Editing Coleridge's Marginalia
When I accepted your kind invitation to address this learned gathering, I had never been to a conference of literary editors before and wondered what like it would be, and consulted my colleagues. Was a literary editor like the ant-eater, I asked, because of his long swift tongue, and those powerful claws of his that can quickly tear open the toughest anthill, and because he also, in the fur of his back, seems to wear an academic hood? Or was he more like the road-runner, or the giraffe, in whom there is so little relation between the speed of the footwork and the grave and steady forward movement of the head? No one figure, they said, would serve; literary editors are too select a race, each too peculiar to his own task to submit to Linnaen classification or the elevated moralizings of Buffon. Fortunately Coleridge was a self-condemned “Mottophilist”: there I might begin, with a motto; or rather two: with George Leigh Mallory’s answer to the question why he wanted to climb a mountain – “Because it’s there,” and a legendary piece of advice for cooking a hare – “First catch your hare.”
To edit the text of the notes Coleridge wrote in the margins and on the flyleaves of his own and other people’s books is presumably no different from editing any text that was informally and spontaneously written and was not intended or prepared for publication. A conclusion depends upon the premisses it stands on, but it is also the case that the premisses are profoundly affected by the preliminary glimpse one has of a possible conclusion. So it may help to start in the natural way at the beginning, and – if need be – to be shamelessly a little autobiographical. For my work on Coleridge marginalia has suffered from an obliquity truly Coleridgean, and is therefore in some sense its own argument.
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 specialist – 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 had 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 quantity 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).
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’ 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 some 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.
At that stage it was necessary to work with some detailed precision in identifying, locating, and describing the books that Coleridge had owned or written in or that had passed through his hands; but the text of the marginalia was not matter of primary concern in preparing Cormorant. I did however transcribe marginalia whenever I could find the originals and had included what I took to be a characteristic selection of these in the descriptive and critical commentary. At that time – and indeed for several years – there seemed little likelihood that the text of all the marginalia could be published because of their extent, and because the specialised and obscure nature of many of the notes would demand a layer of detailed commentary that would certainly be expected to repel both the “general reader” and the most disinterested of scholarly publishers. But the tide of Coleridge scholarship had already set much more strongly than I had guessed; and after the notebooks and a splendid group of annotated books had been placed in the British Museum in 1951, and in 1954 the other major Coleridge family collection of manuscripts and books had been acquired by Victoria College, Toronto – both as a result of Kathleen Coburn’s energetic imagination (or imaginative energy) – it was only a matter of time, and not a very long time, before the long-cherished project for a collected edition of Coleridge works – again through Miss Coburn’s initiative – became a reality under the sponsorship of the Bollingen Foundation. I put aside the refined and amplified version of “The Old Cormorant” that I had been working at, and accepted Kathleen Coburn’s invitation to prepare an edition of all the marginalia for the Collected Coleridge edition. In this form the edition is now being completed, and is expected to make four volumes or so in the Collected Works.
EXTENT OF MARGINALIA
It is not appropriate on this occasion to argue the importance of the marginalia, or to offer a conspective account of them, or to discuss why Coleridge wrote in the margins of his books, or to wonder whether in fact any English writer has left behind such a quantity of notes written in printed books; nor is it necessary to consider the relation between the marginalia and Coleridge’s other work, except to say that he himself regarded many of the marginalia as an important part of his canon, and that he hoped to extract and arrange them for publication, and that when he realised he would not be able to do that, he evidently did not refrain from instructing his earliest editors – his nephew Henry Nelson Coleridge and his daughter Sara (HNC’s wife). They began their work immediately after Coleridge’s death, and by the time they had finished their work in 1853, marginalia represented more than a third of all Coleridge’s published prose work. Yet (for reasons that need not be considered here) marginalia in whole categories of books – particularly philosophical, scientific, and biblical works – had not been published, and few of the sets of marginalia that had been published were complete. Of the 305 titles of association books listed by John Louis Haney in 1903 (some of which were not then accessible) less than 90 titles had been used by the family editors. It is now possible to bring together marginalia from almost 450 titles (by more than 350 authors) and to add to these some 150 titles of books known to have been annotated which are now lost (though some or all the notes in about half the lost books are preserved in some form or other); and to add more than 400 titles of “marked books” – that is, books in which Coleridge wrote his name or which bear a presentation inscription to or by him. Though the marked books provide no marginalia, they offer indispensable evidence for readings – both before and after the beginning of profuse annotation in about 1804 – which are known from other witnesses to have been important to him. The extent of marginalia is not always a mark of relative importance to Coleridge: many books that were of first importance to him are not annotated at all.
