of Coleridge's oeuvre. The handling of this crucial text in the Collected Coleridge is, in my view, a noteworthy and damaging piece of editorial sleight-of-hand.

Sara Coleridge handled the challenge in an exemplary manner. She felt obliged to face up directly to the charges of plagiarism mounted against Coleridge by De Quincey and in 1840 by Ferrier, a professor of Philosophy at Edinburgh. Editorially she was prepared to omit poems that were shown to be borrowed. Critically, she attempted to follow Coleridge's thought processes, tracing his reading, and his compositional methods. For her edition of Biographia Literaria she undertook to retrace Coleridge's reading in Kant and Schelling.

The case of the Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit was especially fraught because its matter was so controversial. Coleridge had intended to publish it as the preface to Aids to Reflection, but did not do so; it appeared posthumously in 1840. Some highly negative reviews appeared condemning the book for its radicalism. In 1848 an essay entitled 'On Tendencies towards the Subversion of Faith' pointed to Coleridge as the founder of the English school of Biblical interpretation, whose teachings would lead to 'complete Infidelity'.  [9] The 'school', whose works were also reviewed, included J.C. Hare, John Sterling, and Thomas Arnold, who had all read the Confessions in manuscript. Sara again met the criticism head-on: she enlisted Joseph Henry Green to write a preface for Confessions examining Coleridge's debts to Lessing. While carefully discriminating between Lessing's and Coleridge's thought the preface makes it quite clear that Coleridge had drawn his leading ideas from Lessing. Lessing, of course, was the 'most formidable Infidel', as Coleridge himself called him. From 1793 he was familiar with Lessing's epoch-making Theologische Schriften. His decision to write a Life of Lessing and to go to Germany to gather materials reflected his awareness of the crucial importance of Lessing's view that the historical evidences of Christianity would not stand up to scrutiny. The historical religions, whose claim rested on supposed miraculous interventions by a deity in the order of nature (Christianity, Islam), were suspect by virtue of such claims; and the Scriptures themselves, once they were subjected to the same tests as secular documents, were unsound bases for such claims. As Lessing put it, 'Contingent historical truths can never serve as proof for necessary truths of reason'.  [10] 'Contingent historical truths' included revelation, miracles and prophecy, as well as the events of the life of Jesus, for which there was no reliable testimony, for the written accounts were all very much later than the events (Coleridge in Confessions put the earliest at 90 years.) Religion—if it was to survive—must be refounded on a spiritual basis that could animate the truths of reason. This set Coleridge's lifelong agenda. Paley's 'evidences' he held in contempt. He may well have been set off by the publication in 1793 of Lessing's Nachlass or Literary Remains, including the notorious papers castigated by some as 'atheistic', in three volumes edited by Lessing's brother Karl, of which the first volume was a stimulating and substantial biographical account. One of the two copies in the British Library has Coleridge's signature on the frontispiece and his marginalia in the second and third volumes (published in 1795). Later, after Coleridge's return from Germany, when he embarked seriously on his study of Kant, he saw that the truths of reason as explicated by Kant could best be animated and given embodiment by the imagination. Thus the Confessions laid out the radical approach to the Scriptures that had long since undermined the usual 'evidences'; Aids to Reflection conveyed the reconstructive use of the imagination in the religious sphere. By separating them, then, it is possible to present a simulacrum of a conventionally pious Coleridge (though again only by disguising the Kantian bases of Aids to Reflection). The Coleridge who grasped the real crisis of religion in the 1790s (whereas the Anglican Church only recognized the higher criticism in 1860) and set himself to find the most up-to-date contemporary philosophical position that might meet the crisis—the position that would be intellectually acceptable to his own age—was claimed back as a conservative defender of the Church by those who anathematised his dangerous sources and the whole train of his foreign thought. The more successful his strategy became, the more conventionally he could be presented. By 1890 he began to figure as a defender of religion and an Anglican classic. Thus a continuing institutional religious ideology had and still has a stake in covering Coleridge's radical tracks.

