BLTC Press Titles

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The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

Esoteric Buddhism

A. P. Sinnett

The Story of Doctor Dolittle

Hugh Lofting

A history of English romanticism in the nineteenth century

by Henry Augustin Beers


"During the first year that Mr. Wordsworth and I were neighbours our conversations turned frequently on the two cardinal points of poetry, the power of exciting the sympathy of the reader by a faithful adherence to the truth

* For Coleridge's relations with German romance, see vol. i., pp. 419-21. For his early interest in Percy, Ossian, and Chatterton, ibid., pp. 299, 328, 368-70.

of nature, and the power of giving the Interest of novelty by the modifying colours of imagination. . . . The thought suggested itself that a series of poems might be composed of two sorts. In the one, the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; ... for the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life. . . . It was agreed that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic. . . . With this view I wrote ' The Ancient Mariner,' and was preparing, among other poems, 'The Dark Ladie 1 and the ' Christabel,' in which I should have more nearly realized my ideal than I had done in my first attempt."

Coleridge's contributions to romantic poetry are few though precious. Weighed against the imposing array of Scott's romances in prose and verse,* they seem like two or three little gold coins put into the scales to balance a handful of silver dollars. He stands for so much in the history of English thought, he influenced his own and the following generation on so many sides, that his romanticism shows like a mere incident in his intellectual history. His blossoming time was short at the best, and ended practically with the century. After his return from Germany in 1799 and his settlement at Keswick in 1800, he produced little verse of any importance beyond the second part of "Christabel" (written in 1800, published in 1816). His creative impulse failed him, and he became more and more involved in theology, metaphysics, political philosophy, and literary criticism.

*"There is as much difference between Coleridge's brief poem 'Christabel' and all the narrative poems of Walter Scott ... as between a precious essence and a coarse imitation of it got up for sale" (Leigh Hunt's "Autobiography," P- 197).

It appears, therefore, at first sight, a little odd that Coleridge's German biographer, Professor Brandl, should have treated his subject under this special aspect,* and attributed to him so leading a place in the romantic movement. Walter Scott, if we consider his life-long and wellnigh exclusive dedication of himself to the work of historic restoration—Scott, certainly, and not Coleridge was the "high priest of Romanticism." f Brandl is dissatisfied with the term Lake School, or Lakers, commonly given to Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey, and proposes instead to call them the Romantic School, Romanticists (Romantiker), surely something of a misnomer when used of an eclectic versifier like Southey, or a poet of nature, moral reflection, and humble life like Wordsworth. Southey, in casting about him for a theme, sometimes became for the nonce and so far as subject goes, a romancer; as in " Joan of Arc" (1799), "Madoc" (1805), and " Roderick the Goth" (1814); not to speak of translations like "Amadis of Gaul," " Palmerin of England," and "The Chronicle of the Cid." But these were not due to the compelling bent of his genius, as in Scott . They were miscellaneous jobs, undertaken in the regular

* "Samuel Taylor Coleridge und die Englische Romantik," Alois Brandl, Berlin, 1886.

t It is in view of his critical attitude, not of his poetry, that Saintsbury applies this title to Coleridge. "The attitude was that of a mediaevalism inspired by much later learning, but still more by that intermediate or decadent Greek philosophy which had so much influence on the Middle Ages themselves. This is, in other words, the Romantic attitude, and Coleridge was the high priest of Romanticism, which, through Scott and Byron, he taught to Europe, repreaching it even to Germany, from which it had partly come" ("A Short History of English Literature," by George Saintsbury, London, 1898, p. 656).

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