Biographia Literaria - Or Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions (1817)

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Pomona Press, Jan 1, 2006 - Biography & Autobiography - 328 pages
The story of Biographia Literaria begins in a conversation between two friends, Wordsworth and Coleridge, both settled in the Lake District after their return from Germany in 1799. They were debating what form a second edition of the Lyrical Ballads should take to replace the exhausted edition of 1798. In the course of a walk the idea of replacing the brief Advertisement by a critical Preface was conceived. In the aged memory of Wordsworth many years after, the idea and indeed the very substance of the Preface as he came to write it were all Coleridge's. 'I have never cared a straw about the theory,' he wrote impatiently on the manuscript of Barron Fields biography of him, 'and the Preface was written at the request of Mr. Coleridge out of sheer good nature. I recollect the very spot, a deserted quarry in the Vale of Grasmere, where he pressed the thing upon me, and but for that it would never have been thought of.' By 1815, of course, when he came to write the Biographia, the Preface was 'Wordsworth' and the Biographia Coleridge's reply to Wordsworth but the simplification is much too crude. It poses and tries to answer two closely connected questions: first, what relation should the language of poetry bear to that of ordinary life? And secondly, what relation should the subject of poetry bear to itself? (The order in which the questions are put look irrational, but it is Wordsworth's own order and there are good reasons for it.) The answers of the Preface are 'the real language of men in a state of vivid sensation' and 'the incidents of common life.' These two questions, or rather Coleridge's attempt to modify and clarify the old answers to them, are together the central theme of the second half of the Biographia.

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About the author (2006)

Born in Ottery St. Mary, England, in 1772, Samuel Taylor Coleridge studied revolutionary ideas at Cambridge before leaving to enlist in the Dragoons. After his plans to start a communist society in the United States with his friend Robert Southey, later named poet laureate of England, were botched, Coleridge instead turned his attention to teaching and journalism in Bristol. Coleridge married Southey's sister-in-law Sara Fricker, and they moved to Nether Stowey, where they became close friends with William and Dorothy Wordsworth. From this friendship a new poetry emerged, one that focused on Neoclassic artificiality. In later years, their relationship became strained, partly due to Coleridge's moral collapse brought on by opium use, but more importantly because of his rejection of Wordworth's animistic views of nature. In 1809, Coleridge began a weekly paper, The Friend, and settled in London, writing and lecturing. In 1816, he published Kubla Kahn. Coleridge reported that he composed this brief fragment, considered by many to be one of the best poems ever written lyrically and metrically, while under the influence of opium, and that he mentally lost the remainder of the poem when he roused himself to answer an ill-timed knock at his door. Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Christabel, and his sonnet Ozymandias are all respected as inventive and widely influential Romantic pieces. Coleridge's prose works, especially Biographia Literaria, were also broadly read in his day. Coleridge died in 1834.

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