Imagination under Pressure, 1789-1832: Aesthetics, Politics, and Utility

By John Whale | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
Coleridge and the afterlife of imagination

I

The imagination is the distinguishing characteristic of man as a progressive being; and I repeat that it ought to be carefully guided and strengthened as the indispensable means and instrument of continued amelioration and refinement. Men of genius and goodness are generally restless in their minds in the present, and this, because they are by a law of their nature unremittingly regarding themselves in the future, and contemplating the possible of moral and intellectual advance towards perfection. Thus we live by hope and faith; thus we are for the most part able to realize what we will, and thus we accomplish the end of our being. The contemplation of futurity inspires humility of soul in our judgement of the present. 1

In his 1818 lecture on the subject of European literature Coleridge confidently announces the pride of place which should be afforded to imagination in the education of children. In this context the faculty is firmly linked to ideas of individual, historical, and social progress. Seen from this optimistic progressivist perspective, imagination is the mainstay, the primary and central principle onto which other faculties and their methodologies can fruitfully be grafted. The very nature of the subjectivity produced by imagination is thus prospective and propulsive, a selfhood based, as Coleridge makes clear, on faith and hope. Keeping such hope alive in the face of what he perceives to be the pervasive and dominant ideology of utility is no easy matter and it leads Coleridge to view the present with anything but humility of soul. The gap between future and present registered in Coleridge's description of the workings of imagination becomes the very means of marking the difference between his Christian optimism and what he sees as the impious, mechanistic, and materialistic manifestations of this alternative vision of social improvement. The population theory of Malthus, the ethics of Paley, political economy, and the 'progress' of England's commercial

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Imagination under Pressure, 1789-1832: Aesthetics, Politics, and Utility
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Imagination and Revolution 17
  • Chapter 1 - Burke and the Civic Imagination 19
  • Chapter 2 - Paine's Attack on Artifice 42
  • Chapter 3 - Wollstonecraft, Imagination, and Futurity 68
  • Part II - Imagination and Utility 98
  • Chapter 4 - Hazlitt and the Limits of the Sympathetic Imagination 110
  • Chapter 5 - Cobbett's Imaginary Landscape 140
  • Chapter 6 - Coleridge and the Afterlife of Imagination 166
  • Afterword 194
  • Notes 197
  • Bibliography 227
  • Index 237
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