George Whalley and Coleridge: The Grace of Scholarship
George Whalley and Coleridge: The Grace of Scholarship
By John Ferns, Professor Emeritus, McMaster University
George Whalley’s life-long interest in the writings of Samuel Taylor Coleridge began, in earnest, when he was an undergraduate at Bishop’s University (1932-35) with the reading in 1933 of John Livingston Lowes’s The Road To Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination (1927). The frontispiece of the first Boston edition of this book contains an illustration of a storm-tossed ship, perhaps, for Coleridge and for Whalley, a symbol of human life. Through the Second World War Whalley reflected on Coleridge who was certainly near him in the writing of his war poems, for example, in “Battle Pattern” which as I have suggested in the essay on Whalley’s poetry, contains the same seven part structure as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”
It was after the war, however, that George Whalley’s sustained investigation of Coleridge’s writings began. It is important to recognise immediately that Whalley’s life-long interest in Coleridge was part of a life-long interest in the nature of tragedy both as a literary genre and more importantly as a fact of human experience. In his 1947 essay “The Mariner and the Albatross,” Whalley notes that the mariner’s crime is “at the same time wanton and unintentional” (30) and continues “There is the sternness and inexorability of Greek tragedy in the paradox that an act committed in ignorance of the laws governing albatrosses and genii must be punished in the most severe manner” (31). As time went on Whalley became increasingly interested in Aristotle’s account of tragedy in the Poetics (see “On Translating Aristotle’s Poetics,” 1970) and in the connections, particularly with respect to tragedy, between Aristotle and Coleridge (see “The Aristotle-Coleridge Axis,” 1973).
In his earlier essay “The Mariner and the Albatross” (1947), George Whalley quotes a comment of Coleridge’s of 1803, “To know and loathe, yet wish and do!” as an instance of his sense of the tragic. Indeed, George Whalley sees “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” as “both an unconscious projection of Coleridge’s early sufferings and a vivid prophecy of the sufferings that were to follow” (33). Of the poem’s tragic action George Whalley notes, “And it is that very knowledge – afterwards – that the act could, perhaps easily, have been avoided, if at the very beginning he had understood the implications of his action, that makes stark tragedy both in Coleridge’s life and in the Mariner’s voyage” (31). From the beginning, George Whalley’s interest in Coleridge was an interest in tragedy, and this continued into his interest in John Hornby, Edgar Christian, and his ever-deepening concern with Aristotle’s account of tragedy.
In a 1971 paper, “On Editing Coleridge’s Marginalia,” George Whalley described, in detail, the beginnings of his work on Coleridge:
Late in 1945, when I was no longer required (as the 37th Article of Religion has it) “to wear weapons, and serve in the wars,” I was able to turn to a matter that had long occupied my thoughts: to examine – and if possible to delineate – various functions of the human mind. Because it is difficult to correlate one function in one mind with another function in another mind, I had decided to try to find – if such existed – a large body of informal and spontaneous writing by one person whose mental activities were many-sided and whose achievement in each sphere of activity was unquestionably of a high order. I need not rehearse the possibilities that presented themselves; the specification was a rather refined one and the choice eventually – perhaps inevitably – settled on Coleridge without any guess at what was involved. It was an open choice in the sense that I was in no sense a Coleridge speciality – or even a literary specialist – and had no intention of being a scholar; my acquaintance with Coleridge was limited to the poems, those parts of the canon that every literate person sooner or later reads, and John Livingston Lowes’s The Road to Xanadu which I have consumed with excitement as an undergraduate some twelve years earlier. Knowing that a number of manuscript notebooks existed in the possession of the Coleridge family, and that a number of annotated books and a quality of miscellaneous manuscript were preserved in the British Museum and elsewhere, I set about to find out what was what and what was where, and very soon had the good fortune to meet Miss Kathleen Coburn and to find that her work of editing the notebooks had already been under way for ten years or more. I turned therefore to consider Coleridge’s reading and the written record of his response to what he read (with a good deal of help and generous assistance from Miss Coburn). (90-91)
In In Pursuit of Coleridge (1977), Kathleen Coburn describes meeting George Whalley:
In October 1946 there came a first visit from George Whalley. He was teaching in Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec, fresh out of the Canadian Navy (when not on loan to the British Navy). He had had a distinguished career, but of this I knew nothing at the time. I noticed that he sat very upright on a straight chair in my office to discuss Coleridge, Lowes’s Road to Xanadu and the ‘ways of the imagination,’ ‘facts of mind’ as Coleridge called them. I do not know who sent him to me. He seemed to have spent many hours on the bridges of destroyers thinking about poems, and the poets that made them, and somehow, he said “the compass needle kept coming back to Coleridge.”
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In the course of our many hours of talk on these visits I found that George and I had in common an interest in Coleridge’s mind – as distinct from his magic – and in what he did analytically and creatively with his reading. I had a post-graduate class working on a survey of Coleridge’s reading, but could see that it would not produce any adequate composite result. George took over the whole scheme for his London Ph.D, and transformed it, thus becoming inevitably the editor of the Marginalia. But the story here has overleaped itself.
George was searching for the less formal materials behind the poems and the prose works, and I think it was in the first few moments of conversation, looking very intense, he asked if I knew the whereabouts of the Coleridge notebooks. “I have been thinking I should like to edit them,” he said unguardedly. Here was a young man who had been risking his life on the high seas while I had been happily reading and transcribing those notebooks that had been his mental escape from the dangers and tedium of war. There was nothing for it but to be as direct and open as he had been. “If you will pull out the middle drawer of that filing cabinet on your left,” I had to say, “you will find transcripts of about half of them.” There was the slightest quiver of an eyelid, not enough to prevent him saying at once, “Well, then, is there anything I can do to help.” He has been helping ever since, with the notebooks and hundreds of chores large and small, in an unselfregarding way that has to be experienced to be imagined. His high standards of civility and concern for the deepest and highest ends of research have affected the whole Coleridge enterprise (88-89)
George Whalley’s M.A. thesis at Bishop’s University, that he must have been engaged on at the time of meeting Kathleen Coburn, was called A Critique of Criticism. It became Poetic Process (1953). Again in “On Editing Coleridge’s Marginalia,” George Whalley describes this enterprise as well as the work on his London Ph.D thesis that eventually led to his editing of Coleridge’s Marginalia:
Clearly it would be some years before the materials for a study of the growth and activity of Coleridge’s mind would be in manageable condition. While making a preliminary inquiry into the question whether it was in fact possible to investigate another mind without simply finding projected there the patterns of what one wanted to find – (I concluded that it might be just possible; that inquiry was called Poetic Process) – I set about accumulating as much information as possible about what Coleridge had read, and when, and (if possible) why – and what he had done with the reading. The relation to my original intention is clear: as in Lowes’s Road to Xanadu, the study of the reading was to be, not a study of Coleridge’s sources and “influences,” but of his “findings, soundings, and transformations.” Beyond the purpose I had intended, I thought that if it were thoroughly done, and if one were lucky in matters of chronology, this compilation might help to identify and date some of the problematical entries in the Coleridge notebooks, and would provide clarifying and expository evidence for editing the canonical works -- whoever was going to edit them. The first annotated list of reading was based on a study of Coleridge’s books and manuscripts preserved in the British Museum and upon lists and descriptions of annotated books and manuscripts in the possession of the Coleridge family (accessible at that time only to Kathleen Coburn), and amplified by a search of the published works of Coleridge and of his friends, associates, and acquaintances, library borrowing registers, and sale catalogues. The Department of Veterans’s Affairs, and the pretext of a doctorate (for in those days it was a matter of “no degree-project, no cash”), enabled me to spend two years in England preparing my first document on Coleridge’s reading (S.T. Coleridge: Library Cormorant, 2 vols. typescript, London, 1950) which my supervisor Professor Geoffrey Bullough ruefully described as about the size of two London telephone directories. Whether the account of 1,100 titles, with descriptive and critical commentary, was in fact an Appendix to the introductory mental biography, or the biographical essay a suggestive introduction to the reading List, is a nice question that Coleridge himself might have savoured with a twinge of recognition, and left unanswered. I have held ever since to the figure of Coleridge as a cormorant, not so much for his voracious appetite as for his flawless digestion. (91-92)
Poetic Process, or A Critique of Criticism, was among the first fruits of Whalley’s interest in Coleridge, excepting, of course, the strong Coleridgean influence on his war poetry. It was an effort to understand both the nature of criticism and the process of poetry. Whalley himself calls it “a somewhat Coleridgean book” (ix-x). From Coleridge Whalley developed both an interest in “method” and an interest in “inner goings-on.” Also, like Coleridge, Whalley saw that the source of creativity lay in human suffering, “Has not the artist’s creative charter always been patior ergo sum – I suffer therefore I am? And is it not in suffering that knowing and being meet luminously in value?” (xv). Whalley saw art as a means towards achieving or regaining wholeness of being. Like Coleridge and Yeats, he believed that literature was a vehicle for asking the ancient questions that are central to human experience. He quotes Yeats who, like George Grant believed, “Whether we will or no we must ask the ancient questions: Is there reality anywhere? Is there a God? Is there a soul?” (11). The quest for wholeness is a quest for “reality achieved through love” (42). However, the poet’s suffering is like that of the tragic hero, and here again we see Whalley’s preoccupation with tragedy. “The poet suffers; at the same time he watches himself suffer with (as we say) critical detachment” (236). Whalley’s later work on Aristotle confirmed this sense of tragedy.
