Coleridge's Contemplative Philosophy 2019947652, 9780198851806

‘PHILOSOPHY, or the doctrine and discipline of ideas’ as S. T. Coleridge understood it, is the theme of this book. It co

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Coleridge's Contemplative Philosophy
 2019947652, 9780198851806

Table of contents :
Part I: Imagination Launched into Reason
1:The 'Sense' of Knowledge
2:Contemplative Practice and the Ideas
3:Aesthetic Contemplation
Part II: Living Ideas
4:The Art of Poetic Life-Writing
5:Adapting Böhme's Bipolar Model
6:The Energic-Energetic Distinction and Coleridge's Two-Level Theory of Mind
Part III: Coleridge's Modified Platonism
7:The Divided Line: Lower and Higher
8:The Coleridgean Idea
Part IV: A Realizing Knowledge
9:Developing Polarity: Trichotomy, Tetractys, and Pentad
10:The Way Down and the Way Up
11:The Blind that Gaze, the Blind that Creep Back, Shades that Flit, and the Dragon

Citation preview

Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy

Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy PETER CHEYNE


3 Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, OX2 6DP, United Kingdom Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries © Peter Cheyne 2020 The moral rights of the author have been asserted First Edition published in 2020 Impression: 1 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by licence or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Data available Library of Congress Control Number: 2019947652 ISBN 978–0–19–885180–6 DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001 Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, Elcograf S.p.A. Links to third party websites are provided by Oxford in good faith and for information only. Oxford disclaims any responsibility for the materials contained in any third party website referenced in this work.

Preface This book is a philosophical inquiry into what Coleridge meant by ‘ideas’ and how he thought we could access them. This is by no means an arcane question of interpretation, and his answers lead to intriguing moral and aesthetic consequences in the speculative philosophy of ideas of reason and the practical philosophy of life. For Coleridge, the term ‘reason’ has two distinct but intimately related senses: the primary is Logos, the totality of laws and purposes of the cosmos, and the secondary is noesis, the human capacity to contemplate that Logos, its laws and ideas. The painting on the cover of this book has historical and geographical relevance, as well as thematic. In 1821, John Constable painted Hampstead Heath as the sunlight pushed through heavy clouds onto heathland visible from the window of Coleridge’s top-floor study in Highgate. In that year, Coleridge penned the following lines, central to his contemplative philosophy: Q. Where is Reason? Answer. Whene’er the Self, that stands twixt God and Thee Defecates to a pure Transparency, That intercepts no light and adds no stain— There Reason is; and then begins her reign!¹

The published version, appearing around eight or nine years later as the closing words of Church and State, replaces ‘Self ’ with ‘mist’, suggesting that it is the sunlike light of reason—for Coleridge, the divine Logos—that purifies the self, which is then filled with that radiant power. Finding my way into what Coleridge meant by ideas and to his philosophy of mind was initially assisted by the works of J. H. Muirhead, Owen Barfield, S. V. Pradhan, James Cutsinger, and Alan Gregory, the latter three being influenced by Barfield.² While writing this monograph, I have had the good fortune to meet and correspond with a number of Coleridge scholars and I am grateful for their conversation and collegiality. As the themes of this book took shape, I organized a conference on Coleridge and contemplation at Kyoto Notre Dame ¹ Notebooks, 4: §4844, 1821–2. ² Muirhead, Coleridge as Philosopher; Barfield, What Coleridge Thought; Pradhan, Philocrisy and its Implications; Cutsinger, The Form of Transformed Vision; and Gregory, Coleridge and the Conservative Imagination.



University, March 2015, followed by another that August at the University of Cambridge. The events joined philosophers, literary scholars, and theologians around Coleridge’s question of the contemplation of ideas and its metaphysical, aesthetic, moral, and political dimensions. The essay collection Coleridge and Contemplation (Oxford, 2017) ensued, bringing other contributors to the project, namely Mary Warnock, Roger Scruton, and Michael McGhee. I cherish the camaraderie and academic community created by all the authors, auditors, and reviewers. That ethos was the milieu in which the current book was written. In the current book, Chapter 4, ‘The Art of Poetic Life-Writing’, is an expanded version of an article that appeared in The Coleridge Bulletin (Winter 2014); Chapter 6 is re-contextualized from Chapter 10 of Coleridge and Contemplation; and Chapter 8 is an expanded version of an article published in Intellectual History Review (2019). I wish to thank Graham Davidson and Stephen Clucas, editors of The Coleridge Bulletin and Intellectual History Review, respectively. Fellow Coleridgeans Jim Engell, Jim Mays, and Dillon Struwig gave valuable comments to early and late drafts of the whole book, for which I am deeply grateful. For helpful comments on parts of the book, I would also like to thank: Coleridge scholars Richard Berkeley, Gerry Briggs, Graham Davidson, Tim Fulford, Alan Gregory, Raimonda Modiano, Nick Reid, and James Vigus; philosophers Nahum Brown, Andrew Cooper, David E. Cooper, Andy Hamilton, Douglas Hedley, Michael McGhee, Yuriko Saito, and John Skorupski; literary and philosophical scholar Joseph S. O’Leary; scholars of classical Greek and later Hellenistic philosophy Michael Chase, John M. Dillon, Kenneth Dorter, Phillip Horky, Paul Kalligas, and John Uebersax; historians and philosophers of science David M. Knight and Trevor Levere; Böhme scholar Andrew Weeks; and classicist William Berg, who checked the Greek. Thanks also are due to Jacqueline Norton, Melanie Pheby, John Smallman, and Aimee Wright at OUP, the two anonymous readers, and to Brian North and Seemadevi Sekar at SPi. This work was supported by JSPS Kakenhi, grant numbers 263700363A and 19K00107. I am also pleased to thank for their generous support the British Association of Romantic Studies, the English Faculty of the University of Cambridge, the English Literary Society of Japan, the Friends of Coleridge Society, Kyoto Notre Dame University, Shimane University, and, for a Visiting Fellowship, the Philosophy Department of the University of Durham.

List of Tables 2.1 The Difference in Kind of Reason and the Understanding (Aids to Reflection, 223–4)


5.1 Ascent from Sense to Contemplation: Comparison of Mental Powers in Richard of St Victor and Coleridge


5.2 The ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ (Marginalia, vol. 5, eds. H. J. Jackson and George Whalley, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press and London: Routledge, 2000: 798)


5.3 Böhme’s ‘The Seven Forms of Spirits’, with Coleridge’s autograph pencil annotations


5.4 Key: The Alchemical Signs in Böhme’s ‘The Seven Forms of Spirits’


7.1 Plato’s Divided Line (Plato, Republic, 509d–511e)


7.2 ‘The sciences pure and mixed in the order of their senses’ (Logic, 44–5)


7.3 Plato’s Two-level Model of Participation and Coleridge’s Two-Level Bipolar Model. Holger Thesleff’s diagram from Studies in Plato’s Two-level Model, 1999, 27


10.1 The Pentad and the Three Hypostatic Levels


List of Abbreviations Coleridge’s Writings The Bollingen Foundation-sponsored Collected Works and Notebooks were published by Princeton University Press in North America and by Routledge in London and elsewhere. The Clarendon Press of Oxford University published the Collected Letters. Aids to Reflection Biographia Literaria

CC Church and State Essays on His Times The Friend Lectures on Literature Lectures on the History of Philosophy Lectures, 1795: On Politics and Religion Letters Logic Marginalia Notebooks

Opus Maximum Poetical Works (1834) Poetical Works, 1

Aids to Reflection (1825), ed. John Beer, CC 9, 1993. Biographia Literaria, or Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions (1817), ed. James Engell and W. Jackson Bate, 2 vols, CC 7, 1983. The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, general ed. Kathleen Coburn, 1969–2002 (Bollingen Series LXXV). On the Constitution of the Church and State According to the Idea of Each (1829, rev. 1830), ed. John Colmer, CC 10, 1976. Essays on His Times in The Morning Post and The Courier, 2 vols, ed. David V. Erdman, CC 3, 1978. The Friend (vol. 1, 1818; vol. 2, 1808–9), ed. Barbara E. Rooke, 2 vols, CC 4, 1969. Lectures 1808–1819: On Literature, ed. R. A. Foukes, 2 vols, CC 5, 1987. Lectures 1818–1819: On the History of Philosophy, ed. J. R. de J. Jackson, 2 vols, CC 8, 2000. Lectures, 1795: On Politics and Religion, ed. Lewis Patton and Peter Mann, CC 1, 1971. The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E. L. Griggs, 6 vols, 1956–71. Logic, ed. J. R. de J. Jackson, CC 13, 1981. Marginalia, Vols 1 and 2, ed. George Whalley, 1980–4; Vols 3–6, ed. H. J. Jackson and George Whalley, CC 12, 1992–2001. The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Vols 1–3 (each in two parts), ed. Kathleen Coburn, 1957–73; Vol. 4 (in two parts), ed. Kathleen Coburn and Merton Christensen, 1990; Vol. 5 (in two parts), ed. Kathleen Coburn and Anthony Harding, 2002. Opus Maximum, ed. Thomas McFarland and Nicholas Halmi, CC 15, 2002. The Poetical Works of S. T. Coleridge, ed. H. N. Coleridge, London: William Pickering, 1834. Poetical Works Part One: Poems (Reading Text), ed. J. C. C. Mays, 2 vols, CC 16, 2001.


  

Shorter Works

Shorter Works and Fragments, ed. H. J. Jackson and J. R. de J. Jackson, 2 vols, CC 11, 1995. The Statesman’s Manual The Statesman’s Manual (1816), in Lay Sermons, ed. R. J. White, CC 6, 1972. Table Talk Table Talk, ed. Carl Woodring, 2 vols, CC 14, 1990.

Note on Citational Style, etc. Citations in this book give Coleridge’s works and other writings by their short titles, without his name. Throughout, ‘fn.’ refers to Coleridge’s own footnotes, while ‘n.’ refers to editorial ones. Notebook entries are cited thus: Notebooks, 5: §5581 f181v (August 1827), meaning the quoted matter can be found in volume 5, at entry number 5581, at the location corresponding to the verso of folio 181 of the original notebook. Folio numbers are given only when cited entries extend beyond one page. Coleridge’s notebook deletions (marked so), and insertions has herei reproduce the text as given by the Notebooks editors. Marginalia are cited thus: Marginalia, 5: 81 (S, Select Discourses, 1660; front flyleaf, 6 March 1824). If only one year is given, it is the date of annotation. When two years are given, the first identifies the edition annotated. The name in small capitals gives the author of the annotated work, sometimes omitted if implied in the context. In transliteration, the Greek letter upsilon is written as y, except in diphthongs, where it is rendered u. Coleridge uses certain words, such as reason, idea, and imagination in a technical sense. These words usually retain their Coleridgean sense when used in this book, except in a few instances when they are plainly used with their general meaning. Unless given in quotation marks, these words are not capitalized.

We can as little command an Idea by . . . the associative power by which we are enabled to recall, our or to frame, our Conceptions, as we can the transit-flash of a Shooting Star. Yet in serene Weather if we gaze heavenward with an unrestless and quiet submissive Watching, neither we shall scarcely miss of some one / it may be of many.—But the Light of the Star is spent in it’s transit—not so the Light of the Idea—It remains refracted in the whole atmosphere of the mind, and reflected by whole Groups of Images and Conceptions— The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 5: §6501 (November 1830).

Introduction ‘, or the doctrine and discipline of ideas’¹ as Samuel Taylor Coleridge understood it, is our theme. This book will accordingly explicate the account of reason and ideas that Coleridge developed throughout his life—this also involves exploring his poetry, throughout the book, but especially in Chapter 11. While he had other philosophical concerns, the most vital and mature vein of his prose writing pursues ‘the contemplation of ideas objectively, as existing powers’.² That ideas, in a Platonic (transcendent) rather than Kantian (transcendental) sense, can be contemplated objectively will sound strange to readers today, as it sounded strange in Coleridge’s time. This book will examine that strange notion and the perspective in which it arises. That perspective, however, while going beyond the transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant, is not as un-Kantian as might first appear. Kant does not rule out transcendent, real counterparts to his transcendental ideas. Indeed, he claimed that pure practical reason ‘proves its reality and that of its [pure] concepts through action’. His argument was that ‘the reality [of freedom] is proved by an apodeictic law of practical reason’ that then supports other pure concepts, or ideas, ‘those of God and immortality’, which ‘by means of it get stability and objective reality . . . . I.e., their [real, not only logical] possibility is proved by freedom’s being actual, for this idea reveals itself through the moral law’. Kant claims, then, that human cognizance of the moral law proves the reality of freedom and shows that the ‘objective reality and . . . authority’ of the ideas of God and immortality must be assumed by ‘a subjective necessity’.³ This is profoundly influential on Coleridge, who does not so much reject Kant’s system as read him as straining at the right intuition, but, due to his decision to self-limit in order to ground empirical cognition in certainty, could not affirm that what he discovered as negative was in fact the shadow of the positive. ‘Idea’ is an established but troublesome translation of Plato’s ἰδέα. ‘Form’ (for εἶδος) is not much of an improvement, since both words already have familiar English meanings that are different from Plato’s. While Coleridge, from around 1806, retains the Platonic sense of the word ‘idea’,⁴ he is interested, nonetheless, in how this sense interrelates with the familiar, general meaning. Ideas in the Platonic sense that Coleridge developed are not purely human mental occurrences, as when ¹ Church and State, 47. ² The Friend, 1: 422 fn. ³ Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, 4–7. ⁴ Letters, 2: 1195 (13 October 1806), to Thomas Clarkson (abolitionist), discussed in this book at 230–1. Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy. Peter Cheyne, Oxford University Press (2020). © Peter Cheyne. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001


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someone ‘has an idea’; they are positive powers, existing beyond the human mind. For Coleridge, they are ultimately ‘Divine Ideas’, subsisting in the mind of God and correlative with the laws of nature, as he holds ideas and laws to be necessary counterparts. In this introductory chapter, I first mark out the three main periods of Coleridge’s philosophical development before pausing to explain my method in this book. My method is in part historical, ascertaining the movement and process of Coleridge’s thought. A purely analytic presentation of his mature ideas could not discern the key themes found by tracing the development of his thought, which desideratum lies behind my methodological choice to draw extensively from the notebooks, marginalia, shorter works, and fragments. My method is also in part analytic, since my working out of the nodal points of his philosophy involves both approaches. After explaining my methodology, I provide initial definitions and descriptions of ‘reason’ and ‘the ideas’, the main terms of this book, with ‘contemplation’ referring to the human access to and beholding of that reason and its ideas, in Coleridge’s view, as universal truths and powers. That precedes a section distinguishing ‘translucent’ from ‘transparent’ contemplation, with further reference to ‘opacity’ in perception. The introduction then concludes with an outline of the chapters in the book. In this study, I argue that Coleridge’s philosophy of contemplation—of the human access to universal reason and ideas—is by far the most important aspect of his philosophical thinking. For him, the ideas that comprise reason are not conceptual constructs or merely categorial preformations of thought (‘moulds of the mind’),⁵ but intuitions of objective powers that constitute reality. They are objects of contemplation, not, ultimately, of reflection. While the ideas shape and guide intelligent discourse—the space of reflection and understanding—they do not so much appear in it, as illuminate it. Nonetheless, reflection is for Coleridge, a mode of the higher understanding that plays a vital role in moving from a vague and largely aesthetic sense of moral and cosmic meaning into a clearer contemplation of the same. I explore that transition throughout this book, reconstructing Coleridge’s view of sense and reason as the opposed poles of intuition, with conceptual reflection and its subsequent, discursive articulation in the middle, in that crucial, comprehending mediality that is the hallmark of the understanding. Here, Coleridge agrees entirely with Kant’s view that Our understanding is a faculty of concepts, i.e., a discursive understanding . . . ⁶

It is regarding reason where their major difference lies.

⁵ Letters, 2: 682 (18 February 1801), to Josiah Wedgwood. ⁶ Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 275 (Ak. 5: 406, §77). Kant reiterates this definition throughout that book.



Motivating this book is the potential philosophical value promised by Coleridge’s view of intuitive reason and its ideas that shape humanity. Such intuitionism pursues what has been described as a hope for ‘the future direction of philosophy’, developing through meditation or some comparable contemplative activity . . . . If I am not deluded, there is an interior route towards the great questions of metaphysics, and we shall be known for not having taken it. It is a task for a new generation of philosophers, and I for one still scan the horizon for their arrival.⁷

Coleridgean contemplation is intimately bound up with the will; the ideas, as he viewed them, are to be approached in practical concerns as much as by the intellect. Accordingly, he argued for a higher reason that is both ‘the source of Ideas . . . in the total Platonic sense’, and one with ‘the Will, and active principle’.⁸ I shall therefore examine the practical aims to which Coleridge set his philosophy of reason and ideas. These practical aims cultivate the lower mind, with its sensitive roots of desire and curiosity, through the subsumptive and organizing higher mind, enlightened and directed by ideas.

1 Coleridge’s Three Periods I identify three main periods in the development of Coleridge’s thought. The first was his imagination period (1795–1816), which focused on the processes of poetic creation and symbolic perception. This includes his early, Hartleian, empiricist, view of ‘Creativeness by combination’ that climbs ‘glittering Summits . . . up the ascent of Being’;⁹ his most famous poetry; his transcendental idealist theory of the imagination, given in Biographia Literaria, chapters 12 and 13; and his theory of the symbol, most fully formulated in The Statesman’s Manual (1816). During the second period (1816–30), he focused on the philosophy of ideas, revising The Friend by updating its philosophical content and adding his ‘Essays on the Principles of Method’; worked out a theory of ‘Noetics’, or higher logic of ideas, adverted to in his Aids to Reflection,¹⁰ with further development in his letters, marginalia, and notebooks; and theorized the actualization of ideas in society and through history in Church and State. The third and final phase (1822–34), ⁷ McGhee, ‘In Praise of Mindfulness’, 65. ⁸ Notebooks, 4: §5089 ff48r–v (December 1823). This statement is typical of Coleridge’s Kantianism as one that, rather than relinquishing Platonic ideas, argues that Kant’s transcendental ones are in reality transcendent, i.e. real, but inaccessible to direct sense experience. On the conjunction of higher reason and will, see The Statesman’s Manual, 68 n.3 (autograph note, 1827); Aids to Reflection, 259 fn.; and Notebooks, 4: §5210 20v (May 1825). ⁹ ‘Lecture on the Slave Trade’, Lectures 1795: On Politics and Religion, 235 (16 June 1795). ¹⁰ e.g. Aids to Reflection, 180.


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which begins in the middle period, was his theological period when he composed, for instance, his manuscript ‘On the Divine Ideas’ (1822–3).¹¹ The current book focuses primarily on Coleridge’s contemplative philosophy of ideas, but it inevitably also draws from his earlier imagination period—when he was already fully engaged in the pursuit of ideas through aesthetic means—and, to a greater extent, from his theological period. One can think of the first as the launching dock of the imagination, bringing Coleridge into the sea of ideas, before he entered the ocean of philosophical theology. As his notebooks amply reveal, the theological period was preoccupied with contemplation. Throughout his intellectual development, he carried earlier theories and positions into later ones, leaving little entirely surpassed and abandoned. His return to Trinitarian Anglicanism, for example, entailed leaving behind his youthfully adopted Unitarianism, yet he nonetheless retains accents from this dissenting creed throughout his life. One can look also to his growing opposition to Lockean associationism and the sophisticated form it was given by David Hartley. In his twenties, Coleridge enthusiastically held associationism to explain the connections between body and mind, and how memory and reflection garner and multiply these connections, naturally producing the similes and metaphors by which we understand the world and our place in it. While associationism was just one strand of John Locke’s and, though a broader strand, David Hume’s empiricism, Hartley based his entire system on the theory of association by contiguity and repetition. Although Hartley’s influence on Coleridge would not retain its central position, it was, in 1796, strong enough for the poet to name his first son Hartley Coleridge. Coleridge was especially enthusiastic about Hartley’s sublimation theory, whereby material objects become aestheticized and sense materials spiritualized. As Hartley describes it, Some Degree of Spirituality is the necessary Consequence of passing through Life. The sensible Pleasures and Pains must be transferred by Association . . . upon things that afford neither sensible Pleasure nor sensible Pain in themselves, and so beget the intellectual Pleasures and Pains.¹²

In ‘Religious Musings’ (1794–6), a 420-line blank verse poem, and his first critically acclaimed work, Coleridge hails Hartley as ‘of mortal kind | Wisest’, because he essayed to establish moral and spiritual value on a material and scientific footing, and was the ‘first who mark’d the ideal tribes | Up the fine fibres thro’ the sentient brain’.¹³ Yet by the time of the Biographia Literaria, ¹¹ Fragment 3, Opus Maximum. ¹² David Hartley, Observations on Man, 1: 82 (ch. 1, §2). ¹³ ‘Religious Musings’ (1794–6), Poetical Works, 1: 189, ll. 368–70.



Coleridge forcefully criticizes associationism for its necessitarian implications, and argues, in a lecture of 1819, against the materialist assertion ‘That sensation and thought are precisely the same’.¹⁴ Nonetheless, by assimilating it within a larger whole, he salvages the workings of the theory from its reductionist consequences. The greatest influence on Coleridge’s transition from Hartleian sublimating associationism to dynamic idealism stems from his two years in Germany. At the suggestion of Thomas Beddoes, who commended the intellectual developments in that country, Coleridge set out in September 1798 for Germany with William and Dorothy Wordsworth. While the Wordsworth siblings retreated to Goslar, in the Harz mountains, Coleridge enrolled at Göttingen University, also in Lower Saxony, to improve his German and to take in lectures on subjects including metaphysics and physiology.¹⁵ The influence of German metaphysics on him was profound but not immediate, as it continued over the next three decades, furthered, no doubt, by Coleridge’s returning to England with a box of 30 pounds worth of books (chiefly metaphysics/& with a view to the one work, to which I hope to dedicate in silence the prime of my life) . . . ¹⁶

Whereas German philosophy after Kant tended to sidestep British empiricism, Coleridge essayed to wrestle ‘half-truths’ from that system while opposing its general conclusions. Retaining a humbled but necessary place in his system, with reason and sense at opposite poles, Coleridge subordinated association theory to the lower, sense pole. I should note here that although he mentions his ‘system’ several times,¹⁷ commentators usually divide into those who refer to his ‘system’ and those who say he had none. Perhaps this debate stems from the postmodern criticism of ‘grand narratives’, of which Hegel is the chief exemplar. However, given the OED definition of the word ‘system’ as ‘An organized or connected group of things’, or even Kant’s characterization—‘I understand by a system . . . the unity of the manifold cognitions under one idea’¹⁸—one might wonder if too much debate is

¹⁴ Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 2: 523 (15 March 1819, lecture series at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, Strand, London). ¹⁵ Woudenberg, Coleridge and . . . Göttingen University, is very informative on Coleridge’s scholarly environment at Göttingen. ¹⁶ Letters, 1: 519 (21 May 1799), to Josiah Wedgwood, his patron, who, with his brother Thomas, began paying Coleridge an annuity of £150 from January 1798, in part to save him from taking up the Unitarian ministry he was contemplating as a source of income. Tom’s half of the annuity continued after his death, fulfilling terms in his will, but Josiah cancelled his half in 1813, citing business difficulties: see Rubinstein, ‘The Wedgwood Annuity’, 129–30. ¹⁷ e.g. Notebooks, 4: §§4661 (1820), 4853 (January 1822), 5209 (May 1825), 5249 (September 1825); 5: §§5489 (April 1827), 5620 (October 1827), 5971 (February–March 1829), 6296 f46v (13 May 1830), 6737 (25 September 1833); Table Talk, 1: 248–9 (11 September 1831); 491–2 (28 June 1834). ¹⁸ Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 691 (A832/B860). Kant’s definition of ‘system’ as the unifying organization of knowledge under the ordination of the idea is retained in Coleridge’s theory of ideas.


 ’   

given to this issue. Coleridge never presented a geometrically modelled system, such as Spinoza’s Ethics, nor did he give a comprehensive summation of his views and doctrines in one location. Yet, because he strove for what he called the ‘interpenetration’¹⁹ and interdependence—rather than contrariety—of opposites, struggled against contradiction in his own thought, and wrangled with conflicts between that thought and the systems of certain major philosophers and traditions, one may admit that a systematic quality exists in his work. These struggles, his adapting the truest parts of theories he opposed, and the internal tensions, parentheses, and circumambulations within his own works, demonstrate what he called the drama of Reason—& present the thought growing, instead of a mere Hortus siccus [dry garden].²⁰

There is indeed real drama in Coleridge’s evolution as a thinker, as he travels up many roads before concluding they are blind alleys. Nonetheless, he seldom returned empty handed. His rejection of the necessitarianism encountered in Locke, Hartley, and Joseph Priestley is a good example, as he only partly abandoned their empiricism,²¹ retaining—in a typically Coleridgean reconciliation of opposites—what he sees as the truths of the associationist theory relevant at the ‘lower’ workings of mind pertaining to recollection and desire, but overridden or marshalled in acts of understanding, imagination, or reason. Association, then, remains important for him at the mechanical level, while genuine thinking emerges only through mental exertion beyond associative impulse, and thus involves the will. In Biographia Literaria, Coleridge began to formulate in print how he saw association as true of only the lower half of mental operations. Publishing that book also allowed him to distance his theories of creativity and the imagination from those in Wordsworth’s prefaces to the Lyrical Ballads (1800) and, especially, Wordsworth’s Collected Poems (1815). Having clarified ‘on what points I coincide with the opinions in that preface, and in what points I altogether differ’, Coleridge became free from tangles that had occupied him for almost two decades. His ensuing theories involved levels of mental concatenation and thought that progress from nature, through sensation, to fancy and desire; above this, he saw—more clearly after his imagination period—lower (mechanical), then higher

¹⁹ The OED cites The Friend, 1: 457 (equiv.) as the first use of the word. ²⁰ Letters, 3: 282 (28 January 1810), to Thomas Poole. ²¹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 105–25. Hartley and Priestley were more clearly necessitarians, whereas Locke’s views developed into a possibly compatibilist ground between necessitarianism and libertarianism.



(enlightened) understanding; imagination; and then reason, which for Coleridge is divine Logos,²² the source of ultimate truth and the laws of reality. The conscious attainment of reason requires the ascent to contemplation, understood by Coleridge not as merely passive reception but as the active and directed opening of the mind to ideas of reason. Two kinds of mental passivity are therefore revealed in Coleridge’s analysis. One kind is the inert passivity that the empiricists focus on, which, when it leads to merely going with the flow, hinders contemplation; the other is an actively directed openness, which advances it. Beyond the lower level, Coleridge accounts for human higher understanding, imagination, free will, and contemplation, as requiring a different mode of discussion, befitting different principles, from the mechanical and hydraulic explanation of association. His transition from the imagination to the philosophy-of-ideas period gained momentum in 1816, with The Statesman’s Manual. Though published in 1817, Coleridge dictated the majority of the first half of Biographia Literaria between March and September 1815.²³ His thoughts in The Statesman’s Manual are, naturally, more developed and coherent than those in volume 1 of the Biographia. Certainly, his theory of symbolic imagination is more coherently organized in that ‘Lay Sermon’. His sustained object there is the symbol itself, pointing to the idea that is intimated and epitomized through aesthetic, symbolic content. Coleridge develops this thesis from Kant, who affirmed that ‘All hypotyposis . . . as making something sensible, is . . . either schematic . . . or symbolic’.²⁴ Like Kant’s, Coleridge’s symbol is never identical to the idea, whereas for Hegel, for example, symbol and idea become identical in the work of art. Coleridge also agrees with Kant’s view that symbols are ‘presentations (exhibitiones)’ that derive from the ‘intuition of the object’, rather than being merely arbitrary or ‘algebraic’ signs.²⁵ More Platonic, however, and closer to Schelling than to Kant, Coleridge sees the symbol as participating in, or instantiating, the idea symbolized. Thus, while Kant allows the relations between symbol and symbolized to include allegory, such that ‘a monarchical state’ can be ‘represented by a . . . handmill’,²⁶ Coleridge insists that symbols cannot be allegories, and must themselves be visible

²² In this book, ‘Logos’ signifies universal ‘reason’, independent of the human mind and also Christ as the ‘Word’. For Coleridge, the two senses converge, as in the tradition of the Church Fathers and Christian neo-Platonism, which draw from Middle Platonism and Philo: see Perkins, Coleridge’s Philosophy. For him, ‘Logos . . . . contemplated in abstracto is reason’, The Statesman’s Manual, 68 n.3. ²³ Literary scholars dispute which Biographia Literaria passages were composed precisely when, and whether the philosophical passages, such as those on imagination and fancy in ch. 13, at the climax of vol. 1, were rushed for the printer or composed in relative leisure. Either way, vol. 1 was printed in 1815. Despite the September 1815 rush for the printer, publication was delayed until 1817, and Coleridge was requested to add makeweight pages to the second volume to balance it with the longer first. Modiano, ‘Coleridge as Literary Critic’, 206–7. ²⁴ Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 225 (Ak. 5: 531, §59). ²⁵ Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 226 (Ak. 5: 532, §59). ²⁶ Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 226 (Ak. 5: 532, §59).


 ’   

instantiations of the idea symbolized and not parallel redescription. Coleridge does, however, bridge the gap for some cases, recognizing that It will often happen, that in the extension of our human Knowlege what had been an Allegory, will become a Symbol. Thus: the identification, in genere, of the vegetable Life with the animal life, as the same hpoweri in a lower dignity, would raise the Homeric allegory or compound Metaphor of the Leaves into a Symbol.²⁷

Thus some apparent allegories are revealed, with deepening knowledge, to be at root symbolic, that is, to be continuous and necessary rather than parallel and contingent. Moving positively, with the symbol, into the orbit of ideas, The Statesman’s Manual is freed from the contestations, against associationism, materialism, and certain elements in Wordsworth’s account of imagination and poetry, that take up so much of the Biographia. The Statesman’s Manual is also considerably freer of the issues of plagiarism that plagued the Biographia, since Coleridge critically interpreted German transcendental idealists for a domestic British readership, who, he feared—writing at the end of the Napoleonic wars—would require many of his Continental imports to be made surreptitiously. Loosened from the tangles of defining imagination against the views of others (and Napoleon now permanently exiled on St Helena), Coleridge began to concentrate less on the imagination and more on the ideas of reason that are, for him, the ultimate objects of imagination. Hence, in The Statesman’s Manual, ideas begin to receive more direct attention as the raison d’être of—and ultimate aim beyond—the symbols of imagination. Two years later, he dedicated an essay to ‘Reason and Understanding’ in his rifacimento of The Friend,²⁸ the updated edition adding philosophical content to the work of a decade earlier. He continued to develop this work on the ideas for over a decade, throughout his philosophy of ideas period and into the high contemplation of his philosophical theology that, however rarefied, always remained within his personal and deeply emotional sense of the relationship to the personëity of God. After The Statesman’s Manual, Coleridge returned more critically, over the next six years, to texts by authors such as Jakob Böhme, Baruch Spinoza, and Friedrich Schelling, distinguishing, especially after 1818, his own philosophy from the pantheist tendencies of those three thinkers. Over these years, he arrived at a more penetrating view of reason and the ideas, especially concerning their transcendence and their activity in the human mind, in the sphere of experience—the ²⁷ Notebooks, 4: §4832 f61v (1821). Homer, Iliad, bk 6, ll. 171–5: ‘Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men. | Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth, | now the living timber bursts with the new buds and spring comes round again. And so with men: | as one generation comes to life, another dies away.’ ²⁸ The Friend, 1: 154–61.



phenomenal—where they are contemplable as transcendence-in-immanence. This view, as I shall argue in Chapter 5, was greatly assisted by his persistent struggles with and against Böhme’s obscure yet profound writings—mystical texts illuminated by lightning flashes²⁹ of philosophical insight achieved through an inventive logic of quality and intension that starkly contrasts with the logic of quantity and extension established by Böhme’s slightly older contemporaries Francis Bacon and Galileo Galilei.³⁰ In 1824, Coleridge’s thoughts crystallize in a sketch of his theorized ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ (see Table 5.2), to be discussed in Chapters 5 and 6. As I hope to show, his diagram and related texts merge Böhme’s insights concerning mediation and production between two levels (usually the unmanifest and the manifest, the dark and the light) in a novel synthesis with a Platonic theory of ascent from sense perception to noetic contemplation and reason. The diagram is frequently referenced in this book because it schematizes key elements of Coleridge’s dynamic philosophy, especially those concerning the mediation of higher and lower in terms of the polar relations of reason and sense, imagination and fancy, and the enlightened understanding versus the mechanical understanding. This 1824 document, then, offers, in concise form, a rich schematization of Coleridge’s thought in his philosophy of ideas period concerning reason (and the ideas), the faculties of the human mind, and how he saw their interrelations as a harmonic complex. Rather than standing in isolation, however, the schema supports and is supported by earlier and later statements. Notably, such statements include the earlier ones in the 1818 Friend that celebrate the medial position of the understanding and its essential role in politics, the formulation of juridical laws, and the articulation, in artefacts and artworks, of insights reached in the light of higher reason. As Kant limited science to make room for faith, Coleridge subordinated understanding to reason. The connection is not accidental, for Coleridge is in this period deeply influenced by Kant’s philosophy of science. Like Kant, Coleridge views the lower level of mechanism according to a metaphysical account of force, thereby opening room for reason, and thus for faith, in a higher level of power and potential. Coleridge did not, therefore, denigrate the proper functions and subaltern rank of the Understanding . . . . But I do regret . . . all the doubts and difficulties, that cannot but arise where the Understanding, “the mind of the flesh,” is made the measure of spiritual things . . . ³¹

²⁹ I borrow the image from a reported statement from Coleridge (dated 27 April 1823), on Edmund Kean’s acting: ‘To see him act, is like reading Shakespeare by flashes of lightning’: Table Talk, 1: xcii. ³⁰ Bacon (1561–1626), Galileo (1564–1642), Böhme (1575–1624). ³¹ Aids to Reflection, 242, 239.


 ’   

His rich view of the (higher) understanding as enlightened by contemplative reason and thereby qualitatively different from the mechanical understanding is supported and developed throughout Aids to Reflection (1825), largely written in the same year as the ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ schema. In that book, Coleridge articulates his account of the understanding–reason division (see Table 2.1) with an especial regard to contemplation. The distinction is sustainedly discussed in the Aids to Reflection chapter titled ‘On the Difference in Kind of the Reason and the Understanding’,³² which expands on his shorter, seven-years earlier essay on the distinction in the 1818 Friend. The distinction— technically a division, a difference in kind, not degree—also occurs throughout the Logic (c.1821–3, or later), especially across a few pages in which he defines reason as the source of principles and the understanding as the faculty of rules, the reason being the finis finium or sum of ends, while the understanding is the faculty of means . . . ³³

Here he also holds ‘every conception of the understanding’ to be a ‘product’, ‘merely an . . . ens logicum’, as contrasted against powers and laws, each being ‘an ens , a somewhat existing out of the mind’. In this discussion, ‘understanding . . . and sense’ are ‘the two faculties of the mind’, with ‘the reason (νους) as the universal power presiding over both’.³⁴ In The Friend, then in the Logic, and further yet in the Aids to Reflection, Coleridge draws out this epistemological divide in a form nearer to Plato’s between diánoia and nóēsis than to Kant’s between Verstand and Vernunft. An idea of reason for Kant is a concept of the supersensible. Whether or not this concept names anything in noumenal reality is, Kant maintains, unknowable from a human standpoint. In The Statesman’s Manual, the 1818 Friend, and in Aids to Reflection, Coleridge opposed this reasoning, affirming instead the Platonic view of the disparity between ideas and concepts. As early as 1806, Coleridge was already thinking of this important distinction in terms of its locus classicus in book 6 of Plato’s Republic, as when he adds, in appositive parenthesis, Platonic terms before their Kantian equivalents: the Reason, and the Understanding (νοῦς καὶ ὲπιστήμη [noûs (intuitive reason) kaí epistēme (dianoetic knowledge)]: Vernunft, und Verstand) . . . ³⁵

³² Aids to Reflection, 216–36. Coleridge added this heading in 1831. His sustained discussion of reason and understanding in that book is his fullest treatment in any one location. It runs, in fact, from 207–36, as he indicates at Notebooks, 4: §5210 (May 1825). Notes §§5209–10 summarize his reason– understanding distinction as presented in Aids to Reflection. ³³ Logic, 68, in the discussion from 66–72. ³⁴ Logic, 70. ³⁵ Letters, 2: 1193 (9 October 1806), to Thomas Clarkson.



For Coleridge, reason considered on the human side—as the willed openness to universal reason—intuits ideas that connect with noumenal reality, much as, for Plato, noûs cognizes ideas.³⁶ Also in 1825, he delivered his ‘Lecture on the Prometheus of Aeschylus’ to the Royal Society of Literature, arguing for reason as Logos, independent of the human mind, although, like Prometheus’ stolen divine fire, we humans can nonetheless gain access to it. This philosophy-of-ideas period culminates four years later in 1829, with the publication of On the Constitution of the Church and State, lightly revised in 1830. In that book, the capstone of his philosophy of ideas, Coleridge gives a mature, well-organized, and sustained account of the practical value of the contemplation of ideas and their role in the historical development of the nation, the state, the constitution, the Church, and the custodians of cultivation, the ‘Clerisy (including all the learned & educated)’.³⁷ As Biographia Literaria and The Statesman’s Manual culminated his theory of imagination, so Church and State is the high point of his philosophy of ideas, providing its most practically applied and clearest account. Much as Coleridge’s thinking of the imagination and its symbols did not cease in 1817, continuing in an ancillary way once worked out to his satisfaction, so his philosophy of ideas did not end in 1830, but continued until his death in 1834. Yet his final, theological period becomes recognizable around 1822, beginning, like a dovetail joint, within the middle period. From his 1795 Unitarian lectures on religion until his 1817 definition of the imagination as the imago dei, echoing God’s infinite creativity in the finite human mind, in the imagination period, through his developing philosophy of ideas, to his final, theological period, religion and theology were always important to Coleridge. But by the criterion of describing periods of intellectual development according to what receives the most attention and provides characteristic form, this final period is his most prominently theological. The strands begin to gather in his manuscript ‘On the Divine Ideas’, in which, as the title suggests, philosophy of ideas and theology overlap, in what he called his ‘Logosophic System and Method’.³⁸ After 1830, while his thinking of ideas and their contemplation matures, his philosophical arc transitions into theology. This book focuses on his philosophy of ideas and its relation to contemplation.³⁹

³⁶ Both thinkers maintain that we have an intuitive apprehension of the idea that defies straightforward definition or discursive reasoning, but which guides the dialectic approach to it. Both also describe a deeply felt aesthetic and imaginative, though ‘dimmer’, access to ideas, that enriches life, fills it with meaning, and orients one towards virtue and the divine transcendence of ‘the Good’. ³⁷ Letters, 5: 138 (12 February 1821), to C. A. Tulk. ³⁸ Notebooks, 4: §4673 (1820). ³⁹ Theologically focused accounts of Coleridge include: Newsome, Two Classes of Men; Barbeau, Coleridge, the Bible, and Religion, and (ed.) Coleridge’s Assertion of Religion; Webster, Body and Soul in Coleridge’s Notebooks; Harter, Coleridge’s Philosophy of Faith; Evans, Sublime Coleridge; Gunton, The One, the Three, and the Many; Hedley, Coleridge, Philosophy and Religion, and ‘Coleridge’s Contemplative Imagination’; Milbank, ‘Divine Logos’; Janzen, ‘Notebook 55 as Contemplative Coda’.


 ’   

2 My Method in the Current Book As the previous, diachronic section on the periods of Coleridge’s thought suggests, although he abandoned, greatly modified, and even opposed earlier views and positions, certain strands remain, becoming corrected rather than contradicted, throughout his last twenty-five years. This book will articulate not only the final form of his philosophical positions, but also earlier expressions as they develop. Coleridge refines the interrelations of these core, developing positions into the main lines and joints of his philosophy. Accordingly, I draw throughout from texts relevant to these positions, attending to their different times and contexts, while remaining aware of their interrelations as later statements subsume, modify, or finesse earlier ones. A recurrent method in researching this book was to test problematic statements and dark thickets in his writings against what increasingly proved to be Coleridgean constants, i.e. statements or positions that he reiterated over long periods, their different formulations usually supporting each other without contradiction. Illuminating obscurities that arise in his prose, this method enabled me to identify a cluster of positions representing the core of Coleridge’s contemplative philosophy in elements and strands that shift less than others and become progressively refined.⁴⁰ Such core positions and statements of perspective, which Coleridge develops over many years, are what I call the nodal points that are crucial in formulating his worldview. These nodal points are the essential, fixed yet flexible, articulations of Coleridge’s philosophy, around which everything else moves. Where possible, I quote statements of these nodal points that represent their developmental iteration. The nodal points of Coleridge’s philosophy include the following interrelated theses: • The personëity of God is acknowledged as ‘the infinite I ’.⁴¹ This leads to an overall philosophy of the subject and the values that matter to it, rather than a naturalistic or pantheistic philosophy of ‘it is’. Coleridge argued: ‘Did philosophy commence with an it is, instead of an I am, Spinoza would be altogether true.’⁴² Thus Coleridge affirms ‘that most fundamental truth—that

⁴⁰ Wittgenstein called such statements ‘propositions that stand fast’ or ‘hold fast’, ‘hinges’, that ‘belong to our frame of reference’: On Certainty, §§152, 173, 225; 341, 343, 655; 83. ⁴¹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 304. ⁴² Robinson, Diary, 1: 400 (3 October 1812). Logic, 130, §26 (c.1820–1), discussed in this book at 284, argues for the philosophical importance of ascribing personëity (‘intelligence, will, bliss, power’) to God. Coleridge’s argument against pantheism is discussed in Ch. 5 in this book. McFarland, Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition, 56–63, 69–71, 90, 92–4, 108, 146, and elsewhere, pays close attention Coleridge’s ‘I am–It is’ distinction between philosophical outlooks, as does Berkeley, Coleridge and the Crisis of Reason, 3–5, 39, 42, 155, 162, 165–6.


• •


the ground of all reality, the Objective no less than of the Subjective, is the absolute Subject’.⁴³ Unlike sense, understanding, and imagination, reason, in its eminent sense, is not a human faculty.⁴⁴ Reason, in the eminent sense, is the universal Logos in which, for Coleridge, universal truths, values, and the laws of nature inhere.⁴⁵ He identifies this Logos with that of St John’s gospel, the Word. This Logos unfolds, or actualizes, throughout natural and human history. In his middle to late period notebooks, and in his marginalia (especially on Böhme), Coleridge expresses this in terms of involution (value, intensionality, quality) and evolution (phenomena, extensionality, quantity). This ‘unfolding’ of Logos is analogous to the explication throughout nature of what a theoretical physicist has called ‘the implicate order’,⁴⁶ the ‘enfolded’ order of reality, the unfolding of which leads to the phenomena of the outer, or explicate, order. A universal, two-level hierarchy has its basis in nature (causality and phenomena) and a higher level of freedom and ideas that is spiritual and, in a literal sense, supernatural. Coleridgean hierarchy lies in the subsumption or direction of the ‘lower’ by the ‘higher’, e.g. of force by power, irrational by rational, sensible by intelligible, and conceptual by intellectual. These opposed levels produce a medial and mediating third.⁴⁷ Modified by a dynamic that Coleridge adapts from Jakob Böhme, this nodal position and the one above form the crux of Coleridge’s Christian Platonic, post-Kantian, ‘ideal realism’.⁴⁸ In this model, the human understanding is a medial faculty, operating between sense and reason, and intermediary in its function. Essentially medial, it necessarily has higher and lower modes.⁴⁹ There is a seeking and receptive drive or nisus in the human, ‘Cis-Alpine’ side of reason that is the willed openness and directedness towards ‘TransAlpine’ reason: Logos and the ideas.⁵⁰

⁴³ Letters, 4: 877 (15 December 1831), to J. H, Green. ⁴⁴ The Statesman’s Manual, 70 (1816), 73 n.1, autograph fn. (1827); Marginalia, 6: 300 (L; between 1819 and 1823); and Aids to Reflection, 218 (1825). ⁴⁵ The Statesman’s Manual, 68 n.3 (1816); The Friend, 1: 106 (1818); Church and State, 47 fn. (1829); Notebooks, 5: §6320 (May 1830). ⁴⁶ Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order. ⁴⁷ Biographia Literaria, 1: 300. This concept is foreshadowed in remarks such as one at Notebooks, 3: §4169 (October 1812), on ‘Soul & Body making a . . . tertium aliquid of Both’ as ‘the best characteristic of humanity’. He retains this notion throughout his life. ⁴⁸ Biographia Literaria, 1: 303. ⁴⁹ The Friend, 1: 156, 177 fn. (1818); Marginalia, 3: 746 (undated, but between September 1819 and August 1829), Marginalia, 5: 798 (1824), Marginalia, 3: 425 (1827); Church and State, 59 (1829). ⁵⁰ Biographia Literaria, 1: 236 (1817); Opus Maximum (c.1823), 171; Notebooks, 4: §5393 (June 1826); The Statesman’s Manual, 68 n.3 (autograph note, 1827).


 ’    • These ideas of reason ‘constitute . . . humanity’; without them we could still be clever and efficient machines or creatures, but amoral, and never humane.⁵¹ • In the human being and in God, ‘will is deeper than mind ’.⁵² Thus unconditioned, human will, like divine, is therefore free. The primordiality of will is the basis not only of desire and aims, but of all judgements by which anything is perceived as good or bad. • The higher level of reality in the cosmos is that of the laws of nature. Principles and laws account for phenomena, but ‘The solution of Phænomena can never be derived from Phænomena’.⁵³ Thus science is ultimately an ideal pursuit—an inquiry into laws that are the correlates of universal ideas, and which explain, but do not exist as, phenomena, nor are derivable from them. (I discuss this topic in this book, 241–5.) • Attenuated reflection or repetition characterizes the lower and medial levels in relation to the higher. Thus, Coleridge described the imagination as ‘a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I ’.⁵⁴ While each idea participates in reason entirely and the totality of the ideas is identical to reason without remainder, the symbols of the imagination, though they intimate the ideas, present attenuated, aesthetic forms through which the clearer, intellectual aspect is diffused and made dim. Every symbol has, therefore, a higher, pure signified, and a lower, impure but ‘venial’ signifier.⁵⁵ In turn, the concepts of the understanding present only an ‘opaque’, indirect, and mediated approach to reason.⁵⁶

These nodal points are among the chief articulations of Coleridge’s philosophy as it develops from around 1815 to 1834. They work together at the joints of the current book, as I reconstruct the framework and ligaments of Coleridge’s philosophy. Another dimension of my method is the description of the experiential view of ideas. Returning to the earliest discussion of the noetic contemplation of ideas,

⁵¹ Church and State, 47 fn. (1829); foreshadowed at The Statesman’s Manual, 24, 50, 114 (1816); taking form also at Aids to Reflection, 217–18 (1825). ⁵² Church and State, 182 (1829). Similar statements include those at Opus Maximum, 171 (c.1823), and Aids to Reflection, 285 (1825). ⁵³ Biographia Literaria, 1: 256 (1817); The Friend, 1: 500 (1818), implicit at 115, 519, 523. ⁵⁴ Biographia Literaria, 1: 304. Coleridge struck out this definition while annotating a copy of Biographia (1: 304 n.3). McFarland, Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition, 331, surmises that ‘eventual understanding of the hidden pantheism in the conception accounts for’ the redaction. While, the ‘repetition in the finite mind’ statement is not, without qualification, a continuing nodal point in Coleridge’s thought, the form it takes is, being one of attenuated repetition. ⁵⁵ Notebooks, 2: §2664 f83 (July–September 1805); Church and State, 184 (1829), adapting var. Notebooks, 4: §4844 (1821–2), see Poetical Works, 1: 995. ⁵⁶ Implicit at Notebooks, 2: §2664 f83 (July–September 1805); explicated in The Statesman’s Manual (1816), 28–9, 113–14.



which Coleridge both drew from and modified, one can approach Platonism not as the ‘general explanation’ of reality, inclusive of ethics and aesthetics, but rather, as one philosopher puts it, as ‘particular moments’ in which goodness and beauty find their ‘highest expression’.⁵⁷ This is insightful, but an appreciation of the Platonic philosophy of noesis should go further. For as well as containing the highest expression of value and intelligibility in human experience, the Platonic dialogues, and much in their tradition, also attempt to attain and describe views, or theōríai, of intellectual vantage points. It is this sort of theōría, of a view that is won and lived, that influenced Coleridge. In this vein, one may see that the heart of the ‘theory of Forms’ as Plato presents it . . . is not metaphysical or logical. It is experiential; and the experiences to which it appeals are meant to be possible for almost anyone, and actual, at least to some degree, in many of us.⁵⁸

The current book begins from this experiential, rather than ‘armchair’, perspective, to present a Coleridgean view of Platonic ideas infusing experience. Furthermore, while this experiential theōría is compellingly apparent in heightened moments of the Symposium, Phaedrus, and parts of the Republic, it becomes explicit in Plotinus, especially in his tract ‘On the Intellectual Beauty’, which is taken up by the later neo-Platonists and beyond, by philosophical theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas. It flashes through the Renaissance Platonism of Ficino and Dante, and Shakespeare and Spenser; courses through the earlymodern Cambridge Platonists; illuminates the work of eighteenth-century thinkers such as Shaftesbury, and through him, J. G. Herder; then, taking a surprising, revolutionary turn, influences Kant, and the post-Kantians. This experiential idealism then arises in Coleridge’s view of ideas possessing us in obscure, barely reflected strivings, shaping histories and enabling individuals to write biographie concréte in the stuff of life, my theme in Chapter 4, ‘The Art of Poetic Life-Writing’. There, I employ another dimension of my method: the interpretation of Coleridgean texts in pursuit of a poetic art of living that relates imagination, idea, and contemplative activity. This ars biographica poetica sees living and shaping one’s life as a poiesis—a creative, artistic production—that embodies values. It develops through expressive technique and contemplative attention—rhyme and reason—in the aim to ‘possess’ ideas, as Coleridge says, rather than be ‘possessed’ by them. The poetizing, aesthetic model of contemplation that I propose in the early chapters of the book begins in undistracted, imaginative, non-conceptual attention to an idea. This meditation on ideas then unites, beyond imagination, with that Platonic noesis—which I relate to Coleridgean ideas later in the book—required for the experience of positive reason,

⁵⁷ Santayana, The Sense of Beauty, 8.

⁵⁸ Chappell, Knowing What to Do, 298.


 ’   

where ideas are possessed by ‘the Fewest among the Few that live in their Light’, so that with ‘the Idea working in them’, they achieve clearest contemplation.⁵⁹

3 What Is Reason, and What Are Its ‘Ideas’? Although Coleridge does not abandon the imagination after 1817, by 1818 it is no longer even his interim destination, given his increasing preoccupation with reason, and ‘the idea’ itself. But what is reason? In brief, reason, for Coleridge, is equivalent to what Plato called noesis: a direct, intuitive beholding of timeless moral values and the constitutive powers that shape reality and frame its rational space. This intuition apprehends, he argues, those ideas and values that necessarily intersect with our lives and do so because they constitute our purposes. They are what make our lives human. For Coleridge, such noetic ideas include being, the soul, life, reason, freedom, and the law of conscience. Without these ideas, howsoever we could likely exist, thrive even, we would lack humanity.⁶⁰ Getting to these ideas, Coleridge says, means clearing the ground to open a space to contemplate them. Yet positive insight into ideas cannot be directly or nakedly communicated. Ideas and concepts are, for him, ‘utterly disparate’, and the attempt to reach the former solely by the latter is ‘as hopeless an undertaking as to discourse with the deaf respecting Music.’⁶¹ This difficulty does not, however, prevent their aesthetic and symbolic communication, but only its logical or discursive conveyance. Thus, the Negative, the insight into the not-truth, the not-possible of A. B. C. D. . . . is all that the ablest and most gifted of Reasoners can help others to. The Positive, the X Y Z they must find for themselves, or meet in themselves.⁶²

The current book, then, reads the works of Coleridge as a post-Kantian thinker pursuing the beholding of ideas (in a Platonic sense) and intensely, reflectively concerned with the requisite powers of thought and concentration. Hence one finds in his prose energetic, zig-zag tacking, circumambulation, and peregrinations in widening gyres, all loosely harnessed into the service of an energic pursuit of ideas. This end is the noesis that is for Coleridge, borrowing Milton’s terms, the ‘being’ of ‘the soul’, ‘ . . . ’, distinguished from ‘’.⁶³

⁵⁹ Notebooks, 5: §5495 f63 (April 1827). ⁶⁰ Church and State, 47 fn. My introduction to Coleridge and Contemplation, 2–3, discusses Coleridgean ideas in the context of the ‘Crisis of the Humanities’. ⁶¹ Notebooks, 4: §5288 f15 (December 1825). ⁶² Notebooks, 4: §5215 f26 (May 1825). ⁶³ Biographia Literaria, 1: 173–4, quoting Milton, Paradise Lost, 5, ll. 486–8.



The wide variety of Coleridge’s sources is well known. It includes ancient Greek and Hellenic philosophers, poets, and historians; the Church Fathers; medieval philosophers such as John Scotus Eriugena; Renaissance humanists; sixteenthcentury hermetic writers; seventeenth-century Anglican divines; the Cambridge Platonists; and works by Jakob Böhme, J. G. Herder, Immanuel Kant, F. H. Jacobi, J. G. Fichte, Friedrich Schelling, and the scientific Naturphilosophen. Notably, Cambridge Platonism was widely read in German universities. Ralph Cudworth’s True Intellectual System of the Universe was a compulsory text at the University of Tübingen, where G. W. F. Hegel and Schelling read the work as undergraduates.⁶⁴ J. G. Herder used Cudworth’s early modern neo-Platonism⁶⁵ to revise Spinoza’s metaphysics during the 1785–9 Pantheismusstreit (pantheism controversy) that marks the wane of the German Enlightenment and the dawn of romanticism, or the Frühromantik.⁶⁶ Coleridge therefore inherited specific readings of Plato and Plotinus not only from early modern English Platonism,⁶⁷ but also through a contemporary German one that evolved Cambridge Platonist texts. While it is reasonable to describe Coleridge as continuing a Christian neo-Platonist lineage, especially from Ralph Cudworth and John Smith, to claim this is not the main purpose of this book, which is rather to trace his own developing thoughts about reason and the ideas. Beside the protagonist, the main dramatis personae of the current book are Plato, Plotinus, Böhme, Kant, and Schelling, the last taking a prominent role in Chapters 8 and 9. The argument that Coleridge’s philosophy is a Plotinized Platonism is not new. Besides explicit statements and suggestions in his own works, this claim has been made by many authors since at least 1857.⁶⁸ With the exception of some some minor discoveries made along the way, claims to originality in this book on Coleridge’s contemplative philosophy lie in my: 1. Exploring the distinctly practical dimension Coleridge saw in issues around contemplation, especially socio-culturally, and in terms of the philosophy of everyday life, which deserves attention in Coleridge studies and beyond. 2. Reconstructing Coleridge’s philosophy as a two-level view of a communion between bridgeable-but-diverse higher and lower levels, implying neither

⁶⁴ Hedley, Coleridge, Philosophy and Religion, 40–2, citing Michael Franz, Schellings Tübinger Platon-Studien, ch. 3, says Schelling and Hegel at Tübingen studied ‘Platonic metaphysics’ in the 1790s via ‘an agenda established by Cudworth’ in J. L. Mosheim’s 1733 Latin translation of the True Intellectual System. Israel, Enlightenment Contested, 446, describes this translation transmitting the ‘brilliant insights’ of Cudworth’s System throughout the German states. ⁶⁵ Coined in eighteenth-century Germany, Johann Jakob Brucker’s Historia Critica Philosophiae (1742–67) established the term to distinguish Late Antique from Middle Platonism. ⁶⁶ Hampton, ‘English Source of German Romanticism’. ⁶⁷ Flores, Plastic Intellectual Breeze, and ‘Contemplant Spirits’, explores Cudworth’s influence on Coleridge. ⁶⁸ Rigg, Modern Anglican Theology, 1–24; Wendling, Coleridge’s Progress to Christianity, 160–7; Hedley, Coleridge, Philosophy and Religion, 33–40, 94–135, and ‘Coleridge’s Contemplative Imagination’; and Vigus, Platonic Coleridge, passim.


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pantheism nor irredeemable separation between ideas and phenomena. In this, his view is specifically Christian, with Christ as mediator and the Incarnation. Crucially, this two-level metaphysics involves a hierarchical interpenetration of opposites mediated through a chiastic centre inspired by Böhme’s writings. Advancing my theory, along Coleridgean lines, of what I term ‘inchoate contemplation’ in its three degrees: (i) sensuous and diffused, at the least conceptual level of perception; (ii) pre-contemplative meditation at the level of conceptual understanding; and (iii) ‘translucent’ contemplation occurring in imagination, through symbols of nature, art, and creative acts of everyday life, in which we open up domestic, collegial, and social spaces of shared meaning and value. Beyond these three degrees of inchoate contemplation is noetic contemplation, which Coleridge qualified as ‘pure transparency’, the noetic intuition of ideas as ‘eternal verities’. Analysing Coleridge’s sympathetic divergence from Plato along neoPlatonic lines.⁶⁹ This will proceed by analysing Coleridge’s theory of the integration of the cognitive and imaginative powers across a divided understanding, before comparing it with Plato’s ‘Divided Line’ account of the epistemic powers of imagistic fancy, everyday, pragmatic belief, theory, and noetic cognition. Distinguishing Coleridgean ideas into what I identify as first- and secondorder forms (see Chapter 8). While his first-order ideas are timeless truths, his second-order ideas are human instantiations of them that actualize and develop historically through culture and institutions. Explaining Coleridge’s noetic pentads and tetrads, which develop logical forms used by Schelling and the Naturphilosophen, and arguing that he used them to theorize concisely the actualization of ideas and to facilitate their contemplation. Illuminating Coleridge’s ‘Limbo’ sequence of poems (1811) by reading it in the light of his metaphysics of ideas and relations as reconstructed in this book.

4 Translucent and Transparent Contemplation Throughout this book, I distinguish between ‘translucent’ and ‘transparent’ contemplation of ideas. Coleridge frequently uses this distinction, both in prose and verse. He often discusses reason and its ideas in terms of light, with the substantial lux of reason being the intelligential reality of Logos, and lumen being the diffused

⁶⁹ Wendling, ‘Coleridge’s Critical Sympathy with Plato’, examines this theme differently.



illumination from that light, more accessible to ‘the mind’s eye’.⁷⁰ This use employs the late Hellenic and scholastic distinction between lux, the substantial light, and lumen, the illumination from that light.⁷¹ Lux radiates; lumen is the radiation. Accordingly, the objects of noetic contemplation can be held positively in three ways, respecting the figurative light of ideas: opaquely, in varying degrees of translucence,⁷² or transparently. In a note of 1830, Coleridge contrasts the opacity of sense with the transparency of reason in a chiastic formula: in our present state the S is opake R: the Reason a self-transparent Sense . . . ⁷³

Viewed opaquely, objects are taken for granted with no felt intimation of ideas as ordering principles or productive powers, and without any attendant sense of the numinous. On the problem of communicating ideas, as opposed to contemplating, or intuitively beholding them, Coleridge contrasts the opacity of words used according to their original, ‘sensuous’ meanings with their translucence when used symbolically. Even symbols, however, can be problematic ‘illustrations’ compared to the transparency of beholding the idea itself. Where the imagination uses symbols, the understanding and fancy use analogies. But ‘in the philosophy of ideas’, No analogy . . . can here befriend us, and even the sensuous images in which the words we use had their origin . . . become illustrations only as they become symbols and represent the same idea in a lower form, and exerted on a meaner subject. Otherwise they are opake obstacles excluding light, and not veils that soften and transmit it.⁷⁴

An inchoate form of contemplation, however, can predominate at the level of unreflective sense experience. Here, a strong sense of meaning and value attends perception, but with little conscious insight into symbolic structure.

⁷⁰ Hamlet, 1.2. Coleridge uses this phrase to describe reason (The Friend, 1: 157) after calling it the ‘organ of the supersensuous’ (156). Plato describes noesis as ‘the eye of the soul’, at Republic, 533c (see also 518–19). ⁷¹ Isidore of Seville, The Etymologies, 13.10.14 (p. 274). Coleridge uses this distinction at: Marginalia, 1: 687 and n.169, 712 and n.2; 3: 746; 5: 797; Notebooks, 4: §§4907 (1822), 4923 (1822), 5290 (1825–6); Notebooks, 5: §§5495 f62v–63 (1827), 5581 (1827), 5615 f18v–19 (1827), 5860 f67 (1828), 6109 (1829), 6120 f75v–76 (1829), and 6291 (1830). ⁷² Notebooks, 5: §6735 f27 (August–September 1833), describes a theorem, an ‘approximation to a Law’ of nature, as ‘a Lex opaca [opaque word], yet translucent—a lamp concealed in a chrystalline Vase’. See also Marginalia, 6: index, for ‘opacity’, ‘transparency’, and ‘translucency’. ⁷³ Notebooks, 5: §6332 (June 1830). ⁷⁴ Opus Maximum, 225–6.


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Coleridge sees a greater degree of translucence in symbolic acts of imagination, as when general kinds or universals are apparently embodied in especially representative instances. In one example, Coleridge quotes a couplet from Robert Burns’ ‘Tam o’ Shanter’ that depicts snow falling on a river and instantly melting. For Coleridge, this describes an intensely poetic perception of impermanence itself, and in, particular, the impermanence of pleasure: Who has not, a thousand times, seen it snow upon water? Who has not watched it with a new feeling, from the time that he has read Burns’ comparison of sensual pleasure To snow that falls upon a river, A moment white—then gone forever!⁷⁵

The couplet and the perception itself convey the idea through the aesthetic, material, phenomenal content of the symbol. Not only is the idea aesthetically expressed, but the illustrating phenomenon symbolizes it such that similar perceptions also resonate with the idea, appreciation of which should then deepen through one’s life. As the imagination presents translucent symbols, reality is approached through appearances, rather than being occluded by them, as when, in the opaque mode, the conceptual understanding is unaided by symbolic imagination. For Coleridge, translucent contemplation approaches reality through appearances, whereas opaque perception remains within (and never moves through) appearances, never aiming beyond them. Coleridge uses the term ‘translucence’ to describe the ideal as imaginatively perceived in and through particular instances. Thus, a Symbol . . . is characterized by a translucence of the Special in the Individual or of the General in the Especial or of the Universal in the General. Above all by the translucence of the Eternal through and in the Temporal. . . . and while it enunciates the whole, abides itself as a living part in that Unity, of which it is the representative.⁷⁶

This 1816 definition of the symbol is indebted to Schelling’s conception of intellectual intuition, from 1802, whereby intellectual intuition. . . . is simply the capacity to see the universal in the particular, the infinite in the finite, the two combined into a living unity.⁷⁷

⁷⁵ The Friend, 2: 74 (14 September 1809), and 1: 110; also at Biographia Literaria, 1: 81. Coleridge slightly misquotes Burns. ⁷⁶ The Statesman’s Manual, 30. ⁷⁷ Schelling, ‘Further Presentations’ (1802), 377 (Sämmtliche Werke, 4: 362).



Coleridge’s figure of translucence also underlies his ‘Essay on the Principles of Genial Criticism’, where he commends the definition of beauty in ‘the Mystics’ as the subjection of matter to spirit so as to be transformed into a symbol, in and through which the spirit reveals itself . . . ⁷⁸

Beautiful artworks, he says there, realize the form . . . and in the least possible degree obscure the idea, of which they (composed into outline and surface) are the symbol.⁷⁹

In the same essay of 1814, he writes, An illustrative hint may be taken from a pure chrystal, as compared with an opaque, semi-opaque, or clouded mass on the one hand, and with a perfectly transparent body, such as the air is, on the other. The chrystal is lost in the light, which yet it contains, embodies, and gives a shape to; but which passes shapeless through the air, and, in a ruder body is either quenched or dissipated.⁸⁰

This image of a crystal held up in light uses the language of opacity, translucence, and transparency to provide an illuminating symbol of symbolism itself. Moving from the opaque, through the translucent, to the transparent, Coleridge asserts, seven or eight years later, then reiterates in 1829, the purest revelation of reason to the human mind as present Whene’er the mist, that stands ’twixt God and thee Defecates to a pure transparency . . . ⁸¹

This transparent contemplation within reason—‘the organ of the Supersensuous’⁸²—is equivalent to Platonic noesis, in that it beholds ideas in and by themselves, rather than translucently, in symbolic imagination, or negatively, in the concepts and schemata of the understanding, the higher degree of which Coleridge calls ‘negative reason’. His understanding of ‘transparent’, noetic contemplation, and his thoughts on how it relates to practical life, filtering into a translucency there, rather than being a matter of intellectual speculation alone, is the central theme of this book. ⁷⁸ ‘Principles of Genial Criticism’ (1814), Shorter Works, 1: 378 fn. ⁷⁹ ‘Principles of Genial Criticism’ (1814), Shorter Works, 1: 377. ⁸⁰ ‘Principles of Genial Criticism’ (1814), Shorter Works, 1: 377. ⁸¹ ‘What is Reason?’, Church and State, 184, adapting var. Notebooks, 4: §4844 (1821–2), in answer to the question, ‘Where is Reason?’ ⁸² The Friend, 1: 156.


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The phrase ‘transparent contemplation’ is another expression for ‘intellectual intuition’, which Coleridge defined thus: the term [intellectual intuition] comprehends all truths known to us without a medium.⁸³

Here he pushes beyond Kant’s view of intellectual intuition as a mode of positive cognition that is impossible for the finite human mind. According to Kant, a faculty of a complete spontaneity of intuition would be a cognitive faculty . . . independent from sensibility, and thus an understanding . . . , one can thus also conceive of an intuitive understanding (negatively, namely merely as not discursive) . . . ⁸⁴

The post-Kantians adapt the meaning of intellectual intuition into something more robust than Kant’s epistemology could permit. Coleridge’s definition of it includes the notion of beholding the truth of a statement or a chain of reasoning as self-evident, or apodictic, being the (intuitive) reason in and behind (conceptual) reasoning. It seems that this was his meaning when he criticized the pre-Freiheitschrift (Freedom Essay, 1809) Schelling, finding his Natur-philosophie a Theory grounded on an Hypothesis—not a Philosophy proven Science, not the Philosophy which is the Spirit of Science, in which alone its necessary Truths can become transparent . . . ⁸⁵

Yet transparent contemplation is more than the immediate acknowledgement of logical necessity and universality. The term affirms the apprehension of value and of ideas such as being, truth, goodness, and life as ultimate ends which can be known in this transparent way because ‘the life that we live’,⁸⁶ as Coleridge said in an early note on universal form perpetually resurrecting in everyday phenomena, is only possible in the ‘living light’⁸⁷ of ideas. A difficulty exists, however, in moving from the opacity and the translucence to the transparency itself. This

⁸³ Biographia Literaria, 1: 289. ⁸⁴ Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 275–6 (Ak. 5: 406, §77). Intellectual intuition does, however, play an important heuristic role in Kant’s theory of natural science, as a negative presentation that enables reflection on nature as if it were systematic (because a divine intellect wills it so). I thank Andrew Cooper for comments on this point. ⁸⁵ ‘On the Error of Schelling’s Philosophy’ (1818), Shorter Works, 1: 787. ⁸⁶ Notebooks, 1: §495 (October 1799). ⁸⁷ Notebooks, 5: §6109 (Sunday, 2 October 1829), speaks of ‘the Divine Logos, as Light’ and as ‘the Life’, where ‘the living L is Lux lucem faciens [Light making light]’. The phrase, alluding to John 1:1, is reiterated at §6725 f14 (August–September 1833).



requires turning from medially known objects, towards the activity of knowing itself, and to the ideas that for him constitute existence. The three intuitive ways of relating to ideas—opaquely, translucently, and transparently—turn out to be positive in varying degrees because an idea is actually beheld, however dim the beholding. At the end of this book, where I analyse Coleridge’s ‘Limbo’ sequence of poems, I shall return to this notion of varying degrees of positivity in the indirect and direct contemplation of ideas versus outright rejection, or ‘positive Negation’, as the extreme opposed to Logos itself. As there is a positive sense of the idea, in beholding, there is also a negative sense of an idea, one that falls short of beholding, yet which includes an expectation or anticipation. Alluding to Plato’s allegory of the cave, Coleridge considers those who knew that their minds are placed with their backs to Substances and which therefore they can name only from the correspondent Shadows—Yet not (God forbid) as if the Substances were the same with the Shadows—⁸⁸

For, as he puts it a few years later, even a Shadow takes a form from the surrounding Light/.⁸⁹

Defending the value of negative reasoning through abstraction and distinction, he regrets that the ‘wholly intuitive’, insufficiently logical and discursive, mystical philosopher Böhme hneglected the art of reasoning, by acts of abstraction,i which . . . are indeed a mere Shadowhsi, but, like a Shadowhsi, of incalculable service in determining the rememberable outlines of the Substance.⁹⁰

Abstraction and distinction, as the chief skills in ‘the art of reasoning’, can help one to deduce the outline of a substance that produces the shadow. This via negativa is a way up, so to speak, from negative reasoning to positive contemplation. The art is useful on the way down, too. If one has apprehended a truth in ‘Intuition, or immediate Beholding’,⁹¹ as Coleridge said of Böhme, it must still be articulated if it is to be communicated. While noesis itself cannot be communicated, the power of discrimination in the understanding can help articulate ⁸⁸ Marginalia, 3: 524–5 (L; between 1819 and 1823). Opus Maximum, 253–4, discusses ‘The use of negation or negative positions in the presentation of ideas and conceptions . . . as preparative (προ καθαρτικον [a pre-cathartic])’, and as ‘reasoning in which we proceed by antithesis, or . . . the Tetracftic.’ ⁸⁹ Notebooks, 4: §5298 f23 (1825–6). ⁹⁰ Marginalia, 1: 632. ⁹¹ Marginalia, 1: 632.


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experience lived in the light of ideas. Thus, Coleridgean understanding, negative reason as opposed to the positive reason of noetic intuition, or intuitive beholding, lies adjacent to the three modes of positive beholding, but not among them. I therefore locate a fourth mode of relating to ideas, adding shadow to opacity, translucence, and transparency. This ‘Sense of Shadow’⁹² denotes a negative reasoning that is self-aware of its negativity and is thus able, if not always willing, to deduce a positivity beyond its grasp.

5 Outline of Chapters This book pursues a theory of contemplation that draws from Coleridge’s theories of imagination and the ‘Ideas of Reason’, and from the sketches, meditations, and often brilliant flashes of thinking he recorded in his notebooks and letters. He posited a hierarchy of cognition from basic sense intuition to the apprehension of scientific, ethical, and theological ideas. The structure of this book follows that thesis, beginning with sense moving upwards into aesthetic experience, imagination, and reason, with final chapters on formal logic and poetry before a short conclusion on contemplation. It would be misleading, however, to treat of sense, etc. in isolation, and I therefore commence with sense and the reason within it, and, especially, the sense of knowledge, continuing through the book in this vein. Like Coleridge’s philosophy, this book has a chiastic centre, where higher and lower levels intermingle and cross over. Drawing from Böhme’s central dynamic, Coleridge coined the word ‘interpenetration’ in his ‘Essays on the Principles of Method’, in the 1818 Friend. There, he shows Shakespeare’s method to illustrate that union and interpenetration of the universal and the particular, which must ever pervade all works of decided genius and true science.⁹³

With this concept, from his middle period on, Coleridge described the interfusion of higher and lower orders in any cognitive act. This book has four parts, each with two or three chapters. Part I, ‘Imagination Launched into Reason’, commences the book with Coleridge’s aesthetic and imaginative access into reason and the ideas. Chapter 1 tracks what for him is the sense of knowledge, the sensuous thrill of intellectual pursuit. After surveying Coleridge’s intellectual legacy, I then discuss the romantic notion of alienation and Coleridge’s thoughts on overcoming it. Chapter 2 focuses on contemplative practice, especially in everyday experience. Coleridge’s elevation of the imagination shows the Plotinian tendency of his feeling-based, reason-directed

⁹² Notebooks, 5: §5495 ff62v–63 (April 1827).

⁹³ The Friend, 1: 457.



aesthetics. Over a dozen years of theorizing imagination culminated, by 1817, in his influential definitions of it and his version of the theory of the symbol. From there, his exciting trajectory into ideas and contemplative reason took off. Launching into reason, Coleridge retains his sense of the thrill of ideas and their intimate link with humanity. Chapter 3 focuses on aesthetic contemplation in everyday experience, community, and nature. Following up Coleridgean notes that relate ‘Ideas’ to ‘thoughts & enjoyments’, I examine unreflective cognitive attitudes in aesthetic states to distinguish value in the experience from prejudice. From here, I relate Coleridge’s aim to enlighten ‘our feelings’, so they ‘actualize our reason’ ‘with their vital warmth’, to Schiller’s concept of aesthetic education. I then introduce my theory of inchoate contemplation, whereby aesthetically informed feelings initiate a non-intellectual intuition of ideas. This theory then casts light on a Coleridgean ‘philosophy of life’, with everyday symbols and aesthetic practices leading ‘far higher and far inward’. Part II, ‘Living Ideas’, continues the theme of inchoate and aesthetic contemplation, connecting feeling and imagination with ideas, as the individual forges a life with meaning and value. In Chapter 4, I present this ‘Art of Poetic LifeWriting’ and argue that Coleridge’s ‘primary imagination’ is based on Kant’s theory of a ‘necessary imagination’ that synthesizes thought and feeling in constructing experience. I further propose an ontological capacity to augment Coleridge’s philosophy, removing some problems in his concept of a ‘sensorium of the Spirit’. I then develop Coleridge’s primary–secondary imagination distinction into a view of art as a secondary creativity, an ad vita poiesis, whose creations persist beyond the living culture, as distinct from primary creativity, the in vivo poiesis of everyday aesthetics. Here, the symbolic meaning in lives and communities is fashioned, although, like a vital organ and unlike a concrete artwork, it cannot easily survive beyond the living culture. The structural and argumentative crux of the book is reached with Chapter 5. Practical and aesthetic concerns then transform as they cross into the Coleridgean level of higher thought, conscious of ideas and principles. To reach this chiasmus, I examine Coleridge’s intense but largely neglected responses to Jakob Böhme’s mystical philosophy. After situating Coleridge’s spiritual longing between the influences of Christian neo-Platonic, linear ascent from sense to contemplation, and the mixed mode of transcendence-in-immanence beheld by Böhme, I argue, and further demonstrate, that Coleridge fused the two into an interpenetrative, hierarchical scheme with a Behmenist, chiastic twist that would come to characterize his entire philosophy. With this chiasmus established, I reconstruct, in Chapter 6, Coleridge’s twolevel theory of mind, with a crosswise centre, that reflects his metaphysics of forces subordinate to the powers or ideas they manifest. In Coleridge’s basically Kantian view of human freedom, the energetic, lower-level of mind, characterized by association and desire, is not automatically organized by the higher-level, energic


 ’   

powers and ideas of reason. Instead, this is a matter of will and the active, moral direction of mind opening up a clearer contemplation of ideas. Here I elaborate more fully my theory of noetic versus inchoate contemplation and explore what I call the ordination of thought and being by ideas. The noetic contemplation of ideas leads into Part III, ‘Coleridge’s Modified Platonism’. From Coleridge’s metaphysics of higher and lower mind, I move, in Chapter 7, to the lower and higher of Plato’s divided line, reading it upward, epistemologically, and downward, ontologically. I first argue that Coleridge’s sense of an aesthetic, lower-level access to ideas is derived from Plotinus, who also theorized two imaginations. Plotinus’ higher imagination mediates the sensible and the intelligible and ‘vacillates between the two’, just like the ‘Oscillations . . . connecting R[eason] and U[nderstanding]’ of Coleridgean imagination. Building on Coleridge’s Behmenist chiasmus that I identified in Chapter 5, I next construct what I term Coleridge’s crucifixionism, a cruciform dynamic of redemptive, hierarchical interpenetration that bridges a central chasm. I then illuminate Coleridge’s metaphysics of mind by comparing it to the Platonic ascent from imagistic fantasy to everyday belief, from this to higher understanding, and finally to noetic contemplation. Chapter 8, ‘The Coleridgean Idea’, commences by clearing the ground in showing how the ‘ideas’ of Locke and Hume are entirely different from the ‘ideas’ of Coleridge. I then distinguish Coleridgean first-order, transcendent ideas (e.g. God, infinity, the good, freedom, and the soul) from his secondorder, historical ones (e.g. Church, state, and the constitution) that actualize and evolve. Next, I explore what his account means in terms of scientific laws and ethical rights, arguing that Coleridge’s later political thought is more progressive than generally admitted. I then differentiate his account of ideas and their historical actualization from Schelling’s and Hegel’s, arguing that Coleridge maintains the transcendence of ideas above the immanence of their evolving historical forms. His philosophy is therefore, whether political or metaphysical, ultimately an ontological defence of the transcendence of ideas above the immanence of their imperfect actualization. Part IV, ‘A Realizing Knowledge’, carries this metaphysics of ideas into an analysis of Coleridge’s logical and noetic pentads. In Chapter 9, I argue that by constellating ideas, powers, phenomena, and their interrelations, the pentads represent Coleridge’s metaphysics and are for him aids to contemplation. After discussing their historical derivation, I analyse Coleridge’s most crucial difference from Schelling, his conception of the Absolute as transcendent to, not immanent with, the mesothesis between antithetic poles. I then explain Coleridge’s neglected distinction between his (always noetic) tetrads and his (logical or noetic) pentads, before pausing for transitional remarks on his comprehensive theory of reality, nature, and experience.



Chapter 10 arrives at the humane value of the pentads respecting contemplation and the realization of ideas. I first read the pentad downwards, with ideas manifesting through opposed forces or powers and into the concrete, evolving phenomena of nature and history. I then read the pentad upward, moving into noetic contemplation from phenomena, through a symbolic imagination that interfuses polar opposites, and into the transcendence of the idea. This corresponds with my epistemological (bottom-up) and ontological (top-down) reading of Plato’s divided line. From here, I explicate Coleridge’s claim that ‘the likeliest way of begetting’ ideas is through ‘Anticip[ation] + Theoresis’, uniting the positive, intuitive drive towards ideas with the negative techniques of logical and conceptual abstraction. Responding to this sense of contemplating ideas through positive and negative representations, Chapter 11 moves into poetry, gathering key themes of this book to analyse Coleridge’s ‘Limbo’ sequence of poems (1811). I begin by contrasting Coleridgean faith, as a fidelity to ideas, with the refusal to contemplate them. I argue that these polarized responses to the light of ideas frame the ‘Limbo’ sequence. The Behmenist themes of this poetic sequence refer back to Chapter 5, but also bring this book to its conclusion by contrasting the blind old man’s partly positive, though imperfect, contemplation, as he ‘seems to gaze’ on the moon, with three increasingly negative modes in the sequence: the light aversion of the moles, the Limbo of the departed souls, and ‘positive Negation’, the absolute rejection of light by the Dragon, the Satan of ‘Ne Plus Ultra’. A short conclusion follows. In Section 1, I constellate Coleridge’s philosophy according to his main influences. Section 2, ‘Sense’, recapitulates his views concerning sense, feeling, and the empirical. I then argue, in Section 3, ‘Higher Understanding’, that the hermeneutics of suspicion (Marx, Nietzsche, Freud) could benefit from the more positive, progressive elenchus (Socrates, Plato, Coleridge). While both proceed through uncovering negativities or aporia, the Socratic elenchus is guided by a dim intuition of a positive idea or value—the invariable quarry of Coleridge’s intellectual pursuit—rather than the already known and circumscribed end-point of the hermeneutics of suspicion. Section 4 closes the book with a discussion of Coleridgean reason and contemplation as it actually occurs, as diffuse or reflected, through deep feelings stretching towards living and life-giving ideas.

2 Contemplative Practice and the Ideas This chapter turns to Coleridge’s increasing focus on ideas as diffused in and through different kinds of contemplative practice and everyday experience. Throughout his thinking about contemplative reason, or Platonic nóēsis, he retained a Plotinian sense of theōría in and through sense and imagination. Section 2.1 outlines what I call the con-templum, a mental space opened by imagination for ideas. Here, ideas receive aesthetic expression, through which they provide deeply felt meaning in human life. In Section 2.2, I argue that, like Plotinus, Coleridge elevated imagination from its status in Plato as mere imagemaking and often deceptive. I then reconstruct, in Section 2.3, Coleridge’s argument that reason is ‘higher than’ imagination and his related position that will is deeper than reason. Section 2.4 then examines Coleridge’s claim that ideas of reason are confreres of the human soul.

2.1 The Con-templum The theory of imagination reaches a high point with Coleridge, who distinguishes it into primary and secondary modes. Primary imagination is, he holds, ‘the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception’, corresponding to Kant’s transcendental synthesis of the imagination in merging empirical, categorial, and rational concepts with sensory intuitions.¹ Secondary imagination, under a greater degree of voluntary control, creates symbolically insightful art. In approaching ideas, Coleridge’s theory of imagination draws from the neo-Platonic (especially Plotinian) contemplative tradition to argue for an ideal source of value intimated in nature, art, and life. It is visionary in that it contemplates in aesthetic, material form. Could I revive within me Her symphony and song, To such a deep delight ’twould win me, That with music loud and long, I would build that dome in air . . . ²

¹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 304.

² ‘Kubla Khan’, Poetical Works, 1: 514, ll. 42–6.

Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy. Peter Cheyne, Oxford University Press (2020). © Peter Cheyne. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001

    


In a well-balanced mind, understanding serves imagination, though seldom fully comprehends what is imagined. Feeling empty-handed, it often denies the reality of what it cannot grasp. The medial status of understanding does not, however, make imagination something ultimate, for it too is an intermediary. Giving ideas tangible expression, imagination becomes tinged with the ideality it communicates. Serving the idea, imagination realizes its kinship with it. Because imagination must approach and discover the idea, it is its auxiliary. Yet imagination is akin to idea in that to discover anything it must first create its likeness, even if all it creates is the accommodating space, the con-templum, able to receive the idea. To consider rule-following, concept-adept understanding as the mind’s apex hinders intellectual development, for one cannot readily aspire beyond the medial nature of the understanding if that mediality is not even recognized. Humility, then, is a corrective virtue. This suggestion runs through Kant’s three Critiques, which progressively explain the shortfall of the categories of the understanding, as Kant argues that faith and moral and aesthetic ideas approach a rational world of value beyond the limited realm of cognition concerning appearances. Yet this does not entail two worlds. The world of appearances is not separate from reality but the appearance of reality—even though, for Kant, in the first Critique, the thingin-itself is ‘a something = X, of which we know nothing at all nor can know anything in general’.³ In contemplation, nonetheless, reality is considered as noumenal, beyond appearance and conceptual understanding. Interspersed with literary interest, the aim of Coleridge’s periodical, The Friend, was to promote reflective thought. By  I here mean the voluntary production . . . of those states of consciousness, to which . . . the Writer has referred us: while  has for its object the order and connection of Thoughts and Images, each of which is . . . already and familiarly known. Thus the elements of Geometry require attention only; but the analysis of our primary faculties, and the investigation of all the absolute grounds of Religion and Morals, are impossible without energies of Thought in addition to the effort of Attention.⁴

Imagination combines thought with images to express ideas aesthetically, in symbols. This is the vitality of imagination, for if ideas are to have meaning in human life, they require aesthetic expression. That is, they must first be felt.

³ Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 348 (A250). As I cited at the start of the Introduction, however, Kant, in the Critique of Practical Reason, claims that in moral action that cognizes the moral law, the reality of the transcendental idea of freedom is proven and is demonstrated and realized in our ability to act on moral reason. Neither Kant nor Coleridge take reality to be synonymous with existence. Truths of mathematics, for instance, are real without existing, though they can be instantiated and physically demonstrated. ⁴ The Friend, 1: 16–17.


 ’    By the Symbol the Idea . . . is rendered cogitable; but by the Idea the Symbol is rendered intelligible.⁵

The word ‘aesthetic’, as I use it in this book, retains its echo of the Greek aísthēsis (sense perception), connoting the palpable stuff of experience—whether direct sensoria (colours, shapes, smells, etc.) or states of subjectivity (happiness, curiosity, fear). I therefore use the word to denote aesthetics of everyday life and not only of art. The aesthetic, in the sense I use the term, can further include a sense of transcendence, ordinary or extraordinary, neither of which are directly given in the material of sense experience. Ordinary transcendence includes the sense of other minds, social norms, and everyday values, while extraordinary transcendence includes mystical experience, a heightening of the senses in the appreciation of beauty, often in nature, and an elevated intimation of cosmic significance (usually felt as mysterious but real).⁶ Moving beyond the empiricist model of mind, in a letter of 1801, and feeling his way towards ideas, Coleridge describes the union of thinking and feeling as necessary for the depth of thought capable of achieving non-trivial truth. My opinion is this—that deep Thinking is attainable only by a man of deep Feeling, and that all truth is a species of Revelation.⁷

Ideas, intimated in Coleridge’s ‘deep Thinking’, are transcendences. But a transcendence that has no effect on the mind or feelings is, for human beings, as if it were nothing. Nature, life, art, perceived through an imaginative awareness looks not only at, but in and through the surrounding, immanent world. It is this looking-through—finding the symbolic in the phenomena—that gives rise to an aesthetic presentiment of transcendence. The aesthetic, as sense perception experienced imaginatively, becomes the voice of being within existence. Ousía, non-phenomenal being itself, can thus be related to indirectly within the actual, the existent, which manifests being and is, in principle, available to appearance. Ideas or powers beyond the phenomenal can therefore be expressed, represented, or intimated aesthetically. When concrete appearances excite a sense bordering on the transcendent—and borders imply a beyond—the sensuous becomes the aesthetic, charged with ideas. Representing transcendence in immanence, imagination is the first entrance to ideas. This ‘immanent transcendence’ shimmers. When the immanent is emphasized to the occlusion of the transcendent, the experience darkens, returning to the

⁵ Marginalia, 5: 780 (T, Geschichte der Philosophie, on Hugh of St Victor). ⁶ My article ‘Religious Experience’ relates these matters to scepticism, agnosticism, imagination, and the problems of interpretation. ⁷ Letters, 2: 709 (23 March 1801), to Thomas Poole.

    


usual opacity of the everyday, but when the transcendent is glimpsed again, translucency returns, and the extraordinary is regained. This extraordinariness need not astonish or stupefy. It more often occurs in peace and calm, or brings those qualities with it. The shimmering of transcendence-in-immanence highlights the fragility of the experience, which is short-lived but capable of return. Besides flickering in the same mind, the translucence of an appearance usually arises unevenly among individuals. Thus a man or woman on Peckham Rye sees a play of light as the wind rustles the leaves, experiencing nothing ostensibly different from what a nearby child sees, yet: Sauntering along, the boy, looks up and sees a tree filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars.⁸

The charged sensuous allows a shining through of the idea in the imagery. While not fully revealed, ideas are powerfully intimated through aesthetic experience. Ideas are thereby shown to connect with our lives, hopes, and—in the darker numinous and the forebodings of conscience—fears. The aesthetic content is the exponent of the idea. Through being organized in the light of the idea, aesthetic material receives its value, its charge. The contemplative attention to ideas first requires a mental space be cleared. Then, to be communicated to others, aesthetic content is needed to convey the ideas. The purely noetic act of contemplation opens a space—a con-templum—in which the idea can be approached as value, the ‘beyond being’ that gives meaning to being. This ideality can be appreciated by considering that an ought cannot be derived from an is, a point philosophers usually develop from Hume’s Treatise.⁹ For Hume, however, the separation of the normative (that principle to which our standards tend to conform) and the empirical supposedly demonstrates the impossibility of ethical reasoning and the unreality of any ideal or value beyond human desire. From a Coleridgean perspective, by contrast, the is–ought distinction demonstrates that value, though it affects perception, is itself inaccessible to direct phenomenal observation, and is transcendental. As Wittgenstein puts it, The sense of the world must lie outside the world. . . . | If there is any value . . . it must lie outside the whole sphere of what happens and is the case.¹⁰

And, later, in a notebook: What is Good is Divine too. That, strangely enough, sums up my ethics. | Only something supernatural can express the Supernatural. | You cannot lead people ⁸ Gilchrist, Life of William Blake, 7. ⁹ Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, 3.1.1, 294–302. ¹⁰ Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, §6.41.


 ’    to the good; you can only lead them to some place or other; the good lies outside the space of facts.¹¹

It is this meaning ‘outside the space of facts’ and above the natural that Coleridge says we can access through symbols of the imagination, or more transparently, in contemplative reason. Perhaps this ultimate reality is in part introspectively accessible. Self as noumenal reality is the starting point for post-Kantians such as Fichte and Schopenhauer.¹² Coleridge followed the German idealists in seeing the self-aware subject as our direct access to non-phenomenal reality. The identity of subject and object in the mind became fundamental to these thinkers, who aimed to bridge epistemology and ontology to overcome the Kantian reduction of metaphysics to epistemology. Aiming to vindicate claims of human reason to metaphysical and not only moral knowledge, Coleridge is a post-Kantian thinker.¹³ Though he defends Platonic, noetic contemplation against Kant, Coleridge holds that the pre-critical Cambridge Platonists lacked ‘Philocrisy’, or a pre-inquisition into the mind itself, as part Organ, part Constituent of all Knowlege: an examination of the hScales,i Weights and Measures themselves, abstracted from the Objects . . . , a transcendental Analysis Æsthetic, Logic, and Noetic.¹⁴

In defence, however, Muirhead observes that where Cudworth deals with the theory of knowledge, or what he calls ‘epistemonical’ theory, he not only starts the pre-inquisition, but carries it farther than anywhere yet had been done, and farther than any critic of empiricism carried it up to the time of Kant . . . ¹⁵

Yet transcendental aesthetic and logic are thoroughly Kantian innovations. Though he did not perceive anticipations of Kant’s transcendental psychology ¹¹ Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, 5 (c.10 November 1929). ¹² Schopenhauer, World as Will and Representation (tr. and ed. Norman et al.), esp. 1: 119–89 (‘World as Will’), 2: 202–11 (‘On the Possibility of Cognizing the Thing in Itself ’), and 2: 331–40 (‘Transcendent Considerations Concerning the Will as Thing in Itself ’). Schopenhauer (2: 203) summarizes the initial problematic thus: ‘Everyone knows himself directly but everything else very indirectly. This is the fact and the problem.’ ¹³ Milnes, ‘Through the Looking-Glass’; Hamilton, Coleridge and German Philosophy, passim; Vigus ‘The Philosophy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’, 521. Vigus calls Coleridge a ‘fully-fledged post-Kantian’, who, regarding human reason as noetic, ‘rather identifies his own philosophy as Platonism’. ¹⁴ Marginalia, 5: 81 (S, Select Discourses, 1660; front flyleaf, 6 March 1824). ¹⁵ Muirhead, The Platonic Tradition, 39, referring to passages in Cudworth, True Intellectual System, and Eternal and Immutable Morality.

    


in Cudworth and the Cambridge thinkers, Coleridge’s placing ‘Noetic’ after ‘Logic’ suggests that the roots of post-Kantian transcendental idealism lie in Anglican Platonism, the ‘spiritual platonic old England’ that he helped to identify.¹⁶ His break from Kant lies in theorizing, despite ‘heavy difficulties that weigh on it’, a noetic access to objective ideas, i.e. as beyond the human mind, as in the doctrine of Ideas, or Knowleges that are supersensuous and yet truly Objective—¹⁷

The transcendent aim of his Christian Platonism distinguishes him from other post-Kantians, who sought reality in the ego or in the Absolute as immanent totality. His late poem, sometimes known as ‘Self-Knowledge’, expresses this attitude: What is there in thee, Man, that can be known?— Dark fluxion, all unfixable by thought, A phantom dim of past and future wrought, Vain sister of the worm,—life, death, soul, clod— Ignore thyself, and strive to know thy God!¹⁸

Seventeen years earlier, in the Biographia, he had more sympathy for the vain self. On the yearning for signs of one’s true and permanent, substantial self, deeper than all phenomena, he argued that it is among the mysteries, and abides in the dark ground-work of our nature, to crave an outward confirmation of that something within us, which is our very self, that something, not made up of our qualities and relations, but itself the supporter and substantial basis of all these. Love me, and not my qualities may be a vicious and an insane wish, but it is not a wish wholly without a meaning.¹⁹

This desire for ‘outward confirmation’ of our substantial reality fuels the imaginative drive to contemplate ideas and give them aesthetic expression. Symbolic imagination simultaneously discovers and creates, for it passively ¹⁶ Notebooks, 2: §2598 f80v (May–August 1805). Hedley, Coleridge, Philosophy and Religion, discusses Coleridge’s Anglican Platonism throughout. ¹⁷ Marginalia, 5: 776 (T, Geschichte der Philosophie). ¹⁸ ‘E Cœli Descendit, ΓΝΟΘΙ ΣΕΑΥΤΟΝ [From Heaven Descended: Know Thyself ]’ (1834?), Poetical Works, 1: 1154, ll. 5–10. ¹⁹ Biographia Literaria, 2: 216–17. This passage, I suggest, influenced Yeats’ poem ‘For Anne Gregory’, about the young woman who, despite an argument to the contrary found by ‘an old religious man’, wished ‘That young men in despair | May love me for myself alone | And not my yellow hair’: Yeats, Collected Poems, 245, ll. 10–12.


 ’   

acts (in concentrating the attention) and actively receives (in directing the mind and in anticipation). A few years into combatting empiricism, Coleridge argues that one can raise The dignity of passiveness to worthy Activity when men shall be as proud within themselves of having remained an hour in a state of deep tranquil Emotion, whether in reading or in hearing or in looking, as they now are in having figured away one hour/²⁰

In contemplation, the ‘dignity of passiveness’ becomes ‘worthy Activity’. Towards the end of his career, Coleridge still disparages the passivity central to French mechanist²¹ and British empiricist models of mind, as the bran, straw and froth which the Idols of the Age, Locke, Helvetius, Hume, Condillac, & their Disciples have succeeded in passing off for Metaphysics. . . . such common-place stuff scummed from the mere surface of the Senses . . . ²²

The mechanical-passive model of mind, a reductive half-truth, applies solely to the lowest levels of receptive mind. The counterbalancing higher passivity, on the other hand, is a pre-requisite of creative discovery. Coleridge distinguishes this higher form as patience in contrast to mere passivity: In the senses we find our receptivity, and as far as our personal being is concerned, we are passive; but in the facts of the Consciousence we are not only agents, but it is by these alone, that we know ourselves to be such; nay, that in our very passiveness herein is an act of passiveness that we are patient, not (as in the other case), simp[ly] passive.²³

Anticipating ideas, active patience makes a receptive space where they can be given aesthetic form, to actualize as culturally meaningful, shaping powers. This ‘subtile, cementing, subterraneous power’ progresses with a ‘leading thought’, a ‘key note’ that manifests a ‘captain Idea’ in an act of the mind itself, a manifestation of intellect, and not a spontaneous and uncertain production of circumstances.²⁴

²⁰ Notebooks, 1: §1834 (January 1804). ²¹ Opposing transcendental idealism to what Schelling called ‘the mechanistic way of thinking, which reached the summit of its infamy in French atheism’, Coleridge follows Schelling, Essence of Human Freedom (1809), 19 (Sämmtliche Werke, 7: 348). ²² Marginalia, 3: 877 (M, Sermons 1830; 12 September 1830). ²³ ‘Essay on Faith’ (1820), Shorter Works, 2: 836; var. Opus Maximum, 71. ²⁴ ‘Treatise on Method’, Shorter Works, 1: 630.

    


Rather than conveying any specific information, the ‘proposed object’ of educing ideas is, as Coleridge recognizes in Plato, the E of the intellect, by awakening the principle and method of selfdevelopment . . . ²⁵

Following Plotinus, for whom the idea is a ‘spermatic Reason-Principle’, Coleridge employs the imagery of the seed to explain the educational role of ideas.²⁶ Thus, for example, his clerisy disseminate and cultivate. The seed for Coleridge, as for Plotinus, symbolizes a principle of existence. After the idea-seed germinates, it grows in all directions. Roots twist into the cultural past for nourishment and stability. Stem and leaves stretch for light and air: From the first, or initiative idea, as from a seed, successive ideas germinate.²⁷

This image of the idea taking root in human life suggests how cultural progress is largely subconscious: The idea may exist in a clear, distinct, definite form, as that of a circle in the mind of an accurate geometrician; or it may be a mere instinct, a vague appetency toward something which the mind incessantly hunts for but cannot find . . . , or the impulse which fills a young poet’s eyes with tears, he knows not why. In the infancy of the human mind, all our ideas are instincts; and language is happily contrived to lead us from the vague to the distinct, from the imperfect to the full and finished form . . . ²⁸

With thought submerged in feeling, the somnambulant instinct towards the idea is prone to distraction and misconstrual. In self-conscious contemplation, however, the subject merges with the idea contemplated. The idea is then realized in mind, requiring no intervening medium: Whatever is conscious Self-knowledge is Reason . . . ²⁹

To follow the progressive, guiding idea

²⁵ The Friend, 1: 473. ²⁶ Seed language is sprinkled throughout: ‘Treatise on Method’ (Shorter Works, 1: 629–85); ‘Essays on the Principles of Method’ (The Friend, 1: 448–524); and Logic, 9–10, which, alluding to a Catullus poem, illustrates education drawing out the intellectual powers as a ‘vernal shower’ does ‘the seed or plantule’. Pfau, Wordsworth’s Profession, 158–60, relates Coleridge’s Logic to his romantic pedagogy. Timár, A Modern Coleridge, 25–60, discusses cultivation and education. ²⁷ ‘Treatise on Method’ (1818), Shorter Works, 1: 633. ²⁸ ‘Treatise on Method’ (1818), Shorter Works, 1: 633. ²⁹ The Friend, 1: 156.


 ’    requires . . . a constant wakefulness of mind; so that if we wander but in a single instance from our path, we cannot reach the goal, but by retracing our steps to the point of divergency, and thence beginning progress anew.³⁰

Yet, to reiterate, contemplation can only be communicated if ideas are given aesthetic expression: Events and images, the lively and spirit-stirring machinery of the external world, are like light and air, and moisture, to the seed of the mind . . . In all processes of mental evolution the objects of the senses must stimulate the mind; and the mind must in turn assimilate and digest the food it thus receives from without.³¹

Accordingly, All minds must think by some symbols—the strongest minds possess the most vivid Symbols in the Imagination—³²

Cultivated by ideas symbolically accessed, all facets of life can improve. Contemplation is obliged to give back to the culture in which it grew, rather than seclude itself in a cave of a higher altitude than the one from which it recently emerged. At its best, contemplation is not a lone, mountain-top activity, but must be sustained with natural and artistic beauty and shared, nourishing others. Certain truths ‘we can only know by the act of becoming’,³³ ‘the Truth . . . must be seen—we must be it in order to know it’.³⁴ Annotating Böhme in Latin, Coleridge expains that Qui veré discit, videndo intuendo discit: ast intueri, sensu spirituali, vult idem ac esse existentialiter. Quantum sumus, intuemur. [Those who learn truly, learn by contemplating; but to contemplate, in the spiritual sense, means the same as to be in an existential sense. Insofar as we are, we contemplate.]³⁵

Knowledge of the idea, then, is simultaneously existential: to know it is to be it—to participate in its being, to bring its being into existence—and its cognitive, moral, or aesthetic truth is thereby intuitive and self-evident. On this theme of contemplation descending without disavowing its higher-level aim and purpose, Coleridge gives persuasive and poetic expression to the activecontemplative life in a beautiful passage that I find alludes to Milton’s Paradise

³⁰ ³¹ ³³ ³⁵

‘Treatise on Method’ (1818), Shorter Works, 1: 633. ‘Treatise on Method’ (1818), Shorter Works, 1: 634. ³² Notebooks, 3: §3325 (May 1808). Biographia Literaria, 1: 244. ³⁴ Letters, 4: 768 (September 1817), to Tulk. Marginalia, 1: 632 (Bö). Intueri: to look at, intuit, attend to, admire, hence, to contemplate.