The amount of annotation is very variable: quite a number of books have only one or two notes; the most heavily annotated – Jeremy Taylor’s Polemicall Discourses (1674, folio) – has 259 notes. The notes themselves also vary widely in length, from a single word or a pregnant question mark to a small essay that may fill up two or more blank folio pages, or run head-and-foot through ten or twelve openings of an amply margined octavo. At the latest statistical round-up of marginalia for which we have a text, there were slightly less than 8000 single notes. There are 350 notes on the four surviving copies of Shakespeare’s works; two copies of Richard Baxter’s Reliquiae Baxterianae provide 172 notes; there is a total of 170 notes on Schelling, 116 on Kant, 141 on Tennemann’s Geschichte der Philosophie, nearly 200 on various biblical commentaries of Eichhorn’s (all unpublished); the 93 notes on three copies of Robert Leighton’s Works record the initial shock of self-recognition and the growth – through ten years – of these notes into Aids to Reflection; the numerous notes on Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations and on Luther’s Colloquia Mensalia are a curious blend of theological and philosophical reflection and of unflinching personal introspection. Although some books are lightly annotated and the description can be quite brief, others need rather elaborate presentation. The printer’s copy for the single entry for William Law’s edition of The Works of Jacob Behmen (4 vols 4°, London, 1764-81), for example – comprising a General Note on Coleridge’s acquaintance with Boehme’s work and his critical response to it, a description of the volumes, with an account of the provenance of the volumes and of the dating of single notes, the textus and MS of the 177 marginalia, and the necessary footnotes by way of elucidation – runs to 220 pages of typescript. A large proportion of the marginalia either have never been published, or have been published incomplete and sometimes in a text blurred by the desire to make authoritative and public what was intimate and heuristic, or to make respectable what was in its conception daring and even disrespectful. The quantity and intricacy of the materials present problems of housekeeping, but housekeeping is, like women’s work, never done; anyway it is part of an editor’s job so I will say no more of it.
TEXT AND ARRANGEMENT
The presentation of marginalia in printed form has always raised difficulties and has never been satisfactorily resolved except possibly in those fifteenth-century biblical commentaries where a fragment of primary text is placed squarely in the type area and the various orders of notes cluster and constellate around it, in various sizes and characters, according to the peculiar demands of each lemma of text and the learned whims of the editor. With such an arrangement an approach to a diplomatic or type-facsimile production could be contemplated; but for such a lay-out (these days) at least double typesetting would be needed and the prospect of the printer’s bills takes the wind out of the sails of even the most luxuriously disinterested bibliomaniac. For Coleridge himself the sheer restriction of margins, the accidental disposition of blank spaces, flytitles, and flyleaves, and his need to write (from preference) at the site of the text that had initiated reflection – these are all part of the shaping resistance that make the marginalia distinctively what they are; and the fact that he wrote his marginal notes in ink from choice (except in the German books where the “spongy Goodwin sands” of unsized paper would leave any ink-notes, as he said, “Wrecks hulling shapeless in the Margins”) gives a hint of the devil-may-care sure-footedness of his attack. To lose in a printed version the pressure and hazard of those physical restraints is to a great extent to lose the sense of the impetuous gravity of the writing, the élan of the “shaping spirit of Imagination.” For a large edition, however, a typefacsimile would defeat its own purpose by drawing attention to physical oddities that are not consonant with the writing. A number of reproductions of typical pages and openings dispersed through the edition can keep in the reader’s mind’s eye the look of the originals.
Again, although the marginalia seldom confine their discourse simply or strictly to the printed text they are associated with (though quite often they do), it is essential to see either what in the printed text is being referred to or what in the printed text has set his mind dreaming. (I settled finally upon the monkish word textus – plural textūs – to refer to that portion of the printed text to which a marginal note refers or with which it is associated; and incidentally the singular of marginalia is – as Coleridge knew – marginale). Editors of marginalia have always recognised the need to provide textus; but the typographical presentation of textus and MS together raises a difficulty which has almost uniformly been resolved by printing the textus in a smaller type than the MS: this not only makes for “stripy” looking pages, but also ensures that the textus will probably not be read as attentively as is needed to give substance to the MS note. Mr. Richard Garnett, designer of the Collected Coleridge volumes, after carefully considering various alternatives, decided to print the textus in the same size of type as the MS and to print the MS in a second colour – a device (if you can afford it) that makes the primary Coleridge text instantly recognisable yet lightens the visual emphasis on the MS to correspond approximately to the visual effect of the original annotated volumes; it also provides a ready means of showing clearly Coleridge’s own corrections and alterations to the textus.