In his Introduction to Poetic Process, Whalley informs us that the book had its beginnings “in 1946 when I embarked upon a study of the growth and operation of Coleridge’s mind” (xiii). How could one understand poetic process? “Plato and Aristotle seemed to offer the greatest hope; Aquinas was not hostile” (xiii). Later he was to find “the fulfilment, in the work of Kierkegaard, Jaspers and Marcel, of much that Coleridge had striven for” (xiii).
Whalley’s Coleridgean interest in method led him to prose the question, “Was scientific method the sole and final judge of what was real?” (xv). He determined that there was two complementary “was of mind”: the “contemplative” and the “technical,” and that in order to achieve wholeness these “ways of mind” needed to be integrated not opposed. Whalley also noted that “Philosophy, psychology, and criticism [...] had not notably succeeded in giving an adequate account of art” (xvi). He found that “the only philosophers who had any particularly illuminating remarks upon art were those whose thought started from and constantly returned to the irreducibly moral character of human experience” (xvi), since “The reality of art and the reality for ethics intersected in value and knowledge” (xvii).
Trying to clear the ground for an understanding of analysis and method, George Whalley defines analysis, or Aristotle’s analysis, as “a loosening of mental knots, an unravelling of what is dense, compact, germ-like” (xx). He continues “ –the method, the line of approach, wants to be heuristic, an alert way of open-minded seeking which does not prejudge either the nature of the materials or the final issue” (xxi). He writes, in a way that reveals the essential difference between his method and that of Northrop Frye, for example, “Theory and system, and a neat box-hedged plan for poetry – these were never my intention” (xxii). Whalley quotes Coleridge on the reason for our need to re-integrate the “contemplative” and “technical” “ways of mind”: “we have purchased a few brilliant inventions at the loss of all communion with life and the spirit of nature” (xxiv).
The attainment of wholeness of being is only possible if one’s intent is innocent and pure, “if the object of contemplation or technical analysis is approached with love, [...] the vision of God is reserved, not for the excessively clever, urbane or cultivated, for the men of ponderous learning or for those who display sharp singleness of purpose in the world of affairs or research; but quite simply for ‘the pure in heart’ – not for the expert but for the initiate, and for the initiate in the discipline of humility, patience, and wholeness” (xxiv). Indeed, “Purity of heart” is defined by Whalley as “a quality of intension” (xxvii). We can, perhaps, best understand the way in which “Purity of heart” is Coleridgean as well as a Whalleyan ideal by recalling that John Keble author of the hymn “Blessed are the pure in heart” was one of those Anglican clerics influenced by Coleridge’s later religious writings and conversation. Without perhaps realising it originally, Whalley’s exploration of Coleridge became an exploration of the Anglican tradition into which he, like Coleridge, had been born. Both Coleridge and Whalley were sons of clerical fathers who were intended for or contemplated the possibility of following their fathers into the church. If they did not become clerics, they, certainly, emerged as members of the Anglican clerisy.
With regard to “intension,” George Whalley writes, “Biography, personal statement, and reminiscence, throw at best a wavering light upon intension” (xxvii). Indeed, he sees the use of such material in criticism as “a disguised attempt to explain the contemplative in terms of the technical.” The “technical” here reveals the “mechanistic determinism [of] scientific method” (xxvii). In Whalley’s view what is required in order to re-integrate the “contemplative” and the “technical” is to find “the speculative meeting point of the two – in inference, discovery, vision, invention” (xxvii). Significantly, he quotes Coleridge’s account of the artist’s imagination in this connection, “a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM” (xxix). Also, like Coleridge, Whalley perceives the proximity of art and religion, though fairly he attributes the “penetrating insight” to Matthew Arnold. Whalley concludes, “I cannot see how any honest inquiry into art can be devoid of religious implications” (xxix).
Considering Whalley’s later effort to align the criticism of Aristotle and Coleridge (in “The Aristotle-Coleridge Axis,” 1973), it is interesting to notice that he draws upon both critics in his effort to define art in Poetic Process. From Aristotle he quotes, “All species of Poetry are in their general conception modes of Mimesis [Imitation]” and “Poetry is a more philosophical and higher thing than history; for poetry tends to express the universal” (12), while from Coleridge he quotes the definition of poetry as “the best words in the best order” (12), and with the support of Coleridge’s memorandum book he stresses the importance of love in the “poetic process”: “And yet what ample materials exist for a true and nobly-minded Psychologist – for in order to make fit use of these materials he must love and honor as well as understand human nature -- rather, he must love in order to understand it” (38). George Whalley sees love as essential to our sense of reality, “But when we grasp reality, we also become real [...]. The fullest and deepest reality is achieved through love [...]. Only in love can we give ourselves out fully enough to lose ourselves and so make real both the world and ourselves” (42). So, for Whalley, “The end of true knowledge then is not material power but spiritual awareness, a capacity for love of an increasingly sensitive and all-embracing kind” (43).
Like Whalley, Coleridge saw no divorce between poetry and life. Distinguishing between Kant and Coleridge, Whalley writes, “Not only does Kant’s theory of imagination reveal the technical mind and Coleridge’s the contemplative, but Coleridge recognized the distinction and specifically drew attention to it within his own theory of the imagination” (50). In Poetic Process, at least Whalley reveals himself as a more Coleridgean than Aristotelian critic when he writes, “Coleridge was more than an amateur of metaphysics; he wishes to extend the compass of metaphysics to embrace the poetical sphere; he also wished to break through the limitations of the Aristotelian logic. The opposite to poetry was, he saw, science; he wished to extend logic into the sphere of poetics” (56). A consideration of Whalley’s development as a critic reveals a change in which by the 1970s we can see him become a more Aristotelian than a Coleridgean critic following his effort in 1973 to describe an axis between them. Even here, in Poetic Process, Whalley’s sense of Coleridge’s “break[ing] through the limitations of the Aristotelian logic” (56) is perceived in Aristotelian terms.
Although one senses that Whalley has Coleridge in mind when he writes, “When in one person a peculiar virginity of consciousness and the gift of empathy come together you have a great artist or a great critic” (75), the characterisation also describes Whalley who can be fairly characterised as “a great critic.” He continues, “To be able to observe and render into language this regeneration of ordered feeling is to be a true critic; and that explains why great artists are usually the best critics” (76). Once again Coleridge appears to be in mind, but the enterprise described here, to achieve a “regeneration of ordered feeling” (76), is equally George Whalley’s.
Having noted that Coleridge “had rejected Hartley by 1800” (79), Whalley says that, “Coleridge justly observed that the antithesis of poetry is science” (119). Since poetry is an art of language, Whalley considers the activity of language itself. He writes, “The radical situation for language is intercourse between two persons, an ‘I-Thou’ relation” (126). Since “intercourse,” “integration,” or re-integration, are present in the “radical situation” of language, Whalley seeks ground for the re-integration of the “contemplative” and “technical” “ways of mind” in language itself. For instance, he points out that the original meaning of the Greek word “logic” is “technique of reasoning.” For Aristotle this meant “testing one’s thinking.” From this basis Whalley proceeds to argue, “I shall therefore use the term Poetic (on the analogy of Logic – and there is good Aristotelian authority for it) to indicate ‘the method of making relations in art’” (131). We should raise the question here whether the kind of definition of “logic” that Whalley says Aristotle offers should be seen in the earlier mentioned Coleridgean terms to constitute a limitation. Where Whalley reveals his Coleridgean preference in Poetic Process is in a sentence like the following: “Poetic differs from Logic most markedly in this: it has no rules of procedure and never can have” (131). It is hard to imagine Aristotle subscribing to this or for that matter the Whalley of twenty-five years later.
What follows in Poetic Process is an Aristotelian-Coleridgean investigation of the nature of language, metaphor and symbol. Whalley notes “Aristotle’s sense that command of metaphor is the mark of genius in a poet” (142). Metaphor, Aristotle had defined as, “the figure of speech in which a name or descriptive term is transferred to some object to which it is not properly applicable” (142).
For an understanding of “the logic of poetry” and of symbolism, Whalley turns to Coleridge: “For, as Coleridge learned, poetry has ‘a logic of its own, as severe as that of science; and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex and dependent on more and more fugitive causes’” (143). With symbolism Whalley offers both Coleridge’s definition from The Statesman’s Manual (1825), “‘It [a symbol] always partakes of the reality which it renders intelligible; and while it enunciates the whole, abides itself as a living part in that unity of which it is representative’” (172) and a Coleridgean definition of his own, “The symbol has its origin in sensory experience, and by partaking in an event of reality becomes (to extend Coleridge’s visual figure) translucent – a lens (as it were) focusing for the poet the Value of the event, and also bringing the event into sharp focus for the reader” (173).
Whalley described Poetic Process as a “somewhat Coleridgean” book. It is a thoroughly Coleridgean book that shares both Coleridge’s insight and confusion. It took Whalley twenty years of further thought to attempt a critical alignment of Aristotle and Coleridge in the course of which he emerged as a more Aristotelian and less Coleridgean critic. Poetic Process is a book that bristles with perception but is also confusing and frustrating. It is the product of Whalley’s early enthusiasm for Coleridge. As Whalley proceeded this early enthusiasm matured into a juster estimate of Coleridge’s strengths and limitations. This maturation was reflected in Whalley’s own critical practice. In comparison to the number of pieces he published on Coleridge in the 1950s and 60s, Whalley published very few pieces on Coleridge in the 1970s. Rather he turned his attention to an increasingly articulate, determined and, one should say, Aristotelian defence of the humanities. This, as we shall see, in the final chapter was the culmination of Whalley’s career as a critic.