    


Lost. The allusion can be detected in the phrasing, and in the similarity of theme—descent from contemplation. Milton writes: from Morn To Noon he fell, from Noon to dewy Eve, A Summer’s day; and with the setting Sun Dropt from the Zenith like a falling Star . . . ³⁶

The descent, for Milton, is Satanic, the hurtled angel debarred from Heaven. For Coleridge, however, descent from the highest atmosphere nourishes contemplation, rather than forecloses it, and allows the higher view to be brought down to earth and shared: The mind that is rich and exuberant in this intellectual wealth, is apt, like a miser, to dwell upon the vain contemplation of its riches, is disposed to generalize and methodize to excess, ever philosophising, and never descending to action;— spreading its wings high in the air above some beloved spot, but never flying far and wide over earth and sea, to seek food, or to enjoy the endless beauties of nature; the fresh morning, the warm noon, and the dewy eve.³⁷

2.2 Elevating Imagination By his own account, Coleridge was a Platonist. Although Plato illustrated philosophy with some of the discipline’s most striking and persistent images, he accords a lowly role to imagination, that is, to eikasía and phantasía, the image-making and directing faculties. In contrast, imagination for Coleridge is a divine echo in the human mind. The notion of a higher imagination as a divine gift is, nonetheless, traceable back to Plato.³⁸ Still, the place and role of imagination diverge in their respective outlooks. Coleridgean imagination approaches the ideas, giving them aesthetic garb so they can enrich our thought and practice. He modifies Platonic epistemology to allow a more Plotinian contemplation of ideas, where imagination creates a sensuous-intellectual, symbolic perception of reality. Plotinus’s account of contemplation, or theōría, allows not only an aesthetic connection with nature, but also imagines nature itself contemplating. His theory of nature as ‘contemplating-producing’ arises throughout the Enneads and is

³⁶ Milton, Paradise Lost, ll. 742–5. ³⁷ ‘Treatise on Method’ (1818), Shorter Works, 1: 634. ³⁸ Plato, Phaedrus 244–56, gives the four forms of theía manía (divine madness) as: ‘prophetic, initiatory, poetic, erotic’; see also Pieper, Divine Madness, passim.


 ’   

discussed in detail at III.8.4. In a passage that Coleridge read carefully, influencing ‘The Eolian Harp,³⁹ Cudworth excerpts from this treatise while discussing how the contemplative-productive activity of Plastic Nature hath a certain Dull and Obscure Idea of that which it Stamps and Prints upon Matter . . . ⁴⁰

According to Plotinus, and in Iamblichus’ and Proclus’ ritualistic theurgy of the sýmbolon,⁴¹ the beauty of aesthetic form can become a sensuous, sacramental access to the ideas.⁴² For Coleridge, too, The Idea of the Beautiful doth perhaps require a deeper Sabbath of the Mind . . . to contemplate . . . than even the Idea of the True—a Jubilee Sabbath!⁴³

But the transit from aísthēsis to ‘the Idea of the Beauty’ is not made in one step. Plato describes a gradual aesthetic ascent to noetic contemplation. In a celebrated passage in the Symposium, Socrates recounts Diotima’s allegory of the epanabasmoí (rising steps)—also known as the ‘ladder of love’—to the celestial Sea of Beauty.⁴⁴ Alluding to Plato’s epanabasmoí, Coleridge describes an emotionalsensitive knowing, between desire and cognition, that first ascribes reality to ideas in willing them to become actualized: These emotions, affections, attachments, etc. are indeed the prepared ladder by which the lower nature is taken up hintoi, and made to partake of, the higher even as we are taught to give a feeling of reality to the higher by . . . associating it with the lower through this common medium. It . . . is by this process that we are enabled gradually to see the reality of the higher—the . . . objects of reason, I mean—in and for itself, and finally to know that these are indeed and preeminently real.⁴⁵

For Plato, however, primarily imagistic thinking reaches a lower consciousness of reality than ordinary sense perception, and, in his allegory, interpreting shadows in the cave is a lower mental activity than perceiving the actual objects. His view

³⁹ Flores, Plastic Intellectual Breeze, 358–75, and ‘Contemplant Spirits’. ⁴⁰ Cudworth, True Intellectual System, 160. ⁴¹ Proclus’ sýmbolon is a physical object—e.g. a miniature idol, or even a pebble—introduced into an Orphic ritual. It becomes, through participation, a shard of divine reality. Coleridge’s sacramental, participatory notion of the symbol has close affinities with Proclus’s theurgic sýmbolon. ⁴² Barth, The Symbolic Imagination, ch. 2, treats Coleridgean symbols sacramentally, as aestheticizing ideas. Sacramentalism characterizes the Chaldean Oracles epigraph to The Friend, 1: 2. Discussing the theme, see Ruth Majercik, ‘Introduction’ to Julianus, Chaldean Oracles, 23–5. ⁴³ Marginalia, 3: 460 (L, The Coming of Messiah [1811], trans. Irving, 1827; c.1827). ⁴⁴ Plato, Symposium, 211b7–d1. ⁴⁵ Opus Maximum, 91.

    


that the highest mental activity is the contemplation of ideas beyond any images is at odds with Aristotle’s doctrine that, ‘the soul never thinks without a mental image [phántasma]’.⁴⁶ On this point, Coleridge might seem nearer to Aristotle than to Plato. Writing of Thomasina Dennis, a former governess to Wedgwood’s children, and an aspiring poet with whom Coleridge sometimes conversed, he says, She interested me a good deal; she appears . . . to have been injured by going out of the common way without any of that Imagination, which if it be a Jack o’Lanthorn to lead us out of that way is however at the same time a Torch to light us whither we are going. A whole Essay, might be written on the Danger of thinking without Images.⁴⁷

Note, however, that when Coleridge refers to dangers, especially for the unprepared mind, in thinking without images, he in fact contradicts Aristotle, for whom imageless thought is not dangerous, but impossible. This statement, typical of his imagination period, is an early instance of the poet-philosopher holding that serious conceptual thought should be illuminated and supported by imagination. In his Logic, two decades later, he argued further that while every abstract rule or process must take some particular, concrete form, we must nevertheless bracket these concrete or accidental features when attempting to understand the rule or process in question (in this case, measuring length with a physical ruler): Even the rule or ruler itself (to take a trivial instance) must be of some particular wood or metal, though when we are employing or considering it, merely as a rule, this becomes indifferent and we abstract from the particular concrete, that is, we draw away our attention (abstrahimus) from the accidental fact that the ruler is of wood, or of iron, of oak, or of mahogany.⁴⁸

Here, as in the letter to Wedgwood, Coleridge refines an Aristotelian position to support a Platonic one, so that although the mind can seldom (for Aristotle, never) think without an image, Platonic noesis (imageless contemplation) remains the possibility of attending to the idea after progressing beyond the images that led the mind in that direction. The danger of image-led thought is a frequent target for Coleridge, as he contends against the ‘despotism of the eye’.⁴⁹ He also notes that even for Aristotle, ‘we do not reason by [an image of sense] . . . but . . . in spite of it’.⁵⁰ Again, with a Platonic emphasis, Coleridge refers to

⁴⁶ Aristotle, On the Soul, 413a1. ⁴⁷ Letters, 1: 362 (1 November 1800), to Josiah Wedgwood II. ⁴⁸ Logic, 14. ⁴⁹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 107; Logic 242. ⁵⁰ Notebooks, 4: §5133 f97v (February 1824).


 ’   

‘the image of a thing, but not (except for illustration et   falsi . . . ) the image as the thing.’⁵¹ As his image–idea distinction is basically Platonic, so is his conception–idea opposition, while it develops Kant’s Verstand–Vernunft (understanding–reason) distinction. Kant says, we defined the understanding as the faculty of rules; here we will distinguish reason from understanding by calling reason the faculty of principles.⁵²

Coleridge develops this to accord with Plato’s diánoia–nóēsis distinction.⁵³ He saw ‘the fundamental difference in kind between the Reason and the Understanding’ as ‘pre-eminently the Gradus ad Philosophiam [Step to Philosophy]’,⁵⁴ and as his lifelong mission to explain. His outline of the understanding–reason distinction is reproduced in Table 2.1. The elevated imagination works between the two. Plato’s noesis—equivalent to what Coleridge called ‘Positive Reason’, or ‘Contemplation’⁵⁵—is an epistemic mode beyond images. It connects with the ideas as powers independent of human mind, whose transcendence Plato and Coleridge accept, but which Kant does not, that is, not as something knowable. In Kant’s view, ideas remain transcendental ideas of transcendence, with the matter of whether or not they actually refer to reality being unknowable.⁵⁶ For Plato, the opposite epistemic extreme of nóēsis is eikasía (equivalent to Coleridge’s ‘Sense’ and, especially, ‘Fancy’), which takes images at face value. Between these extremes, for Plato and Coleridge, lies diánoia (the understanding), which always thinks with concepts abstracted from sense experience and with schematic images. Kant, too, places understanding between sense and reason, although he conceives reason differently. With this conception–idea difference comes the problem of defining the ideas of reason. If ideas transcend concepts, then their definition beyond negative, apophatic statements appears to be impossible. Thus, Coleridge maintains that

⁵¹ Logic, 245. The Latin means ‘and by way of a guiding falsehood’. ⁵² Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 387 (A299/B356). Rules, for Kant, pertain to cognition of objects and are bound to the physical causality inherent in phenomena, while principles pertain to the rational system, stemming from the ideas by which we organize knowledge and experience, and from the moral realm, which is cognized only in freedom. ⁵³ Letters, 2: 1193, 1198 (13 October 1806), to Thomas Clarkson, giving an early Coleridgean formulation of the understanding–reason distinction, referring Kant’s distinction to its earliest form, in Plato. He discusses the distinction at: The Friend, 1: 154–61; Aids to Reflection, 207–36, 245–6; Table Talk, 1: 39 (13 February 1823), 2: 88 (14 May 1830); Church and State, 58–9; Notebooks, 5: §6852 f58v (December 1833). Plato has Socrates discuss his distinction with Glaucon at Republic, 509d–511e, discussed in this book at 196–200 and 211–22. ⁵⁴ Table Talk, 2: 88 (14 May 1830). ⁵⁵ Marginalia, 5: 797–8 (1824). ⁵⁶ Inscribed in Coleridge’s copy of Critique of Pure Reason, long marginal lines mark Kant’s definition of the transcendental ideas.

    


Table 2.1 The Difference in Kind of Reason and the Understanding (Aids to Reflection, 223–4). Autograph manuscript reproduced courtesy of the University of Iowa Library (Special Collections, MS

To apply these remarks [on the heterogeneity of Reason and Understanding] for our present purpose, we have only to describe Understanding and Reason, each by its characteristic qualities. The comparison will show the difference. UNDERSTANDING.


1. Understanding is discursive.

1. Reason is fixed.

2. The Understanding in all its judgements refers to some other Faculty as its ultimate Authority.

2. The Reason in all its decisions appeals to itself, as the ground and substance of their truth. (Hebrews, VI. 13.)

3. Understanding is the Faculty of Reflection.

3. Reason of Contemplation. Reason indeed is far nearer to SENSE than to Understanding: for Reason (says our great HOOKER) is a direct Aspect of Truth, an inward Beholding, having a similar relation to the Intelligible or Spiritual, as SENSE has to the Material or Phænomenal.

The Result is: that neither falls under the definition of the other. They differ in kind…


 ’    Ideas and Conceptions are utterly disparate, and Ideas and Images are the negatives of each other.⁵⁷

The problem arises, then, of explaining ideas to those who request a concept of them. This problem of discussing ideas as lying beyond the conceptual also exercises the neo-Platonists, for whom truths about reality cannot be adequately disclosed in discursive language.⁵⁸ Coleridge, too, finds no convenient access to ideas through concepts. Like Kant, he finds instead that ideas help regulate concepts, articulating them in a process Coleridge calls ‘the understanding enlightened by reason’, or the ‘discourse of reason’.⁵⁹ It is important to note that Coleridge does find something congenial in Kant’s notion of the regulatory nature of ideas. For example, they allow us to project an imagined or anticipated system of classification in which we can pursue the pure elements in chemistry (and the like, for other sciences), without yet knowing what they are:⁶⁰ Such concepts of reason are not created by nature, rather we question nature according to these ideas . . . ⁶¹

This epistemic use of ideas as transcendental is undeniably significant for Coleridge, remaining so even while he presses beyond Kant’s restriction of ideas to epistemology and to their regulatory capacity. Beyond Kant, then, Coleridge held that ideas also constitute reality, and do not end at merely regulating knowledge and experience. However, due to the linguistic turn in philosophy and the humanities, with its dogma that nothing intelligible exceeds the conceptual, too many of Coleridge’s twentieth-century commentators failed to consider him seriously concerning what can be characterized as a praeterconceptual dimension to human thought and experience. Yet, far from enacting a proto-linguistic turn on Kant’s transcendental philosophy, Coleridge suggests, in some passages of the Logic and Opus Maximum,⁶² that ordinary human language could not have developed without the higher categories organizing sensory and discursive cognition.⁶³ ⁵⁷ Notebooks, 4: §5288 f15 (December 1825). ⁵⁸ Rappe, Reading Neoplatonism, passim, considers the intriguing neo-Platonic problem of discussing the non-discursive. ⁵⁹ The Friend, 1: 156, quoting Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1.2.150. ⁶⁰ Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 592 (A646/B674). I am grateful to Andrew Cooper for drawing my attention to this application of Kant’s transcendental ideas as regulatory. ⁶¹ Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 592 (A645/B763). ⁶² Logic, 37, 112, 263 (esp. fn.), 265–6; Opus Maximum, 191, and esp. 312. I thank Dillon Struwig for these references. ⁶³ Similarly, Reid, Coleridge, Form and Symbol, ch. 8, argues that language is structured by the understanding, rather than vice versa. He therefore rejects post-structuralist accounts of Coleridge’s theory of language.

    


My term ‘praeter-conceptual’ should be explained. In his ‘Hymn to Pan’, John Keats entreats the god of the wilds: Be still the unimaginable lodge For solitary thinkings; such as dodge Conception to the very bourne of heaven . . . ⁶⁴

Praeter-conceptual thought includes ‘thinkings’ that ‘dodge conception’, or else push through it, to go straight to ‘heaven’. While the understanding pursues discursive (negative) reason with conceptual effort, contemplative (positive) reason lies beyond that conceptual work. The movement towards ideas—a stretching to hear—requires the graceful energy suited to ‘Sabbaths of Contemplation’, after the ‘Work-day’ toil that, except in extraordinary instances, necessarily precedes it.⁶⁵ The word ‘praeter-conceptual’ also plays indirectly on ‘praeternatural’. While ‘supernatural’ connotes beings or powers above the natural, and its usual associations are the angelic, daemonic, or ghostly, ‘praeternatural’ can connote powers that are human (higher understanding, imagination, ‘Positive Reason’/‘Contemplation’, and free will) yet beyond the merely natural (lower understanding, fancy, sense, and natural causation). Indeed, Coleridge argues for a straightforward sense of calling the human will supernatural: by spiritual I do not pretend to determine what the Will is, but what it is not— namely, that it is not Nature. And as no man who admits a Will at all, (for we may safely presume that no man not meaning to speak figuratively, would call the shifting Current of a stream the  of the River), will suppose it below Nature, we may safely add, that it is super-natural; and this without the least pretence to any positive Notion or Insight.⁶⁶

Notably, the praeter-conceptual (reason) and the pre-conceptual (sense) are both intuitive, unlike the conceptual, which is discursive. But the ‘praeter’ is of a higher order of human thought than the ‘pre’, having gone through and beyond the conceptual middle. The pattern is famously exemplified by Hegel, whose Phenomenology of Spirit describes an ascending spiral of consciousness that progresses from an Edenic and unified ‘sense-certainty’, overcoming contradictions through various stages of divided self-consciousness, until ‘Spirit’ returns to an ultimate, elevated form of its original unity to become ‘Absolute Spirit’. As Coleridge says of the evolution of life via ascending stages, ‘the whole process is cyclical tho’ progressive’.⁶⁷ The Coleridgean sense of praeter-

⁶⁴ Keats, ‘Hymn to Pan’, Endymion, 1, ll. 294–5, 72. ⁶⁵ Marginalia, 5: 795 (1824). ⁶⁶ Aids to Reflection, 80. ⁶⁷ Letters, 4: 769 (September 1817), to Tulk.


 ’   

conceptual mind, however, is not self-realization in the Absolute, but rather, in a Christian Platonist sense, the intuitive reception of universal reason apprehended as Logos, a personal being. Conveyed by the symbolizing imagination, Coleridgean ideas unite the universal with the particular, such that the ultimate aim of a particular is its idea, and its defining universal, its law. Such laws are constitutive of phenomena. They are correlates in nature of ideas, and we must therefore, he says in Aids to Reflection, reject ‘the false antithesis between real and ideal’.⁶⁸ Expanding this thought around the same time, he notes that the idea considered, with Aristotle, as a ‘whole prior to the parts’, giving ‘unity of Form’—versus the posterior whole, being the ‘Unity of Shape’—is ‘antecedent and constitutive’, such that the Ideal Unity . . . is . . . actual and constitutive, and that therefore the term, Ideal, must be opposed not to the Real but to the Phænomenal.⁶⁹

In the light of ideas, sensible particulars trace universals. And laws, as universals that constitute phenomena, are ‘necessarily prophetic and productive constructive’.⁷⁰ In human life, these ‘ ’⁷¹ offer direction, rather than necessitate change. Like Shakespeare’s ‘star to every wand’ring bark’,⁷² the light of an idea is not followed through force, but in being recognized for what it is, its value self-evident once beheld. Lecturing on Plato, Coleridge says, Here we have all that good sense and wide induction can give . . . as ideas, known to be unapproachable as to realization, but they were to be a polar star, guiding a man’s mind by approximation. And there he stopped.⁷³

2.3 Reason Higher than Imagination; Will Deeper than Reason With mystic philosophers such as Plotinus and, especially, Böhme, Coleridge finds a polar harmony between universal, ‘ ’ and their correlate ideas working in human life. Ideas and cosmic laws are the two aspects, the organizing energies, of universal Logos. As productive, energic laws, nature, in this view, is process (natura naturans). As the set of energetic, material, and phenomenal concretes, nature is product (natura naturata). On the organizing energies of universal reason and the substance of nature and sense that is organized, Coleridge holds that

⁶⁸ ⁷⁰ ⁷² ⁷³

Aids to Reflection, 178 fn. ⁶⁹ Notebooks, 4: §5295 f21 (1825–6). ⁷¹ The Friend, 1: 492. Notebooks, 4: §5294 f20v (1825–6). Shakespeare, Sonnet 116, ‘Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds’, l. 7. Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 1: 190 (11 January 1819).

    


the material universe which splendent, as it is, is yet but the faint resplendence of that intellectual world, that already is in us essentially, and which we thus behold only as it is in us—⁷⁴

Rather than posit some impossible or miraculous channel of communication from sense-perceiving subjects to noumenal objects, he argues that these noumena are essential to the thinking mind, and are therefore apprehensible in the most transparent form of self-intuition. This transparent intuition of ideas occurs beyond discursive thinking, and is higher, and more inward, than imagination, which needs an aesthetic access to ideas. Describing reason as ‘higher than imagination’ requires explanation, since this view contravenes much of the twentieth-century focus on imagination. Mary Anne Perkins, for example, asserts that for Coleridge, ‘Reason is the faculty of Ideas, a unifying, uniquely human faculty.’⁷⁵ Yet reason, in the primary sense in which he used the word, is not even a human faculty for Coleridge. Similarly, Nick Reid has denied that Coleridge has ‘a hierarchy in which reason is higher than the symbol’.⁷⁶ Such readings, however, contrast with Coleridge’s repeated assertion of ‘reason sensu eminenti, as the self-subsistent Reason or Logos’,⁷⁷ which, unlike imagination, is not a human faculty at all. When Coleridge does write of reason in a human sense, it is as the openness to reason proper, the Logos, which is independent of human mind. Even in this secondary sense, reason is not a faculty, but an openness, a presence. Given this openness, or receptivity, we may, he says, ‘call the Reason the sensorium of the Spirit ’.⁷⁸ While understanding and imagination are human, reason, in its primary sense, is not. Hence, even in dreams, he notes in 1827, Understanding . . . is “I” still, & the Understanding belongs to “I ”—but Reason is a Loan, a Light.—⁷⁹

Or, as he articulates three years later, The Understanding then is the Man—whose rationality consists in the innate susceptibility of the Lumen a Luce—but the Reason is not the Man, but προς ανθρωπον [pròs anthrṓpon, with (or rather, near to) man, cf. John 1:1] . . . ⁸⁰

⁷⁴ Notebooks, 3: §3941 (June–July 1810). ⁷⁵ Perkins, ‘Coleridge, Samuel Taylor (1772–1834)’, 404. ⁷⁶ Reid, Coleridge, Form and Symbol, 6. ⁷⁷ The Statesman’s Manual, 73 n.1 (autograph fn., 1827). ⁷⁸ Notebooks, 4: §4935 f62 (1822–5). ⁷⁹ Notebooks, 5: §5641 ff37r–v (November 1827). v ⁸⁰ Notebooks, 5: §6491 f23 (October 1830). ‘Lumen a Luce’ means ‘the illumination from the substantial light’.


 ’   

Reading Coleridge on the ‘Divine Ideas’ in the light of his Biographia Literaria (chapter 13) definition of the imagination, Graham Davidson has equated reason beholding ideas with Coleridge’s primary imagination.⁸¹ Davidson further argued that primary imagination generates ideas and is therefore equivalent to Logos itself. The difference in perspective between such interpretations and the one I present in this book cannot be eliminated, but they can be brought to closer alignment by considering Coleridge’s distinction between the ancillary sense of ‘reason’ as, loosely speaking, a human faculty, and ‘reason’ in the fullest and strictest sense, which is not a faculty at all. The former is the human openness to the latter. His view is both insight and philosophical conclusion: R . . . with the silence of light . . . describes itself, and dwells in us only as far as we dwell in it. It cannot in strict language be called a faculty, much less a personal property, of any human mind!⁸²

Eleven years later, annotating this page of The Statesman’s Manual, he defined ‘the first and absolute sense of reason’ as ‘the Supreme Being contemplated objectively’ comprising ‘unity and distinctity’, ‘the distinctities’ being the ideas, and reason their ‘ground and source’. He distinguished from this ‘the second sense’, namely, the capability of beholding, or being conscious of, the divine light . . . as the life or indwelling . . . of the living Word . . . ⁸³

Primarily, then, reason for Coleridge is the absolute and universal Logos. Secondarily, it is the human openness to that Logos. His conviction that reason ‘dwells in us only as far as we dwell in it’ recalls the contemplative St Catherine of Siena’s revealed insight that, she dwells in Me and I in her, as the fish in the sea, and the sea in the fish—thus do I dwell in the soul, and the soul in Me—the Sea Pacific.⁸⁴

Annotating Böhme’s Mysterium Magnum, Coleridge again defines reason in the primary, ‘eminent’ sense as not a human faculty at all: The Reason is a Participation of Ideas: & strictly speaking, it is no Faculty, but a Presence, an Identification of Being & Having.⁸⁵

Thus he notes, in the Logic, the ⁸¹ Davidson, ‘Primary Imagination’, 90, et passim. ⁸² The Statesman’s Manual, 69–70. ⁸³ The Statesman’s Manual, 68 n.3 (autograph note, 1827, added to Henry Nelson Coleridge’s 1839 edition). ⁸⁴ Catherine of Siena, Dialogue of St Catherine, 238. In the quoted excerpt, God is speaking in the first person. ⁸⁵ Marginalia, 1: 682 (Bö).

    


unindividual and transcendent character of the reason as a presence to the human mind, not a particular faculty or component of the mind . . . ⁸⁶

Reason is in us yet more than us. And what is the Reason? . . . The Spirit present to Man, but not appropriated by him is the Reason of Man.⁸⁷

This presence to reason, he writes in an 1825 note, ‘must be considered . . . in relation to the Will’, for it provides our ‘Moral Being’. We are morally good, is his Kantian point, insofar as our will coincides with this reason or is made to conform with it: This alone is Reason in the full and substantive sense.—It is Reason in its own sphere of perfect Freedom. Reason as the source of Ideas, and which Ideas in their conversion to the responsible Will become Ultimate ends—⁸⁸

In the same year, in his inaugural lecture to the Royal Society of Literature, he argues that Reason is from God, and God is reason, mens ipsissima [mind its very self ].⁸⁹

Thus, in the strongest possible terms, he describes reason as independent of human mind. Imagination, on the other hand, is a human faculty through which ideas, though not transparently beheld, find expression in the creation and perception of aesthetic symbols. The ontological distinction between imagination as a human faculty and reason as universal Logos also marks the understanding from reason. We can, accordingly, speak of the human Understanding, in disjunction from that of Beings higher and lower than man. But there is, in this sense, no human Reason. There neither is nor can be but one Reason, one and the same . . . ⁹⁰

Reason, then, in the ideal and universal sense, is what contemplation accesses. Developing a Coleridgean concern with ‘deep feeling’,⁹¹ ‘vague appetency’,⁹² and imaginative perception, I further argue that a lower mode of contemplation is ⁸⁶ ⁸⁸ ⁸⁹ ⁹⁰ ⁹¹ ⁹²

Logic, 69. ⁸⁷ Marginalia, 6: 300 (L; between 1819 and 1823). Notebooks, 4: §5210 f20v (May 1825). ‘On the Prometheus of Aeschylus’ (1825), Shorter Works, 2: 1281. Aids to Reflection, 218. Letters, 2: 709 (23 March 1801), to Poole; Biographia Literaria, 2: 80; The Friend, 1: 106 and fn. ‘Treatise on Method’ (1818), Shorter Works, 1: 633.


 ’   

possible in symbolically beheld sensuous experience. In Chapters 3–6, I shall explore these sensuous modes to articulate my theory of inchoate contemplation. As early as September 1805, Coleridge described the mixed blessings of contemplating the idea, the transcendent noúmenon, in ‘Sense’ and imagination through the symbol. Though easily pardonable, it is mistaken to confuse the contingent symbol with the necessary idea it conveys, for all expressions belong to the world of Sense—to phænomena/all are contingent, local, here this, there another/but when ennobled into symbols of Noumena, it is a common & venial error to forget the vileness in the worth, to confound not to analyse—the contingent symbol with the divine Necessity = Νουμενoν [noúmenon].⁹³

Though imagination is for Coleridge a lively gradus to reason, from the tangible and incremental up to, but not quite into, the intelligible and absolute, it carries too much of the contingent in the ascent. His concern here was not fleeting. A quarter-century later, he places his poem ‘What is Reason?’ on the last page of Church and State, commending highest contemplation as ‘pure transparency’, then quotes Dante, for the closing words of his book, ‘But, alas!’: ————tu stesso ti fai grosso Col falso immaginar, si che non vedi Cio che vedestri, se l’avessi scosso. D; Paradiso, Canto 1⁹⁴

Imagination, he implies, is a valuable intermediary, but not value in itself. One worry is that it often mistakes contingent accretions for what is essential. Perhaps its greatest danger, however, is of carrying over unexamined aesthetic preconceptions that then warp and colour, but with the effect unnoticed, and hence unremedied. Discrimination is found in the articulate ‘discourse of reason’,⁹⁵ the power of close examination and logical construction in the light of reason. This discourse is capable of communicating an enlightened view. But how did Coleridge achieve his views? To say he reached them by acts of faith risks giving the wrong impression, as if he abdicated his reason in favour of religious belief. As he says at the end of Biographia Literaria, one finds that

⁹³ Notebooks, 2: §2664 f83 (July–September 1805). ⁹⁴ Church and State, 185. Dante, The Vision [The Divine Comedy], 3: 3; Paradise, Canto 1, ll. 85–7, tr. Rev. Henry Francis Cary: ‘With false imagination thou thyself | Mak’st dull, so that thou seest not the thing, | Which thou hadst seen, had that been shaken off.’ Coleridge read the Italian and this translation in its first edition (1814). He quotes this passage earlier, at Notebooks, 4: 4786 f125 (1820–1), and Opus Maximum, 127. ⁹⁵ The Friend, 1: 156.

    


link follows link by necessary consequence; that Religion passes out of the ken of Reason only where the eye of Reason has reached its own Horizon; and that Faith is but its own continuation . . . ⁹⁶

Charting a course consistent with faith and reason, he argues that chief of the ‘main evils in philosophizing’ is the absurdity of demanding proof for the very facts which constitute the nature of him who demands it—a proof for those primary and unceasing revelations of self-consciousness which every possible proof must presuppose; reasoning, for instance . . . concerning the power of reasoning. Other truths may be ascertained; but these are certainty itself . . . and are the measure of every thing else which we deem certain.⁹⁷

From here, he claims as a certainty that the will must be antecedent to human nature. This position anticipates the existentialist notion of radical, metaphysical freedom, expressed in Sartre’s dictum that there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence, a being which exists before it can be defined by any conception of it. That being is man or . . . the human reality.⁹⁸

Coleridge adapts from Schelling, who reasoned in his proto-existentialist Freiheitschrift that the ‘inner necessity’ of human action comes not from any ‘contingency’, or ‘empirical . . . compulsion’, but from choice: Were this being a dead sort of Being and a merely given one with respect to man, then, because all action resulting from it could do so only with necessity, responsibility and all freedom would be abolished. But precisely this inner necessity is itself freedom; the essence of man is fundamentally his own act; necessity and freedom are in one another as one being that appears as one or the other only when considered from different sides, in itself freedom, formally necessity.⁹⁹ ⁹⁶ Biographia Literaria, 2: 247, adapting Marginalia, 1: 576 (Bö, Aurora). Here, ‘Reason’ means ‘reasoning’ (negative reason). ⁹⁷ ‘Contributions to [Southey’s] Omniana’ (1812), Shorter Works, 1: 321–2. In arguing that there is no consciousness, only neural synapses, Daniel Dennett, Paul and Patricia Churchland, and other eliminative materialists exemplify such ‘philosophizing’. Searle, ‘ “Mystery of Consciousness” ’, makes the same argument against Dennett as Coleridge against the ‘philosophizers’: ‘Here is the paradox . . . I am a conscious reviewer consciously answering the objections of an author who gives every indication of being consciously and puzzlingly angry. I do this for a readership that I assume is conscious. How then can I take seriously his claim that consciousness does not really exist?’ ⁹⁸ Sartre, Existentialism and Humanism, 28. ⁹⁹ Schelling, Essence of Human Freedom, 50 (Sämmtliche Werke, 7: 385).


 ’   

Were it ‘merely given’, the will would be conditioned by its precedent and thus not be free, robbing coherence from the aim to live a morally responsible life. In the basically Kantian formulation of freedom opposed to contingent necessity and psychological inclination, yet having its own rational, ‘inner’ necessity, Coleridge agrees with Schelling. As reason, for Coleridge, is higher than imagination, so ‘the Will is deeper than Reason’.¹⁰⁰ He rejects what he sees as Schelling’s confused account of evil as preexisting in the ‘Ground . . . out of whic[h] God exists’.¹⁰¹ God’s will, for Coleridge, contains no evil, being entirely good. With divine will the ground of reason, and goodness the essence of divine will, there is no Euthyphronic dilemma concerning the priority of either God’s will or the holiness of what he loves,¹⁰² for God is the identity of goodness (the holy) and power (divine will). Human will, being free, must choose not only between competing desires or inclinations, but between desire and reason itself. The reason is either present or not present. In an eminent sense it is a free gift to us for the Will, indeed, without which it would in the recipient not be reason any more than the light falling on an eyeless face would for that person be light.¹⁰³

Coleridge adds to his argument for metaphysical freedom that the will is unconditioned, because The Will is ultimately self-determined, or it is no longer a Will under the law of perfect Freedom, but a Nature under the mechanism of Cause and Effect.¹⁰⁴

Even reason, he argues, cannot be prior to will without undermining freedom, which is, according to the life we live, not only able to be rational, but also capable of arbitrary self-assertion. Even in man will is deeper than mind: for mind does not cease to be mind by having an antecedent; but Will is either the first . . . or it is not  at all.¹⁰⁵

The compatibility of human freedom and objectively real reason depends, for Coleridge, on a will for whom the mind is not its superordinate determiner, but its ¹⁰⁰ ‘Note on Individuality’ (1826), Shorter Works, 2: 1335. ¹⁰¹ Marginalia, 4 (S): 433, further discussed in this book, 249–51. ¹⁰² Plato, Euthyphro, 10a–11b. ¹⁰³ Opus Maximum, 171. Compare ‘the light falling on an eyeless face’ with the ‘Old Man with a steady Look sublime | . . . | But he is blind . . . | . . . | He gazes still, his eyeless Face all Eye— | As twere an Organ full of silent Sight | His whole Face seemeth to rejoice in Light/’, ‘Limbo: A Fragment’ (1811), Poetical Works, 1: 883, ll. 10, 16–18, discussed in this book at Chapter 11. ¹⁰⁴ Aids to Reflection, 285. ¹⁰⁵ Church and State, 182; var. Letters, 6: 600 (27 July 1826), to Revd Edward Coleridge.

    


possession. Openness to reason is thus fundamentally a choice of the will. For Coleridge, universal reason, Logos, absorbs and cancels the possibility of freedom in creatures that have no openness to reason.¹⁰⁶ In irrational Agents, viz. the Animals, the Will is hidden or absorbed in the Law. The Law is their Nature.¹⁰⁷

In moral and rational agents, by contrast, the Law is a Law for you; that it acts on the Will not in it . . . ¹⁰⁸

Free will, then, is not, for Coleridge, so much to be proved as to be asserted, for scepticism regarding the reality of freedom contradicts the life we lead. Scepticism about free will has various forms. One of them is exhibited by the moral aesthete, a connoisseur who acutely discriminates shades of moral feeling and apparent states of will, yet who holds the freedom of the latter to be illusory, like a well-acted drama: determinist theatre arising in the clash of contingent forces. Yet to react with moral feeling is to assert the will in judgement. Thus asserted, the choices and judgements of free will should be examined and challenged, but to reject free will is to deny the reality, though not the phenomena, of moral life itself.

2.4 Ideas: The Confreres of the Soul With ideas largely unconscious for most of us, most of the time, most people access them aesthetically. Such is the romantic notion, derived from Plotinus, of the idea, dimly accessed in imagination, working through the aesthetic modes of pleasure, taste, and preference. Although ideas cannot be conveyed to someone who has neither apprehended nor been gripped by them, Coleridge suggests an initial, negative approach, referring a sceptic about ideas to his own experience & by inducing him to institute an analysis of his own acts of mind and states of being, that will prove the . . . not only utterly unsufficing but the alien nature of all abstractions & generalizations . . . to the solution of his own intellectual life.—But to talk of Ideas to men who neither have them or are had by them, is profanation & folly to boot.¹⁰⁹

¹⁰⁶ Berkeley, Coleridge and the Crisis of Reason, chs 2–5, discusses Coleridge’s defence of free will against Spinoza, referencing the possible loss of the freedom as represented in ‘Christabel’ and by the reanimated crew in the ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. ¹⁰⁷ Aids to Reflection, 300. ¹⁰⁸ Aids to Reflection, 301. ¹⁰⁹ Notebooks, 4: §5409 (July 1826).


 ’   

Abstracted and generalized concepts stand for reports from the senses. They are of themselves ultimately ‘unsufficing’ and ‘alien’ to an intellectual life characterized by values and ideas that are the ultimate purposes by which we attempt to shape our existence. Because our moral aim is aligned to ideas, At the annunciation of principles, of ideas, the soul of man awakes, and starts up, as an exile in a far distant land at the unexpected sounds of his native language, when after long years of absence, and almost of oblivion, he is suddenly addressed in his own mother tongue.¹¹⁰

The thought parallels the following from Böhme: Therefore Man, who is so noble an Image, having his ground in Time and Eternity, should well consider himself and not run headlong in such blindness, seeking his Native Country afar off from himself, when it is within himself . . . ¹¹¹

Ideas, Coleridge proposes, have the power to stir us because they are the confreres of the soul, itself an ideal, spiritual being. Plotinus stated this theory in the similar terms of a reunion with kindred ideal powers, stirring, indeed thrilling the soul . . . finding itself among Being in the presence of the greater Substantiality [sc. ideas, noûs], when it sees something to which it has a kinship, is both delighted and thrilled and returns to itself and recollects itself and what belongs to itself.¹¹²

The intellectual movement towards ideas is, however, usually only dimly conscious and rarely reflected upon: Hence . . . of Ideas—the Fewest among the Few that live in their Light, and yet that all live in their power—the Idea working in them—¹¹³ Even Aristotle, the undisputed master of the understanding, Coleridge claims, did not possess the higher vantage provided by ideas. Aristotle was and still is the sovereign lord of the Understanding—the Faculty judging by the Senses. He was a Conceptualist, but never could raise himself into that higher state, which was natural to Plato . . . , in which the Understanding is

¹¹⁰ The Statesman’s Manual, 24. ¹¹² Plotinus, Enneads I.6.2, 7–11.

¹¹¹ Böhme, The Clavis, in Works, 2: bk 4, 22. ¹¹³ Notebooks, 5: §5495 f63 (April 1827).

    


distinctly contemplated and looked down upon from the Throne of Actual Ideas or Living, Inborn, Essential Truths.¹¹⁴

How may we hope to ascend to these ideas and live in their light? We all live in their power, says Coleridge, but it is another thing to be guided by their light. In the mind centred on the fixed images of fancy and empirical concepts of the understanding, hunger for facts suppresses a desire for principles, and ises outweigh oughts by seeming to be the only real certainties. Yet without logically antecedent principles, how can the relative value of facts themselves be ranked? Probably recalling a discussion with the young Benthamite MP, Thomas Hyde Villiers,¹¹⁵ Coleridge reflects that without the guidance of principles, the mind is dragged hither and thither by whatever nearest facts receive our attention: No one seems to have any distinct convictions—right or wrong; the mind is completely at sea—rolling and pitching on the waves of Facts and personal Experiences. . . . You say Facts give birth to, and are the ground of, Principles. But, unless you had a Principle of selection, why did you take notice of those particular Facts. You must have a Lantern in your hand to give light; otherwise all the materials in the world are useless, for you can neither find them, and if you could, you could not arrange them. But that Principle came from Facts!—To be sure: but there must have been antecedent Light again to see those antecedent Facts. The Relapse in imagination may be carried back for ever—but you can never imagine a man without a previous Aim or Principle.¹¹⁶

Not questioning one’s own lights—i.e. the principles behind one’s selections and one’s ascriptions of value—perhaps even denying their existence, asserting only facts and viewpoints, is, Coleridge contends, to place oneself in the sway of surrounding forces, rather than to exercise judgement in the light of ideas. But could we be mistaken in identifying the light of an idea? After all, Coleridge holds that Aristotle, virtuoso of the understanding, was a conceptualist unable to raise himself to the higher state of noesis. How could we tell if we had ever been, or failed to be, in possession of an idea? Coleridge’s answer lies in the apprehension of reason as self-evident. His ‘ideal Realism’,¹¹⁷ whereby ideas are real powers, independent of human mind, is sharply distinguished from Kant’s transcendental idealism, where a priori concepts of the understanding and ideas of reason are held to be necessary

¹¹⁴ ¹¹⁵ ¹¹⁶ ¹¹⁷

Table Talk, 1: 173 (2 July 1830); see also Notebooks, 4: §5295 f21 (1825–6). Table Talk, 1: 191–2 n.13 (19 September 1830). Table Talk, 1: 191–2 (19 September 1830). Biographia Literaria, 1: 303, and implicit at 260–3.


 ’   

components of the human mind, but are not necessarily, as far as we can be certain, anything beyond that. Where Kant sees ideas at work in the mind, shaping experience and regulating knowledge, for Coleridge, the mind moves towards ideas beyond itself, ideas as powers that shape existence. Yet Coleridge agrees with Kant that ideas systematically order the various human knowledges under their respective heads within the ‘architectonic of Reason’.¹¹⁸ It is the office, and . . . instinct of Reason to bring a unity into all our conceptions and several knowledges. On this all system depends; and without this we could reflect connectedly neither on nature nor our own minds.¹¹⁹

Going beyond Kant, however, ideas for Coleridge are constituents of reality that constitute, or are manifested by, existence, and are thus more than merely regulators of our knowledge of phenomena. More than merely super-concepts in the human mind imposed on experience to unify and structure knowledge, Coleridgean ideas, such as life, freedom, and moral purposes, resonate, in Muirhead’s words, as something which is neither merely given from without nor as something merely imposed from within, but as something in which outer and inner are united, deep calling to deep in the self-evolution of truth.¹²⁰

This unity derives from reason, as Logos, as the common ground of mind and world, for Reason is the Verbum Vivens, ens realissimum, το ὄντως ὤν¹²¹—the Light, that lighteth every man—¹²²

Drawing from a tradition going back to Philo of Alexandria, these divine ideas were integral to Augustine’s Christianized Platonism. As real powers subsisting in the mind of God,¹²³ the Church Fathers accepted them as forms within Logos, the second person of the Trinity. This most real being grounds reality and ideas, being equivalent to Plato’s idea of ideas, and, in Coleridge’s Christian Platonism, ‘the Logos, Idea Idearum [Idea of Ideas]’.¹²⁴ ¹¹⁸ Kant’s ‘Architectonic of Pure Reason’, Critique of Pure Reason, penultimate chapter, influenced Coleridge’s notion of method. ¹¹⁹ Aids to Reflection, 168. ¹²⁰ Muirhead, Coleridge as Philosopher, 102, alluding to Psalms 42:7: ‘Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls’. ¹²¹ ‘Living Word, most real being, the being of being [to óntōs ōn]’. ¹²² Notebooks, 5: §5686 f13v, alluding to Christ as Lógos, John 1:9. ¹²³ Augustine, Eighty-Three Different Questions, Q. 46, ‘On the Ideas’ (pp. 79–81). ¹²⁴ Notebooks, 4: §4901 (April 1822); var. §§4524 (April 1819), and 5078 f33v (December 1823).

    


Coleridge argues that a truth of experience attests to the existence of an absolute ground, which he posed as follows: The grand problem, the solution of which forms, according to Plato, the final object and distinctive character of philosophy, is this: for all that exists conditionally (i.e. the existence of which is inconceivable except under the condition of its dependency on some other as its antecedent) to find a ground that is unconditional and absolute, and thereby to reduce the aggregate of human knowledge to a system.¹²⁵

Scientific inquiry seeks in laws the intelligible ground of phenomena, and, while their precise expression evolves and might never be perfectly grasped, they are to some extent discoverable by the human rational intellect in conjunction with experiment and imagination. We may thus conceive of ‘some ground common to the world and to man’,¹²⁶ a truth of experience which forms the link or mordant by which philosophy becomes scientific and the sciences philosophical.¹²⁷

This common ground, in Coleridge’s modernized Platonic view, is the ground of the coincidence between reason and experience . . . between the laws of matter and the ideas of the pure intellect. . . . which Plato deemed a supersensual essence, . . . at once the ideal of the reason and the cause of the material world, the pre-establisher of the harmony in and between both.¹²⁸

This ground Hume declares inexistent, with the expectation that the sun will rise tomorrow, or that a purse of gold left in Charing Cross will fly away like a feather, being mere habit of thought, the mind ‘determined by custom to infer the one appearance from the other’.¹²⁹ Kant defends this ground against Humean scepticism, with his argument for the transcendental unity of apperception. Though causes are unobservable, certain phenomena are necessarily unified in experience, and not just by constant conjunction, an accidental unity. Coleridge, however, does not try to demonstrate the unity of experience alone, for that, as Kant says, gives only a subjective ground, and thus guarantees only subjective knowledge, and that only of phenomena, not reality. As Hume argues, the ground of the

¹²⁵ The Friend, 1: 461. ¹²⁶ The Friend, 1: 508. ¹²⁷ The Friend, 1: 463. ¹²⁸ The Friend, 1: 463. Opus Maximum, 163–4, also discusses this ‘ground’. ¹²⁹ Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 8.1, 61.


 ’   

general agreement of reason and experience cannot be reached by induction. Coleridge reasons that Should we attempt it [sc. to find a principle more fundamental than selfconsciousness], we must be driven back from ground to ground, each of which would cease to be a Ground the moment we pressed on it. We must be whirl’d down the gulph of an infinite series. But this would make our reason baffle the end and purpose of all reason, namely, unity and system. Or we must break off the series arbitrarily, and affirm an absolute something that is . . . at once cause and effect (causa sui), subject and object, or rather the absolute identity of both.¹³⁰

Yet there is one causative being that can assign purpose to itself. We know this being, Coleridge argued, and we know it from the inside, because it is the will. Prioritizing the will in consciousness, Coleridge approaches the idea: I place the ground and genesis of my system, not, as others, in a fact impressed, much less in a generalization from facts collectively, and least of all from an abstraction embodied into an hypothesis, in which the pretended solution is most often but a repetition of the problem in disguise . . . In contradistinction from this, I place my principle in an act. In the language of the grammarians, I begin with the verb, but the act involves its reality—it is the act of being . . . ¹³¹

For Coleridge, this act is the human access to the idea. The act of will opens the mind to contemplate universal ideas and laws of nature. Idea and law are inseparable, for as the power of Seeing is to Light, so is an Idea hin mindi to a Law in Nature— they are correlatives that suppose each other.¹³²

This Pythagorean concord of physical laws and mental qualia also resonates in Schelling’s Naturphilosophie, whose great theme is that

¹³⁰ Biographia Literaria, 1: 285. Coleridge notes here that ‘self-consciousness is not a kind of being, but a kind of knowing’. ¹³¹ Opus Maximum, 72. Logic, 17–19, discusses the philosophical grammar informing this point. Placing the ‘genesis of his system . . . in an act’, Coleridge echoes Goethe’s ‘Im Anfang war die Tat [In the beginning was the deed]’ from Faust, which Coleridge purportedly translated in 1821 (attr. Coleridge, ed. Burwick and McKusick, Faustus). However, Coleridge said: ‘I never put pen to paper as translator of Faust’: Table Talk, 1: 343 (16 February 1833). In saying ‘I begin with the verb’, Coleridge is perhaps recalling William Vincent’s Origination of the Greek Verb (1795), which stresses the priority of the verb, following Ramler (1769) and Herder (1772). Coleridge read Vincent’s Origination in 1802 or earlier: see Letters, 2: 803 (3 June 1802), to Rev. George Coleridge. ¹³² Lectures on Literature, 2: 147–8 (17 February 1818, London Philosophical Society, Fleet Street).

    


Nature should be Mind made visible, Mind the invisible Nature.¹³³

In Coleridge’s Plotinian idiom, living and life-producing Ideas, which shall contain their own evidence, are essentially one with the germinal causes in Nature . . . ¹³⁴

These seminal ideas are the correlates in mind to the generative and constitutive principles in nature. Symbolizing these generative processes and ideal values, imagination is ‘an echo of . . . [creation], co-existing with the conscious will’.¹³⁵ In this view, artistic creation develops from intuited ideas, in a process parallel to divine creation. Though Coleridge’s developing philosophy is often seen in fragments, his philosophical prose can be brilliantly insightful. In this current context, I find the beauty of the poet-philosopher’s quarry in the identity of act and object in the mode of contemplation, an act involving the reality of the idea.

¹³³ Schelling, Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature, ‘Introduction’, 42. ¹³⁴ Lectures on Literature, 2: 222 (10 March 1818, London Philosophical Society, Fleet Street). ¹³⁵ Biographia Literaria, 1: 304.



1 The ‘Sense’ of Knowledge Part I of this book acquaints the reader with Coleridge’s sense of reason through his theories of sense and imagination. This chapter pursues the intuitive aspect in thinking and knowing, as the sensuous nature of knowledge. In Section 1.1, I examine Coleridge’s notion of the intellectual drive as a hunt that intuits its end along the intermediate stages. In Section 1.2, I trace his intellectual legacy in culture, philosophy, and religion through the nineteenth century, especially in Britain and the United States, before assessing his reception in twentieth-century philosophy. I then argue that a standard interpretation of Coleridge has remained elusive for four reasons: his aim to transform readers; his wide reading being difficult to assimilate; the sheer volume of his collected writings; and his complex relation with German idealism. I then outline, in Section 1.3, Coleridge’s holistic anti-reductionism and his concomitant opposition to extremes in materialism and empiricism, as he strove to overcome alienation.

1.1 ‘A Hare in Every Nettle’ The defender of intuitive, noetic reason argues not primarily from an edifice of propositions and tenets, but from an overall lived experience, from an actual view. Coleridge’s developing framework can be seen in the schematics represented in the tables in this book, including the order of ‘the sciences pure and mixed’ in the Logic (c.1821–3, or later); his ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ diagram (1824); and his version of the understanding–reason division (1825). Other such schemata, to be discussed in Chapter 9, can be found in his Shorter Works and Fragments, notebook entries, marginalia, and appendices to The Statesman’s Manual and Church and State. But why did Coleridge not present his developed accomplishment systematically, in one prose work? A good part of the answer is that he was ultimately presenting a view, not a construction. He tasked himself, accordingly, to bring readers to that view, or some similar vantage point, so they could see it for themselves. This is not to deny that he reached certain viewpoints by experimenting with different hypotheses and propositions. But though he drew maps along the way, he did not so much build a model of reality as climb to the widest, longest view of reality he could find, relative to which the models are secondary. Therefore, Coleridge’s achievement is not finally this or that intellectual construct, but rather the view he showed to be

Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy. Peter Cheyne, Oxford University Press (2020). © Peter Cheyne. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001


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attainable by climbing upon traditions and heaving away loose stones, false footholds, to make the difficult path more accessible. The arrival at that viewpoint and the focus on the further, ‘Trans-Alpine’¹ horizon, and not merely the rocky path ascended, is the result of thought in action. Coleridge’s ends are the ideas pursuable by what he calls the ‘energies of the Reason’,² educing attention, reflection, concentration, discernment, and insight— real powers, each developing from the last, that have interested philosophers for millennia due to their relation to knowledge and wisdom. Discernment, with its concentrated attention, is a mental energy and meditative practice whose end is clearer contemplation. This focused energy is the shared drive of philosophy and poetry. Reflexively describing the thrill of concentrated thinking and the keenness required by that instinctive nous so akin to scent, Coleridge writes to his son Hartley that There is no way of arriving at any sciential End but by finding it at every step. The End is in the Means: or the Adequacy of each Mean is already it’s end. Southey once said to me: You are nosing every nettle along the Hedge, while the Greyhound (meaning himself, I presume) wants only to get sight of the Hare, & F!—strait as a line!—he has it in his mouth!—Even so, I replied, might a Cannibal say to an Anatomist, whom he had watched dissecting a body. But the fact is—I do not care twopence for the Hare; but I value most highly the excellencies of scent, patience, discrimination, free Activity; and find a Hare in every Nettle I make myself acquainted with.³

This notion of finding, in anticipation, the sought-for end along the way is foreshadowed in Coleridge’s four-years’ earlier statement about what he admired in Edmund Burke’s rhetoric, namely, the unpremeditated and evidently habitual arrangement of words, grounded on the habit of foreseeing, in each integral part, or (more plainly) in every sentence, the whole that he then intends to communicate. However irregular and desultory his talk, there is method in his fragments.⁴

A year or so later, Coleridge emphasizes the intense concentration needed for the pursuit of ideas, observing that in the philosophy of ideas our words can have no meaning for him that uses and for him that hears them, except as far as the mind’s eye in both is kept fixed on the idea . . . . If the ray of mental vision decline but an hair’s breadth on this side ¹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 236. ² The Statesman’s Manual, 29. ³ Letters, 5: 98 (August 1822), to Hartley Coleridge. ⁴ The Friend, 1: 449.

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or on that, it is instantly strangled in darkness, or becomes an erring light and its own delusion.⁵

That is, the objects of the intellectual energies are so nearly alike to their methods, that losing track of the one means temporarily losing the other. Coleridge develops his outlook in response to two traditions: the empiricist philosophy that in his day dominated the British practice, and the transcendental idealism that flourished in Germany. I maintain that Coleridge’s philosophy is neither empiricist (though it incorporates empiricist elements), nor a mere translation of German idealism, as critics sometimes suggest. Though the influence of these two great currents of modern philosophy on Coleridge is undeniable, he more often defines his views against empiricism than with it, and while he is nearer to Kant and the post-Kantians, the often subtle distinctions between his positions and many in transcendental idealism reveal elements from Platonism (and neo-Platonism), Christianity, and—more centrally than has hitherto been appreciated—the metaphysics of interpenetration that he found in Jakob Böhme. Bringing the transcendence in Platonism and Christian theology to correct, in his view, Böhme’s anti-hierarchicalism, Coleridge also, conversely, accentuates, with Böhme (as with Plotinus’s and Proclus’s theurgy, or sacramentalism), the higher in the lower and the lower in the higher that are much less explicit in Plato. In further distinction from Plato, Coleridge elevates the role of imagination, separating it from fantasy (or fancy, as he calls it), which retains for him the lower position that Plato gave it. Correcting empiricist philosophy that does not move beyond sensation or conceptual reflection thereon, Coleridge argues that reason and its ideas, and not the understanding, constitute and, further, exceed the apex of human thought, in a division that corresponds to Plato’s between nóēsis and diánoia. Throughout all this, for the middle and later Coleridge, is the figure—the person—of Christ: as mediator, the Incarnation, the divine in the human, the Word made flesh. Imagination, for Coleridge, is a vital precursor to noetic contemplation. It gives aesthetic access to ideas, in a connection that allows the latter to have a felt meaning in our lives. Ordinarily, people become only dimly aware of the ideas that deeply influence them, through art, religion, laws, and other cultural and intellectual products. Throughout this book, I contend that ideas must be consciously and imaginatively approached if we are to be responsibly in charge of our lives and not doomed to repeat the same mangled and obscurely felt patterns. The alternative calls for reflective criticism of one’s unexamined prejudices, aided by noetic enlightenment, and guidance by people in this state, requiring, as Plato says, that the philosopher return to the cave.

⁵ Opus Maximum, 225–6.


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If modern society is to improve, philosophical teachers, politicians, and charitable citizens must unite contemplative and practical life through aesthetic engagement in the classroom, workplace, and spaces of shared culture. This argument echoes Coleridge’s call for a vocational clerisy (clergy, scholars, teachers, local leaders). As one commentator glosses: In medieval times, the clergy were the educated class—a clerisy—with a duty to pass on learning and provide leadership; now, Coleridge urged, those same duties belonged to the educated, who should see themselves as a clerisy. Ordained ministers would only be a part of this clerisy . . . in a new, liberal, and comprehensive vision of a national church. Coleridge’s views resonated down the century.⁶

Before shaping society, however, one must be shaped oneself. This is why Plato argues that philosophical study—which includes dialectic, dangerous in young and untrained minds⁷—not commence until age 30; public office not be held until 35; and that social leadership not start until age 50. Even at 50, Plato’s discalced elite would still be in training, alternating periods of socially beneficial work with contemplative philosophy. Then they must be made to raise the radiance of their soul and look at that which brings light to all. And when they have seen the Good itself, using that as their model [parádeigma] they must each in turn put the state and its inhabitants and themselves in order, spending the majority of their time on philosophy, but when their turn comes, they must each labour at their civic duties, govern in the interests of the state, and carry out their work not as something fine, but as something essential. They must constantly educate others to be like them and leave the guardians for the state and then go off and dwell in the Islands of the Blessed.⁸

The proposal made in this chapter is that we already shape our lives and shared spaces according to the values we attend to, but almost always with insufficient reflection. Socrates’ call to the examined life must therefore be repeated, adding that the examination must be creative as well as logical, by attending to the shaping spirit of what we do as well as to the possible contradictions in its meaning. Usually we shape our lives unaware of any poetic task about it, yet we manage nevertheless to redeem moments of beauty despite decades-long disasters drawn out by making do with repetition over reason. So long, however, as individuals can be brought to understand their current ignorance, then the cycle of assuming that the answer to human yearning lies in social climbing, material ⁶ Knight, Science and Spirituality, 154. ⁸ Plato, Republic, 540a–b.

⁷ Plato, Republic, 539d.

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acquisition, and hedonistic diversion can be stopped. This is an argument for the practical value of contemplation. The New Testament story of Martha of Bethany wanting to serve Christ food and drink, while distracted by various other preparations, is traditionally understood as illustrating the practical life.⁹ It is valuable, but, according to this contemplative tradition, lesser than her sister Mary’s choice, which was to sit near Jesus and listen. The current work holds that contemplative life is the better part, but also emphasizes that each brings the other nearer to fulfilment, so that, in Plato’s analogy, contemplation can be perfected in the return to the cave, rather than be prevented there, as is often feared. The return of the educator or the philosophical politician, for example, to the cave may not easily be appreciated as something fine, but it must be seen as something essential.

1.2 Coleridge’s Intellectual Legacy Besides a general intellectual influence, I also argue for Coleridge a place in the canon of English-speaking philosophy.¹⁰ Although Coleridge studies are flourishing in English departments around the world, a nineteenth-century British philosopher allowed to peruse almost any twentieth- or early twenty-first-century philosophy textbook might inquire into The Curious Case of the Disappearing Coleridge.¹¹ John Stuart Mill, for example, saw him as equalled only by Jeremy Bentham in the English-speaking philosophy of his era, and for him, these two singular minds shape nineteenth-century British thought in opposed yet complementary directions. Moving beyond Mill’s high philosophical and cultural esteem for him, one may survey Coleridge’s much-documented influence on the minds of his age and those of the following.¹² He introduced Kantian thought to a wide British audience,¹³ and was an early anti-reductionist, becoming an eloquent and persuasive opponent of Lockean empiricist zeal. He met Ralph Waldo Emerson, who visited him during a bereavement-induced spiritual quest to Europe in 1832, returning with the Coleridgean philosophy that initiated American transcendentalism in his ⁹ Luke 10:38–42. ¹⁰ As do Mill, ‘Coleridge’ (1840), Collected Works, 10: 117–63; Muirhead, Coleridge as Philosopher; Barfield, What Coleridge Thought; Skorupski, English-Language Philosophy 1750–1945, 2, 17–36; and Perkins, ‘Coleridge’s “Ideal Realism” ’. ¹¹ Three honourable exceptions exist: Skorupski, English-Language Philosophy, 1750–1945, esp. 17–37; Vigus, ‘The Philosophy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’; Milnes, ‘Coleridge’s Logic’. ¹² Skorupski, English-Language Philosophy, 1750–1945; Parker, The English Idea of History; Vigus and Wright (eds), Coleridge’s Afterlives; Aherne ‘The “Way of Seeking” ’. ¹³ Beddoes, Demonstrative Evidence, 81–103, is the first English-language account of Kant’s critical philosophy, translating part of Kant’s introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason (Ak. 3, A28–30/B3–6; Beddoes, 90–5). See Micheli, ‘Early Reception’, 254. Beddoes introduced Kant’s works to Coleridge, encouraging him and Wordsworth to visit Germany.


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1836 essay, ‘Nature’, transforming it, however, in a way that is too pantheistic to be straightforwardly Coleridgean. The Concord transcendentalism of Emerson’s school must be distinguished from the Vermont transcendentalism of professor of philosophy and president of the University of Vermont James Marsh and his followers. Marsh modelled the spirit and redesigned the curricula of Vermont around Coleridgean ideas, his reading of Coleridge resulting in a philosophy of education directed towards freedom.¹⁴ Marsh’s 1829 edition of Aids to Reflection shifted the perspective of many Americans, including John Dewey, from Lockean empiricism to transcendental and spiritual, imagination-related concerns.¹⁵ In Anglican Church history, Coleridge was a leading inspiration of the Broad Church movement, influencing Christian socialist F. D. Maurice, Liberal William Gladstone, and conservative Catholic Cardinal John Henry Newman, and thus Coleridge also influenced the Oxford Movement.¹⁶ Beyond his published writing, his influence carried through his Thursday seminars in Highgate and the friendship and ideas he shared with Joseph Blanco White, of the Oriel Noetics, the preTractarian ‘school of Speculative Philosophy in England’.¹⁷ Coleridge is also widely acknowledged as the pre-eminent philosophical literary critic,¹⁸ with Herbert Read esteeming him as head and shoulders above every other English critic . . . due to his introduction of a philosophical method of criticism.¹⁹

And in the first sentence of The Sacred Wood, T. S. Eliot claims that Coleridge was the greatest of English critics, and in a sense the last.²⁰

Appreciation of him within philosophy departments has, however, diminished throughout the Anglo-American linguistic era and its developments. In literary studies, his reputation as a philosopher has fared better, albeit with warnings to students regarding his Catherine-wheel-like nature: sparks of brilliance in all directions, but rarely a direct rocket, although Church and State avoids that charge as his most straightforward and direct work. Though the brilliance of his thought is generally admired, his stacks of unfinished yet seminal projects can be used

¹⁴ Engell, ‘ “A Hare in Every Nettle”: Coleridge’s Prose’, 28: ‘James Marsh and others built a university and educational system on [Coleridge’s] prose.’ ¹⁵ Beer, ‘Editor’s Introduction’, Aids to Reflection, cxviii. Marsh, ‘Preliminary Essay’, Aids to Reflection (1829), reprinted in H. N. Coleridge’s fourth edition (1839). Wheeler, ‘Coleridge, John Dewey, and the Art of Contemplation’. ¹⁶ Wright, Coleridge and the Anglican Church. ¹⁷ Mackintosh, ‘Stewart’s Introduction to the Encyclopædia’, 254 n. ¹⁸ Watson, The Literary Critics, 111–30. ¹⁹ Read, Coleridge as Critic, 18. ²⁰ Eliot, The Sacred Wood, 1.

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effectively to frighten procrastinating postgraduates. Thus Paul Hamilton poses and answers the question of Coleridge the philosopher: Is Coleridge philosophically interesting? His philosophical output was prodigious and remarkably untidy.²¹

Among philosophers, Roger Scruton adopts Coleridge’s imagination–fancy distinction;²² Douglas Hedley champions him as a learned and innovative Platonist, acutely aware of medieval and modern forms of Platonism’;²³ T. J. Diffey uses a specifically Coleridgean notion of idea in his view of art as beyond conceptual definition;²⁴ and Mary Warnock finds in him a protophenomenologist with striking similarities of interest and approach to Sartre— further, her Coleridge forces us to ‘reconsider’ the irreplaceable ‘value’ of ‘our relationship with the natural world’.²⁵ He also receives book-length philosophical studies by J. H. Muirhead²⁶ and Owen Barfield,²⁷ and is assessed as an influential philosopher in chapter 1 of John Skorupski’s survey of English-Language Philosophy 1750–1945, which describes one messenger of dazzling brightness and power—Coleridge: extraordinary poet, thinker, man, whose influence was also extraordinary.²⁸

Skorupski further attributes importance to Coleridge concerning the root of the ‘Analytic–Continental divide’, which he attempted to bridge.²⁹ In this, Skorupski follows James Engell, who observes that Coleridge seeks to expand the philosophic vocabulary of the British, to make it less materialistic, and to introduce to British thought the key words of Continental (especially German) thought.³⁰

As Muirhead said, ‘Coleridge represented a transitional phase in the coming transformation’ of British philosophy in the nineteenth century.³¹ This highly influential thinker’s fertile philosophy is both traditionalist and strikingly innovative. Attesting to this, we have his 1795 lectures on politics and

²¹ Hamilton, ‘The Philosopher’, 170. ²² Scruton, ‘Fantasy, Imagination and the Screen’ and ‘Imagination and Truth’. ²³ Hedley, ‘Platonism, Aesthetics and the Sublime’, 271. ²⁴ Diffey, ‘The Idea of Art’. ²⁵ Warnock, Imagination, ch. 3; ‘Introduction’, Sartre, Being and Nothingness, xiii; preface to my edited collection, Coleridge and Contemplation. ²⁶ Muirhead, Coleridge as Philosopher. ²⁷ Barfield, What Coleridge Thought. ²⁸ Skorupski, English-Language Philosophy 1750–1945, 17. ²⁹ Skorupski, ‘Mill and the Analytic/Continental Divide’. ³⁰ Engell and Bate, ‘Editors’ Introduction’, Biographia Literaria, 1: cxxii. ³¹ Muirhead, Coleridge as Philosopher, 61.


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religion; his lectures on literature and aesthetics;³² and those on the history of philosophy (1818–19). These join his periodicals, The Watchman, a radical publication running for ten issues in 1796; and The Friend, more philosophical, but including poetry, politics, and news, running for twenty-eight issues from 1809 to 1810, revised in 1812, and reworked and expanded in 1818. Most of his anonymous journalism has now been discovered, and the three-volume Essays on his Times collects his 1798–1818 articles for the Morning Post and the Courier. In 1816, he wrote two pamphlets, calling them ‘Lay Sermons’. The first, The Statesman’s Manual, advocated to ‘the Higher Classes’ the use of Christian principles for social justice; and the second, A Lay Sermon . . . On the Existing Distresses and Discontents, was intended for wider readership, ‘Addressed to the Higher and Middle Classes’, discussing religion, capitalism, the working conditions of factory workers, and such. In his later years, from age 44 until his death (of heart failure) at 61, he lodged with Dr and Mrs Gillman at Highgate, the doctor helping him curb his opium addiction. There, he was known as the Sage of Highgate, leading Thursday seminars for young men, his influence continuing posthumously, through the Victorian era, during which his Aids to Reflection won a widespread readership in Britain and the United States, where Coleridgean ideas influenced the New England transcendentalists.³³ It would seem helpful now to summarize the standard interpretation of Coleridge as philosopher and critic, and then to offer my alternative. However, no standard interpretation exists. George Watson’s observation is still true: The achievement of Coleridge is rightly held to be supreme among the English critics, but no one seeking to expound it can face his task with much confidence. Existing expositions . . . bear so little resemblance to one another that it is difficult to believe they are about the same thing . . . ³⁴

Comparing interpretations of Coleridge, Watson then notes that for René Wellek, Coleridge is merely a ‘mediator’ between German philosophy and his English audience; that I. A. Richards’ influential reconstruction bears ‘little resemblance to the text of Coleridge’; and that ‘worst of all, the very nature of Coleridge’s text forever defies clear analysis’. In part, Coleridge resisted clear analysis because large tracts of his work long remained uncollated and unfinished (e.g. Logic, Opus Maximum); his notebooks are, being notebooks, unpolished; and important and insightful remarks are scattered throughout his journalism (e.g. in The Morning Post and The Courier), ³² Namely, his 1808 lectures on poetry; 1811–12 on Shakespeare and Milton; 1812 on drama; 1812–13 on belles-lettres; 1813 on Shakespeare and education; 1814 on Milton and Cervantes; 1818 on European literature; and 1818–19 on Shakespeare. ³³ Beer, ‘Coleridge at Highgate’, 30–40; Aherne, ‘The “Way of Seeing” ’. ³⁴ Watson, The Literary Critics, 111.

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self-produced periodicals (The Watchman and The Friend), letters, marginalia, and beyond, including his poetry. For various other reasons, and I shall outline three, no interpretation of Coleridge’s philosophical thought has become generally accepted. First, Coleridge aimed for educational transformation in his readers, working to bring the reader to a contemplative insight. As Barfield commends, he was so seminal a thinker that his insights and aperçus tend to ‘sprout in the brains’ with a fertility that is positively dangerous.³⁵

Coleridge’s interest was in awakening principles, not planting propositions: To perceive . . . and assent to . . . an abstract proposition—is easy—but it requires the most wakeful attention of the most reflective minds in all moments to bring it into practice—³⁶

Here, he is arguing with Southey that it is not enough to assent to the proposition that it is one’s ‘duty to be Just’, the important thing is that ‘the Heart should have fed upon the truth’, which then changes every part of one’s life. Against eliciting such transformational vision itself, the explication of any particular position is a useful exercise, but not the chief pedagogic aim. Secondly, Coleridge’s thought develops from deep reading in classical, medieval, and modern sources, and such wide reading in the humanities is rare. Chiefly influential among his sources are Plato;³⁷ the Bible; Philo of Alexandria, and later Hellenic Platonists; the Church Fathers and medieval thinkers; Romans such as Horace; the neo-Platonists, especially Plotinus, and Proclus; Renaissance Italian and English literature and philosophy;³⁸ modern philosophers, especially Spinoza, Locke, Hartley, and Paley (he increasingly opposed these four, though he always admired Spinoza, unlike Locke and Paley); and then the Germans who powerfully enter his thoughts, especially Böhme, Leibniz and Wolff to a lesser extent, crucially Kant, then Schiller, the Schlegels, Schleiermacher, Jacobi, Fichte, and Schelling.³⁹ A third reason for the absence of a standard interpretation of Coleridge is that his philosophy must be found throughout the fifty books representing his corpus: the thirty-four books of the sixteen volumes in the Bollingen edition

³⁵ Barfield, What Coleridge Thought, 11. ³⁶ Letters, 1: 115 (21 October 1794), to Southey. See also ‘Conciones ad Populum’, Lectures, 1795: On Politics and Religion, 49. ³⁷ Vigus, Platonic Coleridge. ³⁸ Zuccato, Coleridge in Italy. ³⁹ He learned German to attend philosophical and other lectures at Göttingen, translating Schiller’s Wallenstein on return to England. He studied Greek and Latin since schooldays, and a little Hebrew, intermittently.


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of his Collected Works (CC, 1969–2002); the five heavy volumes of the ten-book Notebooks (1957–2002), each ‘Text’ accompanied by a separate book of editor’s ‘Notes’; and the six volumes of his Collected Letters (1956–71). The amount of material to evaluate presents another reason for the lack of consensus on What Coleridge Thought, to quote the title of Barfield’s notable and influential attempt to establish just that. The relation of Coleridge’s philosophy to German idealism brings the further question of plagiarism, first raised, shortly after his death, by Thomas De Quincey.⁴⁰ The editors of the 1983 Bollingen edition of Biographia Literaria indicate that he translates three or four pages from Schelling without proper citation, mainly in chapter 13. Whatever notions might be brought for exoneration, such as his regarding, like a Renaissance Platonist, ‘truth as a divine ventriloquist’,⁴¹ it is nevertheless unfortunate, arising amid a truly creative endeavour. Nonetheless, Coleridge mentions by author and title the works to which the accusations relate, so it should be clear that this is no straightforward case of pilfering. Moreover, Schelling’s opinion on the matter was affable: I grant him with pleasure the borrowings from my works that were sharply, even too sharply criticized by his countrymen . . . . One should not hold such charges against a really congenial man [Einem wirklich congenialen Mann sollte man vergleichen nicht anrechnen].⁴²

1.3 Imagination Overcoming Alienation The ontological appearance–reality division, with its corollary, the epistemological opinion–knowledge divide, commenced with Parmenides, ran through Plato’s dialogues, and was returned to in the German and English romantic renaissance of the Florentine and English Platonic Renaissance.⁴³ The romantics opposed what they saw as empiricist and mechanist detachment, returning to Platonic (including neo-Platonic, Renaissance, and Cambridge Platonist) texts to oppose with humane passion the alienation exacerbated by eighteenth-century cool reason and the industrial revolution. From very early in his career, Coleridge described materialists who dismissed whatever cannot be verified by empirical observation as Snails of intellect, who see only with their Feelers.—⁴⁴

⁴⁰ De Quincey, ‘Samuel Taylor Coleridge’, 511. ⁴¹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 164. ⁴² Schelling, Philosophie der Mythologie (1842), in Sämmtliche Werke (Division 2), 1: 196. ⁴³ Beiser, German Idealism, 364. ⁴⁴ Notebooks, 1: §327 (December 1797).

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Supporting a realism of ideas and moral and aesthetic principles, he is therefore allied with a few crucial eighteenth-century thinkers, such as Shaftesbury, who opposed the dominant Hobbesian materialism and Lockean anti-realism concerning moral values and beauty. Self-conscious of the general antipathy to Platonic ideas in empiricist, early nineteenth-century Britain, he nonetheless retained the term. Despite ‘the ’ being ‘obnoxious to the anti-Platonic reader’, he saw no benefit in exchanging the term, since it is the meaning, not the word, that is the object of that aversion, which, fleeing from inward alarm, tries to shelter itself in outward contempt—that is at once folly and a stumbling-block to the partizans of a crass and sensual materialism, the advocates of a Nihil nisi ab extra [Nothing if not from without]. They, like moles, Nature’s mute monks, live mandrakes of the ground, Shrink from the light, then listen for a sound; See but to dread, and dread they know not why, The natural alien of their negative eye!⁴⁵

The verse he recites is his own, ‘Moles’, from the ‘Limbo’ sequence, to be discussed at the end of this book. From Coleridge’s perspective, aversion to the idea is a selfcrippling move. Any acknowledgement of something non-material with causal or moral (practical) efficacy would reveal the limits of the materialist ‘negative eye’, blind to positive ideas. From materialist and, broader, empiricist perspectives, imagination and idealizing reason deal in ultramontane hypotheses on the putative other side of the mental Alps. In Biographia Literaria, Coleridge represents the empirical–transcendent divide with this historico-geographic analogy, arguing that As the elder Romans distinguished their northern provinces into Cis-Alpine and Trans-Alpine, so may we divide all the objects of human knowledge into those on this side, and those on the other side of spontaneous consciousness . . . ⁴⁶

Far from dismissing the advances of empirical science, Coleridge claims that reality includes but also extends beyond the horizon of sense and empirical concepts. The romantic return to Platonism accompanied a return to nature, viewed neo-Platonically. As one romanticist notes, ⁴⁵ The Friend, 1: 494 fn.; var. ‘Moles’ (1811), Poetical Works, 1: 881, which prints the 1834 text. ⁴⁶ Biographia Literaria, 1: 236.


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Describing this alienation, Coleridge contrasts the contemplation of reason . . . when we possess ourselves, as one with the whole, which is substantial knowledge, and that which presents itself when transferring reality to the negations of reality . . . we think of ourselves as separated beings, and place nature in antithesis to mind, as object to subject, thing to thought, death to life. This latter is abstract knowledge, or the science of the mere understanding.⁴⁸

Yet the divided mind can find a higher reunion, he claimed, through symbolic creation and perception, as imagination intimates ideas through aesthetic forms. As he wrote to a friend in 1817, Man separates from Nature only that Nature may be found again in a higher dignity in the Man.⁴⁹

Six years later, he notes that This indeed is the final end of philosophy, to restore the Unity which had been entzweit [split in two] in the act of Reflection—to remove the division yet retain the Distinction.⁵⁰

His commitment to ultimate synthesis after necessary distinction would have prevented Coleridge from agreeing, without qualification, with Georg Lichtenberg’s adage that Philosophy is ever the art of making distinctions [Philosophie ist immer Scheidekunst] . . . ⁵¹

While a keen proponent of judicious distinctions, Coleridge also emphasized the need for a unitive view that reconnects and beholds what has been analysed and understood. Because, for Coleridge, philosophy is ‘the doctrine and discipline of ideas’, and ideas can only be intuited—never be reached by division—it requires, ⁴⁷ Abrams, The Fourth Dimension of a Poem, 143. ⁴⁸ The Friend, 1: 520–1. Coleridge added ‘latter’ to the last sentence (Copy A). ⁴⁹ Letters, 4: 769 (September 1817), to C. A. Tulk. ⁵⁰ Notebooks, 4: §4947 (June–July 1823). ⁵¹ Lichtenberg, notebook entry 2418 in Sudelbüch (‘waste book’) J, Works and Letters, 2: 393. Incidentally, while at Göttingen, Coleridge wished to meet the Anglophile Lichtenberg, who was professor of physics there. The professor, however, was terminally ill, and died in February 1799.

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in his view, the active direction and openness of the mind in contemplation as well as the measured use of distinction in reasoned discourse. Another translation of Lichtenberg’s aphorism is: ‘Philosophy is always the art of analysis’. To this, Coleridge would add: yes, but only if there is synthesis too—and for him that would involve positive intuition or anticipation of the idea. Philosophy must make distinctions, but it must return the living whole. Consistently, Coleridge was an organicist, anti-reductionist thinker who worked out a realism of reason and ideas as transcendent powers above material forces, empirical images, and abstract concepts.⁵² Anti-reductionism is the opposition to theories which assert that phenomena of a greater degree of complexity and organization are entirely explicable in terms of a lower, more fundamental order of phenomena. In one definition, Ontological antireductionism holds . . . that certain higher-order phenomena cannot even in principle be fully explained by physics, but require additional principles that are not entailed by the laws governing the basic constituents.⁵³

Anti-reductionism is implicit in the following observation that Coleridge could not tolerate a system that purported to explain the genesis of a higher order of being from a lower one.⁵⁴

Thus Coleridge criticizes Schelling’s view of nature as an ‘unconscious activity that acts intelligently without intelligence’.⁵⁵ Anti-reductionists, Coleridge included, usually argue that higher-level properties are irreducible emergences from a complex of lower-level ones, or else derive from a higher principle or level of organization. While Coleridge emphasized the gulf between ‘mechanical understanding’⁵⁶ and living nature, the chasm is bridged by an imagination that he saw connecting sensations and concepts on one side, and the ideas of reason on the other. He found in symbolic art and philosophies of transcendence hope for repairing the rift between self and reality that Kant’s transcendental idealist philosophy of the limits of knowledge and human concepts entailed, regarding speculative reason, yet went on to bridge, at least partly, with respect to practical life and value in ethics and aesthetics.⁵⁷

⁵² Gregory, Coleridge and the Conservative Imagination, 1 et passim, discusses Coleridge’s antireductionism. ⁵³ Nagel, ‘Reductionism and Antireductionism’, 3. ⁵⁴ Modiano, Coleridge and the Concept of Nature, 169. ⁵⁵ Marginalia, 4: 374. ⁵⁶ The Statesman’s Manual, 30. ⁵⁷ Gardner, ‘The Romantic-Metaphysical Theory of Art’, describes ‘Art . . . as a ground for hope’ and ‘as metaphysically significant’ (275–6).


’  

Kant’s own theory of ‘beautiful art [schöne Kunst]’, ‘animated’ by ‘spirit [Geist]’, as the artist brings ideas to life, adumbrated the idealist, reason-insense aesthetics of Schelling and Hegel. He argued, in his Critique of Judgment (§49), that ideas are represented sensuously by the symbol, or ‘aesthetic idea’, which mediates between ‘ideas of reason’ and experience. These aesthetic ideas, to which ‘no concept can be fully adequate’, strive toward something lying beyond the bounds of experience, and thus seek to approximate a presentation of concepts of reason (of intellectual ideas), which gives them the appearance of an objective reality . . . ⁵⁸

The anticipation of a unifying idea beyond the phenomena was the positive intuition in Coleridge’s view that mere discrimination falls short of wisdom, as technical process must be completed by a holistic view of existence. The office of philosophical disquisition consists in just distinction; while it is the priviledge of the philosopher to preserve himself constantly aware, that distinction is not division. In order to obtain adequate notions of any truth, we must intellectually separate its distinguishable parts; and this is the technical process of philosophy. But having so done, we must then restore them in our conceptions to the unity, in which they actually co-exist; and this is the result of philosophy.⁵⁹

Seven years later, in Aids to Reflection, he set the principle in stronger, though negative terms: It is a dull and obtuse mind, that must divide in order to distinguish; but it is a still worse, that distinguishes in order to divide.⁶⁰

Displacing the sense of detachment with an order of attachment higher than predivided, pre-reflective experience was a source of a great hope for Coleridge. The hope was not only personal: he believed it could remedy what he was the first to describe as the ‘Age of Anxiety’.⁶¹ Against the French mechanists and the British empiricists, for whom conceptual understanding is the summit of intellectual ability, Coleridge cautions, in the 1818 Friend, that taking the understanding to be the apex of human thought would describe only

⁵⁸ Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 192 (Ak. 5: 314, §49). ⁵⁹ Biographia Literaria, 2: 11. ⁶⁰ Aids to Reflection, 33. ⁶¹ Marginalia, 4: 610 (S, Peveril of the Peak, 1823): ‘His is an Age of Anxiety from the Crown to the Hovel—from the Cradle to the Coffin; all is anxious striving to maintain life, or appearances—to rise, as the only condition of not falling.’

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a sophisticated race . . . of animals, in whom the presence of reason is manifested solely by the absence of instinct.⁶²

It should be emphasized, however, that he opposes the over-estimation of the understanding without denigrating the facility itself. In the same work, for example, he discusses how the understanding ought to guide us in complex domains such as politics.⁶³ Further, even in the ten-years earlier, original version of The Friend, he acknowledges having ‘expressed myself . . . with comparative slight at the Understanding’, but he immediately adds that this is only when it is wrongly ‘considered as the sole guide of human Conduct, . . . the only steady Light of the Conscience, and the absolute Foundation of all Morality’.⁶⁴ He nonetheless strongly advocates ‘deriving the origin of all Government from human Prudence’, which expresses the understanding analogously to how principles express reason. A traditionalist and a hoarder, Coleridge is loth to abandon what has been and still can be useful, especially in the theories he opposes. His aim of overcoming alienation includes incorporating opposed theories, such as the associationist elements he retained at the lower level of his holistic model of mind, or the utilitarian elements he brings into a broader outlook. Exclude Utility? No. My System of Moral Philosophy neither excludes nor rests on it: were it for this reason only that it includes it.⁶⁵

He retrieves rather than syncretizes reclaiming explanatory part-truths from opposed systems, without adopting those systems themselves. Indeed, he denies that his own method is ‘eclectic’ or ‘syncretic’, asserting that ‘Eclectic Philosophy’; ‘Syncretism’; ‘Adoption of the Best’ . . . is the Death of all Philosophy. Truth is one and entire, because it is vital. Whatever lives is contradistinguished from all juxtapositions of mechanism, however ingenious, by its oneness, its impartibility;—and mechanism itself could not have had existence, except as a counterfeit of a living Whole.⁶⁶

Welcoming this ‘catholic and unsectarian . . . spirit’, J. S. Mill acknowledges Coleridge’s retention of truths (or half-truths) from utilitarianism and empiricism as ‘less extreme in its opposition’, because ‘it denies less of what is true in the doctrine

⁶² The Friend, 1: 440. ⁶³ The Friend, 1: 148–227. ⁶⁴ The Friend, 2: 104 (28 September 1809). ⁶⁵ Notebooks, 4: §5209 f18v (May 1825). ⁶⁶ Notebooks, 3: §4251 (May 1815).


’  

it wars against’.⁶⁷ Coleridge corrected what he saw as dangerous half-truths by retaining them within a broader, balanced ambit: My system is the only attempt that I know of . . . to reduce all knowledges into harmony; it . . . shows . . . how that which was true in the particular in each . . . became error because it was only half the truth.⁶⁸

He showed his generally empiricist and increasingly utilitarian British contemporaries the dangers of understanding everything—including mind and humanity— mechanistically. Although he must have often seemed a romantic idealist crying in a utilitarian wilderness, his efforts partly converted Mill himself. That is to say, Mill emended his brand of utilitarianism along Coleridgean lines to distinguish higher from lower pleasures,⁶⁹ thus opposing Bentham’s Helvétian claim that: ‘Prejudice apart, the game of push-pin is of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry.’⁷⁰ In his twinned essays ‘Bentham’ (1838) and ‘Coleridge’ (1840), Mill contrasts the ‘two great seminal minds of England in their age’: To Bentham it was given to discern more particularly those truths with which existing doctrines and institutions were at variance; to Coleridge, the neglected truths which lay in them.⁷¹

Mill criticizes Bentham for his ‘want of imagination’, and finds Coleridge, as Skorupski glosses, ‘less superficial, more insightful’.⁷² Notably, Mill commends Coleridge’s meaning-centred philosophy, and his and Wordsworth’s romantic poetry, which he read in 1828, for helping him find his ‘philosophy of life’ as he overcame his depressive mental crisis of 1826–7. That crisis was brought about by loss of faith in Benthamism, in which he found an undervaluing of poetry, and of Imagination generally, as an element of human nature.⁷³

While Bentham always asks of tradition or received opinion, ‘Is it true?’, Mill finds Coleridge’s hermeneutic depth more appealing, asking, ‘What is its meaning?’⁷⁴ ⁶⁷ Mill, ‘Bentham’ (1838), Collected Works, 10: 158, 125. ⁶⁸ Table Talk, 1: 248 (11 September 1831). Biographia Literaria, 1: 44 fn., discusses half-truths combining so that ‘the whole truth arises, as a tertium aliquid [third something] different from either’. ⁶⁹ Mill, Utilitarianism (1861), Collected Works, 10: 203–60. ⁷⁰ Bentham, Rationale of Reward, 206. Mill criticizes this statement in ‘Bentham’ (1838), Collected Works, 10: 113. ⁷¹ Mill, ‘Bentham’ (1838), Collected Works, 10: 77, 78. ⁷² Skorupski, ‘Mill and the Analytic/Continental Divide’, 536. ⁷³ Mill, Autobiography (1873), Collected Works, 1: 114. ⁷⁴ Mill, ‘Coleridge’ (1840), Collected Works, 10: 119.

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Where the one calls to abolish the old institutions, the other aims for their true realization. After years of struggle with the Hartleian system he once cherished, Coleridge could still retain empirico-associationist mechanisms to explain three important lower-level mental processes: memory formation, concept formation as abstraction from experience, and fancy (fantasy) in poetry and everyday life as the drive for sensory gratification. In his hands, useful elements of associationism are shorn of empiricist conclusions. Among such rejected doctrines are Hume’s that aesthetic and moral values are merely subjective projections of pleasure and pain, that knowledge is nothing more than sense-perception, and the related doctrine, summed up in Aquinas’s Aristotelian dictum, central to Locke, that nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit in sensu [nothing exists in the mind that was not first in the senses].⁷⁵

Coleridge could only accept this dictum with Leibniz’s ingenious codicil: . . . excipit: nisi ipse intellectus [except the mind itself ].⁷⁶

The ‘mere understanding’ is for Coleridge the instrumental Faculty of means to medial Ends, that is to Purposes, or such ends as are themselves but means to some ulterior end.⁷⁷

Negative reason is his term for a higher degree of understanding than the mechanical grade, but it is ‘lower’ than positive, intuitive reason. In this higher understanding, the light of ideas illuminates otherwise brute and unintelligible facts and phenomena. Enlightened by absolute P, . . . the Light of Reason in the Understanding . . . in a lower sphere, that of Time & Place, must needs appear as Necessity & Universality, in contrast with the Contingent & Particular . . . ⁷⁸

Negative reason is regulated primarily by the principles of contradiction, identity, and the law of the excluded middle—the Aristotelian laws of thought, ‘the Universal and Conclusive in Logic’.⁷⁹ This ‘reasoning’ of the higher understanding ⁷⁵ Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1.a. 14–18, q. 2, ‘On Truth’, a. 3, arg. 19. See also Aristotle, On the Soul, 432a. ⁷⁶ Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding, bk 2, ch. 1, 111. The title advertises Leibniz’s target, Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Coleridge expresses his agreement with Leibniz’s ‘excipit’ clause at Biographia Literaria, 1: 141; Logic, 226; and Aids to Reflection, 226 fn. ⁷⁷ Church and State, 59. ⁷⁸ Notebooks, 4: §5210 20v (May 1825). ⁷⁹ Notebooks, 4: §5210 20v (May 1825).


’   consists wholly in a man’s power of seeing, whether any two conceptions,⁸⁰ which happen to be in his mind, are, or are not in contradiction with each other, it follows of necessity, not only that all men have reason, but that every man has it in the same degree.⁸¹

Negative reason is reason operating only to the degree with which the understanding can manage. Beyond this negative mode, however, The reason and its objects are not things of reflection, association, or discourse, the latter word as opposed to “intuition” . . . ⁸²

Yet, strongly impressed with the reflective logic of non-contradiction that entails universal applicability and necessary conclusions, the mind reaches a dawning moment when the understanding ceases to be mere understanding and is enlightened by ideas. As Barfield explains, ‘by contemplating contradiction, the mind is propelled from “the outward sense” to “the mind’s eye”; from superficial accuracy about the unknown to the depth of actual knowledge’.⁸³ Negative reason, in this view, allows the understanding to learn through deduction and the compulsions of logic by applying the forms of necessity and universality. It is the understanding considered as using the Reason, so far as by the organ of Reason only we possess the ideas of the Necessary and the Universal . . . ⁸⁴

When the understanding is enlightened by ideas, the Reason (Lux idealis seu spiritualis [the ideal or spiritual light]) shines down into the Understanding, p which recognizes the Light, id est, Lumen a Luce Spirituali, quasi alienigumenum aliquid [i.e., a Light, from the Spiritual Light, as something different in kind] which it can only comprehend by or describe to itself by the attributes opposite to its own essential properties. Now these being Contingency, and Particularity, it distinguishes the formal Light (= Lumen) (not the substantial Light = Lux) of Reason by the attributes of the Necessary and the Universal. And by the irradiation of this Lumen or Shine, the Understanding becomes a conclusive or logical Faculty—⁸⁵

⁸⁰ ⁸¹ ⁸² ⁸³ ⁸⁴ ⁸⁵

Copies D, L, and M (probably in the 1820s) replace ‘ideas’ with ‘conceptions’. The Friend, 1: 159. Opus Maximum, 86; var. ‘Essay on Faith’ (1820), Shorter Works, 2: 839. Barfield, What Coleridge Thought, 111. The Friend, 1: 157. On negative reason, see also this book Ch. 5 sec. 1, Ch. 6 sec. 1, and index. Marginalia, 3: 746 (L, Colloquia mensalia).

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Thus, the power to recognize necessity and universality transforms the contingent and particular understanding into an enlightened faculty capable of drawing universal and binding conclusions. Impressed by the cognitive power of the ideas of necessity and universality over past, present, and future objects, a glimmer of positive reason is intuited. Positive reason is also approximated in symbolism, whereby imagination presents invisible ideas through symbols, ‘living educts’, or ‘living Produce’⁸⁶ of imaginative contemplation that are consubstantial, as Coleridge puts it, with the idea itself. Hence, he defines the idea as: an educt of the Imagination actuated by the pure Reason, to which there neither is nor can be an adequate correspondent in the world of the senses—this and this alone is =  I.⁸⁷

The ‘philosophic imagination, the sacred power of self-intuition’⁸⁸ that brings reason to the understanding, is available to those who within themselves can interpret and understand . . . that the potential works in them, even as the actual works on them!⁸⁹

With imagination, our lives thus evolve, struggling through feeling and thought towards truer ideas of love, the virtues, freedom, beauty, justice, and the like. Coleridge likens this sensitive feeling-forward to the instinct whereby the wings of the air-sylph are forming within the skin of the caterpillar . . . the same instinct which impels . . . the horned fly to leave room in its involucrum for antennæ yet to come.⁹⁰

Coleridge often describes feelings as sensitively turning towards meaning and value felt through symbols, and as an aesthetic correspondence to the ‘down-shine’⁹¹ of the ideas reason. Expanded by philosophic imagination, the understanding enlightened by reason can reflect on mental acts. The understanding is therefore the faculty of reflection, for ⁸⁶ The Statesman’s Manual, 28–9, contrasts Biblical histories as ‘living educts of the Imagination’, with Hume’s and Gibbon’s empirico-mechanistic histories. Annotating Copy G, Coleridge changes ‘educts’ to ‘Produce’, emphasizing ‘Produce—or Growths’ over mere ‘Products’ or ‘Artifacts’ of ‘the mechanic Understanding’ (29 n). ⁸⁷ The Statesman’s Manual, 113–14. ⁸⁸ Biographia Literaria, 1: 241. ⁸⁹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 241–2. ⁹⁰ Biographia Literaria, 1: 242, adapting Notebooks, 3: §4088 (May–July 1811). ⁹¹ A Coleridgeism: ‘On the Polar Forces’ (1818), Shorter Works, 1: 783, refers to the ‘down-shine’ of reason. Notebooks, 5: §§6482 (October 1830) and 6743 (September 1833) similarly refer to the ‘downshining’ of reason.


’   reflection is the understanding itself, a synonym, not a predicate . . . ⁹²

This 1824 characterization of the understanding as the reflective faculty par excellence develops from Coleridge’s earlier definitions, including one of 1818, where he argues that the Understanding wherever it does not possess or use the Reason, as another and inward eye, may be defined as . . . the faculty by which we generalize and arrange the phænomena of perception . . . ⁹³

Here the understanding is reflexive in two respects. The first, more basic, reflection is that of the mind operating upon itself, as when the unenlightened understanding organizes the ‘phænomena of perception’. This mode of reflection is reflexivity, with the connotation of bending back, as Coleridge himself notes, in the early 1820s: To make myself conscious of a thing and to reflect on it are but different expressions of the same act. But that on which I reflect (reflecto = turn back or turn inwardly upon) must have been taken up into my mind (apprehensio) antecedently and in order to the reflection.⁹⁴

The higher mode of reflection I refer to, however, with a connotation nearer to contemplation, is that of the enlightened understanding finding universality and necessity in judgements that benefit from ‘the use of Reason’ as its ‘inward eye’. As Coleridge astutely articulates in 1824, Reflection is the name for Understanding, when thus is we speak of the latter in its intellectual function, or in reference to Thinking.—⁹⁵

Allowing thought to think itself as subject and object, reflection makes the understanding a faculty of self-understanding. As such, its development is the beginning of philosophy and, indeed, the essence, for Coleridge, of self-conscious mind: ‘Mind = a Subject including its own Object.’⁹⁶ This notion of understanding as reflection, with lower and higher modes, and thus as essentially intermediate and mediating, is another of Coleridge’s nodal points, adding to those I identified in the Introduction. Though his formulae characterizing the understanding develop over time, they do not cancel each other out; rather, they form a corral

⁹² Logic, 89. ⁹³ The Friend, 1: 156. ⁹⁴ Logic, 71. ⁹⁵ Notebooks, 4: §5209 f19 fn. (May 1825). ⁹⁶ Notebooks, 3: §4412 (May 1818). He often reiterates this characterization of mind, self-consciousness, or spirit, e.g. at Notebooks, 4: §5670 (25 November 1827).

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of meaning, each statement forming a side of the fold or enclosure in which the notion can be encountered. The enlightened understanding distinguishes between the external, sensible objects working on one’s mind and the ideas and powers working within. This lumen, as Coleridge often describes the light of reason refracted in the higher understanding, transforms the ‘mere understanding’—the faculty of calculation and articulation—into an enlightened power: This seeing light, this enlightening eye, is Reflection.⁹⁷

In a footnote to this arresting sentence, he identifies the enlightened, reflective power with ‘The “Dianoia” ’ of St John [1 John 5:20]’, which he claims is ‘inaccurately rendered “Understanding” ’ in the King James Version, and is more accurately defined as ‘a power of discernment by Reason.’⁹⁸ The term ‘enlightened understanding’, or ‘higher understanding’, does, however, connote this meaning. It is the natural, psychological understanding enlightened by reason, which he conceives as spiritual or spiritualized. Beyond the self-understanding initiated by reflection, reason positively enlightens the understanding, Coleridge holds, by the ‘irradiation’ of ideas: But there are Ideas which are of higher origin than the notions of the understanding and by the irradiation of which the understanding itself becomes a human understanding.⁹⁹

The mere understanding, then, is transformed, energized by the ‘down-shining’ of positive reason. Thus the condescending influence of the Spirit on the Understanding produces the Lumen rationale.¹⁰⁰

As negative reason, the understanding strains towards ideas with its concomitant ‘Sense of Shadow’. The Spiritual Man alone has a Reason—the psychical Man . . . has only an understanding and a negative sense, i.e. a Sense of Shadow.—Hence too the merely universal & negative character of the Principia suprema of Logic . . . ¹⁰¹

⁹⁷ Aids to Reflection, 15. ⁹⁸ Aids to Reflection, 15 fn. ⁹⁹ Marginalia, 3: 524 (L, Genuine Works; 1819–24), written while preparing notes for Aids to Reflection. ¹⁰⁰ ‘Schema of the Total Man’ (1828), Shorter Works, 2: 1386. ¹⁰¹ Notebooks, 5: §5495 ff62v–63 (April 1827).


’  

The higher understanding, or negative reason, therefore has, in Coleridge’s view, a penumbral existence, still in the shadow of the sensual and the opaque contingent, yet illuminated by the ideas of reason. He thus understood reflection as an analytic, negative counterpart to ‘positive insight into the true character of Reason’ (§5210). As he confides in a notebook, ‘in Aids to Reflection I was obliged to proceed analytically and a posteriori’. His more positive, synthetic method was reserved for what he calls in that note ‘my larger work,’ viz. the Opus Maximum, and the larger magnum opus of which it was to be a part, in which I commence with the Absolute, and from thence deduce the Tri-unity, and therein the substantial Reason (Λογος) as the Ὀ ὤν—ὀ πρωτογενὴς [He who is—the firstborn].¹⁰²

Much as the lower understanding gains self-control in a Lockean suspension of desire,¹⁰³ the enlightened understanding seeks knowledge, rather than acquiesce in trains of desire-driven association. For Coleridge, self-reflection is a preliminary that leads to ‘highest and intuitive knowledge, as distinguished from the discursive’.¹⁰⁴ This potential in the mind consists in intelligible, non-phenomenal values made aesthetically appreciable only through imagination. Imagination then ‘dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create’¹⁰⁵ the aesthetic material (perceptions, qualia, moods, and so on) that it ‘struggles to idealize and unify’, providing for the understanding a palpable, sense-based yet value-tethered, mediated yet intuitive access to ideas. Noting ‘a peculiarly empirical transcendentalism’, one literary theorist and theologian finds that, In Coleridge, continued awareness of the transcendental, even though it begins and ends in God, occurs only through the sensible world and exists to improve experience of it. His transcendentalism is at once of this earth and demandingly otherworldly.¹⁰⁶

The imagination, philosophic or poetic, uses symbolism in a translucent contemplation to bring ideas of reason to the understanding, transforming it into an intellectual understanding

¹⁰² Notebooks, 4: §5210 f21v (May 1825). ¹⁰³ Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, bk 2, ch. 21, ‘Of Power’ (§47; p. 105), withdraws, in his fifth edition, the strong necessitarianism of the first edition, to claim for ‘the mind . . . a power to suspend the execution and satisfaction of any of its desires . . . . In this lies the liberty man has; and from the not using it right come all that variety of mistakes, errors, and faults which we run into, in the conduct of our lives.’ ¹⁰⁴ Biographia Literaria, 1: 241. ¹⁰⁵ Biographia Literaria, 1: 304. ¹⁰⁶ Wendling, Coleridge’s Progress to Christianity, 12, 10.

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employed in the service of the reason to bring out the necessary and universal truths contained in the infinite into distinct contemplation by . . . the pure acts of the imagination . . . ¹⁰⁷

With his theory of imagination aiming at truths of reason ‘abstracted from all corporeity’ while expressing this aesthetically,¹⁰⁸ his reason is a Logos implicit or translucent in nature, being, as it was for neo-Platonists, ‘the intellectuality present in everything from the Nous downwards’,¹⁰⁹ and not just a human faculty of discourse. To the extent that we can transcend mere understanding, we can overcome alienation, whether through the translucence of reason in the sense or in the transparency of a more self-conscious contemplation.

¹⁰⁷ Opus Maximum, 87. ¹⁰⁸ Opus Maximum, 87. ¹⁰⁹ Deck, Nature, Contemplation, and the One, 74.

3 Aesthetic Contemplation The ‘aesthetic’ referred to throughout this chapter is not especially that of art, but of everyday experience, the shared world, and of nature. In Coleridge’s terms, this aesthetics of everyday feeling studies meaning and value perceived and constructed through the primary imagination, whereas the aesthetics of art studies the interpretations and creations of the secondary. This chapter also introduces my notion of inchoate contemplation, in which a sense of the meaning of life arises within ordinary, sensuous experience.¹ This chapter is therefore concerned more with Coleridge’s primary imagination and his critical reflection on ordinary (non-artistic) aesthetic experience, than with aesthetics as literary and art criticism. Through self-reflection and higher-order principles, feelings, opinions, and habitual forms of thought can be converted towards moral and aesthetic values, which is the aim of aesthetic education and reflection that I argue for in this chapter. In this view, reflection on everyday tastes and practices transforms selfregarding aesthetic interest towards wider communal concerns. In Section 3.1, following some Coleridgean notes that relate ‘Ideas’ to ‘thoughts & enjoyments’, I perform a Socratic elenchus, or cross-examination, on unreflective cognitive attitudes in aesthetic states to distinguish value in the experience from prejudice. In Section 3.2, I then explore Coleridge’s concern with the activity of ideas in everyday aesthetics and his aim of enlightening ‘our feelings’ so they ‘actualize our reason’ ‘with their vital warmth’, relating this to Schiller’s concept of aesthetic education. I then introduce, in Section 3.3, my theory of inchoate contemplation that commences in aesthetically informed feelings, in local or national culture, as an initial and perhaps universal, non-intellectualist form of the intuition of ideas. This theory then helps to illuminate a Coleridgean ‘philosophy of life’ where everyday symbols and aesthetic practices seem to bring transcendent values within reach.

3.1 Aesthetic Experience: Ideas Working in Us Coleridge’s fancy–imagination distinction² holds that imaginative works contemplate reality as something objective, beyond the self and its desires. Works of pure ¹ On Coleridge and the sublime or extraordinary perceived symbolically through ordinary natural phenomena, see Oguro, ‘From Sight to Insight’; and my articles ‘Coleridgean Account of Meditative Experience’, section 2, 60–6, and ‘Varieties of Contemplation’. ² Biographia Literaria, 1: 82–5, 304–5; Notebooks, 3: §4066 (April 1811), §4501 (March 1819), 4: §4692 f19v (1820); Table Talk, 2: 291, 330 (23 June 1834). Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy. Peter Cheyne, Oxford University Press (2020). © Peter Cheyne. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001

 


fancy, on the other hand, primarily entertain desires, and do not coax the audience from the circle of self, whether their own or its equivalent in the fantasied other. Most works exist along a continuum between purely imaginative art and purely fantasying entertainment, or gratification, and Coleridge provides a theoretical framework for these dimensions. Holding disinterested aesthetic experience to be contemplative, he continues the trajectory rooted in neo-Platonism, translated into Renaissance art and culture, that then became a staple of eighteenth-century aesthetics from Shaftesbury to Kant. Coleridge’s closest engagement with this tradition was through Kant, Schiller, and Schelling, but also with the Cambridge Platonists. Though these diverse thinkers do not yield a unified aesthetic theory, they all hold that significant aesthetic experiences, such as of beauty and sublimity, necessarily relate to ideas that transcend the presentation and the empirical concepts that ordinarily describe it, whether these ideas are transcendental, as Kant holds, or objective powers beyond the human mind, according to the Platonists. Adopting the early romanticism of his Jena friends Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis, Schelling realized that this view entails that philosophic theory is completed in aesthetic activity, whereby art is . . . the only true and eternal organ and document of philosophy, which ever and again continues to speak to us of what philosophy cannot depict in external form . . . ³

Aesthetically intimated transcendence is, for Schelling, part of nature’s semiconscious stirring, which he called ‘slumbering spirit . . . the unconscious selfproduction of the Absolute’. In this movement, imagination aims to convey the primordial knowledge of which the visible universe is the image and whose source is the fountainhead of eternal power.⁴

Sensuous-contemplative response is usually reverent, as in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh: Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees, takes off his shoes, The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries . . . ⁵

Meditation, whether academic rumination or a monastic clearing of the mind, is a middle state between inquisitive attention, as when conventions are questioned, ³ Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, 231 (Sämmtliche Werke, 3: 627). ⁴ Schelling, On University Studies, 11–12. ⁵ Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, bk 7, 246, ll. 821–4.


