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A Book I Value:
Selected Marginalia
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Edited by H. J. Jackson

Book Description | Reviews

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Immanuel Kant, Critik der reinen Vernunft [Critique of Pure Reason], Leipzig, 1799.

The works of Kant were of the profoundest influence upon Coleridge, who memorably described them as having taken possession of him "as with a giant's hand" when he was a young man; he goes on to say, in Biographia Literaria, that "after fifteen years familiarity with them, I still read these and all his other productions with undiminished delight and increasing admiration." The following notes from Coleridge's first reading of the Critique of Pure Reason date from about 1801.

An aeolian or eolian harp is a stringed box that is left out of doors or in a window to make music as the wind passes over the strings. "Linley" is a reference to Thomas Linley the Younger, a celebrated violinist; "mind's eye" is a phrase from Hamlet 1.2.185; Fichte was one of the two or three most important successors to Kant in the next generation.

[# 1] Doubts during a first perusal--i.e. Struggles felt, not arguments objected.

1. How can that be called ein mannigfaltiges fold], which yet contains in itself the ground, why I apply one category to it rather than another? one mathematical form and not another? The mind does not resemble an Eolian Harp, nor even a barrel-organ turned by a stream of water, conceive as many tunes mechanized in it as you like--but rather, as far as Objects are concerned, a violin, or other instrument of few strings yet vast compass, played on by a musician of Genius. The Breeze that blows across the Eolian Harp, the streams that turned the handle of the Barrel Organ, might be called ein mannigfaltiges [a manifold], a mere sylva incondita [unformed matter], but who would call the muscles and purpose of Linley a confused Manifold?

[# 2] The perpetual and unmoving Cloud of Darkness, that hangs over this Work to my "mind's eye", is the absence of any clear account of--was ist Erfahrung [what is experience]? What do you mean by a fact, an empiric Reality, which alone can give solidity (inhalt [content]) to our Conceptions?--It seems from many passages, that this indispensible Test is itself previously manufactured by this very conceptive Power--and that the whole not of our own making is the mere sensation of a mere Manifold--in short, mere influx of motion, to use a physical metaphor.--I apply the Categoric forms to a Tree--well! but first what is this tree? How do I come by this Tree?--Fichte I understand very well--only I cannot believe his System. But Kant I do not understand--i.e. I have not discovered what he proposes for my Belief.--Is it Dogmatism?--Why then make the opposition between Phaenomena and Things in themselves--~[things that really exist]? Is it Idealism? What Test then can I find in the different modifications of my Being to verify and substantiate each other? What other distinction between Schein and Erscheinung, Illusion and Appearance more than the old one of--in one I dream to myself, and in the other I dream in common: The Man in a fever is only outvoted by his Attendants--He does not see their Dream, and they do not see his.


Robert Anderson, ed., The Works of the British Poets, Edinburgh and London, 1792-95.

Coleridge wrote notes in three different sets of Anderson's popular anthology. This set is unusual in containing notes by William Wordsworth as well; in fact, in the example given, Coleridge's note begins as a comment on an earlier note by Wordsworth, written at the end of the section devoted to Shakespeare's sonnets. The book belonged to Coleridge, but he expected that his brother-in-law and housemate Robert Southey, whom he mentions, would be reading his notes, and that his own son Hartley, whom he addresses directly, would one day inherit the set.

"Potter's Antiquities" was a common schoolbook, John Potter's Archaeologia Graeca: or the Antiquities of Greece; Coleridge mentions specifically a chapter about the Greeks'"Love of Boys" which maintains that there was nothing sexual about it. "Johnson" means the playwright Ben Jonson, whom Coleridge frequently uses, as here, along with Beaumont and Fletcher and Massinger, as a more or less contemporary point of comparison with Shakespeare.


[Wordsworth's note:] These sonnets, beginning at 127, to his Mistress, are worse than a puzzle-peg. They are abominably harsh obscure & worthless. The others are for the most part much better, have many fine lines very fine lines & passages. They are also in many places warm with passion. Their chief faults, and heavy ones they are, are sameness, tediousness, quaintness, & elaborate obscurity.--

With exception of the Sonnets to his Mistress (& even of these the expressions are unjustly harsh) I can by no means subscribe to the above pencil mark of W. Wordsworth; which however, it is my wish, should never be erased. It is his: & grievously am I mistaken, & deplorably will Englishmen have degenerated, if the being his will not, in times to come, give it a Value, as of a little reverential Relict--the rude mark of his Hand left by the Sweat of Haste in a St Veronica Handkerchief! And Robert Southey! My sweet Hartley! if thou livest, thou wilt not part with this Book without sad necessity & a pang at Heart. O be never weary of repe-rusing the four first Volumes of this Collection, my eldest born!--To day thou art to be christened, being more than 7 years of age, o with what reluctance & distaste have I permitted this unchristian, & in its spirit & consequences anti-christian, Foolery to be performed upon thee, Child of free Nature. On thy Brother Derwent, & thy Sister Sara, somewhat; but chiefly on thee. These Sonnets then, I trust, if God preserve thy Life, Hartley! thou wilt read with a deep Interest, having learnt to love the Plays of Shakespere, co-ordinate with Milton, and subordinate only to thy Bible. To thee, I trust, they will help to explain the mind of Shakespere, & if thou wouldst understand these Sonnets, thou must read the Chapter in Potter's Antiquities on the Greek Lovers--of whom were that Theban Band of Brothers, over whom Philip, their victor, stood weeping; & surveying their dead bodies, each with his Shield over the Body of his Friend, all dead in the place where they fought, solemnly cursed those, whose base, fleshly, & most calumnious Fancies had suspected their Love of Desires against Nature. This pure Love Shakespere appears to have felt--to have been no way ashamed of it--or even to have suspected that others could have suspected it/ yet at the same time he knew that so strong a Love would have been made more compleatly a Thing of Permanence & Reality, & have been blessed more by Nature & taken under her more especial protection, if this Object of his Love had been at the same Time a possible Object of Desire/ for Nature is not bad only--in this Feeling, he must have written the 20th Sonnet, but its possibility seems never to have entered even his Imagination. It is noticeable, that not even an Allusion to that very worst of all possible Vices (for it is wise to think of the Disposition, as a Vice, not of the absurd & despicable Act, as a crime) not even any allusion to it in all his numerous Plays--whereas Johnson, Beaumont & Fletcher, & Massinger are full of them. O my Son! I pray fervently that thou may'st know inwardly how impossible it was for a Shakespere not to have been in his heart's heart chaste. I see no elaborate obscurity & very little quaintness--nor do I know any Sonnets that will bear such frequent reperusal: so rich in metre, so full of Thought & exquisitest Diction.
          T. Coleridge, Greta Hall, Keswick, Wed. morning,
          1/2 past 3, Nov. 2. 1803.


Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, The Emperor Marcus Antoninus His Conversation with Himself . . . To which is added The Mythological Picture of Cebes the Theban, trans. Jeremy Collier, London, 1701.

The earliest notes in this volume appear to have been written aboard the ship Speedwell when Coleridge went to Malta in the spring of 1804, but he returned to the book later--in 1808, 1811, 1818-19, and 1826.

[# 4]

That Remedies were prescrib'd me in a Dream, against Giddiness, and Spitting of Blood; As I remember, it happen'd both at Cajeta, and Chrysa. . . .

I am not convinced that this is mere Superstition. Providence is at once general & particular/ there is doubtless a sort of divining power in man/ Sensations awaken Thoughts congruous to them. I could say much on this Subject. A Gentleman told Dr Beddoes a remarkable Dream: the Dr immediately examined his pulse, &c &c, bled him &c--and it was evident that in a day or two he would otherwise have had an apoplectic Fit. My Father had a similar Dream 3 nights together before his Death, while he appeared to himself in full & perfect Health--He was blest by God with sudden Death. That was the only part of our Liturgy, which he objected to/ the prayer against sudden Death.

[# 5]

Therefore don't forget the Saying of Heraclitus; That the Earth dies intoWater, Water into Air, Air into Fire, and so Backward.

Expressed in the present chemical nomenclature/ Solids by increased repulsion of their parts become fluids, by a still greater repulsion aeriform Gasses, and it is possible that these may all be resolvible into imponderable & igniform natures, Light, Electricity, Magnetism, Heat--& that all these four may be but detachments of one & same substance--the plastic Fire of the ancients--in different proportions of repulsion & attraction in se [in itself], acting on other proportions--Then to comprehend attraction & Repulsion as one power is perhaps the point of the Pyramid of physical Science.

[# 6]

[From "The Picture of Cebes":] Resumptions are very common with this Lady [Fortune], and there's no depending upon her Favour; And therefore the Genius advises People to be loose and indifferent with her, and neither be transported when she gives, nor dejected when she takes away. For she never acts upon Reason, but throws out every thing at Peradventure. Therefore the Rule is never to be surpriz'd at any of her Proceedings. . . .

This is the most defective Passage of the whole Treatise. It is not true, and it is of pernicious consequence, to represent Fortune as wholly mad, blind, deaf, and drunk. On the average each man receives what he pays forthe miser gives care & self-torment, and receives increase of Gold--the vain give clamour, & bustle, pretensions & flattery, & receive a Buz--the Wise man Self-conquest & neighbourly Love, and receives sense of Dignity, of Harmony, and Content. Each is paid in sort--Virtue is not rewarded by Wealth, nor is the Eye affected by Sound.

Johann Gottfried Herder, Kalligone, Leipzig, 1800.

This work on aesthetics attacks Kant's analysis of the sublime in the Critique of Judgment; the other works that Coleridge refers to also attack aspects of Kant's philosophy to a greater or lesser extent. "Philosophism," merging "philosophy" and "sophism," could be applied to any false system of thought but was commonly applied especially to eighteenth-century French rationalism by its enemies.

[# 7] Dec. 19. 1804. Malta.--And thus the Book impressed me, to wit, as being Rant, abuse, drunken Self-conceit that kicking and sprawling in the 6 inch-deep Gutter of muddy Philosophism from the drainings of a hundred Sculleries dreams that he is swimming in an ocean of the Translucent & the Profound/--I never read a more disgusting Work, scarcely so disgusting a one except the Metacritik [Metacritique of the Critique of Pure Reason] of the same Author. I always even in the perusal of his better works, the Verm. Blätter, the Briefe das Stud. Theol. betreffends and the Ideen zur Gesch. der Mensch. [Miscellaneous Papers, Letters Concerning the Study of Theology, and Ideas Towards a Philosophy of the History of Mankind] thought him a painted Mist with no sharp outline--but this is mere Steam from a Heap of Mans dung.--

[# 8] Herder mistakes for the SUBLIME sometimes the GRAND, sometimes the MAJESTIC, and sometimes the INTENSE: in which last sense we must render a [. . .] or magnificent, but as a Whole, (a visual Whole, I mean) it cannot be sublime. A mountain in a cloudless sky, its summit smit with the Sunset is a beautiful, a magnificent Object--the same with its Summit hidden by Clouds, & seemingly blended with the Sky, while mists & floating Vapors of [. . .]

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