Biographia Literaria Questions and Answers
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Comment on Coleridge as a critic based on his Biographia Literaria.

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One of the reasons why Coleridge's text on criticism is so famous is because he is able to show a shrewd understanding of the relative merits of various poets as he reflects on his own education and writings and how they differ from his famous friend and co-writer, William Wordsworth. Note, for example, in Part 1 of this text how Coleridge writes of the merits of Alexander Pope:

I saw that the excellence of this kind consisted in just and acute observations on men and manners in an artificial state of society as its matter and substance, and in the logic of wit conveyed in smooth and strong epigrammatic couplets as its form. Even when the subject was addressed tothe fancy or the intellect... still a point was looked for at the end of each second line...

Coleridge, both in this example and elsewhere, is able to not only express his high regard for Pope's work but also to elaborate and explain why it is that he thinks Pope's work is worthy of such merit and praise. Note that Coleridge refers to both content and form in this observation of Pope, and that he singles out the "strong epigrammatic couplets" as a particular strength in terms of how the "just and acute observations on men and manners" are packaged and delivered. Such astute reflections are a constant feature of Coleridge's criticism in this text, and reach their apex when he elaborates on the differences between his own work and aproach to literature and that of Wordsworth. This text was originally conceived when Coleridge detected, between Wordsworth and himself, a "radical difference in our theoretical opinions respecting poetry,"  and the section where he explores this "radical difference" is recognised as being very subtly argued and well presented. Coleridge therefore distinguishes himself very well as a critic in this text.

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