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COLERIDGE AND RESTRAINT KATHLEEN COBURN Is it not anomalous that Coleridge, thought of as a liberator of the imagination from the restraints of literary and aesthetic rules and models and called the father of the erstwhile "New Criticism," should still be considered in his philosophical and political-historical thinking to be mainly an advocate of established authority, of law and order, even of privilege, an oracle from the past supporting the establishment and distrustful of the new society? Is the anomaly perhaps to be found in Coleridge himself? There are many Coleridges. There are Coleridge and S.T.C., as Stephen Potter showed in a clever book, and one might tum the kaleidoscope of Coleridge's complex temperament many ways with legitimate and illuminating results. However, readers of Coleridge's more neglected poems and of the wide range of his littleknown prose works now begin to ask whether the anomaly may not come from elsewhere. Coleridge always had a sympathetic band of readers and some among the most influential public men from Maurice and Kingsley and Mill onwards - but caricature is caviare to the general, and Coleridge has too often been the windy Coleridge of Hazlitt's savagely entertaining reviews, the mumbler of Carlyle's jealous portrait, Peacock's Mr. Flosky of Nightmare Abbey, Or Max Beerbohm's delicious but devastating Table-Talker. .Satire has worked subliminally, like music in the supermarket, in this case not to cheer the customer on to buy more of Coleridge's intellectual wares than he was prepared for; rather the advertising has been drear and dull, the voice and the music pretentious and boring. But is it Coleridge's voice? Is there in fact a single unmistakable Coleridge voice? Perhaps not. Consistency would be difficult to claim for him - or evenness - or any unvarying quality; he is inconsistent, uneven, and often uncertain - commendable weaknesses, perhaps, that may help to account for the eagerness with which the young are discovering him in these days. It is proposed in this paper to suggest an approach to Coleridge that so far as I know has not been tried and which correlates if it does not always reconcile his various utterances. This is to look at his life-long sensitivity to restraint of diverse kinds; his passionate resistance to it and Volume XXXVIU. Number 3, April 1969 234 KATHLEEN COBURN his consciousness of his own failure to resist at times; also his active sympathy with others under any form of restraint. The painful sense of the need and obligation to resist informs and motivates much of his writing, often providing what is most prophetic in his thinking and most imaginative in his poetry and prose. It may be said at once that there is nothing peculiar to Coleridge's work in the importance of the factor of rebellion. Nevertheless there is something to be gained by looking at Coleridge in this light. It was rebellion with a Coleridgian difference, for One thing. In part it was a revulsion of the weak against its own weakness in the face of much stronger forces, but because it took place in a person equipped with incredible intellectual power the resistance was both extremely painful and at times astonishingly productive. It is possible to see the first forty-odd years of Coleridge's life as a discontinuous series of attempts to run away from the irksome impositions of circumstances. As the youngest of a family of ten - thirteen counting step-Siblings - he lived, up to the age of seven, with at least thirteen to sixteen persons (including the antagonistic nursemaid Molly) who had authority over him, the authority of size and age. In his autobiographical letters to Poole he records among his most vivid early memories attacking his favourite and most competitive brother Francis with a knife, as a result of excessive teasing and a blow in the face from Francis, and how in a rage, and in fear of a Hogging, he ran away and slept out in the fields all night to be found only in the morning, carried home in Sir Stafford Northcote's arms, and greeted by his father's tears of relief. After the early death of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 233-247
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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