Discuss the relative merits and weaknesses of Coleridge's Biographia Literaria.
This important work of criticism has been singled out in terms of its importance in marking the Romantic literary age. In it, Coleridge seeks to explore how the concept of literature has changed and developed over time and to place it very firmly in the context of the present. Critics have identified his section in which he attacks Wordsworth's Preface to the Lyrical Ballads and then goes on to extol the virtues of the poems themselves as one of the high points in English literature. In particular, Coleridge's work has been distinguished in the way in which it focuses on the psychology of the creative process, an its discussion of such terms as fancy and imagination.
However, at the same time, critics have questioned the usefulness of some of Coleridge's points, and the rather vague and nebulous way in which he tries to prove his arguments in places. One example would be the difference Coleridge attempts to establish a difference between poem and poetry. Note the following quote:
In short, whatever specific import we attach to the word poetry, there will be found involved in it, as a necessary consequence, that a poem of any length neither can be, nor ought to be, all poetry. Yet if a harmonious whole is to be produced, the remaining parts must be preserved in keeping with the poetry...
Critics have argued that such an attempt to distinguish between poem and poetry actually adds little to his argument and his view of literature and creates an unhelpful layer of complexity. However, overall, in spite of such trifling weaknesses, it is generally accepted that this work of literary criticism has very importantly shaped the understanding of Romanticism.