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Reviews Coleridge's Philosophy of Language, by James C. McKusick: xiv & 175 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986, $19.95, paper. Professor McKusick has skillfully marshalled a wide variety ofideas, ranging from metaphysical notions of nature as die language of God to die details of Home Tooke's etymology. Considering diat Coleridge did not publish a systematic philosophy of language, but developed a dieory of the subject gradually in die course ofhis intellectual career, one cannot but admire die way in which McKusick has presented mat development dirough astute analyses of extracts from Coleridge's letters, notebooks and lectures, as weU as die Logic and other writings, and through a summary of the probable influences on his diought. This is a historical study, in which Coleridge's ideas are related to previous trends in the philosophy oflanguage, and in which he is shown to have progressed in his understanding of die subject and in his contributions to it. Coleridge was interested in die concept of natural language, which he found in Plato's Cratylus, and which was maintained in die eighteendi century by Reid and Monboddo, despite die opinion of Locke and his successors tiiat linguistic signs were arbitrary. Akenside was an important source for Coleridge's view of nature as die divine language, for while he found a similar view in Berkeley, he rejected Berkeley's doctrine oflinguistic arbitrariness. For Coleridge the relation of a natural sign to its referent was necessary; diis was as true of imaginative discourse as it was of the "divine visual language." McKusick finds in Coleridge's lectures of 1795 an embryonic form ofdie doctrines of imagination and symbol which he was to develop in his maturity. McKusick has an informative chapter on die benefits diat Coleridge derived from his study ofGerman philology at Göttingen. The chief of these was that he saw clearly "die intimate connection between linguistic hypodieses and philosophical presuppositions" (p. 61). He could retain Tooke's etymological mediod while subordinating it to his own idealism. When he wrote cryptically to Godwin about his own endeavor to elevate "words into Things, & living Things too," he was approaching a quasi-Kantian position, according to which words 340 Reviews341 were elements (as McKusick puts it) "of an organized structure diat imposes mental categories on die external world" (p. 42). McKusick discusses Coleridge's interest in Descartes and Leibniz, and examines his Logic as a critique of pure understanding, which revised Kant's first critique in die light of linguistic dieory. McKusick shows how much more complex die concept of natural language was in Coleridge's criticism ofShakespeare than it had been in his early praise of Bowles's sonnets. Coleridge found in Shakespeare a harmony produced by "reciprocal disproportions" (p. 108) of rhetorical excess and ironic understatement . Paradoxically, naturalness might consist in die skillful deployment of such contrasts. Admitting ordinary human language to be arbitrary, Coleridge thought that Shakespeare succeeded in naturalizing arbitrary signs so diat they expressed not the "cold notion" but die "reality" of things (p. 110). McKusick considers mat die entire controversy between Wordsworth and Coleridge about the theory of poetry arose from dieir very different concepts of natural language. Following Hans Aarsleff and Coleridge, he holds mat for Wordsworth all signs were arbitrary and natural language was synonymous with ordinary language. But at diis crucial point in his argument McKusick misinterprets Wordsworth's Preface, writing of die poet's "doctrine of die identity ofpoetry and prose" (p. 1 13). Wordsworth's word is "affinity," not "identity." His contradistinction of poetry and matter of fact, diough overlooked by McKusick, is surely relevant, since, while ordinary language is used for matters of fact, Wordsworth stressed (in the Appendix to the Preface) that in maintaining mat ideas and feelings required one and die same language whedier in prose or in verse, he referred only to "works of imagination and sentiment." If this language, but not anodier kind of prosaic discourse, could be, as Wordsworth said, natural, McKusick's view of die point at issue between die two poets is in need of correction. Universityof CanterburyGordon Spence New Zealand American Poetics ofHistory: From Emerson to the Moderns, by Joseph G. Kronick; xvi...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 340-341
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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