As in the Coleridge Notebooks (but unlike the Coleridge Letters) I am printing a literatim transcript of the manuscript notes – with peculiarities of spelling and punctuation, slips of the pen, unintentional duplication of words, all cancelled words and passages (as far as possible) restored, and the Greek pointed or not pointed according to Coleridge’s variable practice. In the printed text however these slips and idiosyncrasies will not be signalled by “[sic]” or “[!],” on the assumption that the text will in the end be so accurately printed that the reader can take it that whatever oddity is in the printed text was in fact in the MS. When transcribing textus I have also decided (contrary to HNC’s practice) to follow the typographical idiosyncrasies of the particular edition that Coleridge was using. He wrote notes on books of every period from the fifteenth century to the date of his death; he has a reasonable eye for typography and is aware of the changes in sensation that occur if the book is beautifully printed (as some of his were), or if the type is roughly devised, or if the text bristles with capitals and is (as the Cambridge Press has it) “hirsute with commas.” He is aware whether he is reading a quarto in the manner of Baskerville or Bodoni, or a little Elzevir to stuff in a pocket, or a contemporary sermonising octavo in which the type no more holds the eye than the enervating tone holds the attention. It is not possible now to reproduce the beautiful Greek types that delighted him in the copy of Arrian given him as an Indian gift in Syracuse by Stoddart, and even if we could it is unlikely that many these days would be able to read it with ease; and it is not reasonable to cut special characters for the two Greek digraphs that he commonly used for st- and ou- or to reproduce the ligatures and suspensions common in some early founts and some versions of Fraktur. The line has to be drawn somewhere; but as far as the normal range of a Monotype matrix-frame will allow, the typographical texture of the printed original will be honoured. When the textus is in a language other than English, a translation is provided, together with the original.
Coleridge’s hand is normally not difficult to read with reasonable confidence. Admittedly from time to time it is not written normally, and the cramped position of the book, the constriction of space when he still has more to say, or the misbehaviour of a hastily cut reed or quill, or the fine ink-spattering of a steel pen catching the chain-lines on a rough-surfaced laid paper will do things to the writing that give a transcriber pause. In general the main difficulties in establishing a good text arise, not so much from Coleridge’s handwriting (which on the whole – pace Charles Lamb – is workmanlike and distinct), but from the physical damage that the notes have suffered since they were written – damage that had already started to occur while Coleridge was still using and annotating some of the books. This is of two kinds: the decay of pencil marks, and the cropping of margins. Coleridge’s pencils seem always to have been soft and not to have made a good black mark. In his German books, because of the papyrus cacatoria (in which phrase he distorts Catullus almost as much as the paper disfigures his writing), he had to choose between writing on the text in pencil or writing in ink on flyleaves. He often did both; and the pencil marks are in many cases now sadly rubbed and faded, and, after 150 years of standing in bookcases with the leaves tightly pressed together, the notes are overset page upon page in a ghostly and tantalizing confusion. Although Coleridge did not follow Lamb in inflicting upon his favourite books a process of accelerated decay – with wine-stains, tobacco ash, and crumbs of cheese and bread (I have never found snuff) – many of his books (which he often bought in a condition far from mint) wore out from repeated use and had to be rebound either by himself or later by his literary executor and members of his family; the German books, normally issued in paper wrappers, suffered particularly; some of Coleridge’s instructions to the binder – not always scrupulously followed – are still to be seen in these books: and in his rebound copy of Schelling’s Philosophische Schriften he has noted – “The Book-binder has docked my former notes, but I understand enough to find that my first impressions were the same as my present one.” And sometimes in rebinding, flyleaves and wrappers, preserved for what was written on them, have been jumbled out of their original order and even separated from their original volumes. For an annotated book to be rebound is usually a disaster. Ever since the invention of printing, binders have had a notoriously heavy hand with the guillotine. Preoccupied with externals – leather and tooling, marbled paper and coloured paste – they indulge the ruthless love of clean surfaces that is often ascribed to neurotic housewives. Sometimes the owner of an annotated book will have given his binder strict injunction to withhold the knife, or – not trusting the binder – will have folded in the annotated margins to withdraw them from the cutting edge. But there are a sad number of Coleridge’s annotated books that can no longer be described as “opened but uncut.” When a note in an outer margin is cropped the text can often be restored with some confidence – given an ear for Coleridge’s prose and a more than superficial acquaintance with his enormous vocabulary and his habit of coining words when no existing word will serve his purpose. But notes that have crowded into the last millimetre of a head- or foot-margin can suffer irremediable loss, and only rarely will a scatter of the tops of ascenders survive to tempt the editor into supposing that by some act of intuitive grace or cryptographic inspiration he will be able to recover just one more line of manuscript.
