Wednesday 21 June 2023

Everyday life with ST Coleridge

I currently continue my years-long attempt (thus far, only partially successful) to 'get' Samuel Taylor Coleridge; this time by reading the second volume ("Darker Reflection") of Richard Holmes's very chunky two-volume biography, from about 25 years ago. 

It is an immersive experience; since the impression given is one of an almost day-by-day account of Coleridge's moods and doings: and these were extremely various, wide-ranging and unpredictable.

STC was an extraordinary character - even in that age of extraordinary characters. I am currently focused on the period around 1810; when Coleridge was in his middle and late thirties. Under the impulses of his nature, and opium addiction; he mostly behaved in an utterly unreasonable and demanding manner - and yet was mostly not just tolerated but cherished. 

What amazes me is that Coleridge's genius was not only acknowledged, but very widely supported. 

At this point, STC was publishing a (more-or-less) weekly subscription magazine called The Friend, which consisted of long, intricate, rambling essays on all sorts of fundamental questions. These issues are unreadably dense for my taste, and most people nowadays. 

Yet there were some hundreds of subscribers, including a couple of dozen members of parliament, bishops, professors - and some of the most eminent of the age such as Humphrey Davey and Walter Scott. 

What is striking to me, is that these people were prepared to work very hard in their reading, in order to grapple with fundamental matters, when they regarded the author as a man of worthwhile insight and knowledge. 

This is analogous to the attitude of those who knew and supported Coleridge. They were able to discern the depth of his genius through a very unappealing but much more obvious surface of gross unreliability; a characterological inability to complete what he began - or even to begin what he had promised. 

I find myself impressed at their discernment of STC's genius through such clouds of obscurity and chaos - and also their capacity to suffer all manner of inconveniences, rudeness and inconsideration, and let-downs - without giving-up on him. 

By contrast with now; I am struck both by the presence of geniuses of a scale and intensity now absent; and also of a society which valued genius - and was prepared to make allowances for it. 

Both are needed if genius is to have a society-wide and beneficial effect. 


Karl said...

I cannot see any geniuses emerging. I currently work in an academic library, so have something of a frontline view of the next generation. None of them read books - everyone uses an iPhone or laptop. The amount of books borrowed has notably diminished since Covid. There is none of that random browsing and following your nose that probably formed many of us - instead they read nothing but what is linked to on the syllabi. It is the perfect manipulation designed to create an unquestioning generation of globalist wage-slaves. Coleridge would not like it here. Sorry for the downbeat tone.

Anonymous said...

I’m intrigued by the amount of work people were willing to do to get at Coleridge’s thoughts; I’m a bit confused by the term ”genius”.

Anonymous said...

(I tried to sign t her Pugh google but it wouldn’t let me)

Bruce Charlton said...

Genius? -

Howard Ramsey Sutherland said...

I, too, work to get through the dense prose and poetry of our 18th and 19th century ancestors. Is that because we think more clearly than they, or are we just less intelligent? Sad to say, I'm pretty sure I know which it is.