 ’   

and ‘Contemplation’, which is, in Coleridge’s words, ‘an inward Beholding’ that is noetic, i.e. a clear and ‘direct Aspect of Truth’, an intuition of ‘the intelligible or spiritual’.⁶ The latter gives a space apart (a con-templum) for beholding a value, an idea. Meditation stirs, then settles. Reflection (the mind’s comprehension of its own acts and contents; an essential function of the understanding)⁷ and discernment (the cognitive ability to discriminate) are alike meditative, finding analogies and distinctions that enable a focus on essences and definitions. Through this focus on essences, reflection can lead to contemplation. Meditation, however, does not entail contemplation, although its concentrated and attentive stance is conducive to it. Coleridge writes of meditation as preliminary to contemplation, ‘purifying the temple of the mind . . . to prepare for the Epiphany of the Ideas’.⁸ Meditative experience has philosophical value because it can transform attentive states in ways that produce practical, problem-resolving changes. Meditation neither follows nor closes down the chatter of ordinary thought and associations, and one must usually look beyond these natural or habitual reflexes for contemplation to become possible. Background thoughts, and the associative trains that Coleridge saw value in transcending, then recede. This contemplation is no purely elitist concern. Coleridge even describes his four-and-a-half-year-old son Hartley’s contemplation: I had a very long conversation with Hartley about Life, Reality, Pictures, & Thinking, this evening. He sate on my knee for half an hour at least, & was exceedingly serious. . . . I asked him what he did when he thought of any thing— he answered—I look at it, and then go to sleep. To sleep?—said I—you mean, that you shut your eyes. Yes, he replied—I shut my eyes . . . and go to sleep—then I  again, and away I run.——⁹

Now the child here could simply be pinning down a concept and bringing in remembered images to firm it up; but one ought to allow the possibility of a child contemplating the reality of the thing itself. Coleridge then reflects that the notion of that state of mind being Sleep is very striking, & he meant more, I suspect, than that People when asleep have their eyes shut—indeed I know it from the tone & leap up of Voice with which he uttered the word ‘.’

Young Hartley first sits calmly on his father’s knee, thus able to reflect when asked to describe not his thoughts, but his thinking. The child’s answer contrasts this ⁶ Aids to Reflection, 223–4. ⁷ Notebooks, 4: §5209 f19 fn. (May 1825); Logic, 89. ⁸ Notebooks, 4: §5215 f26 (May 1825). Marginalia, 5: 795 (T, Geschichte der Philosophy; 1824), describes the ‘introductory and purifying’ that usually precedes ‘the contemplation of the ideas’. ⁹ Letters, 2: 673 (9 February 1801), to Dorothy Wordsworth.

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elementary contemplation, likened to sleep, with ordinary consciousness, when he ‘wakes’ again, and away he runs! He draws from the well, drinks in, then vigorously returns to his play. Contemplation enriches everyday aesthetic experience. It can be momentary or prolonged. It sees something; and sees that it is good. It requires no conceptual manipulation or sophistication, although such meditations often precede it. Consider a child talking with a trusted adult. The understanding is conceptually engaged as the child frames questions and assimilates answers. But it is in the moments following the conceptualizing that contemplative appreciation occurs. Signs of this might be a gentle smile, the head tilted to an inner attention. The legs and arms cease twisting and straining, the fingers no longer fidget, as they do when thought analogizes the body to act out complex conceptual links. In Coleridge’s writings we find a practical, embodied notion of ideas working within us, often beyond reflective awareness. Even in ordinary mental states, he argued, the common consciousness itself will furnish proofs by its own direction, that it is connected with master-currents below the surface . . . ¹⁰

Even in the human mind, ideas are not mere ideas for him, in the sense of human constructs or figments of fancy. They are real and living powers—cosmic, organizing principles of mind-at-large. As most people are only unreflectively aware of these ideas, Coleridge endorsed training the capacity for reflection, discernment, and ultimately, contemplation. Discerned and contemplated, ideas become better actualized through our works and deeds. Realizing the extent of ideas at work within us is necessary if we are to be more responsible. Rising to this challenge, the individual must turn to what is thought of as second nature, namely, personal tastes and preferences. Coleridge claims that ideas are at the heart of aesthetic experience and action; therefore You may see an Idea working in a man by watching his tastes & enjoyments: tho’ the man’s understanding may have been enslaved to the modern Metaphysics, or rather tho’ he may hitherto have no consciousness of any other reasoning but that by conceptions & facts—¹¹

In this way, observing otherwise unreflective expressions of free will, as in tastes and enjoyments, one can find ideas symbolized in daily preferences and the unguarded pursuit of pleasure. When reflected upon, taken-for-granted desires thus reveal a great deal about our relationship to the world, and writers such as Coleridge, who

¹⁰ Biographia Literaria, 1: 242.

¹¹ Notebooks, 4: §5409 (July 1826).


 ’   

combine phenomenological acumen with literary talent, can communicate these significances. Yet, lack of reflection notwithstanding, even in the midst of our aesthetic enjoyments, we know what we are doing, but usually only in ways that are unreflective and nonverbal. Rather than articulating what a desire or preference means, one feels and enacts it. Such symbolic meaning is not metaphorical, with one category translated into the idiom of another. The metaphorical conception is what Sigmund Freud meant by symbolism, not Coleridge. Freud says, the dream-content appears to us as a translation of the dream-thoughts into another mode of expression . . . presented in hieroglyphics, whose symbols must be translated, one by one, into the language of dream thoughts.¹²

The Coleridgean symbol is more direct: it embodies what it conveys. Freudian symbolism is opaque, not translucent. Freud’s symbols displace and transfer meaning according to contiguity, similarity, opposition, and other associative relations that Coleridge identifies as mechanical fancy, rather than the translucency of the imaginative symbol. Most people are intimately familiar with this higher symbolism, but unless they are artists or philosophical observers with the requisite reflection, this meaning is barely articulated. Ordinarily pursuing taste and preference, one feels and enjoys the significance of what one is doing, but uncritically, even obtusely. Thus prejudices and half-understandings are repeated in unreflective communal practices. The aesthetic relation to the world is intensely rich and significant, but it requires self-awareness and questioning to become enlightened and responsible. Yet Coleridge is no mere romantic irrationalist elevating feeling and intuition for their own sakes against the endeavour for conceptual clarity, for he insists on the moral necessity of reflective understanding. Conceptual clarity must be complemented, however, by depth of connection, a qualitative matter of feeling that brings with it the sense of things mattering; such value is missed by merely verbal and logical analysis: Of the discursive understanding, which forms . . . general notions and terms of classification for . . . comparing and arranging phænomena, the Characteristic is Clearness without Depth. It contemplates the unity of things in their limits only, and is consequently a knowledge of superficies without substance.¹³

This promotion of feeling and intuition while also insisting on conceptual reflection is not a case of Coleridge in a ‘muddle’, ‘wanting to have things both ways’.¹⁴ ¹² Freud, Interpretation of Dreams, ch. 6, 169. ¹³ The Statesman’s Manual, 69. ¹⁴ Perry, Coleridge and the Uses of Division, 14 et passim, describes Coleridge as ‘wanting/trying to have things both ways’, and as in a ‘muddle’, albeit a noble and well-meaning one.

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The emphasis on complementarity, rather, typifies his hierarchical, two-level approach, and is no more wrongheaded than a gardener fertilizing the beds for the roots, yet also trimming and training the branches, at the other ends—both tasks done together, for the sake of the fruit. Following Kant, though with important differences (discussed in this book at 109–13), Coleridge connects the messy intuitions of sense with the conceptual clarity of understanding via the imagination: The completing power which unites clearness with depth, the plenitude of the sense with the comprehensibility of the understanding, is the , impregnated with which the understanding itself becomes intuitive, and a living power.¹⁵

This converted, enlightened understanding is the higher understanding, impregnated with the symbols of ideas. Of the reason itself, Coleridge calls it the ‘power of God’.¹⁶ Yet a view, even an ordinary vista, let alone theophany and grand visions, cannot be given to another: Each individual must bear witness of it to his own mind, even as he describes life and light . . . . He, with whom it is present, can as little appropriate it . . . as he can claim ownership in the breathing air, or make an inclosure in the cope of heaven.¹⁷

One can, nonetheless, describe a way to a vantage point. Ideas at work in tastes and enjoyments offer the counterweight of intuited value to balance the conceptual understanding in the project of living well. However, this counterbalance of ideas working through aesthetic preferences cannot add serious weight until it becomes reflective. With critical reflection, conceptual understanding gains potency through social and self-awareness. Critical judgement of feeling can thus correct intuitive but often mistaken moral sentiments. Rather than wallow in aesthetic feeling and vague states of imagination, the reflective-critical attitude holds one’s feelings and responses accountable to rational principle. As is becoming clear, for Coleridge, the understanding occupies a middle position, manipulating concepts and managing distinctions. It is not the end and apex of human thought, which is, for him, the openness to reason, with its ideas that transcend the human minds that contemplate them. Reason exceeds humanity, and thereby ordains, and constitutes it, giving us our essential being

¹⁵ The Statesman’s Manual, 69. ¹⁷ The Statesman’s Manual, 69.

¹⁶ The Statesman’s Manual, 69.


 ’   

and, further, the power to create, to actualize, through contemplation. On this contemplative creation, Coleridge quotes Plotinus: With me the act of contemplation makes the thing contemplated, as the geometricians contemplating describe lines correspondent; but I not describing lines, but simply contemplating, the representative forms of things rise up into existence.¹⁸

The following commentary traces the coincidence of thought and being in Plotinian contemplation: An important consequence of perfect contemplation, where the contemplated is the same as the contemplation or where thought and being are the same, is that whatever is thought ‘There’ necessarily comes into being. Simply by being what it is, contemplation, nous, produces. Nous does not intend to choose or create; yet if the intelligibles subsist, the sensibles will ensue from a necessity inherent in contemplating intelligibles (VI.7.8). Contemplation, theoria, is at the same time production, poiesis. In this respect, nous imitates the infinite, supremely active dynamis of the One whose formlessness is productive of all Forms and hence of the existence of all things.¹⁹

Or, in Coleridge’s expression, Reason . . . is an organ identical with its appropriate objects. Thus, God, the Soul, eternal Truth, &c. are the objects of Reason; but they are themselves reason.²⁰

Ideas, in this view, are not just objects for reason: they are reason. While understanding is a concept-manipulating, human faculty, materially evolving as a capacity shared, in part, with some animals,²¹ reason is utterly distinguished as the Logos inherent in the laws of things. More simply, understanding must exist within a creature that works out solutions to novel problems, whereas reason would remain even in the absence of any living creature. This reason is for him truth and being, like Heraclitus’ Logos, the dynamic constant, the universal power and law suffusing the world of constant change. Coleridge clearly differentiates discursive, ratiocinative thought, as relative and prone to idiosyncrasy, from the absolutes of noetic truth and reason, where reason is being, the Supreme Being contemplated objectively . . . ²²

¹⁸ ¹⁹ ²⁰ ²²

Biographia Literaria, 1: 251–2, Coleridge’s translation of Plotinus, Enneads III.8.4, 8–10. Kealey, ‘Theory of Nature in Plotinus’, 184. The Friend, 1: 155–6. ²¹ The Friend, 1: 154–5, 160–1; Aids to Reflection, 207. The Statesman’s Manual, 68 n.3.

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Encouraging greater self-reflection in everyday consciousness, Coleridge aimed To refer men’s opinions to their absolute principles, and thence their feelings to the appropriate objects . . . and finally, to apply the principles thus ascertained, to the formation of stedfast convictions concerning the most important questions of Politics, Morality, and Religion—²³

Referring opinion to ideas requires a contemplative attitude, and to refer feelings to their appropriate objects requires aesthetic self-awareness. This aesthetic selfawareness is needed to learn the meaning and moral value of our aversions and enjoyments.²⁴ In referring opinions to their principles—fundamental truths, from which rules can be deduced—unreflective notions and preferences are tested against their aims and initiating ideas. Aims go aslant when their objects are misconceived. Principles, however, relate guiding ideas as ultimate ends to a situation that the understanding often imperfectly conceptualizes. Coleridge complains how prejudices of mere prudence and expedience too easily replace a deeper search for understanding through principles.²⁵ Principles are needed for enlightened understanding, and the mind where prejudices and habitual maxims take their place is stunted. Because principles unite with ideas, being forward-looking springs of moral truth, rather than the historically accreted observations and maxims that are our usual guides, they can stabilize noble but otherwise easily misguided feelings such as loyalty, protectiveness, and patriotism. In this vein, Coleridge argues, as early as his 1795 Bristol lectures, for the necessity of bottoming on fixed Principles, that so we may not be the unstable Patriots of Passion or Accident . . . ²⁶

When reason enlightens conceptual understanding, it transforms the understanding to produce the ‘discourse of reason’.²⁷ This enlightened, rational discourse arranges and articulates the available materials according to the aims and truths intuited in contemplative reason.²⁸ With the principle, the deep resonance of ideas conveyed in imagination connects with clear conceptions produced by the understanding, to arouse and circumscribe a practical aim. Bringing ideas of reason to the understanding, itself served by the senses, serves the aim to ‘join head, heart,

²³ The Friend, 1: 16. ²⁴ Kooy, Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education, describes Schiller’s Bildung influencing Coleridge’s notion of aesthetic cultivation that counterbalances economic-industrial civilization. Kooy argues that ‘Schiller’s “aesthetic education” would become . . . the conceptual frame for Coleridge’s “imagination” ’ (107). ²⁵ The Friend, 2: 85 (21 September 1809). ²⁶ Lectures, 1795: On Politics and Religion, 33. ²⁷ The Friend, 1: 156, quoting Shakespeare. ²⁸ Notebooks, 4: §5295 f21v (1825–6).


 ’   

and hand’²⁹ that Coleridge consistently sought, from his earliest writings onwards, to bring feelings into consonance with ‘their absolute principles’.

3.2 Aesthetic Education as Training for Freedom I am arguing that aesthetic education, far from being merely a conservative instilment of cultural prejudice, aims to free the mind from prejudicial thinking. At once progressive and rooted in tradition, aesthetic education cultivates a critical awareness of taste and pleasure. The freedom it wins through critical reflection puts vague feeling and hand-me-down maxims to the test. Coleridge observes that there seems a tendency in the public mind to shun all thought, and to expect help from any quarter rather than from seriousness and reflection: As if some invisible power would think for us, when we gave up the pretence of thinking for ourselves.³⁰

When thinking for oneself is given up, the impetus is carried by the unreflective motivation in our tastes and opinions. This unreflective force does not, however, think for us. It is pushed on by prejudice, rather than pulling itself forth towards ideals. Reflective awareness and critical questioning are needed to steer vague but powerful aesthetic tendencies towards their appropriate ends. Exhorting his readers to reflective aesthetic awareness, Coleridge says his aim is to make the reason spread light over our feelings, to make our feelings, with their vital warmth, actualize our reason . . . ³¹

The process is one of ‘educating the senses, of thus disciplining, and . . . informing the fancy’.³² For Coleridge, aesthetic yearnings obscurely relate to ultimate aims, but they often miss their mark, consisting as they usually do in inherited, culturally transmitted forms that have become ingrained as habitual. We laugh here, smile there, and grimace elsewhere because someone influential did so. But when we follow the example, we often miss the principle, if there was one. Great murky regions of our understanding are swayed by unexamined aesthetic preferences, the conservative tendencies of all minds. As Coleridge writes in a Morning Post article, definite terms are unmanageable things, and the passions of men do not readily gather round them. Party rage, and fanatical aversion, have their birth place, and

²⁹ ‘Reflections on Having Left a Place of Retirement’ (1796), Poetical Works, 1: 263, l. 60. ³⁰ The Friend, 1: 123. ³¹ The Friend, 1: 108. ³² ‘Literary Correspondence’ (1821), Shorter Works, 2: 950.

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natural abode, in floating and obscure generalities, and seldom or never burst forth, except from clouds and vapours. Thunder and lightning from a clear blue sky has been deemed a miracle in all ages.³³

Commending principle as a spring of virtue and cultural wealth, he complains of the ‘catalogue of . . . many miseries’ arising from the want of a vital principle of action. We live by faith. The essence of virtue consists in the principle. And the reality of this, as well as its importance, is believed by all men in fact, few as there may be who bring the truth forward into the light of distinct consciousness.³⁴

Following this thought process, he discerns how unexamined preferences and tendencies resemble broad but uninspired maxims of prudence, so that The widest maxims of prudence are like arms without hearts, disjoined from those feelings which flow forth from principle as from a fountain.³⁵

These maxims resemble instincts that react to objects with more or less fixed responses. Hence, unreflective preferences are disjoined not only from ‘those feelings which flow forth from principle’, but also from each other. Their obscurity and apparent naturalness are often cited by conservatives like Edmund Burke and Michael Oakeshott to defend pre-reflective preferences against charges of mutual contradiction and irrationality. Showing up their defeasibility, and how they can be improved by reflection, weakens this reactionary defence. Preferences and attitudes as basic facts exemplify the pre-epistemic mode that Plato called eikasía, the image-and-opinion-based mental state represented by the lowest section in Plato’s simile of the divided line (Republic book 6) and by the prisoners in the cave who take shadows for reality (book 7). As it takes the sensible appearances of the world at face value, naive eikasía accepts handed-down moral and aesthetic notions as matters of fact about how the world ‘just is’ this way. Its ready-made entities are accepted as simply there, the appearance being everything. It is the anti-noumenal state of mind, unable to imagine anything more than surfaces. The fully contrasting position is of a freely performed, exerted, lived transcendence toward noumenal value. The traces and intimations of transcendent values are sustained in human life only through committed action; ethical, ³³ ‘Once a Jacobin Always a Jacobin’, Essays on His Times, 1: 367, 21 October 1802. The Friend, 1: 106 fn., claims ‘the assertion, that deep feeling has a tendency to combine with obscure ideas, in preference to distinct and clear notions, may be proved by the history of Fanatics and Fanaticism in all ages and countries.’ ³⁴ The Friend, 1: 100. ³⁵ The Friend, 1: 123. This reprises a thought (and image) at The Statesman’s Manual, 17.


 ’   

artistic, or political, it must involve contemplation of the idea. While eikasía is at the depths of superficial knowledge, reflection transforms it. Reflection on enjoyment joins the contemplative to the analytic. It attends to the object—be it the taste of a dish, a social ritual, or the values beheld in an artwork. In such reflection, the embodied qualities conveyed, perceived, or imagined are contemplated for their own sake, as well as for their symbolic meanings. These symbolic meanings are felt, but usually little understood or consciously considered in unreflected aesthetic enjoyment. A great epistemological difference exists between the simple state of mind that takes maxims, customs, and phenomena for granted, and the noetic activity that Coleridge called the ‘contemplation of all events and phænomena in the Light of . . . Master Ideas’³⁶ beheld as real and universal truths and powers. Plato proposes that knowledge develops beyond taking appearance for granted (eikasía). First, by acquaintance with the regularities in the things we experience, to reach more reliable opinions (pístis); then, by reflecting with conceptual and logical schemata on those regularities, to create knowledge in the understanding (diánoia); and finally, through dialectic and contemplation, to consider essences themselves, without images or schemata, in the higher reason (nóēsis). Also, a neoPlatonic tradition, professedly in the spirit of Plato yet against the letter, allows for contemplation of ideas through aísthēsis, though in a lower degree than in nóēsis. This lower degree of contemplation is a sensual, basic, more catholic access to ideas. Plato himself is aware of this possibility when he describes the poet, the prophet, and the lover, in their divine madness, as mantic contemplatives.³⁷ Returning to the symbolic meanings in desire, the enjoyment of objects can symbolize our relationship to the whole world, as in Sartre’s example of enjoying cigarettes as a way of symbolically consuming the whole world through a ‘little crematory sacrifice’, being an appropriative act of using it up and drinking it in.³⁸ In such aesthetic enjoyments, we poetize and ritualize our relations with aspects of the world into personal forms of expression that are living stores of covert meaning. Perhaps a traditional recipe is amended and becomes part of a family history, adding savour to enjoyments and reflection to even apparently basic moments of aesthetic pause. A preference for a certain alcoholic drink, or a sour beverage, might develop personal expression symbolically, in coming to terms with astringency, for example, as a reflective, appreciatory sipping of life’s bitter draughts. Everyday aesthetics has started receiving considerable attention,³⁹ yet the door into this important area of cultural understanding is only newly opened. Still,

³⁶ The Friend, 1: 115. ³⁷ Plato, Phaedrus 244b–63d. ³⁸ Sartre, ‘ “Having” and “Doing” Possession’, Being and Nothingness, 596–7. ³⁹ Saito, Everyday Aesthetics, and Aesthetics of the Familiar; Leddy, The Extraordinary in the Ordinary.

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Coleridge peered through, noting how aesthetic contemplation of the pleasure taken in everyday comforts and paraphernalia can assuage physical pain: My enjoyments are so deep, of the fire, of the Candle, of the Thought I am thinking, of the old Folio I am reading—and the silence of the silent House is so most & very delightful—that upon my soul! The Rheumatism is no such bad thing as people make for.⁴⁰

Conceptions and contingent facts are not sufficient, for him, to explain tastes and enjoyments that run so deep and seem to connect with wider truths. Aesthetic value can no more be derived from empirical facts than can ethical value. Tastes are not just brute facts. They exhibit the transcending qualities of directedness and rationale, the purposes of rhyme and reason. For Coleridge, a far greater number are possessed by ideas than the few who possess them.⁴¹ Most, in his view, lack the power of presenting “this Idea” to the minds of others, or even to their own thoughts, verbally as a distinct proposition.⁴²

Nonetheless, many of their thoughts and feelings are composed and expressed in relation to the idea, although they cannot articulate it conceptually. The working of ideas in everyday aesthetic experience is therefore usually detected only in vague, unreflective awareness. No specific concept contains this ideality, so most people do not consider it as a subject for reflective thought. Showing up the weakness of prejudice is one tack towards it, however, another being to reveal the idea at work through the articulating grammar of one’s activities. Coleridge illustrates this by imagining conversations with a ‘self-complacent student’ and a ‘plain, single-minded, yet reflecting neighbour’: Speak to a young Liberal, fresh from Edinburgh or Hackney or the Hospitals, of Free-will . . . he will perhaps confess . . . with a smile, that he is a Necessitarian,— . . . assure you that the liberty of will is . . . a contradiction in terms . . . Converse on the same subject with a plain . . . yet reflecting neighbour, and he may . . . say (as St. Augustin . . . ) I know it well enough when you do not ask me. But . . . attend to their actions, . . . feelings, and . . . words: and you will be

⁴⁰ Letters, 1: 298 (15 October 1799), to Southey. ⁴¹ Church and State, 13. For example, when reading Böhme, Coleridge appreciates certain insights, yet notes ‘even here Behmen is possessed by rather than possesses’ the idea, in this instance ‘the hidden Mystery . . . of the A = Ω’, Marginalia, 1: 677–8 (Bö, Mysterium Magnum). ⁴² Church and State, 16.


 ’    in ill luck, if ten minutes pass without . . . proof, that the idea of man’s moral freedom possesses and modifies their whole practical being . . . ⁴³

Here, Coleridge agrees with Schelling’s view that the fact of freedom, no matter how immediately the feeling . . . is imprinted in every individual, lies in no way so fully on the surface that, in order merely to express it in words, an uncommon clarity and depth of mind would not be required . . . ⁴⁴

Reflecting the animating, guiding idea as a principle back to those unaware, reflectively, of its existence is the objective of aesthetic education. We may speak of the idea ‘actually existing’, i.e. actualized and active, as a principle, existing in the only way . . . a principle can exist—in the minds and consciences of the persons, whose duties it prescribes, and whose rights it determines.⁴⁵

Although reflection is not sufficient for attaining what Coleridge sees as a conscious possession of ideas, a pre-reflective consciousness of ideas such as free will is, he argues, nonetheless discernible through reflection on aesthetic sense and practical situations. Reflective aesthetic education is hardly widespread even today, and it could well be that a future society will judge us as pitiably and dangerously primitive with respect to our level of reflective aesthetic awareness. Taste and enjoyment are, nevertheless, occasional subjects for reflection and contemplation. Much aesthetic appreciation lies in the inchoate contemplation of experiential qualities, basking in their meaning where concepts fail. The recalcitrance of aesthetic experience to conceptualization justifies this basking to a degree. Yet referring aesthetic ideas to principles, a task for the enlightened understanding, provides valuable clarification. Meaning suffuses our everyday tastes and enjoyments, but, like Kant’s notion of beautiful art (schöne Kunst) as a representation that is purposive without a purpose,⁴⁶ this meaning eludes conceptual thought. Everyday aesthetic enjoyment shares, however modestly, an overflowing quality with high art. This enjoyment can become principled in a reflective process that

⁴³ Church and State, 17–18. ⁴⁴ Schelling, Essence of Human Freedom, 9 (Sämmtliche Werke, 7: 336). ⁴⁵ Church and State, 19. ⁴⁶ Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, Ak. 306, §44: ‘Beautiful art . . . is a kind of representation that is purposive in itself and, though without an end, nevertheless promotes the cultivation of the mental powers for sociable communication.’

 


leaves prejudice behind in favour of self-examination, transforming its significant tones and sensitivities into virtues that stem from fidelity to the ultimate objects of contemplation. A philosophically attractive aspect of Coleridge is his dual recognition that if ideas are to mean something to us, they must find aesthetic expression, and that in this expression we find room for reflection. Without that reflection, one is likelier to obstruct than achieve contemplation of ideas. A parallel thought lies in Hegel’s criticism of the beautiful soul for its over-reliance on feeling and sentiment and its lack of reflective self-awareness. Both thinkers thus describe and argue against remaining uncritically in the aesthetic mode. Coleridge was influenced by Friedrich Schiller’s notion of the ‘beautiful soul’, given in his essay ‘Über Anmut und Würde’.⁴⁷ Schiller’s intuitionist ethics represent for Coleridge a humane, heart-and-head alternative to Kant’s Stoic, purely rational ethics. The Schillerian beautiful soul does not suffer from what Hegel later diagnosed as the romantic pining for an unattainable ideal.⁴⁸ Schiller’s notion, rather, harmonizes Pflicht und Neigung (duty and inclination) in recognizing the kinship of goodness and beauty.⁴⁹ The ethical and aesthetic intuitionism of Schiller was itself influenced by the Cambridge Platonists and especially by their disciple Shaftesbury, who claimed that ‘all beauty is truth’,⁵⁰ later expressed in Keats’ concluding lines to his ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.⁵¹

Identifying goodness, beauty, and truth began with Plato’s doctrine of the unity of the forms—developed from the Socratic unity of the virtues—and the education of epithymía (appetite) and thymós (noble enthusiasm, spiritedness) by noûs (higher mind, reason). The textual founts of these notions include the Phaedrus, with its concept of kalokagathía (beautiful goodness), and the Symposium, especially when Alcibiades describes Socrates’ virtue as a strong force of attraction, making of the old hoplite a pot-bellied Silenus statue: ugly satyr on the outside, yet with many drawers, each containing a golden statuette ‘so godlike—so bright and beautiful, so utterly amazing’.⁵² Beyond aesthetic expression, ideas also require reflective analysis of oneself if they are to make us principled. This calls for a double self-criticism. First, how does one’s life project, with its avowed aims and values, tally against the symbolism of ⁴⁷ Kooy, Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Theory, 74–86; Schiller, ‘On Grace and Dignity’ (1793). ⁴⁸ Schiller develops the notion from Wieland’s novel Geschichte des Agathon (1766–7), which characterizes the fictional Danae’s ‘beautiful soul’. Goethe’s chapter ‘Confessions of a Beautiful Soul’, in Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1796), further develops the notion. ⁴⁹ Curran, ‘Die schöne Seele’. ⁵⁰ Shaftesbury, Characteristics, 65. ⁵¹ Keats, Complete Poems, 283, ll. 49–50. ⁵² Plato, Symposium, 217a.


 ’   

one’s aesthetic responses? Second, what does one express when agreeing with, rejecting, or enjoying, certain activities or aesthetic works? Is this or that aesthetic meaning continuous with one’s life and dealings with others, or is it compartmentalized, voiced only in certain enjoyments? A burst of laughter, a pang of desire, a pique of interest—each seems to justify its own existence by a self-explanatory emotional charge. This level of aesthetic experience seems to speak for itself as self-sufficient. Because the experience can often appear inexplicable to others who simply miss the humour, interest, appeal, etc., people usually deem pointless the attempt to articulate it in clear and distinct concepts. Yet this attitude leads to circularity in answering the question, ‘What does this aesthetic experience mean?’ It means this, i.e. this particularity. And this, the aesthetic experience itself, seems to bring its justification, and a feeling for its meaning, immediately with its appearance. But what is it? So revolves the circle. When a justification of aesthetic experience is called for, the request is commonly interpreted as an indication that the enjoyment would be inaccessible to the inquirer, who, it would be objected, just does not get it. Yet the opacity of this aesthetic experience to conceptual explication does not justify letting it become carried beyond one’s control. In enjoyment, to what extent is one even aware of what it is in the experience that one is enjoying? To what end is the pleasure pursued, and what does it mean if one simply floats along in enjoyment? In this mode, we live in the sway, but do not work in the light, of the dynamics working through us. It might seem unnecessarily strict to interrogate the enjoyment of tastes and preferences, but this depth of questioning is necessary in a philosophically examined life. It is necessary socially too. Too many think racist humour, for example, harmless enjoyment. But how deep need the elenchus go? The answer is, self-critical inquiry must proceed as deeply as we can reflect, and we are able to reflect on anything we are conscious of, including fleeting and obscure enjoyments. Yet because symbols and aesthetic expressions in everyday life are generally taken for granted, the deepest analysis requires that one attend with especial care to apparently superficial expressions. If symbols are the outward expressions of transcendent values, which are all too often mangled in the process, then every nuance holds meaning. As the highest-speed camera allows the greatest slow-motion analysis, the most nuanced inquiry into surface details—for what else in aesthetics is there to examine?—can bring deep and wide-reaching recognition and subsequent transformation. The questioning itself awakens the reflection and the conscious orientation to the inner value. Like Socrates’ elenchus that makes one feel tongue-tied and ignorant before it orients one to truth, the questioning must go deeper than our usually shallow reflective awareness. Taking note of this educational point, Coleridge commends the Socratic method that initially causes mental discomfort, like the sting from

 


an electric ray, as Plato put it,⁵³ describing the shock when one recognizes aporia in one’s convictions. Coleridge adopts this awakening-through-disorienting strategy in his lectures and, as he explains in a letter, he aims to keep the audience awake and interested . . . and to leave a sting behind—i.e. a disposition to study the subject anew, under the light of a new principle.⁵⁴

Pre-elenctic, shallow awareness rests content with superficial statements and has not attended reflectively enough to details and nuances of expression. Oxymoronically, then, it is with a prolonged attention to surface details that shallow awareness can be brought to overcome itself. This self-transcendence is achieved by revealing contradictions between avowed values and one’s current aesthetic expressions. Thus our knowledge, opinions, and prejudices are brought to the test, and improved positions can be assimilated. How can a truth, new to us, be made our own without examination and selfquestioning—any new truth, I mean, that relates to the properties of the mind, and its various faculties and affections!⁵⁵

Powerful ideas recede from conceptual grasp as far as we pursue, but their role in our enjoyments, tendencies, and attitudes clarifies with attentive questioning.

3.3 A Philosophy of Life In the previous two sections, I have explored Coleridge’s view that practical concerns pursue value, in an inchoate contemplation of aesthetically pursued meaning. Coleridge believed that reflecting on otherwise unexamined, everyday pursuits can reveal ideas at work in people who ‘live in their power’, though do not ‘live in their light’.⁵⁶ He explains this with an example of rural labourers who, without explicitly articulating the idea of ‘an ever-originating social contract’ (implying the ideas of free will and the sacredness of the person), are nonetheless ‘possessed by’ the idea. Reflecting on their conversation, he argues, reveals the idea at work, reflected in the principle that a person is an end, and never only a means: But no man, who has ever listened to laborers of this rank [hind and woodman], in any alehouse, over the Saturday night’s jug of beer, discussing the injustice of

⁵³ Plato, Meno, 80a–b. Socrates, like an electric ray, temporarily numbs his interlocutor’s mind and tongue. ⁵⁴ Letters, 4: 924 (28 February 1819), to J. Britton, editor and publisher of The Literary Gazette. ⁵⁵ The Friend, 1: 114. ⁵⁶ Notebooks, 5: §5495 f63 (April 1827).


 ’   

the present rate of wages, and the iniquity of their being paid in part out of the parish poor-rates, will doubt for a moment that they are fully possessed by the idea.⁵⁷

These men are so ‘possessed by’ a fundamental sense of justice constituted by this idea, diffusing their manners, attitudes, and so on, that they are willing to fight for it. A dozen years earlier, in The Statesman’s Manual, he observed that even the poorest amongst us will contend with as much enthusiasm as the richest for the rights of property . . . the spheres and necessary conditions of free agency . . . and in this he intuitively knows the sublimity, and the infinite hopes, fears, and capabilities of his own nature.⁵⁸

Such intuitions, borne of incipient contemplation, are possible because of ‘the cognateness of ideas and principles to man as man’. Ideas, he holds, make us human; they ‘constitute . . . humanity’.⁵⁹ In this view, I argue, aesthetic contemplation as a translucent relation to ideas is an inevitable part of everyday life. Especially in its inchoate, non-intellectualist form, contemplation is commoner than ordinarily assumed, and not consigned to distant monasteries, ancient philosophies, or ivory towers. While intellectual contemplation is clearest, being ‘transparent’, those for whom this form is not practicably available can still contemplate ‘translucently’ when they incline towards ideas or ideals (models or paragons of ideas) in their cultural and aesthetic forms. Yet one might object that the great majority are left unmoved by ‘ultimate principles’ and high-born ideals when faced with the pressing realities of making one’s home, maintaining a stable relationship, raising children, getting on at work, and so on. Such aims keep people busy; where is the contemplation here? Yet the value that gives meaning to these practical concerns is found in acts of inchoate contemplation. One looks at something; and sees that it is good. This realization inspires our workday effort. Intangible in itself, freedom is intuited in and assumed by moral choice, as Kant argued, wherever it is held to be autonomous. It is also glimpsed in actions such as working for personal and familial welfare by revealing the power, self-controllability, and limits of the will. Greater still is to contend for the practical means whereby the poor and neglected can realize their positive freedom, these rights not being abstract possibilities, but implying the duty of the privileged to help actualize them for the sake of the underprivileged. Too often, however, practical pursuits lead to dramatic social inequality, for while most try to realize their rights, the power and success of this realization ⁵⁷ Church and State, 16. ⁵⁹ Church and State, 47 fn.

⁵⁸ The Statesman’s Manual, 24–5.

 


diverges greatly due to ability and circumstance. How can one contend that these aims arise from contemplation, however inchoate, of noble ideas? The apprehension of value within everyday life has a built-in bias towards the near because it is rooted in our relations with those who are closest. Thus an ethos arises whereby the maxim ‘charity begins at home’ easily distorts into an excuse for working only for oneself and one’s family. Coleridge gives a humbling example of how genuine charity begins at home, describing an everyday, aesthetic contemplation of value rooted in domestic, reciprocal affection: Often have I seen a child of two or three years old seated at the homely table with healthful hunger, and yet incapable of gratifying it, because the father had not yet come in, or the accustomed faces of brother, sister, or playmate were wanting.⁶⁰

Here ‘the healthful child of a cottage’ enjoys inchoate contemplation by abiding within the values of a loving family that are embodied and mediated through a mealtime ritual. This nurturing of domestic love is then contrasted with the unfortunate child of a wealthy family, ‘hinsulatedi even at hfromi its birth by the high rank or sullen pride of its parents’, and whose servile nurse, mute and joyless, is forbidden to press its lips with kisses; and finally one who, instead of playmates, is surrounded with an endless variety of playthings.⁶¹

It is natural to contend for one’s own rights, but such an aim is only enlightened and elevated by the idea when transformed into concern for the rights of the neglected and less fortunate. According to a Coleridgean symbolism, the ideas are the sun and stars,⁶² and inchoate contemplation is the glow of the intervening mist or cloud, allowing that light to be looked at protractedly, but also making it dim. His poetry and prose give many examples of veiled light: ‘through clouds that veil his blaze’;a ‘the thin gray Cloud’;b ‘fair luminous mist’;c ‘glist’ning haze’;d ‘Eve’s first star thro’ fleecy cloudlet peeping’;e ‘Mists and painted Vapours’;f ‘Lamps in noisome Air’;g ‘thro’ the veiling mist’;h ‘Mist in glee’;h ‘lightsome Jewelry’;h and the ‘semiopaque, or clouded mass’ of a ‘chrystal . . . lost in the light which it yet contains, embodies, gives a shape to’,i to list only some.⁶³ For Coleridge, it is necessary, for the ideal

⁶⁰ Opus Maximum, 125. ⁶¹ Opus Maximum, 125. ⁶² e.g. Notebooks, 5: §6849 (December 1833); see this book, 348. ⁶³ Poetical Works, 1: (a) 281, l. 17 (‘Destiny of Nations’); (b) 483, l. 16 (‘Christabel’); (c) 699, l. 62 (‘Dejection: An Ode’); (d) 778, l. 28 (‘Constancy to an Ideal Object’); (e) 994, l. 2 (‘First Advent of Love’); (f ) 1066, l. 31 (‘Last Words of Berengarius’); (g) 1068, l. 12 (‘Duty, Surviving Self-Love’); (h) 1101–2, ll. 66, 68, 69 (‘Alice du Clós’); (i) Shorter Works, 1: 377 (‘Principles of Genial Criticism’).


 ’   

earthly life, to attempt to find one’s way through the fog.⁶⁴ Yet the luminous mist, or the crystal, serves to diffuse light that is otherwise too harsh to be seen. In sensuous-imaginative intuition, ideas become for us ‘brightness made bearable’.⁶⁵ Coleridge’s images of light (truth, reality) seen through veils (aesthetic, sensory media), exemplify the ideas of reason beheld sensuously in the spontaneous activity of primary imagination, and in secondary imagination at an artistic or philosophical level. These modalities of imagination mediate between sense and understanding below, and noetic (‘Positive’) reason above. Beyond translucency, pure contemplation (‘Positive Reason’) occurs, for Coleridge, Whene’er the mist, that stands ’twixt God and thee Defecates to a pure transparency, That intercepts no light and adds no stain— There Reason is, and there begins her rein!⁶⁶

This view of reason as pure contemplation helps clarify, contrastively, why sensuous-imaginative, inchoate contemplation is a lower-level activity, noble, but prone to distortion, diffusing ideas rather than concentrating on them. In between, workday meditations and preoccupations pursue the sabbatical realization of what is worthwhile. We work for what we have seen to be good, in those rare ‘Sabbaths of Contemplation’,⁶⁷ inchoate or pure, when we experience the nearness of contemplated value. And so millions of ordinary, workaday lives are suffused with contemplation, though usually of an inchoate kind that only dimly intuits the value that can nevertheless actualize, however defeasibly, the ideal in practice. A related and illuminating insight is given by Plotinus, who saw that the most pragmatic of people, ‘when they are weak in contemplation’, produce actions and concrete things not just for their use-value, but to have something visible and tangible, so that they can see [with their eyes] what they cannot see with the Intellect.⁶⁸

⁶⁴ Biographia Literaria, 1: 233; Marginalia, 1: 600 (Bö; 27 August 1818). ⁶⁵ Hill, ‘Lachrimae’ pt 2, ‘The Masque of Blackness’ (1978), Broken Hierarchies, 122. ⁶⁶ Church and State, 184, adapting var. Notebooks, 4: §4844 (1821–2); Poetical Works, 1: 995. Böhme, Mysterium Magnum, in Works 3: bk 1, 67, describes the seventh of seven properties of ‘universal nature’ as ‘the transparent glassy Sea before the Throne of the Ancient, in the Revelation [Rev. 4:6] whence, as out of the grand Mystery, this world was created’, the contemplative Sabbath, ‘the seventh Day’, ‘in which all Things are brought to their End’. Notebooks, 5: §5868 f73 (May 1828), relates ‘the Revelation of the Eternal in Time, with the gradual thinning, defecation and final transparency of the Medium’. ⁶⁷ Marginalia, 5: 795 (T, Geschichte der Philosophie; 1824). ⁶⁸ Plotinus, Enneads III.8.4, 31–9.

 


Whether an object or an action, a concrete symbol of value is something that one can readily contemplate in daily life. This focal point opens a shared space of meaning. Lighting incense or a candle at an altar; laying flowers on a table or at a grave; sitting for an hour, in front of the sea; or walking through a field. Such rituals are shared gateways to ordinary contemplation, lived symbols that modestly express some of our highest values. Contemplated within the stuff of daily life, they reach ‘far higher and far inward’.⁶⁹ Aesthetic experience can be hard to convey because it pulls one out of the conceptual back into the everyday fray and what you are doing this afternoon, or now, or tonight. But this is what Coleridge wanted, a philosophy of life, concluding that ‘We live by faith.’⁷⁰ As I have has argued, such a philosophy depends as much on obscure intuition as reflective understanding. While it is our duty to render understandable as much as we can, ideas cannot themselves be so processed. For Coleridge, we can, however, continue the arc from a logical understanding that is prompted beyond itself by deep feeling towards a faith in reason that stretches out to the ideas and powers beyond concepts.⁷¹ Deep feeling and conceptual understanding become enlightened in the imaginative shaping of one’s existence, through ‘the numberless goings-on of life’,⁷² when they occur in the light of ideas. This autobiography concrète is a living, poetic endeavour, the theme of the next chapter.

⁶⁹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 239. ⁷⁰ The Friend, 1: 100; var. The Statesman’s Manual, 18. ⁷² ‘Frost at Midnight’, Poetical Works, 1: 453, l. 2.

⁷¹ Biographia Literaria, 2: 247.



4 The Art of Poetic Life-Writing We all have obscure feelings that must be connected with some thing or other—the Miser with a guinea—Lord Nelson with a blue Ribbon—Wordsworth’s old Molly with her washing Tub—Wordsworth with the Hills, Lakes, & Trees— / all men are poets in their way, tho’ for the most part their ways are damned bad ones. Letters, 2: 768 (21 October 1801), to Southey. Moving from taste and enjoyments and into the shaping of a life and a community, I argue in this chapter that Coleridge’s ‘primary imagination’ is based on Kant’s theory of a ‘necessary imagination’ that synthesizes thought and sense intuition in an ‘art hidden in the depths of the human soul’. It is vital to what I call autobiography concrète, or the art of poetic life-writing. In Section 4.1, I argue that Coleridge develops Kant’s transcendental synthesis. In Section 4.2, I propose an ontological capacity, similar to Coleridge’s ‘primary’ imagination, that discerns and imagines different kinds and levels of being, in light of which we construct lives that have value and meaning. In this, I develop a phenomenological advance that accounts for significant features of experience that Kant leaves opaque or untouched, especially the intuition or creation of value. In Section 4.3, I then explain my view of art as a secondary creativity, an ad vita poiesis whose creations persist beyond the living culture, distinct from primary creativity, the in vivo poiesis of everyday aesthetics out of which the symbolic web of meaning in lives and communities is spun, unable, however, to survive beyond the living culture.

4.1 ‘A Hidden Art in the Depths of the Human Soul’ My theme in this chapter is life-writing, understood in the sense in which ‘all men are poets in their way’. In this art, maker and material are one; and the statue is the sculptor. As Plotinus exhorts,

Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy. Peter Cheyne, Oxford University Press (2020). © Peter Cheyne. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001


 ’   

you should remove superfluities and straighten things that are crooked, work on the things that are dark, making them bright, and not stop ‘working on your statue’ until the divine splendour of virtue shines in you . . . ¹

Coleridge comments, Nobly & exquisitely has Plotinus represented the Actual Soul as the Sculptor, and . . . its potentiality as the Marble . . . in which as in a mirror it may first behold & then adorn itself—/ a looking-glass of such Still as it works, the material gives way & hides itself, till at length it becomes a mirror of such magic fineness, that the reflecting Surface is invisible lost, and the reflection alone beheld—²

Human life is here shaped through the contemplation of values. These values have an inescapably ethical dimension, because as we necessarily poetize our surrounding world, we contribute guiding ideals and attitudes to our communal ethos. Even the immoralist cultivates life within an ethos where obscure feelings connect with some thing or other, whereby certain aims will then appear more valuable than others. Coleridge published works aimed at cultivating his readers by revealing the role of principles in thinking and in everyday life. Thus, The Friend was written to convey not instruction merely, but fundamental instruction; not so much to show my Reader this or that fact, as to kindle his own torch for him, and leave it to himself to chuse the particular objects, which he might wish to examine by its light.³

Similarly, he aimed, in Aids to Reflection, to increase the ‘power of thinking connectedly’, to impress ‘at large the momentous distinction between R and Understanding’, and to help the reader to master ‘the art of ’.⁴ This chapter, however, will not primarily consider attention and reflection on opinions and convictions, but will examine how intuited ideas are usually diffusely, and often distortedly, merged by imagination into the ways that we shape our lives. Further, I shall argue that imagination contains an essentially philosophical mode that is ultimately directed towards contemplation and concern, uniting the contemplative and the practical. With Coleridge, we find in imagination an impulse to connect profound but obscure presentiments and ideas with our surroundings and even to seemingly

¹ Plotinus, Enneads I.6.9, 11–14. ² Notebooks, 4: §5280 f10v (November 1825). ³ The Friend, 1: 16. Cutsinger, Form of Transformed Vision, is a penetrative study of Coleridge as a ‘transformative’ writer and his ‘deep experiential source’ (xv). ⁴ Aids to Reflection, 3, 8, 9.

    -


insignificant objects. This impulse propels great art and everyday aesthetics alike. Whether we pursue merely what attracts us, or seek value beyond this, all lives are freely shaped, without excuses, as the existentialists say. Our choices inevitably engage us in the poetic art of life-writing. Cast in medias res,⁵ we necessarily improvise. But this is no argument against lives being moral-aesthetic works, spontaneous compositions in value. However rough-hewed, life is an art written with varying degrees of consciousness and sincerity. While literary poetry proceeds by effort and craft, it develops the more spontaneous poetry of the ordinary that shapes the stuff of life into a meaningful whole, and Coleridge alludes to this in the epigraph to this chapter. Owen Barfield suggests this sense when he says that Great poetry is the progressive incarnation of life in consciousness. Hence the absolute value of pleasure as a criterion, for before we can feel it, we must become aware in some degree of the actual progress—not merely of its results.⁶

The Coleridgean primary imagination is a mostly involuntary productivity, like Kant’s spontaneous imagination; it is that in which one is conscious of things. With this in mind, I interpret Coleridge’s primary imagination as a partly unconscious activity, an art, like Kant’s transcendental schematism of the imagination: a hidden art [eine verborgene Kunst] in the depths of the human soul, whose true operations we can divine from nature and lay unveiled before our eyes only with difficulty.⁷

But what might this art produce? In Kant’s system, it produces meaningful experience in a synthesis of conceptual thought and intuited content, creating a tenable world from what would otherwise be a confused manifold of sense. This mysterious synthesis is, he says, the effect of the imagination, of a blind though indispensable function of the soul, without which we would have no cognition at all, but of which we are seldom even conscious.⁸

Kant’s calling it an ‘art’ dignifies the spontaneous acts of synthesis in the transcendental schematism of the imagination that make experience possible by

⁵ Cast: thrown, geworfen, as Heidegger puts it (Being and Time, 1996 edn, 136, 176–9, and see index); in medias res: Horace, Ars Poetica, l. 149. ⁶ Barfield, Poetic Diction, 181. ⁷ Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 273, A141, B180–1. ⁸ Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 211 (A78, B103).


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combining the heterogeneous elements of thought and content, concepts and intuitions. For Coleridge, such synthesis occurs within what he terms, annotating a copy of the 1818 Friend, the ‘necessary Imagination’, which constructs, as in Kant’s transcendental aesthetic, the ‘Outer Sense’ of space and the ‘Inner Sense’ of time.⁹ This Kantian, constructivist sense of ‘primary’ or ‘necessary’ imagination is maintained in the Logic (1821–3, or later), where Coleridge argues, in the final chapter, that the forms and categories are, respectively, the necessary means of intuition in sense and reflection in the understanding, and that, therefore, we cannot become mathematicians but by reasoning according to the laws and necessities of the primary imagination . . . ¹⁰

This primary, necessary imagination is thus, indispensable for human perception and for the a priori syntheses of geometry and arithmetic that are latent in perception.¹¹ The notion of the necessary imagination originates with Kant, who writes in a footnote in the Transcendental Deduction that No psychologist has yet thought that the imagination is a necessary ingredient of perception itself.¹²

Coleridge accepts Kant’s conclusion that this synthesizing power is necessary for human perception. It is noteworthy that Coleridge maintains Kant’s language of imagination. By contrast, while Fichte, Hegel, and others also note Kant’s radical definition of imagination in the A edition of Transcendental Analytic (as Heidegger will do very attentively, over a century later), they then abandon it for other locutions, such as intellectual intuition. Retaining imagination, however, allows Coleridge an intermediate, synthesizing, and shaping power to pursue artistic and restless dimensions that imperfectly, feelingly, express the idea at a lower level. Such expressivity in the imagination—‘that synthetic and magical power’¹³—is for Coleridge, as for Kant, elevated and more consciously operative in the poet. But it is also crucial to producing intelligible experience in rational creatures. As such, it is therefore not necessary for the equivalent of perception in animals (considered as pre-conceptual, or minimally conceptual),

⁹ The Friend, 1: 440 n. Coleridge adopts Kant’s terms from Critique of Pure Reason, B41; A99; A278; B153. ¹⁰ Logic, 266 fn. ¹¹ Strawson, ‘Imagination and Perception’, discusses what is necessary, and what imaginative, in Kant’s ‘necessary’ imagination. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 239 (A120 fn.). ¹² Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 239, A120 fn. ¹³ Biographia Literaria, 1: 16.

    -


angels (capable of intellectual intuition), or God (unneedful of conceptual thought, and who, moreover, knows by creating). Animals, in this view, may have highly developed presentiments, and even, as Coleridge puts it, adaptive, ‘instinctive intelligence’,¹⁴ but unconscious of reason and unable to consider universals rather than encounter particulars, they cannot be said to know anything. On the other side, human perception is distinguished from that of hypothetical angelic beings for whom intellectual intuition would be the norm rather than, for humans, either an impossibility, as Kant holds, or the effortful perfection of reason and contemplation, as Coleridge argues, agreeing with British divines such as Jeremy Taylor and Robert Leighton, and poets such as Spenser and Milton, and the thinkers of ‘spiritual platonic old England’,¹⁵ and with various German conceptions of intellectual intuition, such as Jacobi’s and Schelling’s. The foregoing considerations of imagination as a technical term in Kant and Coleridge, representing a precondition of perceptual experience in rational, sense-based creatures, help explain why Coleridge defines the primary imagination as ‘the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception’.¹⁶ While basically agreeing with Kant on the necessity of imagination (in this technical sense) for human perception, Coleridge goes beyond him in finding in imagination and its use of symbols an access to truths of reason that transcend the limits of experience and its correlative concepts. The ideas of reason, for Coleridge, are objectively real, and include ‘God, the Soul, eternal Truth, &c.’,¹⁷ which is to say that they are themselves real beings and powers. For Kant, however, ideas of reason are transcendental components of the mind that do not necessarily have real correspondences—except, that is, for freedom, which, as I noted in the Introduction, Kant argues is known, when we act in accord with the moral law. Kantian ideas represent the traditional metaphysical entities and powers, including the self, freedom, the cosmos, God, eternity, infinity, etc. As non-empirical, organizing concepts they serve to regulate experience, especially knowledge. Kant sees these regulative ideas as ‘entirely outside the bounds of any possible experience’, with each idea serving as the ‘focus imaginarius’¹⁸ for hope in justice, for example; for a moral reality; the possibility of a unified science; perpetual peace instituted in a kingdom of ends;¹⁹ and divine recompense for eternal souls. For Coleridge too, these intellectual beacons are present to imagination, but as objective and transcendent realities, and not just as inner, transcendental guides. Kant sees transcendental ideas as present to the mind as its a priori constituents.

¹⁴ ¹⁵ ¹⁷ ¹⁹

‘On the Prometheus of Aeschylus’ (1825), Shorter Works, 2: 1266. ¹⁶ Biographia Literaria, 1: 304. Notebooks, 2: §2598 f80v (May–August 1805). The Friend, 1: 156. ¹⁸ Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 591 (A644/B672). Kant, Perpetual Peace.


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For him they are subjective (in the sense of existing in the subject, and as forming or regulating experience), and might, for all we know, have no objective reference in reality. Thus Kant had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith . . . ²⁰

And that, if he is correct, is the end for traditional metaphysics, but certainly not for religion, ethics, and art—nor, it must be added, for the metaphysics of metaphysics. Coleridge, by contrast, sees ideas primarily as transcendent, and not just transcendental. For him, they are objective and productive realities, independent of the human mind, being neither its products nor merely its regulating tools. Annotating Tennemann’s Kantian Geschichte der Philosophie, he defines ideas negatively, against Kant, and positively, with Plato: Kant supposed the Ideas to be the Oscillations of the same Imagination, which . . . produces the Mathematical intuitions, line, circle &c . . . each denied or negatived as soon as made—& yet the Constructive power still beginning anew—Whereas according to the true platonic view, the Reason and Will are the Parents . . . and the Idea itself the transcendent Anal[o]gon of the Imagn or . . . spiritual Intuition.²¹

An idea for Coleridge, then, is a Platonic power (a ‘transcendent Anal[o]gon’ not a transcendental immanence) before it is ever, however dimly, a notion in the human mind. But how do these objectively real ideas become present to the mind for human contemplation? As he explains, regarding the contemplation of beauty in nature, the reality, the objective truth . . . derives its whole and sole evidence from an obscure sensation, which he is alike unable to resist or to comprehend, which compels him to contemplate as without and independent of himself what yet he could not contemplate at all, were it not a modification of his own being.²²

It is ‘obscure sensation’, then, that propels the mind, he argues, to the idea as something real and influential. But still, how can an external idea (sensu Platonico) touch or otherwise modify a mind that must begin to perceive and know through the senses and the conceptual schemata? There are two answers.

²⁰ Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 117, Bxxx. ²¹ Marginalia, 5: 750–1. ‘Analogon’ is a scholastic term, notably in Aquinas, Catejan, and Suarez, that signifies the universal or transcendent perfection that different concretes (‘inferiors’, or ‘analogates’) imperfectly or partly instantiate. ²² The Friend, 1: 509.

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First, if Platonic ideas are real, then they exist everywhere and nowhere,²³ existing in the human mind, being equally intelligible (for that is what they are in themselves) everywhere, yet having no particular physical location, being universal truths. Less paradoxically, they exist everywhere as truth and power, and nowhere as phenomenon. That Coleridge, for whom reason is the source of ideas, holds this view is shown when he says that Reason . . . dwells in every man potentially, but actually and in perfect purity is found in no man and in no body of men.²⁴

The second way for ideas to touch or modify the sensual mind is through the symbol. Mediating between the lower mind, St Paul’s ‘mind of the flesh’,²⁵ and reason, the source of the divine ideas, imagination stretches been ideas and imagery like a Jacob’s ladder, the symbols ascending and descending. Symbols, being both accessible to the senses and consubstantial²⁶ with what they symbolize, convey ideas in aesthetic form to an enlightened understanding. With this view of the fundamental imagination aiming towards ideas through sense material taken symbolically, one can appreciate this esemplastic power as bridging the lower mind and reason. Coleridge interprets Kant’s ‘blind though indispensable function’²⁷ as a ‘living Power’ and a ‘prime Agent [not a passive processor] of all human Perception’. Rather than correcting Kant here, Coleridge seems to be augmenting the theory with a living, orienting imagination—an activity that strains after meaning and value, but to a less conscious or voluntary degree than secondary, artistic or philosophical imagination. The freedom of the living power raises experience above passive process. Without it we would be slaves to stimuli, able to process environmental information by following routines, but incapable of moral being, because incapable of relating to value beyond the senses.

4.2 ‘The Laboratory, in which Thought Elaborates Essence into Existence’ But why bring in moral being at this point? Is Coleridge’s purpose here, with the primary imagination, not simply a theoretical concern with how perception gets ²³ Porphyry, Sententiae, in Select Works, 69–99: ‘that which is essentially incorporeal is found to be . . . with respect to place every where and yet no where’. Thomas Taylor glosses (n.15): ‘For that which is truly incorporeal, is every where virtually, i.e. in power and efficacy, but is no where locally.’ ²⁴ The Friend, 1: 193–4. ²⁵ Romans 8:7. Coleridge identifies the phrónēma sarkós with the senses and the unenlightened understanding: Aids to Reflection, 239; ‘Essay on Faith’ (1820), Shorter Works, 2: 841, 844; ‘On the Passions’ (1828), Shorter Works, 2: 1427, 1447; Opus Maximum, 88; Marginalia, 3: 754 (L). ²⁶ i.e. the same in essence, but (in the case of symbols) in a lower order or dignity. The Stateman’s Manual, 29 and 68 n.3 (autograph note, 1827). ²⁷ Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 211 (A78/B103).


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going, and how this process is the basis for the secondary imagination, the same power in a superior degree, now ‘co-existing with the conscious will’,²⁸ being the power essential to the poetry of a Shakespeare, a Milton, a Wordsworth? Indeed he asserts, in an 1804 letter, that Wordsworth’s poetic genius grows from a splendid and pure perception, an ‘august & innocent Life’, arising from ‘his own habitual Feelings & Modes of seeing and hearing’.²⁹ Yet while such poetry (or the root of it, since we are discussing the primary imagination) may be splendid, and may well relate to psychology and the philosophy of mind, need this have any moral bearing? The moral import, I argue, lies with how the poetry of everyday life sees values and ideals become daily bread. The Heart should have fed upon the truth, as Insects on a Leaf—till it be tinged with the colour, and shew it’s food in every the minutest fibre.³⁰

Where Coleridge sees the primary imagination, I argue for an ontological capacity, synthesizing, like imagination, sense intuition with concepts and ideas. It discerns categories of being, such as objects and persons, substances and qualities, and also ideas beyond being. By ‘ontological capacity’, I mean a facility for supposing, imagining, and discerning different categories of being, e.g. the concrete, the substantial, the abstract, the impossible, the possible, the necessary, the local, the universal, the existent, the actual, the ideal, the real, the mortal, the immortal, the divine. With this ontological capacity, I draw not only from Coleridge, but from another philosopher strongly influenced by Kant and Schelling: Martin Heidegger. Heidegger asserts that Da-sein (Being-there, which he argues is the kind of being we are) is the being for whom Being is an issue. That is, our mode of being is one that cares about Being (modes of existence and reality), and not just about beings (thingly things and facts). To reiterate, Coleridge argued that ‘reason sensu eminenti’ is a reality that transcends any finite mind. On the hither side, the human side opposite that transcendence, is what I propose as the philosophically³¹ and practically engaged ability of the human mind to conceive or behold different ontological modes,³² and our ability to imagine them.

²⁸ Biographia Literaria, 1: 304. ²⁹ Letters, 2: 1034 (15 January 1804), to Richard Sharp, MP and critic. ³⁰ Letters, 1: 115 (21 October 1794), to Southey; var. Lectures, 1795: On Politics and Religion, 49. Notebooks, 4: §5270 f6 (November 1825) uses the image thirty-one years later. ³¹ Philosophy being the ‘affectionate seeking after the truth’, with ‘Truth . . . the correlative of Being’: Biographia Literaria, 1: 142. ³² Kessler, Coleridge’s Metaphors of Being, relates poetic with ontological acuity, notably in Coleridge’s verse and prose descriptions of eddies. He also reads the poems ‘Phantom’, ‘Limbo’, and ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ as exploring the metaphysical ideas of self, identity, the other, the soul, life and death.

    -


In a Heideggerian reading of the Kantian schematism,³³ I argue that this ontological capacity requires the imagination, which synthesizes sense with understanding. This concern with being and its modes (including non-being) makes ontology possible. It requires imagination to frame these modes of being in the mind as realities. For Heidegger, although Kant, in edition A of the Critique of Pure Reason, theorized imagination as the root of sense and understanding,³⁴ in edition B he recoiled from that radical thesis, thus retracting the primacy of imagination—perhaps in fear of irrationalism. Unlike Kant, however, Coleridge never made imagination a sub-division of the understanding. The ontological facility that I propose does not contradict Coleridge’s views on the primary or necessary imagination. Rather, if such a synthesizing, ontological capacity is not already implicit in his wider philosophy, then it could helpfully adjoin it. The capacity to hold and approach various modes of being in imagination raises fewer philosophical objections than Coleridge’s suggestions of a ‘sensorium of the spirit’ or an ‘organ’ framed for ‘spiritual objects’,³⁵ yet still retains the sense of a suitability in the human mind in relation to ideas and ontological relations. The ontological capacity, I suggest, posits, supposes, and explores modalities of being, and does so in a way that the reality contemplated, its existence (and future possibility), and its condition, matters to it. This ontological concern lies at the heart of how things matter to us. It brings about the imaginative perception that Coleridge initially described in the highest possible terms, and in a pedimental location,³⁶ as ‘primary ’, the ‘living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception’ that is ‘a repetition in the finite mind’ of God’s ‘eternal act of creation’.³⁷ This ‘living Power’ enables things to matter to us at all. In individual lives and situations, and their composition within the ars biographica poetica, imagination exercises an ontological capacity to colour and meaningfully shape the world of the miser, the admiral, old Molly, the poet walking in nature, and of you and me. Such, as Coleridge saw, is the inevitable poetry of everyday life that makes poets of us all. From his primary imagination, Coleridge distinguishes the secondary as a more conscious and controlled exercise of the same kind of agency. In his Biographia Literaria (chapter 13) pronouncement distinguishing fancy from imagination, he describes secondary imagination, but not the primary, as ‘co-existing with the conscious will’. Earlier in the Biographia, before he introduces the term ‘secondary ³³ Heidegger, Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, esp. 97–119, analyses ‘The Transcendental Power of Imagination as the Root of Both Stems [sc. sense and understanding]’. ³⁴ Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, 135 (A15), claims that the ‘two stems of human cognition [sc. sense and understanding] . . . may perhaps arise from a common but to us unknown root’, later named, in his deduction of the transcendental schematism, as the mysterious, productive imagination. ³⁵ Notebooks, 4: §4935 f62 (1822–5); The Friend, 1: 155–6. ³⁶ ‘Pedimental’ in that Coleridge places this important definition in a brief flourish, after some bluster and stalling, at the mid-point of his two-volume Biographia. ³⁷ Biographia Literaria, 1: 304.


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imagination’, he already begins to distinguish it from a certain technical usage in ‘philosophical language’ of the term ‘imagination’. Distinguished but not divided from this philosophical sense, is that higher level, a ‘superior degree’, which, in common language, and especially on the subject of poetry, we appropriate the name to a superior degree of the faculty, joined to a superior voluntary controul over it.³⁸

This more voluntary power writes life into things, animating materials into the organic whole of the artwork. Such artefacts physically express or indicate ideas, and in synthesizing object and idea, thing and person, artworks derive a kind of semi-transcendence, their unique, quasi-personal presence. Secondary imagination creates artworks that can survive their creators; they are therefore more independent than the products of primary imagination. Both modes exercise an ontological capacity that aims towards essences and embodies values, or else gropes towards them. In contrast, this life in the culture, as I view the work of primary imagination, survives only in vivo, in the living individual— the sculpture constantly being re-sculpted. Although not written in verse, or carved in marble, it is still something poetic, and poetry’s essential preliminary. The expression of obscure aims, in a ‘vague appetency’³⁹ that evolves through imagination, gains a comparative impression of permanence and distinctness when developed to the secondary degree of art or philosophy. The ‘philosophic imagination, the sacred power of self-intuition’,⁴⁰ thus reflects the mind and its concerns to itself. In creating independent works, the vitality of the originally spontaneous imagination can be preserved while allowing the accidents and errors accrued in the unexamined mode to be refined or perfected in art. Works of secondary imagination introduce a greater degree of discernment into our lives because they present objectively what were previously obscure presentiments. Moreover, because this objective presentation is communicated to an audience, the object of thought and feeling can be considered apart from the confusion of personal, psychological, and biographical details and become an object for reflection. In the mental clarity attained, personal problems recede within a broader perspective as one reflects on universal issues. This is a principal goal for any programme of aesthetic education and is the essential contribution of the humanities. Unlike either degree of imagination, fancy, or fantasy, is only rarely poetic. A store of images and the conduit of association, it draws from memory and provides material for empirical concepts.⁴¹ Unconcerned with truth or ultimate ends, it explores along the stimulating current of desire. Imagination, in ³⁸ Biographia Literaria, 1: 124, 125. ⁴⁰ Biographia Literaria, 1: 241.

³⁹ ‘Treatise on Method’ (1818), Shorter Works, 1: 633. ⁴¹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 305.

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Coleridge’s contrast, retains value beyond fleeting moments; it beholds rather than consumes. Imagination penetrates details to reveal principles. We do this on nature walks, in meditation or prayer, before artworks, and while enjoying sport. Wherever sensual, intellectual, and moral qualities are attended to, we contemplate the ideals of perfection. In one respect, we are passive in the reception or beholding of value and ideas, which Coleridge sometimes describes as ‘spiritual intuition’.⁴² Yet we are also responsible for our openness to ideas, which requires preparatory acts. So, in another sense, we are active in appreciating value, in that we make room for it and direct the mind to it. An example of opening to ideas after preparatory activity can be discovered in the genius of improvisation: though it takes minutes to create, the capacity can take decades to achieve. We must carve from within, hollowing a space to receive and echo ideas. Whatever moves us morally connects us, however dimly and defeasibly, with ideas, which work in us, though we do not usually reflect sufficiently on the ensuing process in the light of those ideas. For example, discussing how the early astronomers and chemists ‘were, blindly and unconsciously . . . led immediately to fortune-telling and other nonsense’, Coleridge says: It is curious to mark how certainly . . . the reason has always pointed out to men the ultimate end of the various sciences, and how immediately afterwards they have set to work like children to realize that end. Now they applied to their appetites—now to their passions—now to their fancy and latterly to the understanding—lastly to the intuitive reason again.⁴³

Yet, to return to the question, how do ideas touch us and move us? Through what medium operates their power of gravity? My argument in this book (55–63) on how ideas become meaningful for us through aesthetic expression helps answer this question. I shall now attempt a further, Coleridgean explanation of how, aesthetically expressed, ideas can move us. As Coleridge says in a note on the relation of ‘Form’ and ‘Thinking’, the synthesis of sense and idea actualizes the idea. He thus calls Imagination the Laboratory, in which Thought elaborates Essence into Existence.⁴⁴

Here he describes an elaborating (literally, working out) imagination configuring appearances according to intimated or beheld ideas. In the preliminary poetry, or

⁴² The Statesman’s Manual, 46, glossing ‘spiritual intuition’ as ‘positive inward knowledge by experience’; Notebooks, 5: §6367 (July 1830), where it is ‘a perceiving sensation of moral truth’; and Marginalia, 5: 751 (T, Geschichte der Philosophie, on Plato). ⁴³ Table Talk, 1: 269 (17 March 1832). ⁴⁴ Notebooks, 2: §3158 (September 1809).


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heightened perception, of primary imagination, the idea might illuminate a gesture, a landscape, the rumble of a waterfall, indeed any phenomenon. In the secondary imagination, ideas (‘Essence’) become accessible in cultural artefacts (‘Existence’) such as paintings, poems, and even works of history or philosophy. In being moved by something, we intuit, however dimly, ‘knowledge of its ultimate aim’.⁴⁵ This knowledge, dim and defeasible, will err from vagueness and misinterpretation, though it must receive aesthetic expression if it is to move others. This aesthetic import of value begins in the imagination, where essence is elaborated into existence. An admirable person is esteemed as a sustained creation, a living work of freedom. A poetic quality can therefore be found in lives shaped by commitment to ideas. Yet no individual invents or defines honour, courage, or any of the virtues, however much our desire to praise heroes suggests such superlative phrases. The admirable are admired for embodying the idea, for giving it particular existence—they do not create its essence. Embodying ideas in this way is to unite the active life with the contemplative. Further, I am suggesting that this union produces a living work of conversion, in which one shapes one’s life towards the realization of ideas and the creation of ideals. In a related discussion, on the ‘bodily manifestation’ of ‘the morally good’, Kant says that this embodiment involves a union of pure ideas of reason and great imaginative power . . .

For Kant, an Idea signifies, strictly speaking, a concept of reason, and ideal the representation of an individual being as adequate to an idea.⁴⁶

Kantian ideas of reason signify ‘reason’s indeterminate idea of a maximum’ and are ‘not . . . capable of being represented by . . . concepts’, but only by ‘the ideal of the beautiful’. He continues: the ideal is something that we strive to produce in ourselves even if we are not in possession of it.⁴⁷

4.3 Feeling towards Ideas Even the meanest of tastes expresses an elementary, unexamined ethics, because even these exercise choice and strain after some value, some vision of perfection or ⁴⁵ Church and State, 12. ⁴⁶ Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 117 (Ak. 232, §17, ‘On the Ideal of Beauty’). ⁴⁷ Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, 117 (Ak. 232, §17).

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goodness. At all levels, we compose autobiography concrète in our inevitably creative lives. Our symbols are the ideals that we ‘strive to produce in ourselves’. The rhyme and reason in the art of life-writing is necessarily a spontaneous composition. While improvisation lends its virtues, such as flexibility, centeredness, and presence to the moment, it can also be shallow and easily swayed by an unreflective taste when it aims for immediate gratification. Themes first used authentically in shaping one’s life can become mere habits. Doggerel prevents poetry. In a notable coincidence of thought, Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human, expresses just this insight of life as poetry in language similar to Coleridge’s in the epigraph to this chapter: People as bad poets—Just as bad poets in the second half of a line, look for a thought to fit their rhyme, so people in the second half of their lives, having become more anxious, look for the actions, attitudes, relationships that suit those of their earlier life, so that everything will harmonize outwardly. But then they no longer have any powerful thought to rule their life and determine it anew; rather in its stead, comes the intention of finding a rhyme.⁴⁸

Habitual patterns might be idiosyncratic marks of style, but they are inauthentic in that they repeat, rather than reflect. Coleridge attests that while it is the privilege of the few to possess an idea: of the generality of men, it might be more truly affirmed, that they are possessed by it.⁴⁹

Insufficient contemplation of a guiding idea leads to errors in its material expression through the stuff of life. Mistakes become compulsively repeated, like the Freudian return of the repressed. In Coleridge too, especially in poems that ‘consistently press toward an end just beyond the words’, there is an obligation continually to rewrite the same story [deriving] from the need for renewal, or . . . dedication to an idea of Reason which a process (Imagination) serves.⁵⁰

That ‘There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, | Rough-hew them how we will’⁵¹ is implicit in Coleridge’s philosophy. He says as much explicitly too: The Reason as the living source of living hand substantiali verities presents the Idea to the understanding individual mind and subjective intellect, which receives and employs it to its own appropriate ends, namely to understand ⁴⁸ Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human, §610. ⁵⁰ Mays, Coleridge’s Experimental Poetics, 7.

⁴⁹ Church and State, 13. ⁵¹ Shakespeare, Hamlet, 5.2.11.


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thereby both itself and all its objects—receives it, I say, uncomprehended by it to comprehend all things hthe universei, the world without, and the yet more wonderful world within.⁵²

In this view, ideas often powerfully influence a man’s thoughts and actions, without his being distinctly conscious of the same, much more without his being competent to express it in definite words.⁵³

But this being influenced by ideas is not enough if it is not self-reflective. For Coleridge, remaining related to ideas only in obscure wallowing makes us puppets in a shadow-play unless, in facing them, we articulate our situation in reflective thought. Imagine, for example, someone who tends to rebel against authority. Although this impulse springs from a noble ideal of freedom, the person seized by cultural echoes of the idea has yet to approach the idea as an objective reality behind clichéd images, or else hazy moods and cries of the heart. Distinctly conscious, reflective recognition would bring a clear-sightedness less prone to ethical and practical mistakes analogous to fumbling in the dark. What Coleridge means by being ‘possessed by Ideas’ is a going with the flow, a passive consent to the zeitgeist, for example, and an imitation of surrounding examples while thinking no further than one’s emotional antennae. The problem in being possessed like this by ideas does not lie with ideas themselves, but in their misconception. We are inevitably prone to this danger, because, as Coleridge puts it, no Idea can be rendered by a conception. An Idea is essentially inconceivable.⁵⁴

He elaborates on this Platonic contrast between conception and idea in another note in the same volume: An Idea is a P (δυναμις νοερα [noetic (intellectual) power]) that constitutes its own Reality—and is in order of Thought, necessarily antecedent to the Things, in which it is, more or less adequately, realized—while a Conception is as necessarily posterior.⁵⁵

The understanding is so clear, and its concepts so well defined, because they abstract from the ‘fixities and definites’ supplied by fancy from sense experience.⁵⁶

⁵² ⁵⁴ ⁵⁵ ⁵⁶

Opus Maximum, 274. ⁵³ Church and State, 12. Marginalia, 2: 1145 (H, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, on the Trinity; c.1825). Marginalia, 2: 1134 (H, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie; c.1825). Biographia Literaria, 1: 305.

    -


As products of the human mind that cannot exist without that mind, concepts contrast entirely with the ideas of reason. An idea of reason is for Coleridge a power that not only pre-exists the human mind, it necessarily antecedes all phenomena. Ideas are, in this view, correlates not only of ultimate ends understood in an ethical sense, i.e. of the Platonic ideas of truth, goodness, justice, self-control, and so on, but also of the laws of nature. They are, that is, objectively real ends or powers, independent of mind, and utterly distinct from concepts, which refer to the perceptual world. Through the imagination and its symbols, an idea is for Coleridge an educt.⁵⁷ ‘Educt’ is used here in a metaphorical sense, borrowed from chemistry, where it means a substance extracted from a compound in which it already exists, in contrast to a ‘product’, which arises from a chemical process. In a similar formula, the Coleridgean symbol exists as a tangible part within the ideal whole it represents. One may say that through the symbol, the ideal is educed—though as something we must draw towards—from the aesthetic content or conveyance. Hence when the understanding is enlightened by a superior power, and made the instrument and minister of the spirit[,] it proceeds and can only proceed by Symbols. For as all the products of the understanding & therefore all words are generalized from Sense, it is by only a Symbolical use of words that they can be made to express things above sense.⁵⁸

Enlightenment is, in this view, the progression from ‘judging according to Sense’⁵⁹ to an increasingly conscious reflection on ideas, seeing ‘the mass of Mankind Daydreamers; the Philosopher only awake’.⁶⁰ If ideas are objectively real powers, then enlightenment is the progress from a misconceived possession by ideas to possession of them positively, through reflective thought and what Coleridge calls the ‘energies of the Reason’.⁶¹ Even ‘the best and the wisest’, Coleridge insists in a notebook entry of October 1803, are subject to ‘eyes filmy with drowsy empiricism’. With vision dimmed by reliance on generalized experience, their limited virtue is ‘akin to certain errors’. Fortunately, however, the ‘Passions & Instincts often are the natural Correctives & Supplements’ that realign actions with the imperfectly realized ideals that are their principles. The ‘Passions & Instincts’ may then ‘by their folly work out the wisdom

⁵⁷ The Statesman’s Manual, 113. ⁵⁸ Marginalia, 3: 425 (L, The Coming of Messiah; 1827). Coleridge criticizes the author and writers like John Asgill, who proceed only with concepts, admitting no idea, perhaps because not even conscious of ideas. ⁵⁹ Aids to Reflection, 215, also 232, adopting Leighton’s phrase, which Coleridge claims anticipates Kant; var. The Friend, 2: 104 fn. (28 September 1809); Notebooks, 4: §5144 f23 (April 1824). ⁶⁰ The Friend, 2: 75 n.3 (autograph note, Copy R). ⁶¹ The Statesman’s Manual, 29.


 ’   

of God’.⁶² Coleridge thus suggests that ideas can be felt through a sensuous, aesthetic modality of mind that is initially unreflective, yet is a path, low on the slope from cave to open sunlight. The initial ascent is faltering and prone to repeated error. A compulsion to amend repeated patterns drives an initially drowsy ascent towards ideal contemplation and the perfection of virtue. Ideas thus become lived, and deep calls to deep as feelings and aesthetic qualia correspond with non-sensible intelligibles. To possess ideas, rather than blindly move in their sway, is to increase responsibility for one’s direction while also accepting that the truer meanings in life are discoveries, albeit ones that are creatively reached. Hence the art of poetic life-writing deepens with praeter-conceptual contemplation. As a cavern forms by an underground river coursing through limestone, meditative experience enlarges our capacity to echo the transcendent. This deepening aesthetic connection to ideas develops what Coleridge calls ‘the one Life within us and abroad’,⁶³ revealing yearnings beyond conceptually understood experience. As is well known, Coleridge’s influential notion of ‘the one Life’ is itself influenced by Cudworth’s neo-Platonic ‘Intellectual’ ‘Plastick Nature’,⁶⁴ but it should also be noted that the locus classicus can be found directly in Plotinus, who asked, But how, then, is it [sc. the intelligible realm] present? As one life. For life is not in the living being only up to a point, being unable to reach all of it; it is everywhere.⁶⁵

Ideas that arise within ‘the one Life’ ‘are not only something external to us, but also part of us’.⁶⁶ Through approaching ideas, we can strive to embody ideals. But only as Man is capable of Ideas, is he a Philosopher by birth-right—and only as far as he is capable of an ideal (practical product having its cause & impulse in Ideas, & its End, Aim, and Object in the approximative realization of the same) is Man a Religious Being.—But neither . . . is possible except thro’ the Imagination . . . by force of which the Man, . . . feels Wants . . . and proposes to himself Aims & Ends . . . that can be gratified and attained by nothing which Experience can offer or suggest . . . ⁶⁷

Imagination, then, provides us with a perspective on values ‘beyond being’, Plato’s formula for the idea of the Good, the idea of ideas.⁶⁸ The ideal intimates an idea ⁶² Notebooks, 1: §1612 (‘Oct. 24, nay, 25th 1803.—For it is 4 o’clock, Tues. Morn.’). ⁶³ ‘The Eolian Harp’ (1795–6), Poetical Works, 1: 233, l. 26, the lines on ‘the one Life’ inserted in 1817, in the Sibylline Leaves addendum. ⁶⁴ Cudworth, True Intellectual System, passim. Flores, Plastic Intellectual Breeze, esp. 360–70, discusses Cudworth’s principle with reference to Coleridge’s ‘one Life’. ⁶⁵ Plotinus, Enneads, VI.5.12, 1–3. ⁶⁶ Flores, Plastic Intellectual Breeze, 369. ⁶⁸ Plato, Republic, 509b. ⁶⁷ Notebooks, 4: §4692 ff19v–20 (1820).

    -


that cannot be deduced from any empirical ‘is’, inspiring an ‘ought’ from the rational will—or conscience—that recognizes it. Yet while the idea driving this ‘ought’ lies beyond what is given directly in experience, it inspires art and culture, by indicating beyond empirical limits, to create material traces of the imaginative, aesthetic anticipation of the idea. I have reflected on the primary and secondary modes of imagination as original and secondary poiesis, seeing in the former, Coleridge’s imago dei, an in vivo poiesis, a vital, power that shapes experience in the unity of consciousness. Yet primary imagination also has its own poetry, an unwritten kind, that cannot be stored in libraries or otherwise archived. The results are, nonetheless, accomplishments in life-writing, in bio-graphia. This poetizing of life and our surroundings exists with, and in a sense dies with, each individual, ‘old Molly with her washing Tub’, and the rest of us, ensuring that ‘all . . . are poets in their way’, however ‘damned bad’ their results may be. We are inwardly acquainted with this power through perceptual tones and the subliminal significances within a life. Secondary imagination could then be distinguished as ad vita poiesis, bringing materials into life in the creation of artworks that, unlike in vivo poiesis, can survive their maker, producing a materially expressed extension of mind, and through which symbolical, aesthetically expressed values can be contemplated. Primary imagination produces foundational ways of seeing (forms of theōría) that shape our perceptions, ethos, and moral direction, suggesting, as I have argued, an ontological capacity. Although they cannot survive independently, these modes can be culturally transmitted, and most families and communities could describe the outward forms of such traditions in living memory. These evolving creations always exist in vivo, and the patterns that rise from the spring of value easily die out with small groups or with generations, yet are replaced with an evolving form. The bringing-to-life of secondary poiesis, on the other hand, creates works that, once made, do not depend on the living perception for their continuity, although they naturally require perception to stir ideas again. Such artistic work animates surrounding objects by evolving them through the maker’s vision. Inanimate materials are made to express life, demonstrating traces of the individuating and idea-directed tendencies that distinguish persons from things. In this light, we see the mysterious aura of artworks as the effect of a thing in which person-like qualities are encountered. Coleridge expressed a specific sense of this quality when he proposed that Art itself might be defined, as of a middle nature between a Thought and a Thing, or, as before, the union and reconciliation of that which is Nature with that which is exclusively Human.⁶⁹ ⁶⁹ Notebooks, 3: §4397 f49 (March 1818). Table Talk, 1: 94 (31 March 1830), and 408 (July 1833), reprise this thought.


 ’   

In configuring perception towards essences, primary poiesis imparts value throughout the world of sense. The defeasible and imaginative (i.e. the human) intuition of moral and aesthetic qualities develops from the physical on which it supervenes. This astonishing qualitative construction is an everyday work of art infusing the works that we make of our lives. Making one’s own life and work out of contemplation amid practical life is the art of poetic life-writing, a creative discovery of value sustained in the act of faith. Remaining with the aestheticsensuous infusion of values and ideas, I now turn from the ordinary to the extraordinary, in Coleridge’s encounter with the mystics.

5 Adapting Böhme’s Bipolar Model This chapter reaches the central moment of the book, not only structurally but also argumentatively, as several concerns of Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy converge with centripetal force on the Coleridge–Böhme relationship. Here I transition from matters of sense (and reason in sense) in the aesthetics of practical and everyday life to a chiastic, or crosswise, space of convergence and divergence, where sensuous-aesthetic concerns meet rarefied thinking on God and the cosmos in the difficult, obscure, yet sometimes astonishingly brilliant mystical philosophy of Jakob Böhme. In Böhme’s big bang-like theory, sensuous qualities and cosmic powers arise out of primordial divine will, reach a near fusion at a convergent centre, where the universe of matter, meaning, and spirit then spark out in a perpetual explosion to stratify, traverse, and transmute through a fluid cosmos of energy. Coleridge’s critical fascination with Böhme leads to, I argue in these pages, his own formulation of the often overlooked or misunderstood chiastic crux at the core of his philosophy. This chapter argues that Coleridge derived some of the most crucial elements in his philosophy from Böhme, whose works he annotated more than any other writer. Section 5.1 discusses Coleridge’s views of various mystics and of the poles of mysticism: one side, pantheist tending, he valued for its sensuous-aesthetic connection, though prone to mistake personal idiosyncrasy for noetic insight; the other side is the transcendence-directed, increasingly noetic contemplation of mystics such as the Christian neo-Platonic Victorines. In Section 5.2, I argue that the chiastic crux of Böhme’s thinking inspired three Coleridgean mainstays: the interpenetration of opposites, the intercirculation of energies or powers, and the chiasmus between higher and lower levels. In Section 5.3, I further argue that a central feature of Coleridge’s pentadic logical schemata, with examples including his pentad of the ‘Powers of Nature’ and his ‘Order of the Mental Powers’, arose from his fusing Böhme’s transmutational, chiastic schema of ‘The Seven Forms of Spirits’ with the Christian neo-Platonic, hierarchical, linear ascent from sense to contemplation.

Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy. Peter Cheyne, Oxford University Press (2020). © Peter Cheyne. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001


 ’   

5.1 Between the Poles of Mysticism The writings of Jakob Böhme, a shoemaker from a Lutheran peasant family,¹ charged Coleridge’s thought with a sense of the divine within the murky. Böhme’s symbolic terms ‘strive for a synthesis which the author would have us see, feel, and taste’.² His philosophical mysticism influenced Coleridge from adolescence. The mystic philosopher’s sensuous-symbolic engagement with nature produced a transmutational logic of qualities before quantities. This logic influenced religion and philosophy in Europe over the next three centuries, from English Dissenters such as the Quakers and the Behmenists,³ to philosophers such as Schelling, Coleridge, and Hegel. In Böhme’s logic of qualities, Coleridge found respite from the shadowyness and death of all mere notional Learning—⁴

Thus Böhme, with his English disciple William Law and the Quaker founder George Fox, was among those mystics who for Coleridge ‘contributed to keep alive the heart in the head ’.⁵ In an 1817 letter to Ludwig Tieck (the Jena romantic poet who introduced Böhme’s writings to Novalis and the Schlegelei—the Schlegel brothers’ circle),⁶ Coleridge recounts being early influenced by ‘Behmen’s Aurora, which I had conjured over at School’.⁷ Böhme impressed on Coleridge the importance of intuiting values and principles in and through sensual and aesthetic experience. Coleridge defends this Behmenist sense of the glorious in the murkiest depths—as in his description of the Mariner’s renewing vision of the slimy water-snakes, which ‘coiled and swam; and every track | Was a flash of golden fire’.⁸ Coleridge also defends Böhme’s philosophical theogony against Tennemann’s ‘meagre and gritty Account’ of it, accusing the intellectual historian of not ‘looking deeply enough to ascertain’ how astonishing was the mystic’s interpenetrative

¹ Scholars sometimes refer incorrectly to Böhme as a cobbler, but he was in fact a shoemaker (Schumacher, Schuster), a member of a highly skilled and apprenticed trade, and not merely a shoe repairer (Flickschuster). ² Weeks, Boehme, 64. ³ The noun ‘Behmenist’ can refer to English Dissenters such as the Philadelphians, to Gichtelians and similar groups on the Continent, and also to Böhme-inspired thinkers, such as the Anglican mystic William Law and German philosopher F. J. W. Schelling, who were Behmenists by intellectual commitment, rather than religious denomination. In its adjectival sense, ‘Behmenist’ denotes his doctrines or Böhme-influenced ones. ⁴ Marginalia, 1: 561 (Bö, Aurora). ⁵ ‘Obligations to the Mystics’, Biographia Literaria, 1: 152. The four-volume Works of Jacob Behmen that Coleridge read were known as the ‘Law edition’, as Law was involved in its production. Notably, he provided the ‘Dialogue’ at the beginning of vol. 1. ⁶ Muratori, The First German Philosopher, 9–21, describes Tieck’s precursory romantic reception of Böhme. ⁷ Letters, 4: 751 (4 July 1817), to Tieck. ⁸ ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ (1798, rev. 1800–34), Poetical Works, 1: 393, ll. 280–1.

 ö ’   


Conception of the sameness of the strangling Anguish or Bitter Source in the dark Ground of Nature with the triumph and stringency of the Joy in the Light, and its self-retractings, as the condition of Consciousness, after its outsallyings . . . ⁹

Though loyal to the translucent ‘Joy in the Light’ through ‘the dark Ground of Nature’, Coleridge reserves the apex of his theory of mind for the transparent contemplation of ideas. He thus considers Böhme to err in not contemplating as transcendent the source of the divine principles and qualities encountered in the immanent. Articulating his objection in 1818, Coleridge begins criticizing what he sees as an implicit tendency of pantheism. Even before this 1818 realization, however, Böhme’s passion for the triune personhood of God enabled Coleridge ‘to skirt, without crossing, the sandy deserts of utter unbelief ’¹⁰ implied by any implicit pantheism in Böhme’s system. Coleridge distinguishes mystics (who contemplate ideas necessary for rational standards of truth and reason), from pseudo-mystics or phantasts (who mistake fantasy and unreflective, idiosyncratic thought for ideas). Where a person mistakes the anomalous misgrowths of his own individuality for ideas, or truths of universal reason, he may, without impropriety, be called a Mystic, in the abusive sense of the term; though pseudo-mystic, or phantast, would be a more proper designation. Heraclitus, Plato, Bacon, Leibnitz, were Mystics, in the primary sense of the term: Iamblichus, and his successors, Phantasts.¹¹

Mysticism, we might say, versus mistake-ism. Coleridge applies his own pun for those seeking in the Feelings and the Fancy for a more intimate knowlege of God and the Soul than the Understanding or even the Reason can impart. . . . But this is unworthy the name of mysticism (except—pardon the Pun!—as a Misty Schism from the Church of Common Sense)—¹²

His respect for the self-educated Böhme did not prevent him dismissing the shoemaker-mystic’s fanciful etymologies and

⁹ Marginalia, 5: 813–14. ¹⁰ Biographia Literaria, 1: 151–2. ¹¹ Church and State, 165. Coleridge includes Bacon for conceiving laws as inductively discoverable through empirical phenomena; discussed at The Friend, 1: 492–3, and this book, 241–6. Kant, Dreams of a Spirit-Seer (1766), Theoretical Philosophy, which Coleridge annotated, examines similarities between Leibniz’s and Swedenborg’s ‘fanatical’ writings. ¹² Marginalia, 5: 795 (T, Geschichte der Philosophie).


 ’   

the occasional substitution of the Accidents of his own peculiar acts of association . . . for the laws and processes of the creaturely Spirit in universo.¹³

While Coleridge was sympathetic to Plotinus’s mystical hénōsis (union with the One) and George Fox’s conviction in the inward light as Christ in the heart, he found of ‘Modern Quakerism . . . the whole inside hollow and rotten’.¹⁴ He had even less patience with ‘a treatise of a religious fanatic’,¹⁵ presumably Swedenborg, yet even this he reads without suspecting him of any intentional falsehood. As when in broad day-light a man tracks the steps of a traveller, who had lost his way in a fog or by treacherous moonshine, even so, and with the same tranquil sense of certainty, can I follow the traces of this bewildered visionary.¹⁶

While ambivalent towards Swedenborg, St Teresa of Ávila, and other Schwämerisch (or nearly so) mystics, his warmth for them and his sense of their sincerity is unmistakeable.¹⁷ Seeing Teresa as a ‘poor afflicted spotless Innocent . . . pierced thro’ with fanatic preconceptions’, he nonetheless appreciates her ‘most fervent Sense of God’s Love & Mercy’.¹⁸ While he finds that she, like Böhme, is oft prone to make ‘a mistake . . . of the sensuous imagination’ in attributing to divine activity too many idiosyncratic particulars of inner experience,¹⁹ he acknowledges the entire, unsuspecting, unfearing, childlike profusion of feeling, which so beautifully appears in the writings of some of the older Saints of the Romish church, particularly that remarkable woman Sta Theresa.²⁰

In another note on Teresa, he is struck by the ingenuous wisdom of that instinctive craving, dim & blind tho’ it may be, of the moral being after this unknown Bliss, or Blessedness—known only & anticipated by the Hollowness

¹³ Marginalia, 1: 602; 558, 591, 601, 606–8, 621–2, 628–31, 647–8, 656, 670, 684 also criticize Böhme’s etymologizing, as does Aids to Reflection, 384. ¹⁴ Table Talk, 1: 458–9 (3 January 1834). ¹⁵ Biographia Literaria, 1: 232. ¹⁶ Biographia Literaria, 1: 233. ¹⁷ Schwärmerei is Kant’s term, borrowed from Luther. Biographia Literaria, 1: 30, notes the term deriving from ‘the swarming of bees’. Kant, ‘Essay on the Sicknesses of the Head’ (1764), Ak. 2: 257–71, defines ‘fanaticism’ as the ‘lunatic’ supposition of ‘immediate inspiration . . . Human nature knows no more dangerous delusion.’ Here, he contrasts Schwärmerei with ‘Enthusiasmus’, without which ‘nothing great in the world has been done’, repeating the phrase and distinction at Critique of Judgment, Ak. 272. At Marginalia, 1: 818 (B; 1831), Coleridge identifies this aphorism as Seneca’s (De tranquililitate animi, 17.11); fifteen years earlier, he criticized Hume’s History, noting ‘the aphorism of ancient wisdom, that nothing was ever atchieved without enthusiasm’: The Statesman’s Manual, 23. ¹⁸ Marginalia, 5: 819 (S T, Works; June–July 1810). ²⁰ Table Talk, 1: 459 (3 January 1834). ¹⁹ Notebooks, 3: §3911 ff59v–60 (June 1810).

 ö ’   


where it is. (The Plant in its dark Chamber turns & twists its stem & grows toward the Light-Cranny, the senseation of the want supplying the sense of the Object wanted!)²¹

The instinctive pole of mysticism is judged in these ways as ‘instinctive’, passionate, and feeling its way into the divine light. These qualities, however, mean that blind trust and enthusiasm can too easily mistake contingent blemishes for divine marks. Coleridge’s passing engagement with the twelfth-century Augustinian contemplative theologians Hugh and Richard of St Victor,²² however, and their fourteenth-century follower Jean Gerson, was further removed, reading them primarily through excerpts and discussion in Tennemann’s Geschichte der Philosophie.²³ These mystics belong to the opposite pole, noetic, not sensuous. In them, he recognized a framework remarkably similar to his own view of mental organization concerning the ascent to contemplation and noetic intuition, though this acknowledgement is more formal salute than deep textual engagement. In his Order of the Mental Powers schema, a valuable annotation on the back flyleaf of Tennemann’s Geschichte der Philosophie (vol. 8),²⁴ Coleridge modifies the Victorine schema in a complex derived directly, I argue, from a diagram by Jakob Böhme. There, Böhme outlines his divine cosmogony in terms of seven polar energies, ‘The Seven Forms of Spirits’, with three energies above, three below, and the flash of the ‘Fire-World’ burning at the middle.²⁵ The complex of interrelations in the Order of the Mental Powers diagram derives not from the Victorines, but from Böhme’s diagram of ‘The Seven Forms of Spirits’ (see Table 5.3). Coleridge superimposes on Böhme’s bipolar, chiastic model the Victorine unipolar, linear schema to add an unequivocal hierarchy that corrects what the English poet-philosopher saw as the Lusatian mystic’s two main errors. To wit, he judged that Böhme veered too close to pantheism, and that he accorded too much dignity to the translucent contemplation of the mixed and the immanent to the detriment of the transparent contemplation of the pure and transcendent. With his hybrid schema, Coleridge acknowledges the crucial role of the Behmenist chiasmus, yet pushes on to emphasize, with the Victorines (and the Platonists) that purity of noetic intuition is the highest human mental quality, allowing the ideas to ordain (order, organize, and renew) the various mental functions. ²¹ Notebooks, 3: §3911 f60v (June 1810). ²² Richard of St Victor, The Mystical Ark; Palmén, Richard of St. Victor’s Theory of Imagination. ²³ Coleridge likely first encounters the Victorines in Tennemann, in 1818, while preparing his lectures on the history of philosophy. In 1824, he returned to those pages, inscribing a series of marginalia. ²⁴ Marginalia, 5: 798 (Table 5.2). ²⁵ Böhme, Works, 2: The Clavis, 17. Coleridge’s annotated copy is at the British Museum, shelf mark C.126.k.1.


 ’   

Immediately before sketching his Order of the Mental Powers, Coleridge notes that his ‘Positive Reason’ is equivalent to the neo-Platonic Victorine notion of ‘Contemplation’. St Victore’s Contemplation is in my System = Positive Reason, or R. in her own Sphere as distinguished from the merely formal & Negative Reason, R. in the lower sphere of the Understanding. The + R[eason] = Lux:  R[eason] = Lumen a Luce. By the one the Mind contemplates Ideas: by the other it meditates on Conceptions. Hence the distinction might be expressed by the names, Ideal Reason )( Conceptual Reason.²⁶

He made these notes in Tennemann’s Geschichte der Philosophie, responding to where the intellectual historian describes the Victorine scheme of mental ascent from sensus, through imaginatio, ratio, and ingenium, to contemplatio. Their analysis of psychological and spiritual states, actions, and passions within a sophisticated theology and Christian Platonist theory of noetic ascent impressed Coleridge. The learning and Genius that existed in a succession of Individuals during the tenth, 11th, and 12th centuries, have been much under rated . . . above all, those two Platos, Hugo . . . and Richardus de Sancto Victore—²⁷

It would be mistaken, however, to think Coleridge was greatly influenced by the Victorines, rather, he salutes them for notable coincidences of thought. His study of Hugh and Richard does not seem to have gone much further than the excerpts he read in Tennemann’s Geschichte, although around five years later he received a valuable incunabulum of Hugh from Edward Irving.²⁸ Although he mentions superficial terminological differences, Coleridge identifies his ‘Fancy’ with the Victorine imaginatio; his ‘Understanding’ with their ratio; his ‘Imagination’ with their ingenium; and his ‘Positive Reason, or R. in her own Sphere’ with ‘Contemplation’ (Table 5.1). The schematic equivalence likely derives from the neo-Platonists, whom the Augustinian Victorines and Coleridge treated as an important source. Coleridge commends the Victorine observation that contemplation—the essence of ‘The true Mystic Philosophy’—

²⁶ Marginalia, 5: 797 (T, Geschichte der Philosophie; 1824; reproduced in Table 5.1). )(means ‘as distinguished from’, or ‘disparate from’, Marginalia, 5: 500 (T). Although the date is not recorded, this marginalium on the back flyleaf of Tennemann’s Geschichte der Philosophie, vol. 8, pt 2, occurs among several that were written between 14 February 1824 and 8 October 1827. 1824 is most likely, as Notebooks, 4: §5062 (1823–4) mentions Hugh and Richard of St Victor, as does a letter to C. A. Tulk dated 26 January 1824 (Letters, 5: 326). ²⁷ Notebooks, 4: §5062 (1823–4). Letters, 5: 326 (26 January 1824), to Tulk, recommends ‘the incomparable Mystics before the Scholastic Æra, viz. Hugo and Ricardus de Santo Victore’. ²⁸ In 1829, Irving presented Coleridge with an incunabulum (a pre-1500 printed book) of Hugh of St Victor, De sacramentis.

 ö ’   


Table 5.1 Ascent from Sense to Contemplation: Comparison of Mental Powers in Richard of St Victor and Coleridge Richard of St Victor


Contemplatio a penetrating and free gaze of the soul directed towards invisible, spiritual objects

Reason contemplates ultimate ends, ‘Ideas’, ‘a pure transparency’, without sensory form

Ingenium explores & investigates, but does not possess; sets contemplation in motion and links meditatio with contemplatio

Imagination mediates, elevating ideas & phenomena to ideas, & brings ideas to understanding, linking reason with understanding to form the higher understanding

Meditatio thinking that comes from ratio; careful gaze; seeks truth in appearances

Higher Understanding conceptual thinking ‘enlightened by reason’, truth-directed; able to concentrate and reflect without distraction from desire & association

Cogitatio wandering thinking based on images

Lower Understanding associative; judges according to the senses Fancy imagistic, desire-driven wandering

Sensus perceives sensible objects; has no access to spiritual objects

Sense perceives sensible objects in conjunction with primary imagination; thanks to imagination, aesthetically intuits intimations of ideas, making the senses resplendent, or aware of mysterium tremendum (in what I term inchoate contemplation)

requires an ‘introductory and purifying’ meditation, ‘a watchful repelling’ to set ‘aside the intrusive images of Sense, and the Conceptions of the Understanding’.²⁹ In a notebook entry of the following year, he continues this thought, describing

²⁹ Marginalia, 5: 795. Marginalia, 3: 11–18 (late 1828 or early 1829), describes this process.