We might add that Whalley’s later path resembled Coleridge’s in this. Aristotelian, in Whalley’s definition, Coleridge in his later writing came to rely more upon Reason and less upon Imagination. As Coleridge turned to philosophy and theology in his later writing, Whalley turned to a defense of the humanities in his, a defence that emerged from an attempt in 1973 to establish an Aristotelian-Coleridgean axis. Becoming a more Aristotelian critic himself with his work translating the Poetics, Whalley wished to see Coleridge as Aristotelian too. Was Coleridge in Plato’s country guided by Aristotle? or is Whalley our Aristotelian guide to Coleridge’s Platonic country? Perhaps later close reading of “The Aristotle-Coleridge Axis” will supply some answers.
In the same year as Poetic Process, George Whalley’s defense of Biographia Literaria, “The integrity of Biographia Literaria,” appeared. Here Whalley notes that Arthur Symons had called Biographia Literaria “the greatest book of criticism in English and one of the most annoying books in any language.” Characteristic of his search for wholeness, Whalley seeks the book’s “integrity.” Indeed, with respect to Coleridge it becomes clear both in his critical articles and in his editing of the Marginalia that Whalley strives to render whole what Coleridge had often left incomplete. This is an Aristotelian enterprise of the kind which, of course, George Whalley also alter attempted as can be seen in “On Translating Aristotle’s Poetics” for the incomplete Poetics itself.
George Whalley’s defense of Biographia Literaria is inspired by the fact that “nobody seems ever to have sought the integrity of the book itself” (87). He seeks to clarify mental confusion which Coleridge had argued is caused by “‘the absence of the leading thought [...] a staple, or starting-post’” from which “‘things the most remote and diverse in time, place, and outward circumstance, are brought into mental contiguity and succession, the more striking as the less expected’” (89). George Whalley seeks to retrieve Biographia Literaria, and by extension Coleridge, from the misinterpretations both have received:
From the start Biographia Literaria was doomed to be misinterpreted; for a superstition about its obscurity and fragmentariness was immediately circulated and has never been dispelled. That prejudice has worked steadily against Coleridge’s reputation as a thinker and critic; it has also helped to conceal the precise nature of his and Wordsworth’s poetic achievement. For a poet’s work will always suffer damage when approached through a misunderstanding of his critical theory. (101)
Throughout his work on Coleridge, from A Critique of Criticism to Marginalia, Whalley has sought to furnish as complete as possible an understanding of Coleridge’s critical theory. Biographia Literaria is important because it contains Coleridge’s best criticsm, his criticism of Wordsworth. And Whalley accepts Coleridge’s own assessment of what constitutes his best work, “‘Were it in my power,’ Coleridge wrote to Britton in 1819, ‘my works should be confined to the second volume of my ‘Literary Life,’ the Essays of the third volume of the ‘Friend’ [i.e. the essays ‘On Method’], with about fifty or sixty pages from the two former volumes, and some half-dozen of my poems.’” (93)
Whalley sees Coleridge’s “leading thought” for Biographia Literaria in a letter to Southey of July 29, 1802 in which he writes “‘Wordsworth’s Preface is half a child of my own brain [...] there is a radical difference in our theoretical opinions respecting poetry; this I shall endeavour to go to the bottom of, and, acting the arbitrator between the old school and the new school, hope to lay down some plain and perspicuous, though not superficial canons of criticism respecting poetry’” (90). Whalley sees “This letter of 1802” as “virtually a sketch for the Biographia; it also shows why Coleridge should feel for the Preface a sensitive personal responsibility and the kind of impatience we sometimes feel for our own offspring” (91). A year later Coleridge resolved “‘to write my metaphysic[al] work, as My Life, & in my life – intermixed with all the other events or history of the mind & fortunes of S.T. Coleridge’” (92). Having completed his Biographia, Coleridge wrote to Southey in January 1816, “‘a true philosophical Critique [of Wordsworth’s poetry] was wanting, and will be of more service to his just reputation than twenty idolators of his mannerisms’” (95). Whalley comments, “Unfortunately the ‘idolators’ have exerted far more influence in the last one hundred and thirty-five years than Coleridge has” (95). Coleridge regarded Wordsworth as “the first and greatest philosophical poet, the only man who has effected a complete and constant synthesis of thought and feeling” (95). Besides seeing here essential terms of T.S. Eliot’s criticism a century before Eliot, we can see the depth of reverence in which Coleridge held Wordsworth as the poet capable of effecting the re-integration of thought and feeling that Coleridge, and later Whalley, desired. What Whalley seeks to elucidate in Coleridge is his “true and manly metaphysical research”: “he had long known that the results would have to form the bed-rock, not only for his poetical theory, but for whatever of value he had to say upon psychology, philosophy, theology, politics, ethics, metaphysics” (99).
Whalley’s next significant effort on Coleridge’s behalf was his book Coleridge and Sara Hutchinson and the Asra Poems (1955). In the summer of 1950 Kathleen Coburn had allowed Whalley to read Sara Hutchinson’s letters. But as Whalley reveals, “My interest [...] was not primarily biographical: it had more to do with Coleridge and his poetry [...] the ways Coleridge’s actual experience was transmuted into poetry” (xiii-xiv). In the book Whalley follows out Professor T.M. Raysor’s “acute observation that the Notebook fragments referring to Sara offer ‘the key to most of Coleridge’s poetry between 1802 and 1820’” (98). Since much of the book concerns “Dejection an Ode” the book emerges from Whalley’s judgement that the poem is “one of the finest poems Coleridge ever wrote” (101).
Although Whalley was engaged from 1955 to 1962 with work on The Legend of John Hornby (1962), he continued to publish significant articles on Coleridge which reveal his developing sense of the poet and thinker who was so central to his own life and thought. “Coleridge’s Debt to Charles Lamb” was published in Essays and Studies in 1958. Though Charles Lamb was two and a half years younger than Coleridge, in this article Whalley considers Lamb’s part in bringing about the annus mirabilis (1797-98) in Coleridge’s writing. Whalley writes, “For poetic virtue is moral virtue: it is to do with honesty, purity of heart, clarity of intention [...] Lamb pointed to Walton’s Compleat angler as ‘the very spirit of innocence, purity, and simplicity of heart’” (77). On November 8, 1795 Lamb wrote to Coleridge, “‘Cultivate simplicity’” (77). Whalley, then, offers the following plausible speculation, “Was it perhaps, refracted through Wordsworth’s peculiar socio-linguistic theory, that became the guiding principle for Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads –?” (81). If Lamb was an influence on Coleridge, Coleridge was an influence on Wordsworth. As Whalley notes, “The Ancient Mariner and practically all of Coleridge’s best poems for that period were finished before Wordsworth started writing Lyrical Ballads in March or April 1798” (84). Indeed, as George Whalley’s earlier article “Preface to Lyrical Ballads: A Portent” (1956) makes clear, “The Preface to Lyrical Ballads was in some sense a joint production. (467):
Yet a close study of the Preface, of its origins, and of the controversy it attracted in Wordsworth’s day, brings one to see how peculiarly Wordsworthian a document it is, and how little rooted in Coleridge’s practice of poetry or in his instinctive philosophy. Coleridge stood aside from the Preface; and the Preface, far from securing Wordsworth’s poetic freedom, consolidated his movement towards disaster. (467)
Discussing Wordsworth’s “theory” further, George Whalley deals with the relation between theory and poetic practice in a characteristically nautical manner. “A theory serves a poet as a compass serves a sailor: it can keep him on a straight course, but it cannot find his destination” (474).
In 1961 Whalley was invited by Kathleen Coburn and Sir Rupert Hart-Davies to edit Coleridge’s Marginalia for the Bollinger Coleridge edition. For a time he was also editor of the poetry as well. Editing the Marginalia was a monumental task. Although only one volume had appeared (in 1980) by the time of his death in 1983, Whalley had actually materially contributed to four of six volumes. At the time of agreeing to edit the Marginalia Whalley had already been working extensively on Coleridge for sixteen years. Through the late forties, fifties and sixties he published regular articles and reviews, encyclopedia and bibliographical entries on Coleridge besides the two books already mentioned. Only in the 1970s as he was completing the Marginalia and defending the Humanities did he cease to publish as frequently on Coleridge.
Whalley’s 1960 article “Coleridge and the Prometheus of Aeschylus” records Coleridge’s remark to Byron of 1815 in which he indicates “‘my object to reduce criticism to a system by the deduction of the Causes from principles involved in our faculties’” (18). Whalley states in this connection that “Coleridge’s philosophy of history centred around his conviction that the appearance and spread of Christianity is the most important event in history, imparting a deep and prolonged moral and imaginative impulse to Western culture” (18). He sees Coleridge as involved in a George Grant-like enterprise “at pains to protect the primacy – in Christian terms of the Hebrew culture, and the integrity of the link formed by Greek thought between Hebrew and Christian” (18). The Hebrew and the Greek as Matthew Arnold was later to argue (perhaps by way of his father and Coleridge) formed the poles of Western thought. As Whalley writes, quoting Coleridge’s Philosophical Lectures, “In the final preparation for Christianity, Coleridge saw coming together ‘the two great component parts of our nature’ in the Hebrew and Greek cultures, ‘namely that of the will in the one, as the higher and more especially godlike, and the reason in the other, as the compeer but yet second to that will’” (20).
