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JASPREET S. TAMBAR Coleridge’s “Multeity in Unity” and the Statuesque and Picturesque Impulses W ITHOUT CONTRADICTION, COLERIDGE IS REGARDED CRITICALLY AS A fine poet whose genius might have unlocked the language of the birds had he chanced upon a hint of dragon’s blood, and locally as a philos­ opher manque who menaced the town’s children with impromptu dis­ courses on metaphysics. His most confusing regard in scholarship is often as a philosopher of aesthetics. He is either a brilliant aesthetician whose Biographia Literaria (1817) set into theory the revolutions in poetry and crit­ icism in Romantic Britain, or an abstruse plagiarist of German philosophy. Coleridge never did produce a systematic philosophy of the arts, let alone the compendium of all knowledge toward which all of his life and work were bent, but his critical oeuvre presents fascinating and at times novel aesthetic theories. Alongside his theories of imagination and symbol, Coleridge’s most im­ portant contribution to aesthetics is his formula “multeity in unity.”1 This article sets forth an analysis of “multeity in unity,” that vague but essential definition of beauty in Coleridge’s aesthetics. Along with his essay “On Poesy or Art” (1818), I will discuss Coleridge’s Essays on the Principles of Genial Criticism in the Fine Arts (1814), for while they have been overlooked the Essays provide the clearest sustained attempt in Coleridge’s critical oeuvre at attempting a philosophy of the fine arts and are the source of the phrase “multeity in unity.” The distinction of aesthetic terms is crucial to 1. The phrase closely resembles Francis Hutcheson’s formula for Beauty as “ Uniformity amidst Variety,” in Francis Hutcheson, An Inquiry into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (London: D. Midwinter et al., 1738), 17. However, Coleridge claims an older inheri­ tance of the phrase: “Francesco Tessala’s definition of Beauty was—il piu nell’ uno— Multitude in unity—and there is no doubt that such is the Principle of Beauty.” Carl Woodring, in his annotations to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Table Talk, ed. Woodring, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), notes that Coleridge must have said “Francesco de Salez,” meaning St Francois de Sales (1567—1622), a Savoyard Doctor of the Church (1:261). SiR, 56 (Winter 2017) 525 526 JASPREET S. TAMBAR understanding Coleridge’s definition ofbeauty, but the Essays alone do not suffice. The somewhat fragmentary attempts at defining aesthetic terms, published before but in the same year as the Essays on the Principles of Cenial Criticism, I regard as preparatory essays and critical supplements to the main text. These preparatory essays provide the groundwork for the fuller but assumed conceptualization of beauty as “multeity in unity” in the later Essays, as they present the constituent elements contained in that principle in the form ofvarious categories or, as I later term them, impulses. The pre­ paratory essays are titled as follows: “On Aesthetic Problems,” “Definitions of Aesthetic Terms,” and “On the Distinction Between the Picturesque and the Sublime.” The aesthetic categories on which I will be focusing are the Shapely, the Beautiful, the Picturesque, and the Statuesque. All of these shorter essays, published around the same time, constellate Cole­ ridge’s project to define aesthetic terms. In reaction to then popular theories ofassociation, Coleridge attempts to furnish for both the artist and the philosophical critic an objective and uni­ versal principle that serves originality, imagination, beauty, and any other vicissitude of the creation, experience, and judgment of art. While the re­ sulting term “multeity in unity” is assumed in Romantic scholarship as in­ telligible per se, it is my purpose to examine its constituent parts and thus significance as a term in Coleridge’s criticism. I ultimately will argue that the aesthetic categories the Picturesque and the Statuesque represent ana­ lytically distinguished impulses, respectively, of the centrifugal and centrip­ etal forces on which the simultaneously variegating and unifying function of “multeity in unity” is premised. The Statuesque impulse reappears in Coleridge’s later and better-recognized statements on plastic imagination. 2 The Essays on the Principles of Genial Criticism in the Fine Arts afford a ba­ roque but sweeping view of Coleridge’s dedication to philosophical...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 525-549
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-06
Open Access
No
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