 ’   

the process of unsensualizing the Soul and purifying the temple of the mind from Idols in order to prepare for the Epiphany of the Ideas.—³⁰

But tidying the reception room does not guarantee the arrival of guests. As for the positive reception of the ideas themselves, All Ideas are Felicities. The most that can be done by Volition of Thinking, is but like bringing out Stars from the blue sky or between in the rifts between sombring Clouds, on a Summer Evening.³¹

Meditative purification allows sustained attention to the ideas in the transparency of contemplation. Yet he also sees the need to penetrate to the idea through the translucence, working in and through the phenomena of nature and humanity, as the laws of nature, and the ideas at work in and through history. To these solemn Sabbaths of Contemplation we must add the Work-days of Meditation on the interpretation of theory Facts of Nature and History by the Ideas; and on the fittest organs of Communication by the symbolic use of the Understanding, which is the function of the Imagination.³²

From such meditation can then follow contemplation of the Ideas, or Spiritual Verities, that present themselves, like the Stars, in the silent Night of the Senses and the absence of the animal Glare.³³

Rather than merely relaxing, or going with the flow, such meditation aims towards contemplation as the ‘solemn Sabbath’. Because Coleridge sees both sense and reason as intuitive, rather than discursive, he finds these opposites more like each other than the understanding. Although he sees sense as the lower pole of mind, extremes meet in a harmony revealing striking analogies between the Reason and the Sense. Visio Idealis et Intuitio Sensibilis [Ideal vision and sensible intuition]. As in the simple Sense the Image

³⁰ Notebooks, 4: §5215 f26 (May 1825). Thirty years earlier, he similarly describes emancipation from ‘present impulse’ in a process that ‘unsensualises the dark mind’: ‘Destiny of Nations’ (1796), Poetical Works, 1: 285, l. 81. ³¹ Notebooks, 4: §5215 f26 (May 1825), reprising Biographia Literaria, 1: 241, which quotes Plotinus, Enneads V.5.8, 1–5. ³² Marginalia, 5: 795–6 (1824). ³³ Marginalia, 5: 795 (1824).

 ö ’   


and the Thing, the Representation and the Presence, are one and undivided, so in the Idea the Thought and the Reality.³⁴

The unselfconscious counterpart of reason, sense feels beauty in the sensible and seeks unreflectively, pre-intellectually, for meaning and value. In an aesthetic, feeling way, it seeks its ethos. The distinction between sense and intuitive reason does not, then, imply the dissociation of intellect and feeling. To the contrary, Coleridge emphasizes a harmony in which the two complementary, intuitive powers interpenetrate. While this theory of interpenetration is influenced by Böhme, Coleridge adds a hierarchy between the energic higher (intellectual/ ideal/ordering) and energetic lower (sensual/aesthetic/particularizing) levels of thought and being. He notes, commenting on Hugh of St Victor, that, in the middle, Meditatio is the application of the Truths of Contemplatio to inferior knowleges, i.e. the evolution of the particulars contained in the unity of the Idea, or the bringing the facts of Nature & History into the Light of the Ideas.—³⁵

The Victorines saw meditation as Coleridge essentially saw his own ‘discourse of reason’, namely as the understanding, an essentially medial faculty, articulating experience, life projects, and empirical knowledge within the guiding, ‘downshining’³⁶ light of ideas. Improving upon the purifying, contemplation-directed notion of meditation, Coleridge fuses it with the role of mediation that was all-important in Böhme’s system and which greatly influenced Schelling and Hegel. For Böhme, all things move and transform through the medial crux, ‘the flash’, or the ‘Fire-World’, through which the undifferentiated origin of things in sheer will transforms itself in self-manifestation. The bitterness of the harsh, wrathful, primal will of God the Father becomes, in the process, the sweetness of love in the Son. Böhme’s mode of contemplation at the intermingling, cross-over crux of things is made possible by ‘the flash’ that sparks across the upper and lower spheres. Overlaying this polarity on the Victorine schema, Coleridge transforms that simple, linear ascent to contemplation into a complex, bipolar dynamic. Thus he adds the intercirculating energies of Böhme’s model while retaining, with the Victorines, the unmixed priority that Christian theology conventionally accords to the absolutely transcendent, which remains supreme at the apex of ontology, ethics, and religion. Polarity in Coleridge is therefore hierarchical, with a true north and an opposite ³⁴ Notebooks, 4: §4947 (June–July 1823). Around the same time, he remarks that ‘The striking analogies between reason and sense are among the most interesting subjects of philosophical meditation’: Logic, 90. ³⁵ Marginalia, 5: 782 (H  S V; 1824). ³⁶ Notebooks, 5: §§6482 (October 1830), and 6743 (September 1833).


 ’   

and unequal, antipodal south. Rather than being an attempt to have things both ways, such a hierarchy asserts a particular moral and spiritual direction as an objective desideratum.

5.2 The Crucible of Böhme’s Fiery Dynamics As his many annotations and notebook entries attest, especially between 1808 and 1821, Coleridge’s decades-long reading of Böhme was deeply engaged—and complicated. The c.24,000-word commentary he inscribed in Böhme’s Works is longer by far than he gave any other author. After August 1818, he laboured to reconcile, I argue, Böhme’s bipolar, both-directions-at-once theory of interpenetrating energies with the unidirectional, hierarchical Platonic ontology. Böhme’s contemplative depth within sensual flux enthralled Coleridge. But while he advocated Böhme’s ‘translucent’, sensuous-imaginative perception, he subordinated it to the ‘transparent’, noetic contemplation of transcendent ideas. Yet sometimes, Coleridge notes, Böhme’s translucent, confused, aesthetic seeing-into gives way to the higher form. Then, in so many places it thins away almost into a transparent Medium, and Jacob Behmen, the Philosopher, surprizes us in proportion as Behmen, the Visionary, had astounded or perplexed us.³⁷

Throughout Böhme’s incomparable writings, Coleridge found the sparkle of transcendence in the murky depths that reflect eternal principles. A full account of Coleridge’s contemplative philosophy must therefore include his critical engagement with the ‘translucent’ mode by which Böhme contemplated the Truth and the forms of Nature thro’ a luminous Mist, the vaporous darkness rising from his Ignorance and accidental peculiarities of fancy and sensation, but the Light streaming into it from his inmost Soul.³⁸

Like the ‘fair luminous mist’ of his ‘Dejection’ ode, the translucence Coleridge speaks of is one that ‘the soul itself must issue forth’ from ‘fountains . . . within’.³⁹ The distorting quality of the mist arises, Coleridge thinks, from ‘Ignorance and accidental peculiarities’. Thus, a mixed quality suffuses Böhme (and Coleridge’s relationship with him), in his translucent insight and explication; his chiaroscuro

³⁷ Marginalia, 1: 558 (Bö). ³⁸ Marginalia, 1: 558 (Bö). ³⁹ ‘Dejection: An Ode’ (1802), Poetical Works, 1: 699, ll. 62, 53, 46. Two or three years earlier, he described ‘The sunny mist, the luminous gloom of Plato—’: Notebooks, 1: §528 (November 1799).

 ö ’   


prose; and at the core of his cosmology, with its mixing centre of darkness and light from which all nature flows. Pitting Platonic, transcendent ideas against Behmenist (and Schellingian) immanent energies and forces, Coleridge strove for a truer reconciliation. In Coleridgean reconciliations, one side usually ends up lower, subsumed within the higher: these are vertical polarities; the exceptions are horizontal polarities, which exist between the vertical poles. Behmenist immanence became the lower pole, a resplendent yet inferior manifestation of the transcendent. Their difficult fusion in Coleridge drew on over two decades of wrangling with Böhme. He read the mystic of Görlitz as an adolescent, and later planned, in 1803, to include him in a projected work on ‘Revolutionary Minds’.⁴⁰ In 1808, he acquired his own copy of the four-volume Works of Jacob Behmen. Yet, at a turning point in August 1818, he admits that It has become evident to me of late, that for I myself have partaken of the same error, that Behmen . . . . approaches so perilously near to Pantheism—⁴¹

He then resolves to counter the fallacy of taking the part for the whole, specifically, of conflating the divine energies in the world with ‘God in his eternity’.⁴² His fusion of the Platonic, unilinear model of transcendence with Böhme’s immanentist model of interpenetrative transmutation becomes central to this resolution. Understanding Coleridge’s critical appreciation of Böhme’s fluid yet systematic account of interpenetrating energies illuminates some difficult aspects of Coleridgean philosophy revolving around his counterbalanced hierarchy. Coleridge’s organicist theories provide fractal intimations of higher powers replicating within lower levels, where the powers are manifest, but in ‘a lower dignity’. Correspondingly, the lower can be oriented to the higher value, from which it derives intelligibility. The conflict of interpenetrating, bipolar energies with Christian Platonist hierarchy is vivid, yet this contraposition of the murky and mixed against the clear and pure runs through Coleridge’s thoughts on the relation between ideas and phenomena. Within this interfusion, as I argue, an inchoate contemplation is possible that beholds value within the aesthetic mix. In Coleridge’s reading, Böhme consistently attests to this sense of intermingled or confused contemplation. Concluding Aids to Reflection, Coleridge raises this criticism of Böhme’s confusion of Nature, i.e. the active powers communicated to matter, with God, the Creator.⁴³

⁴⁰ Notebooks, 1: §1646 (Bö; November 1803). ⁴¹ Marginalia, 1: 600 (Bö; 27 August 1818). ⁴² Marginalia, 1: 601 (Bö; 27 August 1818).

⁴³ Aids to Reflection, 384.


 ’   

He aimed, since 1818, to correct this pantheist tendency in the mystic’s theory of the world as God’s complete self-manifestation. Resurfacing in Schelling’s Naturphilosophie and its development into a philosophy of the identity of mind (conscious productivity) and nature (unconscious productivity), it became a current issue and not only an arcane historical one. This is the Rock, on which Behmen still wrecks . . . the co-eternal Logos, in and by which God is manifest to himself . . . not the coagulation of Chaos, much less the Chaos itself.⁴⁴

God is incarnate and self-manifest in the Son, the Logos, he contends, not in the world itself, not in the chaos of contingencies and the clash of forces. At the root of this pantheist confusion, Coleridge diagnosed Böhme as treating God developmentally (as philosophers including C. S. Peirce, drawing from Schelling, and A. N. Whitehead later did), as subject to the dialectic terms of natural evolution, rather than as transcending them. Thus he judges that Behmen soon deviates into his original error . . . and places the polarities in the Deity, makes them eternal . . . ⁴⁵

This diagnosis has held up well. A recent assessment concludes, precisely as Coleridge did, that Böhme projected dialectic into the very heart of God himself, as the form of his own eternal self-generation, not the generation of the world.⁴⁶

Alive to the fiery brightness in the dingiest depths in Böhme’s mode of contemplation, Coleridge finds that, despite dazzling glimpses, he neglects the purity of transcendence in his intermingling of the physical, emotional, and aesthetic. Coleridge’s relation to the pantheism controversy has already been extensively discussed;⁴⁷ my interest, however, in the context of this book, is more in Coleridge’s criticism of what he regards as Böhme’s confused contemplation. I use the term ‘confused’ not only because the mystic philosopher glimpses transcendence within immanence to find the two mixed, but because beyond this he gives no mental space to carve out a con-templum for the purer noesis of pure transcendence. Maintaining a movement towards transcendent, divine ideas, Coleridge stands in contrast to Böhme, for whom everything tends towards the central ‘Fire⁴⁴ Marginalia, 1: 679 (Bö). ⁴⁵ Marginalia, 1: 678 (Bö; 10 November 1819). ⁴⁶ Cooper, Panentheism, 63. ⁴⁷ McFarland, Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition; Berkeley, Coleridge and the Crisis of Reason.

 ö ’   


World’. Powerfully drawn to symbolic, translucent contemplation of divine principles working through nature, Böhme eschews abstract, conceptual thought, which brings him mainly entanglements. As Coleridge commends, Behmen . . . beheld all things . . . not in the mere lines and surfaces of the Understanding . . . nor . . . in the chaotic Concretes of the Sense or sensuous Intuition Multëity and Immediatcy; but in the interpenetrable, transparent, coinherent concrescents, in hthei Definites undivided, and Multeity in Unity, of the esemplastic [forming into one] Nous, or the productive imaginative Reason.⁴⁸

Thus, despite Böhme’s mixed or confused contemplation, Coleridge admired his imaginative insight into nature and inner experience, praising his lucid descriptions of what he ‘beheld’ in the interpenetration of energies. But the confusion needed treatment. What wonder then, if in some places the Mist condenses into a thick smoke with a few wandering rays darting across it & sometimes overpowers the eye with a confused Dazzle?⁴⁹

Coleridge aimed ‘to eradicate, and, if possible, to preclude’⁵⁰ Böhme’s pantheist confusion of nature and God. Nonetheless, while Coleridge, since 1818, is wary of any theory, such as Schelling’s Naturphilosophie, in which God becomes entirely manifest throughout nature, he surmises that Böhme’s pantheist tendency contains the seeds of its own correction through intimating a higher, unseen presence, a desiderium, a presentation by a sense of missing (τῳ ποθεῖν [the yearned for]) of the more glorious Antecedent, which revealing itself at moments dazzle-dims the other Contemplation, like cross lights.⁵¹

Here, Coleridge notes that Böhme is at least implicitly aware of two forms of contemplation, though mostly engaged in the lower, inextricably sensual form. Yet because the ‘light’ of transcendent principles shines through phenomena, his sensuous-imaginative contemplation is translucent. The higher form, the ‘more glorious Antecedent’, ‘dazzle-dims’ the translucent lower in that its ‘light’ is purely and directly beheld. Transparent contemplation engages, for Coleridge, ‘eternal verities’—higher principles, and ‘Divine Ideas’—in a direct and transformative ⁴⁸ Marginalia, 1: 595 (Bö); ‘concrescents’ means ‘things that grow into one another’. Coleridge coins ‘esemplastic’ as an equivalent to Schelling’s ‘In-Eins-Bildung’, with a sense of Cudworth’s ‘plastic nature’: Biographia Literaria, 1: 168–70. ⁴⁹ Marginalia, 1: 558 (Bö). ⁵⁰ Aids to Reflection, 384. ⁵¹ Marginalia, 1: 600 (Bö; 27 August 1818). Marginalia, 1: 680, remarks, ‘§§11 to 19 are full of high Contemplation’, describing ‘the Fits of extroitive and retroitive Acts, in which Love lives’.


 ’   

beholding of their reality and truth in and through the soul. This higher form implicitly recognizes a transcendence beyond the sensual, phenomenal, and natural, and is thus incompatible with pantheism. For his powerful insights, Coleridge called Böhme ‘a favoured Epopt [Seer]’ who ‘beheld in all material elements their homogeneity with Spirit’.⁵² This view accords with a recent theological assessment that Böhme was not a visionary in the medieval sense of someone who enjoyed a series of imaginative showings of God and the other world; he was a ‘see-er’, that is, a person whose life was devoted to deepening mental penetration into the reality of God and the world. What Böhme ‘saw’ was a new construction of the universe . . . with ties to other philosophical, religious, and mystical traditions . . . ⁵³

Possessed by the idea here, instead of possessing it,⁵⁴ Böhme, judges Coleridge, does not raise his sights long enough to the perfect and pure, as he is so powerfully drawn to the good within the mixed, the melting pot of the ‘FireWorld’. Every now and then he catches a rayes from the Higher, but unconscious of its Alterity, he blends what he should separate—At each of these momentary eradiations he perceives a contradiction, an incompatible attitude—and then bids the Reader not to think so and so, without shewing him how to think otherwise. He takes the depths of the Creauaturely Spirit for the Fathom-line of the Highest in the Highest, and seeks to cover over the error by forewarning us to understand his words in the divine sense—which is much the same as if a man should talk of Squares, Parallelograms, and Cycloids in the Godhead, and then bid warn you . . . not to think of material or geometrical Figures by those Words.—⁵⁵

Accordingly, Coleridge finds that Böhme’s error by which ‘he blends what he should separate’⁵⁶ prevents him achieving pure contemplation and beholding ideas beyond the ‘coinherent concrescents’ of his ‘productive imaginative Reason’.⁵⁷ This criticism does not undermine Böhme’s penetration towards ⁵² Marginalia, 1: 598 (Bö). ⁵³ McGinn, Mysticism in the Reformation, 170–1. ⁵⁴ Marginalia, 1: 677–8 (Bö; 9 November 1819), on God transcending nature, notes that of this ‘ever open and yet ever hidden Mystery, . . . Behmen is possessed by rather than possesses’ the idea. Biographia Literaria, 1: 150, describes the ‘inward strivings and commotion’ through which ‘the perception of a new and vital  takes possession of an uneducated man of genius’. ⁵⁵ Marginalia, 1: 601 (Bö; 27 August 1818). ⁵⁶ Coleridge similarly criticizes the hylozoists at Biographia Literaria, 1: 132: ‘The Hylozoist . . . shakes it up [sc. the biological mystery of life], and renders the whole turbid.’ ⁵⁷ Marginalia, 1: 595 (Bö).

 ö ’   


ultimate principles through material processes, and human emotions and desires. Yet, in Coleridge’s view, Böhme does not contemplate ‘the Highest in the Highest’. Nor is this, he argues, merely a matter of degree, as the fault is dissolved thro’ the whole, which it requires a spiritual Chemistry, and the addition of a new substance ingredient to decombine and precipitate—the confusion of the creaturely spirit in the great moments of its renascence [(]ανακοσμησέως)⁵⁸ thro’ the Breath and Word of Comforter and Restorer for the deific energies in Deity itself.⁵⁹

Despite what he sees as Böhme’s confusion of essentials and contingencies, Coleridge praises his tenacious pursuit of invisible energies. In this, Böhme eschews terms and images of the distal senses of sight and hearing, preferring the language of taste, an internal sense with inherently qualitative discrimination. Coleridge comments that he used the palate as a pure organ of distinction and distinctive Intellect, as we may use our eyes and ears . . . ⁶⁰

Böhme’s is a logic of qualities. Qualitative polarities of bitter–astringent, sweet– sour, desire–wrath generate quantities, making quanta secondary to qualia. The evolution of external quantities from primal qualities particularly impressed Coleridge, as it reverses Galileo’s objective–subjective and Locke’s primary– secondary property distinctions.⁶¹ Interpreting Böhme’s qualities as the energic actions of fundamental powers, Coleridge writes, By Quality Behmen intends that act of each elementary Power, by which it energizes in its peculiar kind.⁶²

He agreed with Böhme’s prioritizing the intensional (pertaining to depth of feeling or meaning) over the extensional (protracted over space), for presupposing . . . the intense Reality, he begins with Qualities, & maketh Quantity one of the Results—Most wisely! For Quantity is image & symbol/.⁶³ ⁵⁸ Liddell and Scott, Greek–English Lexicon: anakosméō, ‘adorn anew, restore’. Coleridge forms the noun ἀνακόσμησις, adding ‘-ησις’ to the verb stem. ⁵⁹ Marginalia, 1: 602 (Bö; 27 August 1818). ⁶⁰ Marginalia, 1: 655. ⁶¹ Galileo, The Assayer; Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 2.8. By ‘qualities’, Locke meant ‘powers to cause impressions’, reducible to physical shape and quantity, in a lock-and-key, or in his metaphor, wax-and-seal (2.29.3), causal theory of perception. Table Talk, 1: 312 (21 July 1832), describes Coleridge’s aim to ‘make the Senses out of the Mind—not the Mind from the Senses, as Locke etc.’, discussed in this book at 206–7. ⁶² Marginalia, 1: 567–8. ⁶³ Marginalia, 1: 563.


 ’   

This transformative logic of qualities inspired three mainstays of Coleridge’s philosophy: the interpenetration of opposites, the intercirculation of energies, and the chiasmus between higher and lower levels. Other romantic-era thinkers also recognized in Böhme an apparently pantheist commitment to divine immanence. Friedrich Schlegel, for example, found Bohme probably the most complete of all mystics—at the same time closest to the old system of emanation as well as to the new one of the Manicheans.

He also writes:

Böhme Plotinus

Scala des Pantheismus.64

Spinosa Hegel, for whom Böhme was ‘the first German philosopher’,⁶⁵ claimed that A number of passages in his works prove that he read much—evidently mystical, theosophic, and alchemistic . . . and he must certainly have included in his reading the works of . . . Paracelsus, a philosopher of somewhat similar calibre, but much more confused, and without Boehme’s profundity of mind.⁶⁶

While acknowledging his originality, Coleridge claims that the first principles of Behmen are to be found in the Writings of the Neo-platonists . . . ⁶⁷

Though Böhme did not read Plotinus, they both theorize an undifferentiated, ineffable first principle from which duality is born, then triplicity, then the multitude. This Pythagorean generation is commonly found in Böhme’s hermetic sources. Böhme uses the concept and imagery of ‘emanation’,⁶⁸ not itself a Plotinian term, but used by his French, German, and English translators to render his metaphor of descent from the One. Perhaps with these shared principles in mind, Coleridge uses the same imagery to describe, as magnificent failures, the two thinkers’ attempts at systematic theo-cosmology. Of Böhme, he writes,

⁶⁴ Mayer, Jena Romanticism and Böhme, 136, quotes these two notebook entries. ⁶⁵ Hegel, Briefe, 1: 381–2. ⁶⁶ Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 3: 191. ⁶⁷ Marginalia, 1: 296 (B). This is the first English use of ‘Neoplatonist’ (OED). ⁶⁸ Böhme, Works, 4: Of the Election of Grace, 186 (ch. 5, §45): ‘For every Power has an Emanation, according to the Right of Nature, in the speaking Word.’

 ö ’   


The fault of the great German Theosopher lies in . . . soaring too high, magnis tamen excidit ausis [yet he fell in magnificent daring]—⁶⁹

The Latin, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses,⁷⁰ is the epitaph on the tomb of Phaethon, who fell from his father Phoebus’s chariot, which, as the latter warned, neither god (save himself, the sun-god) nor mortal can steer across the sky. Coleridge reuses this allusion to praise Plotinus’s endeavour, asking, who could see the courage and skill with which he seizes the reins, and vaults into the Chariot of the Sun, with what elegance he curbs and turns the ethereal Steeds, without sharing in this enthusiasm—and taking honour to the human mind even to have fallen from such magnificent Daring?⁷¹

Behmenism is generative throughout, commencing with the Holy Trinity eternally generated from the Ungrund, or Abyss.⁷² A key term in Schelling’s Freedom Essay, Coleridge later transforms this Ungrund into the transcendent ‘Identity’ atop his noetic tetrad, the higher counterpart to the ‘Prothesis’ of his logical pentad.⁷³ Coleridge, however, refuses to identify God with the Abyss: The ground is not to be called God, but it is much less God the Father; it is the habysmali depth (βυßος αβυßος) the abysm of the eternal act by which God . . . affirmeth himself eternally.⁷⁴

In his first work, Aurora (1612), Böhme describes originary ‘will’ (‘God in himself’, proto-Father) self-manifesting as ‘the heat’ (the Son). As per the Nicene Creed, Böhme then describes the ‘moving life’ of the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. Less orthodox, but not heretical, Böhme sees this ‘moving life’ as the Spirit animating nature.

⁶⁹ Marginalia, 1: 557–8. ⁷⁰ Ovid, Metamorphoses, 2.328. ⁷¹ Marginalia, 5: 745 (1824). ⁷² Ungrund first appears in Forty Questions of the Soul (Böhme, Works, 2, bk 2, passim). Von Franckenberg, Life of Jacob Behmen, prefixed to Böhme, Works, recounts the ‘Quarter of an Hour’ epiphany, commencing with Böhme’s vision of light gleaming in a pewter bowl, which brought him, now stepping into fields outside the shoemaker’s workshop, into knowledge of the Absolute: ‘For I saw and knew the Being of all Beings, the Bysse, and the Abysse, and the eternal Generation of the Holy Trinity, the Descent and Original of the World’ (p. xv). Franckenberg quotes Böhme, Epistles, 20. ⁷³ Discussed in Chapter 9 of this book. ⁷⁴ Opus Maximum, 232 (corrected). ‘βυßος αβυßος [byssós ábyssos]’ is incorrectly transcribed there as ‘βυβος αβυβος [bybós ábybos]’. Coleridge, however, uses both Greek and German letters to achieve an amusing visual consonance: the second apparent beta (β) in each word is in fact an Eszett (ß), alluding to the ‘byssus abyssus, the deepless Depth’, as he writes at Notebooks, 3: §4418 f13 (August 1818), of Böhme’s Ungrund and ‘the deep’ of Genesis 1:2.


 ’   

This Trinitarian process moves from ‘will’, to ‘heart’, to unite in the perichoresis of ‘spirit’.⁷⁵ Like Schelling,⁷⁶ Coleridge accepted Böhme’s theogony as the archetype of created nature, with the human being a microcosm echoing the Trinity. But Coleridge’s assent was short-lived, and in 1818 he abandoned it as sheer pantheism.⁷⁷ Three years earlier, however, writing volume 1 of the Biographia, he gives imagination a particularly Behmenist accent, describing its primary mode as ‘a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I ’.⁷⁸ This famous definition places divine creation in the infinite I am, i.e. within God the Father, following Böhme, for whom the Father eternally generates the Son in his act of self-intuition within the divine Ungrund of primal will. In his second work, On the Three Principles of the Divine Essence: Of the Eternal Dark, Light, and the Temporary World (1619), Böhme orders the seven cosmic spirits into a two-level, trichotomous schema. Here, the three developed energies (the ‘Eternal Light’) connect with the three originary ones (the ‘Eternal Dark’) via the crucial energy at their juncture (the ‘Temporary World’). As he later clarifies in his short work The Clavis, or an Explanation, these Quellgeister (‘SourceSpirits’) inhere in ‘one only Ground, and all seven are equally Eternal’. Accordingly, ‘none of them can be accounted the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or last’, yet he must nonetheless ‘represent this in a typical way, that it may be understood how the one is born out of the other’.⁷⁹ Thus, he orders ‘the seven Properties’ from ‘The First’ to ‘Seventh’ in a logical unfolding that is nonetheless simultaneous, not chronological. The central energy here is the chiasmus, through which the ‘Angry, Zealous, Jealous God’ eternally begets ‘The Second Principle: The Light World . . . the Son, the Word, the Heart . . . a Loving and Merciful God’.⁸⁰ Notably, Coleridge alludes to Bömhe’s ‘seven Properties’ in his poems ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ (1811), and ‘Ode to the Departing Year’ (in the Sibylline Leaves revision, 1817), referring in both to the ‘Lampads seven’ that ‘watch’ and wheel round ‘the throne of Heaven’. Adding an apocalyptic tone, Böhme’s seven properties or

⁷⁵ ‘Subordination of the Supertemporal, of Co-eternals’ (1826), Shorter Works, 2: 1334. ‘Perichoresis’ is a patristic term, denoting the being in one another of the three persons of the Trinity by the circulation of the Spirit. ⁷⁶ Brown, Later Philosophy of Schelling, surveys Schelling’s Behmenism. ⁷⁷ For Schelling, God self-realizes in nature, before which, he is not God. Thus, ‘as Alpha he is not what he is as Omega’ and ‘cannot . . . strictly be called God, unless one were to say . . . the undeveloped God, Deus implicitus, since as Omega he is Deus explicitus’. On the German Science (fragment, 1807), Sämmtliche Werke, 8: 81 (translation Snow’s, Schelling, 194). ⁷⁸ Biographia Literaria, 1: 304. Coleridge struck out this definition while annotating a copy of his book (304 n.3). McFarland, Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition, 331, surmises that ‘eventual understanding of the hidden pantheism in the conception accounts for’ the redaction. Marginalia, 1; 694 (Bö), describes ‘the Depth hofi the eternal Act . . . of Self-realization’; and 659, describes ‘God’s Will . . . as the Abyss of his Being—the eternal Act of Self-constitution . . . antecedent . . . to his personal Reality’. ⁷⁹ Böhme, Works, 2: The Clavis, 17. ⁸⁰ Böhme, Works, 2: The Clavis, 17.

 ö ’   


spirits are the illustrious powers of Revelation 4:5, the ‘seven Spirits of God’. ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ also retains the Abyss held by Böhme to lie at the heart of the unmanifest Godhead. I shall return to discuss that poem in the context of the ‘Limbo’ sequence to which it belongs, at the end of this book. Commentators on ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ have observed signs of polarity within the Godhead, a Behmenist and Schellingian notion that Coleridge abandoned by 1818 in his clear rejection of pantheism. However, while the poem includes the Behmenist ‘Abyssmal Storm’ (l. 5), and ‘the Lampads seven’ (l. 18) which are their opposite, such signs should more likely be read as a struggling against, rather than affirming, any notion of divine polarity. As one commentator notes, ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ ‘is not dualistic . . . about the nature of God’,⁸¹ since ‘the Dragon’ and the Hell it inhabits form no part of the divine, being rather ‘The one permitted opposite of God’ (ll. 10, 4). Returning to Böhme’s ‘triplicity of triplicities’,⁸² the three energies above and the three below unite in the ‘Fire-World’, ‘Where the Flash rises up in the Center’.⁸³ The central ‘Fire-World’ acts as an alchemical crucible in the space where, in his diagram in The Clavis (see Table 5.3), Böhme writes the sign for gold (also representing the sun): a circle surrounding a point at the exact centre of his balanced, dynamic system of ‘The Seven Forms of Spirits’.⁸⁴ Coleridge adopts this sign to represent ‘centrality’.⁸⁵ Alchemical terms and symbols are integral to Böhme’s logic of qualities because they meet his need for a systematic language of interfusing energies. In this, Böhme follows traditional ‘spiritual alchemy’, which Coleridge called ‘Celeste Chemique, i.e. a philosophic Astrology’.⁸⁶ The alchemical sense of these symbols (☉, ☽, ♀, etc.) emphasizes Böhme’s transmutational dynamic, while the astrological reading accentuates its cosmic expanse. Table 5.4 reproduces the alchemical-planetary symbols in the ascending and descending arrangement of Böhme’s ‘Seven Forms of Spirits’ diagram. The left column ascends in value reading down the page towards silver, the right descends from silver to lead; gold lies at the centre, singular unlike the other metals, which are set side-by-side in opposed pairs.

⁸¹ Paley, Coleridge’s Later Poetry, 60. ⁸² Smart, ‘Boehme, Jakob’, 1: 328. ⁸³ Böhme, Works, 1: Aurora, 93. ⁸⁴ Böhme’s ‘Seven Forms of Spirits’ are, as the full title signifies, those of Revelation 1:4–7. ⁸⁵ Notebooks, 4: §4555 f49 (June 1819); Opus Maximum, 340. Notebooks, 5: §6499A (November 1830), shifts the meaning to ‘☉ = Prothesis’. Marginalia, 1: 690 (Bö), represents divine will as the prothetic ‘Identity’ of opposites, or ‘πατερ αυτοθετης—☉ [self-posited Father]’. Marginalia, 3: 138 (S E; 1820s), gives a key in which ‘☉ = Identity, or Co-inherence of two in one previously to the Manifestation of the One, as two’. ⁸⁶ Marginalia, 2: 825 (F, Holy State and Profane State, front flyleaf, referring to ‘Life of Paracelsus’; 1825, or later). Here he says, ‘the old connection between Alchemy and Astrology’ is revealed in ‘the same divinity in the idea, the same childishness in the attempt to realize it . . . . Light struggling in the darkness—’. Marginalia, 1: 642 (Bö, Three Principles), remarks: ‘Astrology/that is, the Celeste Chemique, is a Science in  [in  ]’.


 ’   

5.3 Coleridge’s Behmenist Crux These ascending and descending columns are the source, I propose, of Coleridge’s almost identically organized ‘Order of the Mental Powers’. I now compare the two (Tables 5.2 and 5.3; see also Table 5.4), arguing that Coleridge’s ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ diagram quasi-Behmenizes the Christian neo-Platonic, linear model of ascent to noetic contemplation to outline his own metaphysics of mind. Thus hierarchizing Böhme’s schema, he removes its pantheist tendency. Coleridge used this higher–lower chiastic schema several times to theorize interpenetration and division within a higher, subsumptive unity. The earliest instance is an 1818 notebook entry on generalization, represented above the middle, and abstraction, below.⁸⁷

4 3 2 1 ″2 ″3 ″4 Integers above and below flow from ‘the Unit’, 1, which is ‘the Fountain of both’. This fountain schema is more Behmenist than his later versions, in that the centre, not the top, holds the privileged or generative position. In this early schema, the higher level is neither transcendent nor qualitatively more advanced; it is the equal and opposite of the lower, not its superordinate. A letter to his eldest son gives a similar schema to the 1818 ‘Fountain’ of integers, save that the lower level is composed of fractions decreasing from the centre, using it to distinguish ‘the Many . . . from One’ in a discussion of beauty.⁸⁸

4 3 2 1 ½ ⅓ ¼ Using a similar format seven years later, Coleridge now hierarchizes his Böhmestyle chiasmus. Here, five Schellingian, biological powers are written out twice, ⁸⁷ Notebooks, 4: §4538 (May 1818). ⁸⁸ Letters, 5: 99 (August 1820), to Hartley Coleridge.

 ö ’   


ascending and descending, with ‘Irritability’ at the centre of each, and ‘Sensibility’ and ‘Productivity’ at the extremes, beginning with the lowest— 1 2 3 4 5

Productivity Super-productivity Irritability Super-irritability Sensibility

or beginning from the highest— 1 2 3 4 5

Sensibility Sub-sensibility Irritability Sub-irritability Productivity ⁸⁹

Two intermediaries emerge in the interstices, one (super-productivity/subirritability) between the lowest and the central, the other (super-irritability/ sub-sensibility) between the central and the highest. In his Order of the Mental Powers, the higher and lower modes of understanding are the counterparts of Böhme’s ‘Dark-Fire’ and ‘Light-Fire’. Both schemata are arranged around a central, lateral division. Both thinkers show six powers, three above, three below. However, where Coleridge has a dividing line, Böhme places his central power, ‘Fire’, which he divides into an upper ‘Dark-Fire’ and a lower ‘Light-Fire’. While Coleridge shows six powers in his diagram, he names only five: sense, fancy, understanding, imagination, and reason. Nonetheless, he writes out ‘Understanding’ twice in each column, his equatorial line dividing the higher (spiritual, free) understanding from the lower (natural, mechanical) understanding.⁹⁰ His centre is therefore the divided middle, comprising the lowest power in the higher triad, the highest power in the lower triad, and the division between them: the ontological divide between nature and spirit, mechanism and freedom. His ascending and descending columns reproduce the Behmenist crux, as higher and lower energies cross over at the centre between higher and lower understanding.

⁸⁹ Notebooks, 5: §5504 f14 (April 1827). ⁹⁰ ‘Understanding’ is not termed ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ in the diagram, but Coleridge consistently distinguishes ‘mere’, ‘mechanical’ ‘lower’ understanding, which matches ‘means to medial ends’, from ‘higher’ understanding, enlightened by ideas, and which articulates the ‘discourse of reason’.


 ’   

Table 5.2 The ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ (Marginalia, vol. 5, eds H. J. Jackson and George Whalley, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press and London: Routledge, 2000: 798). Autograph manuscript, 1824, © The British Library Board, from the back flyleaf of W. G. Tennemann’s Geschichte der Philosophie vol. 8, Pt 2, 1811, shelf mark C.43.C.24

[From preceding page: Gerson’s and St Victore’s Contemplation is in my System = Positive Reason, or R. in her own Sphere as distinguished from the merely formal & Negative Reason, R. in the lower sphere of the Understanding. The + R[eason] = Lux: − R[eason] = Lumen a Luce. By the one the Mind contemplates . . .] [ . . .] Ideas: by the other it meditates on Conceptions. Hence the distinction might be expressed by the names, Ideal Reason)(Conceptual Reason. The simplest yet practically sufficient Order of the Mental Powers is, beginning from the lowest. lowest

Fancy and Imagination are Oscillations, this connecting R. and U; that connecting Sense and Understanding.






Understanding ——— Understanding

Understanding ——— Understanding





 ö ’   


Table 5.3 Böhme’s ‘The Seven Forms of Spirits’, with Coleridge’s autograph pencil annotations. © The British Library Board, The Works of Jacob Behmen, the Teutonic Philosopher, London, 1764, 2: Bk 4, The Clavis [1624], 17; shelf mark C.126.k.1


 ’   

Table 5.4 Key: The Alchemical Signs in Böhme’s ‘The Seven Forms of Spirits’. The Works of Jacob Behmen, the Teutonic Philosopher, London, 1764, 2: Bk 4, The Clavis [1624], 17. . . . highest

. . . lowest

Silver (Moon)

Lead (Saturn) Mercury (Mercury) Iron (Mars)

Tin (Jupiter) Gold

Copper (Venus)

(Sun) Copper (Venus) Tin (Jupiter) Silver (Moon)

Iron (Mars) Mercury (Mercury) Lead (Saturn)

While Coleridge’s schema is distinctly hierarchical, following the Christian Platonist ascent from sensus to contemplatio (see Table 5.1), Böhme admits no such hierarchy. For Coleridge, reason is definitively the higher power over sense. Though he acknowledges their harmony, their relation is unequal. Similarly, his imagination is a ‘living Power’, higher than ‘Fancy . . . the Gorgon Head, which looked death into every thing’.⁹¹ Böhme’s upper triad, however, is not superior to the lower, which is loving, sweet, and merciful, as opposed to harsh, bitter, and desiring. While his upper three ‘Dark’ properties seem particularly negative—1. ‘Harsh Desiring Will’, 2. ‘Bitter or Stinging’, and 3. ‘Anguish’—the lower three are positively delightful:⁹² 1. ‘Light or Love, whence the water of Eternal Life floweth’, 2. ‘Noise, Sound or Mercury’ (communication), and 3. ‘Substance or Nature’ (Table 5.3). Coleridge’s idealizing ascent from sense, through understanding, and imagination, to reason is balanced by the top-down reading, of Logos shining into the darkness. He writes his scale of mental powers twice: from lowest to highest, and from highest to lowest, the former representing human intellectual ascent, the latter the ‘down-shine’ of reason. Further, the pairs created by placing the two columns side-by-side, replicating the pattern in Böhme’s table, show the bipolarities of reason–sense, imagination–fancy, and higher-understanding–lowerunderstanding (Table 5.2). His schema is an advance on the two that it fuses. ⁹¹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 304; Notebooks, 3: §4066 (April 1811). ⁹² Describing the ‘Light-World’, Böhme frequently uses the word ‘delight’ of the Second Principle (Love), who is Christ, the Son, the ‘Pleasure or Delight’ born of the Father’s harsh desiring will, e.g. Works, 2: The Clavis, 6.

 ö ’   


To the Victorine (Platonic, Augustinian) model, it adds the polar harmony of sense and reason, without diminishing higher contemplatio. To Böhme’s, the hierarchical addition prevents a potentially pantheist dynamic from immanentizing everything, as Coleridge restores the view of reason as divine transcendence, while rooting sense, at the opposite pole, in created nature. A further difference between the two schemata should be addressed. To reiterate, Böhme’s seven alchemical signs read from lead to silver down the leftmost column, and, from silver down to lead on the right. It is certain that Coleridge perused Böhme’s ‘Seven Forms of Spirits’ schema, because, among the twenty-five pages of The Clavis in his copy of Böhme’s Works, he annotated only that page where the diagram is printed, commenting on its layout. His brief but observant notes (Table 5.3) attend to the interpenetration of Böhme’s opposed powers, or spirits, paired across the two columns. At the bottom of the preceding page, Böhme’s text reads, 126. It is especially to be observed, that always the First and the Seventh Property are accounted for one; and the Second and Sixth; also the Third and Fifth; and the Fourth is only the dividing Mark or bound.⁹³

Here, in his explanatory key, or Clavis, Böhme emphasizes the essential interconnection of the two extremities, and other paired opposites, in his bipolar theocosmogony. That is, the first property, the initial will of the Ungrund, is coupled with the last, the seventh, ‘Substance or Nature’. In turn, the second (‘Bitter or Stinging’) corresponds with the penultimate, the sixth (‘Noise, Sound, or Mercury’; communication). Likewise, the third (‘Anguish’), with the fifth (‘Light or Love’). Each of the upper, dark three unites with its counterpart in the descended, light three, across the central, divided fire, so that paired opposites ‘are accounted for one’. Above Böhme’s ‘Seven Forms of Spirits’ diagram, Coleridge pencilled the following three brief annotations to paragraphs 127–9, respectively. 1  7. Desire 2  6. 3  5 ⁹⁴ Properties 1–3 are the upper, originary energies of the ‘Dark World’, considered as ontologically prior to the eternal begetting of the Son, while 5–7 are the energies of the ‘Light World’ that actualize and manifest the former. Thus, the substantial seventh energy manifests the spiritual first; the substantial sixth, the spiritual second; and the substantial fifth, the spiritual third. Of the central energy, or property, Böhme says ‘the Fourth is only the dividing Mark or bound’. Coleridge’s ⁹³ Böhme, Works, 2: The Clavis, 16. ⁹⁴ Marginalia, 1: 672 (Bö, The Clavis; Table 5.3).


 ’   

inscription notes the significant pairing of properties 1 and 7, 2 and 6, and 3 and 5. But what does he mean by his  sign? Is this operator used in the conventional sense of multiplication? Or does it have a technical sense, such as ‘is coupled with’, or ‘is synergic with’? Though it might seem to denote multiplication, it could also signify interpenetration. While the particulars of Böhme’s system of seven energies or spirits change throughout his works, the chiastic dynamic of polar interpenetration remains. Each ‘Spirit’ can be ascribed numerical value according to its alchemical sign, so that lead = 1, mercury = 2, and so on, with silver = 6 and gold = 7. Hence, we may derive the following:






4 7







Each row yields the sum of 7, the number of alchemical signs and of Böhme’s universal properties or energies. His diagram therefore shows the formal equivalence of each level, from ‘Harsh Desiring Will’; through ‘Bitter or Stinging’; followed by ‘Anguish’; through ‘Dark Fire’, then ‘Light’; through the ‘Love’ of the Son; through ‘Noise, Sound, or Mercury’; to ‘Substance or Nature’. This equity of energies within an overall order remains constant throughout Böhme’s works, though, aptly enough for a theory of cosmic transmutation, the details never stay the same. As Weeks says, The order within the pattern is not firmly fixed: it varies slightly from presentation to presentation and from book to book. Its wealth of patterned motives tends to blur its contours. Its purpose is after all to reconcile freedom with order, and this is not easily done.⁹⁵

⁹⁵ Weeks, Boehme, 70.

 ö ’   


In a wonderfully lusty image of this energetic reconciliation of opposites, Böhme conveys the interchanging, transposing dynamic of these seven cosmogonic spirits as a non-hierarchical nexus in which the Deity does not stand still, but works and rises up without Intermission, as a pleasant Wrestling, Moving, or Struggling. 98. Like two Creatures which in great Love play together, embracing, struggling and wrestling one with the other; now the one is above, by and by the other, and when one has overcome, it yields or gives over, and lets the other rise up again.⁹⁶

This impressive image is, I suggest, likely the source for Hegel’s famous paradox that The True is thus the Bacchanalian revel in which no member is not drunk; yet because each member collapses as soon as he drops out, the revel is just as much transparent and simple repose.⁹⁷

Coleridge, too, seems to have been smitten with Böhme’s cosmic love-play image. Theorizing the interrelation of the seven qualities of light, warmth, elasticity, oxygen, carbon, electricity, and magnetism, he calls the reconciliation of opposed forces Love-quarrels, or struggling for the Kiss of Reconcilement, the Kiss of interpenetration, “total embraces”.⁹⁸

Affirming the mutually involving, non-hierarchical equivalence of energies, Böhme explains: 131. Now these are the seven Properties in one only Ground; and all seven are equally Eternal without beginning; none of them can be accounted the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or last; for they are equally Eternal without beginning, and have also one Eternal beginning from the unity of God.⁹⁹

⁹⁶ Böhme, Works, 1: Aurora, 100 (ch. 11, §§97–8). ⁹⁷ Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 27. ⁹⁸ Notebooks, 3: §4435 (August–September 1818). §4843 (1821–2) describes the ‘opposite yet interdependent & correlative Poles of the one Power in their generative love-struggle & interpenetrative Synthesis’. See also ‘On the Polar Forces’(1818), Shorter Works, 1: 785, where he uses the image of opposed forces ‘hugging and tugging like two sturdy Wrestlers’. ⁹⁹ Böhme, Works, 2: The Clavis, 16.


 ’   

It probably cannot be ascertained whether Coleridge recognized that Böhme’s six alchemical pairs each add up to 7, should the gold at the centre be valued at 7, the lead at 1, etc. Nonetheless, he understood how non-hierarchical Böhme’s equipoised system is, as others have since. Recent commentators have described the ‘non-hierarchical intermingling’ of his seven spirits, and Böhme as ‘radically anti-hierarchical, only ever begrudging enough hierarchical striation in the human world to assure that everything didn’t fly apart’.¹⁰⁰ Although Böhme paired highest with lowest, second highest with second lowest, etc., in equitable balance, the ordinal numbers he writes next to the pairs, from ‘♄ [lead] ☽ [silver] The First’, to ‘☽ [silver] ♄ [lead] The Seventh’, denote not their relative worth, but the logical unfolding that he ‘must represent in a typical way’,¹⁰¹ though they really unfold, for him, synchronously (‘unfold’ is therefore not quite the right word), as he explains in §131, quoted above this paragraph. Coleridge’s marginalium here represents the properties with the numbers explicitly ascribed by Böhme in his description of the seven properties, or spirits, in the pages preceding the ‘Seven Forms of Spirits’ diagram. The first pair is: lead = 1, silver = 7; the second: mercury = 2, tin = 6; and the third: iron = 3, copper = 5. Coleridge’s first marginalium on this page in The Clavis—‘1  7. Desire’— may therefore be read as: ‘Original divine Will  Substance or Nature. Desire.’ The numerical product of 1  7 is 7, the lowest of the three multiplying pairs Coleridge inscribes. The next numerical product is (2  6 =) 12, followed by (3  5 =) 15. Although he writes only numbers in multiplication (1  7; 2  6; 3  5), not words, at the second and third pairs (unlike at the first pair, 1  7, whose product he calls ‘Desire’), their products are successively higher in numerical value than desire, the lowest, at 7. Thus Coleridge implicitly ranks desire lower in numerical value as he couples the paired factors via multiplication. Böhme more likely couples each pair via addition, yielding the sum of 7 for each pair. This equitable order ranks each level as equal in value with the unpaired ‘gold’ arising in the ‘Fire World’ at the centre. For Böhme, properties 1 and 7 show spiritual ‘desire’ becoming substantial; 2 and 6 show the same for ‘divine power and spirit’; and 3 and 5 for ‘fiery Spirit’, manifest as ‘great Love’.¹⁰² As suggested earlier, however, Coleridge’s  sign denotes more than ordinary multiplication. From 1819, he used the operator in his notebooks to signify generative copulation, defined as follows: The  signifies, interpenetrating each other, beget a third, not constitute.¹⁰³ ¹⁰⁰ Weeks, Boehme, 76–7; Bonta, ‘Rhizome of Böhme and Deleuze’, 66–7. ¹⁰¹ Böhme, Works, 2: The Clavis, 17. ¹⁰² Böhme, Works, 2: The Clavis, 17. ¹⁰³ Notebooks, 4: §4799 f51v (January 1821); the earlier §4533 (June 1819), lists ‘  multiplied into’ in a key of signs; Marginalia, 5: 435 (S, De equo albo, endpapers; c.1819), repeats this concise definition verbatim in a list of his algebraic and logical operators.

 ö ’   


A marginal key of his signs includes:  multiplied into: and in moral or spiritual subjects it signifies . . . mutual interpenetration: thus the Finite Will  the Reason = Faith; or Faith is the focal energy from the convergence of the Reason and the Will, or the total Act of the entire Man arising from the interpenetration of the reason and the Will.¹⁰⁴

A later instance couples ‘Sense’ and ‘Understanding’ into the ‘Conscious Self or Person’:

Sense × Understanding

Conscious Self or Person105 Retaining this meaning, one can now see how reflection on Böhme’s ‘Seven Forms of Spirits’ was indispensable to Coleridge’s ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ and similar schemata. Coleridge adopts the Behmenist formula of upper and lower triads interrelated via three hierarchical, interpenetrating bipolarities as 1  7, 2  6, and 3  5, which he inscribed in the margin to the text above Böhme’s diagram. Also incorporating Böhme’s dynamic division at the crux, Coleridge lays out the mental powers in the form: reason  sense; imagination  fancy; and lower understanding  higher understanding. Again consonant with Böhme, whose nature, or ‘Paradise’, is placed lowermost yet in balance with God’s originary will, Coleridge locates sense at the lower extreme, while affirming its affinity with its spiritual polar opposite, reason. Yet Coleridge’s scale also becomes very un-Behmenist, in hierarchically ascending from sense, pushed through by fancy, to understanding, carried on by imagination, to reason. While the movement is upward, idealizing towards reason, Coleridge’s model also shows the redemptive downflow of reason, condescending to sense, which it elevates. In this refluent circulation, fancy and imagination not only push upward, or sublimate, they also draw down the higher power. This is no Behmenist parity of equal and opposite movements: the upward is the overall tendency, which the downward, sensualizing return subserves as human movement or as divine condescension. Reading the ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ diagram as Coleridge fusing the Platonist and Behmenist schemata into a third, improved, schema also helps to understand what he meant by asserting that

¹⁰⁴ Marginalia, 5: 500 (T, Polemicall Discourses; possibly 1819, as the meaning given for  is identical with Notebooks, 4: §4533, and Marginalia, 5: 435, see note 103). ¹⁰⁵ Notebooks, 4: §4929 f29v (1822 or 1827).


 ’   

Fancy and Imagination are Oscillations, this connecting R. and U; that connecting Sense and Understanding.¹⁰⁶

While understanding is for him the human mind’s central power, with sense and reason (i.e. openness to Logos) its poles, fancy and imagination arise, in this schema, between three fundamental powers. It has been noted that designating fancy and imagination ‘Oscillations’ indicates ‘the interactive dynamism of human perception and thought’ and that Coleridge thereby maintains that ‘Perception and cognition are imaginative acts.’¹⁰⁷ This note is well observed, yet more can be said regarding fancy and imagination oscillating between, respectively, lower understanding and sense, and higher understanding and reason. The notion of imagination oscillating (schwebend, hovering, wavering) follows Fichte, for whom ‘Imagination . . . wavers . . . between determination and indetermination, finite and infinite’,¹⁰⁸ thereby creating its product between opposed poles of reality. Coleridge expands this notion to fuse two insights, one Kantian, one Behmenist. The Kantian insight lies in holding that sensibility, understanding, and reason are the three fundamental faculties of mind, ‘reason’ here denoting not Coleridge’s ‘eminent’ sense of the term as Logos, independent of human mind, but the ancillary sense of human intellectual openness to that Logos. Using Coleridge’s distinction between constituent (substantive) and modifying (adjective) powers, sense, understanding, and reason are constituent, while the interstitial powers of imagination and fancy are modifying. Before returning to the Order of the Mental Powers, let us turn to Coleridge’s constituent–modifying distinction of powers. The Powers of Nature, her Hand, as it were, form a Pentad = 5 fingers, or four fingers and the Thumb. 1. Attraction. 2. Repulsion. 3. Contraction. 4. Dilation. 5. Centrality—Let the Thumb represent the 5th or Central Power.—Of these the 1st and 2nd are and 5th are the Constituent, substantive Powers: the 3rd and 4th the modifying or adjective Powers: 1 and 2 = Magnetism; 5th = Galvanism; 3 and 4 = Electricity./¹⁰⁹

¹⁰⁶ Marginalia, 5: 798 (1824; Table 5.2). ¹⁰⁷ Vigus, ‘The Philosophy of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’, 532. ¹⁰⁸ Fichte, Science of Knowledge, 194. ¹⁰⁹ Marginalia, 5: 266, corrected (S, Inner Natural History of the Earth, 1801; 1823, or earlier). The Bollingen editor erroneously transcribes ‘modifying or adaptive Powers’ for ‘modifying or adjective Powers’, as the autograph note clearly reads (British Library shelf mark C.43.b.12.2). Notebooks, 3: §4420 (August–September 1818) gives examples of ‘the relations and complex antagonisms of the modifying to the substantial Powers’ (f17), especially the ‘five distinct Powers, Gravitation, Light, Magnetism, Electricity and Galvanism’ (f19v). Notebooks, 4: §4775 f83v (1820–1), posits ‘the threefold polarity, 1. the Substantiative, 2. the modifying, and 3. the ordinant’, or that which ordains.

 ö ’   


Laying the attraction–repulsion polarity as north and south, with ‘Centrality’ equatorial, and the ‘modifying or adjective’ powers at the interstices (contraction between attraction and centrality, and dilation between repulsion and centrality), the following diagram ensues:

1. Attraction 3. Contraction Magnetism



5. Centrality 4. Dilation 2. Repulsion

These five ‘fingers’ manifest the three fundamental powers of ‘Magnetism’, ‘Galvanism’, and ‘Electricity’.¹¹⁰ The two opposed forces of attraction and repulsion manifest magnetism; contraction and dilation, electricity; and their centrality, galvanism. I may now return to the Order of the Mental Powers—adapting Barfield’s curved lines that ‘link the polarities’¹¹¹—to find it illuminated by the constituent–modifying (substantive–adjective) distinction of powers.

1. Reason

Intuiting / Apprehending

4. Fancy

Imaging / Connecting

5. Understanding Understanding

Conceiving / Comprehending

3. Imagination

2. Sense

¹¹⁰ Marginalia, 1: 604 (Bö), compares the ‘Seven Spirits’ to the five powers of nature (‘Attraction’, ‘Repulsion’, etc.) plus two powers of subjectivity, viz. ‘Love, as Sense’ and ‘Love, as communication’. Coleridge lays these seven powers vertically, in three divisions. ¹¹¹ Barfield, What Coleridge Thought, 96–7.


 ’   

Here, reason, understanding, and sense constitute a triad of substantive mental powers, as they do for Kant. Coleridge further conceives their interrelations in terms both of correspondent poles and of oscillations arising between adjacent powers. Thus imagination and fancy oscillate as ‘modifying or adjective Powers’ within the interstices of the ‘Constituent, substantive Powers’.¹¹² Admiring Böhme’s ‘masterly and orthodox’ account of the Trinity,¹¹³ Coleridge asserts that if ever we have a truly scientific Psychology, it will consist of the distinct Enunciation, and Developement of the three primary Energies of Consciousness . . . ¹¹⁴

Presumably, he means the Kantian triad of sensibility, understanding, and reason: the constituent, substantive mental powers.¹¹⁵ Using the term ‘Oscillations’ to describe their modifiers (fancy and imagination) suggests fields of force arising between different powers, analogous to electrical current flowing across potential difference. Between sense and understanding, the oscillating current of fancy flows; between understanding and reason, oscillates imagination. Sense and understanding interpenetrate to produce fancy; understanding and reason likewise produce imagination. This theory of productive interpenetration is emergentist. The term ‘emergence’ describes something arising through combination of disparate materials or forces, such that the emergent possesses a property not present in the constituent parts. A new product thereby arises, not an aggregative sum. ‘Emergentism’ was first so called by G. H. Lewes, the late nineteenth-century British philosopher of holism, although the theory already existed with Coleridge, and can be construed in Schelling and the Naturphilosophen, in Böhme, and, more dimly in alchemists such as Paracelsus. Lewes would, on a perceptive reading, have encountered anti-reductive emergentism, avant la lettre, in Coleridge’s The Friend, which he annotated.¹¹⁶ For Coleridge, a sum is a mere aggregation, whereas a product is a third thing produced by interpenetrating opposites that manifest ‘two forces of one power’.¹¹⁷ Now this tertium aliquid [third something] can be no other than an interpenetration of the counteracting powers, partaking of both.¹¹⁸

¹¹² Marginalia, 5: 266 (transcription corrected, see note 112). ¹¹³ Marginalia, 1: 565 (Bö). ¹¹⁴ Marginalia, 1: 566 (Bö). ¹¹⁵ Logic, 132, ascribes ‘two sources’ to ‘primary reality’: ‘reason’, ‘above the reflective and discursive powers [viz. understanding]’, and ‘below them’, ‘the impressions from the senses’. ¹¹⁶ Baker, ‘G. H. Lewes’s Annotations to Coleridge’s The Friend (1837)’. ¹¹⁷ ‘Theory of Life’ (1816–18), Shorter Works, 1: 521. ¹¹⁸ Biographia Literaria, 1: 300. Aliquid is an alternative of quid; ‘tertium aliquid’ suggests the much debated Trinitarian tertium quid: ‘Something (indefinite or left undefined) related in some way to two (definite or known) things, but distinct from both’, ‘apparently rendering Greek τρίτον τι, “some third thing” ’ (OED).

 ö ’   


In turn, he found this dynamic in Böhme’s Trinitarian thinking, whereby opposite energies interpenetrate to produce new qualities. Like Coleridge, Lewes contrasted the sum of two materials or forces with the product. As Lewes described the theory, with emergents . . . instead of adding measurable motion to measurable motion, or things of one kind to other individuals of their kind, there is a co-operation of things of unlike kinds . . . The emergent is unlike its components insofar as these are incommensurable, and it cannot be reduced to their sum or their difference.¹¹⁹

Support for reading Coleridgean imagination as the emergent product of understanding and reason exists, besides the Order of the Mental Powers text, in a notebook entry written during his preoccupation with imagination and its lowerlevel counterpart, fancy. This note, discussing light and gravitation as the fundamental poles of nature, refers to the Intellectual Sense which is the living Product of the Reason & Understanding, & which may be called Spiritual Imagination—¹²⁰

Here he views imagination in a spiritual denomination, moving towards ideas (‘the Intellectual Sense’), and produced at the intersection of the substantive powers of reason and understanding. Around the same time, in the Biographia, fancy emerges to shuffle its ‘counters’, ‘fixities and definites’¹²¹ halfway between sense-data and concepts, oscillating between the substantive sense and understanding, and modifying both. Coleridge’s pencil annotations—‘1  7. Desire | 2  6. | 3  5’—further evince this notion of two powers interpenetrating, as his  operator signifies, to ‘beget a third’.¹²² Here, he interprets Böhme’s theory to show desire arising from the interpenetration of the first and seventh Quellgeister, viz. divine, originary will and nature. ‘The First Property’, lead (♄), is a desiring like that of a Magnet, viz. the compression of the will . . . the Ground of the eternal and temporary Darkness . . . ¹²³

After describing the intervening ‘Properties’, Böhme describes ‘The Seventh Property’, silver (☽), as

¹¹⁹ Lewes, Problems of Life and Mind, 2: 369. ¹²⁰ Notebooks, 3: §4319 f126 (December 1816). ¹²² Notebooks, 4: §4799 f51v (January 1821).

¹²¹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 305. ¹²³ Böhme, Works, 2: The Clavis, 11.


 ’   

the subjectum, or house . . . in which they all [sc. the other properties] are substantially as the soul in the body . . .

Coleridge finds in Böhme’s schema three bipolarities of six powers, with each pair of opposites interpenetrating around the crucial midline, precisely, in form, how he lays out his own Order of the Mental Powers. But where Böhme makes nature the subsumptive power, Coleridge, diametrically opposed, gives that honour to reason. Also, where Böhme locates the fiery crossway between the ‘Dark-World’ of the Father’s will and power, and the ‘Light-World’ of the Son’s love and mercy, Coleridge draws the medial line between nature and spirit, dividing mechanical from enlightened understanding. The latter, higher understanding is oriented through imagination towards reason and ideas, rather than through desire to sense, as the lower understanding. Elucidating, elsewhere, this dual-facing of the lower and higher faculties of understanding, Coleridge writes, For the U.[nderstanding] is in all respects a medial and mediate Faculty—and has therefore two Extremities or Poles—the Sensual, in which form it is St Paul’s φρονημα σαρκος [phrónēma sarkós, mind of the flesh]; and the intellectual Pole, or the hemisphere (as it were) turned towards the Reason/¹²⁴

Because of the fractal organization of mind, this intellectual–sensual dichotomy is in effect a trichotomy, for the divide at the middle is not mere indifference, but has itself a higher pole and a lower, and mediates the extremes. While Böhme places the actively energic power at the centre, dignifying it with the highest sign, gold, Coleridge places his highest power, the intellectual and contemplative, at the apex of his higher triad, not at the centre of the whole, which is reserved for the comprehending, articulating, and actualizing power of understanding. This central power, the understanding, while not the apex of intellect, for Coleridge, is the crucial, mediating power in his philosophy of mind as well as other areas of his thought, as discussed, for example, in the political-epistemological essays in The Friend.¹²⁵ The emphasis on the transcendent bulwarks against that ‘error and delusion’ in Böhme’s philosophy which Coleridge described, in an 1819 lecture, as ‘a tendency to pantheism, or rather it was itself a disguised pantheism’.¹²⁶ For Böhme, however, no such contemplative ascent is necessary, for God is entirely selfmanifest within nature. Behmen-inspired, then, but not Behmenist, Coleridge intended to correct Behmenism, rather than oppose it outright. His hierarchy of ¹²⁴ Marginalia, 3: 746 (L, Colloquia mensalia). The note begins, ‘N.B. All R is above Nature.’ ¹²⁵ The essays ‘On the Principles of Political Knowledge’ etc. in The Friend, 2: 98–133 (28 September–12 October 1809), greatly expanded in The Friend, 1: 163–338. ¹²⁶ Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 2: 485 (8 March 1819).

 ö ’   


mental powers points towards a transcendent God and a transcendent reason that humans can reach by virtue of an inner transcendence, a free directedness toward truth and the ideas. Never immanent, the ideas are nonetheless intimated throughout the flux of phenomena. Coleridge follows Böhme in placing the originary power at the top of his schema. For Böhme, however, this is not luminous, divine reason, but the dark will that eternally becomes God the Father. Again, where Böhme places ‘Substance or Nature’, at the bottom, Coleridge has ‘Sense’. Yet while Coleridge sees sense as redeemed or elevated, where possible, by its polar harmony with reason, Böhme assigns still greater dignity to his ‘Substance or Nature’. Because Böhme’s scheme is non-hierarchical, his placing that energy or spirit at the bottom has no derogatory, or even ‘lower-level’, implication. On the contrary, the seventh energy—nature, or ‘Paradise’—is for him the most fully evolved from the undifferentiated Ungrund. It completes the transmutation of energies, as Paradise on the seventh day affords a Sabbath for even the Creator himself, the work completed. It can thus be read as the apotheosis of his system. Coleridge’s modification of Böhme highlights another correspondence concerning the crucible of fire between the darkness of the Father above and the light of the Son below. Undoubtedly, Coleridge’s dividing line represents the chasm between natural, mechanical understanding, and the ‘understanding enlightened by reason’.¹²⁷ This divide commences the soul’s progress into selfconscious freedom, spirit, and towards reason, which is dormant in the natural level below. Crucial as this chasm is in Coleridge, the apex is the transparency of contemplation in ‘Positive Reason’, beyond the symbols of imagination. Coleridge’s unnamed line dashed between higher and lower ‘Understanding’ seems a humdrum counterpart to Böhme’s raging ‘Fire-World’. Indeed, Coleridge is sober about the crucial divided middle, because it is for him the essentially reflective capacity. Yet for Böhme, precisely here, at the fiery crux of ‘The Fourth Property’, the Unity appears, and is seen in the Light, that is, in a burning Love, and the wrath in the Essence of Fire.¹²⁸

In this cruciform space, he draws the sign for gold/sun (centrality: ☉), a single sign denoting the highest value, whereas polar pairs occupy the other levels. Here burns the Spiritual Fire, wherein the Light, that is, the Unity, is made manifest . . . wherein . . . the Eternal Delight comes to be perceivable, and this perceiving of the unity is called Love . . . and changes it into great Joy.¹²⁹ ¹²⁷ The Friend, 1: 156. ¹²⁸ Böhme, Works, 2: The Clavis, 10. ¹²⁹ Böhme, Works, 2: The Clavis, 13, 14.


 ’   

At the fiery collision of ‘Dark-World’ and ‘Light’, the unity of opposed yet intimately connected spheres arises as love and joy. Minus the dramatic fire, a counterpart collision exists in Coleridge’s related arguments and schemata. For Coleridge, our moral, meaningful, aesthetic lifeworld arises at the socially aware, everyday level of understanding that is sober because practically concerned, although its antennae twitch at desire on one side, and the headiness of ideas on the other. Here, at the equatorial line, sparks arc between lower and higher modes. A charge builds up between hedonic pursuit with its associating fantasies, and the higher realm of freedom, moral supervision, and aesthetic imagination in the ‘hemisphere . . . turned towards the Reason’. Reflection, at the crux of the medial understanding, connects the higher and lower powers, enacting the Coleridgean imperative, ‘Self-superintendence!’¹³⁰ The higher–lower divide saves this supervision of oneself from paradox, but we should not acquiesce in this being a merely natural division, nor as simply Godgiven. As Søren Kierkegaard would later argue, one is responsible for attaining to spirit, and to be spirit is to hold together through one’s own existence the finite and the infinite, the natural and the transcendent.¹³¹ For Coleridge, it requires an effort of will to raise one’s consciousness into closer alignment with the conscience. He relates this thought to a couplet from Samuel Daniel: ——Unless above himself he can Erect himself, how mean a thing is man!¹³²

Similarly, in Kierkegaard’s quasi-scholastic, trichotomous logic, ‘Spirit’ is the ‘positive third’ (sc. the tertium aliquid), the real, emergent existence, that arises as the relation of soul to body then relates to itself, and in this existential sense the self can transcend itself. Like Schelling, a forerunner of existentialism, with his voluntarist, Behmenist view of will at the root of reason and being, Coleridge’s development of Böhme’s doctrine of the absolute primacy of will moved him towards what Kierkegaard later realized as, an existentialist philosophy of selftranscendence. The Coleridgean synthesis of mixedness in Behmenism and transcendence in Christian Platonism sought light in the murky depths while claiming that the light shines purer at the heights is no impossible attempt to have things both ways. To the contrary, the claim is common sense applied to an uncommon realm of thought. Coleridge’s new schema theorizes an orienting stimulation of the lower ¹³⁰ Aids to Reflection, 16. ¹³¹ Kierkegaard, Sickness Unto Death, 13. Notably, Kierkegaard attended Schelling’s Berlin lectures in 1841–2. He was initially excited by the elder philosopher’s anti-Hegelian focus on existence and positive actuality beyond the negative knowing of logic. ¹³² Aids to Reflection, 16, quoting Daniel, ‘To the Lady Margaret’, stanza 12, ll. 7–8, quoted again at 119. Daniel writes ‘poor’, not ‘mean’.

 ö ’   


within a commitment to the transcendent ideas aimed at by noetic contemplation. The following chapter is the joint centre, with the current, of this book. It moves from the difficulties of the murky and the mixed in Böhme into Coleridge’s comparatively clearer theories of higher and lower levels, in his metaphysics of mind, that cross and mingle on the bridge at the divided centre, yet maintain an order through a hierarchy ordained by an ideal and actualizing Logos.

6 The Energic–Energetic Distinction and Coleridge’s Two-Level Theory of Mind This chapter reconstructs what I identify as Coleridge’s two-level theory of the higher and lower levels of mind, augmenting his adaptation of Behmenist, chiastic interpenetration I discussed in the last chapter. Section 6.1 draws on a Coleridgean distinction to characterize the higher mind of idea-directed freedom as energic and the lower mind of desire and association as energetic. Applying this to Coleridge himself, I describe his restless, flowing, and challenging writings as balanced by—and subordinated to—the higher mind that strives towards ultimate ends and meaningful values. Section 6.2 then explores the ‘refluent’ dynamic between the higher level of imagination and reason and the lower, of sensation, desire, and the ‘mechanical understanding’. Here I elaborate my theory of intellectual, noetic contemplation versus sensuous, inchoate contemplation, developing from a Coleridgean dynamic. In Section 6.3, I then explore what I call the ordination of thought and being by ideas, involving the orientation of the mind to ends and values, relating this to Coleridge’s view of the three main modes of balance or imbalance in the human mind.

6.1 The Enérgeia of Thought It is often remarked that Coleridge attempts too much, and, as an intellectual hoarder, rejects too little on either side of grand philosophical debates. Yet he frequently alludes to the ‘Principle of Polarity’ and the maxim ‘Extremes Meet’ when justifying apparent contradictions in his copious—some would say impossibly overstretched—attempts at synthesis. Did his ever-inclusive, contradictionstraddling approach produce luminous mist or soporific smog; enlightened synthesis or well-meaning muddle? A response to this question will develop as I enlist Coleridge to help elucidate contemplation as a state that arises at the extremes, at the poles, of human mental life. Yet, hardly contemplative in a traditional sense, much in Coleridge’s letters, nature writing, and psychological observations—especially in his notebooks—and much heard too in his poetry, persuade one of the tireless, one could say restless, vitality of the modes of thinking he communicates. Is this not an energetic scattering of his powers, and not only the concentrated, energic pursuit of reason

Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy. Peter Cheyne, Oxford University Press (2020). © Peter Cheyne. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001

–   -   


that he insists characterizes his own mind? The energetic flurries of this restless, challenging quality of mind are, however, not only balanced by, but subordinated to the higher level of mental energy that he held to be a spiritual conatus straining towards ultimate ends and meaningful values. In an image uniting side-to-side discursion with stable progress, he identified, after the ancient Egyptians, the sidewinding movement of the snake as an ‘emblem of intellectual power’, moving this side and that to propel itself over uncertain ground.¹ The balance and hierarchical alignment of the faculties occurs par excellence in his account of the ideal poet: The poet, described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other, according to their relative worth and dignity.²

Like his image of the pond skater, that water-insect whose passive and active motions represent the opposed powers required for thinking,³ the human mind, in the Coleridgean view that I present, uses the currents of association, pleasure, and fancy, yet also, ideally, decides when to resist them, using their flow for the sake of that ultimate aim towards values worthy of contemplation. The bipolarity of Coleridge’s two-level outlook, which characterizes his overall thought, is distinct from the interpenetrative relation of equal-and-opposed forces that he identifies in such polarities as electricity and magnetism, permanence versus progression, and so on. Equal-and-opposed forces form for him a lateral bipolarity, with opposites acting on the same level of being and value. Such opposed lateral polarities are held, in his overall system, within a vertical bipolarity, the higher pole being a subsumptive power that loosely, freely, coordinates and contains the actualizing, individuating, and more dissipative lower strata. The subsumptive power atop the Coleridgean hierarchy is the reason, or Logos, which ordains and subsumes the lower powers and participants. Thus it is by the high spiritual instinct of the human being impelling us to seek unity by harmonious adjustment, . . . establishing the principle, that all the parts of an organized whole must be assimilated to the more important and essential parts.⁴

This chapter describes Coleridge as a two-level theorist, positing higher-level, energic⁵ acts in the higher understanding, imagination, and reason that organize ¹ Biographia Literaria, 2: 14. Notebooks, 1: §609 (December 1799), and Church and State, 24 fn., also use this image. ² Biographia Literaria, 2: 15–16. ³ Biographia Literaria, 1: 124. ⁴ Biographia Literaria, 1: 72. ⁵ Coleridge often refers to ‘the energies of the reason’. ‘Energic Reason and a shaping mind’ arises in the early poem ‘Lines on a Friend, Who Died of a Frenzy Fever’ (1794?), Poetical Works, 1: 150, l. 40.


’  

and cohere the lower-level, energetic desires, associations, and conceptual processes of sense, fancy, and the lower understanding. From this reconstruction, I then develop a two-level view of contemplation. At the apex of the higher level occurs noetic contemplation, fully developed in relatively few individuals and distinguished from inchoate, sensual contemplation, familiar, though still rare, yet open to all without effort, indeed, inaccessible to will in any direct way. The term ‘energic’ refers here to the higher mind exercised in the ‘Human Understanding . . . irradiated by the reason’,⁶ the ‘Imagination’, and ‘Positive Reason’. These ‘energies of the Reason’ constitute the enérgeia towards contemplation, or noesis, the intellectual acquaintance with ideas in the Nous, i.e. Intuitive Reason, the Source of Ideas and  Truths, and the Principle of the Necessary and the Universal in our Affirmations and Conclusions.⁷

‘Energetic’, on the other hand, describes the flurries of the associating, hydraulic, mechanical mind: the motions and impulses of the lower level. While the principle of the energic is to contemplate higher-level forms or ideas (unity, divinity, community, the morally good, etc.), it is the condition of the energetic to react. Coleridge developed his polar philosophy from thinkers as otherwise diverse as Heraclitus, Plato,⁸ Nicholas Cusanus, Böhme, and Schelling. In keeping with his polar theory, I shall consider a view of contemplation arising in two opposite though intimately related modes. In this polar view, noetic contemplation occurs at the higher limit, as the human openness to reason beyond the horizon of concepts. Inchoate contemplation, on the other hand, occurs below the level of articulate, conceptual construction. The one occurs above, the other, largely below conceptualization, both being beyond the full grasp of the concept. Distinguishing positive and negative reason (as lux to lumen),⁹ he likens reason illuminating the understanding to the Johannine light which shone in the darkness, though the darkness did not comprehend it.¹⁰ Positive reason beholds ideas in its openness to lux, to Logos. Negative reason, by contrast, does not contemplate ideas but meditates on conceptions in the indirect illumination from the ideal light (‘Lumen a Luce’). Higher understanding has not only greater His ‘energetic’, however, describes not reason-and-spirit, but instincts-and-impulses, or nature itself, e.g. The Friend, 1: 467: ‘The word Nature . . . used in two senses . . . energetic (= forma formans), and material (= forma formata) . . . . The doctrine concerning energetic nature is comprised in the science of D.’ ⁶ Letters, 5: 138 (12 February 1821), to Tulk. ⁷ Aids to Reflection, 259 fn. ⁸ Thesleff, Plato’s Two-Level Model. ⁹ See this book, Introduction, 18–19 and 19 n.71. ¹⁰ Several such allusions to John 1:5 occur in the later notebooks, e.g. Notebooks, 5: §6921 (May 1830).

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conceptual connectivity than lower, but, more importantly, it articulates value and purpose in the light of ideas. Its perception is therefore more intelligent. Inchoate contemplation accompanies a deepened sense of the reality of value, though its (to us) blurry objects are not fully comprehensible within our ordinary conceptual frame. The power of ideas aesthetically intimated, in a kind of infusion, through worldly objects and relations, persuades one of a deeper meaning to life that draws one beyond selfish concerns and conventional interpretations. When the everyday understanding relaxes, as Coleridge observed, intuition is freer, permitting those brief Sabbaths of the soul, when the activity and discursiveness of the Thoughts are suspended, and the mind quietly eddies round, instead of flowing onward . . . ¹¹

Coleridge’s contemplated ideas of reason are praeter-conceptual counterparts to the pre-conceptual intuitions of lower-level mind. The higher and lower levels of understanding straddle the equatorial midline between the poles. This midline is, figuratively, ‘the Line’ beyond which the ‘Polar Spirit’ pulled the Ancient Mariner’s ship into a world of irrational forces, where boundaries between life and death dissolve in the daemonic, numinous antipode to the familiar setting of ‘mine own countree’.¹² Although throughout his career Coleridge returned to philosophical issues in an unsystematic manner, at intervals separated by different activities of thought and action, and while, as many commentators have observed, he did not assemble the totality of his thinking in the manner of an Aquinas or a Hegel, his thinking does contain an important element of system. This thread of system is apparent at all times when Coleridge invites the reader to stand back from the causal and associative relations of material and psychological phenomena to see that even materialist, reductive views of human life, of history, politics, ethics, etc., depend for intelligibility on a reality that is liveable only in the higher terms of free will, conscience, and faith. Coleridge’s method is deliberately bottom-up and top-down. Criticizing Berkeleian radical empiricism, Coleridge points out that The error here noted is only one of a host, that necessarily arise out of having but one starting point—viz. the lowest, instead of descent from the Highest & Ascent from the lowest, at once—¹³

¹¹ The Friend, 2: 173 (16 November 1809). ¹² ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ (1798), Poetical Works, 1: 407, l. 467. The observation is made at Cavell, ‘Emerson, Coleridge, Kant’, ch. 2, In Quest of the Ordinary, esp. 45–8. ¹³ Notebooks, 4: §5276 f8 (November 1825).


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The dynamics of Coleridge’s polar and hierarchical system can be charted, and this is what I seek to make clear. Spontaneity and order are not mutually exclusive, and to outline the lineaments of Coleridge’s wide-ranging thought is only to describe its varied connections. In this dynamic, slowing down in meditation—in conceptual reflection or imaginative attention—calms the energetic mind. This is preliminary to the selfaware stirring of the energic, which is distinguished by a longer, steadier focus in being directed towards ultimate ends. Within this two-level context, contemplation can occur at the higher and lower poles of human experience, in its pure mode at the reason pole, and inchoate at the pole of sense. Aristotle’s term enérgeia means being-at-work, as opposed to potential.¹⁴ The word derives from érgon, work. Aristotle means it as the characteristic activity of an object or species, i.e. of a kind. A modern translator explains how for Aristotle being, form, motion, and soul are ‘ultimately understood as kinds of being-at-work . . . even the notions of virtue and character . . . depend on it’.¹⁵ The term conveys a sense of energy flowing from the thing or kind under consideration. For example, the mind’s enérgeia is thought. The enérgeia of a thing works towards its self-realization; it therefore relates to ultimate ends. Like Plato, Aristotle considered contemplation to be the perfecting realization, the apotheosis, of human thought.¹⁶ He also thought contemplation divine, with God’s activity being nóēsis noḗseōs, or ‘thought thinking itself ’.¹⁷ Additionally, Coleridge’s notion of higher mental activity as ‘energic’ was coloured with the New Testament sense of enérgeia as a supernatural power. He saw the human mind as refracted into the natural faculties of sense, fancy, and the lower ‘mechanical’ understanding, in the deterministic network of nature, and the supernatural ones, characterized by free will, of higher, ‘enlightened’ understanding, imagination, and reason. The enérgeia of thought here means the contemplative movement towards a value that the mind recognizes as ordaining thought by putting it in its place and giving it its mission. Noetic contemplation is therefore the highest expression of what Coleridge, commending Plato, identified as the thirst for something not attained, to which nothing in life is found commensurate and which still impels the soul to pursue.¹⁸

The energic–energetic distinction is Coleridge’s. Developing, five months before he died, a thought he noted a quarter-century earlier, it can be applied throughout his intellectual life. ¹⁴ Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1050a 21–3. ¹⁵ Sachs, in Aristotle, Metaphysics, xxxix. ¹⁶ Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, 10.8, 1178b 7–9, and 21–7, describes enérgeia theōrētikḗ (contemplative being-at-work) as the fullest noetic virtue and the highest human activity. ¹⁷ Aristotle, Metaphysics, bk 12, 1072b, 1074b. ¹⁸ Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 1: 183 (11 January 1819). Compare Wordsworth, The Prelude, bk 2, ll. 334–41: ‘And intellectual life . . . something to pursue.’

–   -   


I am by nature a reasoner. A person who should suppose I meant by that word an arguer, would not only not understand me, but would understand the contrary of my meaning . . . a fact . . . must refer to something within me before I can regard it with any curiosity or care. My mind is always energic—I will not say energetic; I require in every thing what for lack of another word, I may call propriety—that is, a reason why the thing is at all, and why it is there.¹⁹

This energic search for the ‘reason why the thing is at all’ is a commitment to the principle of sufficient reason that seeks behind the contingency of facts for something essential, a ‘living Idea’ connecting the fact with a universal necessity. While the energetic concatenates in streams of fancy and desire,²⁰ the energic mind works through imagination and opens up to reason, referring its objects to principles and ideas. Energetic (concatenating, mechanical, deterministic) natural processes therefore account for sense, fancy, and the lower understanding. By contrast, Coleridge’s accounts of the spiritual mind of higher understanding, imagination, and reason describe energic (unifying, elevating, free) dynamism. Together, the energetic and energic characterize the human mind as a holistic unity. The lower pole, or hemisphere, desires pleasure through gratification, while the higher is ideally oriented towards ‘the eternal verities’,²¹ contemplation of which orders the lower impulses within an intuition of intrinsic value and the greater good. Coleridge retains this two-level view within trichotomous expressions. In May 1830 he writes of the twofold I—the superior, or the I of the Spirit—and the inferior or the I of the Ground—the latter indeed being the Copula or emaning [outflowing] Unity of the Sense and the Understanding—²²

Though it has been objected that the Coleridgean model of mind is a wrongheaded attempt to yoke incompatible elements of mechano-corpuscular, empiricist associationism to Kantian and even Platonic idealism, I argue that the subsumption of the energetic lower to the energic higher prevents Coleridge’s philosophy from merely muddling contradictory positions. Seamus Perry has demonstrated admirably the importance Coleridge gives to the dynamic relationship between synthesis and analysis, or combination and division. But, pace Perry, far from symptomizing a ‘particular brand of indecision’, Coleridge’s two-level theory of ¹⁹ Table Talk, 1: 464 (1 March 1834). Notebooks, 3: §3943 (June–July 1810): ‘All reasoners ought to be perfectly dispassionate, and ready to allow all the force of the arguments, they are to confute.’ ²⁰ Coleridge’s ‘streamy’ and cognates refer to the ‘stream’ of association; e.g. ‘the streamy Nature of Association, which Thinking = Reason, curbs & rudders’: Notebooks, 1: §1770 (29 December 1803). Passive, streamy mind, often has, for Coleridge, a negative moral value, and might, he suggests, in the same entry, ‘explain . . . the Origin of moral Evil’. ²¹ The Friend, 2, 104 fn. (28 September 1809); 1: 177 fn. ²² Notebooks, 5: §6291 f32v (May 1830).


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mind is decidedly hierarchical, describing not ‘muddlesome doubleness’,²³ but a distinct, vertical bipolarity. What to some readers are apparent contradictions can often be resolved in the two-level view that reveals order: a mediated hierarchy, in what otherwise appears as ‘muddle’. For example, from the (energetic, lower-level) perspectives of Benthamite utilitarianism and Owenite utopian socialism, Coleridgean contemplation seems mere inactivity.²⁴ The Benthamite perspective operates from the peak of the mechanical understanding, which is but the medial point within Coleridge’s theory of the human mind, and hence works only at the threshold of free and fully humane mind. It is important to remember that, for Coleridge, the understanding is not uniform: it has a higher mode, enlightened by the ideas, and a lower, mechanical mode. Coleridge does not denigrate the understanding itself, which he celebrates for its crucial mediality; rather, he criticizes those who consider it to be the highest point of human mental action or function. From the perspective of the intellectual, higher level, then, contemplation is entirely ‘energic’, being so far from inactive that it is the essence of the free act,²⁵ and the spring from which moral action flows. Thus, while Coleridge asserts ‘the inherent superiority of contemplation to action’, he excludes that barren contemplation that rests satisfied with itself where the thoughts . . . ought to be embodied in action.²⁶

Josef Pieper similarly expressed the apparent contradiction, also avoiding actual contradiction, when he called ‘contemplation . . . useless and the yardstick of every use’. Sharing with Coleridge a Platonist perspective on the hierarchy of super- and subordinate levels in human thought and action, Pieper’s view is particularly illuminating in this context: The hierarchical point of view admits no doubt about difference in levels and their location; but it also never despises the lower levels . . . Thus the inherent dignity of practice (as opposed to theoria) is in no way denied. It is taken for granted that practice is not only meaningful, but indispensable; that it rightly fills out man’s weekday life. That without it a truly human existence is inconceivable. Without it indeed, the vita contemplativa is unthinkable.²⁷

While energetic activity is urged hither and thither extraneously or by association, the free, energic act requires one work not from a cause, but for a reason.

²³ ²⁴ ²⁵ ²⁶

Perry, Coleridge and the Uses of Division, 7, 12. Oishi, ‘Contemplation and Philanthropy’. Engell, ‘Coleridge and Contemplation: The Act’. The Friend, 1: 399–400. ²⁷ Pieper, Happiness and Contemplation, 96, 95.

–   -   


For Coleridge, that reason flows from contemplation of ideas as ultimate ends, transforming the ‘mere’ or ‘mechanical’ understanding into an ‘understanding enlightened by reason’.²⁸ Muddle or apparent contradiction resolves when higher-level, energic, moral aims harness the energetic motions of lower-level impulses and interests. An example of such apparent contradiction in Coleridge is his critical renunciation of associationism in the Biographia Literaria,²⁹ yet done without jettisoning the entire theory. Far from preventing free will, mental association is retained as a lower-level process that is set within a higher purpose by the free will. Neither muddled nor self-contradictory in acknowledging free will while retaining association, Coleridge presents a form of hierarchical restricted compatibilism that is ultimately one of philosophical libertarianism. The compatibilism (of free will and determinism) is restricted in according determinism only to mechanical processes, which can themselves be used in the service of free human action. The position is hierarchical in recognizing free will as the superior power over the force of association and other lower-level, energetic mental processes. Never abandoning the entire theory, Coleridge instead keeps it in its place, retaining ‘the great and surprising power of association’³⁰ to explain in part the phenomena of energetic mind. Applied, then, only to the lower sphere of human mental life, he dismisses association as a reductive theory of the whole mind. He thereby remains faithful to a largely Kantian view of a rational will, free, at least potentially or with effort, from association and inclination. Apparent contradictions therefore resolve into energic reasons and principles governing or struggling with energetic forces. In this libertarian view, the mind pursuing a higher purpose at times resists and other times floats upon the stream of association, to employ Coleridge’s famous ‘active and passive’ water-insect analogy ‘of the mind’s selfexperience in the act of thinking’.³¹ It would be a mistake to label as ‘muddled’ a view of such an order, when a medial line—the midline of the understanding— clearly prevents contradiction, much as it would stretch fair description to say that a bar magnet is a muddle of oppositely charged electrons. Notably, although Coleridge skirts homuncular faculty psychology, he does not assume discrete faculties, but rather describes different kinds of mental processing. With his theory of ‘integrative thinking’, as one philosopher put it, Coleridge ‘struggled against the notion that there were different faculties, as distinct from different powers of the one mind’.³² As another insightful commentator elaborates, Coleridge’s ‘analysis of the “strengths and measures of the human mind” does not construct a traditional “faculty psychology” ’, but provides, like Kant, ‘a transcendental analysis of the conditions which make ²⁸ The Friend, 1: 156. ²⁹ Biographia Literaria, 1, chs 5–8. ³⁰ Table Talk, 1: 53 (1 May 1823). ³¹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 124. ³² Emmet, ‘Coleridge and Philosophy’, 207.


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experience possible’.³³ Distancing his theory from the compartmentalization that mars traditional faculty psychology, Coleridge asserts, in 1809, that When we make a threefold distinction in human nature . . . it is a distinction not a division, and . . . every act of mind . . . unites the properties of Sense, Understanding, and Reason. Nevertheless, it is of great practical importance, that these distinctions be made and understood . . . ³⁴

By 1825, Coleridge emphasizes a difference in kind—a division and not just a distinction—between understanding and reason,³⁵ and thereby between psychological (natural) and spiritual mind. Thus artistic creativity, enacting higher reason aesthetically, unifies the faculties, combining mental effort with enjoyment, so that the artist diffuses a tone, and spirit of unity, that blends and . . . fuses, each into each, by that synthetic . . . power . . . imagination. This Power reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities . . . ³⁶

Sometime in the next decade, annotating Tennemann’s history of philosophy, Coleridge describes spirit as the free and intellectually unified exercise of the mental powers. What is precisely meant by Geist [spirit]? Does it mean anything more than the whole man in the free and combined use of all his faculties, even as he uses his senses?³⁷

Each process along the Coleridgean scale, be it flight of fancy, confident deduction, poetic creation, or scientific induction, involves the whole in synthesis, entailing an organicism that opposes empiricist and mechanistic reduction to mere aggregation.

6.2 Higher and Lower 6.2 (i) Higher Despite his usual passion for desynonymization, Coleridge did not provide a pair of terms distinguishing between reason considered objectively, as the universal ³³ ³⁴ ³⁵ ³⁷

Pradhan, Philocrisy and its Implications, 11. The Friend, 2: 104 fn. (28 September 1809), 1: 177 fn. Aids to Reflection, 223–4 (see Table 2.1). ³⁶ Biographia Literaria, 2: 16. Marginalia, 5: 801.

–   -   


Logos beyond the human mind though present to it, and reason considered subjectively, as the human mind’s openness to that reason. However, as we saw in Chapter 2 (71–4), he did not conflate these two senses, and a note added to The Statesman’s Manual definitively distinguishes the primary from the ancillary use of the term. In its highest sense . . . the ground and source of the rest, reason is being, the Supreme Being contemplated objectively, and in abstraction from the personality . . . . The second sense comes when we speak of ourselves as possessing reason . . . the capability with which God had endowed man of beholding, or being conscious of, the divine light.³⁸

It would nonetheless have been clearer to reserve the term reason for its objective sense of universal truths and laws as powers and principles independent of human mind, and to use contemplation for the mind’s openness to that reason and its ‘Ideas’. For example, in the following quote, Coleridge uses the word ‘Reason’ where the term ‘contemplation’ would be clearer and more concise, removing the need for qualification to avoid equivocation. Reason as the Entrance-way of Ideas?—In this sense of the term, Reason, the only sense in which Reason the term can be used to designate a faculty of the Human Mind, comprehended in its propriety, Reason is the capability of Ideas—³⁹

Reason in the objective and external sense (i.e. as Logos) can, by contrast, be efficiently described as ‘that more than man which is one and the same in all men’.⁴⁰ This primary, objective sense of the term is ‘reason sensu eminenti, as the self-subsistent Reason or Logos’ strictly distinguished from reason ‘merely considered as the endowment of the human will and mind’.⁴¹ In the primary, objective, and eminent sense, reason is the light of ideas, a ‘mental light’, but speaking subjectively, and in an ancillary sense, it is ‘the mental eye which perceives it’, and ‘a merely potential faculty as long as the inward light is not present’.⁴² So while objective reason admits no degrees,

³⁸ The Statesman’s Manual, 68 n.3 (autograph note, 1827). ³⁹ Notebooks, 4: §5393 (June 1826). ⁴⁰ ‘Ideal of an Ink-Stand’ (1821), Shorter Works, 2: 947. ⁴¹ The Statesman’s Manual, 73 n.1 (autograph fn., 1827). ⁴² Opus Maximum, 171. Coleridge acknowledges that using ‘reason’ in two senses is problematic: ‘But probably we are confounding the two conceptions, the careful distinction of which is the very point in view’ (171).


’  

this act of self-direction, . . . of opening and of receiving, . . . may . . . exist in very different degrees, and likewise be counteracted or suspended or even suppressed.⁴³

Affirming the higher mind beyond the conceptual understanding, he juxtaposes their essential characters, writing that Understanding is the faculty of Reflection.

Reason of Contemplation.⁴⁴

He continues by refining his bipolar view of intuitive mind: Reason is indeed much nearer to S than to Understanding: for Reason (says our great H) is a direct Aspect of Truth, an inward Beholding, having a similar relation to the Intelligible or Spiritual, as  has to the Material or Phenomenal.⁴⁵

From here, I can now offer a reconstruction of Coleridge’s two-level ontology and theory of mind. As I argued in Chapter 5, his ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ fuses Christian neo-Platonist and Kantian thoughts on the human mind within a Behmenist dynamic. This produces an almost poematic schema of sense, understanding, and contemplation (or ‘Positive Reason’). These three mainstays of human mind are energized by the opposed twins of fancy, operating between sense and understanding, and imagination, at work between understanding and reason. At the centre of the schema and of his theory of mind, operates a cognitive chiasmus of intellectual versus mechanical understanding. One can see this as a chiasmus since Coleridge writes out the word ‘Understanding’ four times, forming an X-shaped junction. Illustrating this crossover at the centre of the divided understanding, one writer describes it as ‘the “Clapham Junction” of the mind’.⁴⁶ This chiasmus effectively schematizes the chief functional characteristic of the understanding, namely, that it is the ‘facultas mediatrix et Mediorum [the mediating and medial faculty]’.⁴⁷ The mental-powers diagram (see Table 5.2) resembles verse in an ABC-CBA arrangement. The poet-philosopher wrote the scale twice to show the interpenetrating cross-currents, counterpoint, and harmonies. Fancy, below his own ‘divided line’ between higher and lower understanding, oscillates between sense and understanding, stabilizing perceptions and structuring experience by forming rebus-like building blocks, pre-conceptions that function as rough and ready ⁴³ Opus Maximum, 171. ⁴⁴ Aids to Reflection, 223 (see Table 2.1). ⁴⁵ Aids to Reflection, 223–4, referring to Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiatical Polity, bk 2, §7: ‘The greatest assurance . . . is that which we have by plain aspect and intuitive beholding.’ ⁴⁶ Gregory, Coleridge and the Conservative Imagination, 60. ⁴⁷ Notebooks, 5: §6743 (September 1833).

–   -   


prejudices and stereotypes. Above the line, imagination oscillates between reason and understanding, idealizing phenomena and aestheticizing ideas. Reason and sense delimit human experience at its universal poles, and understanding coheres that experience into concrete individuality. Reason and Sense are both universal Poles—Reason of the our personal Being, Sense of our Animal—opposed to both is the Understanding, λóγος ψύχικος[,] as the individual Pole.⁴⁸

This scheme by which Coleridge maps out and pins down his view of the mind and its powers is more than a momentary plan, for he works within this outline over the following decade. For example, three years after sketching the Order of the Mental Powers, he recorded a late-night train of thought about dreaming, where he considers Mind in it’s widest sense, as Subject-Object, without deviation from the former arrangement of Sense, Fancy, Understanding; Understanding, Imagination, Reason—in which I considered Mind abstractly from Life . . . ⁴⁹

The semicolon dividing lower from higher understanding repeats the line bisecting the columns of the 1824 chiastic schema. Later yet, in late 1830, Coleridge includes the same series and its order within an enumeration of our Powers—The Will, the I AM, the Reason, the Imagination, the Understanding, the Fancy, the Sense, the Affections, the Passions, the Impetites, the Appetites, the Life—⁵⁰

The higher or enlightened understanding, at the divided middle, is negative reason, and reason by association, not essence: Reason therefore, in this secondary sense, and used, not as a spiritual Organ but as a Faculty (namely, the Understanding or Soul enlightened by that organ)—⁵¹

This secondary sense means the understanding considered as using the Reason, so far as by the organ of Reason only we possess the ideas of the Necessary and the Universal; and this

⁴⁸ ⁴⁹ ⁵⁰ ⁵¹

Notebooks, 4: §5374 f62v–3 (May 1826). Notebooks, 5: §5677 f6 (‘Saturday Night—1 December 1827’). Notebooks, 5: §6551 f30v (November–December 1830). The Friend, 1: 158.


’  

is the more common use of the word, when it is applied with any attempt at clear and distinct conceptions.⁵²

The higher understanding is typified by its enlightened, articulating power, the ‘discourse of reason’, through which, reason ‘can . . . manifest itself ’.⁵³ This ‘rationalized understanding’ has been impressed by the vast scope ‘of the Necessary and the Universal’, giving confidence in ‘our Affirmations and Conclusions’.⁵⁴ Thus logic intimates a noetic vista that opens out into the transcendent, effecting in the conscious human mind a qualitative advance beyond the contingent, empirical concepts of the lower understanding. Imagination, oscillating between understanding and positive reason, conveys ideas to the understanding in the aesthetic, and therefore graspable (begreif bar),⁵⁵ form of symbols. Their lower-level counterparts are the images of fancy: stylized images derived from sense as ornaments or effects in art, or else associative mental counters appealing to natural desires. In association, fancy rolls through thoughts of things with images, memories, and composites oscillating between understanding and sense. Fancy sensualizes, pulling down and stretching experience out towards the nature pole, yet, oscillating, it also ‘unsensualises’ by drawing up from sense to understanding, as Coleridge describes it in ‘The Destiny of Nations: A Vision’: For Fancy is the Power That first unsensualises the dark mind, Giving it new delights; and bids it swell With wild activity; and peopling air, By obscure fears of Beings invisible, Emancipates it from the grosser thrall Of the present impulse, teaching Self-controul, Till Superstition with unconscious hand Seat Reason on her throne.⁵⁶

Imagination, the higher-level counterpart of fancy, idealizes, pulling up towards the reason pole, but also aestheticizes, when it uses symbols to draw ideas down to the understanding. Fancy and imagination draw out the experiencing mind in opposite directions—to the sense and reason poles respectively—imparting the awareness of nature and the contemplation of reason, each extrapolated beyond the human mind and pre-existing it. As ‘Oscillations’,⁵⁷ fancy and imagination also

⁵² ⁵⁵ ⁵⁶ ⁵⁷

The Friend, 1: 157. ⁵³ The Friend, 1: 156. ⁵⁴ Aids to Reflection, 259 fn. Begreifbar, German: graspable or palpable, hence, comprehensible; der Begriff, concept, grasp. ‘Destiny of Nations’ (1796), Poetical Works, 1: 285, ll. 80–8. Marginalia, 5: 798 (see Table 5.2).

–   -   


draw the mind from the poles back to the understanding, in a focusing and conceptually comprehending concentration. Thus, most people identify their usual level of conscious thought around the equatorial line between the two levels of understanding. Pure contemplation, by contrast, is an appreciative, ‘intellectual Beholding’,⁵⁸ a transparency surpassing the translucence of imagination. Noetic contemplation is an energic activity within a higher passivity—a stretching to hear—as the will opens and attunes to the ideas that are in us yet more than us.

6.2 (ii) Lower In this two-level view, while the free and rational, energic mind moves through the enlightened understanding, the imagination, and into reason to contemplate its ideal objects, desire, pleasure, association, and ‘the mechanical understanding’⁵⁹ conform to natural, causal contingency in energetic lower-level processes. Locke, observes Coleridge, essayed ‘to make the Mind from the Senses’,⁶⁰ and, acknowledging the energetic only, concluded that reflection on passive perception and active volition is the highest mental power.⁶¹ Thus Lockean ‘ideas’ derive exclusively from ‘SENSATION’ of ‘external objects’ or from ‘REFLECTION’ on the ‘internal sense’ of our mental operations.⁶² Unable to admit any higher notion of reason available to humans, the empiricists held the understanding as the end and apex of human intellect, yet this faculty of processing materials and concepts abstracted from sense occupies but the medial position in Coleridge’s theory of mind. Hence Coleridge maintained that ‘Locke erred only in taking half the truth for a whole Truth’.⁶³ For Coleridge, ‘The Understanding in all its judgments refers to some other Faculty as its ultimate Authority’, ensuring that ‘the Faculty by which we reflect and generalize’ is therefore essentially medial.⁶⁴ Thinking they had arrived at the terminal and best destination with reflection, the empiricists missed the poetry and symbolism that is inexplicable without higher imagination and neglected the contemplation possible only with reason. Reflection is crucial, for Coleridge, as the commencement of the higher mind, not its culmination. The further development of thought then rises to imagination and, though rare, to purer contemplation, whether of universal laws in natural science, ideas in philosophy, or transcendent being in theology. Elitist, perhaps, but not belittling, Coleridge sees those who do not attain to pure contemplation as nevertheless capable of enlightenment in the ‘down-shine’ of ‘Positive Reason’ beheld in aesthetic imagination. ⁵⁸ ⁶⁰ ⁶¹ ⁶² ⁶³

Notebooks, 5: §6517 f8v (November 1830). ⁵⁹ The Statesman’s Manual, 30. Table Talk, 1: 312 (21 July 1832). Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 2.6, §§1–2. Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 2.1, §4. Aids to Reflection, 79. ⁶⁴ Aids to Reflection, 223, 224.


’  

To consider how ideas infuse perception as the ‘living Power’ in what Coleridge initially conceived of as ‘primary ’,⁶⁵ we can turn to the opening lines of Wordsworth’s ‘Immortality Ode’: There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream, The earth, and every common sight, To me did seem Apparelled in celestial light, The glory and the freshness of a dream.⁶⁶

In such experience, everyday perception becomes infused with universal significance. Here, qualities perceived as external correspond with a yearning for meaning that seeks ‘utterance, i.e. Outer-ance . . . and a sensation of reality’.⁶⁷ Coleridge articulates a more voluntary grade of this process when he describes The eyes quietly & stedfastly dwelling on an object not as if looking at it or as seeing any thing in it, or as in any way exerting an act of Sight upon it, but as if the whole attention were listning to what the heart was feeling & saying about it/⁶⁸

This attention is an activity-within-passivity, a mental exertion that aims in order to receive, and with as little intermediary distortion as possible. The infused attention is not yet pure contemplation, but approaches it, as: “When the Soul seeks to hear; when all is hush’d “And the Heart listens!”⁶⁹

Such infused experience illustrates the harmony between the poles of sense and contemplative reason. Both are intuitive, the lower responding with a vibration of qualitative feelings, the higher as a self-aware opening to ideas. Coleridge describes a moment of inchoate, sensuous contemplation in ‘The Eolian Harp’, reclining with his fiancée by the jasmine and the myrtle as the Evening Star, Venus, fertile goddess of love, rises: How exquisite the scents Snatched from yon bean-field! and the world so hushed! The stilly murmur of the distant Sea Tells us of Silence.⁷⁰

⁶⁵ ⁶⁶ ⁶⁷ ⁶⁹ ⁷⁰

Biographia Literaria, 1: 304. Wordsworth, ‘Ode [There Was a Time]’ (1807), Major Works, 297, ll. 1–5. Opus Maximum, 312. ⁶⁸ Notebooks, 2: §3025 (February–May 1807). ‘Reflections on having left a Place of Retirement’ (1796), Poetical Works, 1: 262, ll. 25–6. ‘The Eolian Harp’, Poetical Works (1795–6), 1: 232, ll. 9–12.