This 1960 article prefigures Whalley’s 1973 “The Aristotle-Coleridge Axis” both in revealing Coleridge’s familiarity with Aristotle’s Poetics (23) and in indicating that “by 1825 Coleridge had to some extent renounced the centrality of art: above the order of imagination he could see the order of reason, though the higher did not exclude the lower; and above literature stood the sacred writings” (23). This, perhaps, is an indication of the Aristotelian element that Whalley believed was present in Coleridge’s criticism. Whalley’s work from the time of assuming the editorship of the Marginalia required him to be more systematic than Coleridge had ever been. Coleridge had commented on his marginalia “the main portion of [which] is still on the ground, ripe indeed, and only waiting, a few for sickle, but a large part only for shearing and carting, and housing.” (Portrait, 278). From 1961 on Whalley became, in effect, Coleridge’s harvester:
Can it be that Coleridge’s mind and sensibility, his intellect and poetic power, in their very incapacity to complete themselves, tell us what we could not otherwise have known – about him? And about ourselves? Can it be that here, where the philosophical mind and poetic skill meet in his profound insight into human experience, we shall encounter what criticism has so far been loath to consider: the possibility that Romantic art (when not degenerate) is a genuine polar counterpart to Classic art rather than a more or less deplorable falling from grace? Subjectivity, as more self-preoccupation, self-expression, the enervating projection of desire into fantasy, is of course reprehensible and justly to be condemned. But is that the only alternative to the “objectivity” of classical art? If in true art and in true knowledge we find in a moment of relation the coincidence of the inner and the outer, the object and the subject, then the terms “subjective” and “objective” may at best be relative and imprecise, and for discussions (above all) of art most approximate. Certainly Coleridge, as his own imaginative writing and his manifold speculations will show, never mistakes a distinction for a real division in the world. (Unlabyrinthed, 344)
Whalley’s interest, however, was in the whole of Coleridge. During the 1960s, while he was engaged in the editing of Coleridge’s poetry as well as the Marginalia, he published two important articles on Coleridge’s poetry. “Late Autumn’s Amaranth: Coleridge’s Late Poems” begins with a frank admission – “clearly we are not dealing with anything like Yeats’s Last Poems” (162). But Whalley announced his intention immediately after his: “I should like to see whether, by looking carefully at those poems [Coleridge’s late poems], we can know something about Coleridge’s art and his view of his art that we should not otherwise know” (162). Whalley wishes to correct the “tendency to see the Dejection ode as marking the end of Coleridge’s poetic career, and to say that after this he turned to arid philosophizings and unrewarding theological speculation” (160). Against this tendency, Whalley believes that “contrary to what a few lines in Dejection seem to say, philosophy and theology, being radical to his thought, were correlate to, and not hostile to, poetry” (112). Whalley indicates that “the last twenty-seven years show a much smaller production of verse than the central ten years 1797-1807” (164), yet “five-sixths of the surviving ‘late’ poems were deliberately included by Coleridge in his last collected edition” (165). The conclusion about Coleridge that Whalley draws from his examination of the late poems is that Coleridge
knew what he was doing and why, and that much of what he wrote in the later period is not only not a repetition of what he had written before but a defiance of it [...]. he seems to withdraw within the confines of a few plain and familiar forms, as though by suffering the discipline of an ascetic plainness he would come upon the sanctity of unadorned clarity. Being an art of renunciation, it is a courageous art. (177-179)
By examining Coleridge’s later poetry Whalley not only rescues for consideration important poems like “Youth and Age,” “Work Without Hope” and “Epitaph,” but also reveals the importance of Coleridge’s later philosophical and theological thought in its relationship to his poetry.
“Coleridge’s Poetic Canon: Selection and Arrangement” (1966) reveals some of the difficulties faced by Whalley as an editor of Coleridge. He writes, “The difficulty starts with STC himself, who gave little enough guidance about collecting his work and whose successive publications in verse do not lend themselves to easy or systematic consolidation” (12). He notes that, “the last edition (1834) is afflicted by languor and by the uncritical acquiescence of a man who has lost interest in designing his own monument” (12). Much of Whalley’s effort as an editor of Coleridge involved filling in gaps that Coleridge had left incomplete and bringing order to writing that Coleridge had left disordered. Was Whalley a Coleridgean or Aristotelian critic? Whalley seems in the end to have had a more systematic and systematising mind than Coleridge, indeed, to have been in the end more Aristotelian than Coleridgean.
Whalley’s careful organization of his own papers while not “designing his own monument” shows a concern for the future scholar that Coleridge’s neglect does not reveal. Having examined Coleridge’s poetic canon George Whalley concludes, “For a scholarly edition of Coleridge’s poems there is now I believe, no serious alternative to a single chronological sequence” (22).
Writing of “Coleridge and Vico” (1969), Whalley reveals in the values he finds in Coleridge values that we also identify as his own:
the continuity of ‘the shaping spirit,’ the abiding patterns of human thought. Perception, imagination, reason, he [Coleridge] saw as activities implicating the whole person, and all the infinitely various products of our faculties were evidence to him of man’s integrative nature and a capacity for wholeness; for he conceived the ‘faculties’ as dynamic and concentric. His sense of social responsibility was on the same pattern. With a large generosity that marched the physical exuberance of his youth, he seems to have considered that no thought was his own until he had given it away. (226)
Indeed, at times Whalley saw his work on Coleridge as drawing him into “an obliquity truly Coleridgean.” (“On Editing Coleridge’s Marginalia” , 90).
Twenty-five years of sustained work gave Whalley’s writing on Coleridge a maturity that is fully evident in “On Reading Coleridge” (1971) as generously shared advice. His sense of Coleridge’s importance emerges immediately, “The epithet ‘myriad-minded’ goes well with Coleridge too, not simply for the depth and range of his learning, impressive though that certainly is, but rather for the power, daring, and integrity of a mind that throughout the years of his life strove to find unity in multeity” (1). Whalley endorses Kathleen Coburn’s judgement of Coleridge as “Author of The Ancient Mariner and other unforgettable poems. Great literary critic, psychologist, philosopher, theologian, lecturer, journalist, constructive critic of church and state” (1). It is clear that Whalley’s attitude to Coleridge is one of respect, not to say reverence: “To read Coleridge’s work carefully, to enter into the activity of a mind so vivid, patient, and perceptive, brings the exhilaration (as Coleridge himself would have wished) of heightened awareness. For his many-faceted work is unified by a most searching mind, and is nourished by a personal sanity and rich memory that few thinkers of comparable force have enjoyed” (1). For Whalley, Coleridge is a thinker whose thought is dynamically related to his living as Whalley’s also was. He quotes Coleridge’s comment in the margins of Teten’s Philosophische Versuche, “What are my motives but my impelling thoughts – and what is a Thought but another word for ‘I thinking’?” (2). Also, he cites Coleridge’s intention declared on April 5, 1805 to “‘write as truly as I can from Experience actual individual Experience – not from Book-knowledge’” (2). In this connection Whalley defines experience as “what happened in him, as man, as poet, as thinker, as aspiring religious being” (2). Coleridge, as Whalley notes, was primarily concerned with what he called in his Aids To Reflection “the Goings-on within.”
As though in preparation for his attempt to connect Aristotle and Coleridge in “The Aristotle-Coleridge Axis,” Whalley links the two philosopher-critics here:
Concerned from his [Coleridge’s] early years with ‘Facts of mind’; convinced, as Aristotle was, that ‘In Wonder all Philosophy began: in wonder it ends: and Admiration fills up the interspace’; he developed a most sensitive psychological tact (a favourite word of his). A sense of tactile immediacy lies equally at the roots of his poetry, his philosophy, his criticism, his religion. (5)
Whalley sees Coleridge’s “educative instinct” as “propaedeutic rather than paedagogic [...] a strong impulse to affirm the nature and power of the human spirit” (6). Coleridge, he quotes, sought “‘Education of the Intellect, by awakening the Method of self-development’” (6). From his work on Coleridge’s poetry, letters, notebooks and marginalia Whalley enabled himself “to move into his presence, often day by day and hour by hour” (7).
From his vantage point of twenty-five years of continuous study, Whalley indicates what is needed to read Coleridge well:
Three things, it seems to me, are needed in reading Coleridge: a sense of the presence – or spell – of Coleridge’s mind-in-action, of his shaping activity; a tactile rather than an abstractive, feeling for Coleridge materials; and, under the eye, materials fine-grained and intricate enough to ‘tease’ us into paying close attention to the particular matters in hand and to hold us from ‘the tendency to look abroad, out of the thing in question.’ (27)
As he directs us to works that will help with Coleridge, he recommends Inquiring Spirit: A New Presentation of Coleridge from his Published and Unpublished Prose Writings (1951) by Kathleen Coburn who he describes as “the most distinguished Coleridgean of our day” (29-30). Inquiring Spirit provides an “imaging forth of Coleridge as a very sensitive, perceptive, many-sided, and intelligent man” (30). Also, he recommends John Livingston Lowes’ The Road to Xanadu (1929) as “this great seminal study” that “has gone far to disarm the curious assumption that in Coleridge metaphysics and abstruse learning did (or ever could) destroy the poet” (31).
