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THE HARVEST ON THE GROUND: COLERIDGE'S MARGINALIA GEORGE WHALLEY In March 1820, when he was forty-seven years old, Coleridge wrote a long letter to his young friend Thomas Allsop to thank him for a generous gift of money. Allsop, a London business man twenty years younger than Coleridge, had attended the literary lectures in 1818, had fallen under Coleridge's spell, and was now a close friend. Coleridge nOw unfolded in some detail the work he had in progress and discussed the prospects of completing what he hoped to do, in the face of ill health, public neglect, and the interruptions forced on him by the need to meet his obligations to his hosts in Highgate and to his scattered family. He had five works in hand, he said: "The Characteristics of Shakespeare's Plays"; a philosophical analysis of the genius and works of Dante, Spenser, Milton, Cervantes, and Calderon, with shorter studies of Chaucer, Ariosto, Donne, and Rabelais; the history of philosophy (the "Philosophical Lectures" delivered between December 1818 and March 1819); letters on the Old and New Testament; and "my GREAT WORK, to the preparation of which more than twenty years of my life have been devoted" - the Opus Maximum - to which (he said) all his other writings, except the poems (and perhaps even those too) were preparatory. Altogether, not including the Opus Maximum, these would make about ten large volumes. To the completion of these four Works [i.e. all but the Opus Maxi",,,,,,] I have literally nothing more to do, than to transcribe; but ... from so many scraps & sibylline leaves, including Margins of Books & blank Pages, that unfortunately I must be my own scribe - & not done myself, they will be all but lost - or perhaps (as has been too often the case already) furnish feathers for the Caps of others - some for this purpose, and some to plume the arrows of destruction to be let fly against the luckless Bird, from whom they had been plucked or moulted! He was, he said, "Gifted with powers confessedly above mediocrity"; he had had an education "of which ... I have never yet found a Parallel"; he had devoted himself "to a life of unintermitted Reading, Thinking, Meditating and Observing"; his published work gave evidence that "1 Volume xxxvm, Number 3, April 1969 THE HARVEST ON THE GROUND: COLERIDGE'S MARGINALIA 249 have not been useless in my generation." And yet (and did he in this mean to echo one of the saucy couplets Touchstone improvised to tease Rosalind?) - and yet from circumstances the main portion of my Harvest is still on the ground, ripe indeed and only waiting, a few for the sickle, but a large part only for the sheaving, and carting and housing - for from all this I must turn away, must let them rot as they lie, & be as tho' they had never been: for I must go to gather Blackberries, and Earth Nuts, or pick mushrooms & gild OakApples for the Palates & Fancies of chance Customers -' Coleridge lived for fourteen years after that and did not succeed in completing or publishing any of these five works; and much of the harvest still remains upon the ground. Of that harvest, the marginalia are a considerable part - the notes he wrote in the margins and on the flyleaves and blank pages of his and other people's books. I De Quincey's praise of Coleridge's notes is too well known to be left unquoted. Coleridge often spoiled a book; but in the course of doing this, he enriched that book with so many and so valuable notes, tossing about him, with such lavish profusion, from such a cornucopia of discursive reading, and such a fusing intellect, commentaries so many-angled and so many-coloured that I have envied many a man whose luck has placed him in the way of such injuries ..,2 A few statistics will show the extent of the country and the lie of the land. The biggest collection of annotated books is in the British Museum, the second largest in the Victoria College Library, Toronto; together they amount to about 300 titles. Other libraries in the United Kingdom and United States hold altogether a little over...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 248-276
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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