Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

Coleridge and the Psychology of Romanticism: Feeling and Thought

Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

Coleridge and the Psychology of Romanticism: Feeling and Thought

Article excerpt

Coleridge and the Psychology of Romanticism: Feeling and Thought. By David Vallins. Basingstoke: Macmillan; New York: St Martin's Press. 1999. xii + 221 pp. 45 [pounds sterling].

This is a book about Coleridge's modes of thinking, so although it begins from his interest in psychology, it is at least as much concerned with the nature of his philosophy. The first chapter, headed `Poetry and Philosophy', develops in relation to Schelling on the one hand, and `Kubla Khan' on the other, the central thesis of the book, namely that feeling and thought are not separable in Coleridge's writings, and that `what claim to be rational arguments are often dependent on sensation, emotion, and intuition' (p. 6). So his poetry and prose reflect `a single--though continually evolving--set of emotional forces' (p. 12) that inform his arguments relating to faith and to truth. There is no need to look further to explain why he turned mainly to prose after 1802: `It seems [...] that his initial speculative expressions of an emotional intuition of unity eventually ceased to satisfy his intellect as he not only sought much firmer grounds for belief than those hesitantly (though enthusiastically) put forward in the Conversation Poems, but also sought to reconcile pantheism with Christianity' (p. 20). The succeeding chapters, on the relation of feeling, thought, and knowledge, on Coleridge's metaphors of thought, and on `The Limits of Expression: Language, Consciousness and the Sublime' range over his published prose works, his notebooks, and his letters. The author seems to have read everything Coleridge wrote, and the forty or so pages of endnotes make a useful reference guide to debates about Coleridge's thought.

In the course of the book David Vallins deals with a number of issues that bear on his general theme, such as Coleridge's increasing concern with religion, his interest in the limitations of language, and his recognition that `only through trying to state the truth do we realize the impossibility of doing so' (p. 39). The problem of the nature of language indeed is in many ways central, both in relation to Coleridge's prose style, his preference for winding sentences and obscurities, and in relation to his quest to `isolate the pre-linguistic essence of subjective consciousness' (p. …

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