In a few cases – but not nearly as many as one could wish – one of the early editors transcribed the notes before the guillotine fell; for there are preserved at Victoria College a quantity of the working papers of Henry Nelson Coleridge and Sara, and of Ernest Hartley Coleridge. These MS TRANSCRIPTS will sometimes provide a middle position between the original notes in a book now lost and the printed text of those notes; where it is clear that the printed text has moved away from the original through normalisation or stylistic revision, the MS TRANSCRIPT is taken as the best authority. In several cases the transcripts were not printed, and now provide the only witness to the notes written in books now lost.
At the outset I had hoped to arrange the marginalia in chronological order, in the way the notebook entries are arranged. The difficulties have in the end proved insuperable. Although there is not usually much difficulty in putting a plausible date to a reading of a book or to a group of marginalia, it is clear that many books have been read and reread, and annotated on several occasions, sometimes with notes on his own notes; and in some other cases, often in books that are not heavily annotated, it is impossible to say with certainty that all the notes were written at one time. Alternations between ink and pencil, and changes in the handwriting itself, seldom provide conclusive evidence for dating. To pretend to be able to ascribe every one of the 177 notes on Boehme definitely to one of the five or six “readings” that occurred over fifteen years would be to claim a certainty that the evidence will not support. As far as possible I have separated out the chronological layers of notes in each book, but with an acute sense of the vagueness of the penumbral areas of judgment in such matters and the way conjecture linked to conjecture can breed a monster. But this separation is confined to the description in the headnote to an entry; in all cases the notes are printed in single sequence as though they had been written at a single reading.
For a time I considered whether a topical arrangement could be followed – as HNC and Sara intended – grouping literary, theological, and political notes, and adding the philosophical, biblical, and scientific notes that fell outside their scheme. This proposal looks so reasonable and manageable that it could be expected not to serve the Coleridge materials. It is one thing for a librarian to place a book in a subject category, deciding for example that Defoe’s History of the Plague Year is fiction and not history; it is quite another – as any indexer of Coleridge’s work knows – to categorize a Coleridge note, and yet another to categorize a series of marginal notes on a single book. For example, the marginalia on Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations (translated by Jeremy Collier, London 1701) are 68 in number (not counting about 75 passages marked mostly by way of stylistic comment); they were written in two series – about 27 notes January to May 1804 in London and at sea on the voyage to Malta, and the rest January to June 1808 in London after his return and perhaps also at Bury St. Edmunds. Many of the early notes deal with prose style: when he started reading the book he was impressed more by the “slang and ribaldry” of Collier’s style than by the noble if confused stoicism of Marcus Aurelius that could have provided a thread to lead him back into the labyrinthine spaces of his beloved Heraclitus. There are also in the marginalia on Marcus Aurelius notes on Burns’s poetry, on Andrew Bell’s educational theory, on the characteristic differences between various languages, on Sir Robert Walpole and Sir George Beaumont, on prophecy, on Dr. Thomas Beddoes; there is a recollection of his own father’s sudden death and a dream that presaged it; and notes on the relation between soul and body, on love and marriage, fame and reputation, on John Donne’s book on suicide called Biathantos, on Isaac Barrow’s sermons, on the distinction between man and brutes, and on the soul as a glow-worm; a cluster of personal images brings together butterflies, fire (Heraclitan), and a recurrent pun on Son and Sun; there are notes on Quakers, Lord Nelson, chemical terminology and Humphry Davy, a recollection of the Salutation and Cat with Lamb and a sly nip at Leibniz and Newton as students of alchemy. To place this set of marginalia in the category of “Philosophy, Stoic” with a cross-reference to Heraclitus would catch rather less than a quarter of the notes even if the classificatory principle were stretched to its most generous limit; and it would do less than justice to the rest, or simply bury them; and anyway Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is not where one would normally look for a note on the possibility that Davy’s most recent chemical discoveries might provide a new nomenclature for psychology. The Aurelius notes are not entirely typical of all the marginalia; yet they are not entirely atypical either – as a glance through the notebooks in their chronological arrangement will show, or Keats’s brilliant but accurate record of what unfolded in Coleridge’s monologue in the course of a single walk over Hampstead Heath. Any serious attempt to place the marginalia (rather than the books) in topical arrangement would (I suspect) lead to even more serious and misleading dislocations than an attempt at chronological arrangement. Topical questions will have to be answered through a careful index; and the chronology can be seen, at least in broad outline, through a list showing what books were being annotated year by year.