Whalley clearly believes that Coleridge is a major poet. For him “The Ancient Mariner,” “Christabel,” and “Kubla Khan” are the “big three,” while the ‘conversation poems,’ “Dejection: an Ode” and “To William Wordsworth” are important poems. From Coleridge’s later poetry “Youth and Age,” “Work without Hope,” and the “Epitaph” “are moving, finely wrought, and accessible” (29). Also, Whalley accepts “the claim – now no longer seriously in question – that Coleridge is probably the greatest literary critic England has ever produced” (31). He quotes George Saintsbury’s judgement in History of Criticism, III (1904), 230-231, “‘So then, there abide these three, Aristotle, Longinus, and Coleridge [...]. Coleridge is the critical author to be turned over by day and by night [...]. Coleridge – not Addison, not the Germans, not any other – is the real introducer into the criticism of poetry of the realising and disrealising Imagination as a crterion’” (31). Whalley believes that Coleridge’s strength as a literary critic lies in his Shakespeare criticism and his criticism of Wordsworth. Of the latter in Biographia Literaria he writes “Biographia is a unified work, not fragmentary, not disorganized; and [...] the unifying theme is Coleridge’s need to arrive at a clear critical definition of Willian Wordsworth’s art” (34). He believes that Biographia Literaria contains “an unsurpassed critical analysis of the art and poetry of William Wordsworth” (35).
The high standards that Whalley set himself in his Coleridge scholarship and fully achieved in his editing of Marginalia are indirectly revealed in his just criticism of E.L. Griggs’ edition of Coleridge’s Collected Letters.
It is no gesture of ingratitude to say of the Collected Letters that the treatment of classical material is less than gratifying, that the bibliographical information is a little sketchy, that the interpolated biographical commentary is sometimes unsympathetic and importunate, and the indexing perfunctory. These are tokens of the magnitude of the task; and much the same can be said rather more strongly of Ernest de Selincourt’s edition of the Wordsworth letters. (36)
For Whalley the letters of Coleridge are important because they contain “much that is central to Coleridge’s art and his thought, poured out (as his conversation was) with a large generosity of spirit, with a rare candour of self-revelation, with the startling virtuosity and exuberance of a great writer” (36). Likewise for Whalley the Notebooks show
Coleridge in every conceivable state of mind from the exaltation of intellectual triumph to the nadir of humiliation and suicidal despair. These are a treasure-house beyond any previous imagining -- dramatic, human, profound, immensely fertile. Surely there can never have been so complete and intimate a record of the mind and nature of genius except perhaps Leonardo’s. (37)
Letters, Notebooks, Marginalia are for George Whalley crucial to gaining a complete grasp of Coleridge. Of the Marginalia he writes,
Covering a wide range of books and subjects, and ranging from terse reactions to long reflective monologues, they represent in many cases the day-to-day, even hour-by-hour, record of Coleridge’s mind and sensibility in intimate relation to other minds... they stand parallel to the notebooks as a means of re-experiencing a perceptive mind in its heuristic and responsive energy. (38)
Whalley’s final judgement of Coleridge as a major writer springs from his sense of Coleridge’s ability to provoke us to fresh thought. In Aids To Reflection Coleridge had written, “‘Self-knowledge, or an insight into the laws and constitution of the human mind and the grounds of religion and true morality, in addition to the effort of attention requires the energy of THOUGHT’” (43). Responding to this quotation Whalley writes, “If we are not prepared to make the first effort of attention and then engage in the activity of thinking, Coleridge’s writing will remain for us ‘forever a sealed-up volume, a deep well without a wheel or windlass’” (43). The need for method becomes clear “method initiated and shaped by an intuition of the integral nature of the thing or matter under inquiry.” (44), method as “‘the ground of Idea, of Thought, and of inspiration’” (44).
“The Aristotle-Coleridge Axis” (1973) is the most important ‘theoretical’ article that Whalley wrote. Here he attempts to describe an axis between the thought of the Platonic Coleridge and Aristotle. Coleridge in Whalley’s argument was an Aristotelian without knowing it. The question to consider is is this really so, or is Whalley himself making Coleridge into an Aristotelean? Is Coleridge truly an Aristotelian critic or is it that Whalley wants him to be one? Is Whalley the Aristotelean guide to Coleridge’s Platonic country or is the guide Coleridge himself? For in his last major article on Coleridge, “Coleridge and the Self-Unravelling Clue,” Whalley writes that “Coleridge’s habit of mind is so commanding that every part seems to involve the whole; we are (it seems) in Plato’s country, conducted by Aristotle” (18). With Hamlet we may wish to question the word “seems.” In questions of this kind “is” is what we want rather than “seems.” “Seems” is Coleridgean, “is” Aristotelean. In the same paper Whalley declares his intention that raises the very questions that confront us here:
For it seems to me that to edit well the work of genius is not only to celebrate the power and triumphs of human intelligence and sensibility, and to keep these alive as matters of delight and wonder in the civilised awareness that we foster and protect, but also to open afresh questions that are never superseded or finally answered, about the nature of knowing, judging, and perceiving. (20)
It, indeed, was Whalley’s lifelong interest to consider “the nature of knowing, judging, and perceiving” (20).
As early as attempting the writing of Poetic Process Whalley had recognized the danger of imposing our own wishes upon the thoughts of others, or seeing in them only what we wish to see. He had thought it possible to avoid this. His intent was always innocent, his modesty complete. So in editing or translating the work of genius he writes in “Coleridge and the Self-Unravelling Clue,”
the attempt to edit the work of a genius is an act of presumption or folly made possible only by some act of grace that supervenes upon the limitations of the inquirer to redeem the poverty of his resources. Between the work-to-be-edited (on the one hand) and the editor (on the other) one expects that there will ideally be some reconciliatory justice at work, that the music will play upon the instrument, that a treaty of rightness will operate for the editor in the same way that the making of a poem is guided by the poet’s sense of rightness. (25)
And speaking candidly here of his work as a scholar Whalley takes us to the heart of his engagement with Coleridge and Aristotle:
Nobody could be farther withdrawn from the world than this imagined scholar. Yet short of being an imaginative author in his own right how could he be closer to the heart of the matter? Who more jealous a guardian of the eternal verities? Who more minutely engaged in the greatest miracle of our human make-up, “the beautiful machine of language”? And his task, not easy either to see of to define, is a most delicate one. He must find the clue that leads to the heart of the labyrinth, “the labyrinth of another’s being” in Yeats’s phrase, and pass the thread to us, his readers, with a hint of the right touch and tension for handling it, so that, coming to the gorgeous chambers of the labyrinth one by one and passing through them in turn, we come to the beginning (not the end) of our quest.
My experience in editing has been limited. I have never tried to edit any author except Coleridge; and trying to turn Aristotle’s Poetics -- the smallest of his surviving writings and textually the most defective -- into an English version that would feel like the Greek original, even though it involves some knotty textual questions, hardly counts as editing; and anyway it isn’t finished yet. But, as Coleridge often recalled the phrase from Giordano Bruno’s Ode, the Marginalia have proved to be “enough and more than enough.” How the work has fared I am not the one to say. One thing I know is that it has called up all the resources I could muster from a literary, classical, theological, and musical training, from the ragbag detritus of ill-assorted enthusiasms, and from some knock-about experience of what is commonly called “the real world.” (26-27)
For Aristotle and Coleridge action was central to human being. As Whalley puts it in Coleridge’s case, “even though the power to act too often slipped through his own grasp, action was in his view the distinctive ground and signature of human integrity, the sovereign ensign of the shaping initiative that distinguishes human beings from psychic mechanisms” (30). But how to determine right action or right art? To his son Hartley in August 1820 Coleridge wrote,
we proceed – / at a tortoise or pedicular Crawl [...] there is no other way of attaining a clear and productive Insight [...] all impatience is an infallible Symptom (sic) that the Inquirer is not seeking the Truth for Truth’s sake, but only a truth or something that may pass for such, in order to some alien End [...] There is no way of arriving at any sciential End but by finding it at every step. The End is in the Means: or the adequacy of each Mean is already its end. (31-32)
For Coleridge “method” is the “self-unravelling clue,” and as Whalley puts it, “It would seem then that for Coleridge inquiry in the finest sense is not the analytic or logical solution of questions the discovery of a line of approach or an arc of action that will disclose those questions which, by seeking to be answered, generate in the inquirer a self-realising and self-finding activity” (33).