–   -   


In inchoate contemplation, sense, detached from self-centred desire, becomes sublime. It is disinterested in the way that eighteenth-century aestheticians from Shaftesbury through Hutcheson to Kant understood the appropriate attitude before beauty—a yearning that is aesthetic rather than appetitive. Inchoate contemplation is therefore a kind of secular grace, likelier to occur when one is not on the hunt. It is a reverie in the most pre-conceptual form of experience available to us, harmonizing with pure, noetic contemplation, the most praeter-conceptual. Though opposed, these intuitive modes are contrary not to each other but to the conceptual understanding, which is unable to account for either experience. Because Coleridge’s model of mind is bipolar, an analogy is the bar magnet, no portion of which is separate from another, though its two halves are starkly opposed. Cut the magnet across the middle, and, one would have two bar magnets, not a separate north pole in one hand and a south in the other. One is always left holding whole magnets, never mere parts. By the same principle, abstract components are figments that in reality remain part of a dynamic whole. As each sheared, formerly north or south pole instantly polarizes into its own north and south, so continued analysis of any mental event reveals infinitesimal polarity. This logic applies to any polar opposition. Coleridge makes this point, on the fractal recurrence of opposed poles in each part, in a note of September 1820. For in all things capable of acting on each other, A, the Antithesis of B, is itself = a Þð b : or A Þð B ¼ α Þð β Þð β Þð α.

_ _

. . . However small the extreme point, which you call North relatively to a distant opposite spot, which you make the South, can never be so small but that it must contain in itself a South of its own relation to its own North.⁷¹

For Coleridge, an equatorial line theoretically divides the natural mind from the mind enlightened by the ideas of reason. From that line, one moves beyond the ‘Cis-Alpine’ provinces, in Coleridge’s mountains of the mind metaphor, through the ‘higher ascents’ that once formed one’s horizon, and into the ‘Trans-Alpine’ region.⁷² While the higher and lower levels of the understanding straddle the mental equator, a similar bipolarity can be found in any mental act or process. For example, in a lower-level act of fancy, the upper pole will energically tend towards the idea or principle above it, as the lower pole, though dissipating, explores with

⁷¹ Notebooks, 4: §4711 f133 (September 1820). His sign )( means ‘opposite to’. For keys to this and related signs, see Notebooks, 4: §§4533, 5279, 5289, 5305, 5369; Notebooks, 5: §§5481, 5483, 5565, 5768, 6114, 6357, 6499A, 6738, 6757; Marginalia, 3: 138 (S E, De divisione naturae). ⁷² Biographia Literaria, 1: 236, 239. Hopkins, ‘No Worst, There is None’, Poetical Works of . . . Hopkins, 182, ll. 9–10: ‘O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall | Frightful, sheer, no-manfathomed.’


’  

energetic, antennae-like curiosity, feeling along associating currents of memory, convention, and proximal stimuli. A third position arises: indifference at the centre, or the equatorial line. This mental holism suggests various fractal, transmutational models, as the dynamics of the whole remain even in finer analysis. In Coleridge’s holistic view, a sensation of physical pain, for example, is accompanied by lower-order regressive memories but can also occasion higher-order reflection on overcoming the vicissitudes of life. This occurs in Coleridge’s account of his opium withdrawal in his poem ‘The Pains of Sleep’ (1803), where he overcomes the ‘Fantastic passions! mad’ning brawl!’ of yesternight, as ‘silently, by slow degrees, | My spirit I to Love compose’.⁷³ Between the pull in either direction, the point of indifference participates in both, yet is fully neither. While the universal, idealizing pole of the higher mind opposes the particularizing tendencies of lower, sensual mind, the two are nonetheless connected in a living whole with a medial, individual centre. He describes this process as: the true Idea of Life . . . the tendency to individuation . . . even . . . as the two opposite poles constitute each other, and are the constituent acts of one and the same power in the magnet. We might say that the life of the magnet subsists in their union, but that it lives (acts or manifests itself) in their strife. Again, if the tendency be at once to individuate and to connect, to detach, but so as either to retain or to reproduce attachment, the individuation itself must be a tendency to the ultimate production of the highest and most comprehensive individuality.⁷⁴

This principle of individuation is shown in the increase of individual personality that accompanies the advance of the human openness to universal reason. This again is the mystery and the dignity of our human nature, that we cannot give up our reason, without giving up at the same time our individual personality.⁷⁵

Reason, in this view, establishes individual personality by transcending it: For that must appear to each man to be his reason which produces in him the highest sense of certainty; and yet it is not reason, except as far as it is of universal validity and obligatory on all mankind.⁷⁶

Concerning the contemplated objects of this reason, Coleridge, with Kant, referred to ideas of God, freedom, the immortal soul, the Good, and so on. In The Friend, he lists ‘Ideas’ such as ⁷³ ‘Pains of Sleep’ (1803), Poetical Works, 1: 753, ll. 25, 4–5. ⁷⁴ ‘Theory of Life’ (1816–18), Shorter Works, 1: 517. ⁷⁵ The Friend, 1: 97. ⁷⁶ The Friend, 1: 97.

–   -   


the Ideas of Being, Form, Life, the Reason, the Law of Conscience, Freedom, Immortality, God!⁷⁷

Again, he writes of ideas, (N.B. not images) as the theorems⁷⁸ of a point, a line, a circle, in Mathematics; and of Justice, Holiness, Free-Will, &c. in Morals.⁷⁹

Elsewhere, he names ‘eternity . . . Will, Being, Intelligence, and communicative Life, Love, and Action; but without change, without succession.’⁸⁰ He later cites, in Church and State, the ideas of God, eternity, freedom, will, absolute truth, of the good, the true, the beautiful, the infinite.⁸¹

In the appendix to that book, he argues that the Creator has given us spiritual senses, and sense-organs—ideas I mean—the idea of the good, the idea of the beautiful, ideas of eternity, immortality, freedom, and of that which contemplated relatively to WILL is Holiness, in relation to LIFE is Bliss. And must not these too infer the existence of a world correspondent to them? There is a Light . . . compared with which the Glory of the Sun is but a cloudy veil: and is it an ignis fatuus [‘foolish fire’; will o’ the wisp] given to mock us and lead us astray?⁸²

Contemplation, pure or inchoate, occurs at the height and depth respectively of the range of experiences Coleridge describes, with the ideas contemplated or intimated constituting, as he saw it, the principles of reality itself.⁸³

6.3 All the World Between The possibility of contemplation, with the occasional, usually inchoate experience of it, gives meaning to work and play, and all modes of living and learning in between. This view of the ordination of being and thought by ideas is explicitly

⁷⁷ The Friend, 1: 106. ⁷⁸ Annotations to copies A, D, and L of the 1818 Friend replaced ‘ideas’ with theorems, i.e. the abstract mathēmatiká of diánoia, in Plato’s terms, rather than the real ideas of nóēsis. ⁷⁹ The Friend, 2: 104 fn.; 1: 177 fn. ⁸⁰ Opus Maximum, 216. ⁸¹ Church and State, 47 fn. ⁸² Church and State, 176. ⁸³ Opus Maximum, 274–6, describes ideas as ‘the subsistence of the universe, material and intellectual’ (276). My article ‘Varieties of Contemplation’ further discusses inchoate contemplation.


’  

hierarchical, so that while the higher suffuses and informs the lower, the lower does not correspondingly inform the highest to alter its character in any essential way. In giving order and meaning to the acts and energies of thought at all levels, contemplation initiates the ordination of thought, and achieves this because the recognition of a value entails the acknowledgement of a hierarchy. Certain works, be they political, artistic, or even everyday tasks, can strike us as having an extraordinary meaning by resonating with values essential for humanity, such as freedom, or kindness. By ‘ordination’, I mean the bestowing of a duty within a vocation. One becomes conscious of ordination after conversion. The higher mind, by virtue of its orientation toward an object worthy of contemplation, ordains the lower, the Pauline phrónēma sarkós.⁸⁴ That is, the higher sets the lower in its place and reveals to it valuable ends so that, through and beyond the wandering and sidewinding, the bubbling, the swerving desires, and the wobbles, the lower mind gains greater self-awareness in recognizing a point of value external to itself and superior, yet bidding it nearer. Self-aware, conversion becomes refined, unwilling to deviate from the patient call of the guiding ideal. The ordination of thought initiates a redemptive process whereby the associative, wandering motions of the lower mind are called from the service of the self to receive a more meaningful mission. Thus ‘the lower nature is taken up into and made to partake of the higher’, as Coleridge explains in the ‘Essay on Faith’.⁸⁵ Expanding on this notion a year or two later, he writes that All goodness is hrefluenti, circular in its movement of flowing back hstill as iti ennobles hand revisitsi its own source, leavingehsi nothing behind which is capable of being elevated but what is incapable of elevation. and even these hAnd what it cannot elevatei, it strengthens and improves.⁸⁶

The ordination of thought as the best circulation of the mental energies, within a moral imperative that requires levels of subservice, is suggested by Coleridge’s description of the optimal order and balance of the mental powers. When the Man uses the Understanding, in mastery only for that which is below it, but in subserving as to that which is above it, as not comprehending it but comprehending by it, then ανθ. πνευματικο [ánth. pneumatikó[s], spiritual man] . . . ⁸⁷

Below this ideal balance (the ‘spiritual’ state) are two lower modes of order. The lowest is disorder, or dysfunctional order. Using Coleridge’s epithets, below the ⁸⁴ Romans 8:6–7. ⁸⁵ ‘Essay on Faith’ (1820), Shorter Works, 2: 842. ⁸⁶ Opus Maximum, 149–50. ⁸⁷ Notebooks, 4: §4935 f62r–v (1822–5).

–   -   


‘spiritual’ is the ‘natural’; lower still, the ‘demonic’. The natural state, between the best and worst possibilities, is one of rational self-interest, predominant when the understanding is used only for that which is below it, & winning the will over to the same exclusively the ανθρωπος ψυχικος [ánthrōpos psychikós, natural/unspiritual man], ανθρωπος σαρκος [ánthrōpos sarkós, man of the flesh]—⁸⁸

Psychḗ here is the natural soul or mind in contrast with pneûma, the spirit, or higher mind. The dichotomy goes back to Plato’s notion of the immortal psyche, or higher mind, temporarily conjoined to a mortal soul that is subdivided into an affective and an appetitive part. But Coleridge’s chief reference here is Christian, with psychikós denoting the natural, sensual mind, as in James 3:15: This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual [psychikḗ], devilish.

The King James Version renders the Greek ψυχική (psychikḗ) as ‘sensual’, the New International Version as ‘unspiritual’—the import being of a mental process that is psychological but not spiritual. The distinction between spirit (pneûma), and soul (psychḗ, the non-spiritual mind of the body), occurs throughout the New Testament, and is especially clear at 1 Corinthians 2:13–15, where St Paul contrasts pneumatikós (the spiritual) with psychikós (the sensuous, or natural, soulish). Coleridge attends to the thesis, mesothesis, and antithesis respectively of the thetic ánth. pneumatikós (spiritual man), the mesothetic ánthrōpos psychikós (natural/unspiritual man), or ánthrōpos sarkós (man of the flesh), and the antithetic ánthrōpos daimoniṓdēs (demonic man). Under the merely natural, psychological order, Coleridge sees understanding as instrumental only, attending to the impulses of the lower mind. Hume advocated precisely such naturalism in declaring that Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.⁸⁹

Humean ‘reason’ is for Coleridge ‘the mere understanding’,⁹⁰ ‘reasoning’ to attain means for medial ends in the service of desire. In this naturalistic order—for Coleridge, an imbalance, or dysfunctional order—the will is won over by fancy

⁸⁸ Notebooks, 4: §4935 f62v (1822–5). ⁸⁹ Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, 2.3.3, 266.

⁹⁰ The Friend, 1: 521.


’  

such that fantasy achieves gratification, as opposed to the moral and truth-directed movement of imagination.⁹¹ And so to the lowest, the ‘demonic’ balance of the mental powers, lastly, when he uses the understanding in mastery over that which is above it, and pretending to comprehend hiti within its own limits & laws, which yet is impossible—it dreams itself to be that highest, refuses any higher, and assigns its own measures to justify its own refusal—this is ανθρωπος διαβολικοςαιμονιωδης, σοφια δαιμονιωδης [devilishemonic man, demonic wisdom].— (St James)⁹²

These three possibilities of ordering the dynamics between the higher (energic reason), the medial (understanding), and the lower (energetic desires and fantasies) result in: (1) the spiritual mind, when reason is acknowledged uppermost, and guides the understanding; (2) the natural, sensuous mind, when understanding calculates solely for the advantage of the lower; and (3) the demonic mind, when understanding pretends mastery over reason. Because, for Coleridge, the will is free, the hierarchy by which we ought to order our lives can only be enacted by ourselves, individually; it is not a natural, deterministic order, and imbalance is existential and volitional, not the conditioned result of organic factors. This view of mental dissonance versus harmony, and selfishness versus altruism, took shape over several years. Around seven years earlier, in The Statesman’s Manual, also referring to the demonic or ‘satanic’, Coleridge says that in its utmost abstraction and consequent state of reprobation, the Will becomes satanic pride and rebellious self-idolatry in the relations of the spirit to itself, and remorseless despotism relatively to others . . . ⁹³

He also discusses balance and imbalance regarding reason, understanding, and desire in the ‘Essay on Faith’, describing how The Reason . . . as the irradiative Power & the representative of the Infinite, judges the Understanding as the Faculty of the Finite: and cannot without grievous error be judged by it.⁹⁴

When ‘super-finite’ reason is nonetheless so judged, in an act of usurpation,

⁹¹ Scruton, ‘Imagination and Truth’. ⁹² Notebooks, 4: §4935 f62v (1822–5). James 3:15: ‘οὐκ ἔστιν αὕτη ἡ σοφία ἄνωθεν κατερχομένη, ἀλλὰ ἐπίγειος, ψυχική, δαιμονιώδης [Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic].’ ⁹³ The Statesman’s Manual, 65. ⁹⁴ ‘Essay on Faith’ (1820), Shorter Works, 2: 841. Opus Maximum, 87–8, opposes ‘the understanding as the faculty of the finite’, to ‘reason’, which ‘is superfinite’.

–   -    its Antagonist is the φρονημα σαρκος U, or the M   F.⁹⁵





With this analysis of three general possibilities of psychic order, Coleridge expands Schelling’s stirringly proto-existentialist, moral dichotomy of freedom, wherein Man is placed on that summit where he has in himself the source of selfmovement toward good or evil in equal portions: the bond of principles in him is not a necessary but rather a free one. Man stands on the threshold [Scheidepunkt: crossroads]; whatever he chooses, it will be his act . . . ⁹⁶

Such thoughts parallel or draw from Plato’s tripartite theory of mind, in which noûs (reason/higher intellect) is the higher soul, above a lower soul composed of thymós (spiritedness/noble feeling) and epithymía (appetite/basic desire). Coleridge’s three possibilities of spiritual balance or imbalance parallel Plato’s describing deviation from the rational, noûs-uppermost balance as devolving into disorder.⁹⁷ Coleridge’s account is also amenable to a Behmenist interpretation. Imbalance in the seven energies of spirit is the essence of Böhme’s dynamic theodicy, wherein Satan ‘introduced the Eternal Will . . . into Division, viz. into the Disharmony of the Phantasy’.⁹⁸ Thus, Boehme insists that God is totally good (e.g. Aurora 2.35), but the seven spiritqualities found in God and in creation form the root of evil when they are no longer kept in balance in creatures, beginning with King Lucifer, ‘the brightest among the three kings of angels’. (Aurora 12.133)⁹⁹

The accord of Coleridge’s model with Platonic, New Testament, and Behmenist views is a mark of his specific post-Kantian, Christian (neo-)Platonism, which I shall discuss in Chapter 7 (222–5). His fusion of Platonic linear ascent with a Behmenist perichoretic,¹⁰⁰ transformative dynamic, accentuates the energies of thought circulating at two levels around a divided middle, to find synergy only when the understanding masters the desires below and subserves the reason above. The mind that only followed the current to ‘go with the flow’ would be ever prone to fantasy and fleeting impulses, lacking the self-control to achieve even long-term egoic goals, let alone pursue higher purposes. ⁹⁵ ⁹⁶ ⁹⁷ ⁹⁸ ⁹⁹ ¹⁰⁰

‘Essay on Faith’ (1820), Shorter Works, 2: 841. Schelling, Essence of Human Freedom, 41 (Sämmtliche Werke, 7: 374). Plato, Republic, bk 4; Phaedrus, 246a–254e. Böhme, Of the Election of Grace (1623), in Works, 4: 180 (ch. 4. §72). McGinn, Mysticism in the Reformation, 176. Perichoretic: intercirculating, especially in a Trinitarian context. See Chapter 5, n.76.


’  

From Coleridge’s reason-uppermost optimal balance, we return now to my suggestion that a lower-level, inchoate mode of contemplation occurs at Coleridge’s level of ‘Sense’. This mode gives respite in the sensory realm from slavish self-interest, freeing the lower mind from the circuit of self in opening up qualities beheld for their own sake. Nevertheless, these aesthetic, meditative moments lack both the transparency (the clarity of intellectual vision) and the deliberate aim at truth of noetic contemplation. Lower-level, inchoate contemplation is transported by out-of-the-ordinary moments of sensory intuition in which one enjoys rare moments of secular grace, as if somehow out of time, or in a different mode of time, like Wordsworth’s ‘spots of time’ with their ‘renovating Virtue’.¹⁰¹ Calling these intuitions lower-level in no way demeans their power or significance, but rather describes the relative passivity of these graceful and richly qualitative, almost pre-conceptual, translucent moments, in contrast with the deliberately aimed and energic movement of the higher mind towards transparent, praeterconceptual contemplation. The lower-level mode is more involving. Both inchoate and noetic modes of contemplation are more intuitive of value, and concerned with truth, than the streams of association and fancy that tempt one to ‘go with the flow’ rather than pursue longer-range, ethical purposes. Far from considering himself entirely above them, Coleridge acknowledged his own mazy motions of mind. He recounts, for example, the time when Nether Stowey locals, suspicious that he and his taciturn friend Wordsworth might be Jacobin spies, judged that, “As to Coleridge, there is not so much harm in him, for he is a whirl-brain that talks whatever comes uppermost . . . ”¹⁰²

In his two-level, bipolar theory of mind, whirl-brained, streaming associations, and paths of pleasure and interest, are energetic flurries, outpouring in all directions to new niches, and are therefore better harnessed than ignored or suppressed. In a pertinent observation given in a literary lecture, Coleridge notes that: The Wit of Shakespeare was like the flourishing of a man’s stick when he is walking along in the full flow of his animal spirits. It was a sort of overflow of hilarity which disburdened us & seemed like a conductor to distribute a portion of our joy to the surrounding air by carrying it away from us.¹⁰³

More inward than these exuberant out-flowings is contemplation—collecting and directing the overflowing energies of association, fancy, and the quick-witted

¹⁰¹ Wordsworth, The Prelude (1805), bk 11, ll. 258, 260 (p. 228). ¹⁰² Biographia Literaria, 1: 189. ¹⁰³ Lectures on Literature, 1: 295 (5 December 1811, London Philosophical Society, Fleet Street).

–   -   


understanding. Indeed, Coleridge immediately continues, the whirling-out of hilarity leaves the weightier matter behind for more ponderable consideration: While too it disburdened us it enabled us to appropriate what remained to what was most important and most within the aim our direct aim.

The two modes of beholding can harmonize, but the hierarchy remains. Inchoate contemplation is below, while pure contemplation—‘Positive Reason’—is beyond, the conceptual middle. Ideas therefore elude all conception, and, short of noetic contemplation, can only be reached or intimated by an imaginative blend of the aesthetic and the intellectual, that is via the symbol, by which we feelingly intuit meaning and value. In this view, Ideas are not conceived but contemplated. They may be apprehended but cannot be comprehended: a fortiori therefore, not expressed.¹⁰⁴

Intellectual and inchoate contemplation both intuit the idea, which remains beyond comprehension, hence, beyond understanding. Coleridge would have encountered this apprehension–comprehension divide in Kant’s theory of the mathematical sublime. Because it requires no accompanying image, the mathematical estimation of magnitude, Kant states, is limitless. The aesthetic sense of magnitude, however, is bound by our imaging capabilities. Kant distinguishes them qualitatively, by referring to the mathematical as apprehension (in pure, imageless thought), and the aesthetic as comprehension (imagistic encompassing; Zusammenfassung, tying together, a summary). There is no difficulty with apprehension, because it can go on to infinity; but comprehension becomes ever more difficult the further apprehension advances, and soon reaches its maximum, namely the aesthetically greatest basic measure for the estimation of magnitude.¹⁰⁵

Coleridge extends this distinction beyond the dimension of magnitude to apply it more generally to the apprehension of noumena and ideas versus the comprehension of phenomena and concepts. In this usage, there is a sympathy with Shakespeare’s distinction, itself derived from Plato’s theía manía, of

¹⁰⁴ Notebooks, 4: §5288 f15 (December 1825). Notebooks, 4: §§4521 f90v (April 1819) and 5170 (November 1824); Opus Maximum, 96, 211, 216; and Marginalia, 2: 1192 (H; c.1825–31) also use the comprehension–apprehension distinction. ¹⁰⁵ Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, §26, Ak. 251.


’  

Lovers and madmen . . . that apprehend | More than cool reason ever comprehends . . . ¹⁰⁶

But Coleridge is not thinking primarily, with his apprehension, of such ‘shaping fantasies’ in ‘such seething brains’, nor of Eleusinian divine madness. Like so much in Coleridge, the grandeur and the wonder is far nearer, openly concealed in the domestic, shining through the ‘film of familiarity’.¹⁰⁷ The ideas apprehended in this sense include one’s very ‘Life’, beheld in ‘conscious Self-knowledge’,¹⁰⁸ for, he notes, in the confidence of sober admiration, that there are so many things which I know yet do not comprehend—my Life, for instance, my Will, my rationality, &c. but let us be on our guard not to confound comprehending with apprehending—I do not, even because I can not, believe what I do not apprehend—i.e. I cannot assent to the Meaning of Words, to which I attach no meaning—tho’ I may believe in the wisdom of the Utterer.¹⁰⁹

While Coleridge argues that ideas can be neither comprehended, nor adequately defined, this is not to say that they cannot be named. Thus Coleridge refers to nomina quasi νουμενα [names as if noumena (ideas)] . . . as the intelligible correspondents . . . in the mind to the invisible supporters of the appearances in the world of the senses . . . ¹¹⁰

Indeed, to reiterate, Coleridge often names ideas, giving lists such as ‘God, the Soul, eternal Truth, &c.’¹¹¹ Furthermore, although ideas cannot be comprehended, they do elicit the ‘discourse of reason’ in the enlightened understanding. Ideas achieve this not by submitting, per impossibile, to comprehension or definition, but by being the grammar of discourse, and the leading principles and ‘Master Ideas’¹¹² of method. Taking stock, in the next chapter, in the context of the classical source of ideas as powers independent of human mind, I shall read Coleridge’s theory of mind and ideas in the light of Plato’s analogy of the divided line between opinion (of appearance) and knowledge (of reality).

¹⁰⁶ ¹⁰⁸ ¹¹⁰ ¹¹¹

Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 5.1.5–9. ¹⁰⁷ Biographia Literaria, 2: 7. The Friend, 1: 156. ¹⁰⁹ Marginalia, 2: 1192 (H; c.1825–31). ‘Ideal of an Ink-stand’ (1821), Shorter Works, 2: 947. The Friend, 1: 156. ¹¹² The Friend, 1: 115.



7 The Divided Line: Lower and Higher This chapter begins by demonstrating, in Section 7.1 (i), how Coleridge’s modified Platonism draws on Plotinus to theorize how imagination provides aesthetic access to ideas. I then outline, in Section 7.1 (ii), Plato’s epistemology and ontology in the context of Coleridgean concerns. Like Plato, Coleridge divided lower and higher powers while also arguing that the divide can be traversed without being negated. Coleridge, however, recasts key Platonic notions, retaining phantasía as fancy in the lower mind, but elevating imagination above the divide, mediating between the sensible and the intelligible. Section 7.2 examines the movement from eikasía to pístis, Plato’s lower powers, equivalent to the Coleridgean transition from sense and fancy to the lower understanding. Section 7.3 then relates the Platonic transition in the higher mind, from diánoia to nóēsis to Coleridge’s theory of noetic contemplation.

7.1 Thought and Being as Correlatives 7.1 (i) Coleridge’s Plotinian Platonism: The Aesthetic Access to Ideas Coleridge’s neo-Platonist sympathies have long been recognized. In 1857, a Methodist theologian argued—though incorrectly, concerning the depth of Coleridge’s Christianity—that Coleridge’s philosophy was a Neo-Platonized edition of Schelling’s; . . . his theology . . . essentially . . . a semi-pagan theosophy or mysticism, baptized with Christian and biblical nomenclature . . . ¹

Early influenced by Plotinus and Proclus, Coleridge recounted that, after reading ‘several of the works of Plato several times with profound attention’, he ‘had read Plato by anticipation.’² Comparing Plato’s divided line and Coleridge’s bipolar ¹ Rigg, Modern Anglican Theology, 24, discussed at McFarland, Coleridge and the Pantheist Tradition, 327. ² Table Talk I, 98–9 (31 March 1830). Vigus, Platonic Coleridge, 23–30, discusses this claim. Lamb, at ‘Christ’s Hospital’, 25, recalls the schoolboy ‘Coleridge . . . unfold, in . . . deep and sweet intonations, the mysteries of Jamblichus, or Plotinus’.

Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy. Peter Cheyne, Oxford University Press (2020). © Peter Cheyne. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001


’  

model of mind—always producing its own chiastic middle—provides a schema for appreciating how Coleridge’s was a modified Platonism. Coleridgean sense and fancy correspond to eikasía. Sometimes translated as ‘imagination’³—but for Coleridge it is definitely fancy (phantasía)⁴—eikasía represents a ‘shadow-world’ and a state of virtual ignorance. Imagination, however, Coleridge elevates to the ́ higher pole, which would place it at the level of Plato’s epistēmē: knowledge, not opinion. Above higher understanding and below reason, the Coleridgean imagination becomes an art necessary for higher knowledge. The symbols of imagination allow entrance, in Coleridge’s Plotinian Platonism, to ideas that remain inaccessible to the conceptual understanding alone. Fancy, at the lower pole, is mimetic. It alters by association, aggregation, subtraction, contiguity, etc., understood as mechanical process. By contrast, Coleridgean imagination manifests principles and not merely resemblances. In his treatise ‘On the Intelligible Beauty’,⁵ Plotinus replaces Plato’s theory of art as mímēsis with a more dynamic model of artistic creation. Elsewhere in the Enneads, Plotinus endorses the doctrine of representation as mímēsis. However, he argues that the highest art transcends the imitation of sensibles. At Enneads V.9.11, 3, Plotinus asserts that ‘painting and sculpture, dance and mime’ are mimetic arts that proceed ‘by the use of a sensible paradigm’. Music, however, he deems higher in origin than the visual arts, because its model lies beyond the sensible, in the symmetry and order of the intelligibles. With music he also ranks, perhaps surprisingly, architecture and carpentry, because their proportionality connects them to ideal principles without the intermediary of a model perceived by the senses. The various Greek connotations of the term lógos, such as proportion and harmonic musical relations, suggest how Plotinus might have come by this intuitively appealing insight. For Plotinus, sensuous experience (aísthēsis), and not only intellect (noûs), can approach ideas. He explicitly allows reversion (épistrophe) to ideas from below even aísthēsis, that is, from the non-rational, generative soul (nature). For If . . . someone is unable to grasp a soul . . . that thinks purely, let him grasp a soul which has beliefs, and . . . ascend from this. But if he cannot do this, let him take sense-perception, which provides the forms in the broader sense, . . . already immersed in the forms. Or . . . let him descend to the generative soul and keep going until he arrives at the things it produces. Then, when he is there, let him ascend from the forms that are at one extreme, to the Forms that are at the other extreme, or rather to the primary ones.⁶

³ Jowett, ‘Introduction’, in Plato, Laws, and Grube, Plato’s Thought. Reeve, in ‘Republic’, Plato, Complete Works, revises Grube’s eikasía from ‘imagination’ to ‘imaging’. ⁴ Biographia Literaria, 1: 82–5, and 304–5, desynonymize phantasía and imaginatio. ⁵ Plotinus, Enneads, V.8. ⁶ Plotinus, Enneads, V.3.9, 29–35.

  :   


Because, for Plotinus, the ideas, or forms, determine the objects of sense perception, the latter cannot be cut off from the former. Therefore, while sense perception is not the most intellectual road to ideas, it is nonetheless suffused with them. For Böhme and Plotinus, contemplation can be pursued aesthetically, through sensuous-imaginative forms. But while for Böhme this mixed, translucent form comprised the entirety of contemplation, Plotinus saw it as a second-best, available to all, if desire and attention are tamed, in contrast to the intellectual, less catholic mode. Coleridge also privileged the higher, intellectual mode, when the veil of imagination gives way to transparent, noetic contemplation. He recognized this view of contemplation in the Pauline creed that Now we see through a glass darkly; then we shall see face to face.⁷

Moreover, he offered an improved, though less aphoristic, translation, finding the King James rendering an undoubtedly false version, [“]we see thro’ a Glass darkly” instead of—we behold (Spiritual truths) by the suggestion of Symbols (enigmatically) as on a mirror—⁸

Coleridge distinguishes thinking through symbols from thought involving images that are, like so much ‘dead’ matter, abstracted from the living flux of experience.⁹ A symbol can be used to think towards ideas because it represents at a high level of generality without breaking apart in the details, as allegories inevitably do. Rather than, like metaphors (meta [after, over] + phorá [carrying]), carrying over aspects from one species into another, the Coleridgean symbol is synecdochic—specifically, a pars pro toto figure—the figure remaining within the same kind.¹⁰ Accordingly, Coleridge says (in 1820), A Symbol . . . I define as “representing the Whole of that, of which it is itself an essential Part”. Ex. gr. the Eye is a Symbol of Vision.¹¹

⁷ 1 Corinthians 13:12. ⁸ Notebooks, 5: §6500 (November 1830). His KJV marginalia often criticize the translation. He was not, therefore, the kind of Anglican traditionalist who defers to the KJV as directly inspired, nor as great English prose. Table Talk, 1: 430 (17 August 1833): ‘I cannot yield to the authority of many examples . . . from the New Testament Version. St. Paul is very often most inadequately rendered, and there are slovenly and vulgar phrases which would never have come from Ben Jonson or any other good prose writer of the times.’ ⁹ This thought evolves throughout Coleridge’s imagination period. Letters, 2: 916 (14 January 1803); Notebooks, 3: §4066 (April 1811); Biographia Literaria, 1: 304–5. ¹⁰ Synecdoche (syn [together] + ekdochē ́ [receiving]) is: ‘A figure of speech in which a more inclusive term is used for a less inclusive one or vice versa, as a whole for a part or a part for a whole’, OED. ¹¹ Notebooks, 4: §4711 (September 1820).


’  

A Coleridgean symbol, then, is an especially illustrative and essential member of the set which it represents. As he put it in 1816, the symbol can therefore exemplify ‘the same Power in a lower dignity’¹² in being a specific, evocative form pertinent to many diverse situations. Representation in a ‘lower dignity’, however, means that there will nonetheless remain a degree of the irrelevant (to the idea) in the aesthetic material of the symbol. To return to Coleridge’s example, from Robert Burns, of ‘snow that falls upon a river, a moment white then gone forever’,¹³ this symbol represents the idea of impermanence by itself being an example of impermanence—thus representing by ‘tautegory’ not ‘allegory’.¹⁴ Coleridge coined the word ‘tautegory’ from the Greek tauto-, tò autó (the same) + -ēgoros (speaking, from agoreúein, to speak in the assembly), or ‘speaking (through) the same’, in contrast to the ‘speaking (through) the other, or the different’ of allegory (allo-, other, different). He defines tautegorical (i.e. expressing the same subject but with a difference) in contradistinction from . . . allegorical (i.e. expressing a different subject but with a resemblance) . . . ¹⁵

The closer one looks at a tautegory, the more meaningful connections one can find. Nonetheless, irrelevant details remain: impermanence is not generally or essentially white; nor does it generally consist of hexagonal flakes; it cannot normally be used to build igloos; etc. While many examples of the irrelevant or nonessential in the symbol are clearly absurd when applied to the idea itself, there is always a risk, as Coleridge said of Böhme, of confusing the aesthetic material for the ideal object, or noumenon. Concerned with the noetic in the aesthetic, especially in the symbol, Coleridge shows how sense rhymes with reason. Like apodictic truths of reason, sense perception on its own terms cannot be mistaken: a sound or feeling is perceived, pleasure is enjoyed, pain is suffered, as self-evident fact. It is opinion construed from sense perception that can be mistaken. Sense and reason, each have intuitive immediacy, unlike pragmatic belief and theoretic hypothesis, which Plato situates between the two. Coleridge accentuates this intuitive immediacy, and the attenuated presence of the higher in the lower, with his Plotinized Platonic model fused with the Behmenist interpenetration of opposites, as I proposed in Chapter 5. Emphatically harmonic, Coleridge shows how reason is

¹² The Statesman’s Manual, 72. ¹³ The Friend, 2: 74 (14 September 1809), 1: 110; and Biographia Literaria, 1: 81. This example is discussed in this book (20). ¹⁴ For the much-discussed symbol and tautegory, see Halmi, Romantic Symbol, 17, 92, 130–1, and Hedley, ‘Coleridge’s Contemplative Imagination’, esp. 223–7. ¹⁵ Aids to Reflection, 206. He introduced the word, spelling it in Greek, at The Statesman’s Manual, 30.

  :   


more like its polar counterpart, sense, than understanding, despite understanding being a nearer neighbour along the polar axis. In an apt similitude, Antarctica is far more like the Arctic, its polar counterpart, than New Zealand, its linearly nearer neighbour. We might therefore ask if some ideas can be intuited in aesthetic experience, in aísthēsis. If so, could this help explain how moral and other non-sensible qualities can be almost palpably felt?¹⁶ Is this how great art stirs profound contemplation? These questions pursue the aesthetic route to contemplating ideas. Although Plato argues for dialectic as the noblest road to ideas, he names others: prophecy, divine madness, love, and the appreciation of beauty. Plato prefers dialectic because it requires rational assent at every step. Aesthetic ascent also seeks assent, but the yes of pleasure is not the yes of reason. Perhaps the intuited greater value in what J. S. Mill called ‘higher pleasure’ derives from the degree of reason—of Logos, proportion, thought—in its objects. In Coleridgean terms, higher pleasures refer to the humane values we owe to ideas of morality, infinity, the soul, the cosmos, and the like. The appreciation of poetry, for instance, its music and its vision, requires the recognition, at some level, of the idea, deeply resonant within sensuous-aesthetic qualities. Such reverberation is wanting in the pursuit of lower pleasures, such as Bentham’s pushpin or dining, save for extraordinary moments when even these might become infused in inchoate contemplation. Regarding the balance of aesthetic and intellectual agreement, one may assent to the affirmation of pleasure only if it is felt, while, correspondingly, one may assent to reason only if it is apprehended. Do pleasure and reason not both attempt to persuade through their respective states of feeling? As those who would proliferate their pleasure seek smiles, those who would have their reasons ratified seek nods of agreement and ahs of assent. Coleridge seeks an involving truth through aesthetic-intellectual intensity in uniting deep feelings with profound thoughts. For Plato, as Plotinus further emphasized, poetry and feeling can indeed ascend. Nonetheless, in classical Platonism, poetry and heightened feeling are of lesser value than philosophy because they are at best inspired gifts—albeit divine ones—gratuitously conferred, rather than hard-won exertions towards reason. Promethean, philosophy’s greater value for Plato includes its higher cost. Especially in the charioteer-driving-winged-horses analogy of the soul in the Phaedrus, and Diotima’s stairway in the Symposium, Plato’s poetic-prose accounts exemplify and express, more than plainly explain, the convergence of truth, goodness, and beauty. As Coleridge attests,

¹⁶ James, Varieties of Religious Experience, 302, approaches this significant question, describing the ‘noetic quality’ of peak aesthetic awareness as one of the ‘four marks’ of mystic experience, providing ‘insight into depths of truth unplumbed by the discursive intellect’.


’  

The writings of P . . . furnish undeniable proofs that poetry of the highest kind may exist without metre . . . ¹⁷

But is the poetry in Plato simply a pedagogic access for his students and readers, aestheticizing what he has already noetically encountered in purer form? Or were the poetic flights necessary for his own ascent to noesis? After all, Socrates heard his parables from the priestess Diotima, and Plato from Socrates. These questions lead to further, pro-contemplative ones. Is the good accessible purely aesthetically? Can people be virtuous by feeling, by inclination, without employing intellectual effort, such as rational deliberation? Kant, for example, answers in the negative. For him, only through reason can one be ethical, because only reason is free from the sway of sensuality. Moreover, only reason can demonstrate a maxim to be non-contradictory if universalized, and this is the only way, he argues, to discover the moral law. But, contra Kant, is a dialectic of the heart nonetheless possible? Or one between noble enthusiasm and lower appetite? The aesthetic mode does not usually, unless refined in art, announce its procedure step-by-step, methodically, with logically connected propositions. But then, why should it? It is not, on its own, engaged in reasoning. Even in art, it tends not to argue, but to reveal. While the mind may look down on the heart’s apparent naivety, it cannot so view it as self-contradictory. For a heart, though cleft in twain, contains no contradiction. That is, the heart is often ambivalent, or stretched in opposite directions, but it is only propositions that contradict each other, not feelings. In a contradiction, at least one statement is false and becomes cancelled. In ambivalence, opposed feelings co-exist and interact with no logical cancellation necessary. The heart, therefore, could just as well feel the intellect impotent and irrelevant to a situation that must be felt as it is lived. Like Plotinus, Coleridge pressed on the need to unite the two and to recognize what he called their interpenetration. Coleridge’s modified divided line, still vertical (hierarchical), but now a chiastic bipolarity, accommodates Plato’s own views on beauty as an aesthetic access to contemplation. Further, Coleridge makes explicit a refluent, redemptive movement that is implicit in Plato, as in his insistence that noetic philosophers return to the cave, the marketplace, and the festival to engage others rather than remain contemplatively aloof. The divine madness described in the Symposium and the Phaedrus ‘intuits Beauty itself ’.¹⁸ The ideal value remains, but it gains a more accessible aesthetic expression through the harmony of sense with reason. Plotinus’s deduction of two imaginations (phantastiká) is relevant here.¹⁹ The lower is essentially Plato’s concept of a mimetic faculty capable also of phantasía, a perceptually interpretive ‘mixture of sensation and belief ’.²⁰ For Plato, imagination, ¹⁷ Biographia Literaria, 2: 14. ¹⁸ Plato, Symposium, 211e.7 ¹⁹ Plotinus, Enneads, IV.3.31, discussed in Gritti, ‘La φαντασία plotiniana’. ²⁰ Plato, Sophist, 264a8–b3.

  :   


associated with the binds of fascination, occupies the lowest level of thought, whereas for Coleridge (and Plotinus) there is also a higher imagination that is a translucent access to ideas. The higher Plotinian imagination arises at the border of the aesthetic and the intellectual. Higher imagination in Plotinus is that in human nature which finds itself at the ‘frontier’ (methórion) between the sensible and the intelligible (see IV 4.3.1–4.6), and vacillates between the two conditions . . . ²¹

Imagination for Plotinus was a twofold, ‘boundary entity . . . borne in either direction’.²² Coleridge also locates a higher imagination²³ above the medial point and beyond diánoia, or the higher understanding, to become the nearest neighbour and ally of reason, oscillating between the two, as Plotinus’s vacillates. Whereas pragmatic belief and conceptual understanding entail an inevitable distance between the thinking and the thing thought, this epistemological gap does not exist in the Platonic account of noesis supported by Coleridge. Noesis intuits the idea directly, in that the mind itself partakes of the idea and thereby produces or realizes it. That is, in contemplating courage or freedom, for example, one transparently beholds in the mode of being—not of speculating—the courage or freedom that he or she is or is capable of realizing, in an actualization born of contemplation. Neo-Platonist accounts add that in the act of contemplation (‘vision’, or theōría), the One (tò hén, Plato’s idea of the good), the intellect (noûs, comprising the ideas), and the soul unite. For Plotinus, therefore, as with Plato, and as Coleridge agrees, highest contemplation remains purified and intellectual. Coleridge approvingly describes The State of clear Vision (des Hellsehens [German: of clairvoyance; literally, of bright-seeing]) thus described by Plotinus.—It is given to the Wise Man or the Initiate—[From the sensible world, it is indeed possible to see both god, and oneself, insofar as seeing is licit; oneself in glory, full of intellectual light, or rather, the pure light itself, weightless, buoyant, having become god, or better, being god, kindled at that time; however, should one become weighed down again, then, in a way, extinguished.]²⁴

²¹ Kalligas, The Enneads of Plotinus: A Commentary, 459. The term methórios (adj.) occurs also in Philo, Plutarch, and Maximus Tyrius, and reflects a traditional description of the soul’s relation to the two Platonic levels of being. Dillon, ‘Plotinus and the Transcendental Imagination’, discusses Plotinian higher imagination. ²² Plotinus, Enneads, IV.4.3, 12. ²³ Coleridge desynonymizes imaginatio from phantasía at Biographia Literaria, 1: 82, distinguishing, as Plotinus does, higher and lower modes of mental imaging. Plato gives only phantasía, a component of eikasía. ²⁴ Notebooks, 4: §4909 f 71 (July 1822). Where Coleridge quoted Enneads, VI.9.9, 56–60, in the Greek, I have given, in sq. brackets, the Gerson et al. translation.


’  

He then discusses Plotinian noesis (theōría) as overcoming the subject–object, epistemic distinction, subsequently losing ‘communicability’: In the highest State the antithesis of Subject and Object ceases, and with it ceases the ordinary consciousness, and the communicability (of the seen . . . ) by words or signs—Hence (says Pl[otinus]) it was forbidden to attempt such communication in the Mysteries . . . . the Seer and the seen being the same . . . it cannot be presented anew as when I give a man my sense of a Diamond by showing it—nor can it be conveyed by words—for all words represent abstractions and generalization only—but here no abstraction or generalization has place, from the absolute simplicity of the matter to be represented.

It is the Plotinian approach to Platonism that Coleridge develops, and he finds its continuance in the ‘spiritual platonic old England’ of the Renaissance Platonists, the Cambridge Platonists, the seventeenth-century Anglican divines,²⁵ and the romantics: Let England be hSir P. Sidney,i Shakespere, Spenser, Milton, Bacon, Harrington, hSwift,i Wordsworth, and never let the names of Darwin, Johnson, Hume, furr it over!—If these too must be England, let them be another England/—or rather let the first be old England, the spiritual platonic old England/& the second with Locke at the head of the Philosophers & Pope of the Poets, with the long list of Priestleys, Payleys, Hayleys, Darwins, Mr Pitts, Dundasses, &c &c be representative of commercial G. Britain/these have their merits, but are as alien to me, as the Mandarin Philosophers & Poets of China/²⁶

Proponents of this Platonic strain argue for a universal Logos discernible in the workings or laws of nature, allowing the apprehension of intelligible powers through the sensible. Such apprehension often challenges the concepts of everyday thinking, and sometimes leads to the contemplation of praeter-conceptual principles and ideas.

7.1 (ii) Platonic Ontology and Epistemology Before outlining how Coleridge developed his post-Kantian, Christian Platonism, Plato’s own theories of being and knowledge must be surveyed. In the simile of the ²⁵ Beside frequent references, throughout his career, to Anglican churchmen such as Richard Hooker and Jeremy Taylor, Coleridge responds, in Aids to Reflection, to Robert Leighton’s sermons and theology, and what Coleridge elsewhere calls ‘the august Objects of his habitual Contemplation’: Letters, 5: 198–9 (18 January 1822), to publisher John Murray II. ²⁶ Notebooks, 2: §2598 f80v (1805).

  :   


divided line (Republic, book 6; Table 7.1), the analogy of the chariot (Phaedrus), and Diotima’s stairway (epanabasmoî, Symposium),²⁷ Plato presents his ontology and epistemology simultaneously.²⁸ Within the divided line account, he outlines his epistemology in relation to the ontology of his theory of ideas. The Table 7.1 Plato’s Divided Line (Plato, Republic, 509d–511e) (Although Plato gave no graphic, this table is derived from his description, given by the Socrates character) eikasía : pístis :: diánoia : nóēsis Longer line segments represent greater degrees of saphē´neia (clarity).

(ontology, being)

(epistemology, knowing)

the idea of the good


the ideas: truth, beauty, justice . . .

intelligence reason epistē´mē

ousía (being) noētón intelligible

knowledge mathematical forms: circle, point, numbers; hypotheses, schemata; empirical concepts: horse, dog, table

actual sensible things: horses, dogs, tables

diánoia logical understanding, scientific and rational thinking

pístis common-sense belief

génesis (becoming) doxastón (opinable), or horatón (visible/sensible)


images, copies, reflections of things shadows, paintings, poetic imagery




²⁷ Plato, Symposium, 211c3. ²⁸ Plato, Theaetetus, inquires more single-mindedly into knowledge, foregrounding epistemology over ontology and other theoretical concerns.


’  

four divisions of the line represent the stages towards noetic knowledge from imagistic opinion. Read epistemologically, the line ascends from sense perception and opinion about images (eikasía), then pragmatic belief about things and situations (pístis), through logical reasoning (diánoia), finally reaching dialectical or contemplative knowledge of the ideas (nóēsis).²⁹ Read ontologically, the movement is reversed, descending from the most real, the idea of the good and the archetypal ideas, through the mathēmatiká (the conceptual forms of diánoia, which arguably have only epistemic utility, not ontological, reality), to natural objects, and finally, their images, which have the least reality, e.g. reflections, shadows, paintings, and dreams. In the Platonic ontology the gradual, diachronic ascent to ideas that typifies epistemology is not needed. Instead, the levels of being and appearance disperse instantaneously from the idea of the good, from sun to shadow. Contrasting allegories, which compare diverse subjects, with symbols, which participate in the idea conveyed,³⁰ Coleridge describes the empty echoes which the fancy arbitrarily associates with apparitions of matter, less beautiful but not less shadowy than the sloping orchard or hill-side pasturefield seen in the transparent lake below. Alas! for the flocks that are to be led forth to such pastures!³¹

Nine years later, he similarly writes, All things strive to ascend, and ascend in their striving. And shall man alone stoop? Shall his pursuits and desires, the reflections of his inward life, be like the reflected Image of a Tree on the edge of a Pool, that grows downwards and seeks a mock heaven in the unstable element beneath it, in neighbourhood with the slimy water-weeds and oozy bottom-grass that are yet better than itself, and more noble, in as far as Substances that appear as Shadows are preferable to Shadows mistaken for Substances. No! It must be a higher good to make you happy.³²

These passages contrast the dangerous shadows and reflections of eikasía with the nourishing reality reached in nóēsis. In both passages, Coleridge replicates the ontological descent of the divided line from reality, to concrete objects, to shadowy and reflected images, warning of the perils of learning only from the latter.

²⁹ Plato’s four cognitive terms, eikasía, pistís, dianoía, and nóēsis, can apply either to individual epistemic acts or to longer processes. For example, eikasía can potentially refer to the event of a mental picturing, or to a series of undirected and indistinct ‘picture thoughts’ that constitute a kind of pseudothinking. ³⁰ The Statesman’s Manual, 29, describes ‘symbols, harmonious in themselves, and consubstantial with the truths, of which they are the conductors’. ³¹ The Statesman’s Manual, 30–1. ³² Aids to Reflection, 118–19.

  :   


Thinking about knowing (epistemology) means, for Plato, studying approximations to truth from shadowy acquaintance, opinions, through theories, then dialectic, to noesis. Thinking about being (ontology) will always be off balance, external to where it intends to be, as long as it remains thinking about being instead of being it. The act of epistemology (theorizing about knowing) is therefore nearer from the outset to its object (knowing about knowing) than ontology is to being the being it theorizes. The exteriority of ontology remains until noesis is attained, when the contemplator is one with idea contemplated. To contemplate courage, goodness, or justice noetically, one must be brave, good, and just, that is, one must participate in, partake of, the idea. Whereas a concept and the conceived are categorially heterogeneous, entailing an epistemological gap, such a gap does not exist, according to Plato, between the idea and its noetic contemplation. To know the idea is in some way to be the idea, that is, to participate in it. Or, as Coleridge put it, the νους [noûs] is that in which the idea is at the same time the reality; the knowing is the thing known . . . ³³

This directness of ideal and intuitive versus the indirectness of conceptual and discursive knowledge lies behind the Socratic insight that ignorance is the root of evil,³⁴ for in that theory, to know virtue is to be virtuous, such that not to be virtuous is to be ignorant of virtue in its essence as a being that one ought to participate in, even if one knows a great deal conceptually about virtues. Coleridge’s cognitive typology from sense to reason recasts Plato’s line from eikasía to nóēsis. Plato’s linear progression is repeated by St Augustine, and, among others, Hugh and Richard of St Victor, discussed in Chapter 5 (130–1), as the ascent from sensus to contemplatio. The divided line displays both sensible objects in flux and stable universals. The former are objects of opinion, the latter, of knowledge. Opinion (dóxa) is subdivided into fascination with appearance (eikasía), and pragmatic, pre-scientific mastery of phenomena based on welĺ founded belief (pístis). Knowledge (epistēmē) is subdivided into conceptual, schematic modelling and theorizing (diánoia), and the dialectic or contemplative ascent to the ideas (nóēsis). Coleridge defined Platonic dialectic as follows: the discipline, by which the human mind is purified from its idols (εἰδῶλα), and raised to the contemplation of Ideas, and thence to the secure and everprogressive, though never-ending, investigation of truth and reality by scientific method, comprehends what the same philosopher [Plato] so highly extols as Dialectic.³⁵ ³³ Logic, 93. ³⁴ Plato, Protagoras, 349–62; Meno, 87e–89a. ³⁵ The Friend, 1: 492–3.


’  

Coleridge’s scheme remodels Plato’s unipolar ascent from unclarity to clarity, into a bipolar field between ideas and phenomena. The ascent towards contemplation of ideas is still the ultimate end for Coleridge, but his renewed scheme shows how this is possible through an aesthetic route that eventually reunites with the intellectual. The aesthetic route is a Plotinian modification. While Plato neglects, or leaves unelucidated, affinities between eikasía and nóēsis, Coleridge keeps returning to the harmony of sense and reason. Like Plotinus, Coleridge appreciates the traces of reason in sense. Such harmony may be implicit in the astonishing poetry of Plato’s Phaedrus and Symposium, where aesthetic érōs ascends to noetic insight, for example, but he does not explain it in his plainer, dialogical style. Yet Plato’s purpose in the poetic passages, supported by statements in the Seventh Letter, is to intimate through symbols and analogies higher truths that cannot explicitly be discussed.

7.1 (iii) Across the Divide At the heart of Coleridge’s philosophy lies the divide between mechanical, instrumental understanding and transcendent reason, the sphere of freedom. Coleridgean imagination and its symbols spark across the divide between concept and idea. This divisionary dynamic shares features with Hegel’s and is prescient of what Gillian Rose calls ‘the broken middle’.³⁶ I term this dynamic crucifixionism. Here, the higher redeems the lower, rather than abandoning it in high-minded quest. Conversely, crucifixionism prevents neglect of the ideal—i.e. the embodied idea, such as just laws—even while it celebrates the antinomian particular, a major theme of postmodernism. Crucifixionism reconciles particularism (and nominalism) with realist universalism by subordinating the rules of the conceptual middle to the ordaining higher principle. This principle emphasizes not vacillation, but a holding together of opposites, often by mediation, in conceptual workings out, reflection, or synthesis. It is the Christ-like love of the religious and the secular, the permanent and the progressive. Holding together, crossing the nothingness at the crux, the broken middle, the Cross, reconciles and redeems. For Coleridge, understanding at the chiasmus of human mind is the interface between the natural and the enlightened. It has already been observed that for Coleridge the amicable chiasmus . . . the figure of method . . . . expresses the transitive integration of opposites by impressing it on the page . . . Translucent, provisional . . . deferential to the truth it serves—method follows the track of the chiasmus.³⁷

³⁶ Rose, The Broken Middle.

³⁷ Christensen, ‘Method of The Friend ’, 24.

  :   


As Coleridge explains, division entails difference in kind; distinction, only in degree. Ants, elephants, and dogs, for example, differ only in degree, he thinks, concerning adaptive understanding, yet all differ in kind from human understanding, enlightened by ideas of reason. It is a wonder to find elephants trek hundreds of miles to a remembered watering hole, but it would be miraculous if they found watering spots not by memory and generalized ‘Notices of the Sense’³⁸ alone, but in conjunction with deduction. Humans share the ‘mere’ understanding with many animals, though possess it in a far greater degree.³⁹ ‘Reason’, by contrast, ‘is not susceptible of degree.’⁴⁰ A mind is open to reason entirely or not at all, as illustrated by the legal recognition that one is either compos mentis or non compos mentis. While one might, due to organic causes, fluctuate between the one and the other, no middle exists between the two, unlike with IQ scores or aptitude tests, which approximately measure the understanding and standardly curve up to and down from the norm. Table 7.2 shows Coleridge’s epistemological division between physics and metaphysics. In terms of Plato’s divided line, Coleridge’s ‘Empiric’, the lower division of knowledge, corresponds to diánoia, theorizing the evidence of the senses. In the upper division, ‘Metaphysics’ comprises ‘Mathematics’, ‘Logic’, and ‘Noetics’. Mathematics theorizes not the evidence of the senses (of all we see, hear, etc.), but the forms of intuition required for sensibility, that is, the Kantian forms of intuition, whereby geometry is the science of space, and arithmetic of time. Above mathematics, logic applies the laws of thought to yield the evidence of the understanding, examining truth claims for contradiction and formulating heuristics and schemata. Highest, he places ‘Noetic’: the science of ideas and the application of the truths of reason to the speculative sciences of theology, ontology, and ethics.⁴¹ The division between higher and lower poles in the mind is represented in ‘The Difference in Kind of Reason and the Understanding’ (see Table 2.1). The opposition of higher and lower understanding effects the crucial chiasmus of mind through which ideas and images cross over and transmute. Here, intermediary concepts take shape before receiving their various missions to the edges of experience. This divide is equivalent to Plato’s between knowledge and opinion, and specifically between pragmatic belief (pístis), and the theoretic, abstract understanding (diánoia). Plato’s diánoia is medial, supervening on pístis, and subserving higher reason (nóēsis).

³⁸ Aids to Reflection, 232. ³⁹ Aids to Reflection, 50, 219, and n.15. The Statesman’s Manual, 60–1 n.2 (long autograph note in Copy G, front flyleaf ), is a related comparison of human and animal understanding. ⁴⁰ The Friend, 1: 196. ⁴¹ Aids to Reflection, 180, refers to ‘the universal Noetic, in which we require Terms of most comprehension and least specific import’.


’  

Table 7.2 ‘The sciences pure and mixed in the order of their senses’ (Logic, 44–5) The sciences pure and mixed and in the order of their senses.1 Mετά Φυσικά [Metaphysics] A—Noetics = the evidence of reason[*] B—Logic = the evidence of the understanding C—Mathematics = the evidence of sense Φυσικά [Physics] D—Empiric = evidence of the senses† Scholium. The senses = sense + sensation + impressions. [*] Noetics or truths of reason applied First. To being absolutely considered = ontology. Second. To the will as absolute and one with the supreme reason = theology. Third. To the finite will = ethics Therefore we cannot in noetics as we may in logicis require a reason for a truth; for it is reason.

† The empiric D, brought under the rules of the understanding B, and the forms of sense (= intuitus puri) C, becomes experience. a—Experience in application to figure, number, position, and motion successive and coexistent = physiography, that is, description of nature as the aggregate of objects (natura naturata). b—Experience in application, that is, manifestations of a will; acts simultaneous or successive of men, or of nature considered as an agent (natura naturans) = history. We have therefore [1,] physiography, a description of nature; 2, physiology, the relations of nature, and [3,] physiognomy, the history or genesis of nature. Experience in application to the laws and principles of a and b, acquires, according to the matters so treated, the names of phenomenology, physiology, including somatology and psychology, and lastly anthropology. 1 Coleridge’s correction of the original MS is watermarked 1821 (British Museum MS Egerton

2801). Notebooks, 4: §4784 (1820–1) works out a correspondent tetrad of the four general sciences.

At Republic, book 6, the Socrates character explains the theory of ideas to Glaucon, Plato’s brother, via a schematic propaedeutic. The line is first divided in an uneven ratio, the lower section shorter than the higher. Their relative lengths represent ́ ́ (knowledge), saphēneia, or clarity of knowledge. The longer upper section, epistēmē is clearer than the lower, dóxa (opinion). Each section is then sub-divided with the same uneven ratio. This dividing yields the mathematically necessary result of the upper section of the lower division being equal in length (sc. clarity) to the lower section of the higher. The upper and lower medial sections are therefore ascribed equal clarity, though the higher is (lower) knowledge, and the lower, (higher) opinion. In ascending order of clarity, or purity of knowledge, the sections are: eikasía : pístis :: diánoia : nóēsis That is, seeing and fancying images (eikasía) is to pragmatic belief and basic understanding (pístis), as abstract, conceptual and schematic understanding


  :   

(diánoia) is to higher reason and the contemplative intuition of ideas (nóēsis). In Coleridgean terms: sense + fancy

: lower understanding


higher understanding + imagination

: reason42

Plato’s divided line is linear and progressive. Coleridge’s diagram is progressive too, but its linearity is not so straightforward, having a bipolar dynamic and harmonic balance—though not one of equilibrium or parity, as the order is hierarchical and subsumptive. Coleridge’s poles draw experience outward. Sense draws the mind towards nature beyond phenomena; reason, towards ideas independent of human mind, and, ultimately, towards the divine. Between these extremes, everything comprehended or conceived passes through the chiasmus of the higher (discursive, enlightened) and lower (impulsive, instinctual) understanding. Table 7.3 gives Plato’s two-level theory, reproducing a schema made by Holger Thesleff, and a comparable set of unequal pairs of opposites, suggesting the wide scope of Coleridge’s two-level, hierarchical theory. Rather than construct a Platonic doctrine of separation, Thesleff outlines an intuitive ‘vision’ which offers only crude basic patterns and frames for the structures of Plato’s thinking, feelings, intuitions, and intentions, . . . and for our understanding of them.⁴³ Table 7.3 Plato’s Two-level Model of Participation and Coleridge’s Two-level Bipolar Model. Holger Thesleff ’s diagram from Studies in Plato’s Two-level Model, 1999, 27, reproduced courtesy of the Societas Scientiarum Fennica. Plato

(Thesleff, Studies in Plato’s Two-level Model, 27)





















Coleridge ideas




















⁴² Coleridge uses proportionally expressed correspondences, or mathematical analogies (A : B :: C : D), several times over the last fifteen years of his life, e.g. Notebooks, 4: §§4649 (1820), 4692 f19 (1820), 4856 f55 (January 1822), 5074 (12 December 1823), 5197 f29 (April–May 1825), and Notebooks, 5: §6695 (Summer 1833). ⁴³ Thesleff, Plato’s Two-Level Model, 123.


’  

Thesleff identifies a two-level framework that Plato used, emphasizing participation (koinōnía) between the levels, rather than separation (chōrismós). Thesleff cites ten pairs of polar opposites in Plato’s two-level frame, namely, one–many, same–different, stable–changing, divine–human, soul–body, leading–being led, intellect–senses, truth–appearance, knowledge–opinion, defined–undefined. This table is similar to Pythagoras’ systoichía (columns) of ten opposites that Aristotle describes at Metaphysics 986a23–7. This one-world, two-level reading of Plato, versus the more common two-world, separationist interpretation, shares close affinities with Coleridge’s polarities of, among others, ideas–concepts, reason–understanding, imagination–fancy, symbol– allegory, wisdom–prudence, laws–phenomena, principles–facts, intuitive–discursive, energic–energetic, and power–force. The bipolar model represents a tradition going back through Hegel, Coleridge, Böhme, Bruno, Nicholas of Cusa, to Plato, Parmenides, Heraclitus, and the Pythagoreans. As Coleridge further argues, drawing on Schelling and the Naturphilosophen in a dynamic absent in Plato, opposites entail a mesothesis or indifference-point, and thus his two-level theory is in this sense triune. That mesothesis, however, as I shall discuss in Chapter 9, is thetic to the antithesis and antithetic to the thesis. For Plato, the participation of the lower in the higher is the hierarchical relation of the one over the many. Coleridge’s sense of the lower level participating in the higher, was doubly neo-Platonic, being Plotinian, with an aesthetic route to the ‘Intellect’ (noûs) and its ideas, and Proclean, in employing the sýmbolon. Coleridge’s bipolar hierarchy descends to nature and chaos, and ascends to reason, order, and God. The motion is refluent, a circular elevating. Plato’s unipolar, linear hierarchy is a simpler ascent to ever-clearer knowledge of the most real beings and powers and to the good itself, which transcends being in dignity and power. Both models privilege the higher level but are not separationist. In both, the higher is the ultimate reality, existing independently of the lower. But the independence of ideas from phenomena does not entail separation of ‘worlds’. By analogy, the shadow depends on the sunlit tree, while the sunlit tree does not depend on the shadow. This analogy shows hierarchy in the relation, not separation. Arguably, for the Old Academy—and probably Plato himself—separability (chōrismós) just is the fact that A is ‘separable’ if and only if A can exist without B but not vice versa, as a tree can exist without a shadow, but the shadow of a tree cannot exist without the tree. This reading implies no two-worldism, but only the asymmetry whereby phenomena depend on ideas while the ideas are independent of phenomena. Plato’s gradual, progressive epistemology is a model of continuity, not separation. The higher can be reached, by stages, from the lower, from shadows to things, to concepts and theories, to ideas, and from ideas to contemplation of the good. Although I argue Coleridge bipolarizes Plato’s divided line, adding further complexity with the medial chiasmus, this inflects a relation between lower and higher already present in Plato, and emphasizes a real but not unbridgeable division, through which the asymmetry of hierarchy is maintained.

  :   


7.2 The Divided Line: Lower. Enchanted Eikasía To Pragmatic Belief 7.2 (i) Eikasía: World as Image Plato and Coleridge both argue against empiricism (or its Ancient Greek counterparts). In the Theaetetus, Socrates refutes the reductive claim that knowledge is substantially nothing beyond sense perception. A classical counterpart of Hume, young Theaetetus, influenced by ‘the comrades of Heraclitus’, and especially by Protagoras, argues the naive position that the only possible knowledge is what can be apprehended by the senses.⁴⁴ Similarly, Coleridge argues against the modern empiricism of Hume and Hartley, who, he contends, alike pre-assume, with Mr Locke, that the Mind contains only the reliques of the Senses, and therefore proceed with him to explain the substance from the shadow, the voice from the echo: they can but detect, each the others’ inconsistencies.⁴⁵

Though he opposes empiricism, his account of the cognitive role of images is more complex, especially given the exalted role he affords imagination in the higher mind. Accordingly, his account of the cognitive role of imagination, like other Kantian and post-Kantian theories of the symbol, struggles to reconcile the focus on images with the attention to universal, non-sensible ideas. He does, however, subordinate the aesthetic to the ideal, which he argues is necessarily antecedent. With Plotinus, and incorporating an important Behmenist insight, Coleridge thereby accentuates an intuitive, hierarchical correspondence between the opposite poles of sense and reason. Eikasía is acquaintance with the world as images or icons (eikónes). Because it naively takes its materials at face value, Plato calls it a state of ignorance. The act or state of taking images for reality, eikasía is a specific mode of aísthēsis, or sense perception. The former is illusory; the latter, not necessarily. For Coleridge, the term aísthēsis is equivalent to ‘Sense’, as he notes in 1824, referring to ‘the intuitive . . . Power, or the Sense (αισθησις [aísthēsis])’.⁴⁶ Since appearance is the only ‘reality’ for eikasía, reality cannot be a category it ever questions. Plato’s lowest cognitive mode is conceptually similar to Heidegger’s ‘fascination’ (Faszination), or bondage to the inherited and unquestioned manners and concerns of

⁴⁴ Plato, Theaetetus, 179d8. Heraclitus himself, unlike these later followers, held phenomenal flux to be governed by the stable, universal lógos. Republic, bk 5, 475d–477a, pits ‘the lovers of knowledge and wisdom’ against the ‘lovers of sights and sounds’. ⁴⁵ The Statesman’s Manual, 111. ⁴⁶ Notebooks, 4: §5133 f100 (February 1824). As here, Coleridge did not always mark the Greek diacritics.


’  

‘average everydayness’.⁴⁷ Interestingly, Coleridge uses the concept of fascination in this way, when describing a slavish concern with superficialities, which he equates with the loss of reason. Annotating Böhme, he considers excessive enthusiasm as preferable to the cold conceits of merely conceptual understanding: The very Delusions of such a mind are more venerable to me than the heartless Sobrieties of a Locke, hai Paley, or a Dugald Stewart! Let it be . . . that poor Jacob is sometimes out of his Wits, and often out of his Senses—Yet it is better so, than with the Fascinati, to have lost his Reason.⁴⁸

As etymology suggests, fascination (like fascism) is bondage.⁴⁹ In Plato’s allegory of the cave,⁵⁰ the prisoners, shackled since birth at the neck and limbs, only see the play of shadows and firelight on the wall. By analogy, people in eikasía are cognitively restricted in the extreme, however charming the ties might be. Scintillations of surface beauty, and the unreflective acceptance of appearances, keep the mind entangled in superficial concerns. Yet eikasía is neither true nor false, but a dream-like state. Here mental gignómena arise, the things which tumble about between being and not being. Closer to Plotinus here than Plato, Coleridge thinks reason exists in sense, although it is asleep or dreaming: Plants are Life dormant; Animals = Somnambulists; the mass of Mankind Daydreamers; the Philosopher only awake.⁵¹

While Coleridge sees pure reason as a reality beyond the human mind, the ‘pure Sense’ consists in a priori and potential acts of imagination, as Kant argued, that create the perceptual space for phenomenal intuition. This theory is consistent with Coleridge’s insistence that The pith of my system is to make the Senses out of the Mind—not the Mind from the Senses, as Locke etc.⁵²

⁴⁷ Heidegger, Being and Time (1962 edn), 149, 394, et passim (see index). ⁴⁸ Marginalia, 1: 621–2. ⁴⁹ Latin fascinare, ‘enchant’; proto-Indo-European bhasko-, ‘band, bundle’. ⁵⁰ Plato, Republic, bk 7. ⁵¹ The Friend, 2: 75 n.3 (autograph note, Copy R). The thought develops Schelling’s position that ‘animals, those incessant somnambulists’, cannot act freely, but rather the natural ground acts through them: Schelling, ‘Aphorisms’ (1805), 255. Schopenhauer adapts the same thought when he claims that, ‘What appears in the clouds, the brook, and the crystal is the weakest echo of that will which appears more fully in the plant, more fully still in the beast, and most fully in man’: Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, 1: 205 (tr. Norman et al). ⁵² Table Talk, 1: 312 (21 July 1832).

  :   


Coleridge finds this idealism of the senses adumbrated in Böhme’s Aurora, where he comments, our senses are not merel things of the Body, but have their root in the spiritual powers, and their prototypes in the most exalted Spirits. His purpose is to raise up the Body, not to degrade the Soul, or to anthropomorphize the Deity. The motto might be taken from Plotinus—῎Η γὰρ και ύλη ασοματος [For matter, too, is incorporeal].—⁵³

In a luminous convergence of thought, stemming from the influence of Kant, Schelling, Hölderlin, and Hegel, Heidegger finds resemblances between feeling and reason that bring them nearer to the truth of being than conceptual, abstractual understanding can reach. Heidegger correctly notes that the substantive Vernunft is rooted in the verb vernehmen, to hear, to pick up, to examine.⁵⁴ A philosophical translator also observes that Vernehmen has no exact equivalent in English, and is philologically related to Vernunft, the faculty of reason peculiar to man . . . Vernehmen means more than mere sensuous hearing, and implies hearing by means of the faculty of reason.⁵⁵

Vernunft is the higher sense of reason that Kant distinguishes from Verstand, the conceptual understanding. Coleridge, as we have seen, returns this distinction to its Platonic origin as that between (contemplative, intuitive) nóēsis and (conceptual, abstractual, schematic) diánoia. Like Coleridge, Heidegger finds in the higher term of Vernunft a comportment and an intuitive facility that elevates it over Verstand: Perhaps . . . what we call feeling or mood . . . is more reasonable [vernünftiger]— that is, more intelligently perceptive [vernehmender]—because more open to Being than all that reason [Vernunft] which, having meanwhile become ratio [sc. reasoning, abstracted understanding], was misinterpreted as being rational.⁵⁶

⁵³ Marginalia, 1: 582, quoting, Plotinus, Enneads, II.4.9, 5. ⁵⁴ Coleridge encountered this etymology, originating with J. G. Hamann, in Schelling’s Denkmal (192) against Jacobi, where Schelling acknowledges ‘daß Vernunft von Vernehmen herkommt, ist ja einer Hamann’sche Tradition [that reason comes from hearing/perceiving is, indeed, a Hamannian tradition]’. Heidegger possibly read this too. Coleridge accepts the equivalence of -nunft and -nehmen, but further considers, incorrectly, that the Ver- of Vernunft is derived from the Latin verum (true), via the German Wahr (true), Marginalia, 4: 372 (S, Denkmal, 1812; 1816–17, or later), and 2: 188 (D W, Theodor, 1822; c.1825–6). The prefix of Vernunft, however, is in fact the versatile prefix ver-, which in this instance changes the verb into a noun. Hamann’s derivation of Vernunft from vernehmen is confirmed in Pfeifer, ‘Vernunft’, Etymologisches Wörterbuch. ⁵⁵ Payne, in his translator’s introduction to Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, ix. ⁵⁶ Heidegger, ‘Origin of the Work of Art’, Basic Writings, 151.


’  

Note that Heidegger does not say that feeling is more open to being than all reason; the contrast is with all reason that has become ratio (abstract, merely technical conceptualization). Ratio in this sense of an abstracted seeking of technical mastery, is such that the current thing-concept always fits each thing. Nevertheless, it does not lay hold of the thing as it is in its own being, but makes an assault upon it.⁵⁷

The similarity with Coleridge’s position is striking, and Heidegger here draws especially from Hölderlin and Schelling.⁵⁸ Yet the notion of a deep though obscure reason within feeling is not a romantic invention, but a Plotinian tenet. In language similar to Schelling’s and Coleridge’s, Plotinus says that Nature, within the World Soul, enacts, as one commentator glosses, ‘by . . . unconscious thinking, a sort of dim and dreamlike contemplation’.⁵⁹ Following a Plotinian direction, with a Behmenist interpenetration of opposed powers, filtered through Anglican divines such as Richard Hooker and his notion of reason as intuited revelation,⁶⁰ Coleridge sees reason not as contrary to sense, but as its harmonic counterpart. For Plato, reason is the end-point of dialectic, eventually achieving a direct intuition that becomes free of the mathēmatiká, the conceptual and schematic intermediates of diánoia. Platonic nóēsis intuits ideas, whereas diánoia imagines, or mentally images, ideas, employing geometrical diagrams, hypotheses, etc., never reaching ideas directly. Thus diánoia at once progresses with, and is held back by, a matured, higher-level version of eikasía. Between diánoia and nóēsis is dialectic, the pro-noetic use of diánoia, pursuing a dim, experiential intuition of idea, motivated by the awareness that the idea is more than an abstraction from experience, and is rather a reality, a positive power and value. Though momentary, these insights leave a persistent want for greater knowledge and clarity. Against such insight, one’s previous definitions of ideas or fundamental principles are recognized as empty abstractions. The Socratic dialogues, such as the Euthyphro, show this process in action. Socrates brings his interlocutors, initially confident in their experiential definitions, to acknowledge their ignorance. Yet the intuitive sense of some dim acquaintance with the guiding idea in question persists, and this is the noetic drive. Coleridge’s sense of the harmony between feeling and idea helps one understand how artists can be led by ideas yet remain deeply within the aesthetic, sensory level of eikasía. This sensuous, aesthetic insight into ideas corresponds to ⁵⁷ Heidegger, ‘Origin of the Work of Art’, Basic Writings, 151. ⁵⁸ Hühn, ‘A Philosophical Dialogue’, explores the ‘open secret’ of Heidegger’s ‘idealistic inheritance’ from Schelling. ⁵⁹ Linguiti, ‘Plotinus and Porphyry on the Contemplative Life’, glossing Enneads, III.8.4, 1–14. Deck, Nature, Contemplation, and the One, shows Plotinian nature as ‘produced and governed through the poeisis-theoria of the Nous’ (74). ⁶⁰ Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiatical Polity, bk 2 §7; paraphrased at Aids to Reflection, 223–4.

  :   


Diotima’s vision, recounted in Plato’s Symposium by Socrates, who heard it in his youth, of the virtuous soul ascending to ‘the sea of beauty’, until, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be able to bring forth, not only images of beauty, but realities; for he has hold not of an image but of a reality . . . ⁶¹

Similarly, Coleridge highlights the harmony between sense and reason, and the subsequent actualization of ideas. Like the Platonic ecstasy at the sea of beauty, Coleridge describes cerebral thrill at ‘the excellencies . . . of free Activity’ in intellectual pursuit.⁶² Readers of Coleridge often encounter this heady thrill and his self-reflective analysis of it. In an 1820 notebook entry, he analyses delight in music as intellectual pleasure taken in ‘Law, Order, and Proportion’: There is a delight . . . from the seeking, expecting, and finding according to a Law.—Genus. ordo.—

He claims this is a specific delight from the perception of Proportion common to all the Fine Arts.

Here, the intellect derives Delight from the Act of following, perfected by the Fact of finding, order and calculable Proportion.⁶³

The intellectual thrill of the chase and the delight found in law, proportion, and order are energic activities. They contrast with the energetic impulses of lowerlevel desire that can become a bondage, as in Plato’s eikastic prisoners in the cave, captivated by moving shadows, or like the Heideggerian Faszination that binds people to conventional ways of being. Unphilosophical, eikasía characterizes the unexamined life. Plato and Coleridge both stress the illusory nature of this naive level of experience, yet Coleridge, like Plotinus, also argued for imaginative, aesthetic, mythic access to intimations of reality even in the firelight and shadows.

7.2 (ii) Pístis: The Ordinary World of Belief The objects of pístis are the concrete things of our ordinary world. While eikasía accepts images and conventions in a prejudice unconcerned with contradiction, ⁶¹ Plato, Symposium, 210d. ⁶² Letters, 5: 98 (August 1822), to Hartley Coleridge, discussed in this book (31–3). ⁶³ Notebooks, 4: §4734 f18 (October 1820).


’  

pístis is characterized by the judgements of reliable experience. Inherently practical, its concern is with prágmata, thingly things. The judgments of pístis arrive at opinions through reflection, ‘the soul debating with herself’, affirming and denying.⁶⁴ This process is akin to reasoning in the Coleridgean lower understanding. In the Theaetetus, dóxa (opinion) is said to combine aísthēsis and pure thinking.⁶⁵ This combination is the earliest adumbration of Kant’s transcendental synthesis of the imagination, where schemata reconcile the universality of concepts with the particularity of sense intuitions. Coleridge also theorizes the reservoir of ready-made thoughts, fashioned by the fancy and associated in the stream of sense. For him, fixed-and-definite units of thought work like pre-concepts, or counters: smooth-washed pebbles from the sensory stream of experience. Pístis is the mode of sensible belief, deciding on matters of fact and trust. It is exemplified by Samuel Johnson’s common-sense ‘I refute it thus’ proof against Berkeleian empiricist idealism. It cares little for shadows on one side and ideas on the other. In Husserl’s phenomenology, it is the naive ‘natural attitude’. For Santayana, it is ‘animal faith’: unsophisticated, but a more pragmatic, basic, and sensible attitude for life than scepticism.⁶⁶ Thoroughly common-sense, the mainstays of pístis are experiential maxims passed down over generations. Its scope is the predictable, the regular, the seasonal. Coleridge saw such knowledge as Polonian—illuminative, but of the past, not forward thinking (not Promethean, like reason): If men could learn from history—what lessons it might teach us! But . . . the light which Experience gives is a lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind us!⁶⁷

The observed facts of common sense, indeed any facts on their own, are inconclusive. They are data, not arguments: To attempt to argue any great question upon Facts only is absurd; you cannot state any Fact before a mixed audience which an opponent as clever as yourself cannot with great ease twist towards another bearing, or at least meet by a contrary Fact, as it is called. Facts are not Truths—they are not Conclusions; they are not even Premisses . . . ⁶⁸

Nonetheless, in the transit from eikasía (or Coleridgean fancy) to pístis (lower understanding) arises the important distinction between reality and unreality. If a sensation or appearance is pleasurable, eikasía (fancy) is satisfied. Pístis (lower understanding), on the other hand, can judge the ‘facts of the matter’ from a ⁶⁴ ⁶⁵ ⁶⁶ ⁶⁷

Plato, Theaetetus, 190a. Plato, Theaetetus, 194b. Boswell, Life of Johnson, 238; Husserl, Ideas, 1: 5; Santayana, Scepticism and Animal Faith. Table Talk, 1: 260 (17 December 1831). ⁶⁸ Table Talk, 1: 262 (27 December 1831).

  :   


higher perspective, liberating one from mere fascination. Essentially empirical, it judges a posteriori, asserting that this follows that, without needing to understand how or why. Pístis is thus pragmatic, like the farmer who correctly judges when to sow and when to leave fallow, but feeling no desire to understand the deeper principles of how and why this is so. Once the object is grasped in its objectivity, however, and beyond subjective concerns, one leaves pragmatic opinion for dianoetic knowledge. Here, the object is set apart from the subject by ‘measuring, counting, and weighing [tò métreîn kaì arithmeîn kaì istánai]’.⁶⁹ Thus the object becomes amenable to máthēsis, meaning ́ it can be examined and known according to its mathēmata (quantities and schemata; literally, things that can be taught and learnt) rather than experienced ́ only according to pathēmata (qualia; things felt). Pístis therefore transitions into diánoia when the first-hand experiential counters of things are exchanged for measurable, objective data and empirically abstracted, generalized concepts and theories. The notion of pístis transitioning into diánoia is supported in Coleridge’s account of the role of the understanding in the process of ‘substantiation’, his term for thinking of phenomena as external objects.⁷⁰ The understanding is the substantiative power, that by which we . . . attribute substance and reality to phenomena and raise them from mere affections and appearances into objects communicable and capable of being anticipated and reasoned of.⁷¹

The transition from pístis to diánoia can also be found in what Robert Barth describes as Coleridge’s distinction between ‘common sense’ and higher ‘scientific’ thought processes.⁷² Here, pragmatic curiosity in science can lead to more objective interest in its questions and methods. To experience practical, human-worldly things as truly objective entities requires a degree of thought initiated in pístis and refined in diánoia, moving from the Coleridgean lower to the higher understanding, where awareness of Logos awakens.

7.3 The Divided Line: Higher. Theoretic Diánoia to Contemplative Nóēsis It has been noted that ‘In Aids to Reflection Coleridge provides a scheme reminiscent of the divided line of the Republic, 510.’⁷³ This scheme is illustrated ⁶⁹ Plato, Republic, 602d. ⁷⁰ Logic, 239–43. I am grateful to Dillon Struwig for pointing out this connection. ⁷¹ Logic, 239. Opus Maximum, 87, reprises this topic. ⁷² Barth, Coleridge and Christian Doctrine, 19. ⁷³ Knights, The Idea of the Clerisy, 48, referring to Ashe’s ‘New Edition’ of Aids to Reflection, 148, corresponding to Beer’s Bollingen edition, 223.


’  

in the chapter ‘On the Difference in kind of Reason and the Understanding’, where Coleridge contrasts understanding and reason in opposed columns (see Table 2.1). These columns emphasize the saltus he conceives between understanding and reason. Relating a ‘difference in kind’, and not just a distinction, he describes a breach at the core of human existence. Yet this divide, I argue, is what allows the build-up and leaping over of a charge: the energy of thought. For Coleridge, as I have been arguing since Chapter 5, the divide is the crucial centre, corresponding to Böhme’s flash of ‘Feuer oder Geist [Fire or Spirit]’ between the ‘Dark World’ and the ‘Light World’. Coleridge’s schemata such as his ‘Order of the Mental Powers’ and the ‘Difference in kind of Reason and the Understanding’ positively compare to Plato’s divided line, except Coleridge elevates the role of imagination, much as Plotinus did in the treatise ‘On the Intellectual Beauty’ and in his theory of a higher imagination at the border between the aesthetic and the noetic.⁷⁴ Another commentator relates Aids to Reflection to Plato’s divided line, finding in it important affinities to Bonaventura’s Journey to the Mind of God or Nicholas of Cusa’s The Vision of God: a tradition which pursues the Platonic vision up the Divided Line and out of the cave into the divine light.⁷⁵

Imagination points to a world of truth that can be apprehended, even if not comprehended. Coleridge’s locating imagination between understanding and reason recognizes, as Plotinus did, an aesthetic-intellectual bridge from diánoia to Platonic nóēsis, from theory to contemplation, or as Coleridge put it, from ‘Logic’ to ‘Noetic’.

7.3 (i) Diánoia: Understanding, Dreaming of Being Although pístis transitions to diánoia, making the two proximally similar, eikasía and diánoia are more analogous, or harmonically alike. As eikasía dreams of actual objects, diánoia dreams of being.⁷⁶ Eikasía is a hazy image of diánoia. The former occupies the lower section of opinion; the latter, the lower of knowledge. By contrast, pístis, the higher section of the lower division, grasps actual objects in hands-on encounter. Similarly, nóēsis, the higher section of the upper division, directly intuits being and realities. The divided line traces human cognition from ingenuous, imagistic consciousness, through pragmatic opinion, to mathematical reasoning in the ‘logistikoû . . . psychē ́ érgon [logical . . . function of the soul]’,⁷⁷ and into the dialectical approach ⁷⁴ Plotinus, Enneads, V.8, IV.3.31. ⁷⁵ Hedley, Coleridge, Philosophy and Religion, 8. ⁷⁶ Plato, Republic, 476c. ⁷⁷ Plato, Republic, 602e.

  :   


to ideas. Epistemic ascent is the focus, flowing from a discussion on education, as Socrates explains the divided line to Glaucon. The epistemology is philosophically secondary, however, to Platonic ontology, which, descending, moves in the other direction: from the idea of the good, then the ideas, then material objects,⁷⁸ to end in reflections and shadows, which provide no ground at all. Yet, following the divided line epistemologically, everything seems to be constructed ground-up from phenomena. Read thus, Plato, at the divided line, does not appear to show how any lower-level, or aesthetic, access to ideas might be possible. But the ground-up reading (commencing from eikasía) is clearly neither the only nor the prioritized reading, for ontologically speaking, the ‘ground’, the source, is the idea of ideas, the form of the good, at the apex of the line. Any so-called ground-up epistemology from eikasía is only possible, for Plato, because of the top-down catenation from the form of the good and the ideas. This suggests what Coleridge would later call a ‘refluent’ motion,⁷⁹ where the higher can be seen in and through the lower, via art, for example, or religion, or a sympathetic sensibility. In the Ion and Phaedrus, especially, Plato recognizes that beauty and art can provide a graduated access, but they are untrustworthy without the ground-up underpinnings and the dialectical stabilizations. For Plato, the truest and best contemplation of the ideas and of the good is reached only after long progress through necessary stages. The chained prisoners cannot reach the forms by lucky guesses, extrapolating from the shadows and echoes that constitute their experience. Epistemic progress requires gradual ascent, as allegorized by the transit out of the cave. Any lucky conjecture, Plato argues in the Theaetetus, could not be known to be true, because it would possess in itself no principle to differentiate true from false conjectures. True belief with an account is therefore not sufficient for knowledge. Moving from opinion into knowledge, one starts thinking through problems with concepts and schemata. Diánoia is literally thinking through, but, not beholding ideas directly, it uses axioms and diagrams derived from empirical ́ (knowledge, not concepts and geometry. Hence, diánoia is a form of epistēmē opinion), although is still imagistic and hypothetical compared to nóēsis. Similarly, Coleridge retains this build-up towards highest knowledge, working up thinking from sense and fancy, through the higher and lower understandings, till, after poetic or philosophic imagination, ‘Positive Reason’ is reached.

⁷⁸ Mathēmatiká are not listed here. Finite minds need conceptual-schematic constructs to theorize being, but being does not need theory to be. Being hypothetical, mathēmatiká are transitional constructs in Plato’s epistemology (a degree or two clearer than paintings, but equally artificial), and not beings in his ontology as I read it. Thus diánoia and pístis are the same length on the line, and ́ thereby represent an equal degree of clarity (saphēneia). ⁷⁹ Opus Maximum, 149–50.


’  

Think of an eddy in a river, a phenomenon that particularly appealed to Coleridge.⁸⁰ Imagine a naive passer-by who finds it so alluring, so beautiful, that they want to take it home. The person tries to catch the eddy in a bucket but is disappointed when all he or she catches is motionless water, while the eddy remains swirling just downstream of the rock in the river. Of course, the eddy is a physical phenomenon, materially manifested. But the continually flowing, particular matter in which the eddy is manifest is interchangeable and inessential. To know the eddy truly, the observer needs to appreciate, by induction from observations, the commonalities in such liquid patterns. From this point, the essential features can now be separated in the mind from the interchangeable ones. Observation, conjecture, experiment, and theory work together in approaching the law or laws of the phenomena. Knowing the eddy eventually amounts to knowing the laws or principles equivalent to what Plato calls ideas. These laws remain, in the Platonic account, even absent the instantiating matter or circumstance. To the question, ‘Would the laws governing gravity and the Coriolis Effect still obtain in the absence of matter?’, the Platonist responds affirmatively. As Coleridge argues, the laws responsible for phenomena are not themselves phenomena.⁸¹ The fascinating eddy is a possibility whose laws always obtain, even if the phenomenon is, at any particular time, nowhere instantiated. This eternality, the ‘always’ in the possibility of the appearance, is accounted for by the set of laws or principles governing the phenomenon. In the bottom-up reading of the divided line as epistemological progression, ‘bottom’, or ‘ground’, cannot mean foundational, or logically originary, because the originaries, or archaí, are the ideas or forms themselves (equivalent to the laws governing the eddy). Plotinus later develops the top-down ontology into his theory of universal emanation from the One, with the subsequent hypostases of intellect, the world soul, and nature remaining within the One like internally stacked matryoshka dolls. For Plato, sense-perception and pragmatic belief gather a store of images and maxims from which abstraction and deduction derive mathematizable concepts and theory. Similarly, Coleridge acknowledges the place of the empiricoassociationist account of conceptual knowledge, built up from the epistemic ground of sense-experience. His claim that mathematical necessity is ‘always hypothetical’ implies that it is epistemologically superior to empirical acquaintance with material objects and phenomena, but ontologically inferior: There is a logical, and there is a mathematical, necessity; but the latter is always hypothetical, and both subsist formally only, not in any real object.⁸²

⁸⁰ e.g. Notebooks, 1: §§495 (October 1799), 1589 (October 1803); 3: §4166 (October 1812); 4: §5249 (September 1825); 5: §6847 (19 October 1830). ⁸¹ The Friend, 1: 500. ⁸² The Statesman’s Manual, 32.

  :   


His point is equivalent to Plato’s—in the divided line passage—that mathematics thinks downwards, with analysis and deduction, from unproven yet assumed hypotheses treated as axioms. Plato’s first example of a dianoetic science is geometry.⁸³ Geometers assume rather than investigate hypotheses, because the axioms of geometry cannot be used to investigate themselves, as Gödel’s incompleteness theorem attests. Coleridge follows Plato here, noting that in works of pure science the definitions of necessity precede the reasoning, in other works they more aptly form the conclusion.⁸⁴

In a later, handwritten addition to this footnote, Coleridge continues with a perfect gloss of Plato’s theoretical constructs in diánoia, the mathēmatiká: In the severity of Logic, the geometrical Point, Line, Surface, Circle etc. are Theorems, not Ideas.⁸⁵

Coleridge’s division between ideas and the ‘conceptions of the Understanding’ ́ further parallels Plato’s between the ideas of nóēsis and the mathēmata (the ‘teachables’ and theorems) of diánoia. In his Logic, Coleridge describes ‘mathematical concretes’ as conceptual constructs ‘seen’ in the mind’s eye but distinguished as lower than the unconstructed and constructing ideas themselves. He describes these ‘mathematical concretes’ with a Plotinian term, ‘θεωρημα, contemplamen’,⁸⁶ or ‘theoremes’, arguing that while they are ‘forms’ or ‘even “sensuous ideas” ’, they are neither ‘images’ (for ‘ “Image” involves the existence of a correspondent’) nor noetic ideas.⁸⁷ Just like Plato, Coleridge holds, then, that the mathematical and logical forms are intermediate mental entities between sensibles and intelligibles, or empirical concepts and pure ideas, with no outer ontological correspondence. Thus understanding is discursive, constructive, and adept at forming hypotheses, but is not noetic. Plato considers arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, to be numerical disciplines par excellence, the highest sciences accessible to diánoia. In diánoia, images become tools of sublimity: These very things they [sc. geometers] are forming and drawing, of which shadows and reflections in water are images, they now in turn use as their images

⁸³ Plato, Republic, 510c–11b. ⁸⁴ The Friend, 1: 177 fn. ⁸⁵ The Friend, 1: 177 n.1 (autograph insertion, Copy D; var. in L and M). ⁸⁶ Logic, 245, citing Plotinus, Enneads, III.8.4. ⁸⁷ Logic, 244–5. At Marginalia, 4: 156–8 (P), Coleridge notes that the Platonic notion of the mathematicals as conceptual, schematizing intermediates foreshadows Kant. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 987b14–18, reports Plato regarding ta mathēmatiká as intermediates between ideas and particulars.


’  

and aiming to see those very things which they could not otherwise see except in thought.⁸⁸

Yet, not examining its first principles, diánoia cannot reach beyond its hypotheses. Hence while people in diánoia dream about reality, it is yet impossible for them to see the waking vision while they use assumptions which leave these topics (geometry and what follows from it) undisturbed, for they cannot offer an explanation. You see, where the starting point is not known and the end and what comes between is woven together out of what is not known, what means are there that such a set of premises can ever become knowledge?⁸⁹

Intriguingly, the simile of the divided line is itself a dianoetic, conceptual model, with the respective insufficiencies that that implies. Indeed, the simile of the divided line has an interesting logical status in being a simile of similes, describing the following relations: Images of things : Concrete things :: Concepts and diagrams : Ideas A B C D The whole line is a simile of knowledge. But also, A is a simile of B; B is a simile of C; A is a simile of C; B is a simile of D; and A:B is a simile of C:D. That is, as imperfect images are to the concrete things they resemble, so concepts and diagrams are to the ideas. Ideas, in this view, pre-exist things. Concepts, on the other hand, follow, or trace things. Ideas are, for Plotinus and Coleridge alike, the ‘seeds of things’ (‘Semina Rerum’, the Lucretian-cum-Plotinian title Coleridge gave to his Folio Notebook).⁹⁰ The metaphor implies an organizing, informing pre-structure that gives material substance its laws, patterns, and tendencies. ‘ Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος [In the beginning (en archē ̂) was the Logos]’.⁹¹ While apprehending an idea requires noetic contemplation, comprehending a concept requires reflection on sense experience or abstractions from it. Unlike the concept, the idea cannot be thus articulated, requiring instead, unless transparently attained, symbols for aesthetic intimation. Necessarily, therefore, solely conceptual and schematic attempts fall short of communicating the idea, even

⁸⁸ Plato, Republic, 510e. ⁸⁹ Plato, Republic, 533c. ⁹⁰ The phrase ‘semina rerum’ originates with Lucretius’ description of atoms in his DemocritoEpicurean poem, De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) 1.59. Ovid, Metamorphoses, bk 1, ll. 7–9, alludes to Lucretius in referring to primal ‘Chaos: a raw confused mass, nothing but . . . badly combined, discordant seeds of things.’ Yet Coleridge more likely follows Ficino, who often translates Plotinus’s logoí spermátikoi (‘seminal principles’) ‘semina rerum’. ⁹¹ John 1:1.

  :   


by one who consciously appreciates the idea. As Socrates tells Glaucon at the outset of the divided line passage, his theoretical, schematic explanation will inevitably fall short: There’s certainly a great deal I’m missing out . . . I think there’s quite a lot . . . Anyway . . . I’ll not miss anything out on purpose.⁹²

In practice, then, the divided line is a pedagogic model that uses the schematizing ability of diánoia to explain the four major epistemological faculties. Kenneth Dorter proposes that the divided line is a ‘disappearing ladder’ that ‘vanishes as soon as we try to grasp hold of it’.⁹³ He argues, as I do, that Plato is aware of the shortcomings in presenting an abstract, imagistic schema to explain a theory that emphasizes the limits of abstract, imagistic, theoretical models. Plato’s demonstrating the limits of schemata and images with a schematic image is too perfect an irony for it to be a mere oversight. This irony, it seems, is itself presented for philosophic reflection. In a similar instance of self-reflective irony, Plato set the Phaedrus—a discussion on rhetoric, enthusiasm, love, and truth—on the naiadcharmed banks of the Illisos, at a spot between a plane tree and a willow. Dramatically astute, Plato has a commanding awareness of his discursive settings and media. Furthering the self-aware irony, the plane tree (plátanos; 229a–b) is likely inserted as a play on the author’s name, Plátōn (broad).⁹⁴ Plato thereby implicates himself in the scene. Socrates at first says that ‘the country places and the trees won’t teach me anything . . . the people in the city do’ (230d), but his daimónion later warns him that his first speech on love is too coldly rational. Socrates subsequently gives a palinode inspired with theía manía by the spirit of this idyllic place. Observing that ‘the plane tree [is] sacred to Dionysus’,⁹⁵ Dorter shows how Plato further accentuates a Bacchic, earthly-godly sense of transcendence in and through the aesthetic sense of nature, a heady, drunken connection, theía manía as opposed to sober discourse. An apparent disparity between the poetic prose passages and those of discursive rigour has led some authors to write about ‘two Platos’ or ‘the Other Plato’.⁹⁶ R. M. Hare set ‘Pato’, the mystic, beside ‘Lato’ the expert in dialectic and definitional finesse.⁹⁷ For such commentators, the visionary in Plato sits unevenly with the logical explanations and arguments in dialogues such as the Theaetetus and the Parmenides, and perhaps his Academy lecture on the good, going by

⁹² Plato, Republic, 509c. ⁹³ Dorter, ‘Three Disappearing Ladders in Plato’, 290. ⁹⁴ It has often been argued that Plato is his nickname, after the broadness of his mind, or his unusually broad chest and shoulders (he was a wrestler in his youth). ⁹⁵ Dorter, ‘Division of the Phaedrus’, 262. It is possible that the plane tree both refers to the presence of the god Dionysus and brings Plato into the scene. ⁹⁶ Hare, Plato; Perkins, ‘Coleridge and the “Other Plato” ’. ⁹⁷ Hare, Plato, 26.


’  

Aristotle’s bemused account of it, when the audience expected an ethical theme and received an address on abstruse mathematics.⁹⁸ However, we do not need two Platos once we recognize that his poetry, and masterly irony, continue where dianoetic method alone cannot progress. The Platonic poetry reveals beauty, combining aísthēsis with nóēsis, as ideal and astonishing. On Diotima’s celestial stairway; the banks of the Illisos; in the Phaedrean chariot; and with the prisoner escaped from the cave, blinking at colours, three-dimensional objects, and the stars, moon, and finally the sun, one finds in Plato strong intimations of selfconscious aesthetic contemplation (inchoate noesis). The opening phrase of the Republic, ‘I went down to the Piraeus yesterday . . . ’, is traditionally interpreted as a metaphor of the philosopher descending from contemplation to pursue social and educational duty.⁹⁹ The opening descent thus alludes, proleptically, to the Socratic return from nóēsis to the prisoners in the cave. The aim is to stir a desire in others to make the ascent for themselves, and the practice is in no way above using eikasía, pístis, and diánoia to convey its message. In the hands of a noetic teacher, these modes transcend themselves, or as Coleridge puts it, the lower modes become subsumed by reason. Fittingly, this return of the contemplative to the cave is made in the Republic, a political work primarily on justice. One of its main theses is that the philosopher, though inclined to remain apart from the political mainstream and contemplate the forms, has a duty to educate, to draw out, the inhabitants from the cave of abstract models and shadowy images.

7.3 (ii) Nóēsis: Reason Intuitive Owen Barfield memorably noted that Coleridge’s complementarities at either end of his scale of the Mental Powers are like octaves: Extremes meet; and . . . from one point of view reason, at the top of the ‘scale’, has a greater affinity with its octave, sense, than it has with the understanding . . . or even with the imagination, into which it is ever willing to be transformed.¹⁰⁰

As Wordsworth wrote, ⁹⁸ Aristotle’s account is recorded by his associate, Aristoxenus of Tarentum, at Elementa Harmonica, 2.30–1. ⁹⁹ Proclus makes this allegorical interpretation in the fourth preliminary of commentary on the Timaeus, Plato’s sequel to the Republic. Nightingale, Spectacles of Truth, 74, notes that because Socrates visited Piraeus to offer prayers to the Thracian goddess Bendis, and ‘to see how they would conduct the festival’ (Republic, 327a), the dialogue opens with ‘a traditional practice of theoria’. Théōroi (observers) were Panhellenic envoys sent to witness a sacred festival or game. The term predates the use of the word théōria for philosophical contemplation. Nightingale also notes how ‘the theoria at the very opening of the Republic . . . anticipates the discussion of metaphysical theoria set forth in books –’ (75). ¹⁰⁰ Barfield, What Coleridge Thought, 104.

  :   


The mind of Man is framed even like the breath And harmony of music. There is a dark Invisible workmanship that reconciles Discordant elements, and makes them move In one society.¹⁰¹

In this ‘music’, more is in tune between reason and sense, in Coleridge’s theory of mind, than between reason and understanding, though understanding is linearly closer to reason along the cognitive scale. Thus Coleridge defines reason as the intuition of ideas, much as sense intuits ‘material and contingent phænomena’.¹⁰² It is apt that a poet articulates these spiritual–sensual connections, alert to conceptual rhymes in opposed yet complementary powers. This view of a harmonic scale within the hierarchical relation between sense and reason is a rationalist intuitionism, acknowledging that the aesthetic and the noetic operate at opposite epistemological poles, but in such a way that extremes meet. One of the Cambridge Platonists—‘more truly Plotinists’¹⁰³—John Smith, reached this rationalist intuitionism a century-and-a-half earlier, finding that Reason . . . is turn’d into Sense: That which before was only Faith well built upon sure Principles (for such our science may be) now becomes Vision.¹⁰⁴

While Smith’s neo-Platonic theory of ‘Reason . . . turn’d into Sense’ is an important influence, Coleridge’s spiritual realism is more developed than that of Cambridge Platonism. This should not surprise, as Coleridge’s system gains support from Kant’s critical philosophy and post-Kantian developments. As an early twentiethcentury account notes, ‘Coleridge’s mysticism was differentiated from that of the [Cambridge] Platonists by being more critical.’¹⁰⁵ Overtly hierarchical, Coleridge’s rationalist intuitionism observes an asymmetry in the otherwise harmonic ends of the mental bipolarity. The physical organs of sense, with their mental counterpart of sensation, are categorially different from their objects, which the sense organs must convert into their own kind by receiving them as physical stimuli to be translated into qualia.¹⁰⁶ By contrast, the ideas and the ‘Positive Reason’ in which they are contemplated are congeneric. In contemplating ideas, the mind or soul realizes its kinship with them.¹⁰⁷ As diánoia descends from assumed hypotheses towards conclusions, nóēsis begins from the same hypotheses, but, rather than taking them for granted, ascends to ‘soar beyond them to the first ¹⁰¹ Wordsworth, The Prelude (1805), bk 1, 351–5. ¹⁰² The Friend, 1: 156. ¹⁰³ Marginalia, 5: 80 (S, Select Discourses; March 1824). ¹⁰⁴ Smith, Select Discourses, 16. ¹⁰⁵ Howard, Coleridge’s Idealism, 29. ¹⁰⁶ Logic, 34, 44–5 fn., and 263 discuss the correspondences between concepts, objects, and qualia. Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 1: 112–15 (3 January 1819), discusses this correspondence in the original Pythagorean context. ¹⁰⁷ The Friend, 1: 156; The Statesman’s Manual, 24.