For the marginalia themselves I have decided upon an alphabetical arrangement by author – aware though I am of Coleridge’s distaste for the arbitrariness of alphabetical arrangement. This comes less as a counsel of despair than with the conviction that it will not do violence to the integrity of separate series of notes and that it may well convey something of the vivid and manifold activity of this “myriad-minded man.” Certainly it produces some strange bedfellows, neighbours, and crocodiles. William Blake is followed by Joseph Blanco White (Spanish Jesuit turned ambitious Anglican controversialist), then William Blomfield (Bishop of London), then Blumenbach (the celebrated naturalist whose lectures Coleridge attended at Göttingen and never forgot), then Boccaccio (about whom he had some misgivings), Jacob Boehme (theosophic mystic), Boerhaave (Dutch chemist); and the forged Memoirs of the Count de Bonneval (a life scabrous and sensational enough if truly told) are followed by The Book of Common Prayer. Another sequence runs: Philip de Commines, Barry Cornwall, Abraham Cowley, Oliver Cromwell, Dallison (author of a Caroline tract), the Dance of Death; then we have – Samuel Daniel and, after Dante, Alexander Charles Louis d’Arblay, son of Fanny Burney and the fugitive General d’Arblay, who presents Coleridge with a copy of the funeral sermon on the death of George IV inscribed “From one of the humblest admirers of his genius.” Eichhorn the Biblical neologist lies next to the Eikon Basilike; Fichte and Ficino are next door neighbours; Goldfuss (the Schellingian chemist) stands on one side of Thomas Gray, and Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, on the other; Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees is followed by Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana; Milton is followed by Henry Moore, Thomas More, and a pathetic refugee with the improbable name of Cesare Mussolini; Napoleon is followed by Nemesius; Samuel Parr goes before Pascal; Thomas Pringle (the first librarian at Cape Town and later secretary to the Anti-Slavery Society) is followed by Proclus; Rabelais, Raleigh, and Randolph go hand in hand; Robert Southey is flanked by William Sotheby and Benedict Spinoza; and the alphabet trails off with Swedenborg, Swift, Swinburne, Jeremy Taylor, Tennyson, Valckenaer ... and ends with three Wordsworths, Francis Wrangham, Xenophon, the Zeitschrift für Speculative Physik, and Zwick. And since this is an alphabetical list, not of Coleridge’s library, but of the books he wrote marginalia in, these constellations are no more accidental and no less felicitous than the first three subject entries for the London Library: acrobatics, aeronautics, aesthetics. For Coleridge’s profound sense of the unity of thought, of the past living in the present, allows him to move from Heironymus Fracastorius to the youthful Alfred Tennyson, or from Paracelsus to Jeremy Taylor, and read them all in much the same way, the authors present to him, himself listening to the hound-voices that declare the mind’s affectionate and strenuous penetration into the dark adyta of human life and the intricacies of the universe. Perhaps at some later date the breath of Baconian – or Coleridgean – method may inspire somebody to articulate these writings into a different and more organic form. For the time being the alphabetical arrangement is nothing if not suggestive; and for myself, for the moment, I am content with it.
SOURCES AND LOCATION
When an editor has his text before him, then properly speaking his editorial work begins – to prepare a text that is accurate, complete, and if possible capable of going on its own feet. I must confess to have smudged a little the purity of the editorial art by engaging in certain exploratory and detective activities in trying to determine with some accuracy the limits of an ideally inclusive text. I felt it necessary to reconstruct as best I could the contents of Coleridge’s library, the way it grew, what books he had with him at certain times, and where and when he left books behind. Beyond possession there is the generosity of friends – as Lamb memorably observed with a drop or two of tungstic acid; so it was necessary to find out what books he borrowed from libraries and from his friends – and if possible when, if ever, he returned them; and since the history of his library and of his reading is not quite the same as the history of his marginalia, to determine why he wrote marginalia at all, for whom, and under what conditions both mental and physical.