At the conclusion of “Coleridge and the Self-Unravelling Clue,” Whalley speaks of that “intuition” that makes “some sympathetic sharing [...] possible.” And with Aristotle and Coleridge in mind (certainly with Coleridge in mind), he concludes:
We begin to wonder and respect, and are all the time sustained by a sense of delight, at the quality of the original we are working on, at the intricacy of our craft, and at the small day-to-day satisfactions that are hardly communicable to the reader unless somehow in the physical texture of the way we handle our materials. In the end, even though the editor may justly have raised a monumental structure worthy of admiration in its own right, we hope for a luminous anonymity that pays tribute to genius, to the copious powers and compass of the human mind, the grace of imagination, the fertility of intelligence. And out of our visit to the “dark adyta,” and our elaborations and explications, and after all the hazardous trials of tact, there – with a little bit of luck – will stand the object of our inquiry -- forthright, actually present in his own person, speaking in his own voice, in his “plainness, and brightness.” For the self-unravelling clue leads to the beginning. What we seek is not the explanation of the great learning, but the clear and fashioned embodiment of it in the writing itself: himself wearing his learning lightly; the author, the original. (39-40)
In “The Aristotle-Coleridge Axis” Whalley begins with George Saintsbury’s statement in History of Literary Criticism (1917), “‘So then, there abide these three, Aristotle, Longinus, Coleridge’” (93). What he wishes to explore, however, is the fact that
a few cautious suggestions have already been made en passant that there is some connection between Aristotle and Coleridge, but this has not (as far as I know) been pursued in circumstantial detail, partly perhaps because both are difficult to explicate, partly because Aristotle and Coleridge are commonly thought to represent opposite poles in criticism. (93)
Whalley’s argument is that Coleridge was an Aristotelian without really knowing it since “Coleridge considered that ‘There are but two possible philosophies – [two] possible seekings after wisdom’ – the Platonic and the Aristotelian, and he was sure that his own position was Platonic.” (93) However, Whalley believes that there is an:
identity in [...] their way of looking at things, the way of sustaining attention, the way of dealing with evidence and of using – and imparting – a guiding insight.
The test of a critic, in my view, is not that he says things that we can repeat with approval and that we can without uneasiness induce others to repeat, but that he uses and encourages us to use liberating and fertile ways of perceiving and thinking; that he purifies our perception and tones and muscles of our minds. In our knowing and in our getting-to-know we navigate by recognitions, by (what Yeats calls) hound-voices, rather than by impregnable propositions or imperious gnomae. To work out something for ourselves, by whatever means, because we must, and then to find it already noticed -- and usually more trenchantly -- by an Aristotle or a Coleridge is reassuring; such felonious anticipations are among the purest delight of the intellectual life. (94)
In my view Aristotle in the Poetics achieved an exceptional insight into the nature of poetry, a view so comprehensive and incisive, so spare, elusive, and paradoxical that it needs through submission to be discovered and rediscovered over and over again, being too radical and clear to be paraphrased or to be held long intact in the mind. And Coleridge – surprisingly Aristotelian in his critical mentality and procedure, no matter how much he may drift Plato-wards in some of his early poems and in much of his later philosophy and theology – provides a complement to Aristotle through his immensely more sensitive and profound understanding of the poetic way of mind – an understanding based upon his exceptional gift of psychological observation and his power of introspection into his own experience in making poetry. For Coleridge suffered a quality of poetic experience that no critic of comparable stature has ever enjoyed. Add to this, in Coleridge, a mind capable of sustained heuristic inquiry that for its suppleness and acuity is difficult to dissociate from certain distinctive qualities of the Greek mind as we hear it embodied in the Greek language finely uttered. (95)
Before indicating what he perceives to be the axis between Aristotle and Coleridge, however, Whalley feels it necessary to state clearly his own critical position:
My own critical position rests upon a small number of premises. (a) The end of a critical act is not an overt evaluation of the work or an explanation of the work or a theory about the work; rather it is an extension of awareness shaped by the work under attention and – starting from the focus of that work – reverberating outward to engage other works and other ideas in a cognitive process. (b) The end of a critical theory is to prepare and stimulate one’s capacities for acts of criticism, and if possible to provide the means of sustaining critical reflection upon works of literature. (c) The end both of a critical theory and of the experience of satisfactory acts of criticism is to affect, enlarge, adjust, and extend our capacity to recognize each literary work simply for what it is; good critical theory is strictly speaking theoria – vision, a way of seeing. (d) Critical theory must be sensitive enough to ensure that the work-to-be-known shapes and controls the cognitive process itself; otherwise the theory becomes a tautological imposition upon the work under inquiry. All these taken together imply that successful critical activity depends upon the sensitive submissiveness of the critic, upon his deft use of his intellectual capacities in appropriately modifying his vision stage-by-stage; in short, that a critic should expect to be a self-effacing mediator rather than a perceptive authority. (The claim that literary criticism should be or can be ‘scientific’ is either self-deception or an instrument of self-aggrandizement.) (95)
In seeking to establish the Aristotle-Coleridge axis Whalley wishes to provide a fresh view of Aristotle. He wants to get rid of the standard view of Aristotle as the provider of “the do-it-yourself tragedy-kit that Italian and French pedants seem always to have hoped the Poetics would turn out to be –” (96). Instead he argues that,
We need [...] to ‘place’ the Poetics, warily and sensitively, in the context of Aristotle’s other writings; we need to place it also in the context of what is characteristic and peculiar in Aristotle’s way of seeing and knowing. None of this can be done satisfactorily – that is, without grave hazard – either through a translation or through an exposition of Aristotle’s thought that does not see his mind as more daring and heuristic than the Middle Ages left it, or than the nineteenth century on the whole took it to be. (96)
Whalley, then, attempts to define Aristotle’s view of poetry. In his stress upon the relation of the whole to its parts and upon the importance of action we can see two Coleridgean characteristics in Whalley’s definition of Aristotle:
He [Aristotle] sees the making of poetic constructs as a necessary human activity which engages its own peculiar pleasure both for maker and for witness. He recognizes that a poem is complex but unified, that the whole is logically prior to the parts, and that each part bears intimations of the whole; a poem is not something put together out of components, but a whole which – both in the making and in the remaking – can be regarded from various angles of vision. That poems are made of words he has no doubt, but he notices that the life of poetry is ‘action’ – drama – and he is the first person to use the term drama in this pure – plain – emphatic way to point simply to action, movement, life – that is, self-declarative action. The principal thing he has to say about tragedy is that tragedy is a special action with profound human and moral implications, disclosing matters radical to our human nature and to our situation in the moral universe. (97)
Tragedy for Aristotle, has six aspects (mere): ‘visuals;’ music; ‘wording’ (lexis) (for the tragic frisson can be achieved by reading as well as by witnessing); ‘thought’(dianoia); plot and character. As Whalley puts it, “All these ‘aspects’ are in indissoluble dynamic relation with each other in order to define, to delimit in the tracing-out of it, a particular moral trajectory, an action that is specifically tragic” (98).
With his emphasis on action Whalley notes of Aristotle that, “Perhaps he does not ‘do justice’ to character as in our tender regard for individuality we might wish” (99). Rather than ‘character’ Aristotle emphasizes ‘action,’ but Aristotle’s praxis is “action of specific quality,” “action of a spoudaios man, of a man-of-(moral)-action-in-
Whalley resists the criticism that Aristotle’s criticism is ‘formal’ or ‘moral’ in any limiting sense. He writes, “In recent years Aristotle’s Poetics has been treated in some circles with condescension on the grounds that the criticism is ‘formal’ or that it is ‘moral’” (100). Whalley argues that, “Aristotle is a moral critic inasmuch as his praxis is nothing if not morally determined and his values emphatically man-centred” (100). He believes that, “What Aristotle has done in the Poetics is to specify the forces that induce form, that induce life” (100-101).
Having defined the thrust of Aristotle’s criticism, Whalley seeks to establish the axis with Coleridge’s criticism in their mutual concern with tragedy. As he puts it,
If we are to make a direct comparison between Coleridge and Aristotle it had better be in the matter of tragedy, disregarding for the moment the possibility that Aristotle’s scheme of tragedy may in fact be a scheme for poetry altogether. What Coleridge has to say about tragedy (in the fragmentary records that have survived) is mostly about Shakespeare, very little about Greek tragedy. (101)
Whalley notes that Coleridge’s Shakespeare criticism is credited with showing us the range of Shakespeare’s genius though Coleridge concentrates more on ‘character’ than ‘plot.’
Accounting for Coleridge’s criticism in general terms, Whalley states that, “Coleridge’s critical effort falls into two blocks or streams” (102). These were his Shakespeare lectures and his lectures on other writers that were given between 1808-1819. Whalley quotes Coleridge editor T.M. Raysor that, “‘In the history of English criticism there is not work which surpasses in interest Coleridge’s lectures upon Shakespeare’” (103), and then comments “perhaps a little exaggerated but not far wide of the mark. The other book, Biographia Literaria, written in 1815 after some ten years’ gestation and published in 1817, contains his nearest approach to a coherent theory of poetics; it contains some general reflections that had been worked out in the Shakespeare lectures, but the book, arising from his reflection upon the peculiarities of Wordsworth’s poetry and poetic genius, analyzes and celebrates Wordsworth’s poetry in what is still one of the most eloquent and penetrating critiques of a major poet by a contemporary critic” (103). Then, of Coleridge’s criticism of Shakespeare and Wordsworth, Whalley adds, “I find the deepest interest of both to be in the clear evidence they give of the Aristotelian quality of Coleridge’s critical perception. We know that Coleridge owned at least one collective edition of Aristotle and that he used it regularly for his work in logic, psychology, and the theory of knowledge” (103).
