Thursday, December 16, 2010

Give your own estimate of the greatness of Coleridge as a literary critic.

Views of Critics
Coleridge is one of the greatest of literary critics, and his greatness has been almost universally recognised. He occupies, without doubt, the first place among English literary critics. After eliminating one after another the possible contenders for title of the greatest critic, Saintsbury concludes : "So : then there abide these three—Aristotle, Longinus, and Coleridge."
According to Arthur Symons, Coleridge's Biographia Literaria is {the greatest book of criticism in English," and Rene Wellek s of the view that Coleridge is a link "between German Transcendentalism and English romanticism." C'azamian observes : "No one before him in England had brought such mental breadth to the discussion of aesthetic values." R. A. Scott-James admires him for his union of heart and head. Herbert Read considers Coleridge "as head and shoulders above every other English critic" and sees him anticipating existentialism and Freud. His Important Critical Writings
The important critical writings of Coleridge include Biographia Lectures on Shakespeare, The Friend, The Table Talk; his contributions to Southey's Omniana, his 'Letters' his the posthumous 'Anima Poetae'. However, the most important of these is his Biographia Literaria. His Practical Criticism—Father of Impressionistic analytic Criticism
A man of stupendous learning, both in philosophy and literature, ancient as well as modern, and refined sensibility and panetrating intellect, Coleridge was eminently fitted to the task of a critic. His practical criticism consists of his evaluations of Shakespeare and other English dramatists, and of Milton and Wordsworth. Despite the fact that there are so many digressions and repetitions, his practical criticism is always illuminating and highly original. It is rich in suggestions of far reaching value and significance, and flashes of insight rarely to be met with in any other critic. His greatness is well brought out if we keep in mind the state of practical criticism in England before him. The Neo-classical critics judged on the basis of fixed rules, they were either legislative or judicial, or were carried away by their prejudices. Coleridge does not judge on the basis of any rules. He does not pass any judgment, but gives his responses and reactions to a work of art. His criticism is impressionistic, romantic, a new kind of criticism, criticism which dealt a knock out blow to neo-classic criticism and which continued in vogue more or less ever since. He could discover new beauties in Shakespeare and could bring about fresh revaluation of a number of old English masters. Similarly, his criticism of Wordsworth and his theories enable us to judge his views in the correct perspective.
His Philosophical Criticism
Coleridge is the first English critic to base his literary criticism on philosophical principles. While critics before him had been content to turn a poem inside out and to discourse on its excellences and defects, he busied himself with the basic question of how it came to be there at all. He was more interested in the creative process that made it what it was than in the finished product. In his own words, he endeavoured 'to establish the principles of writing rather than to furnish rules how to pass judgement on what has been written by others'. These he sought to discover in 'the nature of man'—the faculty or faculties of the human soul that gave it birth. He also united philosophy and psychology with literary criticism.
His Theory of Imagination (which revolutionised the concept of imitation)
Coleridge's greatest and most original contribution to literary criticism is his theory of imagination. All previous discussions of imagination look superficial and childish when compared with Coleridge's treatment of the subject. He is the first critic to differentiate between Imagination and Fancy, the first literary critic to distinguish between primary and secondary Imagination. Through his theory of imagination he revolutionised the concept of artistic imitation. Poetic imitation is neither a servile copy of nature, nor is it the creation of something entirely new and different from nature. Poetry is not imitation b,ut creation, but it is the creation based on the sensations and impressions received from the external world. Such impressions are shaped, ordered, modified, and opposites are reconciled and harmonised by the imagination of the poet, and in this way poetic creation takes place.
Demonstration of the Organic Wholeness of Poetry
Further, as David Daiches points out, "it was Coleridge who, finally, for the first time, resolved the age old problem of the relation between the form and content of poetry. Through his philosophical inquiry into the nature and value of poetry, he established that a poem is an organic whole, and that its form is determined by its content, and is essential to that content. Thus metre and rhyme, he showed, are not merely, "pleasure superadded", nor merely something superfluous which can be dispensed with, nor mere decoration, but essential to that pleasure which is the true poetic pleasure. This demonstration of the organic wholeness of a poem is one of his major contributions to literary theory.
"Willing Suspension of Disbelief
Similarly his theory of "Willing Suspension of Disbelief marks a significant advance over earlier theories on the subject. His view that during the perusal of a poem or the witnessing of a play there is neither belief nor disbelief, but a mere suspension of disbelief, is now universally accepted as correct, and the controversy on the subject has been finally set at rest. His Belated Recognition and Influence : Its Causes
However, it may be mentioned in the end that Coleridge's views are too philosophical, he is a critic not easy to understand. Often it is fragmentary and unsystematic. Victorians, in general, could not appreciate him and his appeal was confined to the few. As a descriptive critic his achievement is brilliant, but sporadic, and he offers no single example worthy to be advanced as a model. The list of his detractors is equally impressive. Some great modern critics of our times, such as T. S. Eliot, F. R. Leavis, F. L. Lucas, Allen Tate, and Ranson have been repelled by his romanticism.
According to Richard Harter Fogle, "Designing objective certainty and precision, and unalterably opposed to romantic monism and transcendentalism, they have taxed him with over-philosophizing, sentimentalizing, confusing, and in general muddying in the waters of criticism and taste," To Lucas, Coleridge's statements about imagination are "obscure and contorted," his classifications barren, his judgements nonsensical, his theories windy, cloudy, mysterious. T. S. Eliot pokes fun at Coleridge's "metaphysical hare-and-hounds." Alien Tate thinks that Coleridge has bequeathed to later generations "fatal legacy" of indecision. But these demerits do not belittle his greatness. His criticism survives not by virtue of what it demonstrates but by what it abundantly suggests, for no English critic has so excelled at providing profit, able points of departure for twentieth century critics." It is only in the 20th century that his literary criticism has been truly understood and recognition and appreciation have followed. To-day his reputation stands very high and many go to him for inspiration and illumination.

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