The way of doing these things is in general familiar enough to any literary scholar; yet I may be allowed to reflect a little upon the way of doing this in Coleridge’s case. This brings me back to my second motto, about first catching the hare. What hare? The first stage was to identify all published marginalia, in the posthumous editions, in periodicals, and elsewhere; to compile a list of association books and their locations; to set up a spider’s web of the history of Coleridge’s reading, based on his own writing, published and in manuscript. No doubt every such task has its own peculiar characteristics. In my own case I happened to have to wait almost three years before seeing many annotated books; and when I did get at the annotated books – first at Harvard, then in the British Museum – I found the undertaking changing greatly in scope and in subtlety of implication. Perhaps the physical nature of the materials has much to do with the tone of any editorial activity; and (again fortunately) since at that time there was no xerox, photography was beyond my means, and microfilm an abomination, I was obliged to work almost entirely from originals. (Even now, because of the state of the books or the notes themselves, that is still largely the case.) And fortunately the place this had to be done was that most glorious of all libraries, the British Museum. The North Library in those days was an enchanted place, discreet and undemocratic, where a privileged reader had his name displayed at his desk and ordinary books and papers could be left there from day to day. If in the early post-war years there were times in the unheated library when the fog would miserably invade Smirke’s great dome and it was well to wear a greatcoat and shooting mits, and the early winter darkness as you came down the steps at the end of the day had a Beowulf-ish frisson to it or the iron taste of a middle watch off Cape Wrath – all this mattered too; at least the North Library was not the North Sea, and one lay to an anchor at the heart of the greatest public collection of Coleridgeana in the world, with access to the unfathomable collections that seem to be needed to unstitch Coleridge’s writing. Here indeed the spider’s web assumed a new density, not only from the original books and manuscripts but from the resources that it seems to take half a lifetime to find out how to use.
Here, for example, I first came across several of the “MS FACSIMILES,” a few in the central collection, but mostly in the Ashley Library. These are not forgeries, but copies of Coleridge’s notes, usually made by or for the Gillmans by transcribing sets of notes into copies of the editions the original notes were written in. Wise had plenty of genuine examples of Coleridge’s hand in his collection, but he so often saw what he wanted to see that he described some of these MS FACSIMILES in the Ashley Catalogue in great detail, as though they were originals, with reproductions to illustrate his alleged point, and on one occasion expatiating upon the quality of Coleridge’s handwriting when it was obviously somebody else’s. In some cases, not many, a MS FACSIMILE is the only record we have of certain marginalia, so identification of the transcribers is important if possible. It is well that there are so few; for a comparison of (say) Field’s Of the Church or Donne’s Poems with the original marginalia shows serious lapses in accuracy, many misreadings, an inability to read Greek and to write it; and when the notes are copious they are usually overtaken by the same fatigue that afflicts even the hand-rubricated capitals in the later pages of Coleridge’s one incunable.
Another discovery – for me, that is – was the auction sale catalogues. Although it was David Foxon (then on the BM staff) who taught me as much about how to use the British Museum library as he did about how to eat well within a cock’s strike of the museum, I distinctly remember that it was Kathleen Coburn who first showed me the sale catalogue of J. H. Green’s library, the source for most of the BM’s original collection of annotated books and for most of the Coleridgeana in the U.S. The BM’s holdings of auction sale catalogues is peculiarly valuable, for most of them are the auctioneer’s copies, showing in MS the prices paid, and the buyers’ names, and occasionally a substantial revision to the description of a catalogued item. By examining a number of these, the web established by plotting the history of Coleridge’s reading took on another dimension: certain nodes appeared in the process of dispersal, the patterns of dispersal began to emerge, and search areas were much more clearly defined. The catalogues also identified annotated books previously unknown, or gave substance to certain shadowy possibilities that peeped out from Coleridge’s writing. In a few cases I was able to locate private collections, happily to find that the owners who had cherished the books for personal or family reasons were unaware of the interest and value of those books. When John Hayward invited me to contribute to the Book Collector something on Coleridge under the general title of “Portrait of a Bibliophile,” I smuggled in an account of the collection and dispersal of Coleridge’s books. And because I love graphs and diagrams I contrived a single diagram to illustrate the lines of accumulation and dispersal from c. 1805 to 1961. It was ingenious certainly; I thought it rather elegant, and was saddened when he blue-pencilled it. “I really couldn’t print that,” he said, “it looks like a piece of plumbing” – and after a moment’s reflection – “or like a sketch for one of Versalius’s more intimate anatomical drawings.” There were still chaste sensibilities in those days. I am sure my diagram will not be published in the Collected Coleridge and if I don’t destroy it, it may remain like one of those Egyptian cats that look out wistfully from their mummy-cloths to perplex some fifth-generation archaeologist.