In indicating the Aristotelian element in Coleridge’s poetics, Whalley acknowledges that it may not have been “consciously derived.” He writes:
Yet Coleridge seldom refers directly to the Poetics except, in passing, to take a sly nip at those who treat Aristotle as ‘the infallible dictator.’ I presume that the Poetics from familiarity had dropped far below the threshold of conscious recognition; whatever is Aristotelian in Coleridge’s poetics is not consciously derived. Coleridge’s starting-point and preoccupation in any case is ‘facts of mind,’ ‘ways of mind,’ ‘inner goings-on.’ As a critic (he said) he ‘laboured at a solid foundation on which permanently to ground my opinions in the component faculties of the human mind itself and their comparative dignity and importance.’ He knew – and said he had been taught at school – that poetry has ‘a logic of its own as severe as that of science; and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more and more fugitive causes.’ He was consequently alert to the peculiar quality of Aristotle’s way of thinking and outlines it brilliantly in the fifth f his Philosophical Lectures (1818-19). He notices Aristotle’s immense and untiring knowledge; he notices how ‘the dialectic habits and inductive logic to which during twenty years he had been familiarized in the Platonic school, and which had prepared in a mind so capacious and so predisposed, the spirit, first of observation, secondly of discrimination, and thirdly of abstraction and generalization.’ (Coleridge describes his own mind and memory as ‘capacious and systematizing.’) He notices how Aristotle, ‘grateful for the number of facts, conceptions, possibilities, which Plato’s ever-flowing invention presented,’ yet ‘like an original genius, still bringing them within his own plan of interpretation, brought them into his own construction.’ He notices also Aristotle’s capacity to encompass a complex view with the clarity and precision of a geometrical figure. (103)
Whalley quotes Coleridge on Lessing to the effect that, “He [Lessing] proved that in all essentials of art, no less than in the truth of nature, the plays of Shakespeare were incomparably more coincident with the principles of Aristotle, than the productions of Corneille and Racine, notwithstanding the boasted regularity of the latter” (104).
In order to present “Coleridge’s position,” Whalley notes seven “salient points.” First, he suggests that Coleridge believed that poetry needed rules if only to unite power and beauty. In spite of this, poetry is like a “living body.” Secondly, Whalley says that, “Coleridge objects to the sense of ‘form’ that ‘confounds mechanical regularity with organic form ... Such as the life is, such is the form’” (105). Thirdly, Whalley argues that Coleridge believed in the impersonality of great art: “He insists upon the impersonality of Shakespeare’s art, and upon the absence of self-expression in great poetry” (105). He notes, too, that Coleridge admired Wordsworth’s capacity for ‘distancing’ himself in his poetry. Fourthly, Whalley says that the twenty-second chapter of Biographia Literaria is
a masterly example of the way critical observation can be dramatically presented in order to achieve a single apprehension of complex evidence – [and] shows that Coleridge’s critical way of mind in the presence of a poem is indeed thoroughly Aristotelian in the sense that he is seized and fascinated by what is before him, by the fact that it is, that it is what it is and not otherwise, and that the nature of the thing is disclosed by intensifying passive attention. This way of looking, radical to Aristotle, is radical to Coleridge as reader and critic. (105-106)
The fifth of Whalley’s “salient points” is that, “Like Aristotle, Coleridge thinks of poetry as making; he uses the word ‘creative’ very seldom and then in a way that bespeaks a fastidious theological sensibility” (106). Sixthly, Whalley points out that, “Coleridge himself is haunted in his own life by the ambivalence of action and by the enormous hazard that is involved if initiative is found only in the deliberate will” (106).
The seventh and final point that Whalley has to make about Coleridge’s critical position links Coleridge’s stress upon the importance of imagination to the central place of metaphor in poetry. Mimesis is related to both:
Coleridge’s theory of imagination is a dynamic view, involving a complete break both with the faculty-psychology and with the causal-mechanistic descriptions of his day. Imagination is a state of the person – a state in which the whole soul of man is brought into activity with the correct relation of all its functions. Though imagination needs to be highly specialized to produce poetry, imagination is the birthright of all of us. It is rooted in sensory experience, and draws the feeling-tone of perceptual experience into every kind of mental activity. With the possible exception of A.N. Whitehead, Coleridge is the only man who had produced a theory of poetic imagination that springs in a single arc from the physique of perceptual experience to the engagement of critical and reflexive intelligence and the construction of works of art. What he calls the ‘primary imagination’ is simply sense perception; and the theory of perception anticipates the gestalt theory of this century: perceiving is intrinsically meaningful [...]. He recognized the extreme vulnerability of the poetic process, and how – although it is sustained by Volition – it is easily subverted and coarsened by wilful intention; yet for him there was no place in poetry for luck or accident, though much for the grace of transfiguration. In his passion for desynonymizing words he drew distinctions between imagination and fancy, idea and law, copy and imitation: these show how readily in his mind mimesis stood for a relation between the work of art and whatever stands over against it in reality – a relation every time unique and never in general to be specified, predicted or predicated. His theory of symbolism finds that the only way to avoid inert generalization is to concentrate upon sharply perceived particulars and so to evoke the universal; he finds metaphor to be the fundamental principle of dynamic relation in poetic and symbolic contexts, and asserted that a poetic symbol ‘partakes of the reality which it renders intelligible’ -- a special instance of mimesis. (106-107)
Whalley notes that Coleridge’s interest in ‘character’ stems from his interest in Shakespeare. Yet:
What this conjunction does in Coleridge is not so to speak to snatch the primacy of ‘plot’ out of Aristotle’s hands and reassign it to ‘character’; it is rather to complement and reinforce Aristotle’s position. For Aristotle had seen that tragedy is action of a certain kind and figure; it is induced through a person (‘character’) acting out a certain configuration of events (‘plot’). As long as the action is significant human action, plot can no more be separated from character than initiative can be separated from the tissue of knowing and not knowing. What Coleridge has done is greatly to enrich the possibilities of tragic action by allowing for a greater intricacy of initiative, thereby allowing for a finer, more exquisite definition of moral trajectory; he has done nothing to detract from the integrity of the drama, the self-defining of the action as tragic. (108)
Clearly Whalley sees Coleridge as an essential and necessary complement to Aristotle. Coleridge, of course, had the characterisation of Shakespeare as well as Samuel Richardson to reflect upon. But Whalley sees Coleridge’s account of ‘imagination’ as an equally, if not more, important addition to critical vocabulary:
If indeed Coleridge is in these matters harmonious with Aristotle, as I think he is, he provides an unexpected extension of Aristotle’s unaccountably just and penetrating insight into the nature of poetry. Imagination, which Aristotle had scarcely considered except as our ability to present to the mind ‘pictures’ of things not physically present, assumed in Coleridge’s mind a role that Aristotle would probably have approved -- as the supreme realizing function, a dynamic state of wholeness accessible to all men, and overflowing into things-made so that they may have a life of their own, not being the image of the person who made them. (108)
The conclusion that Whalley comes to with respect to the Aristotle-Coleridge axis is that:
The heart and substance of Coleridge’s poetic theory and practice is strongly Aristotelian – even though he himself may have thought otherwise. Over a long period of time Aristotle’s Poetics has been ‘lost and found and lost again and again; so, in a much shorter span of time, has Coleridge’s. This may be a propitious time faithfully to discover each of them singly and to find both of them together. (109)
A year after the publication of “The Aristotle-Coleridge Axis” in 1973, Whalley published an essay entitled “Coleridge’s Poetic Sensibility” in John Beer’s Coleridge’s Variety: Bicentenary Studies, a volume collected to celebrate Coleridge’s two hundredth birthday. One of the primary intentions of Whalley’s Coleridge scholarship was to attempt to rescue Coleridge’s reputation from Coleridge’s own sense of failure. Whalley’s editing of the Marginalia was itself a mighty effort to gather or harvest what Coleridge had left scattered. In “Coleridge’s Poetic Sensibility” he writes:
Was there in fact such a desolate drying up of his ‘natural faculties,’ in April 1802? In January 1807 when he heard Wordsworth read aloud the first Prelude? In the dark middle years in London, Bristol and Calne before life returned upon the drowned and he could put together Sibylline Leaves and Biographia Literaria? At times he was to feel again ‘that sort of stirring warmth about the Heart, which is with me the robe of incarnation of my [poetic] genius, such as it is.’ Christabel was never to be finished, but much else was; and much else – not in verse – was conceived, unravelled, desynonymised, disintrinsicated, set down, flowing out of a mind marvellously nourished with a sensibility for language, for ideas, for the ways of the mind and the movements of the mind, a sense of the living presence of the minds of men long dead and their work fragmentary; and all with an energy of seeing and thinking that would not let him rest. For him, intuition – the seeing of the mind – was νοερά ουνα, the touch of the intellect; and language, tactile as it came to his call, allowed him to frame, shape give body to the ceaseless heurism of his thinking, his mind achieving the tact of a blind man’s fingers feeling the face of a beloved child. (29)
Earlier in the essay, Whalley put the question, “Can the mind know sometimes better than the eye?” (27). He replied with the suggestion that what we want in terms of mimesis is not so much truth to nature as ‘the truth of nature’ and here perhaps reason can help us even more than imagination. If Coleridge became more Aristotelian in his later years, so certainly did Whalley. He concludes “Coleridge’s Poetic Sensibility” with the following comments on Coleridge:
The ocean of The Ancient Mariner was a poet’s ocean, not a seafarer’s; the peril and grace of that ocean is extended immensely by what he had not yet seen when he wrote the poem. When he had done some seafaring in the double ordeal of the Malta voyage, his eye turned not to be the sea then but to that ocean, even more intense and interior, even more curiously figured, the mind, where through the transfiguration of language pure action can be separated even from the matter that gives it body. So to contruct and reconstruct, within the lyrical forms of the mind’s own working and its self-modifying self-exposition -- this is perhaps to transcend even poetry, even though for most of us poetry above all declares and discloses that clarifying and shaping energy. Whether that is to be called ‘philosophy’ I cannot say; it is a most rare preoccupation, and that is perhaps what Coleridge himself meant by philosophy. Whatever it is to be called, that is what commanded almost the whole of Coleridge’s life, making him -- through a most refined sensibility and the exquisite tact of the mind -- in all things, a poet. (30)
Of course, the culmination of Whalley’s work on Coleridge was the two volumes of Marginalia, the first appearing in 1980 and the second the year after his death in 1984. Of this culminating work we can say immediately that Whalley, with his complete grasp of Latin and Greek, was one of the last generation of scholars capable of editing Coleridge’s Marginalia. In the introduction to the first volume, Whalley describes the Marginalia as “a huge stream of discourse even more remarkable for its copious singleness than for the number and variety of topics embraced.” (xiii). For Whalley the Marginalia is in itself instance of “unity in multeity.” He describes the Marginalia as “the sustained record of the responses of a brilliant, patient, and versatile mind to the events and issues of his own time and to the intellectual and imaginative heritage of Europe” (xiii). The Marginalia puts us, Whalley argues, “in the presence of the powerful heuristic nisus of his [Coleridge’s] mind” (xii). The importance of the Marginalia can be recognized when we realize, as Whalley points out to us, the part they played for example, in a work like Aids to Reflection, “That work the evolution of which can be traced through three distinct sets of marginalia, was the one prose work that in his life-time was successful” (lxiv).