In Germany, at the University of Göttingen in 1797-8, he heard the lectures of J.G. Eichhorn, whose Introduction to the Old Testament (1770) had already challenged the text, and who now proceeded onto the more dangerous ground of the New Testament. Coleridge was aware of the argument that the Gospels were not written by the Apostles, and that they were written long after the events described. Together with the Enlightenment challenges to miraculous claims, these challenges to the text undermined the notion of 'plenary inspiration' of the Bible; rather than the dictation of the Holy Ghost, the sacred book was to be treated to the same scrutiny of sources, language, editorial practice, and later revisions as any secular historical text. During the 1790s Eichhorn had extended his treatment of Genesis as Oriental myth to certain parts of the New Testament.  [11]

Only once were Confessions and Aids to Reflection published together: in the Bohn edition of 1854, thus recognizing the essential place in Coleridge's religious thinking of these two texts and honouring his original intention to publish them side by side. While Coleridge may have hesitated to publish the Confessions in the 1820s (the editor of Aids to Reflection suggests he may have feared condemnation while the editors of Shorter Works & Fragments put the failure to publish them together down to a publisher's crisis), there is every reason now to exhibit and to discuss their vital connection. Yet the Collected Coleridge has kept them well apart. Confessions appears in the Shorter Works and Fragments, which will deter all but the most questing and knowledgeable from reading it alongside Aids to Reflection—yet the MS given here, heavily corrected by Coleridge, offers fascinating evidence of the struggles he had with this sensitive subject. Shorter Works and Fragments, although it does, happily, include Green's introduction to Coleridge's philosophical writings, does not reprint Green's introduction on Lessing and Coleridge. While the latter is available in earlier editions and in a 1956 edition of the Confessions (Berkeley: University of California Press), it again requires an informed and purposeful reader to locate it.  [12] One of the few slips in the editing and printing of Aids to Reflection is that in the index Lessing appears as Lessing, Ephraim not Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim, and Lessing's full name appears only in the second of two (brief) notes to the text.  [13] Nor is Sara Coleridge's own illuminating preface to the Confessions reprinted, which replies to critics explicitly and defends his use of literary texts, especially Shakespeare, in conjunction with the Bible. Extraordinarily, in Thomas McFarland's 2000-page draft Prolegomena to the 'Opus Maximum', despite his elaborate discussion of the different works (some mere titles) that may have been part of Coleridge's plan at some time for his 'Great Work', there is no mention of the Confessions of the Inquiring Spirit. Let us hope that an overhauled draft, should it be published, will include discussion of this crucial text, which was written in the same five-year period as the 'Opus Maximum' (according to McFarland's conjectured dating of the 'Opus Maximum').

In Confessions—a series of letters to an unnamed party (probably simply an epistolary form, which allows him to adopt and address different perspectives)—Coleridge makes clear his view that the claim to plenary inspiration of the text of the Bible must be given up, that is, the claim to the notion that the entire text was the Word of God dictated by the Holy Spirit. He shows that the 'historical evidences' have been so undermined and discredited that this ground must be abandoned in favour of a new way of reading the Bible. Coleridge was not himself an original 'higher critic' of the Bible—that is, he was not a professional Bible critic, he did not have command of the necessary Oriental languages, nor did he make any textual contributions. But he was well grounded in the arguments and results, and he gives them here. He introduces himself as speaking as 'an uninterested Critic or Philologist'—he crossed out in his MS 'mere scholar' and '[?litterateur]'—who recognizes the book as 'reliques of Literature of the Hebrew People'. As for the New Testament, 'to avoid dispute' (that is, with the higher critics) no part of it can be placed any earlier than 90 years after the events supposedly described at first hand.  [14] Again 'to avoid dispute' he removes all dubious passages, as identified by Eichhorn (1125n.1).

Coleridge also makes the point that natural science was rendering a good deal of the Bible unacceptable, or in need of such complicated paraphrases and contorted reinterpretations that those who executed them in the name of the doctrine of Plenary Inspiration only succeeded in displaying their own strong disbelief in the passages they so 'salvaged'. Using these methods, he argues, he could prove that Falstaff's story of the eleven rogues in buckram who robbed him could be made into a 'coherent and consistent narrative' (1139). Coleridge was prepared to privilege those—very few—passages that actually quoted words of the deity directly; but everything else should be treated like any other text. These arguments from science—important since Hume's essay On Miracles—gained ground throughout the nineteenth century. The simple solution, the way to cut through the Gordian knots, Coleridge points out, was to accept that different 'Penmen' in different ages had recorded their perceptions in the best ways at their disposal.

