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COLERIDGE AND THE THEORY OF IMAGINATION P. L. CARVER JT is generally agreed· that a politician may reyise his opinions without incurring the charge of fickleness provided that he yields passively to the pressure of external events. "A man," says Macaulay, "who had held exactly the same opinion about the [French] Revolution in 1789, in 1794, in 1804, in ·1814, and in 1834, would have been either a divinely inspired prophet, or an obstinate fool."1 Southey, if he agreed with Macaulay in nothing else, would certainly have agreed with him in this, for he himself had swung like a pendulum from one extreme to the other until, by the exhaustion of its energy, the clock had stopped. He would have been ready to defend any inconsistency which had some discernible relation to the headlines in the newspapers; but that a man should change his convictions from no definable cause except an increase of knowledge or an access of second thoughts was an eccentricity which hardly admitted of a charitable explanation. Referring to Coleridge in July, 1808, Southey wrote to William Taylor: "Dr Sayers would not now find him the warm Hartleyan that he has been; Hartley was ousted by Berkeley, Berkeley by Spinoza, and Spinoza by Plato; when last I saw him Jacob Behmen had some chance of coming in. The truth is that he plays with systems, and any nonsense will serve him for a text from which he can deduce something new and surprising.'~2 The last words, which amount to an accusation of petty vanity, are a good example of the egotist's habit of seeing-in other people a reflexion of his own less agreeable qualities. With every allowance for Southey's advantage of personal acquaintance-an advantage largely contracted by his air of patronizing superiority-we cannot dismiss Coleridge's early speculations as aimless and unmethodical dabbling. "I owe, under God,'' he said in 1834, "my return to the faith, to my having gone further than the Unitarians and so having come round to the other side."3 Similarly, it is his coming round to the other side which lends importance to his infatuation 1 Essay on Sir James Mackintosh's History of the Reoolution. 2Quotcd by J. D. Campbell, Samud Taylor Coleridge (1894), p. 165. arabh Tallr (ed. 1884), p. 290. 452 COLERIDGE AND THE I MAGINATION 453 with H artley, whom he must have associated with the Unitarians.! I hope to show that his repudiation of the mechanical theory was much more than the denial of what he had formerly affirmed, and that it led him to positions which he would have been unlikely to reach except by the force of that early reaction. 1f it were necessary to fix the date of his conversion we should be justified in taking the year 1809 as the terminus ad quem; for an essay which he wrote for the Friend5 in that year is, in effect, an elaborate refutation of Hartley's system, though H artley is not men tioned by name. It is one of Coleridge's happiest efforts. At first sight it is nothing more than a simple observation upon human nature; yet that observation is at the same time the beginning of Coleridge's system of education and an important contribution to Shakespearean criticism; for the illustrations receive light in their turn by reflection from that which they illustrate. People who like to trace floating theories from one generation to another will find here the guiding principle of Newman's Idea of a University. The parallel is so close that, in spite of differences of terminology, the argument may be summarized briefly in Newman's words. Of the two kinds of education, the philosophical and the mechanical, " the one rises towards general ideas, the other is exhausted upon what is particular and external." But the former alone ·is correctly called knowledge, so that ''Knowledge, in proportion as it tends more and more to be particular, ceases to be Knowledge. . . . \Vhen I speak of Knowledge, I mean something intellectual, something which .. . reasons upon what it sees and while it sees; which i nvests it with an idea."6 Coleridge arrives at the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 452-465
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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