’  

principle of the whole’, when the soul, in a renewed vision that finds the trace of ideas everywhere, finally descends ‘from ideas, through ideas, and in ideas she ends’.¹⁰⁸ Coleridge finds in Plato the locus classicus of the reason–understanding distinction, allying his view with the Platonic sense of reason as a praeter-conceptual reality that confounds all merely conceptual attempts to comprehend ideas. This Coleridge–Plato axis goes beyond Kant’s version of the distinction, where ‘ideas’ are not (so far as we can know) positive realities, independent of human mind, but special concepts that regulate our knowledge of phenomena, without themselves counting as knowledge. Coleridge states his Platonism in a note to Tennemann’s Geschichte der Philosophie: Plato’s principal Object was to insinuate on every opportunity the insufficiency and alien nature of Conceptions formed by the Reflection (= Verstand, Understanding, Λoγος ψιλάνθρωπος )( Vernunft, Reason, Νoυς) in relation to the proper objects of Philosophy ()( Philology) viz. the Soul, Moral Freedom, God . . . ¹⁰⁹

The philosopher attracted to this contemplative ideal must be compelled to descend from it if he or she is to work for the social good. As Plato has Socrates say, don’t be surprised that those who go there [sc. achieve this beatific vision] are not willing to engage in human affairs, but their souls constantly hurry upwards to spend their time up there . . . ¹¹⁰

Although the philosopher must be compelled to descend, this should not be so difficult. Because the philosopher’s noetic desire concentrates on virtue, i.e. the realizing principles of the good, he or she¹¹¹ actually intends to work for the general good, and not only to maintain contemplation as purely intellectual enjoyment. Realistically, however, Plato does not underestimate the power of noetic bliss. The Socratic educator proceeds by revealing contradictions within the prenoetic levels. Coleridge noted that with this preliminary, negative process, Plato discovered the insufficiency of the Understanding indirectly, by contradictions—¹¹²

¹⁰⁸ Plato, Republic, 511b–c. ¹⁰⁹ Marginalia, 5: 752 (T, on Plato). ‘ψιλάνθρωπος [psilánthrōpos]’ means ‘merely human’. Λoγος ψιλάνθρωπος means, ‘merely human logic (or discourse)’. )( means ‘as opposed to’. ¹¹⁰ Plato, Republic, 517c–d. ¹¹¹ Millenia ahead of its time, as women were not legally citizens in Athens, the guardians, or rulers, in Plato’s Republic are men and women (451c–457b), as are the auxiliaries, or warriors. ¹¹² Notebooks, 5: §5495 f63 (April 1827).

  :   


Plato usually demonstrates nóēsis through dialectic. The participants in the Socratic dialogues typically try to define the meaning of a single term, usually a virtue they are professionally acquainted with, such as courage, piety, beauty, friendship, or knowledge. They then engage in Socratic cross-examination (élenchos). Towards the end of this elenchus, after a series of negations and wrong turns reveals one’s ignorance, one can become partially enlightened with a glimpse of the idea pursued or by perceiving that one lacks this insight. Here schematic and conceptual understanding can move towards reason for its higher purposes, producing the ‘discourse of reason’.¹¹³ Coleridge describes the Dialectician in the platonic sense of the word¹¹⁴—who uses his Understanding for the utterance wording of Truths known in a higher light—as an auxiliary—a go-cart of the infant Reason.¹¹⁵

Plato, then, describes two complementary noetic modes. The positive mode advances on insight, which Plotinus, Proclus, and Coleridge later describe in terms of being launched by symbolic imagination. The other moves at first negatively, using élenchos to reveal aporía, in a dialectic that awakens a genuine intellectual drive. Coleridgean negative reason (higher understanding) corresponds to dialectical elenchus, examining propositions and definitions in dialogue, moving from hypotheses to first principles, the archaí. His positive reason corresponds to the exalted mode of nóēsis as intuitive contemplation of ideas. This mode does not lend itself well to verbal description and its accounts traditionally tend to be apophatic, citing an ultimate ineffability, especially by the neo-Platonists, related Church Fathers, and later Catholic and Protestant mystics. Perhaps for this reason more than any other, Plato needed recourse to analogy, irony, etc., stimulating him to write highly poetic passages in the dialogues. Plato affirms the ultimate ineffability of the nóēmata in perhaps the deepest proposition in his corpus, a superlative statement of the utter transcendence of the idea of the good in which all the other ideas are one. Nearing the end of Republic book 6, immediately prior to the divided line account, Socrates asserts that the good is not being but superior to it [epékeina tēś ousías (beyond being)] in rank and power.¹¹⁶

Plato’s idea of ideas, the good, is a reality beyond being. Its reality, he argues, is known through its power. What is this power? A clue exists in a later dialogue, the Sophist. Here, the visiting Stranger is arguing for anti-materialism against the

¹¹³ The Friend, 1: 156. ¹¹⁴ The text reads ‘world’, but this must be a slip or a transcription error. ¹¹⁵ Notebooks, 4: §5295 f21v (1825–6). ¹¹⁶ Plato, Republic, 509b10.


’  

materialist Theaetetus, a bright young student of mathematics and other higher studies.¹¹⁷ The Eleatic Stranger argues that if only his opponents admit the reality of any bodiless entity, no matter how trivial, the hard-materialist position, that only physical bodies, or sṓmata, exist, would be defeated: It’s enough if they admit that even a small part of that which is doesn’t have body [i.e. is asṓmaton].¹¹⁸

The Stranger asks what it is to be and suggests that whatever has being, whatever is, must have a power (dýnamis) to exert influence, or, conversely, to be influenced.¹¹⁹ He argues that bodiless forms such as justice turn out to be powers, real movers with effects in the world. Justice, wisdom, and the soul in which they become manifest are realities that are neither visible nor tangible. This clue from the Sophist shows Plato arguing that power is an effective influence and thus an index of reality. The good which surpasses being ‘in rank and power’ is therefore a causal and otherwise influencive reality. From this position, Plato argues that the ideas, and thence the law-like behaviour of the universe, are ultimately derived from, and find their unity and rationality in, the idea of the good. For Coleridge, this is ‘the Logos, Idea Idearum’,¹²⁰ the ground of reason and reality.

7.3 (iii) Coleridge’s Post-Kantian Noetic Platonism Coleridge was a post-Kantian, Christian (neo-)Platonist. While this qualified label may seem rather densely compacted to count as a unified descriptor, Coleridge— like Schelling and Hegel, though in different ways—makes of this combination an identifiable outlook and approach. At only 17, Schelling wrote a commentary on the Ion, at 19, on the Timaeus, and throughout his life he pursued the Platonic concepts of the ‘world-soul’ (Von der Weltseele, 1798), intellectual intuition, noûs, and mýthos, the subject of his late-period philosophy. Similarly, Hegel’s Platonism is difficult to overestimate. His following dictum is as celebrated as it is contested: What is rational is actual; and what is actual is rational.¹²¹

¹¹⁷ Plato sees Elea as the fount of Parmenidean monism, with the Eleatic Stranger an authority on wisdom. In Herodotus’s Histories, Solon is a stranger who visits foreign places to disseminate wisdom, a topos found throughout early and classical Greek literature, in which the stranger can even sometimes be a disguised god or goddess. ¹¹⁸ Plato, Sophist, 247c. ¹¹⁹ Plato, Sophist, 247e. ¹²⁰ Notebooks, 4: §4901 (April 1822); var. §§4524 (April 1819), and 5078 f33v (December 1823). ¹²¹ Hegel, Philosophy of Right, 20.

  :   


Yet it is too often overlooked that Hegel claimed this as a distillation of the insightful Platonic thesis, by which world-historical thought Plato . . . . proved his greatness of spirit by the fact that the very principle on which the distinctive character of his Idea turns is the pivot on which the impending world revolution turned.¹²²

Much as ‘’ is for Coleridge ‘the doctrine and discipline of ideas’,¹²³ for Hegel, the nature of speculative thinking is the contemplation of the idea.¹²⁴

These three post-Kantians retained the metaphysical ambition towards what Plato described as the ‘high-minded . . . study [of] all time and all being’.¹²⁵ The following half-jesting words of his translator apply not only to Schelling but to a coterie of post-Kantian Christian Platonists that includes Coleridge: Schelling boldly charges at Kant, leaps over his head, and runs—into the past! Echoes of the great metaphysicians of the past abound: Plato, Spinoza, Giordano Bruno, and Leibniz . . . ¹²⁶

Yet the post-Kantian Platonic retrieval was not solely retrospective; it returned in order to retrieve and then progress. Coleridge generally agrees with Platonic tenets, especially regarding the accessibility of archetypal ideas to human mind while remaining, as cosmic Logos, independent of it—this is what he thought needed to be retrieved before progressing beyond Kant. Concomitant traits he accepted from Plato include the use of division (analysis) and collection (synthesis) as complementary methodologies that combine in dialectic. Though complementary, synthesis is understood to lead to the truer and more encompassing view beyond logical, dianoetic analysis and theoresis. Similarities between Coleridge’s idealism and Hegel’s have been noted over the last century,¹²⁷ and I should address some of these here, insofar as they touch on a more-or-less Platonic notion of ideas. Despite Coleridge’s reading only the first ninety or so pages of Hegel’s Science of Logic, notable coincidences of perspective arise between the two thinkers. This is probably due to their sharing a historically situated post-Kantian Platonism that was initially highly enthusiastic about ¹²² Hegel, Philosophy of Right, 20. ¹²³ Church and State, 47. ¹²⁴ Hegel, ‘Foreword to Hinrichs’s Philosophy of Religion’ (1822), 27. ¹²⁵ Plato, Republic, bk 6, 486. ¹²⁶ Vater, ‘Introduction’, to Schelling, Bruno, 5. ¹²⁷ e.g. Muirhead, Coleridge as Philosopher, 87–8; Orsini, Coleridge and German Idealism; Roy, ‘The Spectre of Hegel’; Hamilton, Coleridge and German Philosophy, 30–36; Deakin, Hegel and the English Romantic Tradition, 35–71.


’  

Schelling’s developments in transcendental idealism and Naturphilosophie, and which grew increasingly critical of their erstwhile guide. They each dismissed, however, different doctrines of Schelling, with Hegel remaining as pantheist in his absolute idealism as Schelling ever was. Coleridge’s emphasis on divine personeïty and his eschewal of pantheist and panentheist forms of absolute idealism prevent his post-Kantianism from getting very close to Hegel, whether early or late works of either philosopher are considered. It is the coincidences regarding their theories of ideas and actualization, where both share a Platonic lineage, as I shall discuss in Chapter 8 (esp. 256–9), that account for overlaps in their views. Does this shared constellation of post-Kantian, Platonic concerns make Coleridge an early British idealist, paving the way for the British (neo-)Hegelians, including T. H. Green, F. H. Bradley, Bernard Bosanquet, and Coleridge’s early twentieth-century advocate, J. H. Muirhead? He is certainly the chief proponent of the early English reception and dissemination of German idealism in Britain and into the USA, anticipating the British idealists as much as he influenced Anglican theology, American transcendentalism, and Victorian proponents of social liberty and cultural value such as J. S. Mill and Matthew Arnold. Recognizing the shared ground between Coleridge and Hegel reinforces rather than dilutes the ascription to Coleridge of a particular kind of Platonism. These two nineteenth-century philosophers of the idea were deeply influenced by Plato and Böhme, though Böhme was no Platonist, and their respective conciliations of the two gave their thought distinctive motifs.¹²⁸ The view of J. N. Findlay is pertinent here, as he describes the essential affinity of his [sc. Hegel’s] thought with Plato’s, [and] the degree to which Platonism and Hegelianism are . . . the same philosophy, with differences of emphasis and elaboration . . . ¹²⁹

Qualifying such post-Kantian thought as Platonist and Christian, as Coleridge’s was to an even greater degree, supports using this compound epithet to describe the latter’s philosophy. The melding of Christian Platonism with Behmenist and Plotinian concerns such as transmuting powers and energies fits with what Gillian Rose has called ‘the broken middle’. As I suggested earlier (200), Rose’s Hegelian ethics of the ‘broken middle’—which prevents dualities from being superficially healed by simplistic abstractions—shares formal aspects with the chiastic crux in Coleridge that divides higher ideas from lower impulses, while allowing imagination to arc

¹²⁸ Muratori, The First German Philosopher, describes Böhme’s influence on Hegel. Magee, ‘Hegel’s Reception of Jacob Boehme’, argues that Boehme gave Hegel the key that allowed him to formulate his system in its mature form. ¹²⁹ Findlay, ‘Hegelianism and Platonism’, 63.

  :   


across the divide. The Platonism that Coleridge connects with is subterranean, drawing from ‘the sacred river’ that runs ‘through caverns measureless to man’, and is thus deeper than all Protagorean humanist relativism.¹³⁰ Though this ‘sacred river’ runs in contrast to the ‘twice five miles’ measured patch of human civilization, ‘with walls and towers girdled round’, the inspiring force of Coleridge’s philosophy lies not in the separation of the resounding measureless—or ‘depthless depth’ as Böhme put it—from the measured and medially rational, ‘the mere understanding’,¹³¹ but in the fertility of their union, producing ‘gardens bright with sinuous rills | Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree’. The ‘deep romantic chasm which slanted’, cutting through the surface appearance, reveals daemonic and supernatural powers around our ordinary middle realm, breaking open to wider vistas with the chiasmus at its core.

¹³⁰ Plato, Theaetetus, 152a, quotes Protagoras’s relativist dictum, ‘Man is the measure of all things’. ¹³¹ The Friend, 1: 521.

8 The Coleridgean Idea For as the Ideal is realized in Nature, so is the Real idealized in Man. Letters, 4: 769 (September 1817), to Charles Augustus Tulk. This chapter situates Coleridge’s thought on transcendent ideas and their historical actualization. After contrasting the Coleridgean idea with what Locke and Hume meant by that word, I situate it further with reference to Heraclitus, Plato, Plotinus, Bacon, Schelling, Hegel, and Mill. I draw on an argument that Coleridge’s theory develops from Bacon’s inductive method for discovering both laws of nature through experiment and natural law through custom and judicial precedent (common law). Coleridge thus upholds, I argue, the reality of ‘Forms’ in science, and of rights in ethics and politics. I further argue that his later political thought is inherently more progressive than is generally admitted. I then clarify how Coleridge’s account of ideas in history differs from Schelling’s and Hegel’s respective theories by maintaining the transcendence of ideas above the immanence of their evolving historical actualizations. I commence by clearing the ground in showing how the ‘ideas’ of Locke and Hume (sensory percepts or dim but persisting recollections of impressions) are entirely different from the ‘ideas’ of Coleridge (certainly after 1806). I then distinguish Coleridgean first-order, transcendent ideas (e.g. God, infinity, the good, and the soul) from his second-order, historical ones (e.g. Church, state, and the constitution) that actualize and evolve. Next, I explore what his account means in terms of scientific laws and ethical rights, arguing that Coleridge’s later political thought is more progressive than generally admitted. I then differentiate his account of ideas and their historical actualization from Schelling’s and Hegel’s, arguing that he maintains the transcendence of ideas above the immanence of their evolving historical forms. His philosophy is therefore, whether political or metaphysical, ultimately an ontological defence of the transcendence of ideas above the immanence of their imperfect actualization.

8.1 Contrasts and Definitions Though he would abandon this sense of the term within a few years, in 1803 Coleridge still uses the word idea in its Humean sense of a concept or recollection,

Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy. Peter Cheyne, Oxford University Press (2020). © Peter Cheyne. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001

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retained from, but less vivid than, its correlate, a direct impression on the senses.¹ That year, he argues, in a letter to Thomas Wedgwood, that ideas taken as abstractions from the stuff of life allow ‘Death’ into our experience. Accordingly, Coleridge argues, ‘Feelings die by flowing into the mould of the Intellect, & becoming Ideas [i.e. in the Humean sense]’, that is, by becoming fixed images and concepts of the fancy and the ‘unenlivened generalizing Understanding’.² In this vein, nine years later, but without that former sense of the word ‘idea’, he likens ‘passive . . . Fancy’—converting memory into fixed concepts—to ‘the Gorgon Head, which looked death into every thing’.³ In texts from 1794 (where he praises Hartley’s neuro-associationism)⁴ through the 1810s and 1820s, to 1834, when he diagnoses delirium and mania as the results of unchecked fancy and imagination respectively,⁵ Coleridge in fact retains the Humean notion of mental abstractions as less vivacious impressions that have become concepts worn smooth like pebbles, or coins of common currency.⁶ In this way, after years of struggle, he reconciled opposed philosophical views to retain a modified association theory that explains the lower, natural and psychological level within his free-will-oriented, post-Kantian idealism. Thus, the concatenation of concepts and images always remained for him the law of appetitive and sensuous-aesthetic mind. Unlike Hume, however, he sees more to the mind than this, and develops a view of a higher intellect, to which the natural level of association can be subordinated. By 1809, Coleridge was using the word  . . . in its highest and primitive sense, and as nearly synonimous with the modern word ideal . . . according to archetypal  co-essential with the Reason, . . . the consciousness of which is the sign and necessary product of its full developement.⁷

By the time he was dictating the first volume of Biographia Literaria, in mid-1815, Coleridge had long abandoned using the word ‘idea’ to refer to Humean ‘impressions’, reserving it for his developing Christian Platonic sense of the term. Being addressed, however, to a general, very domestic public (at the end of the Napoleonic Wars), he felt compelled, in his in Biographia chapter on ‘Associationism: Aristotle to Hartley’, to revert to the British empiricist sense of the word expected ¹ Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, 1.1.1, 7. ² Letters, 2: 916 (14 January 1803), to Thomas Wedgwood; The Statesman’s Manual, 28. ³ Notebooks, 3: §4066 (April 1811). ⁴ ‘Religious Musings’ (1794–6), Poetical Works, 1: 189, ll. 368–70. ⁵ Table Talk, 2: 291, 330 (23 June 1834). This reprises the fancy–imagination distinction that ‘is no less grounded in nature, than that of delirium from mania’: Biographia Literaria, 1: 84. At Biographia Literaria, 1: 111, he similarly refers to delirium, while discussing Hartleian associationism. ⁶ This and the following paragraph are adapted from my article ‘Wild Activity of Thoughts’, esp. 17–18. ⁷ The Friend, 2: 28 September 1809.


 ’   

by the great majority of his readers. He takes this compulsion as occasion to entreat his readers to recognize an earlier use, familiar to the Anglican divines of ‘spiritual platonic old England’, where the word is meant ‘platonically, or . . . correspondent to the substantive, Ideal’: I here use the word “idea” in Mr. Hume’s sense on account of its general currency among the English metaphysicians; though against my own judgement, for . . . the vague use of this word has been the cause of much error and more confusion . . . ᾽Ιδέα [Idéa], in its original sense as used by Pindar, Aristophanes, and in the gospel of Matthew, represented the visual abstraction of a distant object, when we see the whole without distinguishing its parts. Plato adopted it as a technical term, and as the antithesis to εἴδωλα [eídōla], or sensuous images; the transient and perishable emblems, or mental words, of ideas. The ideas themselves he considered as mysterious powers, living, seminal, formative, and exempt from time . . . Our English writers to the end of Charles 2nd’s reign, or somewhat later, employed it in the original sense, or platonically, or in a sense nearly correspondent to our present use of the substantive, Ideal, always, however, opposing it . . . to image, whether of present or absent objects.⁸

Coleridge correctly relates how the Greek word idéa originally connoted the gist of something, its expression or visual essence in outline, with Plato co-opting that sense, shearing it from any visual aspect, to refer to his notion of ideas, or forms, derived in part from Pythagoreanism and Socrates’ notion of the essence of a virtue as difficult, if not impossible, to define precisely, despite one’s sense of familiarity with the quality in question. Further launching into the sea of ideas, in a work published the year after Biographia, volume 1, was printed, Appendix C of The Statesman’s Manual outlines Coleridge’s Christian Platonist version of the reason–understanding distinction. There, he identifies ‘Reason and Religion . . . as a two-fold application of the same power.’ He also distinguishes (neo-Platonic) reason from (Kantian) understanding, such that Reason is the knowlege of the laws of the W considered as O . . . contradistinguished from the Understanding, which concerns itself exclusively with the quantities, qualities, and relations of particulars in time and space.⁹

The following appendix (D) bemoans those ‘Minims in faith, and Nominalists in Philosophy . . . who mistake outlines for substance, and distinct images for clear conception’ and who dismiss ‘all philosophers before Locke and Hartley (at least

⁸ Biographia Literaria, 1: 96–7 fn.

⁹ The Statesman’s Manual, 59.

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before Bacon and Hobbes)’. Yet Coleridge is optimistic, presciently remarking, as if anticipating the British idealism on the horizon: ‘But these men have had their day: and there are signs of the times clearly announcing that that day is verging to its close.’¹⁰ In Appendix E, next, at the close of the book—after a few more pages describing his opposition to those who hold ‘that Hume, Hartley, and Condillac have exploded all Ideas, but those of sensation’¹¹—Coleridge provides a ‘Glossary’ or nomenclature of the principal terms that occur in the elements of speculative philosophy, in their old and rightful sense according . . . to the sense in which I have myself employed them . . . ¹²

Coleridge remains faithful to these definitions over the remaining eighteen years of his life, referring, for example, readers of Aids to Reflection¹³ to this glossary, which I quote from and summarize as follows: • ‘P’: ‘The most general term . . . belonging to the speculative intellect’; it may refer to any of the following: • ‘S’: ‘A conscious Presentation’ that ‘refers exclusively to the Subject, as a modification of his own state of Being’. (E.g. a pain, warmth, hunger. These are sensed, not perceived.) • ‘P’: A conscious presentation that ‘refers to an O’. (E.g. sensory notice apprehended as, say, a cat.) • ‘I’: An ‘immediate and individual’ perception. Apprehension of a particular, objective something, sensible, rational, or spiritual. (E.g. the apprehension of objects before one, but also of God, freedom, etc. ‘Intuition, or simple, direct beholding’ of ‘immediate presence’ as an ‘Act’.)¹⁴ Thus, as well as that of external phenomena, the term may include ‘a spiritual intuition, or positive inward knowledge by experience’.¹⁵ • ‘C’: A ‘mediate’ perception available ‘by means of a character or mark common to several things’. (E.g. the comprehension of felinity.) • ‘F’, or ‘C’: An ‘extrinsic and sensuous’ conception. (E.g. the perception and acknowledgement, conceptually mediated, that a cat is on the mat.) • ‘N’: A conception that is ‘purely mental and abstracted from the forms of the Understanding itself ’. (E.g. the mere thought or possibility of a cat on

¹⁰ The Statesman’s Manual, 93, 95. ¹¹ The Statesman’s Manual, 102. ¹² The Statesman’s Manual, 113. Quotations in the glossary, except where separate references are given, are from The Statesman’s Manual, 113–14. ¹³ Aids to Reflection, 182 fn. ¹⁴ Notebooks, 3: §4186 (1813–16). ¹⁵ The Statesman’s Manual, 46.


 ’   

the mat; a unicorn; a gryphon; the sun not rising tomorrow.) ‘A Notion may be realized, and becomes Cognition’. • ‘I’: An ‘educt [or ‘Produce’] of the Imagination actuated by the pure Reason’. In the human mind, it is either anticipated in imagination or beheld in noetic intuition. It is ‘neither a sensible Intuition . . . nor . . . a conception’, and has no ‘adequate correspondent in the world of the senses’. After this definition of ‘ I’, Coleridge then describes, in the final sentence of The Statesman’s Manual, the problem concerning the objective reality of the idea, in whose solution he critically diverges from Kant: Whether Ideas are regulative only, according to Aristotle and Kant; or likewise C, and one with the power and Life of Nature, according to Plato, and Plotinus . . . is the highest problem of Philosophy, and not part of its nomenclature.¹⁶

In the 1818 Friend, Coleridge returns to this ‘highest problem’, which hinges on the Platonic versus the Kantian version of the reason–understanding distinction. There, Coleridge defines the ideas of reason as ‘real objects, the materials of substantial knowledge’ that are ‘revealed’ by ‘inward sense’ in an intuition analogous to the knowledge of outer objects furnished by the ‘Organs of Sense’. As transcendent itself as its objects, the ideas: Reason cannot exist [in the human mind] without Understanding; nor does it or can it manifest itself but in and through the understanding . . .¹⁷

Understanding, as if the consul of a sovereign power, gives in this view concrete existence, articulation, and interpretation—the ‘discourse of reason’—to the being of these transcendent powers and ‘eternal Verities’. Throughout his philosophical writings after around 1806, then, unless compelled to refer to its Humean use, as in the Biographia chapter on association, Coleridge uses the word ‘idea’ in the Platonic sense, to refer to truths and powers independent of the human mind, such that the Thoughts of God, in the strict nomenclature of Plato, are all I, archetypal and anterior to all but himself alone . . . and . . . incomparably more real than all things besides . . . ¹⁸

¹⁶ The Statesman’s Manual, 114. ¹⁷ The Friend, 2: 104 fn., var. The Friend, 1: 156. ¹⁸ Letters, 2: 1195 (13 October 1806), to Thomas Clarkson.

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Thus, from 1806, Coleridge opposes with his Christian Platonism ‘the unphilosophical jargon of Mr Hume and his Followers’, and their theories on what, he laments, ‘it is fashionable to misname, I and I’.¹⁹ As has been noted by one of his editors, C[oleridge]’s engagement with the “Idea” was associated with his growing devotion to the “spiritual platonic old England” . . . and remained an essential element in his thinking to the end.²⁰

He also gives the word an inflection that has become highly influential, whereby ‘Idea’ refers to an ‘ultimate aim’ that is imperfectly actualized in and through a historically developing social institution. As J. S. Mill noted, His mode of treating any institution is to investigate what he terms the Idea of it, or what in common parlance would be called the principle involved in it.²¹

Accordingly, I differentiate what Coleridge calls ‘ideas’ into two kinds. The first kind provides the sine qua non of humanity. Humans need ideas, in this Platonic sense, but ideas do not depend on humans. For Coleridge, these are ‘Divine Ideas’, and God’s Thoughts are Things; the Images of God . . . in the spiritual Dew-drops are Substances, imperishable Substances.—²²

The second kind of ideas, however, requires human society to embody them in developing institutions. They compose a second-order set of ideas that are evolutionary, not timeless and fixed. They do, however, relate to the first-order kind, in aiming towards them and in actualizing them (imperfectly or asymptotically).

8.2 Coleridge’s Constitutive Idea In Church and State (1829), Coleridge addresses the development of human institutions according to their ideas, a meaning picked up by John Henry Newman in The Idea of the University. There, Newman develops Coleridge’s notion of ‘the Idea of [something]’ as the ethos and ultimate aim that guides an institution or practice. A dozen years later, in his autobiography, borrowing its title from Coleridge’s poem ‘Apologia pro Vita Sua’, Newman maintains that Coleridge ¹⁹ Letters, 2: 1195 (13 October 1806), to Thomas Clarkson. ²⁰ Aids to Reflection, 182 n.71. ²¹ Mill, ‘Coleridge’, Collected Works, 10: 147. ²² Marginalia, 1: 815 (B, Pilgrim’s Progress; 1830).


 ’   

laid the ‘philosophical basis’ for the Church of his age. Though he thought Coleridge ‘indulged a liberty of speculation’, much of which he found ‘heathen’, Newman concludes that the poet-philosopher ‘installed a higher philosophy into inquiring minds, than they had hitherto been accustomed to accept’.²³ The university and other institutions are not timeless, first-order ideas; the point is that, however imperfectly, these second-order forms are guided by and actualize such ideas. This particularly Coleridgean sense of (second-order) ideas that Newman picked up was carried on by T. S. Eliot in The Idea of a Christian Society (1940), and the sense continues in works such as George Steiner’s The Idea of Europe (2003) and numerous other political and philosophical works. Not a repetition of the Platonic ideas of justice, piety, courage, the true, the beautiful, the good, etc., the Coleridgean institutional idea is the relation of those noetic objects to human social endeavours. Coleridge sometimes refers to first-order ideas as the ‘Divine Ideas’. They include, among others, ‘God, freedom, and immortality’.²⁴ Those three are Kant’s postulates of pure practical reason, which underwrite ethics with faith in the highest good. Coleridge and Kant discuss other ideas too, such as ‘cosmos’, the idea of a universal, organized, totality, and ‘self’, as a non-phenomenal unity, among others. Writing ‘On the Divine Ideas’, Coleridge affirms their timeless, archetypal nature, claiming that these ideas, living spiritual and substantive in the eternal idea, may be called uncreated forms and eternal truths, powers and intelligences . . . ²⁵

Underscoring, in the same manuscript, the transcendence and eternality of these first-order ideas, he asks, Do we then affirm that a change can take place in the plenitude of the divine Idea, a change in the Eternal, a diminution in the Infinite, or rather in the measure of the Infinite? We recoil from the thought, and abhor it.

Then, analogizing God and the ideas in the sun and its rays, he argues: As long as the rays are part of the glory, radiant distinctly but without division, so long are they one with the sun, and such must be from eternity to eternity.²⁶

²³ Newman, Apologia pro Vita Sua, 105. Coleridge’s poem was first published in Blackwood’s Magazine (January 1822)—a polished version of ‘The Poet’s Eye’ (27 August 1800), Notebooks, 1: §791; Poetical Works, 1: 639, and 2: 823–4. ²⁴ Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 117, 139, 387 (Bxxx, A3/B7, A337 fn./B395 fn.); Critique of Practical Reason, Ak. 142. ²⁵ Opus Maximum, 233. ²⁶ Opus Maximum, 243.

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It is therefore integral to Coleridge’s philosophic faith in reason, continuous with his Christianity, that the first-order ideas are ‘eternal and immutable’, to be received in ‘the intuitive beholding of truth’.²⁷ Moreover, if in the ideas ‘the Omnipresence or Omnipotence’ of the ‘Supreme Being’ is ‘represented intelligentially’, as Coleridge holds, then the Ideas are necessarily immutable, inasmuch as they are One with the hco-i Eternal Act, by which the absolute Will self-realized begets its iIdea as the other self.²⁸

Here, ‘Will’ is Father, who begets himself as ‘Idea’ in and with Logos, the Son. Ideas are for Coleridge, then, the self-realizing rays of God. But how are these ideas to be humanly reached? Most fully expounded in The Statesman’s Manual, Coleridge’s theory of the symbol sees imagination bridging from conceptual, empirical understanding to translucently beheld ideas of reason. Like a number of German idealists, including Schelling and Hegel, and romantics, including Goethe and A. W. Schlegel, Coleridge reframed the Kantian symbol to accord with what he meant by intellectual intuition. Imagination in this view anticipates or elicits ideas through aesthetic symbols. This notion of an imaginative, veiled access to ideas derives, as I discussed in the previous chapter, from the neo-Platonists and the Cambridge Platonists. As I noted in the Introduction to this book (21–2), Coleridge’s thinking on a veiled access to ideas was further influenced by Schelling’s notion of ‘intellectual intuition’, challenging the limits Kant set on human cognition. Like Schelling’s intellectual intuition, Coleridge’s symbol describes a mode of ‘seeing in’ that looks through particulars to universals. Thirteen years later, retaining yet furthering this view, Coleridge argued that Ideas . . . correspond to substantial beings, to objects the actual subsistence of which is implied in their idea, though only by the idea revealable.

These ideas constitute . . . humanity. For try to conceive a man without the ideas of God, eternity, freedom, will, absolute truth, of the good, the true, the beautiful, the infinite. An animal endowed with a memory of appearances and of facts might remain. But the man will have vanished, and you have instead a creature, “more subtile than any beast of the field, but likewise cursed above every beast of the field . . . ”²⁹

Humanity for Coleridge transcends the mechanical, animal, and phenomenal, because it consists in, is constituted by, and is able to contemplate the divine ideas. ²⁷ The Friend, 1: 105.

²⁸ Opus Maximum, 223.

²⁹ Church and State, 47 fn.


 ’   

If we have access to ideas as ultimate ends, and hence to wisdom, it is the responsibility of each individual to actualize this wisdom and evolve it through our lives. Thus Coleridge holds—considering reason in the ancillary sense I outlined in Chapter 2 (71–4)—that we are born with the god-like faculty of Reason, and that it is the business of life to develop and apply it . . . ³⁰

The Coleridgean idea is that which cannot be generalized, on which the mind [can] exercise no modifying functions—that which can only be contemplated—that which is deeper than all intelligence, inasmuch as it represents the element of the Will, and its antecedence as essential inderivability.³¹

Coleridge agrees with the Plato of the Seventh Letter on the impossibility of expressing ideas in clear and definite terms,³² holding that all attempts must end in aporia, as they do in the Socratic dialogues. Intuited, not deduced, ideas are beyond the purview of the conceptual. Yet, notes Coleridge, Disciples . . . of . . . Locke, Hume & Condillac . . . would smi laugh at the man who should ask them for the Image of a Flavor or the odour of a Musi Strain of Music/ and to ask for the Conception of an Idea, is, if possible, yet more irrational—³³

Yet Coleridge does not denigrate conceptions; he recognizes that (human) minddependent concepts are organs of meaning and discrimination that articulate facts, relations, and differences. As such, concepts make perception discerning and thought articulable. Every new term expressing a fact, or a difference, not precisely and adequately expressed by any other word in the same language, is a new organ of thought for the mind that has learnt it.³⁴

³⁰ The Friend, 1: 58. ³¹ Notebooks, 4: §5294 f20 (1825–6). ³² Cooper reads the Seventh Letter as ‘the least unlikely to have come from Plato’ and, if genuine, of ‘significance for working out his final positions’, especially ‘his commitment to the Forms, and . . . the defectiveness of language to express . . . any philosophical treatise’. Translator’s introduction (to the attributed letters), in Plato, Complete Works, 1635. But cf. Burnyeat and Frede, The Pseudo-Platonic Seventh Letter, passim, arguing that the attribution to Plato is spurious. ³³ Notebooks, 4: §5294 f20 (1825–6). Notebooks, 5: §6381 f36 (July 1830) returns to this categorical distinction, noting of an idea, that ‘we can no more understand it, than we can taste or smell a conception of the Understanding.’ ³⁴ Church and State, 167.

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Through insight into intelligible reality and the principles of value and meaning, human agents, to varying degrees, actualize ideas in history. Michael John Kooy describes Coleridge’s notion of ‘history as an ideational field’ that the ‘inquiring subject’ creates and interprets within an ‘imaginative reconstruction’. Marshalling material ‘according to an idea found nowhere within history itself ’,³⁵ the Coleridgean subject finds that ideas reveal the order that holds together contingent facts meaningfully. Kooy’s claim that the Coleridgean idea is ‘found nowhere within history itself ’ is a perspicuous statement regarding Platonic, i.e. first-order, ideas. Yet it is also true of second-order ideas, namely those of historically developing institutions such as the Church, the constitution, and the social contract. Coleridge argues that the social contract is a fiction if conceived as something that actually happened, yet is ‘certain and . . . indispensable’ as ‘the idea of ’ something ‘ever-originating’.³⁶ These guiding ideas are not material, historical beings, but their incremental instantiations are. Coleridge contrasts this sense of ideas as eternal realities and potencies within ‘Positive Reason’ with the understanding defined as negative reason, which fashions concepts, applies logic, and is proficient in detecting self-contradiction. Importantly, positive, intuitive reason provides material truths, by  (sensu Platonico) or supersensual realities, the very existence of which is not of universal admission but which if allowed to exist might constitute a mathematical certainty and give birth to a series of synthetic judgements a priori . . . which would constitute the science of metaphysics . . . ³⁷

Coleridge primarily regards ideas in their Platonic, first-order sense as objective realities beyond the human mind. He also holds these realities to operate as an ideal energy of reason within the human mind, though not usually with the human mind being fully self-conscious of this. Ideas are ‘possessed’ more clearly and potently by those who are aware of them through contemplation. Coleridge relates first-order (Platonic, eternal) to second-order (historical, evolving) ideas as follows: By an idea, I mean, (in this instance) that conception of a thing, which is not abstracted from a particular state, form, or mode, in which the thing may happen to exist at this or at that time; nor yet generalized from any number or succession of such modes; but which is given by the knowledge of its ultimate aim.³⁸

This sense of ideas (of either order) as contemplated realities, allows Coleridge to discuss reason from the human perspective—especially in relation to the moral, ³⁵ Kooy, ‘Romanticism and Coleridge’s Idea of History’, 718. ³⁶ Church and State, 15. ³⁷ Logic, 212. ³⁸ Church and State, 12.


 ’   

practical sphere—without diminishing the fuller, Platonic sense of noetic ideas. Thus he writes of Reason . . . as the practical Reason, i.e. the power of proposing an ultimate end, the determinability of the Will by ; or as the sciential Reason, i.e. the faculty of universal and necessary truths from particular and contingent appearances.³⁹

Like German idealists such as Schelling and Hegel, Coleridge rejects the Kantian division that, while allowing recourse to moral ideas in practical reason, nevertheless denies as illegitimate any cognitive role for ideas in speculative reason. Kant’s position here prevents theory from becoming an impasse of antinomies. But Coleridge objects to Kant’s inconsistency in allowing the use of ideas in practical reason while disallowing their use in the pursuit of metaphysical knowledge. For Coleridge, denying objective reality to ideas is self-defeating of the most meaningful human projects. Now whether the objectivity given to the Idea belongs to it in its own right as an Idea, or is superinduced by moral Faith, is really little more than a dispute in terms, depending on the Definition of Idea. It is enough . . . that the Objectivity is & must be admitted, and what more cogent Proof can we have, than that a man must contradict his whole human Being in order to deny it . . . And yet the Kanteans . . . separate the Reason from the Reason in the Will or the theoric from the practical Man.⁴⁰

In the 1818 Friend, he celebrates Kant’s account of the will transcending the cognitive limits on the reason, with his postulates of pure practical reason and the voluntarist, transcendental argument that one must attribute actual existence, to those ideas . . . without which the conscience itself would be baseless and contradictory, to the ideas of Soul, of Free-Will, of Immortality, and of God!⁴¹

The objective, guiding idea, Coleridge argues, suffuses human life without losing its transcendence as a power that is in us, yet more than us. To know that one would not be this humane self, holding to these aims and ends, without this ordaining idea is to acknowledge the idea as a reality that would be self-contradictory to deny. Thus Coleridge can talk of ideas as the subjectively contemplated side of an otherwise objective reality that is independent of the human mind.

³⁹ Aids to Reflection, 249. ⁴⁰ Marginalia, 5: 789 (T, Geschichte der Philosophie).

⁴¹ The Friend, 1: 112.

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Coleridge’s idea, then, is Plato’s contemplated subjectively. His law is closer still to Plato’s idea, as I shall examine in Section 8.3. Yet he did not deem idea and law to be substantially different; rather, they are correlatives: Idea and Law are the Subjective and Objective Poles of the same Magnet—i.e. of the same living and energizing Reason. What is an idea in the Subject, i.e. in the Mind, is a Law in the Object, i.e. in Nature.⁴²

In a notebook entry of 1825 entitled ‘Imagination’, discussing ‘the expression Ideas’, Coleridge’s sense of idea coincides positively with Plato’s with respect to objective reality beyond the human mind: What is expressed, delivered, must have been conceived. But Ideas are not conceived but contemplated. They may be apprehended but cannot be comprehended: a fortiori therefore, not expressed.⁴³

The notion of ideas being at work within individual and social life, despite most people being inadequately cognizant of them, is recurrent in Plato, from the Socratic call to the examined life,⁴⁴ through the doctrine of recollection in the Meno and the Phaedo,⁴⁵ to the simile of the divided line and the allegory of the prisoners in the cave in the Republic, books 6 and 7. With Coleridge, a tension exists, however, between first-order, eternal ideas beyond full human comprehension, and second-order, temporal ones, such as the ideas of democracy, the university, and the constitution, which are evolving and asymptotic, and find clear expression as they become codified and regulated. Cultural life exists in this tension. Cultivation through the expression of ideas requires what T. S. Eliot called ‘a raid on the inarticulate, | With shabby equipment always deteriorating’.⁴⁶ The mission must be renewed in each generation, for each region, in its own idiom. Those who contemplate ideas clearly have an intellectual vision, but cannot transmit it conceptually; for others, they can, however, help to educe the idea, by articulating situations and principles in its light. Although only relatively few intellectuals possess ideas, as Coleridge puts it, those who are instead possessed by them are no less powerfully pervaded by ideas such as free will and the sacredness

⁴² The Friend, 1: 497 n.2 (autograph note, Copy D, 23 June 1829). ⁴³ Notebooks, 4: §5288 (December 1825). ⁴⁴ Plato, Apology, 38a5–6, where Socrates says, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’, implied also at Apology, 30b, and Gorgias, 500a–b, 507c. ⁴⁵ Plato, Meno, 82b–85c; Phaedo, 72e–78b. Phaedrus, 249b–c describes higher knowledge as the unforgetting (anámnēsis) of the ideas, the recollection of true being. ⁴⁶ Eliot ‘The Dry Salvages’, Four Quartets, ll. 179–80 (p. 31).


 ’   

of the person above mere things. The idea works through their daily life and relations. Similarly, as the constitution is refined through court judgements, legislative process, and so on, its ultimate aim is further actualized, though sometimes requiring pendulum-like corrections. The constitution evolves dramatically over time, and differently for different nations, e.g. as effective sovereignty shifts from monarch to parliament. Yet every new right felt with resurgent passion, Coleridge argues, is claimed not merely as some contingent desire, but rather, this or that is contained in the idea of our government, and it is a consequence of the “Lex, Mater Legum [Law, Mother of Laws],” which, in the very first law of state . . . was pre-supposed as the ground of that first law.⁴⁷

His insistence that reason is not merely a human faculty retains the Platonic view that noetic contemplation is an intellectual focus on objective truths and beings. Plotinus also holds that Intellect [noûs] . . . does not belong to soul, though we will say that it is our intellect, and though it is other than . . . discursive thinking, having gone upward, nevertheless it is ours even if we were not to count it among the parts of the soul. In fact it is ours and not ours . . . we use it and do not use it, though we always make use of discursive thinking. It is ours when we use it and not ours when we do not . . . The results of the acts of Intellect are from above, just as the acts of senseperception are from below. We are this—the sovereign part of the soul—in the middle between two powers . . . ⁴⁸

While Coleridge formulates a Trinitarian Christian view, he maintains this fundamentally Platonist sense of noûs (reason) expressed by Plotinus, arguing that, unlike the ‘human Understanding’, mediating between two powers, ‘there is, in this sense, no human Reason’,⁴⁹ but only one, universal, reason. Five years later, in his ‘Dialogue between Demosius and Mystes’, appended to Church and State, he again repudiates the false notion, of Reason (Ὀ Λόγος) as a quality, property, or faculty of the Real: whereas reason is the supreme reality, the only true being in all things visible and invisible!⁵⁰ ⁴⁷ Church and State, 30–1. ⁴⁸ Plotinus, Enneads, V.3.3, 23–39. ⁴⁹ Aids to Reflection, 218. ⁵⁰ Church and State, 182, developing Letters, 6: 600 (27 July 1826), to his nephew, Revd Edward Coleridge.

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Reason as a thing beyond oneself, yet drawn into the articulation of one’s life, is essential to Coleridge’s contemplative philosophy. The self-evidence of ideas, once intuited, is another central feature: The Truths of Reason are Reason—Therefore we cannot in Noetics as we may in Logicis require a Reason for a truth: for it is Reason.—⁵¹

While one can reasonably demand of theories and conceptual schemata that reasons be brought in to prove this connection or that foundation, Coleridge argues that reasons cannot rationally be brought in for the justification of reason itself. For Coleridge, that the ideas of reason constitute reality beyond oneself and beyond phenomena, means that they are properly and wholly objective—i.e. that they have a subsistence independent of the mind which contemplates them.⁵²

However, to discuss these ideas as external or internal to the human mind misses a further point: they are mind in its highest, and not only human, sense, namely, of reason as Logos. Thus Coleridge can describe reason in terms of the organs of spiritual apprehension having objects consubstantial with themselves (ὁμoούσiα [homooúsia]), or being themselves their own objects, that is, self-contemplative.⁵³

Although Platonic ideas have often been misinterpreted as static entities, Coleridge presents a more faithful Platonism. Plato himself emphatically confutes this mindless, ‘fixed and immovable’ misinterpretation: But for heaven’s sake, shall we let ourselves easily be persuaded that motion and life and soul and mind are really not present to absolute being, that it neither lives nor thinks, but awful and holy, devoid of mind, is fixed and immovable?⁵⁴

For Coleridge, similarly, ideas are always powers and thus dynamic. Indeed, for him, the ideas are the noetic side of powers that include the dynamic, universal laws of nature. Thus Coleridge sees Platonic ideas as ‘ ’ and ‘energies of the Reason’, rejecting the description—widespread among Plato’s disparagers and misunderstanders—of ideas as static, lifeless entities.

⁵¹ Logic, 294. ⁵² Logic, 142. ⁵³ The Statesman’s Manual, 68 n.3 (autograph note, 1827).

⁵⁴ Plato, Sophist, 248e.


 ’   

The highest term in the Coleridgean higher mind is reason, in its ancillary sense. Imagination is medial, between understanding and the ideas of reason, which are independent of the human mind. While imagination is the highest human attribute for Coleridge, reason is something higher, towards which imagination aims. Against Kantian ideas-as-mental-entities, Coleridge contrasts the Platonic realism of ideas-as-powers. Although imagination has been disparaged and praised in different eras, its existence has rarely been expressly denied by philosophers. Reason, however, as Coleridge uses the word, has always been a contested notion, that is, as Plato’s noûs, and as Logos, whether as the Heraclitean cosmic harmony beyond yet responsible for flux or as the divine Word of St John’s Gospel.⁵⁵ This contested reason, independent of the human mind, is conceived as a power analogous to laws of nature or even, in Coleridge’s view, as their mental correlative. The notion of a cosmic reason independent of the human mind goes back to Heraclitus’ Logos as a constant intelligence behind the universal flux. Its successors include Parmenides’ reality–appearance divide; Plato’s nóēsis–diánoia distinction; the Stoics’ and then Plotinus’s logoí spermátikoi informing soul and nature; Boethius’s eternal versus temporal knowledge; and Spinoza’s revival of the Aristotelean and scholastic natura naturans–naturata distinction. For these different thinkers, Logos is not merely the rational operation of a mind, spirit, or substance: it is the universal order and the life of things. Heraclitus points out the contradiction in denying the universality of reason, lamenting that while all humans—and indeed the cosmos itself—partake of the same Logos, each nevertheless opines it as something peculiar to his or her individual self. But of this account [lógos], which holds forever, people forever prove uncomprehending . . . For, although all things happen in accordance with this account [lógos], they are like people without experience . . . [who] fail to be aware of what they do after they wake up just as they forget what they do while asleep.⁵⁶

Coleridge, following Friedrich Schleiermacher, quotes a related Heraclitean fragment in The Statesman’s Manual,⁵⁷ making the point—too seldom recognized— that this Logos is not only common to all minds, but obtains throughout the universe: We should let ourselves be guided by what is common to all. Yet, although the Logos is common to all, most men live as if each of them had a private intelligence of his own.⁵⁸

⁵⁵ Perkins, Coleridge’s Philosophy, provides an intellectual history of Logos in Coleridge’s reading. ⁵⁶ Heraclitus, The Fragments, 11 (Fragment 1). ⁵⁷ The Statesman’s Manual, 97. ⁵⁸ Heraclitus, The Fragments, 11 (Fragment 2); see also The Fragments, 178 (‘Ancient Testimonia’ 16.1.b): ‘Man is not rational; only the surrounding substance is intelligent.’

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Dismissing the fragmentary, relativistic illusion that everyone has their own, idiosyncratic reason, Heraclitus asserts Logos to be the all-suffusing divine and rational power necessary for any particular instances of reasoning and action, whether conscious or automatic. He is the founder of that Ancient Greek tradition which sees Logos not simply as the operation of a thinking mind but as the principle of order such that even the Sun cannot overstep its measure without being rectified by the Erinyes (Furies), the handmaids of Justice.⁵⁹ Coleridge agrees that it is ‘the Queen Bee in the Hive of error’ to identify ‘universal Reason with each man’s individual Understanding’,⁶⁰ whose idiosyncrasies make the ‘understanding . . . the peculium of each man’.⁶¹ It is to the particular refractions of universal reason that I now turn, with the notion of ideas running through human history to become actualized in evolving laws and institutions.

8.3 Idea Behind Laws: Lex Sacra, Mater Legum In Coleridge’s account of mind and ideas, following Plotinus, ‘the act of contemplation makes the thing contemplated’.⁶² Throughout the faltering contemplation-in-action that is history, in this account, ideas are stumblingly, imperfectly actualized. Coleridge adjoins to this Francis Bacon’s view that as phenomena illustrate and instantiate laws of nature, the common law embodies in judicial acts the moral and divine law that is that is their noumenal rationale. When Coleridge discusses ideas as correlative of laws (as laws of nature, but sometimes also in a juridical sense), it is surprising to find him describe Bacon as ‘the British Plato’.⁶³ An early destroyer of classical idols and an empiricist who advanced experimental method, Bacon is generally considered an anti-Platonist. Aware of the stretch, Coleridge, in mitigation, describes Lord Bacon, who . . . taught pure Platonism in his great Work, the Novum Organum, and abuses his divine Predecessor for fantastic nonsense, which he [sc. Plato] had been the first to explode.—⁶⁴

These 1818–20 comparisons of Plato and Bacon concern what Coleridge saw as their shared logic of induction, which he observed some fifteen years earlier, proposing that

⁵⁹ Heraclitus, The Fragments, 57 (Fragment 94). ⁶⁰ Church and State, 171. ⁶¹ The Statesman’s Manual, 96. ⁶² Biographia Literaria, 1: 251–2, translating Plotinus, Enneads, III.8.4, 9; quoted also at Logic, 74, cited again at 245. ⁶³ The Friend, 1: 488; Church and State, 13. ⁶⁴ Letters, 5: 15 (14 January 1820), to James Gooden, classics scholar.


 ’   

Bacon[’s] . . . Logic. . . . tho’ considered by Bacon himself as the antithesis and Antidote of Plato, is bonâ fide the same, & that Plato has been grossly misunderstood.⁶⁵

In the 1818 Friend, Coleridge remarks on important similarities of method in the two oft-contrasted great thinkers, while still noting their differences. Thus, on the one hand, Plato treats principally of the truth, as it manifests itself at the ideal pole, as the science of intellect (i.e. de mundo intelligibili) . . .

while Bacon, on the other hand, applies himself to the same truth, as it is manifested at the other, or material pole, as the science of nature (i.e. de mundo sensiibili).⁶⁶

Coleridge is impressed by a perceived parity whereby what Plato calls ‘ ’, are equivalent to what Bacon terms, ‘the laws of nature, ideas’. Hence, Coleridge notes, Bacon ‘represents . . . facts of science and central phænomena, as signatures, impressions, and symbols of ideas’.⁶⁷ The Bacon scholar Harvey Wheeler describes how he gained deeper insight into Baconian method by following up an enigmatic reference by Coleridge to Bacon’s ‘Platonism’. Consulting Plato’s dialogues turned up his theory of schematismos, a term prominent in both Bacon and Kant. Coleridge was right. Bacon had been there and reversed Plato’s idealism into a Platonism of things rather than words.⁶⁸

As Wheeler says, Bacon invented a reverse ‘Platonism of things’, not words, with both thinkers ascending inductively from examples to laws or ideas. Where Plato developed a method in which conceptions and definitions arise from examining sensible examples, with those definitions then giving way in the dialectic ascent to intelligible ideas themselves, Bacon developed a counterpart, experimental induction from sensible, physical things and events towards their intelligible laws. Yet while Bacon instaurated a scientific induction of physical things, Platonic induction is no mere conceptualism; it aims towards knowledge of the idea where hitherto accepted conceptual formulae and definitions fail. Bacon himself says that Plato provides the only precedent for the inductive search for essences, or forms: But the induction . . . for the discovery and proof of sciences and arts should separate out nature, by appropriate rejection and exclusions; and then . . . conclude ⁶⁵ Letters, 2: 947 (4 June 1803), to William Godwin. ⁶⁶ The Friend, 1: 492. ⁶⁷ The Friend, 1: 492. ⁶⁸ Wheeler, ‘Bacon’s Scientific Empiricism’, 47.

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on the affirmatives. This has not yet been . . . tried except only by Plato, who certainly makes use of this form of induction or demonstration, which have never occurred to anyone to think about, so that more effort needs to be put into this than has ever been spent on the syllogism . . . And we may certainly have the greatest hopes for this kind of induction.⁶⁹

Bacon sought to discover laws of nature by performing the same kind of inductive, dialectic research into natural phenomena that he applied to legal precedent in his search for the principles of English common law. His method, despite being an induction of experiences, is no pure or radical empiricism, because it aims at the forms, or laws, that by governing any set of phenomena are necessarily beyond them. Although nothing, he held, exists in nature beyond physical bodies, philosophy must posit laws as powers beyond those physical bodies, as the foundation of human knowledge and as the principles on which action should be based. For though nothing exists in nature except individual bodies which exhibit pure individual acts in accordance with law, in philosophical doctrine, that law itself, and the investigation, discovery and explanation of it, are taken as the foundation both of knowing and doing. It is this law and its clauses which we understand by the term Forms, especially as this word has become established and is in common use.⁷⁰

Further, Bacon then divides the various sciences of physics from those of metaphysics. Coleridge also divides the physical and the metaphysical sciences, in his table of ‘The sciences pure and mixed and in the order of their senses’.⁷¹ With his division, Bacon sees metaphysics as the ‘inquiry after . . . eternal and unmoving’ laws or ‘forms’, whereas he sees the focus of physics as ‘the common and ordinary course of nature, not the fundamental, eternal laws’. The inquiry after forms, which are (at least by reason and their law) eternal and unmoving, would constitute metaphysics; the inquiry after the efficient and material causes, the latent process and latent structure (all of which are concerned with the common and ordinary course of nature, not the fundamental, eternal laws) would constitute physics . . . ⁷²

Another commentator finds that Coleridge uses Bacon’s own formulations and method to attenuate the Baconian attack on Platonic ideas by

⁶⁹ Bacon, New Organon, bk 1, §55, 83. ⁷⁰ Bacon, New Organon, bk 2, §2, 103. The ‘common use’ of the term ‘Form’ he refers to derives from both the Platonic forms and the Aristotelian formal cause. ⁷¹ Logic, 44 (see Table 7.2). ⁷² Bacon, New Organon, bk 2, §9, 109.


 ’   

uncovering the concealed Baconian metaphysics linking the idea that physical causes are the impressions on creation written by God, with the proposed methodology which discovers laws of nature. While their subjects of inquiry and methodologies differ, for Coleridge, Plato and Bacon are both concerned with revealing the source of all sensible things in the ideal realm.⁷³

As Wheeler notes: Bacon’s term for this generalized noumenal law was ‘Form’, which . . . appears to be a Platonism . . . Form has had a chequered career among Baconians and historians of science but to ignore its foundation misses the force and novelty of Bacon’s invention . . . ‘Form’ refers to implicit structure and is most familiar from Plato’s distinction between ideal Form and ‘appearances’. Bacon adapts it to refer to an empirical phenomenological scientific law.⁷⁴

Ernst Cassirer implies that Bacon’s legal training led him to this method, for unlike ‘Kepler and Galileo, and in England . . . Gilbert and Harvey’, Bacon’s induction is not a scientific, but a juridical process. Its peculiar intellectual structure is fully comprehensible only when one bears in mind that, in all it says of the extracting, gathering, and sorting of single instances, there is less of the pure spirit of scientific research than of the mentality of the judge . . . Bacon sits as a judge over reality, questioning it as one examines the accused.⁷⁵

Similarly, Wheeler notes that: ‘Bacon started from law rather than mathematics. He studied the deep structure of systems rather than motion and timesequences.’⁷⁶ Thus Bacon applied to science the practical knowledge he gained from serving on the Commission for the Union of the Laws of England and Scotland, which gave him the idea of systematizing the common law roll and the judicial records of the land. His plan was to discover the law behind laws and procedures by examining common memory of accumulated wisdom. Essentially, Bacon was honing a method of discovering laws. This led him to seek the unwritten English constitution, inspiring John Locke to do the same in his Two Treatises of Government (1689). Encouraged by his success in discovering noumenal law from case laws, Bacon set about applying his new method to interpreting the abecedarium of nature in search of her laws too. Thus Bacon sought the

⁷³ ⁷⁴ ⁷⁵ ⁷⁶

Raiger, ‘Coleridge’s Theory of Symbol’, 314. Wheeler, ‘Bacon’s Scientific Empiricism’, 54. Cassirer, Platonic Renaissance in England, 48. Wheeler, ‘Bacon’s Scientific Empiricism’, 45.

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law behind the ruling in a judgment at the English ‘unwritten’ common law. Bacon’s science looks for that kind of ‘thingness’ in all departments of the environment, social as well as natural . . . ⁷⁷

Accordingly, civil and criminal law indicate a higher and logically prior, unwritten law: the noumenal law. Bacon’s account of reaching this noumenal law held great appeal for Coleridge. Part of this appeal lies in Bacon’s reference to the nonsensible, intelligible form inductively sought through the empirical objects of observation. Hence Coleridge finds Bacon, like Plato, and contrary to the Lockean empiricists, to hold that objective truths that exists in and for the intellect . . . and . . . truths which have their signatures in nature . . . may indeed be revealed to us through and with, but never by the senses, or the faculty of sense.⁷⁸

Seeking noumenal laws through phenomena, and proceeding inductively, Bacon cannot be identified with an empiricism that holds all possible knowledge to be contained within sense impressions. The objective reality of Bacon’s noumenal law is a model for Coleridge’s sense of the reality of ideas. Baconian law, like Coleridgean idea, is a reality to be approached asymptotically, not a theorem to be hypothesized. Such progress for Coleridge typifies the important general principle by which the experimental, ever-nearing, never perfectly concluding sciences— culture and politics too—evolve through the relation of the Reason, in application and accomodation to the Finite, Conditional, lmperfect, yet Progressive—(& necessarily imperfect, because progressive.)⁷⁹

As Bacon suggests, the human mind might ultimately be incapable of truly understanding laws, yet the scientific approach to the law steadily advances and is based on knowledge of history: For knowledges are as pyramides, whereof history is the basis. So of Natural Philosophy, the basis is Natural History; the stage next the basis is Physic; the stage next the vertical point is Metaphysic. As for the vertical point, ‘Opus quod operatur Deus à principio usque ad finem’,⁸⁰ the Summary Law of Nature, we know not whether man’s enquiry can attain unto it.⁸¹

Coleridge shares Bacon’s confidence in the possibility of discovering laws in and through history. Like Bacon, he sees the constitution as an idea (or Baconian ⁷⁷ ⁷⁹ ⁸⁰ ⁸¹

Wheeler, ‘Bacon’s Scientific Empiricism’, 55. ⁷⁸ The Friend, 1: 492. Notebooks, 5: §6517 f9v (November 1830). Ecclesiastes 3:11: ‘[No man can find out] the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.’ Bacon, Advancement of Learning, in Major Works, bk 2, 197.


 ’   

form) by which the noumenal law unfolds and develops through countless social activities and certain nodal legal judgements, with error being corrected incrementally, or else in the violence of history. Coleridge criticizes empiricist historians such as Hume and Gibbon for being ‘ ’,⁸² and throughout The Statesman’s Manual he laments the state of contemporary, ‘idea-less’⁸³ philosophy and historiography. In all of this, he criticizes the growing tendency to ‘read history for the facts, instead of . . . for the sake of general principles’.⁸⁴ In Church and State he presents his theory of ideas as ultimate aims that become progressively realized in history: But a Constitution is an idea arising out of the idea of a state; and because our whole history from Alfred onward demonstrates the continued influence of such an idea, or ultimate aim, on the minds of our fore-fathers . . . in the institutions and forms of polity which they established . . . and because the result has been a progressive, though not always a direct, or equable advance in the gradual realization of the idea . . . we . . . have a right to speak, of the idea itself, as actually existing, i.e., as a principle . . . in the minds and consciences of the persons whose duties it prescribes . . . ⁸⁵

This historically developing constitution, a second-order idea, is active in the minds of citizens as a sense of rights and duties, even in the absence of direct contemplation. It is a noumenal idea, a thing thought that is nonetheless real. In the same sense that the sciences of arithmetic and of geometry, that mind, that life itself, have reality; the constitution has real existence, and does not the less exist in reality, because it both is, and exists as, an I.⁸⁶

Unlike the empirical concept of a thing, which is an a posteriori abstraction, the idea is prior to its instances, and is ‘always and of necessity contemplated as antecedent’.⁸⁷ Commending the old sense of ‘Lex Sacra, Mater Legum [Sacred Law, Mother of Laws]’,⁸⁸ a thoroughbred notion in the stable of ‘spiritual platonic old England’,⁸⁹ Coleridge describes the constitution as inherent in reason, evolved from it as a law not to be derived from Alured, or Alfred, or Canute, or other elder or later promulgators of particular laws, but which might say of itself—When reason and the laws of God first came, then came I with them.⁹⁰

⁸² ⁸⁴ ⁸⁶ ⁸⁸ ⁹⁰

Church and State, 10. ⁸³ The Statesman’s Manual, 30. The Statesman’s Manual, 11. ⁸⁵ Church and State, 19. Church and State, 19. ⁸⁷ Church and State, 20. Church and State, 21. ⁸⁹ Notebooks, 2: §2598 f80v (May–August 1805). Church and State, 22.

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The idea thus contemplated is a first-order organizing principle, from which evolve second-order, actualizing ideas that develop historical institutions such as the constitution, the Church, schools, the university, and the state. According to this view, to contemplate the idea is also to instantiate it. The idea is progressively actualized as noetic acquaintance or intuition of the organizing principle becomes embodied in the works and deeds of the contemplator. Thus artefacts and institutions can symbolize ideas in ways that concretely interweave with one’s life. This idea-in-action speaks to the latent ideas of, for example, freedom, rights, and duties, in people who might ordinarily think they have given up thoughts of such things. Yet, as Coleridge points out, regarding people who repudiate ideas or confess that they have ‘no idea’ of them, one would ‘be in ill luck, if ten minutes pass’ without ‘satisfactory proof ’ appearing in the connections of their speech, and the pursuit of their enjoyments, showing that they are indeed possessed of the idea of moral freedom and the expectation of the right to justice that is recognized within that idea.⁹¹ Coleridge claims to present a viewpoint, at once practical and theoretical, that goes deeper than the empiricist and increasingly utilitarian theories of his day. The crux of his theory regards theōría itself, in presenting a contemplative view of ideas, such as constitution, Church (representing the nation), and state (represented by government), whereby, to reiterate, an ‘Idea’ is that [non-empirical] conception of a thing, which is not abstracted from any particular . . . form . . . ; but which is given by knowledge of its ultimate aim.⁹²

Any idea is to be contemplated as a permanence projected as the ideal of theoretical or historical progression. This notion of what political theory is ultimately about—namely, the permanent principles of a progressive society—is an intellectual challenge to the revolutionaries who held that a constitution based on conceptual models could be written clearly and afresh, yet missing or obstructing none of the ideals that are necessary for genuine social progress. It also reveals the later Coleridge to be less of a conservative than is usually admitted. In this context, it is worth noting that it was Coleridge who, when proceeding to ‘re-examine our own Constitution’, argued that with states, as well as individuals, not to be progressive is to be retrograde.⁹³

An important prong in Coleridge’s challenge is that the greatest good, the ultimate aim of progressive thought, is the object of a contemplative vision requiring imagination. As he was fond of quoting,

⁹¹ Church and State, 18.

⁹² Church and State, 12.

⁹³ The Friend, 1: 253.


 ’   

Where no Vision is, the People perisheth!⁹⁴

Such a vision cannot be reached via empirical observation or utilitarian calculation made according to Enlightenment notions of reason that denigrate or dismiss imagination. Thus Coleridge exemplifies the romantic challenge to the Enlightenment by setting up, to borrow J. G. A. Pocock’s phrase, ‘one Enlightenment in conflict with another’.⁹⁵ This context clarifies Coleridge’s distinction between ideas and conceptions. While the former are contemplated by reason and intimated by imagination, the latter are abstracted from experience, yet never arrive at principles or ultimate aims, just as figures added to the right of 0.99 can never arrive at 1.⁹⁶

8.4 Idea in History Before continuing with Coleridge’s account of ideas actualized in history, it will help to distinguish it from Schelling’s and Hegel’s. Although Coleridge found the main themes of the subject in Schelling, their accounts diverge. As early as 1800, Schelling argues that History as a whole is a progressive, gradually self-disclosing revelation of the absolute.⁹⁷

While Coleridge also gives a progressive account of ideas actualizing gradually through history, he cannot agree with this statement. For him, history is a series of human blunders dialectically and imperfectly working out, usually unconsciously, the ‘Divine Ideas’, but it is not the self-manifestation of God or the ‘Absolute’. Thus, Idea = that which successively we may be evermore realizing but totally can never have realized.⁹⁸

Schelling follows Böhme’s account of the world arising from divine, triune selfmanifestation, and evolving through polar oppositions.⁹⁹ As Coleridge recognized,

⁹⁴ Church and State, 58, quoting Proverbs 29:18 (var.); quoted also at: Notebooks, 5: §§6509 (5 November 1830), and 6518 (November 1830); var. Table Talk, 1: 216 (21 November 1830), and 336 (16 February 1833). ⁹⁵ Pocock, Politics, Language, and Time, 7. ⁹⁶ Sartre, Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions, 4: ‘it is just as impossible to attain the essence by heaping up the accidents as it is to arrive at unity by the indefinite addition of figures to the right of 0.99.’ ⁹⁷ Schelling, System of Transcendental Idealism, 211 (Sämmtliche Werke, 3: 603). ⁹⁸ Notebooks, 4: §4524 (April 1819). ⁹⁹ Schelling, Essence of Human Freedom, 66–72 (Sämmtliche Werke, 7: 403–10).

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Schelling tidied up Böhme’s mystical theogony and gave it a more abstract form,¹⁰⁰ a description supported by the judgement that It is only a slight exaggeration to say that Schelling’s Essay on Human Freedom is a paraphrase of Böhme’s account of the becoming of the divine.¹⁰¹

Following, though not naming, Böhme, Schelling supposes that God’s desire for self-manifestation out of the Ungrund (primal Abyss) results in the world into which divinity gradually unfolds. ‘Why not have quoted all this from Böhmen . . . ?’ asks Coleridge, annotating Of Human Freedom (1809), and finding it an unlikely story—more ‘Hypop[oiēsis (subfiction)]’ than ‘Hypothesis’.¹⁰² Frustrated with Schelling’s contradictory logic, he asks: A Nature, Ground . . . of God himself which y[et] is . . . not God himself, but out of whic[h] God exists, and which y[et] is bego[t] by the self-existent[,] & yet is evil . . . yet the . . . very essence o[f] Freedom, without which . . . das Böse [evil] cann[ot] be—what is all this?¹⁰³

Unsurprisingly, Coleridge’s account of ideas in history is very different from Schelling’s Behmenist, theogonic account, in which all events are infinite, only apparently finite, and express God’s self-manifestation. Where Schelling holds all natural events to be infinite expressions of divine selfmanifestation, and only apparently finite, Coleridge posits not the pantheist identity of God and world, but the imperfect, human encounter with the eternal ideas of reason in a finite world. This central role of imperfect human thought and action gives Coleridge’s theory an emphatically moral dimension that highlights both the goodness of the intention and the fallibility of the realization. Consequently, his theory describes a finite striving towards ideas that are sources of moral progress yet unattainable in any complete sense implied by Schelling (and later Hegel). For Coleridge, historical actualization flows from the human contemplation of ‘eternal Verities’, whether intellectually or in social engagement, and mostly in what Eliot later called ‘the general mess of imprecision of feeling’.¹⁰⁴ A definition of history in Coleridge’s Logic supports my interpretation of his

¹⁰⁰ Letters, 4: 883 (November 1818), to Tulk. ¹⁰¹ O’Regan, ‘The Trinity in Kant, Hegel, and Schelling’, 263. ¹⁰² Marginalia, 4 (S): 433. Notebooks, 3: §3587 (July–September 1809): ‘Where both the position and the fact are imagined, it is Hypopoiēsis not Hypothesis, subfiction not supposition.’ ¹⁰³ Marginalia, 4 (S): 433. The square brackets in this and the previous quotation indicate text that was cropped when Coleridge’s copy of Schelling was rebound. ¹⁰⁴ Eliot ‘The Dry Salvages’, Four Quartets, l. 181 (p. 31).


 ’   

account, accommodating, but not claiming the identity of, human, free (moral) agency and divine creative activity: Experience in application to acts, that is, manifestations of a will; acts simultaneous or successive of men . . . = history.¹⁰⁵

From the Coleridgean perspective, wherein imperfect humans attempt to reach perfect ideas, the actualization of ideas on Earth must necessarily be incomplete— a view foreclosed by Schelling’s theogonic account of full and divine selfmanifestation in history. The necessary incompleteness of the actualization theorized by Coleridge prevents his account from being interpreted along Behmenist and Schellingian pantheist lines. The early, Fichtean Schelling discussed absolute knowing but saw it as an infinite task or an unrealizable though constantly pursued goal for human intellectual activity. By the time of his Naturphilosophie writings (1799–1806), as a recent account summarizes, Schelling now naturalizes the absolute, or he absolutizes nature, so that the absolute is identical with the universe itself.¹⁰⁶

The human aim towards ideas is, for Coleridge, redemptive, but not in itself salvific. It is insufficient for salvation because human frailty and finitude prevent the perfect realization of idea-directed action. Schelling, on the other hand—in writings until the Essence of Human Freedom (1809)—implies the eventual realization of Heaven on Earth in a pantheist or panentheist unfolding.¹⁰⁷ For Coleridge, such a view converts . . . the phenomenal World into a blind Godhead playing . . . at Cat Cradle with himself as the thread.—¹⁰⁸

The ‘Divine Ideas’ become imperfectly actualized, Coleridge contends, in dimly cognizant but profoundly yearning human acts, and not in any gradual transformation (or self-realization) of the world into God or the absolute. Still, in this recognition of an inchoately cognizant yearning there is a fertile area of agreement between Coleridge and Schelling, as the latter sees that from out of the darkness of unreason (out of feeling, out of longing . . . ) grow clear thoughts. We must imagine the primal longing in this way—turning towards

¹⁰⁵ Logic, 45 fn. ¹⁰⁶ Beiser, German Idealism, 551. ¹⁰⁷ By 1810, however, Schelling begins his later philosophy, which will support, like Coleridge, divine transcendence. Vetö, ‘Conférences de Stuttgart de Schelling’. Schelling’s later philosophy, posthumously published, has important points of convergence with Coleridge’s. ¹⁰⁸ Notebooks, 4: §4775 (1820–1).

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reason, though not yet recognizing it, just as we longingly desire unknown, nameless excellence.¹⁰⁹

Emphasizing, however, the human responsibility for historical progress, and blaming human fallibility for its reverses, Coleridge cannot agree with Schelling that ‘History is one epic composed in the mind of God.’¹¹⁰ The evolving constitution exemplifies for Coleridge an idea actualizing gradually and imperfectly, in this case, via the opposed forces of permanence and progression. The ideas behind statutory and common law are, he holds, accessible to conscience and contemplation. Contemplation enacts an incipient realization and embodiment of the idea. Thence, ideas organize and effect change as powers that appeal to free, reflective choice. Nonetheless, this power dissipates in the course of its human enactment, requiring the renewal of contemplation. On this realizing contemplation, Coleridge describes how in the participation . . . τῆσ αχρόνου ζωοποιουσῆσ ΙΔÉΑΣ [of the timeless, living ] I see a fountain of actualization, a seed of immortality. It is, however, but a Streak of the Dawn—¹¹¹

The idea thus ‘takes place’ in the mind during the contemplative act. Contemplation does not, absurdly, make the idea more real—just as holding in mind Newton’s Second Law that force = mass  acceleration does not make the equation any truer. Yet contemplation enacts the idea so it can be applied in countless actual situations. Looking at something (sense); desiring it (fancy); conceptualizing and manipulating it (lower understanding); considering it theoretically (higher understanding): these all separate the thinking subject from the object thought. This separation dissolves in the contemplation of ideas. To think freedom, for example, as an abstract object detached from the thinking, willing subject could be an act of fancy or theory, but it would be a failure of contemplation. In Coleridge’s account, noetic intuition is performed by the will positively and negatively, or actively and passively, in the triple act of orienting towards the idea; then receding, to await; before, finally, uniting with the idea. On this Will indeed depends the attending to, the desiderating, the preparing for, and the devout contemplation, of the Ideas; but is no part or constituent thereof except as far as it dis-wills and extinguishes itself as a different and or Self-will and becomes one with the absolute will which is itself one with the Universal Reason.¹¹²

¹⁰⁹ ¹¹⁰ ¹¹¹ ¹¹²

Schelling, Essence of Human Freedom, 35 (Sämmtliche Werke, 7: 360). Schelling, Philosophy and Religion, 31 (Sämmtliche Werke, 4: 47). Notebooks, 5: §6562 (December 1830). ‘Consciousness of Self Consciousness’ (1816), Shorter Works, 1: 429.


 ’   

The human will does not constitute ideas in this act. Rather, the will ‘dis-wills’ itself in assenting to the ideas. For Coleridge, the power to effect change for good draws from this contemplation, and ‘all Power is but Will realizing itself in Act’. Yet while the idea is realized in human will, the realizing power of the idea is thereby dissipated. ( . . . the Logos is at once Idea & Law—the creative Word.) Sink from this into the World of Degrees—the Idea is still a Power, Potentia, but a limited and in man inadequate Power—¹¹³

Far from an abstraction, the Coleridgean idea is asserted in human actions as that value implicit in human aims. It is well said, in support of Coleridge’s focus on ideas in history, that ‘Historians who profess to tell only the facts are really hiding the idea or simply ignoring it.’¹¹⁴ For Coleridge, knowledge of the idea entails its subsequent realization in the actions of the knower. An Idea is not simply knowledge or perception as distinguished from the thing perceived: it is a realizing knowledge, a knowledge causative of its own reality; in it is life, and the life is the light of men.¹¹⁵

Actualization follows noetic contemplation, Coleridge argues, because knowledge of an idea is recognition of an ultimate aim. Contemplation is therefore inherently practical. By contrast, while utilitarianism progresses through civic and bureaucratic efficiency, it is blind to the ends of cultivation. These latter require a contemplative vision of the ideas that constitute humanity. The neglect of cultivation will therefore lead to a rootless civilization out of touch with its humanity. ‘We must be men in order to be citizens.’¹¹⁶ The appeal to an idea such as that of the constitution is not confined to conservative thought and practice. It underlies progressive social ambitions promoting a visionary and idealistic set of principles that aim to secure, in the revolutionary words of the American Declaration of Independence, those ‘selfevident’ and ‘inalienable Rights’, ‘endowed by their Creator’, of ‘Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness’. Such noble principles are not abstractions from facts; they are asserted ideals expressing intellectually intuited ideas. Thus Coleridge can claim, concerning what I call a second-order idea: I am neither describing what the National Church now is, nor determining what it ought to be. My statements respect the idea alone, as deduced from its ultimate purpose and aim . . . ¹¹⁷

¹¹³ ‘Consciousness of Self Consciousness’ (1816), Shorter Works, 1: 429. ¹¹⁴ Kooy, ‘Romanticism and Coleridge’s Idea of History’, 721. ¹¹⁵ Opus Maximum, 223. ¹¹⁶ Church and State, 43. ¹¹⁷ Church and State, 83.

  


Intellectually, the constitution, like the Church, is approached as a noetic object to be contemplated. By contrast, while utilitarianism can discover the means for a certain progression of civilization—namely, the increased efficiency of the city and its bureaucracy—it is blind to the ends of cultivation, that is, to the ideas that constitute humanity. Coleridge expressed the hierarchy of value and realization in terms of the reason–understanding distinction. His arguments on reason, imagination, and cultivation as progressing humane values, especially in Church and State, helped Mill to address the limitations of utilitarianism by distinguishing higher from lower pleasures. Higher pleasures are arguably worthier because to pursue them is to pursue ultimate aims, which remain unacknowledged so far as lower pleasures are concerned. As Mill puts it, leaning towards Coleridge and away from Bentham on this point, it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, is of a different opinion, it is only because they only know their own side of the question. The other party to the comparison knows both sides.¹¹⁸

Mill’s arguments for the importance of distinguishing higher from lower pleasures derive from Coleridge’s hierarchy of value. Whereas a utilitarian scheme has a value (a use-value), an idea of reason is value: By reason we determine the ultimate end: by the understanding we are enabled to select and adopt the appropriate means for the . . . approximation to, this end, according to circumstances. But an ultimate end must of necessity be an idea, that is, that which is not representable by the sense, and has no entire correspondent in nature, or the world of the senses.¹¹⁹

To the question ‘Why act so?’, responses such as ‘for freedom’, ‘for love’, or ‘for art’, require, if sincere, no further justification, whereas ‘because it considerably increases the pleasure of six, and only slightly increases the suffering of one’, is not, unlike the former, a self-evident reason. One might object, however, that it is difficult to understand what reason or value is, in this sense that refers to ideas. Since as early as 1806, when he starts to use the word ‘idea’ in the Platonic sense, Coleridge indeed argues that it is not merely difficult, it is altogether impossible to understand reason and its inherent ideas and value, for value and things ‘of the spirit’ are for him ‘truths’ that ‘surpass all understanding, because they are felt and known’.¹²⁰ We know ideas, dim and defeasible though this knowledge usually is, through intuitive self-reflection within the flow of life. ¹¹⁸ Mill, Utilitarianism (1861), in Collected Works, 10: 212. ¹¹⁹ Marginalia, 3: 423 (L  D, The Coming of the Messiah, trans. Edward Irving; 1827). ¹²⁰ Letters, 2: 1190 (4 October 1806), to his brother-in-law, George Fricker.


 ’   

Take friendship as an idea. Any utilitarian, calculative account of friendship will fall short—sometimes insultingly so—of one’s intuitive knowledge of it as a value. Reductive accounts of any value will fall short of the idea, which is known from the inside, from an intuition made possible through reflection on lived experience. Mill too relies not on logical or objective demonstration, but on an appeal to intuition in arguing that only those who know both higher and lower pleasures can judge between them. To approach the idea, one may also reflect imaginatively on exemplary lives and actions. In the unfolding and exposition of any idea, we naturally seek assistance and the means of illustration from the historical instance, in which it has been most nearly realized . . . ¹²¹

Arguing that ideas are imperfectly realized through history, Coleridge holds that the permanency of a nation and the security of personal freedom are grounded in cultivation, that is, in a conscious connection with humane ideas. Civilization without cultivation, on the other hand, can actually hinder social development and self-realization: But civilization is itself but a mixed good, if not far more a corrupting influence, the hectic of disease, not the bloom of health . . . where this civilization is not grounded in cultivation, in the harmonious developement of those qualities and faculties that characterise our humanity.¹²²

Coleridge began to articulate these concerns in the 1809–10 Friend, arguing for the superiority of principles requiring ‘Seriousness and Meditation’ over ‘maxims of Prudence . . . and . . . expedience’. There, he complains that ‘in spite of our great scientific Discoveries’, there is a ‘general indifference to . . . all the Principles of Truth, which belonging to our permanent being, do not lie within the sphere of our senses’.¹²³ Wordsworth likewise phrases a similar point in his pamphlet on The Convention of Cintra (1809), noting that, While Mechanic Arts, Manufactures, Agriculture, Commerce, and all those products of knowledge which are confined to gross—definite—and tangible objects, have, with the aid of Experimental Philosophy, been every day putting on more brilliant colours; the splendour of the Imagination has been fading . . . ¹²⁴

¹²¹ Church and State, 37. ¹²² Church and State, 42–3. ¹²³ The Friend, 2: 85–6 (21 September 1809); 52 (7 September 1809). ¹²⁴ Wordsworth, Convention of Cintra, 324–5.

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It has been noted that The frequent reference to expediency and fixed principles in Cintra reflects perhaps the continued influence of Coleridge, who in the same year was writing on theories of expediency and the principles of political knowledge in The Friend.¹²⁵

The civilization–cultivation distinction first appears in the 1818 Friend, where Coleridge expresses regret at the young people of his highly civilizing age becoming most anxiously and expensively be-schoolmastered, be-tutored, be-lectured, any thing but educated; who have received arms and ammunition, instead of skill, strength, and courage; varnished rather than polished; perilously over-civilized, and most pitiably uncultivated!¹²⁶

This crucial but easily overlooked distinction becomes central in British romanticism, especially in anti-utilitarian arguments, influencing Mill to refine his views, and in the articulation of fears that fixation on technology cramps imaginative and cultural development. Over the two years following the rifacimento of The Friend (1818), Percy Shelley wrote his Philosophical View of Reform, picking up the Coleridgean thread on the pressing need for a cultured balance to the material and technological advances of the Enlightenment: The mechanical sciences attained to a degree of perfection which . . . it had been accounted madness to have prophesied in a preceding age. Commerce was pursued with a perpetually increasing vigour, and the same area of the Earth was perpetually compelled to furnish more and more subsistence . . . The benefit of this increase of the powers of man became, in consequence of the inartificial [i.e. badly designed] forms into which mankind was distributed, an instrument of his additional evil. The capabilities of happiness were increased, and applied to the augmentation of misery.¹²⁷

As one philosopher has noted, in Coleridge’s Church and State the idea of culture as something independent of material progress was first systematically introduced into English thinking, and

¹²⁵ Michael, British Romanticism, 167. ¹²⁶ The Friend, 1: 500. ¹²⁷ Shelley, Philosophical View of Reform (1819–20), 233.


 ’   

was from then onward available in various forms, not merely to influence society but also to judge it.¹²⁸

Mill adopted Coleridge’s civilization–cultivation distinction to contrast the cultural ideals of the historically minded, hermeneutic thinkers whom Mill called the ‘Germano-Coleridgian school’¹²⁹ against the bureaucratizing tendencies of Benthamite utilitarianism. Echoing Coleridge’s view that ‘civilization is itself but a mixed good’, Mill argues that despite ‘the multiplication of physical comforts; the . . . diffusion of knowledge; the decay of superstition’, and ‘the progressive limitation of the tyranny of the strong over the weak’, one must nonetheless consider ‘the high price which is paid’ for ‘the value of these advantages’—namely, a diminished cultivation; a smothering bureaucracy and technocracy; and a reduction in the freedoms of self-realization, independence, and aesthetic exploration.¹³⁰ Church and State traces the realization of ideas in history through nationality; permanence through landed interest; progression through the personal interest of the mercantile, commercial, and professional classes; acknowledged duties; and socially recognized freedoms. Coleridge’s thesis here is strikingly Hegelian, and both thinkers notably use the organicist imagery of ‘the bud’ to convey their theories of logical and historical development. Coleridge’s first use of unfoldingbud image, six years after Hegel’s, was in a lecture of 1813, on the ‘New System of Education’, defining ‘the word Education’ as the Socratic aim to educe, to call forth; as the blossom is educed from the bud, the vital excellencies are within; the acorn is but educed or brought forth from the bud.¹³¹

Hegel, in the different context of the transformation of logical concepts, uses the image of ‘the bud’ being ‘broken through’ by the blossom, which is itself ‘refuted’ by the fruit, describing these moments as the logical unfolding of an ‘organic unity’.¹³² With the same image, Coleridge, in 1829, describes the full developement and expansion of the mercantile and commercial order, which in the earlier epochs of the constitution, only existed . . . potentially and in the bud . . . ¹³³

¹²⁸ Moran, ‘Coleridge, Samuel Taylor’, 137. ¹²⁹ Mill, ‘Coleridge’ (1840), Collected Works, 10: 138, 141. ¹³⁰ Mill, ‘Coleridge’ (1840), Collected Works, 10: 123. ¹³¹ Lectures on Literature, 1: 585 (18 November 1813, White Lion Inn and Coffee House, Broad Street, Bristol). ¹³² Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 68; see also ibid., 7, on the acorn growing into an oak. ¹³³ Church and State, 50.

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These similarities in their thinking of the realization of ideas, however, are probably not due to direct influence, since, to reiterate, Coleridge soon gave up reading Hegel, accusing the author of the ‘neglect of sound Logic’.¹³⁴ The general similarity with Hegel stems, I suggest, from their going beyond Kant’s transcendental notions of ideas; their both following, then departing from Schelling; their adherence to organicist views of historical development; and their affirmation of essentially Platonic ideas as objective, constitutive principles.¹³⁵ Both therefore see history as the transformation of the world through the progressive realization of ideas. They agree, also, that while ‘in the order of thought’¹³⁶ certain terms in the relations of ideas have a logical priority over others, in the highest reality noetic truth is atemporal and thus, in a sense, eternally prior. For both thinkers, it is only at the level of existence—i.e. in human history and natural history—that the unfolding of ideas occurs over time. This is why Hegel says that the theme of his Science of Logic is God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and of a finite mind.¹³⁷

Yet while history is for Hegel the exhaustive manifestation of divinity, Coleridge’s humbler view is of the human aim for perfection, which nonetheless fails ‘by the imperfection of the means and materials’.¹³⁸ Consequently, history for him cannot be purely aprioristic, for while the idea is its life, contingency is its body. Or, as one commentator recognizes: Historical inquiry, thought Coleridge, must, therefore, proceed circumspectly: any application of preconceived ideas to historical reality should refrain from unsubstantiated predictions and treat history, appropriately, as a complex and inscrutable field of knowledge.¹³⁹

Suggesting a process analogous to natural law theory, where intuitions of justice, rights, and duties refine legal expressions and judgements, Coleridge argues that The line of evolution, however sinuous, has still tended to this point, sometimes with, sometimes without, not seldom . . . against, the intention of the individual

¹³⁴ Marginalia, 2: 990, 994 (H, Wissenschaft der Logik, 1812–16; c.1818). Coleridge’s Hegel annotations amount to c.1,250 words (988–97). ¹³⁵ Perkins, ‘Coleridge’s “Ideal Realism” ’, notes that ‘despite significant disagreements, there is much common ground in theme, argument and conclusion between his many drafts of the “Logosophia” . . . and Hegel’s system.’ ¹³⁶ Church and State, 20. ¹³⁷ Hegel, Science of Logic, 29. ¹³⁸ Church and State, 21. ¹³⁹ De Paolo, ‘Coleridge, Hegel, and the Philosophy of History’, 33.


 ’   

actors, but always as if a power, greater, and better, than the men themselves, had intended it for them.¹⁴⁰

Hegel, too, thinks that the perfect idea is ‘disfigur[ed]’ within ‘the sphere of arbitrariness, contingency, . . . error, and bad behaviour’. His conception of history, however, is not a working out of the idea as if intended by a higher, better power; it is for him divine activity itself, such that The State consists in the march of God in the World, and its basis is the power of reason actualizing itself as will.¹⁴¹

As Joel Rasmussen observes, in Hegel’s theory of the ‘temporal outworking’ of God in ‘world history’, one finds the immanentalization of the Trinity that Schelling sought to explicate and, like Schelling, Hegel too acknowledged Böhme as the source for his recognition of ‘the presence of the Trinity in everything and everywhere’.¹⁴²

Coleridge’s account of ideas in history is thus distinguished from Hegel’s, as from Schelling’s, in rejecting the pantheism of an immanent Trinity, thereby ascribing greater responsibility—and room for error—to human striving. While Hegel holds that reality and knowledge are worked out through the concept, Coleridge holds to a view of reason as Logos that makes it ultimately transcendent, preventing perfect realization on earth or in the human understanding. This transcendence can nonetheless illuminate human life insofar as the soul attains to a self realization and is thereby enlightened by a knowledge of the transcendent idea insofar as it participates in it in however limited a way. Hegel pushed beyond the empty mystery of the immediacy of intellectual intuition, which he saw as the anti-philosophical, ‘rapturous enthusiasm which, begins straight away with absolute knowledge’.¹⁴³ He nonetheless, certainly by the time of the 1817 Encyclopedia, identifies a positive form of intuitive immediacy that works itself out into a philosophical form distinct from the impatient and empty mysticism that he derided a decade earlier in his Phenomenology.¹⁴⁴ For Hegel, in the positive, evolving form of immediacy, there is an impulse within the mystery itself that strives for its own understanding and this drives towards its own unfolding in conceptual, philosophical form. Like Hegel, Coleridge, in the light of reason but not merely basking in it, articulates principles and an understanding

¹⁴⁰ Church and State, 30. ¹⁴¹ Hegel, Philosophy of Right, 279 (§258). ¹⁴² Rasmussen, ‘The Transformation of Metaphysics’, 20, quoting Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, 431. ¹⁴³ Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 16. ¹⁴⁴ Muratori, The First German Philosopher, 157.

  


of reality that is fashioned by concepts in the ‘discourse of reason’—thus he is no adherent of mystical irrationalism. In contrast to Hegel, however, while Coleridge holds positive reason itself, the source of principles, to enlighten the conceptual understanding, its immediacy must nonetheless remain ungraspable by the negative, reason, the shadow of the positive form in the understanding. Thus Coleridge holds that the higher form of Knowledge by Ideas is a constant process of Involution and Evolution, different from the Conceptions of the Understanding in this respect only—that no reason can be brought for the Affirmation, because it is reason—ex. gr. that the Soul contemplate its Principle as the Universal in itself as a Particular, i.e. that this truth is involved, & vice versâ, evolves itself from its Principle/ are facts of consciousness.¹⁴⁵

For Coleridge, then, while institutions and laws develop over time and across conflict, they originate in intuitions, such as the sacredness of the person, an ideal reality given in conscience and moral sense—unmediated forms of intuition that are, however, attended to and sustained only with intellectual effort. The working out in the understanding that they enlighten is analogous to Bacon’s inductive case-law studies that reveal natural law gradually actualizing in nations.¹⁴⁶ The British constitution is, for Coleridge, a second-order idea that evolves an interconnected group of first-order ideas. Although constitutional law is a rational object that benefits all, it is actualized through the opposition of social groups. Naturally, there are struggles involving fear and coercion, but Coleridge agrees with Plato that the Thrasymachian opinion that ‘might makes right’¹⁴⁷ is indefensible. Thus Coleridge challenges Hobbes’ dictum that ‘Covenants, without the Sword, are but Words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.’¹⁴⁸ Against this brute materialism, Coleridge defends the authority of just law beyond the physical power of its enforcement, replying: ‘Well! but without the Laws the sword is but a piece of iron.’¹⁴⁹ Unless fear alone be the rationale, as in slavery, the relation between government and subjects must involve ideas of community, implicit contract, and loyalty or faith. Throughout Church and State, Coleridge argues for the balance of permanence and progression, with the former maintaining cultivation and a sense of humanity, and the latter advancing civilization and technology. Progress is ensured by the state, and deals with transience, of which property is clearly an example. ¹⁴⁵ Marginalia, 5: 756. ¹⁴⁶ Bacon, Elements of Common Lawes. ¹⁴⁷ Plato, Republic, 338c. ¹⁴⁸ Hobbes, Leviathan, 2: 254 (pt 2, ch. 17). Coleridge renders Hobbes’ Thrasymachian dictum as: ‘Laws without swords are but bits of parchment’: The Friend, 1: 172–3. ¹⁴⁹ The Friend, 1: 173. Coleridge alters and abbreviates Harrington’s riposte to Hobbes to make an anti-materialist point. See Harrington, Political Works, 165.


 ’   

Permanence is secured by the nation and the Church, cultivating character by connecting new generations with tradition through what Matthew Arnold later formulated as, ‘the best that has been known and thought in the world . . . to establish a current of new and fresh ideas’.¹⁵⁰ Although cultivation is the higher tendency, it depends upon civilization. Coleridge stresses that Opposite powers are always of the same kind, and tend to union, either by equipoise or by a common product. Thus the + and  poles of the magnet, thus positive and negative electricity are opposites. . . . Even so in the present instance, the interest of permanence is opposed to that of progressiveness; but so far from being contrary interests, they, like the magnetic forces, suppose and require each other.¹⁵¹

For his epigraph to the second edition of Church and State (1830), Coleridge adapts three lines from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida:         ,            .¹⁵² The mystery is that the state is guided by ideas inconceivable to mere understanding. The historians of mere understanding simply chronicle events, missing the principles that connect them. Thus, Coleridge’s ‘historiography [is] the notion that ideas make history and that the way to get at these ideas is aesthetically’.¹⁵³ But without any insight into the political and civil power of ideas, historians can produce only ‘mechanical’ studies depicting, through ‘the hollowness of abstractions’, ‘a shadow-fight of Things and Quantities’.¹⁵⁴ In Coleridge’s time, ideas were beginning to be seen as unstoppable motors of social and political change, sweeping through nations and across continents. Once manifest in the network of history, ideas become actualized in laws and institutions. Indeed a zeitgeist was pervading Europe, with romantic nationalism elevating—often even inventing—folklore and traditions; creating the states of Germany, Italy, Poland, Greece, Bulgaria, and Hungary; and inspiring independence movements in European colonies around the globe. Coleridge gives testimony to Polish nationalism in the following verse lines:

¹⁵⁰ Arnold, Culture and Anarchy, 37. ¹⁵¹ Church and State, 24 fn. ¹⁵² Church and State, 10. Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida, 3.3.200–3, Ulysses (to Achilles): ‘There is a mystery (with whom relation | Durst never meddle) in the soul of state; | Which hath an operation more divine | Than breath or pen can give expressure to.’ ¹⁵³ Kooy, ‘Romanticism and Coleridge’s Idea of History’, 718. ¹⁵⁴ The Statesman’s Manual, 28.

  


Shall I compare thee to poor ’s Hope, Bright flower of Hope kill’d in the opening bud?¹⁵⁵

These lines refer to the Russo-Prussian defeat of Commander Kościusko’s uprising in October 1794, thereby dashing Polish nationalist hopes and leading to the 1795 partitioning of Poland and its disappearance as a sovereign nation. As powerful as such movements are, for Coleridge the progressive furtherance of ideas through changes to national civilization requires cultivation if it is to take root and have moral and humane value. Cultivation of souls occurs with ‘the annunciation of principles, of ideas’,¹⁵⁶ whose realization is the true end of government. For Coleridge, the historical conveyance of ideas of reason through the imagination ‘awakens the mind’s germinal power to the consubstantialities of past and present’, and thus ‘contributes to the creation of social and political community’.¹⁵⁷ Yet the idealess understanding, or ‘the Faculty of means to medial Ends’,¹⁵⁸ nevertheless advanced Britain’s infrastructure in the first thirty years of the nineteenth century in an unprecedented progress of civilization. Coleridge cites: Inventions, Discoveries, Public Improvements, Docks, Rail-ways, Canals, &c . . . in England and Scotland . . . We live . . . under the dynasty of the understanding: and this is its golden age.¹⁵⁹

Without balanced cultivation, however, and the impress of ideas, society is impoverished, possessing knowledge of utilitarian means and technical skill only. Sea, and Land, Rock, Mountain, Lake and Moor, yea Nature and all her Elements, sink before them, or yield themselves captive! But the ultimate ends? Where shall I seek for information concerning these? By what name shall I seek for the historiographer of R? Where shall I find the annals of her recent campaigns? the records of her conquests? In the facts disclosed by the Mendicant Society? In the reports on the increase of crimes, commitments? In the proceedings of the Police? Or in the accumulating volumes on the horrors and perils of population?¹⁶⁰

Twelve years earlier, Coleridge diagnosed the malaise of medial conceptions outweighing ultimate ideas, when he wrote in the 1818 Friend that

¹⁵⁵ ¹⁵⁶ ¹⁵⁷ ¹⁵⁹

‘On Observing a Blossom’ (1796), Poetical Works, 1: 257, ll. 17–18. The Statesman’s Manual, 24. Gregory, Coleridge and Conservative Imagination, 96. ¹⁵⁸ Church and State, 59. Church and State, 59. ¹⁶⁰ Church and State, 59–60.


 ’   

a nation can never be a too cultivated, but may easily become an overcivilized, race . . . ¹⁶¹

By 1829, in Church and State, Coleridge recommends ‘a national clerisy’ to disseminate the liberal arts and sciences, thereby to serve as ‘an essential element of a rightly constituted nation’, securing both its permanence and its progression.¹⁶² He is sometimes cited as coining the word ‘clerisy’ (he was first to use it in English), although in doing so he effectively translates Kant’s Klerisei.¹⁶³ Klerisei is standard German for clergy, but Kant uses the word for an idealizing church of reason to free faith from historical forms and direct it towards the moral law discoverable by reason.¹⁶⁴ While Kant suggested the term, however, Coleridge thoroughly developed the notion from his 1818 revision of The Friend to its fullest form in Church and State (1829/30). In the latter work, the clerisy, or cultivating intelligentsia, are The sages and professors of the law and jurisprudence; of medicine and physiology; of music; of military and civil architecture; of the physical sciences; with the mathematical . . . in short, all the so-called liberal arts and sciences . . . as well as the Theological.¹⁶⁵

A record in Table Talk clarifies their harmonizing role: All harmony is founded on a relation to rest . . . Take a metallic plate, and strew sand on it; sound an harmonic chord . . . and all the grains will whirl about in . . . geometrical figures . . . round . . . some point . . . relatively at rest; sound a discord, and every grain will whisk about without any order at all, . . . with no point of rest. The Clerisy of a Nation—its learned—its poets—its writers are these points of relative rest. There would be no harmony without them.¹⁶⁶

The role of a pastoral-vocational class in Coleridge’s social thought, and his hopes for national cultivation, can be recognized three decades earlier, in the following lines from ‘Religious Musings’ (1796, 1797). O’er waken’d realms Philosophers and Bards Spread in concentric circles: they whose souls

¹⁶¹ The Friend, 1: 494. Lectures on the History of Philosophy, 1: 81, in the same year, makes the same distinction. Church and State, 49, repeats the aphorism verbatim from The Friend. ¹⁶² Church and State, 69. ¹⁶³ Shaffer, ‘Religion and Literature’, 148. ¹⁶⁴ Kant, Religion Within the Bounds of Bare Reason, presents the ‘church invisible’ as a community that promotes and clarifies the moral law in society and is thus an ideal for the ‘church visible’. ¹⁶⁵ Church and State, 46. ¹⁶⁶ Table Talk, 1: 284–5 (10 April 1832).

  


Conscious of their high dignities from God Brook not wealth’s rivalry . . . ¹⁶⁷

Coleridge’s clerisy coincides with the philosophical class of guardians in Plato’s Republic, compelled to leave their contemplation to attend to the practical affairs of the state. Coleridge applies the notion in his criticism of the materialism and utilitarianism of his age, bemoaning, inter alia, ‘lecture-bazaars under the absurd name of universities’ as ‘spurious’, feeding the disease they set out to cure. A national education, he insists, should arise from the font of ideas, not from the ‘attempt to popularize science’, which might well ‘only effect its plebification’.¹⁶⁸ With Plato, who distinguishes the ideas of nóēsis from the mathēmatiká of diánoia, Coleridge describes ‘ideas’ as knowledges immediate, yet real, and herein distinguished in kind from logical and mathematical truths, which express not realities, but only the necessary forms of conceiving and perceiving, and are thus named the formal or abstract sciences.¹⁶⁹

Contemplating the non-abstracted, transcendent ideas, one can rightly appreciate, the permanent distinction, and the occasional contrast, between cultivation and civilization . . . ¹⁷⁰

While civilization with its technology, bureaucracy, and economy can advance without ideas, the humane cultivation and the nourishing of social and cultural permanence depend for Coleridge, as I have argued, on the contemplation of ideas. Paraphrasing St John’s Gospel, he calls these ideas ‘spiritual realities that can only spiritually be discerned ’.¹⁷¹ These realities, with our ‘inherent aptitude and moral preconfiguration’ to them, constitute what we mean by ideas, and by the presence of the ideal truth, and of ideal power, in the human being.¹⁷²

Thus thought, as truths and potencies, they give rise in human minds and practices to the ideas of rights, of the ‘ever-originating social contract’, the sacredness of the person, the Church, the state, the constitution, and the like. ¹⁶⁷ Poetical Works, 1: 184, ll. 226–9. ¹⁶⁸ Church and State, 69. ¹⁶⁹ Church and State, 47 fn. ¹⁷⁰ Church and State, 48–9. The Friend, 1: 500–1, first makes this distinction. ¹⁷¹ Church and State, 47 fn. The Johannine text is cited also at: Notebooks, 4: §§5089 f48v (December 1823), 5288 f15 (December 1825); 5: §§5493 f62 (April 1827), 5554 f13 (July 1827), and 5657 f42v (November 1827); and Marginalia, 1: 824 (B, Pilgrim’s Progress), criticizing ‘implicit faith’ as ‘imperfect & perilous without insight & understanding’. ¹⁷² Church and State, 47 fn.


 ’   

These historically instantiated, second-order ideas bodily connect us back to the first-order ‘Divine Ideas’ by engendering deep feelings which belong, as by a natural right to those obscure ideas that are necessary to the moral perfection of the human being . . . ¹⁷³

Coleridgean ideas, then, transcend humanity yet are also constitutive of it, and are necessary for the experience of value. That Coleridge grapples over many years and in many works with this existentially important matter is cause enough to reflect on the significance of his account. In his view, the highest intellectual principles resonate in the deepest feelings with ‘an indistinct, yet stirring and working presentment’.¹⁷⁴ This stirring presentment is an intuitive anticipation which turns out, for Coleridge, to be the motor of history and the link between his theory of first-order (Platonic) ideas and his critique of the historical development of institutions as the evolution of second-order ideas. Through a socially rooted contemplation, the ideas behind institutions such as the Church, the state, and the constitution—and, moreover, grand movements such as liberalism, nationalism, and romanticism—take hold to find expression in public consciousness and embodiment in works and deeds. As a theologian notes, Coleridge helps ‘to bring into relief the developmental, evolutionary character of Reason’ in human life.¹⁷⁵ Coleridge’s political philosophy is, accordingly, inherently progressive, balanced by an equal and opposite respect for culturally transmitted ideas and values. Though the cultivating pole is prioritized as fundamental, the progressive, civilizing pole prevents that ground from becoming retrograde. In turn, the bureaucratizing, rule-driven logic of the civilizing pole is corrected by higher-order ideas and principles. Therefore, whether in its political or metaphysical forms, Coleridge’s philosophy is ultimately a defence of the transcendence of ideas above the immanence of their progressive but imperfect actualization. In the next chapter, I continue into Coleridge’s idea-driven logic that schematizes major principles concerning the interpenetration of opposites, the actualization of ideas, and their contemplation.

