Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Don Quixote

By Perojo Arronte, Maria Eugenia | Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America, Fall 2014 | Go to article overview

Samuel Taylor Coleridge on Don Quixote


Perojo Arronte, Maria Eugenia, Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America


Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the leading theorist of British romanticism, is reputed as one of the creators of the romantic interpretation of Don Quixote (Close; De Bruyn). (1) Although this is well known by Cervantes scholars, few Coleridge scholars have considered the relevance of Don Quixote for the British writer. (2) Nevertheless, the assertion that "Cervantes wrote the ground on which romanticism theorized itself" could also be applied to Coleridge's theoretical work (Egginton 1041). Don Quixote was one of the texts through which Coleridge better developed and illustrated his philosophic and aesthetic thought. (3) References to Don Quixote are found in Coleridge's letters beginning in 1808, and his interest in the work and its author, whom he ranked as "one of the great creative minds of the world," kept increasing to the end (Table Talk 1: 166n). (4)

DON QUIXOTE IN COLERIDGE'S WRITINGS

The first reference to Don Quixote by Coleridge appears in his essay "The Soul and its Organs of Sense," published in Robert Southey's Omniana in 1812.5 Carl Woodring notes that he had planned for a lecture on Don Quixote in 1812 (Coleridge, Table Talk 1: 322n). His comments on Don Quixote in the essay, which were similar to those of the 1818-1819 lectures, show that he had already developed his main ideas on the subject by that time. The Omniana essay was later reprinted by Henry Nelson Coleridge in The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1836). (6) Coleridge made his criticism of Don Quixote known in detail through three courses of lectures that took place in 1814 (lecture 6 of this series), 1818 (lecture 8 of this series), and 1819 (lecture 7 of this series), but since he never published any of his lectures in his lifetime, only the contemporary audience and readers who read the reports that appeared shortly thereafter in periodicals had access to them. (7) In 1836, Henry Nelson Coleridge edited lecture 8 of the 1818 series, which also appeared in The Literary Remains of S. T. Coleridge. A hundred years later, Thomas Midleton Raysor reproduced this text in Coleridge's Miscellaneous Criticism (1936). Henry Nelson Coleridge's editorial practice may be deemed dubious since no extant manuscript corresponds to the text of the lecture found in The Literary Remains, and some of the ideas and passages included in it can also be found in some of Coleridge's other personal writings, such as the marginalia and the notes, although he might have used a manuscript now lost. (8) A reliable text for the 1818 lecture, together with a report that had been published in the New Times for 23 February 1818, came finally to light in 1987 thanks to Reginald A. Foakes's work for the Princeton University Press edition of The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. (9) Regarding the 1814 lecture, only the general prospectus of the course and a brief advertisement of the lecture in the syllabus have come down to us. The manuscript notes for the 1819 lecture were first transcribed from Coleridge's Notebook 29 by Kathleen Coburn in her edition of the notebooks for the Princeton University Press edition of The Collected Works; they have also been reproduced by Foakes with minor variations in his edition of the lectures. (10)

Other sources containing Coleridge's comments on Don Quixote are Henry Nelson Coleridge's edition of his uncle's Table Talk (1835), Thomas Allsop's Letters, Conversations and Recollections of S. T. Coleridge (1836), and Charles Robert Leslie's Autobiographical Recollections (1860). Also included among such comments are Henry Crabb Robinson's remarks published in volume one of Henry Crabb Robinson on Books and Their Writers (1938)." It must be noted that however problematic Henry Nelson Coleridge's edition of the lectures may be from a philological perspective, from the perspective of the reception of Coleridge's criticism of Don Quixote it has been highly relevant since it has been the main source, together with the Table Talk, for readers and editors interested in Coleridge for roughly one hundred and fifty years. …

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