Certainly no one has put more persuasively the need for abandoning the attempt to defend the indefensible and moving to a new way of reading. The mode of reading is all, if the Bible and Christianity are to be 'their own sufficient evidence' (1128). Coleridge proceeds to give a dazzling display of how to read the Bible as literature, which includes demonstrating the spiritual power it can generate—because that is the kind of book it is. If it was written by diverse men at various times, then one must find out the different ways in which they felt themselves to have been moved by the spirit. The reader is investigating the 'state of his own mind'. The reading is 'a test and measure of our own growth and progress as individual Believers' (1116). He gives a subjective criterion (1123)—this would be one of the most disputed points—for response to 'whatever finds me' in the text.  [15]

Who is the reader, then? If Coleridge reckons himself already prepared as a believer, what of other readers? Can they respond to the text? What will 'find' them? He treats three borderline readers: the pagan, the child, and the deist. For the first, he refers to a non-Christian like Seneca or an Antonine 'who without Christianity could grasp the co-operation of a divine Spirit (in souls desirous of good)' (1145); for the second, that of a baptized child (it was a moot point in Coleridge, as in religious history, what efficacy could be ascribed to baptism, but it seems here to provide an initial or minimal point d'appui). The third 'borderline reader', the deist would start out simply with a belief in a unified spiritual power in nature. Coleridge is, I think, stressing how little the reader needs in order to begin to read the Bible and thence to grow in understanding. What is most effective is his own use of literary criteria, his parallels of Shakespeare and the Bible, and his deployment of metaphors and imagery from both to convey the way the text may 'find' the reader. Let me give just one brief example, a description of the deistic friend: 'at every fresh meeting my friend has to tell me of some new passage formerly viewed by him as a dry Stick or rotten branch, which "was budded," and like the rod of Aaron "brought forth buds and bloomed blossoms and yielded fruits"' (1149).

Today the notion of 'the Bible as literature' is so familiar that we are hard put to comprehend how shocking a suggestion it was. While he was supported in his efforts privately by Christian Socialist F.D. Maurice, by J.C Hare, and Thomas Arnold, publicly he was attacked as the founder of an English school of Biblical interpretation that if followed would lead to 'complete Infidelity.' As late as 1870 T.R. Birks saw fit to publish some of his own marginalia made at the time of first reading the Confessions in a book called The Victory of Divine Goodness, an attack on Coleridge's use of the Bible side by side with Shakespeare, a sacred with a secular text.

As I have shown at length elsewhere, Coleridge had made the crucial step in the 1790s with the higher critics of regarding Christianity under the heading of 'mythology', its sacred books to be dealt with as Oriental scriptures on a par with the Koran and the Vedas. When defenders of the doctrine of Plenary Inspiration are reduced to ruses and quibbles to defend the indefensible it is time to abandon the position and take up ground that the modern mind can accept without acute intellectual embarrassment. That is what Coleridge did, and to that is owing his powerful influence on young minds in the ensuing century. The true movement of his thought has been masked by religious ideology from his own time to this.

If the intervention of religious ideology in obscuring Coleridge's thought has been strong and pervasive, nationalist ideology has not been far behind. The reluctance to face the charges of plagiarism from the German was so powerful that it has been necessary to prove over and over again that Coleridge's borrowings were extensive. Sara Coleridge's valiant efforts to face the issue have, as we have seen, been ploughed under. As Ferrier wrote in 1840 in his article on Coleridge's plagiarisms:

We think it would be highly discreditable to the literature of the country, if any reprint ... were allowed to go abroad, without embodying some accurate notice and admission of the very large and unacknowledged appropriations it contains from the writings of the great German.  [16]

