“The reader should be carried forward, not merely or chiefly by the mechanical impulse of curiosity, or by a restless desire to arrive at the final solution; but by the pleasurable activity of mind excited by the attractions of the journey itself…”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria, published over nearly 100 years ago, has emerged as one of the classics of English literature. Into this volume poured 20 years of speculation about the criticism and uses of poetry and about the psychology of art.
Coleridge intended Biographia Literaria to be a short preface to a collection of his poems, Sibylline Leaves (1817). However, it quickly expanded into an autobiography, mixing memoir, philosophy, and literary theory.
In 1906, the poet Arthur Symons called the work ‘the greatest book of criticism in English, and one of the most annoying books in any language’.
Coleridge—poet, critic, and radical thinker—exerted an enormous influence over contemporaries as varied as Wordsworth, Southey and Lamb. He was the premier poet-critic of modern English tradition, distinguished for the scope and influence of his thinking about literature as much as for his innovative verse.
Coleridge died in 1834 after years of personal disillusionment. A legend during his lifetime, he later came to be seen as a failed genius—the failure attributed to early expectations and to hopes defeated by disease and drugs.
Despite everything, Coleridge can still be regarded as a groundbreaking and, at his best, a powerful poet of lasting influence. His idea of poetry remains the standard by which others in the English circle are tried.
SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE (1772-1834) was an English poet, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England. He wrote the poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, as well as the major prose work Biographia Literaria. His critical work, especially on Shakespeare, was highly influential, and he helped introduce German idealist philosophy to English-speaking culture. Coleridge coined many familiar words and phrases, including “suspension of disbelief”. He was a major influence on Emerson and American transcendentalism.