¹⁷³ The Friend, 1: 106. ¹⁷⁴ Biographia Literaria, 1: 152. ¹⁷⁵ Niebuhr, Streams of Grace, 58.



9 Developing Polarity: Trichotomy, Tetractys, and Pentad This chapter addresses noetic contemplation through Coleridge’s higher logic, or rather ‘Noetic’, of the ‘tetrad’ (group of four terms), relating absolutes (the Trinity, reality, being, the good, etc.), and his ‘pentad’ (group of five terms), relating non-absolutes (human institutions, natural powers, and phenomena).¹ First, I commence with a preliminary statement of the general terms of the pentad with Coleridge’s following kite figure:





E Where: A = prothesis, the (potential) identity of B and C B = thesis C = antithesis D = ‘the Indifference of B and C’, or mesothesis E = ‘the Synthesis of B. and C.’²

¹ Hitherto, Newsome’s chapter, ‘Coleridge’s Trichotomous Logic’ (Two Classes of Men, 100–11) was the longest study of the tetradic and pentadic forms. Levere, Poetry Realized in Nature, 114–26, 154–5, and Modiano, Coleridge and the Concept of Nature, 172, 185, 190–96 also study these, focusing on their application to natural science; and Uehlein, Die Manifestation, 120 ff, and Evans, Sublime Coleridge, 20–4, 95–100 examine their philosophically idealist and theological uses respectively. ² Notebooks, 5: §5726, f49–49v (January 1828).

Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy. Peter Cheyne, Oxford University Press (2020). © Peter Cheyne. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001


 ’   

Experience of things and phenomena occurs at the level of the synthesis (E), the realm of appearance. BCD represents the level of actuality, manifesting the one power of the prothesis (A) by opposed forces (B and C). The prothesis (A) is for Coleridge originary reality. Pentads can be made, thinks Coleridge, for any kind of concept or phenomenon (colours, the nation, religions, natural forces, etc.), as can tetrads for constellations of ideas or powers. In Section 9.1, I argue that the pentads ‘tautegorically’ represent Coleridge’s dynamic and relational metaphysics. I also compare these forms to C. S. Peirce’s ‘abductive’ logic. In Section 9.2, I discuss Coleridge’s historical sources, mainly Schelling and other Naturphilosophen, who adapt from Fichte, who in turn develops from Kant. I also relate Coleridge’s polar logic to Heraclitus, Böhme, Richard Baxter, and, minimally, Hegel. I then argue, in Section 9.3, that Coleridge crucially differs from Schelling here in holding that the Absolute is transcendent to the indifference-point, or mesothesis. Section 9.4 illuminates Coleridge’s neglected distinction between his tetracti, which are always and entirely noetic, constellating absolutes (ideas or powers), and his pentads, which are either noetic, containing an absolute term, or logical, constellating only non-absolutes. Section 9.5 then pauses for transitional remarks before the pentads are interpreted in Chapter 10 with respect to the humane value of contemplation and the realization of ideas. Coleridge’s pentadic schemata share something of what he called, in the Biographia, the logic of poetry, with ‘a logic of its own, as severe as that of science’.³ I am not suggesting that the pentads are a peculiar form of poetry, but rather that they possess an almost poematic potential for combining rigour and openness, or fixity and fluidity, in developing and firming up thoughts and relations. They bear comparison to creative forms such as the haiku, which fuses self-awareness and natural setting into a strictly drawn syllabic string. Insights through this form are held as individual flashes, paratactically conveyed, that belong as much to the natural environment and the traditional form itself as to the poet. Similarly, the Petrarchan sonnet offers a progressive technique of thought, blending feeling with structure to evolve an initial problem or argument, via the medial volta, to a resolution and conclusion. The sonneteer has a conviction that no problem need lead to despair. For he or she has been surprised or impressed before by sonnets where the sestet (the volta and ensuing resolution and conclusion) responds, from a higher, hope-inspired vantage, to the difficulty or dilemma declaimed in the octave. The dual forces of pressure from the problem and faith in reaching a resolution push one through to the volta, and no merely conceptual logic can bring one there.

³ Biographia Literaria, 1: 9.

 : , ,  


One cannot, therefore, expect an artificial intelligence algorithm to create a truly poetic sonnet, nor achieve the fusion of subjectivity and nature of a haiku. Computers can generate sonnet-like or haiku-shaped poems, with interesting and unexpected semantic connections, but without access to the pull of the idea, nor pushed by anything like possible despair or emotional concern; they will output only poems, but no poetry, to use Coleridge’s distinction.⁴ Verse kinds like the sonnet and the haiku are often used to focus thought and feeling and move them on, through the constraints specific to the form, to a new insight or perspective. Moving emotion into an intellectual or spiritual yearning, Coleridge’s pentads can be read positively in this light.

9.1 Aids to Contemplation 9.1 (i) Metaphysics and Constructive Logic For Coleridge, logical trichotomy is entailed by the universal principle, both scientific (e.g. Newton’s Third Law) and metaphysical, that one power becomes manifest as two opposite forces. Accordingly, for Coleridge, everything in nature, and the mind itself, conforms to this triadic, polar dynamic. This principle is central to Coleridge’s scheme or formula of all logical Distribution of our Conceptions, which I have entitled the Logical Pentad . . . ⁵

As I argued in Chapter 8, Coleridge’s metaphysics develops from the difference between Platonic ‘Divine Ideas’ and the natural and socio-cultural forces that govern the sensible world. For Coleridge, the ‘Divine Ideas’ represent God in numerous forms and constitute reason in its primary sense, as Logos, accessible through reason in its ancillary sense, as defined in Chapter 2 (71–2). Coleridge’s attention to the non-absolute and the absolute reflects his attempt to connect immanent experience and transcendence without collapsing their difference. Such a collapse would introduce the pantheism he relentlessly eschewed while steering close to its shores. In a short manuscript essay of 1816, he discusses how one may ‘contemplate an absolute, or that which transcends all degree’.⁶ A dozen years later, he similarly uses ‘a Transcendent’ as a synonym for ‘an absolute’.⁷ Coleridge

⁴ Biographia Literaria, 2: 15–18. ⁵ Church and State, 233. ⁶ ‘Consciousness and Self-Consciousness’ (1816), Shorter Works, 1: 428. ⁷ Notebooks, 5: §5980 f4v (February–March 1829).


 ’   

was keenly aware of the difficulty of connecting the finite and the absolute. As he says in his Opus Maximum, the ‘Noetic’⁸ sequel to his Logic: The passage from the absolute to the hseparatedi finite, this is the difficulty, which who shall overcome? This is the chasm which ages have tried in vain to overbridge . . . For the finite can be one with the absolute, inasmuch only as it represents the absolute truly verily under some particular form.⁹

Continuous with his usual sense of the word as meaning ‘of the noûs’, Coleridge defines ‘Noetic’ in his Logic as the preferable term for the higher, or rather the highest, branch of logic, viz. the logic of ideas and first principles.¹⁰

With the following diagram, in the introduction to the Logic, Coleridge illustrates what he means by universal reason, or noûs (N), as being ‘above’ conceptual and relational logic (Λ), which, like its complement, mathematical theōría (Θ; at the mid-level, with Λ), is itself ‘above’ empirical data (Ε).




N = ‘the νους [noûs], or the reason, as the something transcendent of the understanding’; it comprises the primary truths—aeternae veritates—independent of all time and place and in which the reason itself consists, gives rise to . . . ontology . . . more laxly . . . metaphysics . . . for which the term “noetic”, or the science corresponding to the νους, would be the most . . . appropriate exponent.¹¹

Λ = logic, as understanding. This represents

⁸ Logic, 44–5 (see Table 7.2), and index, under ‘noetic(s)’. Marginalia, 3: 742 (L), refers to ‘my Noetic & Discipline of Ideas’. Many entries in Notebooks, 4 and 5, especially the Folio Notebook, pursue this noetic discipline. ⁹ Opus Maximum, 218. ¹⁰ Logic, 169. ¹¹ Logic, 36.

 : , ,  


the science of the permanent relations in conceptions, as inferior to the absolute, but superior to the variably relative, or facts, which we find, but do not understand or conceive in and of themselves.¹²

Θ = mathematics, understood as theōría, the science of the Kantian pure a priori intuitions of space and time. E = ‘the extracircumferential . . . power acting on or from without’, the external objects and forces intuited by the senses, which he terms, eight paragraphs later, ‘Empiric = evidence of the senses’, the general science of which is physics, in contrast to the ‘noetic, the logic, and the mathematics . . . comprised in the term “metaphysics” ’.¹³ This schema shows the pentadic logic as intermediate between empirical data and the noetically intuitable. While the noetic requires a leap, or bridging over, to contemplate the absolute as transcending the empirical, logic and mathematics are contiguous with the empirical. In Coleridge’s geometrical analogies, points, lines, etc. are constructs that he initially called ideas in both the 1809 and the 1818 Friend but, in later annotations, amended to ‘theorems’, in conformity with ‘the severity of Logic’.¹⁴ As has been argued in an important philosophical commentary, through his mathematical symbols, point and line, center, radius, and perimeter . . . Coleridge shows the self-explanation of the Absolute One in the same context [of ] . . . speculative mathematics . . . as elaborated in Plato’s ‘unwritten doctrine’ and the old Academy, and taken up and continued by Neoplatonism . . . ¹⁵

Agreeing with Plato’s notion of the mathematicals (ta mathēmatiká, discussed in this book at Chapter 7, 214–5) as theorems, visual or mental constructs, Coleridge saw the natural sciences and geometry as ‘confined to Abstractions’ derived from sense intuition.¹⁶ Much as symbols aesthetically convey ideas, but ‘in a lower dignity’, Coleridge’s geometrical analogies express objective laws, forces, and ideas for intellectual contemplation, but through the senses. Coleridge’s textual guides in this logical middle ground are ancient and modern. The former includes Plato’s divided line, ascending from sense and belief, through conceptual schemata, to noetic contemplation. Like Plato, Coleridge sees theoremes as abstract, conceptual schemata that can indicate what transcends the abstract and conceptual. Coleridge also returns to passages in Plotinus that identify the contemplative act with the product of its creation. In the Logic, for

¹² Logic, 36. ¹³ Logic, 35, 44 (see Table 7.2), 36. ¹⁴ The Friend, 1: 177 fn. ¹⁵ Uehlein, Die Manifestation, 124 n. ¹⁶ The Statesman’s Manual, 49, autograph insertion h–i (likely c.1823). Logic, 244–5 describes geometrical ‘theoremes’ as ‘pure constructions of the intuitive faculty’.


 ’   

instance, he applies Plotinus’ thought on generation in nature to the ‘ἐνεργεια θεωρετικη [enérgeia theōretikḗ, perceiving energy]’ of construction in human thinking; that is, of the act of the intuitive imagination and its close connection with its product in the mental diagram . . . when, speaking of the geometricians and then of Nature as acting geometrically, he says θεωρουσα θεωρηματα ποιει [theōroûsa theōrḗmata poieî], her contemplative act is creative and is one with the product of the contemplation.¹⁷

Most influential on him among modern texts concerning this logical middle ground are Kant’s notion of mathematical proof as a mental construction, achieved via a priori intuition in the pure forms of space and time, and Schelling’s applying the same—beyond and against Kant—to philosophy and intellectual intuition. Schelling opposed as ‘arbitrary’ Kant’s assertion that ‘mathematics considers the universal in the particular, while philosophy treats the particular in the universal’.¹⁸ In a Schellingian direction, Coleridge held that ideas can be intimated in the ‘philosophic imagination’¹⁹ through symbols, diagrams, ‘theoremes’, and philosophemes that convey an essential and representative sameness (but in a ‘lower dignity’). Symbols, theoremes, and philosophemes²⁰ are therefore tautegorical, for Coleridge, as they convey the universal through the particular, or the whole in the part, to recall the pars pro toto figuration of the tautegory that I discussed in Chapter 7 (191–2). He distinguishes these tautegories from allegories since the former, he holds, convey the same essential relations as the truth that they aim at, but ‘in a lower dignity’, whereas allegories convey merely coincidental, nonessential similarities of relation that break down when pressed. The Prometheus is a philosopheme and ταυτηγορικὸν [tautegory]: the tree of knowledge of good and evil, an allegory ([ἰ]εροπαίδευμα [hieropaídeuma, a sacred image of instruction]), though the noblest and most pregnant of its kind.²¹

Defending his claim that the Prometheus myth is tautegorical, Coleridge argued that a relevant analogue exists in every detail of that story, conveying poetically a ¹⁷ Logic, 73–4, cited again at 245, quoting Plotinus, Enneads, III.8.4, 6–7 (var.); also quoted around six years earlier at Biographia Literaria, 1: 251–2. A related passage, from Enneads, III.8.3, is paraphrased at The Friend, 1: 418. ¹⁸ Beiser, German Idealism, 588, referring to Schelling, ‘Über die Construktion in der Philosophie’, in Sämmtliche Werke, 5: 125–34. ¹⁹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 241. ²⁰ A philosopheme, for Coleridge, is an analogical illustration of a philosophical principle or thesis. ²¹ ‘On the Prometheus of Aeschylus’ (1825), Shorter Works, 1267–8. Royal Society of Literature, inaugural lecture.

 : , ,  


philosophical and theological contemplation of reason—the divine fire, or noûs— as a ‘gift’ different in kind from the faculties that humans share with other animals. Schelling later borrowed Coleridge’s concept of the tautegorical in his philosophy of mythology, confiding that Coleridge . . . in one word . . . had comprised a whole essay, saying that mythology was not allegorical but tautegorical . . . ²²

Coleridge’s metaphysics involves the upward dimension of contemplation or idealization, the downward of actualization, and lateral axis of polarity. These dimensions are synchronously modelled by his pentadic forms. This logic not only represents his metaphysics but also furthers his thinking of it, aligning him with an important logician of later British idealism, namely Bernard Bosanquet, who argued for the identity, or at least the mutually implicative nature, whereby in content Logic is one with Metaphysics, and differs if at all simply in mode of treatment . . . To say that the real world is the intelligible world is only . . . to suggest as an elucidation . . . the . . . judgment, that reality is something at which we arrive by a constructive process.²³

With this view, Bosanquet, had the texts been available to him, would likely have seen more merits in Coleridge’s pentadic thinking than the yet later British idealist J. H. Muirhead. Muirhead takes Coleridge seriously as a philosophical forerunner of British idealism but, perhaps because of his incomplete access to Coleridge’s relevant manuscripts, he considers Coleridge’s pentadic logic as merely eccentric, rather than an abiding feature of his philosophic project. Muirhead nonetheless accepts Coleridge’s trichotomous logic of ‘Identity, Thesis, and Antithesis’, because in overcoming the dichotomy of affirmation and contradiction it can advance beyond the limitations of Logic, or the science of the Understanding to a Noetic, or science of the Reason, which should also be a science of Reality.²⁴

Coleridge’s trichotomous logic is consequently one of enlargement (like Hegel’s) rather than exclusion, as Muirhead approvingly notes. Yet, unaware that Coleridge’s noetic pentads theorize a metaphysics of contemplation and actualization, Muirhead simply sees the tetrad and pentad as needlessly expanding triadic logic.²⁵ Pace

²² Jowett, in Abbott et al., Life and Letters, 1: 146. Schelling was confiding to Benjamin Jowett. ²³ Bosanquet, Logic, 1: 232. ²⁴ Muirhead, Coleridge as Philosopher, 86. ²⁵ Muirhead, Coleridge as Philosopher, 86 n. Barfield, What Coleridge Thought, also sidesteps the pentads, although he explores Coleridgean polarity and trichotomy.


 ’   

Muirhead, I aim to demonstrate how Coleridge used his noetic pentads productively to conceive the three general levels of reality and their interrelations. Reality in this most general sense consists of reality (God, Logos, the ideas, the fundamental powers); actuality (natura naturans, the opposed powers or forces that are non-phenomenal yet produce phenomena); and phenomenality (the evolving objects of experience that arise in the synthesis of the opposed powers of actuality). It must be emphasized that one can follow Coleridge extending these forms into the actual business of philosophy, as he used his pentadic logic to think through subjects as diverse as, among others, the ‘Five essential Forms of Speech . . . and the two Modifications’;a the forces of gravity, electricity, and magnetism;b the colour spectrum;c human ancestral groups;d the organization of the nation;e the essential structure of the Church;f and the Holy Trinity within the Tetractys.g ²⁶

9.1 (ii) The Pentadic Form A power or idea, for Coleridge, can become manifest only by two opposed and interdependent forces, such as the positive and negative poles of magnetism, or the socio-cultural forces of permanence and progression in a nation. The polar forces are the two forms, on in which a one Power works in the same act and instant. Thus it is not the Power, Attraction and the Power Repulsion at once hugging and tugging like two sturdy Wrestlers that compose the Magnet, but the Magnetic Power working at once a positively & negatively. A. and R. are the two Forces of the one magnetic Power.²⁷

Initiating this dynamic metaphysics is the ‘prothesis’, the original reality or power and the first term of the Coleridgean pentad. As Levere notes, the polar logic is not merely polar, but productive, so that Coleridge’s schemata exhibit . . . thesis and antithesis as the polarization of a prothesis.²⁸

As Coleridge writes,

²⁶ (a) Notebooks, 4: §4644 f27 (March 1820); (b) Marginalia, 5: 266 (S; 1823, or earlier); (c) Shorter Works, 2: 1366–8 (1827); (d) Marginalia, 1: 539–40 (B; 1828); (e) Church and State, 233; (f ) Marginalia, 3: 6 (I, Sermons; 1828 or 1829); Marginalia, 2: 290 (Donne, LXXX Sermons, 1640; c.1831); Marginalia, 5: 631–3 (T, Polemicall Discourses); (g) Notebooks, 5: §§6320 (30 May 1830), and 6817 (November 1833). ²⁷ ‘On the Polar Forces’ (1818), Shorter Works, 1: 785. ²⁸ Levere, Poetry Realized in Nature, 113. Coleridge is the first to use the word ‘prothesis’ in this sense of an antecedent unity. Notebooks, 3: §4418 (August 1818).

 : , ,  


the process itself, in which  O reveals its Being in two opposite yet correlative Modes of Existence, I designate by the term, Polarity, or Polarizing.²⁹

Between these poles lies the ‘indifference point’, or ‘mesothesis’. From the viewpoint of either pole, it appears as the other, yet it is in fact neither. Newsome glosses that ‘the mesothesis . . . is both poles in different relations’.³⁰ Expanding the logic of antithetic poles into metaphysics, as Coleridge did, Barfield perceives that these ‘two indestructible “forces” are located in natura naturans, and are prephenomenal’,³¹ implying that a further stage in the unfolding of reality gives rise to concrete, finite experience. This phenomenality is the comprehendible yet fluxional world of human and, presumably, animal experience, furnished with concrete things. This last stage in the unfolding of reality is the ‘synthesis’ of opposed, polar forces, from which arise distinct and particular phenomena. Coleridge, then, does not deny the reality of material things, but sees them as the products of opposed forces, which themselves manifest originary powers or ideas. Thus we have the five terms of the pentad, or ‘the five most general Forms or Preconceptions of Constructive Logic’.³² The Coleridgean pentad expresses a number of non-arbitrary states and relations, most prominently the following four: (1) The prothesis must be the most general of the terms, encompassing the others. For example, ‘the Real’, denoting all that is or is possible, is the most general category, subsuming the ‘the Actual’ and ‘the Potential’. (2) The thesis and antithesis must be co-dependent opposites, not mutually cancelling contraries.³³ While contraries have an excluded middle, opposites necessarily have a middle position. Note here the difference between opposites and contraries. O.[pposites] always have an Equator—C.[ontraries] never. ————|————· )(³⁴

Such opposites involve and require one another, with his examples including electrical and magnetic positive and negative poles, expansive light and ²⁹ Notebooks, 4: §4538 f167 (May 1819). ³⁰ Newsome, Two Classes of Men, 103. ³¹ Barfield, What Coleridge Thought, 37. ³² Aids to Reflection, 182 fn. ³³ ‘Note on the Difference between Opposites and Contraries’ (November 1821), Shorter Works, 2: 960, describes ‘Contraries that preclude or destroy, and Opposites that require and support each other’. The difference is also discussed at: ‘The Sciences and Theology’ (1818), Shorter Works, 1: 758; Notebooks, 3: §4326 (1816–January 1817); and Church and State, 35, and 24 fn., a long note on ‘the essential difference between opposite and contrary’. Coleridge derives this difference from Kant’s ‘Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy’ (1763), Theoretical Philosophy, 203–41 (Ak. 2: 165–204). ³⁴ Marginalia, 3: 327 (K, Vermischte Schriften; c.1816). The bisected line represents opposites, with their necessary ‘Mesothesis’, or ‘Equator’. The ‘)(’ sign represents contraries, with an excluded middle. He later used ‘)(’ for disparity, using ‘)(‘for contrariety (see e.g. the key at Marginalia, 5: 500).


 ’   

contractive gravity, subjectivity and objectivity, and socio-cultural permanence and progression. Here, Coleridge develops Kant’s distinction between real and logical opposition, whereby, as a dynamic opposition of forces or powers, real opposition, is that where two predicates of a thing are opposed to each other, but not through the law of contradiction.³⁵

While the two contraries of a logical contradiction cannot exist simultaneously, in real opposition, the two opposed powers must co-exist. Because these opposed powers are central to Coleridge’s metaphysics, he terms his philosophy dynamic (δύναμις, power). (3) The ‘indifference-point’, or ‘mesothesis’, must function as the thesis to the antithesis, and as antithesis to the thesis. As a physical example, Coleridge gives the midline of a bar magnet. For cultural example, he considers the journalistic ‘Press’ to function as the indifference between the ‘State’, catering for the physical and economic needs of the ‘Nation’ (the prothetic idea of the whole), and the ‘Church’, which serves its spiritual needs.³⁶ Able to criticize and support either pole, ‘the Press’ can appear overly clerical to ‘the State’ and overly economic to ‘the Church’. The historical (second-order) idea of the nation has evolved since Coleridge’s day and few now consider the Church powerful enough to act as an equal-and-opposite counter-pole to the state. However, Coleridge’s theory requires that an alternative force necessarily arise, such as a clerisy of school and university teachers and other community workers, representing cultural and personal development, rather than material and economic interests. (4) A thesis–antithesis opposition must be able to produce in synthesis a tertium aliquid (a third thing different from the other two), unlike contraries, which exist independently of one another, and, unproductive, the weaker one is simply cancelled out or diminished.³⁷ His examples include water as the synthesis of hydrogen and oxygen, and the Crown as the symbolic synthesis of Church and state. These constraints are rules that give the pentad a formal structure, equally based in logic and metaphysics, with ramifications in the physical and social sciences. Rather than being merely arbitrary, Coleridge defers to linguistic convention in deciding that ‘the stronger or more desirable is chosen as the Thesis’.³⁸ Relatedly, the thesis—as the traditionally prominent of the two poles—can often be named by the same term as the prothesis. For example, in Coleridge’s day, the term ‘Man’

³⁵ Kant, ‘Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy’ (1763), Theoretical Philosophy, 211 (Ak. 2: 171). ³⁶ Church and State, 233. ³⁷ Biographia Literaria, 1: 300. ³⁸ Notebooks, 4: §4513 f5 (April 1819), restated at §5298 f22v (1825–6) and Notebooks, 5: §5980 f4v (February–March 1829).

 : , ,  


was used prothetically for the human species and thetically to denote the males of the species. A letter to Revd James Gillman, written in the margins of a copy of Church and State, points out a necessary Defect, of Language, by which the Term which expresses the Prothesis, is repeated in a modified sense as the Term of the Thesis. Thus, for instance, Metaphysics in the prothetic sense, includes all the sciences, the evidence of which transcends . . . the evidence of the Senses.³⁹

So although the term ‘Metaphysics’ as (1) the prothesis refers to all sciences whose evidence is not sensory data, it further includes: (2) the thesis, ‘Metaphysics’ (‘Truths of the pure R, i.e. Ideas’); (3) the antithesis of the thesis, ‘Mathematics’ (in Kantian vein, ‘Truths of the pure Sense, i.e. Theorems’); (4) their ‘Mid-position, or the Indifference of the two’, ‘Logic’ (‘Truths of the pure U, i.e. Universal Conceptions, or laws of necessary Thinking’); and finally (5) the synthesis, or ‘Composition’, of thesis and antithesis, producing, in this instance, ‘Dynamics’ (‘Ideas manifested as Powers’), synthesizing metaphysical ideas and mathematical theorems in the science of physical forces.⁴⁰ While not merely arbitrary, finding the antithesis to the thesis is often an intuitive search for the best fit. For example, Coleridge opposes fancy to imagination, and civilization to cultivation. Such intuitive oppositions generate further theory and yield seminal insights, but no certain formula provides them; instead, they are attributable to what he calls ‘philosophic imagination’.⁴¹ Antithetic oppositions of natural forces, however, are empirically discoverable. His examples include, following the Naturphilosophen, positive and negative electrical charge, magnetic north and south, and dilation and contraction. His pentads can be viewed in light of what C. S. Peirce later called abductive logic, a third process beside deduction and induction. Abduction is ‘very little hampered by logical rules’, its creative discovery occurring ‘like lightning’.⁴² As one commentator observes, Coleridge’s ‘deduction, induction, and imagination’, or ‘production’, adumbrates the American pragmaticist’s triad of logical procedures, ‘the last of which . . . Peirce, later called “abduction” ’.⁴³ Peirce was an admirer and keen reader of Coleridge, whom he reached through his great interest in Schelling. ‘I am’, he wrote, ‘a Schellingian of some stripe.’⁴⁴ Describing abduction as argument but not argumentation—where ‘argument’ is ‘any process of thought ³⁹ Church and State, 233. ⁴⁰ Church and State, 233, developing Notebooks, 4: §4784 f128 (1820–1). ⁴¹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 241. ⁴² Peirce, Collected Papers, 5: 117. ⁴³ Hipolito, ‘Coleridge’s Lectures 1818–19’, 257. ‘Pragmaticism’ is Peirce’s term, distancing his philosophy from nominalist versions of pragmatism. ⁴⁴ Peirce, Collected Papers, 6: 605.


 ’   

reasonably tending to produce a definite belief’ and ‘argumentation’ is ‘an Argument proceeding upon definitely formulated premisses’⁴⁵—Peirce reaches the same insight as Coleridge, who reasoned that ‘Analogies are used in aid of Conviction’.⁴⁶ Attending to and testing conviction, thinking enters the ‘self-circling energies of the reason’,⁴⁷ as opposed to the coming-and-going discursion required for comprehension by the understanding. The insights and intuitions in this increasingly transparent mode of thought are often described in terms of the luminous. As I discussed in the Introduction (18–24) to this book, opacity, translucence, and transparency are key terms in Coleridge’s philosophy of perception, symbolic thought, and noetic contemplation. He characterizes ‘Reason’ as ‘Lux idealis seu spiritualis [the ideal or spiritual light]’ and the higher understanding as the ‘Lumen a Luce’,⁴⁸ the illumination from that substantial light. Similarly, Peirce describes abduction as an act made within ‘il lume natural [the light of reason]’ in which human beings perform better than chance in their creative, insightful ability to discover true theories.⁴⁹ In Schellingian-Coleridgean language,⁵⁰ Peirce explains how ‘Abduction and induction . . . are the opposite poles of reason’, the former ‘motivated by the feeling’ concerning the need for a theory, such that ‘new truth . . . can only come from abduction’. We are therefore bound to hope that . . . our mind will . . . in some finite number of guesses, . . . guess the sole true explanation . . . ⁵¹

For Peirce, abductive guesses at truth require feeling and hope. Similarly, as I shall discuss in Chapter 10 (307–11), Coleridgean ‘Anticipation’ stalls without hope or faith. It is no automatic deduction but an intuitive, feeling-propelled and ideadirected activity.

9.2 Historical Context and Influences In a prominent footnote in the 1818 Friend, Coleridge defines the principle of polarity and succinctly states its provenance: ⁴⁵ Peirce, Essential Peirce, 2: 435, discussed at Paavola, ‘Diagrams’, 6. ⁴⁶ Aids to Reflection, 206. ⁴⁷ The Statesman’s Manual, 29. ⁴⁸ Marginalia, 3: 746 (L, Colloquia mensalia), 5: 797 (T, Geschichte der Philosophie; 1824), Notebooks, 5: §6491 f23v (October 1830). ⁴⁹ Peirce, Collected Papers, 1: 80–1 (c.1896), discussed at Paavola, ‘Diagrams’, 6. ⁵⁰ Dilworth, ‘Peirce’s Transmutation of Schelling’, 257, notes that ‘Peirce absorbed Schelling’s Naturphilosophie as well as . . . concepts of nature and evolution . . . through many routes, including the writings of ’ Naturphilosophen ‘Eschenmayer’, ‘Kielmeyer’, ‘Steffens’, ‘Ritter’, ‘Oken’, and ‘Ørsted’, English life scientists ‘John Brown’, and ‘John Hunter’, and the philosophical writings of ‘Coleridge’. Dilworth’s source (uncited) is Peterson, translator’s introduction, in Schelling, First Outline, xii, 239–40. ⁵¹ Peirce, Collected Papers, 7: 137.

 : , ,  


E P  N   S must evolve an opposite as the sole means and condition of its manifestation:        -. This is the universal Law of Polarity or essential Dualism, first promulgated by Heraclitus, 2000 years afterwards, republished and made the foundation both of Logic, of Physics, and of Metaphysics by Giordano Bruno.⁵²

As Barfield demonstrates, Coleridge’s view of polarity owes far less to Bruno than to Böhme, in whom the quality of psychic oppugnancy, between opposites, is evident in a way it hardly is in Bruno . . . as far as the law of polarity is concerned, Coleridge actually received a good deal more from the shoemaker of Görlitz than he ever did from the philosopher of Nola.⁵³

Although he finds earlier adumbrations, Coleridge’s pentadic and tetradic schemata develop principally from Schelling’s modification of Fichte’s triadic logic, itself derived from Kant’s general trichotomy. Schelling’s appropriations of Böhme drove the English thinker to return, with deepening critical penetration, to the writings of the Görlitz mystic. Baxter discusses the merits, Coleridge observes, of a ‘threefold division or trichotomy’ a century before Kant finds it ‘worthy of notice’ in his ‘analysis of the mind’.⁵⁴ Though René Wellek charges Coleridge with exaggerating Baxter’s development of a trichotomous logic, especially since ‘Baxter had not the slightest glimpse of the dialectic’,⁵⁵ Coleridge nowhere claims a systematic dialectic for the Puritan divine. He claims only that Baxter found trichotomous procedure in logical analysis superior to dichotomous. Among its merits, trichotomous procedure is inherently mediatory, whereas dichotomy tends to artificial and tendentious division, leading Coleridge to deprecate the dichotomic scheme Logic, more truly Eristic—i.e. not of Reasoning but of Disputing . . . ⁵⁶

Regarding the principle of trichotomy in acts of thought, Coleridge notes that Baxter grounded it on an absolute Idea presupposed in all intelligential acts, whereas Kant takes it only as a Fact of Reflection—as a singular & curious Fact, in

⁵² The Friend, 1: 94 fn. ⁵³ Barfield, What Coleridge Thought, 187–8. ⁵⁴ Logic, 241. Marginalia, 1: 347 (B), praises Baxter and Kant for substituting trichotomous method in logic for dichotomy. ⁵⁵ Wellek, Immanuel Kant in England, 90. ⁵⁶ Marginalia, 5: 460 (S; 1821).


 ’   

which he seems to anticipate or suspect some yet deeper Truth latent & hereafter to be discovered.⁵⁷

The reference is to Kant’s note, quoted below, regarding the table of the three ‘higher faculties’ (understanding, judgement, and reason) in the Critique of Judgment. Kant explains his trichotomous divisions as a consequence of synthetically discerned a priori division: It has been thought suspicious that my divisions in pure philosophy almost always turn out to be threefold. But that is in the nature of the matter. If a division is to be made a priori, then it will either be analytic, in accordance with the principle of contradiction, and then it is always twofold . . . Or it is synthetic; and if . . . it is to be derived from concepts a priori . . . then, in accordance with what is requisite for synthetic unity in general, namely (1) a condition, (2) something conditioned, (3) the concept that arises from the unification of the conditioned with its condition, the division must of necessity be a trichotomy.⁵⁸

Notably, Kant’s table contrasts the understanding, as the faculty of cognition, with the reason, as the faculty regulating desire, the two being mediated by the power of judgement, which concerns the ‘Feeling of pleasure and displeasure’. In the last of his three Critiques, Kant makes judgement the emotive, imaginative ground of feeling and the purposive fulcrum between understanding and reason (nature and freedom). In this light, Coleridge can be seen as pushing this Kantian initiative forward, to establish the symbolic movement of aesthetic thought, raising feeling and imagination as a pro-cognitive capacity. Following Kant, Fichte advanced his thesis-antithesis-synthesis trichotomy that Schelling soon adapted, greatly influencing Hegel—and Coleridge.⁵⁹ Later departing from Schelling, Hegel argues that any thesis–antithesis opposition occurs not between different concepts of forms, but within individual ones, deriding Fichte’s and Schelling’s thesis-antithesis-synthesis ‘triadic form’ as a ‘lifeless scheme’ of ‘mere shadow’ and ‘monotonous formalism’.⁶⁰ Using sublation (Aufhebung), whereby internal contradiction reconciles into a higher unity, Hegel theorized history, as I outlined in Chapter 8 (256–9), as the logical unfolding of universal reality. Yet despite, if Muirhead is correct, ‘far more points of agreement than of conflict’ between Coleridge and Hegel,⁶¹ the sage of Highgate was impatient with the German absolute idealist, finding ⁵⁷ Marginalia, 1: 347–8 (B, Reliquiae Baxterianae). ⁵⁸ Kant, ‘Introduction’ to Critique of the Power of Judgment, 82–3 fn. (Ak. 197–8 fn.). ⁵⁹ McFarland, ‘Prolegomena’, Opus Maximum, lxxxviii–xc, surveys trichotomous logic in Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, in the context of Coleridge and the principle of polarity. ⁶⁰ Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 29–30. ⁶¹ Muirhead, Coleridge as Philosopher, 88. Hegel, Science of Logic, 81–2, 3 as at once “to keep”, “to preserve”, and “to cause to cease”.

 : , ,  


bewilderment throughout from confusion of Terms originating in the πρῶτον ψεῦδος [prṓton pseûdos, first falsehood] of overbuilding the Προθεσις [Prothesis] by the Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis.⁶²

Annotating an early section in the Wissenschaft der Logik (1812–16), Coleridge politely objects to ‘a logical informality in this reasoning’: “To be” (Seyn, το ειναι) is opposed to the “Nothing” (Nichts) whereas the true opposite of “To be” is “Not to be”. Thing, is the opposite to Nothing: for even Something or Somewhat (Etwas) implies more than Being and belongs to predicable Existence, having as its proper opposite no what or not-anything.⁶³

Unassuaged by what followed, Coleridge never returned to Hegel. It is from Fichte’s and Schelling’s thesis-antithesis-synthesis logic that Coleridge derived his progressive dialectic and its initially triadic layout. By 1800–1, Schelling had abandoned the radical subjectivism of Fichte’s ego philosophy to focus on the neglected pole of nature. He began his inquiry into subjective– objective bipolarity in his Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1797), the seminal work of Naturphilosophie. In Of the I as a Principle of Philosophy, an early work influenced by Fichte, Schelling writes a ‘Table of the Forms of Modality’ comprising two triads, one below the other, each structured as follows: 1.

Thesis 3.

2. Antithesis Synthesis⁶⁴

Although a recent philosophical commentator bristles at Schelling’s work being ‘plagued’ by ‘Byzantine Porphyrian trees’ forming recursive stacks of such triadic diagrams, he accepts that ‘it is crucial to see the necessity of infinite recursion within the Identitätssystem’.⁶⁵ Abandoning Fichtean subjectivism as one-sided, Schelling saw that approaching reality from the objective pole, in terms of nature, is just as valid. Potentially a more comprehensive version of transcendental idealism, this objective approach could incorporate advances in the natural sciences and in turn philosophically ground the sciences with a unified theory of natural forces.

⁶² Marginalia, 2: 990 (H, Logik; c.1818). ⁶³ Marginalia, 2: 989 (c.1818). At Marginalia, 3: 1055 (O), Coleridge criticizes the ‘exquisite absurdity of calling the same X Nichts (Nothing) and Ousia (Being)’. ⁶⁴ Schelling, Vom Ich als Prinzip der Philosophie (1795), in Sämmtliche Werke, 1: 226–7. ⁶⁵ Whistler, Schelling’s Theory of Symbolic Language, 112–13.


 ’   

9.3 Coleridge’s New Direction: The Chasm between Identity and Indifference Coleridge recognized Böhme’s cosmogony and its tripartite polar form in Schelling. With Böhme, original reality is the Ungrund, the unmanifest divine will. This becomes Coleridge’s prothesis: the Subject-Object in absolute Identity neither Subject or Object, or both in Combination, but the Prothesis or Unground of both = Το υπερουσιον, το πατηρ [the ‘beyond being’, the Father].⁶⁶

With the original monad as an incipient All, a plenum beyond comprehension like the Parmenidean ‘One’, Coleridge’s prothesis is ‘pregnant Indistinction’,⁶⁷ echoing Böhme’s ‘Genetrix . . . the eternal Mother’ who ‘generated this World’.⁶⁸ This prothetic ‘Identity’, the Absolute prior to physical manifestation, is a universal involution. All reality is involved in it, but not as existence (actuality), nor as phenomena. Defining utterly involved being, Coleridge called this Ungrund ‘intense Reality’.⁶⁹ It is intense because it is anterior to all extension, to extended substance, or nature. Intense and involved—neither extended nor evolved—this originary reality subsequently evolves qualities prior to quantities, the importance of which I discussed at Chapter 5 (139–40). The qualities are for Coleridge the primary manifestations of the ‘Constituent P of Nature’, being ‘the Forms, in which these Powers appear or manifest themselves to our Senses’.⁷⁰ All natural powers evolve, for him, from the primary physical powers—light (ever-expansive and revealing) and gravity (ever-contractive and dark), and all become manifest through opposed forces or powers. Coleridge’s ‘Powers are constitutive. What appears in nature is produced by the synthesis of polar powers.’⁷¹ His pentads theorize this dynamic metaphysics as different modes of being evolving from unmanifest reality (ideas and powers), through actualization, or existence (polar forces), to the synthesis of these forces in experience (phenomena). Böhme’s originary will, the undifferentiated Ungrund, thus becomes for Coleridge the monadic prothesis that manifests as the dyad, the triad, and the tetractys, from which evolves the pentad. The final product, the concrete synthesis, images in experience the unity of the ideal prothesis, reconciling the opposed ⁶⁶ Notebooks, 3: §4427 (August–September 1818). Coleridge’s υπερουσιον alludes to Plato’s epékeina tḗs ousías (beyond being), Republic, 509b10 (bk 6). ⁶⁷ Letters 4: 807 (12 January 1818), to Tulk. ⁶⁸ Böhme, Three Principles, in Works, 1: 39. Marginalia, 1: 652, comments on this passage. Marginalia, 1: 662, discusses polarity and identity in the context of Böhme’s cosmogony. ⁶⁹ Marginalia, 1: 563. ⁷⁰ ‘The Constituent Powers of Nature’ (c.1820), Shorter Works, 2: 849. ⁷¹ Levere, ‘Coleridge and the Sciences’, 299.

 : , ,  


poles of its manifestation. Between the thesis and antithesis, the mesothesis (or indifference-point) represents in a lower order the prothesis (or ‘Identity’),⁷² but does so negatively, as a null-point, the 0 between + and . This indifference-point is ‘ideally the whole, really or rather materially nothing’.⁷³ By contrast, the synthetic product of the dyadic polar opposites represents their unity positively, in a concrete image of the ‘Identity’. To suggest an analogy for this relation, the prothesis is the originary reality, the indifference-point is the mirror, held between the opposed poles, and the synthesis is the reflection perceived to be ‘behind’ or ‘within’ the mirror. An actual indifference-point is no physical thing, yet theory requires it be posited as a mathematical or theoretical object. Thus, while no material part at the centre of a bar magnet is truly neither north nor south, such a line is theoretically necessary. Or, as a cultural example, in any controversy opposing economic and spiritual interests, no representative of the journalistic press will be truly unbiased, though such an ideal serves a function that Coleridge sees as necessary in theory and influential in practice. In this section I discuss the metaphysical ramifications of Coleridge’s positing, contra Schelling, the ‘Identitypoint’ as transcendent to any ‘indifference-point’. Despite serious, mainly theological, objections, Coleridge retained many features of Schelling’s Naturphilosophie . . . [e.g.] the three powers of inorganic nature (magnetism, electricity, the chemical process or galvanism) and their correspondence to . . . length, breadth and depth, as well as his . . . three powers of organic nature (reproduction, irritability, sensibility) . . . ⁷⁴

But Coleridge finds Schelling’s definition of the Absolute as the indifference-point (Indifferenzpunkt) of subject and object seriously misconceived. Hegel also opposes this conception, in his Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), deriding it as ‘the night in which . . . all cows are black—this is cognition naively reduced to vacuity’.⁷⁵ While an easy slight at Schelling or arguably his followers,⁷⁶ Hegel’s famous criticism has undergone some recent reassessment. Iain Grant, for example, argues that Hegel misconceives the Schellingian Absolute, not understanding that the originating identity of opposites ‘is not the recovery or “integration” of differences,

⁷² Notebooks, 4: §4835 f64v (1821). ⁷³ ‘Notes on Polar Logic’ (1828), Shorter Works, 2: 1383. ⁷⁴ Modiano, Coleridge and the Concept of Nature, 172. ⁷⁵ Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, 9. Beiser, German Idealism, 577–80, defends the Schellingian Absolute that the early Hegel supported. ⁷⁶ Amongst other intellectual historians, Muratori (The First German Philosopher, 139) argues that Hegel’s criticism is ‘more appropriate to the consciously anti-philosophical interpretations of Identitätsphilosophie such as the one provided by Eschenmayer, than to Schelling’s own’.


 ’   

but [that which] causes difference to proliferate’.⁷⁷ Unlike Hegel, Coleridge in fact agrees with Schelling that ‘Identity’ is originary, active, and produces polar oppositions, rather than being a latent potential between them. Coleridge, then, does not attempt to prove Schelling incoherent here, but opposes his notion of Absolute indifference that entails a pantheism leaving God bereft of personëity, making it untenable to most forms of Christianity, especially Trinitarianism. As Coleridge argues in the Logic, the ‘Supreme Being’ as Absolute is, contra Schelling, transcendent, personal, and the bearer of certain attributes: though we attribute to Him neither heat, nor cold, nor colour, nor shape, nor hardness, nor softness, is our idea merely negative? Does it consist in the abstract term “reality” without knowing what we mean by it, save only that we do not mean any one of the realities of which we have any conception? Do we not far rather attribute to him intelligence, will, bliss, power, etc?⁷⁸

Positing the Absolute itself as indifference typifies, for Coleridge, how ‘Schelling begins and ends in Abstractions . . . or disguised Generalizations’.⁷⁹ By contrast, Coleridge notes, ‘Behmen has this great advantage over Schelling’, namely that his ‘Intuitions’ are ‘true and fruitful in many respects’, because they commence with positive intuitions. While Schelling sees indifference as the attribute of the Absolute, Coleridge finds indifference only at the level of manifestation, at the centre of polarity, and therefore in nature and history, not as characterizing the Absolute itself. Coleridge is theologically motivated to view the Absolute as a personal God in whom all existences are held in unity yet remain distinct (e.g. in the co-instantaneity of omniscience). This ‘Identity’, for Coleridge the Supreme Reason, is the Substance, the Noumenon of which all the Laws of Nature are the Perspective & revealing Phænomenon . . . all these in God are transcendently One, tho’ inconfundibly distinct—⁸⁰

The Coleridgean indifference-point and the point of ‘Identity’ therefore stand as negative and positive to each other, theorizing divine transcendence versus an immanent manifestation that polarizes across a medial null-point. The transcendent ‘Identity-point’ not only upholds Coleridge’s anti-pantheist argument, it also supports his view that the human contemplation of reason and ideas requires a faith rooted in imagination. Here, Coleridge shares some ground with Hume, who also sees insight into purported laws of nature (for Coleridge, the correlate of the idea) as a form of faith or belief. Where Hume maintains epistemological ⁷⁷ Grant, Nature after Schelling, 172. ⁷⁹ Marginalia, 1: 620 (Bö, Aurora).

⁷⁸ Logic, 130, §26. ⁸⁰ Notebooks, 5: §6666 f84 (March 1832).

 : , ,  


scepticism, however, and a pragmatic acceptance of habitual and common-sense belief, Coleridge holds that reasoning passes into positive faith. But how does he manage to conceive of the indifference-point as at once nothing, yet real, and entirely immanent? To use a favourite geometrical analogy of Coleridge’s, all the possibilities within a given bipolarity protract into a line of positive numbers, 1, 2, 3, etc., as theses to the left of the indifference point— denominated 0—with the antitheses as the negative 1, 2, 3, etc., to the right.⁸¹ Like an Eleatic paradox, any actual point, however infinitesimally small, that is picked out as the indifference-point, will prove positive or negative, and not the true zero. Thus there is no existent, actual indifference point; it is relationally real but actually nothing. The nullity of the indifference-point, for Coleridge, contrasts perfectly with the transcendent ‘Identity’, which is the plenitude of originary reality from which the line is projected.⁸² Null though it may be, the indifference-point is a negative that is the imprint of the positive. This negativity negatively reveals pure positivity, like Pascal’s ‘outline and empty trace’ of God, the ‘infinite abyss’ that the human ‘tries unsuccessfully to fill . . . with everything that surrounds him’.⁸³ Or like Descartes’ notion of the idea of infinity in the human mind as the hallmark of God, ‘the idea . . . the mark of the craftsman stamped on his work’.⁸⁴ Beyond Coleridge’s immanent indifference-point, the transcendent can be humanly contemplated only along a path anticipated in imagination or continued in faith.⁸⁵ The indifference-point for Coleridge is thus the product and subsequent representative of the transcendent ‘Identity’, and not the producer of actuality, as it is for Schelling. This provides an insight into noetic contemplation, for where literalist, imagistic fancy sees the indifference-point as a nullity, symbolic, reason-directed imagination sees the representative of transcendent power in the immanent. Exactly between the two poles, the indifference-point represents the unity of the higher power, which is otherwise polarized across two opposing forces. This dynamic has important implications for Coleridge’s ‘Theory of Life’, where he contrasts the polar ‘equatorial point’ conceived as ‘rest, or mere neutralization’ with the higher view of it from the vantage of reason: To the fancy alone it is the null-point, or zero, but to the reason it is the punctum saliens, and the power itself in its eminence.⁸⁶

⁸¹ ‘The Role of the Tetradic Logic’ (c.1818–22), Shorter Works, 1: 711; Aids to Reflection, 179–80 fn.; Notebooks, 5: §5504 f12v (April 1827). ⁸² The argument is distinct from that other Coleridgean bulkhead against pantheism (discussed in this book, 148–9, 158–9), where Coleridge hierarchizes the Behmenist, bipolar chiasmus of opposed energies by fusing it with the Platonic, linear ascent to contemplation and the ideas of reason. ⁸³ Pascal, Pensées, 52. ⁸⁴ Descartes, Meditations, 41 (Third Meditation). ⁸⁵ Biographia Literaria, 2: 247. ⁸⁶ ‘Theory of Life’ (1816–18), Shorter Works, 1: 521.


 ’   

The term punctum saliens (leaping, or salient, point), which Coleridge gives as the higher meaning of the punctum indifferens, derives from embryology, denominating, in a pertinent connection here, as matter pulses into life, ‘The first trace of the heart in an embryo, appearing as a pulsating point’ (OED).⁸⁷ In Aids to Reflection, Coleridge continues to argue for the transcendence of reason and the ideas by using geometrical analogies: In order to render the constructions of pure Mathematics applicable to Philosophy, the Pythagoreans, I imagine, represented the Line as . . . radiated, by a Point not contained in the Line but independent, and . . . transcendent to all production, which it caused but did not partake in. Facit, non patitur [It makes, not suffers]. This was the Punctum invisibile, et presuppositum [invisible and presupposed point]: and in this way the Pythagoreans guarded against the error of Pantheism, into which the latter schools fell. The assumption of this point I call the logical .⁸⁸

As he noted three or four years earlier, the indifference-point is able to symbolize the ‘Identity’ as a lower-level counterpart: The Punctum Indifferentiæ is not the = A, or the primary Root or Involute of the Productive Power, in the sense of = as “the same as” but = A in that sense only in which a Son standing in the place of his Father at the head of a second Table in his Father’s House is said to be equal to his Father.⁸⁹

The theological relevance is clear: a transcendent power generating its immanent representative, which suffers, not makes, and as the Son, is equal to the Father whom he represents but is not ‘the same as’. Further, the transcendent-becomeimmanent is humiliated, having become ostensibly a nullity, holding opposites together at the point of crucifixion, to recall the crucifixionism that I outlined in Chapter 7 (200). Thus it embodies the principle through which the immanent can be redeemed into transcendence. A philosophy such as Spinoza’s or Schelling’s that privileges immanence and, unlike Coleridge’s, denies transcendence, must, having accepted the law of polarity, theorize the polarities as produced within nature itself. That is, an immanentist philosophy that accepts the law of polarity must view polarities such as gravity and light, the + and  of electromagnetism, being and action, subject and object, as themselves produced by nature. Coleridge, however, argued that this production could not occur within nature itself; indeed, to claim as much would

⁸⁷ Aristotle, Parts of Animals, 665a33 ff, and History of Animals, 6.3, concludes, after meticulous observations of hen’s eggs, that this living speck is the first self-moving part of sanguineous creatures. ⁸⁸ Aids to Reflection, 181 fn. ⁸⁹ Notebooks, 4: §4835 f64v (1821).

 : , ,  


amount to logical bootstrapping. Nature cannot produce the polarities, for productive nature is the polarities. Nature, as natura naturans (productive nature; nature naturing), produces syntheses from its polarities, and its products are the things and phenomena of natura naturata (nature natured). For Coleridge, these relatively stable, yet essentially changing products appear at the next ontological level down from existence, or polar manifestation, in the synthesis produced from the poles, namely, the hypostasis of phenomena. The producer of the polarities themselves, he argued, must therefore be a transcendent principle, viz. the originary identity of B and C in the transcendent point A, figured as the apex of a triangle which is therefore able to produce the immanent baseline BC without itself partaking in and being subject to it, in distinction from a, the indifference-point at the exact midpoint of the BC, which clearly does partake in the line. Returning to Coleridge’s Christian Trinitarian perspective, God is not only transcendent point A, as Father and generative Godhead, but is also immanent point a, as the suffering God, the Son, deus patiens, the Incarnation as God become immanent. The Holy Spirit, as the communicative intercirculation between transcendent and immanent hypostases, completes the whole in ‘Community’. This Tri-unity promises redemption for points along the line halves Ba and aC, which are able to ascend to A, across the divide, via a, if they will but turn and approach a as representing A.⁹⁰ Prayer is accordingly the archetype of noetic contemplation for Coleridge, adding humane concern and emotion, depth, and personality, as well as frailty, to what would otherwise be a wholly intellectualist act.

9.4 ‘In Divine Matters a Tetrad. A Pentad in all Others’ Coleridge’s tetrads and pentads have been largely overlooked in the last century and a half, save for some enthusiasm seeking in Coleridge promise for a systematic Anglican theology. A few theologians have found a revitalized approach in Coleridge’s trichotomous logic that is, moreover, especially contemplative.⁹¹ As one notes, Through Coleridge’s Polar Logic and its derivatives, the Pentad and the tetractys, man aspires to gaze on eternity . . . ⁹²

⁹⁰ This image suggests the returning sinner, the prodigal son, in Luke 15:20: ‘And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.’ See Logic, 17 for a relevant schema. ⁹¹ Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, among other works; David Newsome, Two Classes of Men, esp. 100–10, on Coleridgean ‘Noetics’ and trichotomous, pentadic logic; Barth, Coleridge and Christian Doctrine; Jasper, Coleridge as Poet and Religious Thinker, 130–44. ⁹² Jasper, Coleridge as Poet and Religious Thinker, 134.


 ’   

This ‘gaze on eternity’ has a distinctly Platonic aspect. Paralleling Plato’s diánoia– nóēsis distinction with his own between the logical (for ‘the Finite or Conditional’) and the noetic (for ‘the Absolute Forms’), Coleridge asserts that to distinguish the intelligential Light by which we the Absolute is known to us from the Faculty by which we seek to understand and distinguish the finite, I have named the Science which has the former for its subject Noetic, from Noûs, and the latter Logical, and call the Absolute Forms the noetic Tetractys, the Forms of the Finite or Conditional the logical Pentad.⁹³

Further, annotating a volume of Jeremy Taylor, Coleridge describes ‘the Noetic Pentad’ as the ‘universal Form of Contemplation,*’ adding the following codicil as an asterisked footnote: * Except where all the Terms are absolute, & consequently there is not Punctum Indifferens [a Point of Indifference (mesothesis)]. In divinis Tetras, in omnibus aliis Pentas [In divine matters a Tetrad. A Pentad in all others].⁹⁴

Coleridgean tetrads, then, are always noetic, i.e. they refer to ideas and originary beings or powers. Their archetype is the Trinity and the ‘Identity’ that eternally generates it, namely, the Godhead, the counterpart to the undifferentiated divine will of Böhme’s Ungrund. With Coleridge, as one philosophical commentator glosses, ‘The Tetractys thus becomes the figure of the absolute reason.’⁹⁵ After this, ‘all things non-absolute fall under the Pentad Formula’,⁹⁶ which has two kinds. If a pentad allows noetic contemplation by virtue of including at least one term that is absolute (and hence praeter-conceptual), it is a noetic pentad. But if a Coleridgean pentad consists entirely of finite or conditional, non-absolute terms (concepts, not ideas), then it is used to schematize the relations and provide conceptual clarity between solely non-absolute terms and is a logical pentad. The Coleridgean tetrad represents the originary, absolute unity, viz. the ‘Identity’, which manifests itself in the ‘Position’ and ‘Counter-position’ at the poles of existence.⁹⁷ Unlike in the pentad, however, a bipolar continuum straddling an indifference-point is not produced in the tetrad, for the position and counterposition are now absolutes. Understanding the difference between Coleridge’s tetrads and pentads can therefore help focus how he views the transcendent (in the tetrad, or tetractys), the immanent (in the logical pentad), and transcendence in immanence (in the noetic pentad). ⁹³ Marginalia, 3: 16 (I, Sermons; 1828 or 1829). ⁹⁴ Marginalia, 5: 631 (T, Polemicall Discourses). Notebooks, 4: §5726 f49v (January 1828), discussed in this section, also describes the formal marks of ‘the Noetic Pentad’. ⁹⁵ Uehlein, Die Manifestation, 51. ⁹⁶ Notebooks, 5: §6296 f47r–v (May 1830). ⁹⁷ ‘The Role of the Tetradic Logic’ (c.1818–22), Shorter Works, 1: 710.

 : , ,  


In Coleridge’s view, ascribing continuity between absolutes would be to deny their transcendence, because to ascribe to absolutes mutability along a continuum, with one of those points being the null-point of indifference, would be, absurdly, to deny their absoluteness. He therefore criticizes thinkers such as Böhme, Schelling, and other Naturphilosophen, for locating polarity in the Absolute and thereby ending up with pantheism. It is barely an exaggeration to note that Coleridge’s criticism of Schelling’s Identitätsphilosophie ‘can be summed up in a sentence’, such as when he objects to Schelling’s ‘establishment of Polarity in the Absolute’ and, at root, his ‘making Nature absolute’.⁹⁸ The following critical note he inscribed in a work by Oken is representative, written during his 1818 turning-point when he realized the extent of the pantheism implied by Naturphilosophie: Here lies the fundamental falsity of the Natur-philosophie.—It places Polarity in the Eternal, in God. All its other Errors are consequences of this.⁹⁹

With no continuum between the second and third positions of the ‘Tetractys’ (‘Ipsëity’ and ‘Alterity’, selfness and otherness, equivalent to thesis and antithesis), no point of indifference (the fourth position of the pentad) can occur between them. The fourth absolute term, then, of the divine tetrad, proceeds from the second and third, and is neither their point of indifference, nor their synthesis. This fourth tetractic term, ‘Community’, resolves the mutual alterity of the second and third terms. ‘Ipsëity’ (Father), ‘Alterity’ (Son), and ‘Community’ (Spirit) are themselves united in the first term, the Godhead, or ‘Identity’. Unlike tetrads, Coleridgean pentads always include a type of phenomenon as the synthesis, and a vertical line runs from ideal prothesis, through polar indifference-point, to phenomenal synthesis. The originary, prothetic unity at the top of the pentad manifests itself in the next level down as two interpenetrative (co-inherent) opposites (the horizontal line), according to the law of , or the manifestation of one power by opposite forces . . . ¹⁰⁰

The positive pole, placed on the left—the conventionally positive, active, or desirable term—is the being side of the polarity; the negative pole, on the right, is the power side. For example, with the ‘Real’ as the prothesis, the ‘Actual’ is the thesis on the left, with its antithesis, the ‘Potential’, on the right.¹⁰¹ The ‘Actual’ and the ‘Potential’ are thus opposites, not contraries. While Coleridge’s constellation

⁹⁸ Uehlein, Die Manifestation, 107; Notebooks, 3: §4449 (October 1818). ⁹⁹ Marginalia, 3: 1055 (O, Lehrbuch der Naturphilosophie, 1809; August–September 1818). ¹⁰⁰ The Friend, 1: 479. ¹⁰¹ Notebooks, 4: §5143 (March–May 1824).


 ’   

of terms representing the unfolding of an absolute is necessarily tetractic, his counterpart logical schemata of non-absolutes are never tetrads, but pentads, heptads,a octads,b enneads,c or decads.d ¹⁰² Instances of all these can, however, be essentially resolved into pentads. I can now identify three main differences between Coleridge’s tetrads and pentads: (1) While the tetrad contains absolute terms only, the pentad contains nonabsolute terms. Pentads can be either logical or noetic. A pentad containing only non-absolute terms is a logical pentad. For example, Coleridge described as a ‘logical pentad’ his reformulation of Blumenbach’s distinction of the five races of humans.¹⁰³ His heptad and octad of colours are also purely logical, not noetic, and are reducible to pentads. A pentad containing at least one absolute term, however, can be considered a noetic pentad for two reasons. First, absolutes can only be contemplated (they pertain to nóēsis, not to diánoia) and are thus noetic, unlike concepts, which are understood (i.e. conceived, or schematically imaged) and are thus objects for logical consideration. Second, as I shall further explore in Chapter 10, a pentad is noetic if it can be considered an aid to contemplation (nóēsis), which it can be only if it attends to an absolute, and to finites, or non-absolutes, in their relation to that absolute. (2) Tetrads contain no indifference-point (or mesothesis), because indifference cannot occur between absolutes. Thus, in a note inscribed in Irving’s Sermons, Coleridge recommends the tetrad as an aid to contemplation, saying that the mesothesis must be omitted . . . in the exposition of the Forms, under which the Absolute is contemplable.¹⁰⁴

As Coleridge points out in the Opus Maximum, ‘the indifference, punctum indifferentiae, of two extremes, ex. gr. in the magnet’, is an ‘equilibrium’ that neutralizes the polar extremes. In his sense of the term, however, absolutes cannot admit of equilibration, nor be neutralized, for they are the ‘eternal verities’ of absolute reality.

¹⁰² (a) ‘Heptad of Color’, or ‘Schemes of Colours’, (1827–8), Shorter Works, 2: 1367–8; and Table Talk, 1: 288–9 (24 April 1832); (b) ‘Octad of Colours’ (1827), Shorter Works, 2: 1366; (c and d) Marginalia, 1: 643, reading in Böhme’s multiplication of qualities a baroque evolution from monas, via polarity to dyad, the ‘Indifference-point’ making a triad, thence, by bisection and synthesis to pentad, heptad, and ennead, to ‘the completing Decad . . . on which Nature revolves’. ¹⁰³ Marginalia, 1: 540 (B, theory of human racial types). ¹⁰⁴ Marginalia, 3: 15 (I, Sermons; 1828 or 1829).

 : , ,  


(3) No absolute is a synthesis, because absolutes are unconditioned beings or powers, and never aggregates or compounds. In the ‘divine Tetractys’, for example, ‘Community’ is a non-composite absolute that interrelates the ‘Idem et Alter [Same and Other]’ of the relatively subjective position (the ‘I AM’, ‘Ipsëity’, the Father) and the relatively objective counter-position (the Logos, ‘Alterity’, the Son). Coleridge affirms that ‘in the Absolute neither Indifference nor Synthesis have place’.¹⁰⁵ In 1829, he clarifies that because ‘a primary Idea’ is ‘distinctly simple’ (i.e. not a composite), it cannot admit synthesis.¹⁰⁶ In the noetic pentad, in terms of Coleridge’s neo-Platonic notion of ‘eradiation’,¹⁰⁷ the prothetic idea produces the thesis-mesothesis-antithesis hypostasis by polar manifestation, which in turn produces, by subsequent synthesis, the hypostasis or realm, of phenomena. This schema integrates four interrelated metaphysical commitments: (1) the reality of divine, essentially Platonic, ‘Ideas’; (2) the actualization of these ideas requires a bipolar forces at the level of physical (natural or historical) existence; (3) an indifference-point occurs at the polar midpoint, which can appear, from an immanentist perspective, as the nullity at the heart of existence or, from a theistic perspective, as a negative representation of the positive, transcendent unity (‘Identity’) of opposites; and (4) that the concrete things of experience subsist in the synthesis of polar opposites, with experience itself requiring the Kantian synthesis of concepts and sense intuition. The synthesis in the noetic pentad is, then, a composite and symbolic image,¹⁰⁸ reflecting in experience the noetic form of ‘Identity’ via the poles in between, as if the phenomenal world were the Absolute, seen dimmed and protracted through a mirror. All of these moments refer to the rare, positive access of noesis, i.e. the ‘inward . . . ’,a ‘immediate . . . ’,b or ‘intellectual Beholding’c ¹⁰⁹ of an idea, reached in the contemplative ‘Sabbath moment’, though our cognition is usually negative, indirect, and discursive. Well for him, to whom the Truth and Certainty therefof are is made known, tho’ but negatively, by seeing the impossibility of the Contrary! But blessed is He, to on whom tho’ but once, in but one Sabbath moment, the Truth itself is presented—tho’ as the Sun in the Rent of a dark Cloud which instantly closes again. In the succeeding holy Gloom It is the Soul of Faith: and what if a Darkness

¹⁰⁵ Notebooks, 5: §5726 f49v (January 1828). ¹⁰⁶ Notebooks, 5: §5980 ff4v–5 (February–March 1829). ¹⁰⁷ e.g. Notebooks, 5: §§5555 f27 (July 1827), and 6654 f40v (February 1832). ¹⁰⁸ Marginalia, 1: 651 (Bö). ¹⁰⁹ (a) Aids to Reflection, 224; (b) Logic, 151 (quoting Hooker); (c) Notebooks, 5: §6517 f8v (November 1830).


 ’   

follows? The Soul feels the pressure of the Sealing tho’ unable to discern the character and image.¹¹⁰

9.5 Transitional Remarks While the logical pentads help attain conceptual clarity in the distinction and relation of terms and while the tetracti constellate, without comprehending, transcendent ideas, it is the noetic pentads that are the most fertile aids to contemplation. They are also distinctly Coleridgean in constellating what in this book have come to the fore as the essentials of his philosophy: the transcendent (idea, law, or power); the productively polar antitheses; the mesothetic indifference-point that represents the higher power in the immanent position of a Behmenistic, chiastic crux; and the synthesis that is the essence of all experience and phenomena and which can be encountered imaginatively, as a symbol of the idea. Synthesis, famously the hallmark of Coleridgean imagination (itself developed from Kant, as I argued in Chapter 4, 109–13), is in the pentad the result of the downward movement of actualization, producing nature and the unfolding of historical phenomena. As I argued in Chapters 5 and 6, Coleridge advanced his philosophy of nature and philosophy of mind, respectively, with his pentad of the ‘Powers of Nature’¹¹¹ and his ‘Order of the Mental Powers’, the former being a logical, the latter a noetic pentad, through which he envisions, for each, two ‘modifying or adjective Powers’ or ‘Oscillations’ between the three substantive ones. Also, as I explored throughout Chapters 4–6, the imagination synthesizes ideas with sensual content, drawing down ideas in art and elevating feelings in the mysterious processes of perception that can, I argued, experientially intensify or resolve into inchoate contemplation. Far from being mere exuberances, as Muirhead supposed, Coleridge’s noetic pentads represent his metaphysics in a highly succinct form and, further, tellingly relate to his poetics of the movement of aesthetic thought. As I said in the preamble, this chapter on the more abstract and formal aspects of Coleridge’s metaphysics is necessarily technical, the benefit concerning contemplation coming, as promised, in the next chapter. Coleridge’s aim was ambitious: to develop a comprehensive theory of reality, nature, and experience. In this aim, he was aided by a triadic logic that he took over from Schelling and the Naturphilosophen (themselves following Kant and Fichte) and developed into a heuristic that represented relations between objects of thought, whether noumena or phenomena, and which he directed ultimately towards ¹¹⁰ Marginalia, 3: 17 (I, Sermons; 1828 or 1829). ¹¹¹ Marginalia, 5: 266 (S, Inner Natural History of the Earth, 1801; 1823, or earlier).

 : , ,  


transcendent ideas or powers. In their ability to generate constellations of thought, his pentadic scheme belongs, Coleridge said, to an ‘Organon Heuristicum [heuristic logical system]’ in the same series as syllogism and dialectic.¹¹² He conceived his pentadic schemata as both aiding a theory of how humans think and, more fundamentally, representing an ontology in which divine ‘Ideas’ and powers become actualized in polar forces. As I shall argue in detail in the next chapter, for Coleridge the pentads not only reflect the actualization of ideas and laws into phenomena when read as ‘the way down’, they further serve as aids to contemplation when read in reverse: ‘the way up’.

¹¹² ‘The Role of the Tetradic Logic’ (c.1818–22), Shorter Works, 1: 711.

10 The Way Down and the Way Up In this chapter, I present what I consider to be the most important dimension to Coleridge’s logic and metaphysics, namely the pursuit of the contemplation of ideas—the ‘Noetic’. In Section 10.1, I interpret Coleridge’s noetic pentad as a theory of actualization that is thought along ‘the way down’, to borrow Heraclitus’ phrase, as the idea becomes actualized in history and nature. Thus, reality (the prothetic being or idea) leads to actuality (polar manifestation), which in turn leads to the things of experience (the phenomenal ‘third thing’ synthesizing thesis and antithesis). Notably, in the 1818 Friend, Coleridge repeats the Heraclitean phrase ‘ε ὄδὸς κατώ [the road, or way, down]’ as an epigraph for each of the two philosophical essays preceding the ‘Essays on the Principles of Method’.¹ This downward path for Coleridge describes The Idea in it’s perpetual transition into Fact—the realizing htemporizingi of the Idea in the Fact . . . ²

Tracing this path in reverse, in Section 10.2 I then read the noetic pentad as an aid to contemplation, picking up my suggestion in Chapter 9 (section 1). In this direction, the Coleridgean pentad models the way up, which, as Heraclitus observes, is the same road as the way down. As the way down theorizes the actualization of laws in nature and of ideas in history, the way up leads to their contemplation, emboldening Coleridge to describe the importance of the Noetic Tetrad and the Logical Pentad, as the fundamental Form of all Thinking—³

Where the theoretic use of the pentad traces the evolution of the idea into phenomena, the contemplative use is a process of involution to the idea. This reading bears direct comparison to Plato’s divided line, which theorizes epistemological progress when read upwards, and ontological actualization or anticipation, ¹ The Friend, 1: 424, and 436, alluding to Heraclitus, The Fragments, 41 (Fragment 60): ‘ὄδὸς ἄνω κάτω μία καὶ ὡυτή [The road up (and) down (is) one and the same]’. According to Kirk, ‘at Plato Rep. 621c ἡ ἄνω ὁδός means the upward road (here, of the soul)’, and ‘The Neoplatonists . . . evidently took the “way up and down” to refer to the journeys of the soul’. Heraclitus, The Cosmic Fragments, 111, 106. ² Notebooks, 5: §6762 (October 1833). ³ Marginalia, 1: 231 (B, Catholick Theologie, front flyleaf; between 1824 and 1830).

Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy. Peter Cheyne, Oxford University Press (2020). © Peter Cheyne. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001

      


read downwards. Descending the pentadic ladder, the noetic pentad represents the unfolding or actualization of reality, through existence, to the phenomenal. Ascending, it is an aid to contemplation. The chapter then concludes with my interpretation, at Section 10.3, of Coleridge’s claim that ‘the likeliest way of begetting’ ideas is through ‘Anticip [ation] + Theoresis’, as uniting the positive, intuitive drive towards ideas (the genius of anticipation) with the negative techniques of logical and conceptual abstraction (the cleverness of theory), each balancing the other towards the idea.

10.1 The Way Down Hierarchical relations, subsumption, opposition, and mediality are preserved and explored par excellence in the non-linear diagrams that Coleridge uses for his pentads. Thinking through such analogical diagrams, the mechanical imagination moves up a gear, hastening a qualitative change as it recognizes that it cannot proceed except by thinking through and beyond the polar oppositions, which Coleridge locates at the intermediate level, by engaging the imagination. Here, the imagination is required for two acts. First, the interpenetration that characterizes Coleridgean imagination, rather than a mechanical interlocking, allows opposites to be beheld interdependently, as ‘two forces of one power’.⁴ The second is the act of anticipation that propels thought from the oppositions that hold sway at the level of existence and into the reality of ideas. An imagination-driven ‘anticipation’ pushes the mind through the pentads and, I argue, aids the contemplation of what cannot be fully articulated within or deduced from such formal structures yet is unreachable without some form of ladder-like assistance. Through these acts of imagination, the mechanical understanding becomes the enlightened understanding, opening to the ‘down-shine’ of reason, and drawing up, with symbolic thought or anticipation. In the following extract, Coleridge articulates his view that his metaphysics must be thought simultaneously as a downward actualization and an upward idealization: For it is among the most important canons of the Methodic Philosophy, that it must begin at the two opp extreme points simultaneously. But as this is not within the power of one finite intellect, it must be conceived as undertaken by two congenial Minds at the same time, the one descending from the Supreme Reality, which can never be presented as an Idea (= essentially incomprehensible, deeper than or transcending, all intelligence[)]; from the Will, as Actus Absulutus

⁴ ‘Theory of Life’ (1816–18), Shorter Works, 1: 521.


’  

sine ullâ potentialite [Absolute Act without any potentiality], down toward Man; and from the Will merely potential sine ullâ actualitate [without any actuality], which ⎡ . . . ⎤ is presentable as Idea exclusively, upward toward Man.—⁵

His notion of the ‘Supreme Reality’ as a ‘Will’ ‘deeper than or transcending, all intelligence’ expresses Böhme’s divine primal will as the cosmically creative power, the absolute act whose equal and opposite reflux can be presented to the human mind as ‘Idea’. The doctrine of God as absolute act without any potentiality is found in Aquinas (deriving it from Aristotle), who argues that primum ens, esse in actu, et nullo modo in potential [the first being must of necessity be in act, and in no way in potentiality].⁶

Coleridge’s Latin phrase, ‘Actus Absulutus sine ullâ potentialit[at]e’, seems likely to derive from or allude to Aquinas’ argument on the existence of God, early in his Summa; similar formulations on God as pure act with no potential are made elsewhere in Aquinas, such as in his (Aristotelian) argument from motion. In the editorial annotation to Coleridge’s notebook entry §5816, it is claimed that the ‘Actus Absulutus sine ullâ potentialite’, ‘almost certainly’ alludes to Plotinus. An editorial note in the Biographia is more likely and direct, relating a variant of that phrase as a ‘common form of a Scholastic definition of God’.⁷ The connection to Plotinus has some justification, although the divine ‘Will’ Coleridge describes is more Behmenist here than Plotinian. Nonetheless, there is a clear conceptual parallel here to Plotinus’s ‘explanation of Primal Being’,⁸ developing from Aristotle’s unmoved mover argument, as a ‘self-thinking’ in which intellection and that which is intelligible are identical—for the intelligible is a certain kind of actuality; it is neither a potency nor something without thought . . . ⁹

In my interpretation, Coleridge’s pentadic forms answer to Coleridge’s requirement that ‘Methodic Philosophy . . . begin at the two extreme points simultaneously’, synchronously holding the possibility for such thought to be made, since such thinking as actually simultaneous is ‘not within the power of one finite intellect’. To begin with the descent, Coleridge believed that his theory of polarity—with triadic, tetractic, and pentadic expressions—was not merely an ⁵ Notebooks, 5: §5816 f43r–v (March 1828). ⎡ . . . ⎤ indicates an obliterated word. This note develops a three-years earlier thought on the superiority of ‘descent from the Highest & Ascent from the lowest, at once’ versus ‘having but one starting point’: Notebooks, 4: §5276 f8 (November 1825). ⁶ Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1a. 1, q. 3, ‘Simplicity of God’, art. 1. ⁷ Biographia Literaria, 1: 143 n. ⁸ Notebooks, 5 (part 2, Notes): §5816. ⁹ Plotinus, Enneads, V.5.5, 32–4.

      


epistemological one that asserted an anthropological fact about human minds thinking in trichotomies rather than dichotomies; he believed it reflected a wider, ontological truth. If his polar logic describes or approximates a universal truth beyond how humans organize concepts, then it can be used to schematize the actualization of ideas through polar forces down to actual phenomena. To see this process laid out, I turn to his 1818 edition of The Friend. In a footnote on ‘the universal Law of Polarity’, he describes the descent, or actualization, from being (absolute reality), to existence (manifestation through polar opposites), to phenomena (the concrete things or species of experience): The Principle may be thus expressed. The Identity of Thesis and Antithesis is the substance of all Being; their Opposition the condition of all Existence, or Being manifested; and every Thing or Phænomenon is the Exponent of a Synthesis as long as the opposite energies are retained in that Synthesis.¹⁰

‘Being’, according to this exposition, is the first hypostasis of reality, the originary identity. Manifestation through polar opposites is the second hypostasis: ‘Existence, or Being manifested’. This opposition shows ‘   -’,¹¹ resulting in the third hypostasis, that of products and appearances. These things or phenomena can be viewed as images of the original identity,¹² such that the synthesis (this or that ‘Thing or Phænomenon’) represents the original unity in a lower degree, ‘as long as the opposite energies are retained’. Thus Coleridge views evolving phenomena and concrete, individuated ‘things’ as the progressive realization of ideas through the synthetic reunion of polar opposites. In an 1828 note, he describes the ‘Descent and Ascension’ of ‘Ideas’, such that in scientific contemplation, or induction, the Naturalist . . . climbs upward, conscious that at every grade of Ascent he is meeting the descending Power, the Principle of all Actuality . . . ¹³

The originary idea, in contrast to the phenomena, is simple, not compound. It is no synthesis, although synthesis is a lower-level representation of its unity. Though manifest as two opposed forces, the originary being remains one and undivided. The tendency to reunion of the opposed poles leads to the further expression and evolution of the idea in the third level or hypostasis of reality, that of things or phenomena as synthetic individuals formed from the polar forces. Coleridge conceives material objects (natura naturata) and their appearances as arising from the reuniting tendency of opposed forces (natura naturans). Thus conceived,

¹⁰ The Friend, 1: 94 fn. ¹¹ The Friend, 1: 94 fn. ¹² Marginalia, 1: 651 (Bö). ¹³ Notebooks, 5: 5816 f43v (March 1828).


’  

matter and phenomena are temporary stabilizations, impermanent settlings, of the cosmic forces of polar opposition. It is peculiar to the [dynamic] Philosophy . . . to consider matter as a Product— coagulum spiritûs [a coagulation of spirit], the pause, by interpenetration, of opposite energies—and . . . while I hold no matter as real otherwise than as the copula of these energies, consequently no matter without Spirit, I teach on the other hand a real existence of a spiritual World without a material.—But this belongs to a higher science . . . ¹⁴

This dynamic philosophy runs through an idealist tradition, from Plotinus, emerging very differently in Leibniz, and again in Kant, with many variations between. In his 1825 lecture to the Royal Society of Literature, Coleridge argues for the pre-existence . . . of the Nous, as spiritual, both to the objects of sense, and to their products, formed . . . if I may adopt the bold language of Leibnitz, by the coagulation of spirit.¹⁵

In a pre-critical work that was influential on Coleridge, Kant claims that the concept of a body is of something that occupies a space ‘through the conflict of two forces opposing each other’.¹⁶ From such theories, Coleridge developed the view that every Organism (organized Whole, or a Whole evolved from an antecedent Unity) is the realization (the utterance, i.e. outward making, and ex pression[)] of an Idea.¹⁷

Any material organism is thus for Coleridge the concrete image of the idea produced from the synthesis of the opposed forces which manifest that idea. As a philosophical theologian summarizes Coleridge’s view, Matter, never a jam datum or given . . . but always a result or product, cannot exist . . . apart from the continuous operation of certain immaterial, though materializing, energies, which are the opposite poles of interpenetrations.¹⁸

¹⁴ Letters, 4: 775 (September 1817), to Tulk. Coleridge describes his own position as ‘the very rudiments of Heraclitus redivivus’, presumably for holding all phenomena to be in a flux, due to oppositional cosmic forces, yet governed by universal Logos. Marginalia, 3: 851 (M, Morgenstunden; c.1812–16), asks, ‘what is Matter but, the synthesis of its essential component Powers, Attraction and Repulsion?’ ¹⁵ ‘On the Prometheus of Aeschylus’ (1825), Shorter Works, 2: 1268. ¹⁶ Kant, ‘Negative Quantities’ (1763), in Theoretical Philosophy, Ak. 2: 180. ¹⁷ Notebooks, 4: §5298 f23 (1825–6). ¹⁸ Cutsinger, Form of Transformed Vision, 80.

      


Table 10.1 The Pentad and the Three Hypostatic Levels

Hypostatic level (ontological term)

Pentadic term (logical term)

Being (substantial reality)

Prothesis / Identity

Existence (manifestation) Phenomena (distinct and particular appearances)





Unable to return the genie to the bottle, to retrieve the unity of the idea, the polar forces find temporary reconciliation and the image of oneness in producing material nature. Table 10.1 shows the descent into actualization and subsequent individuation through five terms in three hypostatic levels; it also shows my ontological placements of Coleridge’s logical terms. Regarding the physical actualization of ideas, Coleridge held that The Powers of Nature, her Hand, as it were, form a Pentad = 5 fingers, or four fingers and the Thumb. 1. Attraction. 2. Repulsion. 3. Contraction. 4. Dilation. 5. Centrality—¹⁹

Though pentadic, these ‘Powers of Nature’ do not include an originary prothesis,²⁰ but rather form, in an example of what Steffens called the ‘Compass of Nature’,²¹ the intersection of two polarities (attraction–repulsion and contraction–dilation), with that intersection forming the indifference-point (centrality). This description of the ‘Powers of Nature’ forming a pentadic hand operating in the world shows how Coleridge’s pentads were aimed to encapsulate a comprehensive theory of reality and its evolution, and not only a heuristic to structure conceptual relations. Clearly, Coleridge hoped that his pentadic logic could help understand how the laws of nature shape the physical world and ¹⁹ Marginalia 5: 266 (S, Inner Natural History of the Earth, Freiburg, 1801; 1823, or earlier). Notebooks, 4: §4829 (1821), describes the pentad of forces as ‘the Hand, the 5 fingers of Nature’. ²⁰ Not including a prothesis, these pentads of nature cannot, therefore, be represented by the ‘kite’ diagram reproduced in this book at 267. ²¹ Levere, Poetry Realized in Nature, 117–19, discusses Coleridge’s development of Steffens’ ‘compass of nature’.


’  

continue to operate within it. He also considered ideas, the correlates of laws, as actualized and at work in the world, often using the noetic pentad to frame such thoughts. In his notes criticizing a millenarian work, he describes the elements of Christian faith as cohering such that ‘the entire scheme is a pentad—God’s hand in the world’.²² As I discussed in Chapter 8 (section 4), Coleridge theorized the reality of ideas as powers that progressively actualize through history, through a polar dynamic. The noetic pentad can outline the form of this historical actualization, which Coleridge, paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, described as that ‘   |      ’.²³ The idea is not, for Coleridge, indefinitely actualized in and through nature and history, as the following note makes clear. That the Ideas exert an informant Power, and evolve or procreate the formæ formantes, as Energies, having an immortality in themselves, is deducible from the whence & what they are. But it seems no less clear, that they do not h&i, as Ideas contained in the Fullness and distinguished from the Logos, cannot communicate their endurance to Nature = Hylè as the material and Negative Factor, and the Matter receptive of the form.²⁴

Similar in this respect to what is often called Plotinus’ emanation theory²⁵ of the actualization of ideas, energic power acting in nature and history eventually dissipates, for Coleridge, through its concretely evolving instances.

10.2 The Way Up Coleridge’s marginalia in Irving’s Sermons, Lectures, and Occasional Discourses (1828) include a series of notes intended for Irving, advising him on noetic contemplation and how to prepare himself and others for it. Here, Coleridge describes his pentad as an aid to contemplation in that it can assist in the ascent from the lower form of thinking to the next higher: It may assist the Pupil’s Efforts and help to put his mind in a fitter state for comprehending the highest form of thinking by beginning with the lower, & after he has been familiarized with this, then to direct his attention on those Terms which arise out of the consideration of the Finite and cannot be applied to the Absolute.— ²² Marginalia 3: 416 (L, The Coming of Messiah; 1827). ²³ Church and State, 10. ²⁴ Notebooks, 5: §5813 f35 (March 1828). ²⁵ Marginalia, 1: 645 (Bö), connects ‘the doctrine of emanation—the most ancient, the most widely diffused and the most fruitful, of Heresies’, with Augustine’s Christian Platonism.

      


With this view we may commence with the Logical Pentad Prothesis Thesis Mesothesis Antithesis Synthesis.²⁶

The ascent he refers to corresponds to that outlined in his table, in the Logic, of ‘The Sciences pure and mixed and in the order of their senses’ (see Table 7.2). According to that table, the ‘highest form of thinking’ is ‘Noetics = the evidence of reason’; the ‘lower’ two being ‘Logic’, which deals with ‘the evidence of the understanding’, above ‘Mathematics’, whose province is ‘the evidence of sense’ (i.e. of the Kantian forms of intuition, space and time). This division follows Kant’s between empirical knowledge, on the ‘lower’ side (based on the forms of sensory intuition, space and time, and ordered by geometry and arithmetic) and knowledge derived from reason, on the ‘higher’ side (e.g. concerning the moral law, ordered by ideas of the good, the soul, the will, etc.). The noetic–logic division is for Coleridge a true division, and not merely a distinction, because lower-level knowledge is constructed, as he says of the logical pentad, from ‘Terms which arise out of the consideration of the Finite and cannot be applied to the Absolute.’ These terms that represent the finite belong to ‘Logic’, ‘the evidence of the understanding’, and ‘Mathematics’, ‘the evidence of sense’. Unlike the logical pentad, which includes only finite, non-absolute terms,²⁷ the noetic pentad includes at least one absolute term (an idea or law), and is thereby an aid to contemplation, whose higher, fully contemplative form is, for Coleridge, the ‘noetic Tetractys’. One should note here that although the terms in purely logical pentads are all finite, or non-absolutes, they have differentiated modal and relational statuses, reflected by their non-interchangeable pentadic positions, which I outlined in Chapter 9, 275–8. The lowest rung of the pentadic ladder is the synthesis in which the distinct ‘Thing or Phænomenon’ subsists. This synthesis, in Coleridge’s ‘ideal Realism’,²⁸ is an evolution and reflection of the originary and prothetic unity. Because the synthesis is an image of the prothesis, it allows aesthetic-conceptual first steps towards the eventually transparent contemplation of ideas. Presenting this view schematically, in a note on Böhme’s view of centripetal and centrifugal forces, Coleridge writes: Here as every where the Prothesis . . . has its Image in the Synthesis: thus:

²⁶ Marginalia, 3: 14–15 (I; 1828 or 1829). ²⁷ i.e. ‘the permanent relations in conceptions’ that order and comprehend ‘the variably relative, or facts’, both being ‘inferior to the absolute’ (the idea or law): Logic, 36. ²⁸ Biographia Literaria, 1: 303.


’  




S where P = prothesis, Θ = thesis, A = antithesis, and S = synthesis.²⁹

As this figure shows, in the synthesis, a return to the unity of opposites is effected. Unable to return to the unity of the prothetic idea while still remaining manifest, a further emanation occurs, creating the things and phenomena of natura naturata. Much as Leibniz described the generation of monads by ‘continual fulgurations of the Divinity’,³⁰ Coleridge presents an energic logic of realization from the idea, and of synthesis from the polar forces thus realized. As the synthesis is a concrete something at the level of things and phenomena, it images the prothetic unity as an eidolon (likeness, shape) in contrast to the original idea itself. The following notebook entry of 1818 describes the synthesis as imaging the prothesis at a lower level, or hypostasis, such that in all things the Synthesis or an images what in God only absolutely is, the Prothesis manifested—it is a return to the Prothesis, or re-affirmation. Thus the Monas, the Dyas, the Trias, and the Tetractys are one/³¹

The reconciliation of opposites in the synthesis reflects the higher unity of the original prothesis. As ‘a Compositum’ of polar opposites, the synthesis is a concrete reflection of the prothesis.³² Opposites always require each other, in this view, and reveal ideas only through their interaction, never singly. In what I call ‘the way up’, towards noetic contemplation, the mind reflects on polarity; then, as Coleridge notes, the whole is mentally affirmed. Not that any actual Synthesis takes place. The Idea is ἐν και ασυνθετον [hèn kaì asýntheton, one and unsynthethized]: and cannot be composed or decomposed. But the words, the Thesis and Antithesis

²⁹ Marginalia, 1: 651. ³⁰ Leibniz, Monadology, 47. ‘The Role of Tetradic Logic’ (1818), Shorter Works, 1: 711, describes lines geometrically produced from points by ‘shooting forth and retracting the semi-lines’ from the midpoint, being ‘what the great Lebnitz aptly tho’ poetically entitled fulguration’. ³¹ Notebooks, 3: §4427 (August–September 1818). ³² Notebooks, 5: §5726 f49v (January 1828).

      


expressed, may excite the mind to the intuitive act, or produce the inward assurance that the Truth had been contemplated—³³

The understanding can affirm the unity of the poles yet is unable to grasp the unitary idea by synthesis. Instead, the mind is stirred or excited to an intuition of the prothetic idea. The framework here is Kantian: the understanding struggles at its limits to comprehend an intimation of the supersensuous, and thereby stirs reason to activate the relevant idea of reason.³⁴ In terms of noetic ascent, this is to move up from theoretical consideration at the level of existence—the actual, which manifests the idea as opposite forces—and into an intuition of the unitary power at the level of being. Unless it ascends to the idea or law, theorizing at the level of polarity inevitably stalls, or reverts to fancy. For example, the source or cause of the polarity might be fancied to be some hypothetical ‘stuff’ theoretically amenable to empirical observation, but as yet beyond experimental approach. While theoretic reflection ‘may excite the mind to the intuitive act’, nothing guarantees that this will occur. Noetic contemplation is a matter not of logical entailment but of an apprehension dependent on the individual’s inner composure and orientation. It requires, Coleridge argues, an inner attention to attain to the idea, the noetic absolute, because it is an organizing principle of existence, and hence of ourselves. As such, the idea can only be apprehended as a transcendence, making its contemplation so much more elusive than the comprehension of any ‘non-absolute’, whether existent force or concrete ‘Thing or phænomenon’. Whereas the apprehension of ideas requires noetic contemplation supported by relational theory, e.g. by pentadic representation, the comprehension of immanent existence and phenomena requires only the theoretical, and not the noetic contemplative component, unless it further aims to apprehend of a law of nature.

10.3 Anticipation + Theoresis = Idea ‘Ideas are Felicities’, as Coleridge put it, and we can neither will them nor think them into cognition. We may, however, prepare for their reception, in that meditative, purifying process required for ‘bringing out Stars from the blue sky or between in the rifts between sombring Clouds’.³⁵ Music, poetry, or some other art or higher logic might stir the mind to the idea, but cannot convey it. —Still, the Man of Genius so estimates the highest product of his Art—The Idea cannot be conveyed; but there are magic sounds & magic Combinations of Sounds that have power either to awaken it hthe Ideai (i.e. to bring it from it’s ³³ Notebooks, 4: §5288 f15 (December 1825). ³⁵ Notebooks, 4: §5215 f26 (May 1825).

³⁴ Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, §26.


’  

the it’s potential hBeingi to the actual life) in the congenerous minds /, or to raise, determine, and direct the mind to the Beholding of the Idea.³⁶

What is this meditative, purifying preliminary to contemplation? Coleridge had been circling and returning to these thoughts for many years. Confident of the sublime process—which tempts him to use the terms of the magic or hermetic arts—he lays out the steps to removing what he sees as the opacities and the blurring, diffusing translucencies that get in the way of transparent contemplation. In the following excerpt, from a seventeen-years earlier fragment, he delineates, as pre-requisite to contemplating ideas, the clearing away of sensory images, idiosyncratic notions, and empirical conceptions: The Notions, which the Understanding forms or discloses acquires for itself by reflecting on its own Acts and Functions; the Conceptions, which it forms or discloses in reflecting on the materials supplied by the Senses and the Imagination; all these, no less than the Images themselves, must be jealously repelled, as intrusive Aliens in the realms of pure ( = spiritual) Reason, intercepting the Light and substituting Idols for Ideas—hto bei repelled, therefore, with equal jealously . . . ³⁷

Even when unobstructed, noetic contemplation demands an exerted attention, for the Soul must indeed look steadily and exclusively at the Idea, and never wander from it above or below, on this side or that, in search of analogies for that, which if it be at all, must be unique; or of other instances, as if it were an inhdiividual, the species of which was to be determined; or of some Principle or regulative Maxim . . . as if there were existed a higher and more Comprehensive Form, in which the Idea . . . might be comprized contained, as a Subordinate.³⁸

Yet before steady contemplation is reached, a leap must occur from higher understanding into the noetic space of the idea. The movement of thought must progress from the synthesis, the experience of the ‘Thing or phænomenon’, through the polar forces that shape its existence, to carry one into the prothesis of the idea. As a synthesis is a unity that results from the union of two things, so a prothesis is a primary unity that gives itself forth into two things.³⁹

³⁶ Notebooks, 5: §6754 f14v (September–October 1833). ³⁷ ‘On the Trinity’ (1816), Shorter Works, 1: 413–14. ³⁸ ‘On the Trinity’ (1816), Shorter Works, 1: 414. Opus Maximum, 226, develops this thought and image. ³⁹ ‘Essay on Faith’ (1820), Literary Remains, 4: 429 fn., the note being added by H. N. Coleridge, possibly paraphrasing notes by Coleridge (e.g. Notebooks, 4: §4784).

      


But how is this ‘primary unity’ to be beheld? At the intersection of the axes of the pentad (thesis–antithesis across, prothesis–synthesis vertically) is the mesothetic point of indifference, which represents, though negatively, as a null-point— discussed in Chapter 9 (283–7)—the prothesis, or ‘Identity’. The punct. Indiff. is the Representative of  . .⁴⁰

This representation, however, is very different from the symbolic imaging of the prothesis in the synthesis, which positively images the prothesis, though in a lower dignity. Instead, in the indifference . . . the two [antithetic] powers preclude destroy or suspend each other . . . ⁴¹

The mesothesis is, therefore, a negative representation of the idea, the absence of which is sensed in the manner of a deus absconditus. It is, he continues, the null-punct . . . conceived of as hideally the whole, really or rather materially nothing.i

At the equatorial centre of a bar magnet, for example, exists, in a representative and functional sense, the whole magnet in essence: north and south in one, yet materially, proceeding infinitesimally towards the magnetic midline, one is destined to find nothing. It is the ideas, transcendent to the level of actualized existence and polarity, that are for Coleridge the semina rerum, the seeds of things. Yet, though the quest for them in the realm of empirical concepts and phenomena comes up empty-handed, it can nevertheless find intimations of ideality. While the synthesis is the image of the ‘Identity’, or prothesis, the ‘Indifferencepoint’, being ‘materially nothing’, can be no such figure. The indifference-point represents the transcendent identity-point not as a locum tenens, but more as an empty chair—except, without the chair. The indifference-point is like the vanishing point of perspective, the airy copula of parallel lines that never actually meet, but always appear to meet at the horizon. Or, in a symbolic image composed long before Coleridge’s formal lucubrations on the indifference-point as the intersection of the axes of polarity and the hypostases of reality, it is like the Mariner’s ship at dead of noon, held by opposing forces on the Equator. The sails at noon left off their tune, And the ship stood still also. ⁴⁰ Notebooks, 4: §4835 f64v (1821). ⁴¹ ‘Notes on Polar Logic’ (1828), Shorter Works, 2: 1383.


’   The Sun, right up above the mast, Had fixed her to the ocean: But in a minute she ’gan stir, With a short uneasy motion— Backwards and forwards half her length With a short uneasy motion.⁴²

Oscillating at the centre between two poles, the ship shudders back and forth over the Equator. Creating an intersection, the sun is at the position of the prothesis, and the transfixed yet oscillating ship is caught dead between the pole of the familiar human and its supernatural antipodes. At this conjunction of the two axes, the ship is at the point of indifference, held by the sun directly overhead. Suddenly, physically and spiritually, the ship is released: Then like a pawing horse let go, She made a sudden bound . . . (ll. 389–90)

This series of movements of the ship at the Equator correlates to the contemplative movement we seek. Transfixed by the sun overhead, directly in line with the mast, with the ship snagged on ‘the Line’ between the two earthly poles, the scene could be set up as a model of contemplation, but though he can now pray, the Mariner’s mind is not directed towards noesis. The same channel is engaged, but the active movement here is not from human mind to Logos. The flow, rather, is in the reverse direction, that of grace, as the two voices descend to the man ‘who hath penance done, | And penance more will do’. Pushing on, through and beyond the point of indifference, is the movement that we seek. The movement is imaginative and suggests faith in a harmony between the cosmic laws and ideas themselves and our struggle for intellectual intuition of them, as a seedling twists underground for light unseen. Either our spiritual Instincts have their correspondent Objects as well as the animal Instinct, or it is the in the Holiesty Temple Place of their noblest Temple, the Heart of Man, that Nature tells her first Lie.⁴³

Coleridge argues that our imaginative ‘instincts’ towards ideas are rooted in a well-founded faith, neither wholly rational in the sense of a logic without any discontinuity, nor wholly irrational. These intellectual instincts enact a Promethean fore-thought, thinking forward into the void where no facts are given. Such ⁴² ‘The Rime of Ancient Mariner’, Poetical Works, 1: 399–403, ll. 381–8. ⁴³ Notebooks, 3: §4438 (August–September 1818).

      


anticipation seizes the power of scientific prophecy, prediction, and a pre-beholding based on an imaginative faith in reason. Ideas as anticipations are intellectual Instincts—the Future is their Object, even as Sound to Ear—the Distant is necessary to give the Direction, the Missing, the Desiderium, the Impulse . . . ⁴⁴

Because, as he argues, in this matter ‘Cause contains effect’, though necessarily precedes it in time, these ‘intellectual and moral instincts’ are anticipations of ideas: The former . . . the materia—the feeling—the latter the form, the idea./Were not man unearthly, unworldly, and above Time, how could he utter the words earthly, worldly, temporal—they derive their meaning from their opposites. Were there not Light, Darkness would have no name/⁴⁵

But though the movement to the ‘unearthly, unworldly’ of ideas ‘above Time’ is not illogical, neither is it carried through entirely by logic. Logic takes one up the ladder from symbolic synthesis to meditation on polar opposition and onto the point of indifference as the representation of the prothesis, given the ‘assumption’ of the ‘Punctum invisibile’ as ‘the logical ’.⁴⁶ The movement to the transcendent, noetic prothesis is only suggested by logic, it is not carried to completion by it. That is to say, while the theory implicit in the form of the noetic pentad suggests that the idea is reached by transcending the polar opposites that manifest it, the theoretic interrelation of concepts is not sufficient for accomplishing the task. For a nearer example or analogy of the requisite movement, I shall turn to Coleridge at a time when he seems to have grown into the Ancient Mariner himself,⁴⁷ when he advances the story not just by praying, but by praying on. In a notebook entry of April 1830, he discusses how the understanding, while it has no positive intuition of God and the ideas, is able to reach an analogous conception formed negatively. The Understanding )( Reason may by the mere process of association, by hope, fear, fancy, and the anticipation of the Analogous . . . amuse or frighten itself by guessing it, or if you will by inferring A God—i.e. a Someone indefinitely more powerful than Man. But the knowlege, the recognition of God is as alien from the

⁴⁴ Notebooks, 3: §4438 (August–September 1818). ⁴⁵ Notebooks, 3: §4438 (August–September 1818). ⁴⁶ Aids to Reflection, 181 fn. ⁴⁷ Gillman, Life of Coleridge, 36.


’  

Understanding as—nay, more because in genere and not merely in specie, than Music to the Smell.⁴⁸

In this passage, Coleridge suggests that any association, emotion, attitude, or analogy entertained by the understanding would be ineffective, amounting to a blank representation unable to register the idea. Indeed, the understanding, he continues, will likely mistake the lack of positivity, or the absence of a sense of the transcendent idea, in this case God himself, for proof of its inexistence. He then describes how the individual must, if of sincere and self-reflecting habits, feel this negation of the truth, of and actuality, and reality of God and the Spiritual World as a sort of sensation of unbelief, ha cold dead speck on the heart,i . . . ⁴⁹

The sensation is one of lack pointing to absence, instead of the hoped-for presence. He had earlier described the feeling of this existential nullity in the context of ‘cunning bosom sin’, as an aching hollowness in the bosom, a dark cold speck at the heart . . . ⁵⁰

Wordlessly, the sensation says: there is no God, no freedom, goodness, truth, in any universal or supernal sense. But here, in the sensation, is precisely where one should not find the idea. Taken as ‘indifference-point’, the ‘cold dead speck on the heart’ is an inert nothing, a nullity to the fancy, but to the reason-oriented imagination it is, to reiterate, the punctum saliens. What sensation-directed fancy takes as the dead-point of indifference, reason-oriented imagination sees as an immanent point that can leap into the transcendent. As I mentioned in Chapter 5 (127–8), Coleridge criticized mystics such as St Teresa, Böhme, and Swedenborg for confusing their own preconceptions and idiosyncratic inner experience with the idea, or the spiritual, itself. Yet the genuine mystics, he acknowledged, despite the sensual mist, nonetheless pushed through with an ‘instinctive craving, dim & blind tho’ it may be’, to reach the ideas, or the things of the spirit, ‘known only & anticipated by the Hollowness where it is’.⁵¹ This ‘Hollowness’ is a hunger, an intellectual or spiritual desire. It is no dry light, no merely speculative reason. Joy and bliss belong intimately to it, as do disappointment, despair, and dark nights of the soul. What is at stake is the manner and meaning of one’s relating to, and judging of, oneself—namely, the conscience— and that which constitutes it, be it nature or God. The hollowness itself, i.e. the

⁴⁹ Notebooks, 5: §6273 f17 (April 1830). ⁴⁸ Notebooks, 5: §6273 f17v (April 1830). ⁵⁰ Aids to Reflection, 24. ⁵¹ Notebooks, 3: §3911 f60v (June 1810).