A kind of national pride is involved here; but through most of Coleridge studies another less honourable form of national pride has been engaged in denying Coleridge's indebtedness to German sources. If in the first case the discredit lies in failing to acknowledge a debt to the leading and immensely well known thinkers of modern Germany, in the second the discredit lies in admitting any debt whatever to that nation. This is perhaps no more than the difference between a nineteenth century in which Germany was highly respected, and a twentieth century in which it was an enemy. The extent to which Shakespeare became a political football in the First World War has been amply shown by Terence Hawkes in That Shakespeherian Rag; Manfred Pfister has shown that at the time of the Franco-Prussian War Hamlet was invoked in Prussia as a model for warlike action (the sad end of Hamlet showing the disastrous consequences of failing to take aggressive measures). Coleridge in his more abstruse way also became a political football. This was true from his own times. The changing image of Germany in English eyes is reflected in the position accorded him and the modes of defence adopted. If the Germans after the fall of Napoleon were increasingly seen to be conservative or even reactionary, then if Coleridge had borrowed from them it must follow he too was reactionary. (It is symptomatic of more recent opponents of the so-called 'aesthetic ideology', especially De Man, that it is identified with Hegel. McGann in The Romantic Ideology follows this line.)  [17] Terry Eagleton, in The Aesthetic Ideology has even gone so far as to see Coleridge as forerunner of Hitler. Yet this involves a major historical falsification. Coleridge's own most powerful engagement with German thought was first and last with the thinkers of the German Enlightenment, with Lessing, Schiller and Kant; where he was strongly influenced by Schelling it was by the relatively early Schelling 1793-1803, that is, the working out of the implications of Kant's Critiques and his Metaphysische Anfangsgründe up through the System des transcendentalen Idealismus (1800) and the aesthetic lectures (if in fact he knew them), and Die Methode des akademischen Studiums (1805) (the only major exception is the treatise on human freedom—but this was published by 1809); he never knew Hegel apart from 80 pages of the Logic, which he annotated.

It has been argued that Coleridge had found all his ideas in the Cambridge Platonists, or in Berkeley (or at worst in earlier, mystical Germans like Jakob Boehme), and that his reading of the Germans only confirmed what he had already found at home. The charge of 'borrowing' or plagiarism was based on fear of contamination by foreign matter, for there was no such animus against borrowing from past English texts: which were not 'borrowed' but might flow naturally into his mind and pen. We have seen an outbreak of this sentiment more recently in the terror inspired by the importation of 'foreign theory'—in this case mainly French, especially the dread Derrida. The old word 'plagiarism' (for a range of literary practices we would now see as intertextuality) has recently been dusted off by Christopher Ricks in a British Academy lecture.  [18] This form of defence—that Coleridge was merely drawing on older English sources—evaded the label 'plagiarism' but made it impossible to show what was new and innovative in Coleridge, because that would involve exhibiting the new departures in current (largely German) thought. Coleridge was represented as musing on 'old folios' rather than standing as he did at the cutting edge of new thinking. Political smear tactics based on a nationalism bordering at times on xenophobia have badly affected literary judgements. Unfortunately, 'new Historicists', who do not in other contexts share such nationalist sentiments, have reinforced from their angle the anti-German bias rooted in the history not of German philosophy but of two twentieth-century wars.

These are surprisingly old-fashioned ideologies which have shaped Coleridge studies and ones we may think we are no longer subject to. But in so far as the monumental edition is not yet finished and when it is finished it will be the first and in most cases the last resort for those seeking knowledge of Coleridge, these ideologies will continue to shape their studies. These ideologies of religion, nation, family and the editing of the nation's writers as the fundamental national patrimony are now ensconced in the text, in the appearance of finality lent by the authoritative format, the tendentious organization of the oeuvre, and its complex frame of notes, misleading cross-reference, selective allusion, use of trivial in place of substantive reference, relegation of important scholars and arguments, and obfuscating indexing.  [19] Paradoxically, the further the new generations of readers are from sharing these attitudes towards authority the more subject they will be to the delusively monumental and final form in which Coleridge's work is cast.

