Patterns of Consciousness: An Essay on Coleridge

Patterns of Consciousness: An Essay on Coleridge

Patterns of Consciousness: An Essay on Coleridge

Patterns of Consciousness: An Essay on Coleridge

Excerpt

E. K. Chambers concluded his biography of Coleridge with the words: "So Coleridge passed, leaving a handful of golden poems, an emptiness in the heart of a few friends, and a will-o'-the-wisp light for bemused thinkers." This remark has often been quoted as evidence that its author failed to appreciate or to do critical justice to the talents and accomplishments of his subject. But the sense of disappointment with a performance which seems only rarely to justify the promise is one which even the most devout Coleridgeans must sometimes share, and share not only with Chambers, whose sympathy and insight may well be called in question in this instance, but with Coleridge's friends and, indeed, with Coleridge himself. That Coleridge in his later years worked much harder than has sometimes been thought, that he wrote much more than was finished or published, is now common knowledge. But while we should now add to the traditional selections, to Chambers' "handful," a few more poems, we can find few neglected masterpieces, though many unwritten ones. The neglected poetry remains for the most part far inferior, marked not infrequently by a memorable passage, but marred and sometimes overwhelmed by lapses into sentimentality and mere rhetoric. Remove the "handful," and Coleridge ceases to be a great poet. Remove a score or so more, and he ceases to be even a very superior one and sinks to a level somewhat below Southey and Crabbe.

Nor do efforts to enhance Coleridge's stature as, in any strict sense, a philosopher fare very much better. This is not only because he was so often derivative, because his most sustained and systematic phil-

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