      


consciousness of a lack—as in Coleridge’s ‘cold dead speck on the heart’, that ‘cold hollow spot’⁵²—can grow into despair if one concludes that this mere matter and sensation, which it generically signifies, touches the limit of all that really is. This position of despair, or at least disappointment, stops short of the noetic prothesis by mistaking the indifference-point for the apex of the intuitable and of the real. Such despondency goes wrong, according to Coleridge, in thinking the indifference-point a, rather than the transcendent ‘Identity’ A, as the generator of the line BC protracted on both sides from itself.⁵³ The latter, he argues, is the position shared by materialism, atheism, and pantheism. Looking for A in a—in terms of the current example, looking for God, or finding his absence, in the ‘cold dead speck on the heart’—is to look in the wrong place, but this can, if one pushes through the disappointment, increase the strength of passion in the search. The ‘instinctive craving’ of the mystics belongs to what Coleridge identified as a want, ποθον [póthon, desire], desiderium, for vividness of Symbol: which is something that is without, that has the property of Outness . . . can alone gratify . . . ⁵⁴

Such symbol-propelled seeking anticipates its object with ‘the sensation of the want supplying the sense of the Object wanted’.⁵⁵ As I suggested in Chapter 9 (277–8), Coleridge and Peirce connect anticipation and abduction, respectively, to the genius of creative discovery, in contrast to the procedural analysis and synthesis required for deduction and induction. Coleridge deems anticipation aided by ‘Theoresis’ (e.g. the noetic pentads) to be the surest way of attaining to the idea: Anticip.[ation] + Theoresis = Idea. (the most likely way of begetting it, I mean.[)]⁵⁶

This anticipation is vital to contemplation as ‘the way up’—pushing through with πόθον, or desire—through polarity and indifference towards the prothesis. Indeed, the indifference-point, standing for the prothesis negatively, as a nullity, can effectively sharpen the desire for a positive beholding of the wholeness that its emptiness negatively represents. Yet Coleridge is not advocating merely desiring one’s way to contemplation, by sheer strength of heart, or else he would not have criticized the mystics for getting so entangled in their ardent longing and ecstasies. Nor, as he refines his pursuit, does he reject the desire-driven anticipation that already half-knows or half-remembers its object, which ‘intuitive knowledge’, he calls, quoting Wordsworth,

⁵² Notebooks, 4: §5275 (November 1825). ⁵³ Logic, 17, discussed in this book at 287. ⁵⁴ Notebooks, 3: §3325 (May 1808). ⁵⁵ Notebooks, 3: §3911 f60v (June 1810). ⁵⁶ Notebooks, 4: §4649 (1820).


’  

The vision and the faculty divine . . . ⁵⁷

It is with this ‘philosophic imagination’ that the ‘Prothesis’ may be ‘with the strictest logical Propriety named by anticipation from the Thesis’.⁵⁸ Moreover, for Coleridge, such anticipation enables us to pull ourselves from the untrained flux of association, so that by focusing on the especial significance of some particular given within experience, we can penetrate to an intuition of higher value. We cry, Halt! to the streamy march of associate Thoughts & fix our attention on some one appearance only as far as we anticipate a representative value therein— and all such appearance[s] have, besides their common and individual import, a higher significance, and only in the apprehension of this do we live a higher Life.⁵⁹

Far from rejecting imaginative anticipation as the approach to the idea, he recommends it as the ‘most likely way of begetting it’ when coupled with ‘Theoresis’. Theoresis and anticipation, as head and heart, can balance and direct each other. Theoresis keeps the bow steady, and anticipation draws back the string and aims, propelling the arrow into the target. At the head of his note on ‘Anticip[ation] + Theoresis’, he writes out a ratio of ratios, a logical analogy: Anticipation : Idea :: Theory : Law.⁶⁰

As anticipation is to an idea of reason, so theory is to law of nature. For instance, as it requires anticipation to arrive at ideas, it requires theoresis to arrive at laws. Explicating this, he writes: Genius : Anticipation :: Cleverness : Theory.

This analogy implies that it is genius that pushes through anticipation to intuit an idea, while formulation of theory requires only cleverness. He develops this thought in a definition five or six years later: T—a product of the Understanding in the absence or eclipse of I, or Contemplations of the Law, . . . hence . . . changing with every . . . newly-discovered Phænomenon . . . ⁶¹

⁵⁷ Biographia Literaria, 1: 241, quoting Wordsworth, The Excursion (1814), 51 (bk. 1, l. 83). ⁵⁸ Notebooks, 3: §4418 f12v (August 1818). With the phrase ‘strictest logical Propriety’, Coleridge affirms that because (as he soon adds), ‘the Thesis, is determined best by choosing that which is most of the Nature of a Noumenon, the Antithesis being essentially a Phænomenon or the power of Manifestation’, then the noumenon (the prothesis) can be anticipated by the thesis. ⁵⁹ Notebooks, 4: §4711 f133 (September 1820). ⁶⁰ Notebooks, 4: §4649 (1820). ⁶¹ Notebooks, 4: §5294 f20v (1825–6).

      


In contrast to the cleverness of theory, which works things out, the genius of anticipation is an intuitive in-working. Anticipation opens up to objective ideas in advance through an intuition of the same ideas operating within the individual mind. Anticipation is a pre-orientation towards ideas. Beyond this, contemplation is recognition, since, for Coleridge, the soul is itself an idea (sensu Platonico), and is thus deeply akin to its contemplative quarry. Therefore, Ideas are the soul’s proper self-knowledge . . . in every true Idea the soul knows itself universally.⁶²

Given that Coleridge’s ‘most likely way of begetting’ an idea requires the genius (imagination, ingenium) of anticipation in addition to the cleverness (higher understanding) of theory, one need not wonder that he considered the idea to be possessed only by ‘the Fewest among the Few’.⁶³ Yet compared to the ‘possession’ of ideas, the genius of anticipation itself need not be so exclusive. That genius is reason in the ancillary, human sense of an ‘act of self-direction . . . of opening and receiving’,⁶⁴ and is that in us which makes contemplation, and not only contemplative philosophy, possible. From this higher logic, I now turn to poetry, to find in a sequence of Coleridge’s poems the expression and existential exploration of his contemplative philosophy in metaphysical and theological terms.

⁶² Notebooks, 5: §5581 f181r–v (August 1827). ⁶⁴ Opus Maximum, 170.

⁶³ Notebooks, 5: §5495 f63 (April 1827).

11 The Blind that Gaze, the Blind that Creep Back, Shades that Flit, and the Dragon This final chapter links back to the Behmenist concerns of cosmogonic chiasmus introduced in Chapter 5 and contextualizes it in a study of Coleridge’s ‘Limbo’ sequence of poems. Before then, I shall discuss, in the first section, Coleridgean faith as rational fidelity to ideas. Relating these concerns to the ‘Limbo’ sequence builds upon my earlier references (in Chapters 1 and 5) to those poems, bringing together Coleridge’s poetry and philosophical prose, and combining metaphysical and theological thinking in the light of a poet’s concern for the interweave of affect and meaning while articulating obscure depths at the periphery of thought and feeling. The baroque title of this final chapter refers to the four degrees of negativity explored in Coleridge’s ‘Limbo’ sequence of poems (1811). The blind that gaze is an image of human contemplation, represented in ‘Limbo’ by the blind ‘Old Man’, standing outdoors, who turns his face in momentary rest from ‘earthly task’ to be met, by chance, by the moon, creating a moment when they ‘seem to gaze’ on one another. The blind that creep back are the ‘Moles’ who give the title to the poem that precedes ‘Limbo’. Representing a ‘crass and sensual materialism’, they reject the light of ideas to creep back into the earth not out of a wilful refusal to accept a higher principle, but from a ‘dread’ that they do not understand. I suspect an intensified sense of materiality is conveyed here, since the Latin word mōlēs means ‘A large mass, lump’.¹ The shades that flit are the disembodied souls in Limbo. Bereft of sensual solidity, yet given no spiritual light, they are suspended in a demiexistence of essential privation until their day of fate. The Dragon is the Satan of the final poem in the sequence, ‘Ne Plus Ultra’. Beyond here exists nothing—but nothing that, instead of mere nullity, is ‘positive Negation!’ Before considering in further detail this scale of progressive negativity from the limited positive to the absolute negative, I shall now lay out a parallel opposition expressed in the Coleridgean terms of faith—understood as fidelity to reason—versus the positive rejection of ideas and powers as a kind of apostasy against their intuition.

¹ Oxford Latin Dictionary, 2: 1238. Moles, incidentally, derive their name from the little piles of earth they produce.

Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy. Peter Cheyne, Oxford University Press (2020). © Peter Cheyne. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001

    . . .   


11.1 Rational Fidelity If, as I explored throughout Part I of this book, contemplation of ideas is to have practical value, ideas must be more for us than speculative objects, and enter into the way we live our lives. While Coleridge defines this as a matter of faith, his rationalism prevents his being a fideist in the sense of opposing faith to reason. His position is subtly advanced from F. H. Jacobi’s fideism, which asserts that to move beyond systematic scepticism, rational inferences between propositions must eventually be based in faith, whether it be practical, in the motivations to act, or speculative, concerning the reality of objects beyond the senses.² For Coleridge, however, reason is grounded not simply on a practical conviction requiring a ‘salto mortale’,³ or leap of faith, but rather on a positive intuition of reason itself. While Jacobi’s ‘reason . . . is both practically and theoretically inert on its own’, and ‘must be “animated” by . . . extra-rational conditions’,⁴ Coleridge’s positive reason intuits that animation itself, not as something extra-rational, but as ‘ideas’ that are ‘ ’.⁵ Whereas inferences and generalizations comprise negative reason, with shadow suggesting substance, positive reason consists in the intuition of ideas transcendent to sense and understanding, but constitutive of the self, the will, the conscience, so that human reason begins in self-knowledge before it continues in faith. Thus finessed, Coleridge can define Reason with Jacobi . . . as an organ bearing to spiritual objects, the Universal, the Eternal, and the Necessary, as the eye bears to material and contingent phænomena. But then it must be added that it is an organ identical with its appropriate objects.⁶

The human access to reason, then, begins with apodictic self-intuition. Because this is already beyond the purview of the senses, as Kant argued (following Hume, though affirming the existence of the self ), it is a matter of faith, which Coleridge defined as Fidelity to our own Being as far as such Being is not and cannot become an object of the sense.⁷

Our inmost, ‘own Being’ is not an object of the sense for Coleridge, but it is as surely known. Therefore, fidelity to that ‘Being’ is not a matter of belief in, but of commitment to that intuited ‘Being’, which transcends sense and understanding.

² ³ ⁵ ⁷

Jacobi, Letters to Mendelssohn (1785), 230–1, 256. Jacobi, Letters to Mendelssohn (1785), 366. ⁴ Crowe, ‘Jacobi on Faith’, 317. The Friend, 1: 492. ⁶ The Friend, 1: 155–6. ‘Essay on Faith’ (1820), Shorter Works, 2: 834.


’  

Not a fideist in the sense of Jacobi’s salto mortale fideism, neither does Coleridge count as one in a broader philosophical definition whereby A fideist . . . urges reliance on faith rather than reason, in matters philosophical and religious; and he may go on to disparage and denigrate reason.⁸

Coleridge argued for ‘faith in Reason, as the perpetual revelation’,⁹ that is, not as the contingent, changeable revelation of the direct evidence of the senses, but the universal and necessary light of reason contemplated as laws and ideas. This position has led theologians and literary scholars to be struck by Coleridge’s sense of reason as empirical revelation.¹⁰ As James Engell says of contemplation in this context, Coleridge achieves it broadly, deeply, continually. It is a form of augury, the oldest meaning of contemplation, in which deep thinking and deep feeling (the ‘heart’, Biographia, 1: 122) may apprehend not only reality but also how it is that we apprehend reality, and in doing so realize that every truth is a species of revelation.¹¹

Taking a contrary position to fideism, Coleridge in fact adheres to rationalist intuitionism. Ideas, as truths of substantial, effectual, yet supersensuous beings (such as free will), are intuited first pre-reflectively, in the experience of being a free self, and then, after reflection, in contemplation. Fidelity to these self-evident truths of positive reason is what Coleridge means by faith, rather than irrational belief in one external possibility rather than another. Coleridgean ideas are sustained in the will, but obliviated if rejected. One must, that is, if one is to behold ideas, actively approach them in enlightened experience. Faith for Coleridge is a holding true to what one has intuited in one’s ‘own Being’: freedom, the moral law, the conscience, and so on. On the intuitiveness of the ideas of reason, Coleridge holds that reason and revelation are interdependent: Reason is subjective Revelation, Revelation objective Reason . . . If I lose my faith in Reason, as the perpetual revelation, I lose my faith altogether. I must deduce the objective from the subjective Revelation, or it is no longer a revelation for me, but a beastly fear, and superstition.¹²

⁸ Plantinga, ‘Reason and Belief in God’, 87. ⁹ Letters, 6: 895 (29 March 1832), to J. H. Green. ¹⁰ Niebuhr, Streams of Grace, 54; Harter, Coleridge’s Philosophy of Faith, 105; Engell, ‘Coleridge and Contemplation: The Act’, 240. ¹¹ Engell, ‘Coleridge and Contemplation: The Act’, 240. ¹² Letters, 6: 895 (29 March 1832), to J. H. Green.

    . . .   


It has been noted that This would imply that doctrines are only secondary derivatives of a prior revelation of reason, and that might not be very far from Hegel’s idea of religion as a source of representations that are but a shadow of philosophical truths.¹³

Doctrines, for Coleridge, are articulated in the ‘discourse of reason’, which is the higher understanding working things out in the light of the ideas of reason. As careful articulations, doctrines have great communicative power. However, they lack the positive intuition of the idea-beholding reason itself. Our lumen, the lesser light of understanding, comes, for Coleridge, from the lux, the substantial light of those positive ideas. Beyond the natural or psychological, at the level he calls the spiritual, ideas are intuited and thus experientially indubitable. Accordingly, faith becomes not belief in ideas, but fidelity to them. I have argued that to contemplate an idea is already to begin to actualize it. But one may nonetheless reject contemplation itself, as most of Coleridge’s compatriot philosophical and theological contemporaries did. To imagine a spiritual extreme of the refusal of fidelity to the divine ideas, one can conceive Satan as a being who despite knowing the divine ideas to be real, substantial beings, refuses to behold them and be faithful to them. Traditionally, the original fall was conceived as the rebellious act of usurpation in Satan wanting adoration for himself, which entailed the turning away from divine contemplation by Satan and his angelic cohort.¹⁴ This wilful refusal to behold a higher power is the extreme of what Coleridge, after St James, calls the demonic, in a passage I discussed in Chapter 6 (180–3). Breaking the divine hierarchy and refusing to acknowledge its constitutive power over himself, Coleridge’s Satan in ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ represents the ‘positive Negation’ at the opposite extreme to the positive beholding of pure contemplation. Thus, as a philosophical reader remarks, ‘Incapable of self-discovery, the “hidden one” is defined by the light he denies.’¹⁵ In a less extreme, secular example, human freedom can be simultaneously asserted and denied in bad faith, as in Sartre’s waiter who freely projects himself into playing an almost robotic functionary, or as de Beauvoir’s narcissist, who fashions herself as a mere object for the male gaze.¹⁶ Whether ‘demonic’ or in bad faith, the refusal of fidelity to transcendence shows evil, or else the bad, not as the privation of good, but as something more positive and actual, an energy that is moved in free choice. At the root of the demonic, the positive opposition to divine ideas and moral ideals is a radical refusal born of extreme self-love. Equally free, but less culpable, bad faith is an attempt to conceal the transcendent self that one

¹³ O’Leary, ‘Coleridge and Plotinus’, 32. ¹⁴ 2 Peter 2:4; Revelation 12:3–9. ¹⁵ Kessler, Coleridge’s Metaphors of Being, 113. ¹⁶ Sartre, ‘Bad Faith’, in Being and Nothingness, 86–118; de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 667–720.


’  

is, in order to reduce what is expected of one—hence its focus on an empirical self defined solely by biographical and observable facts. Yet the morally and existentially crippling deception inherent in bad faith—in denying a fact of one’s ‘own Being’ or a ‘Condition, or Concomitant or Consequence of the same’—is nonetheless a culpable act, for in the very act of being conscious of this as a fact in my own nature, I know that it is a fact hof which all men either are or ought to be conscienceous: a fact,i the ignorance of which either establishes, heitheri the non-personality of the Ignōrant, or the guilt: in which latter case the ignorance is equivalent to Knowlege wilfully darkened.¹⁷

Demonic wilfulness and bad faith are, then, both attempts to deceive oneself and others that the moral and ontological priority of transcendent values above the naturalistic is a false hierarchy. As I hope to have shown, superordination, subsumption, and subordination¹⁸ are essential concepts in Coleridge’s philosophy. It was his growing conviction in the subordination of matter to forces, of forces to powers, and thus of the material to the ideal, that led him to abandon Schelling’s Identitätsphilosophie, which treated the physical and the ideal as equal opposites, objective and subjective aspects of the same reality. While Coleridge confided that he was ‘taken in’ by this philosophy, he further acknowledged, in a letter to J. H. Green (30 September 1818), that Schelling himself, however, would have put me on my guard . . . For as soon as he commenced the Objective or Natur-wissenschaft, he gave the slip to the former [the Transcendental Idealism] . . . and now, it would seem [with his Freiheitschrift, or Freedom Essay], has left both in the Lurch.

Though Schelling in his Identitätsphilosophie saw nature within a Spinozistic, dual-aspect identity of matter and mind, Coleridge criticized this as a productive but misleading theory that was like a Candle placed horizontally and lit at both ends . . . a mere Trick—viz. that one and the same Thing is called I, or Intelligence, or our Intellect (Verstand) at one end, and Nature at the other . . . ¹⁹

¹⁷ ‘Essay on Faith’ (1820), Shorter Works, 2: 835. As the editors explain, the elongating macron in ‘the Ignōrant’ indicates active ignoring, rather than innocent lack of knowledge. ¹⁸ These terms are listed in the index of this book. ¹⁹ Marginalia, 4: 375 (S). This image is repeated at Letters, 4: 874 (30 September 1818), to J. H. Green.

    . . .   


The image suggests what Coleridge held to be the truer view, that one end of the candle is uppermost and one the base. That is, intellect and nature form a hierarchical unity, with intellect providing the illumination, and nature the material actualization. In this hierarchy, immaterial Logos ordains and organizes matter in an unequal relationship. It has been argued that Coleridge was self-contradictory to maintain that reason transcends discursive access while he also creates a ‘discursively articulated framework’ that covers both transcendent reason and conceptual understanding.²⁰ However, it is not self-contradictory to give a conceptual, discursive account that includes reference to intuitions beyond conceptual explication. An intuition may illuminate the understanding without being reducible to it or even comprehensible by it. The importance of intuitions of reason to human life can be discussed, and ideas can be given places within conceptual schemes without themselves being conceptually explicated. There is some irony here, since the inability of the conceptual understanding to grasp transcendent reason is itself conceptualized, but this is not contradictory. The same irony pertains to Plato’s divided line, being a schema created in the theoretic understanding that theorizes the transcendence of intuitive reason to the theoretic understanding. Yet Coleridge’s metaphysical arguments and Plato’s divided line do not pretend to explicate transcendent ideas. They are both known by their authors to be incomplete until they then refer readers to their own intuitions. For Plato, piety, courage, self-possession, beauty, the good, and such virtues and ideas, and for Coleridge, God, the soul, freedom, life, the sacredness of the person, and so on, are noumena that are real and intuitively knowable, yet defy conceptual definition and explication. He imputed the same conviction to Kant, who argued for the reality of freedom as cognized in moral action, though the critical philosopher held other noumena only to be supportable through the cognizance of freedom, not knowable: In spite therefore of his own declarations, I could never believe, it was possible for him to have meant no more than his Noumenon, or Thing in Itself, than his mere words express . . . ²¹

Ideas, noumena, can be referred to within discourse in a way that opens up the shared horizon beyond the circumscribed and conceptual. A sign must point beyond itself, and in most discourse what is usually pointed to is another sign, ²⁰ Struwig, ‘Powers and Plantules’, 79. Perry, Coleridge and the Uses of Division, argues for a broader ‘Coleridgean failure’, resulting from his admirable and ‘persistent opposition of intellectual and imaginative commitments’. Unaware of Coleridge’s mediated, two-level hierarchy, Perry therefore diagnoses a noble ‘indecision’, ‘muddle’, and a ‘double-mindedness’ that is nonetheless a ‘kind of virtue’, though ‘self-defeating’: 3–4, 7–10, 14, 23, et passim. ²¹ Biographia Literaria, 1: 155.


’  

but when a contemplative moment is reached, signification gives way to intuition of what Coleridge calls ‘the Things themselves’, the primary powers and beings that comprise reality, as distinguished from the ‘the Relations of Things’²² worked out in discursive understanding. The non-discursive cognition of ‘the Things themselves’ participates in ‘the permanence and self-circling energies of the reason’.²³ These energies and powers, intuitable as ideas, constitute, according to Coleridge, reality itself. Only through derivate manifestations, through phenomena, can they be intimated indirectly from without. Unknowable from without, and not constituted by relations, the non-discursive is therefore that subject which is its own object, coinciding with Coleridge’s definitions of mind, self-consciousness, and spirit.²⁴ I should note here that, for Coleridge, the relationality of the immediately, noetically intuitable—e.g. numbers, ideas, the moral law, the noumenal self—is not accidental, but permanent. Numerical relations are permanent; the Father eternally begets the Son; the moral law always affirms acting on maxims that are universalizable without contradiction; and so on. In contrast, a fist, a lap, and H₂O, for example, are constituted by contingent and impermanent relations of things. Ideas, beings, or powers, by contrast, are not available to discursive understanding, and are not constituted by contingent relations. They are, nonetheless, involved in relations, for ideas, in Coleridge’s view, relate to the Godhead as the interrelated constituents or expressions of Logos, as well as to laws of nature as their correlates, and to human minds as the ultimate objects of noetic contemplation. Thus by the mathematic we have the immediate truth in all things numerable and mensurable; or the permanent relations of space and time. In the noetic, we have the immediate truth in all objects or subjects that are above space and time . . . ²⁵

The noetic, non-discursive is, then, engaged in ‘permanent relations’, and is not, unlike empirical facts, ‘variably relative’.²⁶ The noetic is, further, that which is not itself composed of further constituents; it can therefore not be analysed but only directly intuited or beheld. Thus, the absolutes, the objects of noetic contemplation, are for Coleridge both transcendent and the constituting conditions and ideals of action and actualization. With this sacramentalist sense of ideas, Coleridge found deep correspondences between the inner idea and the outer nature. ‘Sacramentalist’, in this context, refers to a concern with outward symbols of inner or higher truths, expressing, as the OED defines the word, the ‘theory that the natural world ²² Letters, 6: 600 (27 July 1826), to Revd Edward Coleridge; var. Church and State, 183–4. ²³ The Statesman’s Manual, 29. ²⁴ Notebooks, 3: §4186 (1813–15); 4: §5167 (October 1824); 5: §5673 f2v (November 1827), §5822 f48 (March 1828). ²⁵ Logic, 36. ²⁶ Logic, 36.

    . . .   


is a reflection or imitation of an ideal, supernatural, or immaterial world’; for Coleridge, however, ‘imitation of’ should be changed to ‘actualization and evolution from’. This sacramentalism ensures that Coleridge’s account of faith, as fidelity to truths and ideas known in one’s ‘own Being’, is sensual and not only rational, bringing the depth of inchoate contemplation, and a rich significance in our connection with nature.

11.2 The Old Man and the Moon One night in Malta, April 1805, Coleridge described looking through the window of his ‘sky-chamber’,²⁷ his garret at the Treasury in Valetta. He described outer appearances as symbols of an inner and higher order of meaning and value. In looking at objects of Nature while I am thinking, as at yonder moon dimglimmering thro’ the dewy window-pane, I seem rather to be seeking, as it were asking, a symbolical language for something within me that already and forever exists, than observing any thing new. Even when the latter is the case, yet still I have always an obscurecure feeling as if that new phænomenon were the dim Awaking of a forgotten or hidden Truth of my inner Nature/ It is still interesting as a Word, a Symbol! It is Λόγος the Creator! hand the Evolver!i²⁸

This compelling description of the ‘dim-glimmering moon seen thro’ the dewy window-pane’ relates an experience that bridges inner and outward attention. The mysterious beauty perceived without is profoundly felt to correspond with something deep within, the whole of which, connecting inner and outer, he identifies with ‘Λόγος the Creator!’ The ‘something within me’ that Coleridge finds uttered in the ‘dim-glimmering moon’ is the presence or influence of the ideas of reason within him. The ‘dim-glimmering moon’ passage describes a multi-layered symbol that I take to represent a multi-layered reality. The dewy windowpane symbolizes (and is) the imperfect, refracting or distorting medium for the senses. The darkness outside, against still darker mountains, symbolizes (and is) the unknown that is yet intuited in outline. Likewise, the moon dim-glimmering through the night sky symbolizes (and is) the lumen, that diffuse glow by which, in the dark night, one dimly perceives the whole scene, and whose light is reflected down to us from a power whose substantial being is currently invisible: the sun. The sun, then, symbolizes (and is) the source, the lux, or substantial light, which itself symbolizes (though is not) the light of reason, divine Logos. ²⁷ Notebooks, 2: §2370 (December 1804). ²⁸ Notebooks, 2: §2546 (‘Saturday Night, April 14, 1805’).


’  

The moon, the act of gazing on it, and moonlight are recurrent images in Coleridge’s poetry and prose, where they symbolize inchoate or noetic contemplation. Another prominent instance of this occurs in his middle-period poem ‘Limbo’ (1811). The poem, composed in a notebook,²⁹ belongs to a sequence that begins with the light-hearted adventures of a flea, ‘On the First Poem in Donne’s Book’. (‘The Flea’ is the first poem printed in Donne’s 1669 Poems.) The sequence moves on to ‘Moles’, describing those who ‘Creep back from Light’, a light that they ‘dread they know not why’. The following poem, ‘Limbo: A Fragment’—the titles were much later additions—is energized at least in part by issues in Böhme’s theology.³⁰ The sequence then ends with twenty-one lines that were later printed, in 1834, under the title ‘Ne Plus Ultra’. This closing poem, also apparently inspired by Böhme, is a litany describing Satan and his Hell, yet it closes triumphantly with a theophanic image of positive light: the seven spirits of God,³¹ ‘the Lampads seven | That watch the Throne of Heaven!’ Like Donne’s ‘The Flea’, which prompts the initial verse lines in the April–May 1811 notebook entry, the sequence proceeds through rhyming couplets in iambic metre until the penultimate line of what was later published as ‘Limbo’. However, while Donne’s poem alternates pentameter and tetrameter, Coleridge’s stays in pentameter until just before ‘Ne Plus Ultra’—his heroic couplets galloping into the entrance of Hell.³² That second-last line in ‘Limbo’ falls into trimeter: ‘Hell knows a fear far worse’. The pentameter riding rhyme broken, the rhythm baulks at the entrance to the Abyss. The next line, the last in ‘Limbo’, compensates with extra feet, in a feminine-ended alexandrine: ‘A fear, a future fate. Tis positive Negation!’. That hexameter line could almost be, as the notebooks editor suggests, the title for the next poem (i.e. the next part of the sequence), especially as the ink, quill, and position of the hand, alter in appearance from what precedes, and look more like what follows . . . ³³

Another alexandrine, eight lines earlier—‘He seems to gaze at that which seems to gaze at him!’—also provides a transition that both divides and links, this time closing the central passage, that of the blind old man and the moon, the poem then continuing with the contrastive line, ‘No such sweet Sights doth Limbo Den immure’. The ‘Limbo’ sequence is printed below, not in its full first draft as a continuous text without interpolated titles,³⁴ but as three poems taken from it, reproducing ²⁹ Notebooks, 3: §§4073–4 (April–May 1811). ³⁰ Ridenour, ‘Source and Allusion’, 87–95. ³¹ Revelation 4:5–6: ‘and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God. And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal.’ ³² Though seldom used by Coleridge, he notably returned to heroic couplets for the final version of his epitaph ‘S. T. C.’ (October–November 1833), Poetical Works, 1: 1145–6. ³³ Coburn, in Notebooks, 3 (Part 2, Notes). The 1811 sequence in the notebook is untitled, save for ‘On Donne’s First Poem’. ³⁴ Notebooks, 3: §§4073–4 (April–May 1811).

    . . .   


the Bollingen edition (2002), itself based on Poetical Works (1834), collated and edited with the assistance of H. N. Coleridge, the last edition to pass through Coleridge’s hands. The titles of the sequence, ‘Moles’, ‘Limbo’, and ‘Ne Plus Ultra’, were possibly supplied by H. N. Coleridge. (‘On Donne’s First Poem’, which either initiates or leads into this sequence is not printed below; it can be read at Notebooks, 3: §4073.)  —They shrink in, as Moles (Nature’s mute Monks, live mandrakes of the ground) Creep back from Light—then listen for its sound;— See but to dread, and dread they know not why— The natural alien of their negative eye.³⁵  ’Tis a strange place, this Limbo!—not a Place, Yet name it so—where Time & weary Space Fetter’d from flight, with night-mair sense of Fleeing Strive for their last crepuscular Half-being— Lank Space, and scytheless Time with branny hands Barren and soundless as the measuring Sands, Mark’d but by Flit of Shades—unmeaning they As Moonlight on the Dial of the Day! But that is lovely, looks like Human Time, An Old Man with a steady Look sublime That stops his earthly Task to watch the Skies— But he is blind—a statue hath such Eyes— Yet having moon-ward turn’d his face by chance— Gazes the orb with moon-like Countenance With scant white hairs, with fore-top bald & high He gazes still, his eyeless Face all Eye— As twere an Organ full of silent Sight, His whole Face seemeth to rejoice in Light/ Lip touching Lip, all moveless, Bust and limb, He seems to gaze at that which seems to gaze on him! No such sweet Sights doth Limbo Den immure, Wall’d round, and made a Spirit-jail secure By the mere Horror of blank Naught at all— Whose circumambience doth these Ghosts enthrall. A lurid thought is growthless dull Privation

³⁵ ‘Moles’ (May–April 1811), Poetical Works, 1: 881.


’   Yet that is but a Purgatory Curse Hell knows a fear far worse, A fear, a future fate. Tis positive Negation!³⁶    Sole Positive of Night! Antipathist of Light! Fate’s only Essence! Primal Scorpion Rod! The one permitted Opposite of God! Condensed Blackness, and Abyssmal Storm Compacted to one Sceptre Arms the Grasp enorm, The Intercepter! The Substance that still casts the Shadow, Death! The Dragon foul and fell! The unrevealable And hidden one, whose Breath Gives Wind and Fuel to the Fires of Hell! Ah sole Despair Of both th’ Eternities in Heaven! Sole Interdict of all-bedewing Prayer, The All-compassionate! Save to the Lampads seven Revealed to none of all th’ Angelic State, Save to the Lampads seven That watch the Throne of Heaven!³⁷

Though earthly life, Limbo, Hell, and the ‘Throne of Heaven’ are the settings, it would be rash to take the sequence as Coleridge’s affirmation of the doctrine of either Limbo or Purgatory. Commentators sometimes complain that Coleridge conflates Limbo and Purgatory here, but arguably this occurs because his interest in the sequence is not doctrinal but logical and metaphysical, concerning the spiritual poles of contemplative positivity and its opposite negativity. His phrase ‘a Purgatory Curse’ uses ‘Purgatory’ as an adjective, not a proper noun, although it does appear that he conflates Limbo and Purgatory, especially as fifteen years later he gave the poem the heading ‘a Dream of Purgatory, alias Limbo’ in Sara Coleridge’s album.³⁸ He is, I shall argue, describing a logical space of spiritual possibilities, rather than contending for theological doctrine.

³⁶ ‘Limbo’ (May–April 1811), Poetical Works, 1: 883–4. ³⁷ ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ (May–April 1811), Poetical Works, 1: 884–5. ³⁸ Paley, Coleridge’s Later Poetry, 55, notes the entry is dated 15 October 1827.

    . . .   


Coleridge’s views on Limbo and Purgatory can be clarified by comparing them with Martin Luther’s. Even after posting his Ninety-Five Theses (1517), Luther continued for some years to accept the existence of Purgatory: The existence of a purgatory I have never denied. I still hold that it exists, as I have written and admitted many times, though I have found no way of proving it incontrovertibly from Scripture or reason.³⁹

Coleridge’s view, however, not long before composing ‘Limbo’, seems to lie in a middle ground between this and that of the later Luther, who noted, in the last full year of his life, that ‘Of purgatory there is no mention in Holy Scripture’, supporting his eventual belief that it is a lie of the devil . . . We deny the existence of a purgatory and of a Limbo of the Fathers in which they say that there is hope and a sure expectation of liberation. But these are figments of some stupid and bungling sophist.⁴⁰

Around six months before writing the ‘Limbo’ sequence, Coleridge wrote a short meditation on loving one’s neighbour as oneself in terms of compassion for the suffering of another. In this reflection, set beside the horrific thought of eternal or protracted suffering in a shadowy afterworld, he finds a forcible . . . argument against Purgatory, both of the Catholics & the modern millenniaries, & final Salvationists—their virtues do indeed destroy the essence of Virtue—⁴¹

Throughout the notebooks, too, his position is fairly consistent over many years. In an entry of 1829, for instance, he calls ‘the doctrine of Purgatory . . . most pernicious’, although he adds that the ‘pernicious quality’ was due to former abuse, namely the corrupt practice of selling indulgences. Holding, then, in later years, a middle position that hesitates before Luther’s eventual outright rejection, Coleridge’s view on Purgatory was to reject Not what it is in itself, but what it is capable of being rendered the instrument of . . . ⁴²

Thus, in the same entry, he can argue for ‘a more plausible . . . doctrine of Purgatory’ by ‘more strictly following the Greek’ Scripture. This thought of

³⁹ Luther, ‘Defense and Explanation of All the Articles’ (1521), 95. ⁴⁰ Luther, Lectures on Genesis (c.1545), Works, 8: 318–19. ⁴¹ Notebooks, 3: §4007 (November 1810). ⁴² Notebooks, 5: §6034 (May–June 1829).


’  

Limbo and Purgatory in terms of logical possibility was sufficient for his purpose of demarcating the grades of progressive negativity between pure positive contemplation and absolute opposition to the divine ideas. In further support of Coleridge thinking of Purgatory in human psychological terms within a kind of spiritual topography, we can look to a notebook entry of 1820–1, where he imagines Hell or Purgatory formed of the malignant willings, wishings, & fancies of bad men—

This is not so much theological speculation as an imaginative possibility that he conceives as the logical opposite and negative counterpart of A place of vision where all the dreams of youthful Poets under Trees by Brooks &c &c realized themselves according to their co-incidence & unanimity.⁴³

The notion of dreams becoming realized ‘according to their co-incidence & unanimity’ derives from Leibniz’s doctrine of compossibility. In that ontological theory, which he used to support his theodicy, Leibniz held that existence consists in the actualization of the greatest number of possible beings that can co-exist without mutual contradiction. Put briefly, of the infinite possible worlds, argues Leibniz, God allows precisely one, this one, in which the greatest number of possible beings coexist, and while some existence appears to be evil, this is necessary to the maximization of possibles, all of which strive for realization.⁴⁴ Compossibility is therefore a doctrine of compatibility. The following lines from the 1811 manuscript of the ‘Limbo’ sequence contain an allusion to Leibnizian compossibility: But the Hag, Madness, scalds the Fiends of Hell With frenzy dreams, all incompassible Of aye-unepithetable Priv Negation . . . ⁴⁵

The word ‘incompassible’, an early form of ‘incompatible’, carries a clear verbal echo and a similar meaning to the incompossibility of the unrealized possibles in the Leibnizian ontological limbo. Leibniz’s doctrine implies a logical limbo, a shadowy ontological realm of non-compossibles held between actual being and absolute non-being, or sheer impossibility. In his note on ‘malignant willings’ etc. forming a ‘Hell or Purgatory’ and ‘the Dreams of youthful Poets’, ‘a place of Vision’, Coleridge suggests an alternative theory of compossibility. It seems he is thinking of his ‘vision in a dream’ of the ⁴³ Notebooks, 4: §4795 (1820–1). ⁴⁴ Leibniz, ‘Letters to Louis Bourguet, 1714–15’, Philosophical Papers, 662, gives a concise description, although the doctrine of compossibility occurs in many of his writings. ⁴⁵ Notebooks, 3: §4073 ff146v–147 (April–May 1811).

    . . .   


‘pleasure-dome’ of ‘Kubla Khan’ and how he ‘would build that dome in air’ if only he could ‘revive’ the dreamed song of the Abyssinian maid. Yet he goes further in this note of 1820 or 1821, because the possibles dreamed by ‘youthful Poets’ are realized in varying degrees, according to their compossibility. Leibniz’s unrealized possibles, denied existence due to their low overall compossibility, and the vanished after-image of Coleridge’s ‘phantom-world’ of ‘Kubla Khan’, receive, by contrast, only a frustrating demi-existence, but never possess actuality. Coleridge’s ‘place of vision’ exists further along the ontological continuum, where all dreams of youthful poets become realized, in an imagined possibility reminiscent of the more thoroughgoing Behmenist William Blake’s proverb of Hell, whereby Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.⁴⁶

I have suggested that Coleridge’s ‘place of vision’ of ‘youthful Poets’ and his counterpart of the ‘malignant willings’ etc. of bad men becoming realized in a Hell or Purgatory, is less theology than speculation on logical possibility and human psychology. However, insofar as this train of thought on imagination, possibility, and realization is, nonetheless, part theological speculation, it is one whereby Heaven and Hell are not spatial places—‘not a Place, | Yet name it so’—but universal, internal possibilities, as Böhme argued. The themes of realized thoughts and states in harmony with divine light and will, rejection of the same, and the degrees in between, that characterize the ‘Limbo’ sequence and the notebook entry (§4795) on the peaceful ‘place of vision’ and ‘Hell or Purgatory’, are found in the following passage in Böhme’s dialogue on ‘The Supersensuous Life’. Scholar: Then the Scholar asked his Master further, saying, Whither goeth the Soul when the Body dyeth, be it either saved or damned? Master: His master answered: It needeth no going forth . . . the Soul hath Heaven and Hell in itself . . . as it is written, . . . for behold the Kingdom of God is within you: And whether of the two, viz. either Heaven or Hell, shall be manifested in it, in that the soul standeth . . . there is no . . . Kind of entering; for Heaven and Hell are present every where; and it is but the turning in of the Will either into God’s Love, or into his Anger . . . ⁴⁷

Reading the ‘Limbo’ sequence in a Behmenist context and adding a focus on contemplation, I argue that it is an exploration of positive and negative states that respectively harmonize with or reject the divine will and Logos, with less extreme modes of rejection and privation existing between. ⁴⁶ ‘Proverbs of Hell’, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790–3), in Complete Poetry and Prose, 37, l. 38. ⁴⁷ Böhme, ‘The Supersensual Life’, The Way to Christ, in Works, 4: bk 4, pt 4, 83.


’  

Coleridge himself continued to value highly the contemplative, blind old man passage, as he sent it seventeen years later to Alaric Watts, editor of the Literary Souvenir, saying the fragment to which it belongs contains some of the most forcible lines and with the most original imagery that my niggard Muse ever made me a present of—⁴⁸

The ‘Limbo’ sequence has been much illuminated by literary scholarship, although uncertainties perhaps inevitably remain. Kessler notes that Coleridge undoubtedly has in mind the blind botanist and zoologist John Gough, whom he met in Gough’s native Kendal, in the Lake District. Contributing to Southey’s Omniana around the time he composed the ‘Limbo’ sequence, Coleridge recalls seeing Gough quickly identify animal and botanical specimens by their subspecies, remarking that the rapidity of his touch appears fully equal to that of sight; and the accuracy greater. Good heavens! It needs to only look at him . . . Why, his face sees all over! It is all one eye! . . . the undisturbed ectypon, of his own soul!⁴⁹

It has been suggested by Angus Fletcher that Coleridge’s blind old man, representing Human Time, is modelled on Nicodemus as portrayed in Henry Vaughan’s ‘The Night’, after John 2:3.⁵⁰ Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin who was born again ‘from above’ after visiting Jesus by night. He later demanded a fair hearing for Christ and, with Joseph of Arimathea, tended to his body after the crucifixion. In Vaughan’s poem, it is with thanks to night, the ‘sacred vail drawn’ over the divine ‘noon’, that ‘men might look and live . . . And face the Moon’. In such veiled light, for Vaughan, Nicodemus could ‘know his God by night . . . in that land of darkness and blinde eyes’.⁵¹ Stephen Prickett interpreted ‘Limbo’ in terms of ‘the unknowability of the Kantian things-in-themselves’, with the blind old man (lines 10–20) unable to ascertain whether there is anything outer that corresponds to his ‘gaze’. For Prickett, the state of limbo throughout the poem represents how Kant’s transcendental idealism ‘left man . . . in Limbo’,⁵² that is, in an epistemological limbo, unable to reach the noumena as knowledge rather than as postulates, a view which Coleridge was compelled to push beyond. Prickett’s Kantian reading perhaps represents a valid layer in the poem, though it is not the only, nor the most pertinent, layer of meaning. ‘In the midst of this Limbo’, asserts Prickett, ‘is ⁴⁸ Letters, 6: 758 (14 September 1828), to Alaric Watts. ⁴⁹ ‘The Soul and its Organs of Sense’, ‘Contributions to [Southey’s] Omniana’ (1812), Shorter Works, 1: 335–6, first ellipsis Coleridge’s. Éctypon, Greek: ectype, stamp, as opposed to archetype or prototype. ⁵⁰ Fletcher, ‘ “Positive Negation” ’, 156. ⁵¹ Vaughan, ‘The Night’, 358, ll. 2–9. ⁵² Prickett, Coleridge and Wordsworth, 204.

    . . .   


the old man with the “fore-top bold and high” ’.⁵³ Frederick Burwick similarly decides that, with the old man and the moon, ‘Coleridge has continued the limbo of isolation and estrangement.’⁵⁴ However, Prickett is mistaken to hold that, in the poem, humanity as we know it is in Limbo. Far from existing in the midst of Limbo, the ‘Old Man with a steady Look sublime’, though with ‘blind’ ‘statue . . . Eyes’ (lines 10, 12), represents our state on earth in contrast to the greater negativity of the ‘Shades’ in Limbo. The blind old man is no emaciated ‘Shade’, but a Nicodemus on earth with faith in things unseen, in a spiritual reality intuited through the veil of night. In earthly, Sabbatical contemplation, light shines in the darkness, in ‘blindness’ even. Thus, as David Jasper notes, Blind, the old man gazes and irradiates the light of some divine inward experience, and so, by reflection he appears to contemplate the Divine—⁵⁵

Harold Bloom called this passage, with its rhapsodic ecstasy, . . . one of the great and genuinely difficult passages in Coleridge’s poetry.⁵⁶

The poem’s Behmenist connections surely contribute to this difficulty. George Ridenour relates the ‘Human Time’ of line 9 and the ‘negative timelessness’ of ‘Limbo’ to Question 34 of Böhme’s Forty Questions Concerning the Soul (on the spirits of the damned) and finds the Devil of ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ to be ‘a good Coleridgean materialist’,⁵⁷ ultimately defeated before the seven spirits of God, a recurring theme in Böhme, as I discussed in Chapter 5 (142–52). With his image of the ‘Shades’ ‘Wall’d round . . . By . . . blank Naught at all’, Coleridge closely follows Böhme’s description of the damned souls as ‘shut up by nothing’. Again, contrasting their emaciated temporality with that of humans on earth, Coleridge’s ‘Moonlight on the Dial of the Day! But that is lovely, looks like Human Time’ follows Böhme’s saying that ‘Their number is not the number of human time’.⁵⁸ I add that the word ‘Limbus’ occurs no fewer than sixty-seven times throughout Böhme’s second work, his Three Principles. One of the many terms he derives from Paracelsus,⁵⁹ for Böhme it is an originary substance or germinal power: as herbs and fruits spring out of earth, so the earth sprang from ‘the heavenly Limbus’. The prima materia, from ‘Out of this Limbus . . . went forth the four ⁵³ ⁵⁴ ⁵⁵ ⁵⁶ ⁵⁸ ⁵⁹

Prickett, Coleridge and Wordsworth, 201. Burwick, ‘ “Limbo” and “Ne Plus Ultra” ’, 39–40. Jasper, Coleridge as Poet and Religious Thinker, 138. Bloom, The Visionary Company, 234. ⁵⁷ Ridenour, ‘Source and Allusion’, 90, 94. Böhme, Works, 2: Forty Questions, 103 (§§8 and 9). Böhme, Three Principles, ed. Weeks, 203 n 4.


’  

Elements, as out of a Fountain’; it is ‘the masculine Seed’ as counterpart to the ‘Matrix’, ‘the Essence of all Essences’.⁶⁰ Limbus, then, is generally positive in Böhme’s cosmo-theology, with no connotations of the Limbo of tradition. As the translator of the original English edition states in a marginal gloss, the heavenly Limbus is for Böhme ‘The divine Power and Virtue’. In the following passage from the Three Principles, even the divine light itself springs from this mysterious and all-potent Limbus. Below the passage, I analyse its elements into sources, or birth-giving substances, in the upper row, and their products or inhabitants, in the middle row. The lower row gives the relevant parallels to the ‘Limbo’ sequence, in a scale which I shall further develop in Section 11.3. And so now the Angels and blessed Men [will] remain in the Birth of the Light; and the Spirits of Alteration out of Light into the Source [or Torment,] together with the Spirits of the wicked Men [will remain] in the eternal Darkness, where no Recalling is to be found; for the Spirits cannot go into the Corruptibility [or Transitoriness] again. They are created out of the Limbus of God, out of the harsh Matrix, out of which the Light of God exists from Eternity; and not like the Beasts out of the Out-Birth, which went forth out of the Limbus of the conceived Purpose of God, which is finite [or takes an End,] and has been [or appeared] here, only that it might be an eternal Shadow and Figure.⁶¹

‘Limbus of God’ + ‘Matrix’

‘Birth of the Light’

‘Out-Birth’ ‘Or Exterior Generation [translator’s gloss]’, ‘Corruptibility [or Transitoriness]’

‘eternal Darkness’, ‘the Source [or Torment]’

Eternal Light of God

‘Angels and blessed men’

‘the Beasts’: ‘finite’, ‘has been [or appeared]’, ‘an eternal Shadow and Figure’

‘Spirits of Alteration out of Light’ and ‘the Spirits of the wicked Men’

‘th’ Angelic . . . Lampads seven’

Promised to the faithful, the inner intuiters and lovers of the divine light, the blind old man

earthly ‘Moles’, materialists eschewing divine light

The ‘Shades’ in Limbo; the Devil in the ‘Abyss’

Accentuating the contrast between the moon-gazing blind old man on earth and the shadowy souls in Limbo, the ‘Old Man’ passage is immediately followed by the

⁶⁰ Böhme, Works, 1: Three Principles, ch. 9, §21, 60; ch. 17, §48, 153; ch. 22, §70, 239. ⁶¹ Böhme, Works, 1: Three Principles, ch. 9, §42, 64.

    . . .   


statement that ‘No such sweet Sights doth Limbo Den immure’ (line 21). The poet therefore places earth and Limbo as logically external to one another, emphasizing their differences in mood and value while accenting a resemblance regarding privation. Yet even their privation differs, for while the old man at least ‘seems’ to gaze on the moon, shining with an inner vision as he rests from work, the shades in Limbo see nothing, for there is nothing to see, save the ‘blank Naught at all’ that walls them in with an enthralling horror. Returning to Kessler’s generally Heideggerian interpretation, the ‘Limbo’ sequence shows Coleridge struggling to ‘reach and express Being’.⁶² In these poems, Kessler argues, Coleridge moves between positive and negative considerations of Being, exploring the shift from privation to negation in the transition between shadowy ‘Limbo’ and the sheer oppositional negativity of ‘Ne Plus Ultra’. Kessler also finds that ‘Limbo probably remains the single most accurate metaphor’ for Coleridge’s outlook, as it exists ‘on the border between the extremes of materialism (pure image) and mysticism (pure idea)’.⁶³

11.3 The Logical Space of the ‘Limbo’ Sequence I shall now extend the critical insights summarized in the previous section to argue that in the ‘Limbo’ sequence Coleridge contrasts five modes of graduated negativity along a scale from a positive impulse towards contemplation, to the ‘positive Negation’ in which God and the divine ideas are rejected. (1) The absolutely positive contemplation of absolute being is not represented until the very end of the sequence, with ‘th’ Angelic . . . Lampads seven | That watch the Throne of Heaven’. This state exceeds other solely positive modes of contemplation, even that of the other seraphic beings in ‘th’ Angelic State’ who have pure intellectual intuition and are thus characterized more by intuitive reason than discursive reasoning.⁶⁴ This highest ‘Angelic State’ also exceeds the beatific vision promised by St Paul, when humans shall no longer ‘see through a glass darkly’, but ‘face to face’.⁶⁵ (2) Still positive contemplation, but incapable of the outer, sensuous confirmation that traditionally describes beatitude, is the fidelity to ideas symbolized by the blind old man whose ‘whole Face’ becomes ‘As twere an Organ full of silent Sight’. Though blind, he is ‘face to face’ with the celestial body. This image is of the human contemplation possible on earth. Contemplative, it has a ‘steady Look

⁶² ⁶³ ⁶⁴ ⁶⁵

Kessler, Coleridge’s Metaphors of Being, 107. Kessler, Coleridge’s Metaphors of Being, 103. Biographia Literaria, 1: 174, citing Milton, Paradise Lost, bk 5, esp. ll. 486–8. 1 Corinthians 13:12.


’  

sublime’, occuring in those Sabbaths when one ‘stops’ one’s ‘earthly Task’. His face seeming ‘to rejoice in Light’ in his momentary Sabbath, the blind old man seems to enter what Coleridge, nine years later, calls the ‘precinct of I’.⁶⁶ ‘Lip touching Lip’, the image suggests a mystic, meditating on ideas, as Coleridge later uses the image of closed lips: , from the Greek μύω—one who muses with closed lips, as meditating on Ideas which may indeed be suggested and awakened, but cannot, like the images of sense and conceptions of the understanding, be adequately expressed by words . . . ⁶⁷

‘Lip’ also suggests an edge, liminality, the border between something and nothing, which is the theme of ‘Limbo’. ‘Lip touching Lip’—one might imagine the lips of the man’s face appearing to touch the edge, literally, the limbus, of the moon—an apparent contiguity, anticipating St Paul’s ‘face to face’, where contemplation can cross, at least imaginatively, from the natural to the spiritual or the phenomenal to the noumenal. (3) The timorous eschewal of the light by the ‘moles’, early in the sequence, represents a deliberate negation of noetic contemplation, promoted by ‘sensual materialism’ and exacerbated by ‘dread’, though ‘they know not why’. In a couplet from the full 1811 sequence, the souls in Limbo fear that flea which partook of Donne’s blood, a slender ‘Sprite’ that is nonetheless the sole creature that, having ‘cross’d unchanged’, retains its positive being. The sole true Any Something this in Limbo Den It frightens Ghosts as here Ghosts frighten men—⁶⁸

A notebook entry three years later addresses such fear before the presence of genuine spirit, ‘the Immeasurable’ in ‘indefinite Forms’ rather than resolved into the ‘Measure, Proportion, Grace’ of finite aesthetic forms, as the Dread of Apparitions, in which not the acts of the Spirit, but the appearance, struck the Terror—⁶⁹

As he says another three years later, ‘the presence of a Ghost is the terror, not what he does—’.⁷⁰ The mole-like souls frightened by genuine spirit and the light of ideas

⁶⁶ Notebooks, 4: §4692 f19 (1820). ⁶⁷ Church and State, 165. ⁶⁸ Notebooks, 3: §4073 f146 (1811). The couplet is sometimes included as the first line in a longer version of ‘Limbo’, following James Dykes Campbell’s 1893 and E. H. Coleridge’s 1912 editions of Coleridge’s poems. ⁶⁹ Notebooks, 3: §4213 (1814). ⁷⁰ Letters, 4: 793 (13 December 1817), to J. H. Green.

    . . .   


resurface in the 1818 Friend to represent the adherents of ‘a crass and sensual materialism’.⁷¹ Not demonic rejecters of spirit, they simply eschew it in ignorant fear. In 1820, Coleridge, in a long note arguing that ‘All metaphysic . . . is in its origin poetic’,⁷² describes in very similar terms the ‘sensual matterish, crass & yet substanceless, notions’ of the ‘Alogist [i.e. denier of the Logos] or Metapothecary’ who, in the absence of empirical facts, will ‘degrade’ the ‘Presentiments, Desideria, and Aims’ of the ‘Imagination . . . into mere Dreams and delusive phantoms’.⁷³ (4) Limbo itself is a state of further privation. Its denizens are bereft not only of the light of ideas but also nature, for in this ‘crepuscular Half-being’, even time and space are emaciated. Coleridge uses Limbo to describe the state of materialist philosophers who extrapolate the frightened, mole-like instincts of ‘sensual materialists’ into a metaphysic bereft of spirit and ideas. Thus he writes, again in that note of 1820, of how all the so-called Analysts . . . from Aristot. to Locke, Hartley & Condillac . . . attack all Speculation: for they leave off where Speculation begins, viz. at the precinct of I.⁷⁴

Reprising here the themes and images of the ‘Limbo’ sequence, Coleridge says that for such mere conceptualists, genuine ideas are an Apparition in the Limbo of modern Psilosophy, an alien Substance. The one sole Substance And guest unwelcome to their shadowy den That frightens Ghosts as Ghosts here frighten men!—⁷⁵

His phrase ‘modern Psilosophy’ is aimed at those empiricists and mechanists with an emaciated (ψῑλός, psīlós: naked, frail, mere) wisdom (sophía). Between writing the ‘Limbo’ sequence and this note, which returns to some of its early lines, he argued that a hunger-bitten and idea-less philosophy naturally produces a starveling and comfortless religion.⁷⁶ ⁷¹ The Friend, 1: 494 fn.; discussed in this book, 41. ⁷² Notebooks, 4: §4692 f19 (1820). ⁷³ Notebooks, 4: §4692 f20 (1820). Coleridge used the word ‘Metapothecary’ for such ‘crass’ materialists, suggesting a metaphysical druggist, and alluding to the ‘Potticary’ in ‘On Donne’s First Poem’ who squashed the flea that bit Donne, defying the creature’s ‘aery tread’ and dispatching it to Limbo. ‘Metapothecary’ is Southey’s coinage, used to tease Coleridge for his metaphysical interests. Coleridge repeats the word back to Southey in Letters, 2: 768 (21 October 1801). The ‘Potticary’s’ ‘bladdery hide’ that kills the flea perhaps merges the druggist’s swollen hand with his leather travelling apothecary kit containing vials of opium. ⁷⁴ Notebooks, 4: §4692 f19 (1820). ⁷⁵ Notebooks, 4: §4692 f20v (1820). ⁷⁶ The Statesman’s Manual, 30.


’  

In such an ethos, people are led towards a limbo, as it were, characterized by the oblivion of ideas. (5) In Hell, the ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ of ‘positive Negation’ is reached. The 1814 notebook entry on ‘the Dread of Apparition’ helps clarify this negation, describing hDeath as the unimaginablei a negation of Life, instead of the mere privation—its opposi positive and real Opposite, not the vacuum of its cessation . . . ⁷⁷

Such negation is not mere nullification, but the polar reversal of a thetic idea, ‘Life’, into its positive negation in a sheer opposition. In Coleridge’s Hell, Satan creates a ‘Condensed Blackness’ in rejecting God and the divine ideas, and thereby creates the absolute and polar opposite of pure positive noetic contemplation. Thus, Coleridge’s scale in the ‘Limbo’ sequence is: +2





absolute positivity: ‘the Lampads seven’; ‘th’ Angelic State’

the blind old man on earth, inner Sabbatical contemplation met by outer reality

the materialist moles, on earth, that shrink from light

the shades that flit in Limbo; ‘growthless, dull privation’, ‘Wall’d round . . . by the mere horror of blank Naught at all’

Hell as ‘positive Negation’; ‘The . . . opposite of God’; ‘unrevealable, . . . hidden’

The scale, as is appropriate for a notably Behmenist work of Coleridge’s, is chiastic.⁷⁸ +2: Beatific contemplation of the divine +1: Earthly noetic contemplation of inner light/ideas corresponding to outer X: Moles, who can dimly see light, but fear it 1: Privation of inner light/ideas, surrounded by ‘blank Naught at all’ 2: Satanic rejection and negation of the divine, of light and positivity Lending support to my interpretation, regarding the central poem of the sequence, Adam Roberts implicitly measures out the chiastic form of the twenty-eight-line ‘Limbo’, in noting that its 28 lines divide into a central 12-lines section flanked by two paired 8-line sections, the first a kind of introduction, the second a sort of summary. What the ⁷⁷ Notebooks, 3: §4213 (1814). ⁷⁸ Coleridge’s use of the chiasmus in formulating schemata is discussed throughout this book, and Christensen, ‘Method of The Friend ’, traces the chiasmus in Coleridge’s forming prose patterns and aphoristic sentences.

    . . .   


two outer passages frame is a central image of ‘human Time’ as an old, blind man staring at the moon.⁷⁹

Responding to Roberts’ description of the poem’s structure, Bill Benzon identifies it as a chiastic form which he calls a ‘ring composition’, in which seven quatrains form the following structure: (1 (2 (3 (X) 3) 2) 1)⁸⁰ As further internal evidence of chiasmus, Benzon indicates the form of ‘Limbo’ line 20: ‘He seems to gaze at that which seems to gaze on him!’ For Roberts too, this line of twelve monosyllables presents, in content and syntax, a ‘studied circularity’ that ‘is replicated formally and linguistically in the poem’.⁸¹ Whether in its pre-1818 mode, less clearly distinguished from Böhme’s nonhierarchical cosmogonic schema,⁸² or in its post-1818 form of Behmenism fused with a distinct (Platonic) hierarchy,⁸³ the Coleridgean chiasmus is not merely a compositional aid. It reflects an encompassing metaphysics of higher and lower levels that connect across a gulf at the centre. Such is the pattern that, as I have argued in this book, becomes clearer when one traces how Coleridge reconciled his partial Behmenism with his modified Platonism. ‘Limbo’, with ‘Ne Plus Ultra’, in a theme initiated by the ‘negative eye’ of the light-averse ‘Moles’, is a meditation on the twin paradoxes of the privation of full being, and—greater horror—‘positive Negation!’ Establishing the theme of negativity, Coleridge’s Limbo is a ‘Place’ that is ‘not a Place’ (line 1). In a negative attribution, the time of Limbo is ‘scytheless’, unoccupied by any gainful task, unlike the blind old man who ‘stops his earthly Task to watch the skies’. This watching, again apparently paradoxical, must either occur in his imagination or else describe the impression the figure would make on an observer, since, like Homer, like Milton, the old man is blind. Milton himself wrote of ‘a Limbo large and broad’, a ‘Paradise of Fools’⁸⁴ satirizing Ariosto’s ‘Limbo of Vanity’, which the latter located on the moon, though Milton derides the thought. Milton’s Limbo is Not in the neighbouring Moon, as some have dreamd; Those argent Fields more likely habitants, ⁷⁹ Roberts, ‘ “Limbo” (1811, 1834)’. ⁸⁰ Benzon, ‘Coleridge’s “Limbo”—Another ring composition?’ Benzon rearranges the line indentation to show the chiastic ‘nested structure’ of the poem. ⁸¹ Roberts, ‘ “Limbo” (1811, 1834)’. ⁸² See e.g. Table 5.3; Bö, ‘The Seven Forms of Spirits’, The Clavis, in Works, 2: bk 4, 17. ⁸³ The development of Coleridge’s 1818 and later chiastic schemata is discussed in this book at 144–56. ⁸⁴ Milton, Paradise Lost, ll. 495–6.


’   Translated Saints, or middle Spirits hold Betwixt th’ Angelical and Human kinde . . . ⁸⁵

Coleridge alludes to ‘th’ Angelic’ beings of Milton’s account towards the end of ‘Ne Plus Ultra’. The epithet (th’ Angelic/al) occurs eleven times in Paradise Lost, and its echo in the ‘Limbo’ sequence underscores the presence of the Miltonic sublime, from the positive divine contemplation of ‘th’ Angelic . . . Lampads seven’, to the opposed ‘positive Negation’ of the Satanic abyss, refusing all light. Described as like ‘a statue’, ‘all moveless, Bust and Limb’ (lines 12, 19), one might well imagine the blind old man to resemble one of the many busts and figures, blank eyes raised with inner vision, of Homer, whom Dante placed in Limbo, the outer boundary, or first circle, of his Hell.⁸⁶ The word ‘limb’ also has an astronomical meaning, familiar to Coleridge, derived from limbus (edge), like Limbo, and signifying the edge of the sun or moon. In this context, the word ‘limb’ draws a further parity between the moon and the man turned towards it, alike ‘moveless’ in this moment. Regarding an actual sculpture, Coleridge could have had in mind Wordsworth’s description of the marble statue of Newton standing in inner contemplation at the antechapel to Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge: And from my Bed-room, looking forth by moonlight nights Could see, right opposite, a few yards off, The Antechapel, where the Statue stood Of Newton, with his Prism and silent Face.⁸⁷

As the notebooks editor suggests,⁸⁸ the ‘silent face’ of Newton’s statue seen by Wordsworth was possibly a source for the face of Coleridge’s old man, imagined as ‘an Organ full of silent Sight’. Marble, the statue of Newton would have the ‘moon-like Countenance’ of Coleridge’s sublunary figure. Prism in hand, and head raised, the marble Newton certainly appears, like the moon-gazing old man, as if he ‘stops his earthly Task’ in inner reflection of universal reality. Yet symbolizing humanity more generally, and exemplifying ‘Human Time’, the poetic figure could also call to mind a rustic worker, like the ‘sultry hind’ in Coleridge’s ‘First Advent of Love’, who, on seeing ‘Eve’s first star’, ‘Meets it with brow uplift, and stays his reaping’.⁸⁹ This movement of the rural labourer reproduces that of the old man with ‘fore-top bald and high’ who ‘stops his earthly Task to watch the Skies’. The moonward-turned blind old man is for Coleridge an archetype of human contemplation, and it includes positive impressions of ⁸⁵ ⁸⁶ ⁸⁷ ⁸⁸ ⁸⁹

Milton, Paradise Lost, ll. 459–62. Dante, The Vision [The Divine Comedy], 1: 16; ‘Hell’, Canto 4, l. 83. Wordsworth, The Prelude (1805), bk 3, ll. 48–51. Coburn, in Notebooks, 3 (part 2, Notes): §4073 f46v. ‘First Advent of Love’ (1821–7), Poetical Works, 1: 994, ll. 2, 6.

    . . .   


Newton, Gough, the labouring hind, and others, including George Dawe’s penciland-chalk portrait of Coleridge (1812),⁹⁰ as its ‘ectypes’. ‘[S]cytheless’, then, time in Limbo is, in contrast to the blind old man, taskless and untooled. Further, unlike the personification of ‘Time’ on earth, whose ‘bending sickle’s compass come[s]’⁹¹ to all, ‘Time’ in Limbo is no reaper, no harvester of lives, but ‘Lank’, having gathered mere shades, and hence ‘Barren’. On the horological theme solidified by the figure of the ‘sun-dial by moonlight’, as he later reuses the image,⁹² another sense is given to time in Limbo being ‘scytheless’. For a scythe sweeps in its circle, like a second-hand on a timepiece, while the ‘soundless’, ‘branny hands’ of ‘Time’ in Limbo move not, like the crumbling hands of a defunct clock. A further sense of lank Limbo time being ‘scytheless’ is its inability to cut: it cannot make the chronological divisions that mark ‘Human Time’. Limbo has no sun, no moon, no stars, no cosmic motion. As has been pointed out in another discussion of the ‘Old Man’ passage, ‘cultures since prehistory’ have used the moon, rising, setting, waxing and waning, to mark time,⁹³ while moonless time in Limbo is ‘Marked but by Flit of Shades’. This marking is itself ‘unmeaning . . . | As Moonlight on the Dial of the Day’. The flit of ‘Shades’ in Limbo is, however, very different from the soft shadow cast by moonlight on a sundial, for ‘that is lovely, looks like Human Time’. The Limbo flutter is the filmy flit of departed souls, detained, wizened, while the moonshadow of the stone clock is cast by reflected, positive light, source unseen, yet correspondent to the blind old man’s contemplated light within. Both shadowy images are ‘unmeaning’ in a horological context, but only the image of the moonlit sundial on earth is nonetheless ‘lovely’, as its positive, graceful aesthetic reflects a real value. The ‘crepuscular Half-being’ of ‘Time & weary Space’ in Limbo, by contrast, is without grace, and even this demi-existence is something the shades must ‘Strive for’ (line 4). Moonlight on a sundial, with its natural and celestial connectedness, has a beauty, though the shadows are bereft of meaning in terms of measurement. The sky itself, above the earth, is a grand astrological clock that accompanies the scene, unlike ‘the mere Horror of blank Naught at all’ by which Limbo is ‘Wall’d round’ (lines 23, 22). The old man’s inner vision is a positive contrast to each of the progressively negative positions in the sequence—the light-avoiding moles, the light-bereft shades, and the sheer opposition of Satan and his ‘Condensed Blackness’. But the blind old man also contrasts with ‘the Lampads seven’, who ‘watch the Throne

⁹⁰ This portrait can be seen at Letters, 3: 351 and on the cover of my edited volume Coleridge and Contemplation. Seven months after Coleridge wrote the ‘Limbo’ sequence, George Dawe drew this portrait and also took a plaster cast for a bust. ⁹¹ Shakespeare, Sonnet 116, l. 10. ⁹² The Statesman’s Manual, 57. The figure illustrates reading Scripture (the sundial) without ‘a pure heart’ or ‘inward means of grace’ (the sun). ⁹³ Brothers, Romantic Imagination and Astronomy, 68.


’  

of Heaven’, representing the extreme of beatific vision. Compared to all of these, the old man is an image of faith as belief as well as fidelity—the latter retained by the Lampads and rejected by Satan, the former unneeded by either, and rejected by the ‘Moles’. The blind old man turning to the celestial light has a sacramental quality, the outer image expressing an inner movement toward the source of value that is mysterious yet intuited to be near. Though the idea, the light, is intuited as beyond oneself, it is represented within, even if only by a correspondent impulse. Symbolically, the contemplator becomes moon-like in reflecting that light and seeming to gaze on it. The old man’s impulse to raise his face and pause his task brings a brief Sabbath from his labour. Radiant orbs, the moon’s face and his, reflect one another. This reflection in the ‘seer’ of the transcendent that is beheld or anticipated is a Platonic trope. Plato describes noesis as the ‘eye of the soul’, with its objects, the forms or ideas, appropriate to its own methods of apprehension.⁹⁴ Because the idea of the good enlightens the soul, he says that the ‘eye of the mind’ is ‘sun-like’, and those who have reached the goal ‘raise the radiance of their soul and look at that that which brings light to all’.⁹⁵ Just as the ocular eye must be somehow sun-like if it is to see, reason must be form-like, and resemble the good, the argument goes, if it is to contemplate noetically. In a passage, quoted by Coleridge, that parallels, but with solar imagery, the reflective moon and the further reflective, radiant orb of the old man, Plotinus makes this Platonic point: “To those whose imagination it has never been presented, how beautiful is the countenance of justice and wisdom . . . For in order to direct the view aright, . . . the beholder should have made himself . . . similar to the object beheld. Never could the eye have beheld the sun, had not its own essence been soliform . . . ”⁹⁶

Coleridge parenthetically explains this soliformity as ‘pre-configured to light by a similarity of essence’. In this context, the image in the ‘Limbo’ poem of the blind old man and the moon that his face is turned towards, and seems to reflect visually, is an analogy of the twofold Platonic point that in the contemplation of an idea, one must become like that which is beheld and that the beholding further actualizes the idea in the beholder. To know the idea is to partake of it—to become it, in a participatory sense—as I argued in Chapter 2 (61–2) and in Chapter 7 (199–200), and maintain throughout this book. The old man’s contemplative impulse is confirmed not by his senses but in the evidence and intuition of ideas, held in faith as fidelity to his being and the

⁹⁴ Plato, Republic, 518–19. ⁹⁵ Plato, Republic, 533c, 540a. ⁹⁶ Biographia Literaria, 1: 114–15, translating Plotinus, Enneads, I.6.4 and (last sentence) 9.

    . . .   


powers in which it resides. Just as it would be absurd and life-denying to attempt to deduce one’s own life and being, so, Coleridge argues, would it be to attempt to deduce ideas such as freedom, the morally good, and their source, without which life and being would be a merely mechanical, lifeless, amoral occurrence. Did you deduce your own being? Even that is less absurd than the conceit of deducing the Divine Being? Never would you have had the notion . . . had not the Idea worked in you, like the Memory of a Name which I we cannot recollect and yet feel that we have, and which reveals its existence in the mind only by a restless anticipation & proves its prior actuality by the almost explosive instantaneity with which it is welcomed & recognized on its re-emersion out of the Cloud, or its re-ascent above the horizon of Consciousness.—⁹⁷

A weakness, however, in such intuition-based arguments is that they depend, as Coleridge was aware, on the reader’s recognition of an idea working in one, with its ‘restless anticipation’ and eventual re-emergence from obscurity or occlusion. It is, nonetheless, a necessary weakness, according to the view, which Coleridge maintained, that ideas can only be stirred, not conveyed, by argument and description. Like the seeds of ideas that wind towards outer expression through objective laws and powers, his argument relies on the same movement occurring in the lives and minds of others that gaze back, as if ‘with moon-like Countenance’ to the reflecting moon, at the idea within that reflects the reality without. The ‘moon-ward turn’d . . . face’, though ‘Eyeless’, is not, pace Prickett, ‘totally cut off in a . . . meaningless void’,⁹⁸ for the inner light of his impulse itself depends on the correspondent idea in which it participates. The blind old man, moreover, is not literally ‘cut off’ from meaning and being, for he is working, outdoors. He knows what his hands and body touch and do. Interacting productively with the world, he labours with an aim, and finds his brief Sabbath of contemplation with a pause and a turn of the head, in faith and fidelity, reaching out not desperately, but with a directed openness that radiantly receives. Like the ‘dim-glimmering moon’ seen through the ‘dewy window-pane’ in Malta, the phenomena of nature are a series of utterances, that is, ‘outerances’: words in the abecedarium of nature that explicate, though imperfectly, the implicate Logos beheld within and without. For Coleridge, language can give a sense of objective presence that is sometimes illusory, as when words are used to reify something unreal, yet it can also articulate hitherto unexpressed intimations, thoughts, and ideas in the ‘discourse of reason’. Whether fabricating or articulating, ‘all language is utterance, i.e. Outer-ance’,⁹⁹ and for Coleridge,

⁹⁷ Notebooks, 4: §4816 (January–September 1821). ⁹⁸ Prickett, Coleridge and Wordsworth, 201. ⁹⁹ Opus Maximum, 312.


’  

even in one ‘that is utterly blind’, the eye nonetheless ‘Lives with a separate life’.¹⁰⁰ Coleridge recalls, in a marginalium to Böhme’s Forty Questions Concerning the Soul, from which the blind old man passage draws, that he wrote the following lines after his infant son’s death ‘in 1799 . . . then blind from weeping about little Berkley, I being absent & at Ratzeberg’:¹⁰¹ . . . my eyes are a burthen, Now unwillingly closed, now open and aching with darkness. O! what a life is the eye! what a fine and inscrutable essence! Him that is utterly blind, nor glimpses the fire that warms him; Him that never beheld the swelling breast of his mother; Him that ne’er smiled at the bosom as babe that smiles in its slumber; Even to him it exists, it stirs and moves in its prison; Lives with a separate life, and ‘Is it the spirit ?’ he murmurs: Sure, it has thoughts of its own, and to see is only its language.¹⁰²

Thus the memory of temporary blindness and grief at the death of his infant son— associated with the traditional Limbo if the infant is unbaptized—lies strongly in the margin at the writing of ‘Limbo’. Experimentation with hexameters, even, finds a developed place in the later poem, as throughout the earlier. Böhme’s Question 34 concerns the souls of the damned. Coleridge, reading here, is clearly thinking of Berkeley’s fate, and recalls, at the time of writing the ‘Limbo’ sequence’, his own temporary blindness which he later associates with weeping at his son’s death. He finds comfort in hope and faith in things unseen, as a blind man’s face is met by the face of the moon. Seeing or unseeing, the eye aims towards thoughts, even when the organ gives them no ‘utterance’ (‘Outer-ance’) in terms of external sensation. In earthly nature, unlike anything in Limbo—if any thing exists there (besides Donne’s flea among the shades)—even the horologically meaningless ‘Moonlight on the Dial of the Day’ is ‘lovely’. This lovely, sublunary image suggests a value intuited within, like the contemplative, blind old man turned towards the moon, whose face, an image of ‘Human Time’, tells symbolically not of the clock hour, but of the connection between things, of hope, inner vision, and the outer reality it reflects by grace.

¹⁰⁰ ‘English Hexameters’, as sent in a letter to Wordsworth, Letters, 1: 452 (December 1798); cf. Poetical Works 1: 528–30 and 2: 693–5. ¹⁰¹ Marginalia, 1: 671 (Böhme). Coleridge probably misremembered the date of composition as 1799 because he subsequently connected what he had written with his grief at Berkeley’s death (10 February 1799), which he learned about later still at Gottingen; Letters, 1: 478 (April 1799), to Thomas Poole. ¹⁰² ‘English Hexameters’, as sent in a letter to Wordsworth, Letters, 1: 452; cf. Poetical Works 1: 528–30 and 2: 693–5. Griggs dates this version as early December 1798, as it fits in with other letters between Wordsworth and Coleridge concerning the latter’s eye problem; Letters, 1: 450.

    . . .   


I can now further explicate of the five contrasting modes in the ‘Limbo’ sequence, commencing from ‘Moles’, rather than the lines ‘On Donne’s First Poem’ that provide the light-hearted entrance, soon overtaken by more serious meditation. First, the poem ‘Moles’ represents the earthly materialists’ willed ignorance of the light of ideas. These earthy denizens of the dark shirk the light to inhabit a deprived darkness. Their ‘negative eye’ is that of the earthly human self-bereft of spiritual beings and truths. Rejecting the light of ideas, the shrinking, negative eye of a crass materialism foreshadows the extreme state of ‘Ne Plus Ultra’, in which the divine light is positively opposed and rejected. Not as thoroughly wilful as ‘positive Negation’, the moles represent a negatively arising negation based on ‘dread’, not hatred, and venial because afraid and forgivably ignorant, for ‘dread they know not why—’.¹⁰³ Second, still on earth, is the human contemplation of ideas. This mode is represented, I argue, in the middle section of ‘Limbo’ (lines 10–20). Here, the blind ‘Old Man with a steady Look sublime’ ‘seems to gaze’ at the moon, which ‘seems to gaze’ at him. The inner light meets the outer by grace and is sustained by the contemplator in fidelity to the being contemplated. His illumination is intuitive, from within, yet ‘His whole Face seemeth to rejoice in Light’ in the coincidence of grace, symbolized by the moon meeting his gaze, and the participation, or communion, of Platonic noesis. The earthly human in positive contemplation is unable to ‘see’ its noetic objects ‘face to face’,¹⁰⁴ as noted at the start of this section, yet it seeks them and holds to them in spiritual or intellectual fidelity. Here, then, arises the positivity of ‘positive Reason’, which, in its finite, human form, is limited in its apprehension. In contrast to the beatific vision, the human openness to the ideas of reason (Coleridge’s spiritual beings and truths) is deprived of outward, face-to-face certainty, relying instead on the imagination to give it outer form, before it finds clearer, noetic contemplation. Third, in Limbo itself, contemplation is reduced to the ‘growthless, dull Privation’ that is ‘lurid [pallid and dismal] thought’, surrounded by ‘the mere Horror of blank Naught at all’. With its emaciated ‘Time & weary Space’, there is neither nature nor the activity of living ideas to contemplate. Occupied by ‘Shades’, Limbo is, however, not a blank rejection of the light of ideas. It contrasts, therefore, with both the materialist moles who shrink from light and the ‘Condensed Blackness’ that deliberately opposes God in ‘Ne Plus Ultra’. Limbo is thus a point of indifference between the impulse towards ideas of the old man, and their absolute rejection. Indeed, flitting in ‘Lank Space’, the denizens of Limbo are perhaps emotionally and energetically indifferent too, marking the ‘last crepuscular

¹⁰³ ‘Moles’, Poetical Works, 1: 478, l. 4. The ‘Moles’ ignore both light and dark: ‘the unconsciousness of the Devil is the characteristic of our Age—and a perilous symptom of the spread of his Dominion. For the Mole houses in Darkness, and says not, It is dark!’ Notebooks, 4: §4998 f13v (September 1823). ¹⁰⁴ 1 Corinthians 13:12.


’  

Half-being’ of their ‘weary Time’ in this eschatological non-place of a waiting room. This state is essentially a privation both of the fullness of being and of beings to contemplate. The surrounding ‘blank Naught at all’, by which its denizens are immured, enthrals these detained souls with horror, though without immersing them in it. Fourth, Hell, the ‘Ne Plus Ultra’, provides the immersive horror, and is thus a ‘far worse’ ‘fear’ and ‘fate’ than Limbo. Not merely the denial of God, which would be atheism (as in the ‘Moles’), this ne plus ultra, or furthest extreme, is the ‘Opposite of God! | Condensed Blackness, and Abyssmal Storm’.¹⁰⁵ It is the extreme extrapolation from the ‘crass . . . materialism’ of the moles. Here, ‘the Dragon foul and fell’, alluding to Revelation 12:9, is irredeemable and hence is the ‘Sole Interdict of all-bedewing Prayer, | The All-compassionate!’¹⁰⁶ In its direct opposition, this negative essence is the ‘Antipathist of Light’,¹⁰⁷ contrasting with the other states by being ‘positive Negation!’¹⁰⁸ That is, its negative quality is an action and not merely the not-having of privation, nor any fearful eschewal. This ‘positive Negation’ is a rebellious, oppositional force—like the negative magnetic pole to the positive—whose reality is known beyond the intensity of its ‘unrevealable’ substantiality, in that it ‘still casts the Shadow Death!—’. Finally comes the triumph of light and positive affirmation. The seven spirits look always on ‘the Throne of Heaven’, and, in an apotheosis of vision, they can see the ‘unrevealable’, for ‘the Dragon’ is ‘unrevealable . . . Save to the Lampads seven’. These are the same ‘seven Spirits of God’ of Revelation 4:5, which, as we saw in Chapter 5 (142–3), are for Böhme the cosmic powers. Böhme identifies them with the ‘Seven Forms of Spirits, mentioned [in] Revel. Chap. 1’ (see Table 5.3), which impressed Coleridge greatly, inspiring him to fuse the Christian (neo-)Platonic hierarchy, from sense to contemplation, with the interpenetrative, transmutational, chiastic model of Behmenist cosmogony. These seven spirits, the living Lampads, close the sequence, like Dante’s Divine Comedy, in a glory of purely positive and powerful light. The Lampads, moreover, at once light and vision, see God and all things, even into the darkest, light-opposing abyss. Light reigns, first and last, and even ‘Ne Plus Ultra’, though part Satanic litany, is no hymn to negation to end so brightly in the prophesied victory of the Lampads. However apparently cut off from this light, the possibility of vision that human contemplation aims for is granted a positive place in the ‘Limbo’ sequence. A figure of imperfect, earthly mental vision, and not of the greater privation of Limbo, the blind old man gazing within—yet turned moonward by chance, in an image of grace and noetic becoming—symbolizes what Coleridge

¹⁰⁵ ¹⁰⁶ ¹⁰⁷ ¹⁰⁸

‘Ne Plus Ultra’, Poetical Works, 1: 884, ll. 4–5. ‘Ne Plus Ultra’, Poetical Works, 1: 884, ll. 10, 16–17. ‘Ne Plus Ultra’, Poetical Works, 1: 884, l. 2. ‘Limbo’, Poetical Works, 1: 884, l. 28.

    . . .   


called ‘the Sabbatical moment’. Then, we ‘gather strength’ and focus the ‘cleansed eye’¹⁰⁹ of inner contemplation. The old man of ‘Limbo’ presents a human, hoping, labouring, reflecting version of the reflective, ministerial ‘silent icicles | Quietly shining to the quiet Moon’ that closed Coleridge’s thirteen-years earlier ‘Frost at Midnight’.¹¹⁰ The upturned face, ‘full of silent sight’, holds still as if ‘to rejoice in Light’, and to reflect the moon ‘which seems to gaze on him’, itself reflecting the rays of the unseen sun.

¹⁰⁹ Opus Maximum, 313.

¹¹⁰ ‘Frost at Midnight’ (1798), Poetical Works, 1: ll. 73–4.

Conclusion In this short conclusion, I give some further remarks concerning Coleridge’s philosophy and the ‘sense’, ‘higher understanding’, and ‘reason’ through which this book has progressed. Section 1 constellates Coleridge’s philosophy via the thinkers who are his main influences before giving a more general schema using metaphysical positions. After a summary statement, in Section 2, of Coleridge’s position regarding sense, feeling, and the empirical, Section 3 compares the higher understanding of elenctic discourse (Socrates, Plato, Coleridge) with what Paul Ricoeur calls ‘the school of suspicion’ (‘Marx, Nietzsche, Freud’). Both uncover negativities or aporia, but the Socratic can inform the suspicious in virtue of its being guided by a greater positivity, a dimly intuited idea or value, in contrast to the already known baser desires further uncovered—and expected—by the more negative elenchus or hermeneutic. Section 4 then closes the book with a discussion of Coleridgean reason and contemplation as it actually occurs, as diffused or reflected through deep feelings stretching in a metaphysical direction.

1 What Kind of Philosopher is Coleridge? I provided an answer to what kind of philosopher Coleridge is in Chapter 7 (222–5), arguing—uncontroversially, I think—that Coleridge is a post-Kantian, Christian (neo-)Platonist, and often is so not only in contrast to, but also while retaining elements of, British empiricism. Now, at the end of this book, it might be helpful to recapitulate that synoptic view very briefly, by constellating Coleridge’s philosophy in terms of his own pentadic form. Thus, I arrive at the following schema, using the names of key philosophers to locate him with regard to his influences, how he relates to them, and how he relates them to each other.

Platonic (and neo-Platonic) Post-Kantian (esp. Schelling)



Empiricist (esp. Hartley, with continuing traces of Locke and Hume)

Coleridge’s Contemplative Philosophy. Peter Cheyne, Oxford University Press (2020). © Peter Cheyne. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198851806.001.0001



Behmenism appears at the centre, being a philosophy of mediation, not only working outwards, but also remaining the crucial chiasmus. Without wishing to press it into literalness, one can draw an analogy with Freud here. Platonism, and its influence on Christian traditions of transcendence, operates as the conscience, or super-ego, being the ideal for Coleridge’s thought. The tensions between Kantians and the post-Kantians, often debating intellectual intuition and pantheism, and relating back to Böhme, can be seen as the ego, the conflicted centre that struggles to maintain order and which modifies sublime demands from above and baser pressures below. Finally, this level arises, by a kind of sublimation, from the id of empiricism, opposed yet retained in modified forms by Coleridge, and the material or phenomenal substrate of the whole. The overall dynamic translates into Coleridge’s schemata of nature and of mind, with his metaphysics representable by a second version that uses more general terms, rather than the names of prominent proponents or philosophical originators.

Transcendent idea (Logos) Constructivist philosophy (constitutive). Intellectual intuition of the objective idea. Not merely a desk-tidy of the human mind

Chiastic, dynamic centrality. The principle of interpenetration

Transcendental idea (regulative). An ideal, functional notion, but not, for all we know, objective

The (half-)truths of empiricism and workings of associationism

In this version, the highest is transcendent, the middle three are immanent (actual), and the lowest is phenomenal. The constellation of Coleridge’s thought has often been presented as held within a maze of names, relating him between key figures of a motley band picked out from the march of the history of philosophy. While this is true and useful, and an operation that can be performed with respect to any philosophical thinker, such historical constellation is of limited help if it occludes a more meaningful view of an objective, conceptual space, areas of which individual philosophers are discoverers, at their very best, and not only creative inventors. The second schema, then, summarizes the most general elements of Coleridgean thought in a three-dimensional array, with the transcendent above, and the synthesized below, the medial polarity. Most of Coleridge’s discourse occurs within the intermediate level of the higher understanding and its poles, its objects conceived as lying along the polarities in nature, history, and culture. But his discourse necessarily acknowledges its base in the ‘sense’ of empiricism, of facts of nature, and the associationist workings of mind of the


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human animal. It is this base that he strives to raise in view of higher ends seen in the light of reason. It is also notable that while the (neo-)Platonic dimension in Coleridge has, in the twentieth century and early twenty-first, very often been downplayed¹ though usually cursorily acknowledged, Coleridge’s subsequent tetradic and pentadic forms have been all but neglected,² and the Behmenistic, or chiastic, dynamic unrecognized.³ Yet serious study of these dimensions illuminates key Coleridgean notions such as the interpenetration of opposites, a will deeper than reason, the notion of a logic of qualities, a higher logic of ideas, and so on. I have argued that Behmenist interpenetration, common to Hegel and Coleridge by consilience and for historical reasons, provides the crucial dynamic in the development of Coleridge’s philosophy. It is the ‘missing link’ in Coleridge studies between what can be called the empiric of nature and the transcendent of ideas and powers. With Coleridgean interpenetration in mind, adapted from Böhme, I have also referred throughout this book to how the relations between transcendence and the sensuous are expressed and explored in much of Coleridge’s poetry, especially in middle- and late-period poems such as the ‘Limbo’ sequence (1811) and ‘SelfKnowledge’ (‘E Cœli Descendit, ΓΝΟΘΙ ΣΕΑΥΤΟΝ’, 1834?), as well as in his philosophical thinking concerning reason in and through sense, from which I developed my theory of inchoate contemplation, through Chapters 3–6.

2 Sense Whether one’s outlook is theistic, otherwise religious, or secular, Coleridge’s metaphysics continues to challenge naturalistic assumptions. He achieves this through his sustained anti-reductionism, expressed more positively in his emergentist holism, which I discussed at Chapters 1 (43) and 5 (156–7). Another important way he challenges naturalism is through his argument that productive nature is contained within the medial ontological level, or hypostasis, of existence, actual or potential, between originary reality and phenomenality. Productive nature includes the universal, natural, cosmic polarities (light and gravity, positive and negative electromagnetic charge, etc.) If he is correct, then productive nature (natura naturans) cannot itself produce the natural polarities. He argues that they are manifestations of universal laws, which are of an ontologically higher order than productive nature, much as productive nature is of an ontologically higher

¹ Notable exceptions include the work of Beer, Cutsinger, Perkins, Hedley, and Vigus. ² But see the work of Newsome, Levere, Modiano, Uehlein, and Evans, referred to in Chapter 9 of this book. ³ John Beer again, along with Kiran Toor, and Elizabeth Engell Jessen, are notable exceptions concerning the breadth of attention they give to Coleridge’s relation to Böhme.



order than natural phenomena, its products. These are not merely verbal or technical quibbles, for what is at stake is a view of positive reality that encompasses what Coleridge claims to be the ‘eternal verities’ and the powers, the universal potencies, that allow for possibilities of being and actualizations of value. While he opposes the superficial, reductionist adherence to sense as the limit of knowledge in empiricist extremes, Coleridge always retains a deeper relation to sense experience.⁴ In modern philosophy, the empiricist extreme is first reached with George Berkeley’s conclusion that, beyond the spirits that perceive them and the God who conceives them, the being of everything consists in its perception. David Hume’s sceptical variant of this empiricist extreme later carried into the very similar twentieth-century phenomenalism of A. J. Ayer. Coleridge’s contrasting, deeper notion of sense experience was one he was conscious of since his early period, when he became convinced that a philosopher must unite thinking with deep feeling.⁵ He later continued this conviction in arguing for the dim but certain presence of reason in sense and its evolution throughout nature and history, as well as in individual experience. All of this shares remarkable general characteristics with the thought of Hegel, although I have distinguished their views in Chapter 8 (256–9). Developing from these thoughts of reason in sense, I worked out in Chapters 3–6 (especially in 6) my theory of inchoate contemplation.⁶

3 Higher Understanding (Negative Reason) The Socratic notion of the elenchus is an eminently representative mode of higher understanding as the ‘discourse of reason’. Proceeding through negative reason, with a sense, however dim or poorly formed, of the idea that is its quarry, it nonetheless works in its light. I have discussed the elenchus with reference to Coleridge’s uses of it in Chapter 3 (94–9), where I also employed it, to examine the relationship between ingrained prejudices and everyday aesthetics. I returned to the concept in Chapter 7 (220–1), in the context of its classical, Socratic-Platonic form. I add here that while elenchus always proceeds negatively, working out dialectically what the term being examined is not, there are two main philosophical forms of elenchus, which can be positively or negatively directed. The original, Socratic mode of elenchus retains a positivity that in fact guides the entire procedure. That positivity is the dim intuition in either or both ⁴ Unfortunately, Coleridge was not familiar with the Isaac Newton now available to scholarship, a student of the Cambridge Platonist Henry More with a deep and persistent interest in spiritual alchemy and biblical hermeneutics. The reality of Newton is far from the empiricist caricature that he often seems to be to Coleridge. ⁵ Letters, 2: 709 (23 March 1801), to Thomas Poole. ⁶ I expand on this theory in my article, ‘Varieties of Contemplation’.


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participants of the idea or attribute under examination. I contrast this tradition of progressive, elenctic discourse (Socrates, Plato, Coleridge) with what Paul Ricoeur called the ‘school of suspicion’ (‘Marx, Nietzsche, Freud’), whose ‘common opposition to the phenomenology of the sacred’⁷ has grown into the hermeneutics of suspicion. Both models of elenchus, i.e. Socratic and suspicious (or reductive), proceed, it bears stressing, by the uncovering of negativities or aporia. Nietzsche was profoundly and ambivalently influenced by the ancient gadfly. Explaining the influence of Socrates on himself, and the fascination the old hoplite always draws, Nietzsche said that he discovered a new kind of agon and was its first fencing master for the noble circles of Athens. He fascinated people by stirring up the agonal drive of the Hellenes—⁸

The positive, classical form of elenchus, its Socratic form, is disclosive versus the form of the hermeneutics of suspicion, which is reductive. Although adherents of both kinds say that they aim to uncover—or as Nietzsche said, to unmask—the disclosive–reductive distinction nonetheless holds, as I shall explain. While the hermeneutics of suspicion digs until it finds what is already commonly but imperfectly understood to be widespread—desire for power over others through economics, sex, class, nationality, violence, etc.—the Socratic mode aims first to reach the acknowledgement of ignorance in the interlocutor, which then motivates a different kind of desire. That desire is for actual knowledge of the quality or value that was first assumed to be commonly known, such as what courage, holiness, knowledge, justice, or beauty is, or—where Coleridge turned, following Kantian themes—freedom, self, conscience, the idea, and so on. This quality or value is disclosed in the positively directed elenchus as something undisclosed. The process reaches a kind of ‘positive negation’, though opposite to that of the denial of light in the ‘Limbo’ sequence. It reaches a sense of a positive truth as a beneficial power that becomes progressively known as unamenable to conceptual understanding, tying one’s definitions in knots, even while conceptual understanding remains crucial in marshalling the dialectic procedure. This positive, disclosive elenchus is more ‘archeological’, to adapt Michel Foucault’s term, as it excavates (opens up aporia) to reveal something positive, or at least to reveal that the positive idea or attribute which was formerly believed to be well known is in fact still concealed by ignorance and misunderstanding. The school of suspicion is the direct negative of this pursuit of positivity, being, as at least as Nietzsche boldly acknowledges, nihilistic (pursuing nihilism to its logical conclusions to embrace it in amor fati) or else reductive, finding the fundamental truth or explanation to exist in terms of an egocentric or self-interested power: ⁷ Ricoeur, Freud and Philosophy, 32.

⁸ Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, 14.



Marx’s class interest that leads to class war, Nietzsche’s will to power, or Freud’s libidinal economy, the hydraulics of sexual energy. Such reductionism was already developing through the early Enlightenment to late nineteenth-century mechanism. It is opposed by the organicist holism and emergentism of a line of thinkers who contend with their alternative enlightenment from at least the Cambridge Platonists, through the German transcendental idealists, Coleridge, G. H. Lewes (whose emergentism I argued, in Chapter 5 (156–7), derives from Coleridge), and others, including Heidegger and his criticism of the technological worldview when taken as the fundamental truth and articulation of being. I do not propose to turn the hermeneutics of suspicion on itself. Rather, I suggest that it can be improved by recalling its philosophical forebear, Socrates, and his ultimate aim of discovering a positive truth through this negative method. Like Coleridge’s notion of revealing, in outline, the substance through the shadow, the elenchus is propelled on both sides—those of the examiner and examinee—by a faith. The examinee commences with the faith that he or she fully, though in a common-sense rather than fully explicated way, comprehends the notion, quality, or idea in question. By turns, the examinee’s ignorance becomes frustratingly apparent. While some give up and ridicule the procedure as sophistry or mere word-play, others feel a genuine thirst, the newly discovered vacuum of their ignorance pulling them towards the object, towards wisdom, as philosophy commences. Yet the sense remains that one does somehow know the object. This knowledge is dim, unworked-out, mysterious; apparently empty, yet indicating the opposite of nihilism. The negative method of positively directed elenchus is charged and shaped by the positivity of the idea, first by the examiner, then, increasingly, in the examinee, as he or she becomes examiner, philosopher, too. Having advanced through the negative method, the via negativa, itself fuelled by a faith in the positive idea, the dialectic can transform into contemplation, Coleridge’s positive reason.

4 Reason, and Contemplation as it Actually Occurs While Coleridge held a place for an ultimate clarity and simplicity of vision, to use a Plotinian phrase,⁹ he tended to consider contemplation as it actually occurs, at least for him, in a lower key. The actual occurrence of noesis is thus, for him, not usually one of dazzling access—although he does allow for such rare, intuitive, or mystical noesis—but one qualified by mediation and diffusion, a seeing-in that is always a seeing-through and which only anticipates a more direct, transparent vision. That is, noetic contemplation, the human cognitive relation to ideas, is filtered through mists or some such medium, as he often puts it poetically, or ⁹ Hadot, Plotinus, or the Simplicity of Vision.


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reflected by some intermediate object. The moon therefore becomes for him a very apt symbol. Its relatively weak light is yet our illumination in the darkness. It happens to be, for earth dwellers, a crepuscular and nocturnal being. Its light nonetheless reflects that of the sun itself, with all its symbolic connotations of the good, the source of intellectual light, and of life. Configuring a late notebook entry from the last full year of Coleridge’s life into his noetic, tetradic form, the following constellation can be made: [Identity/Prothesis] Sun = the Idea [Thesis] Sunlight = The Light of Ideas

[Antithesis] Moonlight = the Understanding, as “Discourse of Reason,” Conceptions reflecting the Ideal Light.

[Synthesis] The Stars (the Lesser Lights, I Genesis) = multifarious Notionality, opinions, fancies, that shine by a Light of their own, just enough to be con-visible but give no Light to anything else—while a in a yet greater multitude of can be detected only by the armed eye—= unbewüsste Gebilde und Begriffe—Images, of things, of words, the mud-births of the spiritual Nile, half-thought, half-sensation, the copula and intermundium of Life and Mind, Sense and Understanding, of which Psychology is the Specular Glass.¹⁰

This imagery relates to the contrastive scene of the blind old man and the moon in lines 10–20 of ‘Limbo’ (1811). The imagery also arises in another late notebook entry from the year before he died, where he sees in old age a Sabbath of our Life—or rather a Lord’s Day, the 7th Day of the physical Labor, and the first Day of the Spiritual Creation— But as the bodily to the intellectual powers, so the intellectual themselves to the Moral, and to the Spiritual—When even the Judgement is gone, and the Reason can but feebly work in and by the Understanding—Conscience, Love, Hope, Faith have shone out, and illumined the face of the dying man as with an inward Sunshine.¹¹

Instances of this imagery—including the blind old man’s ‘Eyeless Face all Light’, reflecting the unseen object of his contemplation—are of contemplation as it actually occurs for most of us, however rarely. Coleridge, then, was not typically a contemplative in the manner of a Plotinian visionary, a Christian mystic, or a Behmenist ‘Epopt [Seer]’.¹² Although he admired these forms of contemplation, sometimes ambivalently, as they are rarely ¹⁰ Notebooks, 5: §6849 (December 1833), arranged as a tetrad. The German means, ‘unconscious structures and concepts’. ¹¹ Notebooks, 5: §6701 (Summer 1833). ¹² Marginalia, 1: 598 (Bö).



unalloyed, they represented for him a theoretical limit of human noesis in its highest earthly mode. For him, contemplation was an end-point, seldom reached, though its effects persist, in contrast to ‘the transit-flash of a Shooting Star’, as Coleridge says in his notebook passage that I use as the epigraph to this book. Unlike the brightly dying transit-flash of a meteorite, the Light of the Idea . . . remains refracted in the whole atmosphere of the mind, and reflected by whole Groups of Images and Conceptions—¹³

Coleridge’s philosophy is contemplative in a sense that is synonymous with the word ‘noetic’; not that it is knowing, but that it pertains to noesis, the directedness towards ideas and their subsequent intuition. Its terms are praeter-conceptual ideas and powers. The expression of this noetic is elaborated in the relational terms of the understanding, in the ‘discourse of reason’ that requires the light of ideas, though the ideas remain ungrasped or taken for granted. Reading Coleridge as a philosopher is therefore to try a different way of thinking, to turn one’s attention towards that light, usually as reflected or refracted, and with poor, even, in some way, ‘blind’ eyes, like the central image of the ‘Limbo’ poem. This symbol emphasizes ‘the mind’s eye’, ‘the ray of mental vision’, being ‘kept fixed on the idea’.¹⁴ His realism about ideas, which he called his ‘ideal Realism’,¹⁵ is the touchstone of Coleridge’s contemplative philosophy, and is thus the subject of this book. Noesis, to reiterate, is for him the participation of the human mind in that reality of ideas beyond the human mind. It is held by Plato to be the dialectic approach that is ideally accompanied by the progressively clarifying, intuitive and intellectual access to ideas by human minds that become self-aware of their participation in them. Coleridge identified this subsumptive noesis—uniting depth of feeling with profound thought, gathering as it rises—with that ‘Contemplation’ which he called the human access to ‘Reason’. Such reason, or noesis, has always been a contested concept. Aristotle, however, despite some important divergences from Plato, retained noesis as the highest mode of thought, human or divine, as ‘thought thinking itself ’, which I discussed in relation to ‘the enérgeia of thought’, in Chapter 6 (166–7). Adherents of noesis hold it to be a mode of knowing that is a more direct, more intimate and immediate mode of knowing than discursive knowledge. Rather than chiefly discursive, a discourse on noesis—paradoxically, a discourse on that which is beyond discursion—should be essentially recursive. By ‘recursive’, I mean it should be typified by reflection on examples and models of noesis in a way that moves beyond debating its purported possibility, to describe and analyse what can

¹³ Notebooks, 5: §6501 (November 1830). ¹⁴ Opus Maximum, 225–6. ¹⁵ Biographia Literaria, 1: 303.


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be said about lived and reported instances of it.¹⁶ Regarding ideas, Coleridge’s view that ‘the Fewest among the Few . . . live in their Light’ so that they realize ‘the Idea working in them’,¹⁷ accords entirely with Platonic noesis. In most cases, the courageous person knows and does not know what courage is. Apparent paradoxes such as this can usually be parsed and resolved by distinguishing different uses of the same term. Thus, the courageous person is familiar with courage and is indeed constituted or, in part, self-constructed by the idea of courage. Yet he or she is, in most cases, unable to articulate or ‘express it in definite words’.¹⁸ This Socratic insight is illustrated in Plato’s aporetic, elenctic dialogue, the Laches, between Socrates and an Athenian general. A person who possesses a characteristic or ability that relates to a moral value or some other virtue (or excellence, as aretḗ can be translated) is so transparently familiar with it that he or she usually does not feel a need to examine it, they just practice it—or rather, they are it. Being it is what they do, and that active being constitutes their usual, though unphilosophical and often flawed, knowledge of the virtue. The noetic idea, in the Platonic view, is or corresponds to a constitutive power. Reality is such, the theory holds, among other realist claims, that rational beings ought to be virtuous and that the model for virtue is a form or power that transcends the individual, who may come to know the universal forms or ideas more clearly through reason. The knowledge of an idea in someone who actualizes it without any attendant elenchus, or self-examination, is not on its own philosophical, though its existence is of essential value. Such knowledge, or rather, a working, practical opinion, concerning the realization of an idea, is not philosophical, however, because it cannot be taught or corrected as it stands. Noesis, on the other hand, is held to be the more thoroughly knowing aspect of this being. Further, it is so in a way that knowing and being become united. Because one already is, say, courageous, the intuition of courage is thereby possible. If that is true, the same can be held for ideas and powers such as the soul, will, and freedom. As intuition, noesis (or ‘Contemplation’), is nearer to oneself than discursive knowledge, for while the latter helpfully circumscribes and distinguishes, it cannot become internal to its object—if it did, it would be transformed from discursive to noetic. A discussion, analysis, or reflection subsequent to such intuition is what I mean by recursive discourse. It is conducted discursively, but is based on intuitive insight, and involves feelings, imaginative anticipation, and senses of reverence. It is in these recursive moments that occur throughout Coleridge's writings and direct his discourse that his definitions, distinctions, and schemata can reflect the light of the idea beheld in an earlier but still illuminating contemplation.

¹⁶ I have attempted such a discussion of the hermeneutics of religious experience in my article ‘Religious Experience’. I do not wish to argue that noesis—or contemplation, positive reason in Coleridge’s human, ancillary sense—is only religious. ¹⁷ Notebooks, 5: §5495 f63 (April 1827). ¹⁸ Church and State, 12.

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