Whalley edition of Coleridge’s Marginalia affords us insight not only into Coleridge’s mind but also into Whalley’s. Of Coleridge we learn that Luther’s Table Talk was “next to the scriptures my main book of meditation, deep seminative, pauline, beyond all other works in my possession, it potenziates both my Thoughts and my Will” (ci). He made more than a hundred notes in it between 1819 and 1829, Whalley tells us. (ci). Also, he tells us that Southey’s Life of Wesley was for Coleridge “my darling Book and favourite of my Library” (ci). Between 1820 and 1832, Whalley tells us, Coleridge made over a hundred notes in it. (ci). We see the depth and extent of Coleridge’s later preoccupation with religion. But throughout Whalley’s notes on Coleridge’s Marginalia we discover the depth and extent of Whalley’s knowledge not only of Latin and Greek but also of Biblical scholarship and the Bible itself. Whalley’s learning is, indeed, equal to the task of editing Coleridge’s Marginalia.
Through his work on Coleridge’s Marginalia, Whalley determined that “the keys” to Coleridge’s “method” are “Energy, dynamics, integration, polarity, process, growth” (cxxvii). As editor his, “aim is to provide aids towards apprehending the unity and the multeity of his [Coleridge’s] mind” (cxxviii). Whalley’s editing becomes, “a means of tracing out the configuration and dynamics of his [Coleridge’s] inner life.” (cxxx). On a more obvious level Whalley is able to identify the “commanding presenses” in Coleridge’s intellectual and spiritual life, “Plato, Shakespeare, Milton, the Bible and the book of Common prayer, Kant, Hooker and Baxter, Spinoza and Lessing, Heraclitus, Pindar, Homer, Aristotle” (cxxxi). And in a way that recalls George Grant’s moving testimony to making contact with antiquity in Technology and Empire, Whalley writes of Coleridge:
All his life Coleridge was astonishingly alert to contemporary events and issues; yet he was also all the time preoccupied with old and abiding things. To live within the web of antiquity, as he did, is one thing; now that we live outside it and try to persuade ourselves that it is well that we do, there is strangeness in the “sting of pleasure” a man may have felt in recognising what he had somehow always known and had forgotten. It is the grace of scholarship to recover and so to reinitiate these ritual acts of recognition; for it is not only the “Commentator and Interpreter” of the Bible who needs to unite “sound Leaning, sober Judgement, and that rare Gift of Imagination which enables the possessor to think, feel, and reason in the form and character of a distant age.” (cxxxi)
Part of Whalley’s “innocence of intent” in his editing of Coleridge’s Marginalia proceeds from his sense of being part of a living tradition of Coleridge scholarship. Speaking of Coleridge’s first editors, his nephew Henry Nelson Coleridge (1798-1843) and Henry’s wife, Coleridge’s daughter Sara (1802-52), Whalley describes their attitude to Coleridge as displaying “a reverential admiration for his genius, and an affectionate desire to help in extending its beneficial influence” (cxxxvi). Describing his own work as editor, he fashions a composite image that unites the ancient Mariner to the members of John Hornby’s party. Whalley’s life-long preoccupations come together here,
an editor of the marginalia needs a stout heart as he gazes out upon the flurry of faded, stained, and tattered pages and gathers about his heels – as earlier editors had not – the blizzard of footnotes that, with the passage of time, the changes in taste, and the decay of so much of the learning that Coleridge loved, is one of the reasons for doing the work. (I,clv)
Whalley’s notes to the Marginalia offer us definitive insights into Coleridge’s achievement. For example, he writes, “The superiority of spirit to intellect, and the relation of the whole and parts, were abiding principles in Coleridge’s view of imagination, reason, and life” (234). He comments further on Coleridge’s phrase, “The whole in every part.” “This favourite phrase of Coleridge’s crystallises the guiding notion in Aristotle’s theory of form and in Coleridge’s theory of imaginative structure” (525). Like Aristotle, Coleridge did not believe that perception was a mirror (567). Also, Whalley points to Coleridge’s use in The Friend of “the wonderful properties of the arch” as “a forcible illustration of the Aristotelian axiom [...] that the whole is of necessity prior to its parts” (683). Clearly through his work on the Marginalia, Whalley continued to identify the Aristotelian elements in Coleridge’s thought.
The truth of the matter is that Coleridge was from the beginning deeply interested in philosophy. He regarded the history of philosophy as “an essential part of the history of man” (Marginalia 2, 52), since philosophy deals with “questions of deepest concern to all [...] What, and for what am I made? What can I, and what ought I to, make of myself? and in what relations do I stand to the world and to my fellow men?” (Marginalia 2, 52). Also, Coleridge saw poetry as allied to philosophy, for if the immediate end of poetry is pleasure its ultimate end is truth. (Marginalia 2, 356). At school James Boyer had taught Coleridge that, “Poetry, even that of the loftiest and, seemingly, that of the wildest odes, had a logic of its own, as severe as that of science; and more difficult, because more subtle, more complex, and dependent on more, and more fugitive causes” (Marginalia 2, 406).
In a 1969 article, “The Harvest on the Ground: Coleridge’s Marginalia,” Whalley describes what he describes what he discovers in Coleridge’s Marginalia. It is throughout Coleridge’s “method” that interests Whalley, a critical method that he believes most valuable:
With Coleridge, the variety is not delineated by the number of variety of texts he wrote notes on; it is seen rather in the sensitiveness, range, and depth of his response to what he is reading and the unexpected turns his response will take. The marginalia trace the figures of his way of thinking and knowing; they body forth in sustained and concentrated activity the “method” that he wrote about in his general introduction to the Encyclopedia Metropolitana and reconsidered at greater length and with more ease in the 1818 edition of The Friend – the activity of mind and sensibility that he sketched out in an informal note of about 1822. There is no way of arriving at any sciential end but by finding it at every step. The End is in the Means: or the Adequacy of each Mean is already its End. Southey once said to me: You are nosing every nettle along the Hedge, while the Greyhound (meaning himself, I presume) wants only to get sight of the Hare, and Flash – Straight as a line! he has it in his mouth! – Even so, I replied, might a Cannibal say to an Anatomist, whom he had watched dissecting a body. But the fact is, – I do not care two pence for the Hare; but I value most highly the excellencies of scent, patience, discrimination, free Activity; find a Hare in every Nettle I make myself acquainted with. I follow the chamois-Hunters, and seem to set out with the same Object. But I am no Hunter of that Chamois Goat; but avail myself of the chase in order to [pursue] a nobler purpose – that of making a road across the Mountain in which Common Sense may hereafter pass backward and forward, without desperate Leaps or Balloons that soar indeed but do not improve the chances of getting forward. (251-252)
Commenting on this passage, Whalley reveals his central interest in Coleridge throughout, his work on the writer on whom he devoted the main part of his scholarly and critical life, “It is this process – Coleridge’s way of getting to know something as living and present to him – that I wish to explore rather than the range or content of the notes, interesting and important though those may be” (253). If Whalley became more Aristotelian and less Coleridgean during his defense of the humanities in the 1970s, he certainly attempted to assimilate Coleridge to Aristotle. Coleridge himself became more Aristotelian as time went on, and it seems likely that Whalley took his lead from his beloved Coleridge. Whalley selected the same engraver (Reynolds Stone) to carve memorials for his father and for Coleridge. Whalley’s life exploring Coleridge was a life spent exploring the Anglican tradition into which he, his father and Coleridge and his father had been born. Behind that tradition lay the medieval tradition of Aquinas and behind Aquinas the power of Aristotle’s thought.
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