Key Collecting Areas: Influences

30.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Aids to Reflection, in the Formation of a Manly Character . . . First American, from the First London Edition . . . With a Preliminary Essay, and Additional Notes, by James Marsh . . . (Burlington [Vermont]: Chauncey Goodrich, 1829). 

Aids to reflection / Coleridge

From the CFPL Vault Collection.  Purchased from Up-Country Letters, 2006.

British Romantic poet and philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) was influenced by German idealist philosophy and in turn influenced the New England Transcendentalists.  Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, written in collaboration with Wordsworth, was first published in 1798.  Celebrating personal feeling, employing language that represented the spoken rather than the written word, and offering ordinary experience as subject matter, this work ushered in the English Romantic movement.

In 1798 and 1799, Coleridge and Wordsworth visited Germany.  Coleridge studied physiology and Biblical criticism at Göttingen and became familiar with German metaphysics.  His subsequent philosophy and literary criticism owed much to his intensive reading of Kant, Schelling, Schlegel, and other German thinkers.  Coleridge considered the creative imagination the highest function of the human mind, and the unity of the creative product as an organic whole a ruling principle.  Imagination was for him mediate between intuitive reason (the source of ideas and universal truths) and sense-based, logical understanding (the source of judgment).  Creative talent was allied with understanding, the far less prevalent genius with reason.  The appreciation of creative effort was the subjective response to beauty as it existed objectively.

Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria (1817) had a major impact on English literary criticism.  His Aids to Reflection, through which many in England and America formed impressions of German thought, was first published in 1825.  When it appeared four years later, the American edition by James Marsh (then president of the University of Vermont) became essential reading for the New England Transcendentalists.  Marsh’s extended introduction provided a convenient summary for readers reluctant to slog through Coleridge’s dense prose. Coleridge’s The Friend, published serially in 1809 and 1810, appeared in book form in 1812, Marsh’s edition of it in 1833.


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