To define the outer limits of an ideal text made it possible to define the actual text; and I decided to make two exclusions from what had originally been a complete Reading List: (a) annotated copies of his own works – these to go to the editors of separate works in the Collected Coleridge; and (b) “Marked Books,” which would be described in an Appendix. To be able to reconstruct (to some extent) Coleridge’s library, the libraries of his friends, and the patterns of accumulation and dispersal gave greater precision to one’s guesses about interlocking biographical evidence. These are always lacrimabiles lacunae – of these the destruction of Charles Lamb’s library, almost without record, is the most lamentable. Fortunately Mrs. Green made a handlist of 237 annotated and marked books, apparently after J. H. Green’s death, sketchy and incomplete (otherwise the Green Sale of 1880 would not have stocked the BM and a few U. S. libraries with Coleridge’s books as it did); one member of the Gillman family made a short list, and family correspondence has recovered a few others. But the handlist of the Rydal Hall library is of greater importance than any of these, not only for the more than 300 Coleridge titles, some of them otherwise unrecorded, but also for the terminal dates it allows us to place on certain of these books for Coleridge’s use. The evidence of sale catalogues and library catalogues has also, in unexpected ways, thrown light on the actual relations between Coleridge and Wordsworth, Lamb, Sara Hutchinson, Robert Southey, Thomas De Quincey.
Having identified the books and located as many as possible, and patched up the gaps in the text from whatever reliable sources present themselves, there are still two more phases to be encompassed. One is dating, the other is providing footnotes.
Although I had decided long ago that a chronological arrangement of the marginalia would be misleading, even if possible, it is still necessary to put a date on the marginalia written in each book. In some cases the marginalia pretty clearly were written at one stride; but in many others they were written in layers, often in several layers; and the layers are characteristically disposed in a horizontal sense, interleaved in a succession of readings rather than accumulated in the book part by part. Coleridge seldom dates his marginalia, but sometimes a postscript or a note on a note will be dated; the intervals are sometimes 20 years or more. The date of acquisition is by no means always a certain indication of the date of the notes. And if at one end of the scale certain notes present no difficulty to date, at the other end dating may involve a most delicate weighing of complex evidence, both internal and external – biographical, historical, bibliographical, topical. The imprint and the English Catalogue sometimes provide a useful terminus. To know whose book it was is always a help, and the published Notebooks and Letters will sometimes provide evidence that keys into the marginalia with a plausible air of finality. As is to be expected, the writing of his friends provides hints and clues; and internal evidence (say of Davy’s knighthood, or Beddoes’s death, of Katterfelto’s black cats, or the known date of first acquaintance with a book or author) sometimes helps to separate layers of note. And beyond these, Coleridge’s changing attitude to certain individuals and books and ideas will provide a clue; or the spelling of a name, or the use of a steel pen or red chalk, certain kinds of slips in German or Italian, the pointing of the Greek, a minute argument involving Hebrew with an assurance scarcely possible before the meeting with Hyman Hurwitz. General habits and uses of marginal annotation can be detected; and at times one can feel the presence of the person the notes were written for. But Coleridge is mercurial as well as protean. These complexities of evidence need to be handled very warily and with a light hand, for the possibilities of cumulative plausible error – arising from an overemphatic use of any kind of evidence – are indeed formidable. For we are dealing with a mind “capacious and systematizing” with a man with a remarkable capacity for precise verbal recall; and he often writes (as he said of the notebooks) “more unconscious that I am writing, than in my most earnest modes I talk.” One would not expect to find in the marginalia on Jacob Boehme, for example, both a draft for the closing paragraph of the Biographia Literaria, and a hitherto unrecorded version of the hexameters he wrote to the Wordsworths in Germany in 1799. Yet the first was written apparently in 1809 or 1810, and the second certainly in 1822.