As we all know too well, another (must we call it post-modern?) critical era has chosen to single out a 'romantic' ideology or an 'aesthetic' ideology, in order to castigate it. 'Ideology' is employed with a negative charge. I would like to propose another model of ideology that would perhaps help instead of hinder our approach to the late Coleridge. That is the model elaborated by the well-known French anthropologist Louis Dumont. Dumont operates an anthropologist's objective definition of ideology: it is a 'system of ideas and values current in a given social milieu'. There is no pejorative charge in his use of it. He is interested in 'predominant ideologies', that is, 'a set of attitudes that come spontaneously to the minds of people living in a given cultural milieu'. Moreover, he works in a comparative mode, for these global or large-scale ideologies—ideologies of a whole culture—are best revealed by comparison with other cultures.  [20] He wished to apply the idea not to primitive peoples, but to modern cultures. He explicitly moved away from the Marxist use of it in order to free the term to describe such predominant ideologies, rather than, as he put it, 'restrict ideology to particular social classes and give it a purely negative sense, thus discrediting ideas and "representations" in general for the sake of partisan aims.'  [21] For our present purposes, it is of great interest that he is concerned with a comparison between France and Germany, and that he locates the source of modern ideologies in the French Revolution on the one hand, and German philosophy on the other. He began with 'the extraordinary blossoming of German thought between 1770 and 1830', and gave the T.H. Huxley Memorial Lecture 1985 at the London Royal Anthropological institute on 'Are Cultures living Beings? German Identity in Interaction'.  [22] He has nothing directly to say about Britain; but he is, in short, looking as an anthropologist at the ideologies that exerted such equal and opposite influences on the period of Coleridge's maturity. He traces them on to the 1870-1 war and the world wars of the twentieth century, but that needn't concern us here, except to register that the ideologies he is concerned to be objective about are emotionally fraught and related to present conflicts as well as to the period of origin. The recent treatment of Romantic ideology, and the frantic attempts to discredit critics who have continued to read within the terms of their hermeneutic discipline, have shown that criticism is responding to those continuing tensions which Dumont attempts to analyse.

Dumont sees German ideology as characterized by 'on the one hand self-cultivating individualism' (from the Lutheran Protestant legacy) and on the other 'community holism' (from the lingering of a notion of the Holy Roman Empire in the absence of a modern state) (Dumont 20). One substantial section of his analysis of German ideology relates to the notion of Bildung, a secular form of self-cultivating individualism, which he treats in five chapters, ranging from the eighteenth-century Karl-Philipp Moritz (author of the important novel Anton Reiser, forerunner of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister) and the shift from pietism to aesthetics, to the first World War; the sections that concern us here are a chapter on Wilhelm von Humboldt, and one on Goethe and Schiller. It is characteristic of his method that he ranges across disciplines and employs literary examples. In the Humboldt chapter he traces Humboldt's founding of his own subject, comparative anthropology, as a lifelong project of self-development conceived in 1797; in the Goethe chapter, 'Bildung Represented', he traces the progress of Goethe's writing of Wilhelm Meister as part of the programme of mutual Bildung shown in his correspondence with Schiller. Bildung is presented as an 'institution', one of those non-organisational entities which the period was so strong in (from social and intellectual formations to imaginative substitutes for improved institutions that failed to materialize) (Dumont 85). Bildung throughout its history interacted with political institutions in the normal sense (nowhere better exemplified than in Humboldt's own foundation of the University of Berlin in 1809 which famously offered Prussia the opportunity to become a Bildungsstaat by financing freedom of inquiry).

Humboldt (1767-1835) was almost exactly Coleridge's coeval and the pattern of his development offers illuminating parallels. He was brought up, as Dumont says, 'in the shade of Kant's completed philosophy' whereas Coleridge had to acquire it, almost wrest it from a foreign language and mental environment, and then face charges of obscurity and/or of culpable borrowing. It was 'natural' for Humboldt to set off from Herder and Kant on culture, from the opposition between cultures as diverse, and cultures as bearing universal traits. The young Humboldt in his 'Theory of Bildung' 1793 wrote:

The ultimate task of our existence is to provide as large as possible a content to the concept of humanity in our person during our lifetime, as well as beyond through the traces of living activity we leave behind us.

quoted in Dumont 93

Humboldt formed the project of giving an objective perspective on contents that originally in Bildung concerned the individual subject: Bildung opens onto the comparison of men, cultures, and languages, that is, comparative anthropology (Dumont 105). From the start he conceived it as a writing project: the individual must communicate with the wider culture. In this he was greatly encouraged by his association with Goethe and Schiller, especially the latter, who read and published some of his early essays. The young Coleridge formed his own lifelong project at almost the same moment, the 'magnum opus' that would enable the claims of individual subjectivity to be reconciled and expressed in a wider organic or imaginative matrix of social institutions that would in turn be expressive of the humane and spiritual values of the individual.