Coleridge can write notes on notes whenever he wishes, and as editors we must deal with them as primary text. But when an editor writes notes on Coleridge’s notes – notes that he says were often “cogitabilia rather than cogitata a me” – he needs a sense of propriety, tact, and courage. The fact is that Coleridge is immensely learned, and most of all he knows at any time is continuously at his disposal. In most of the marginalia – that is, in all the marginalia not specifically written for somebody else (and even in some of those) – he is writing in much the same swift, nervous, deft manner as he writes in the notebooks. The writing is a little less intimate, less private than in the notebooks, yet it has the same characteristic fluent and shapely coherence, even when most trenchant; for no matter how impacted the writing may be, no matter how set about with cantilevered parentheses, and often elliptical to our eye, it is not shorthand, and it does not confront us with private puzzles to be deciphered. It all made clear sense to him. It is as though he were himself overhearing what he is in the act of saying. For semantic obscurities and for identifications, and even for foreign languages, the editor has a clear duty to provide information – information that Coleridge usually, in more or less precise form, had in his own head. The extent of information we need to provide in order to recapture the quotidian content of Coleridge’s mind, however, seems to broaden almost daily as the literacy of the West “dissolves, diffuses, and dissipates” without much prospect of ever reconstituting the coherent unity that it had for Coleridge and many of his contemporaries. But beyond providing information (which one always hopes will not offend anybody who already has it), the annotator needs to assume – and allow the reader somehow to assume – the ambience of Coleridge’s thinking and feeling. Theoretically the primary text can do that, but I am not always confident that many readers will in all cases find that the text is self-evident.
Footnoting of the less commendable sort that one has seen in published editions can range from hectoring verbosity and importunate pedantry to the complete silence that comes not from restraint, but from cowardice or apathy. This will not do for Coleridge. What Coleridge clearly demands from time to time is not interpretation and explanation, but elucidation – the releasing of the text to take flight in its own way or to creep along the ground if it wishes. Depending on the demands of the text and the tact of the editor, the footnotes may usually be terse and pointed; but sometimes they need to be rendered in patient – even opulent – detail. Fidelity to the text is a virtue we all recognise as essential; and beyond fidelity there is (or so Coleridge persuades me) “truth to the text,” saying what needs to be said about the ambience of a thought, its resonances, its initiative, its constituent physique perhaps, its implied universe. There is a text given, and it is Coleridge who wrote it; no matter how illegible or crabbed or dense, the text must be allowed to stand forth in its own light. Although we cannot encompass all Coleridge’s learning or the whole sweep of his mind and imagination, we can enter into it; and in doing so it is well that we set down what the whatever means we happen to know belongs to it. In being positively true to the text, the emergent tone of the edition is (I suppose) of importance; agility, modesty, delight; and the delineation needs to be firm but never preclusive (unless it be matter of demonstrable fact), suggestive rather than definitive, illuminating in a way that allows the primary text to well up and grow in the reader’s mind as it did in Coleridge’s, at once new and familiar. For an editor’s text is his privilege, not his property.
And in the end, sometime, the great machines of editorial industry and erudition will be able to run down, the first tasks finished. Then there can come forth clean companionable texts, as pretty to look at as Ernest Hartley Coleridge’s Anima Poetae and as unobtrusive in their wisdom as Inquiring Spirit, the notes and preliminary aids having slipped away into the humus of learned discourse to nourish what they may and inform as they can. Coleridge once said that he followed the chamois-hunters and loved the effort and dangers of the chase; but that if he hunted well – and it wasn’t even metaphorical chamois-goats he was hunting – others would be able to walk a highway thereafter or enjoy the view, with no need to take “desperate Leaps and Balloons that soar indeed but do not improve the chances of getting forward.” If as editors we are rock-climbers attempting the North Face of the Eiger, we need to be sure that the gossamers and filaments we leave on the Hinterstoisser Traverse will stand the weather; and if we wish to prepare a way that others may travel without too much effort or danger we need to be sure that the exhilaration of the first journey is not dissipated, that the high altitudes and high latitudes and the swamps and jungles and the quiet villages have not turned banal through our reports of what we have seen there. I reckon myself fortunate to have come upon Coleridge’s mind, so perpetual a cause for wonder and source of refreshment; fortunate too to share in this hazard with some resolute and high-spirited rock-climbers, friends and colleagues whose minds are invigorated by the enterprise, their vision armed, their temper sweetened as much by the quality of the task as by its magnitude.