The movement between the individual pole and the social pole characterized Humboldt's own life: Humboldt had two periods of public service, as ambassador of the state in Rome and as a member of the Prussian government in charge of reorganizing education. But in 1819 to the time of his death he withdrew (as the political climate grew more illiberal) into his own private studies—those studies of world languages that formed the basis of his comparative linguistics and his anthropology. The demands of Bildung lend a 'normative dimension' to these detailed descriptive studies, for it is no less an object of study than the human ideal, to be fully seen only through the diverse forms in which it has been manifested (Dumont 110-11, referring to Humbolt's essay, 'Ueber den Geist der Menschheit'). Dumont points out many places in Humboldt where modern anthropology would disagree, and at one point his objective stance breaks down. In discussing Humboldt's shift from the individuality of Bildung to the holism implicit in the global considerations of language, he bursts out: '[I]s man's purpose simply linguistic communication, the most common human activity? Did a ray of common sense actually pierce the arrogant cloud of ideology?' (Dumont 140) But no, he concludes, for the cultivation of language is to serve a higher form of communication (which indeed is illustrated from Schiller's art).

The time span of Humboldt's immersion in private study is exactly that of the late Coleridge, whose failure was so successful that he found a secure home and a controlled supply of drugs, no one any longer expected him to look after his wife and children, and he could devote himself to his studies and the final formulation of his ideas. Humboldt of course had the incomparable advantage of being an aristocrat with means and a stately home on the lake at Tegel.

To carry out the parallel: Coleridge in his youth cultivated his individuality as a poet; he manifested his subjectivity in imaginative criticism (for example of Shakespeare), he theorized the faculties by which aesthetic production was carried out (in the Biographia Literaria), and in his last years he turned to the wider social field in which the cultivated and creative faculties could find social forms in religious experience, in educational institutions (Coleridge annotated the founding documents of the Humboldt University) and in the ideas of a state and a church that did not coincide with any existing institution but which depended on the aesthetic imagination to activate it. The idea of the clerisy was itself an imaginary institution of Bildung—an intelligentsia which through the reform of Church and State could draw the best of the young generation to carry out the ideals of mankind and to convey them to others. Coleridge was worried, with good grounds, that the best would desert both the Church and the State.

This parallel is deliberately very general, in order to show the outlines of the shared ideology. The lines could be drawn more tightly: for Coleridge's Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit had its immediate impetus from Carlyle's gift of his translation of Goethe's Wilhelm Meister in June 1824, with its famous Book 6 'Bekenntnisse einer schöne Seele', the inward portrait of the self-formation of a (woman's) pietistic consciousness, a privileged form of Bildung. Coleridge criticised the translation, suggesting rightly that 'Confessions of a Beautiful Soul' would be preferable to Carlyle's 'Confessions of a Fair Saint', and was moved to make a characterization of his own religious experience, drawing attention to the Goethean parallel in his own title.  [23] The writing of the Confessions, then, is an example of 'represented Bildung' in Dumont's sense: Coleridge is reading the Bible itself, Shakespeare and Goethe as he constructs his experience—just as Goethe was in close correspondence with Schiller as he wrote the Bildungsroman Wilhelm Meister. The form of religious experience that he conveys is that of inward growth through reading a book that carries and renews the religious experience of a community.

This is doubtless all too affirmative and bears the marks of the ideology it depicts. But a word must be said about the academic community in the twentieth century that appeared to adopt the methods of what it studied: if, from the vantage point of the twentieth century, Humboldt founded comparative anthropology, so Coleridge could be seen to have founded the new discipline of English literature (or even comparative literature). Its characteristics had to be drawn out and systematized in current terms, and the institution of Bildung—and the actual place in the university of the study of modern literature—secured. Coleridge provides the ideological framework—I say this perfectly neutrally—and the model of practical criticism, for I.A. Richards, and then for the American New Critics. In the case of the American critics, there was a further political agenda: the inscribing of American literature into English Literature. They succeeded so well that today in the United States one distinguishes between English literature (which includes American and increasingly all English-speaking lit), on the one hand, and on the other, that narrower field, British literature. The fusty old poseur of Highgate had brought off the most radical movement of thought: the shift from religious to literary culture, and with immense bravura he had done it on the home ground of the text of the Bible itself. No wonder he came so close to suppression.

Parties annexes