What is the basic difference between the philosophies of Wordsworth and Coleridge?
The above question is in reference to a comparative crical study between Wordsworth's "Preface to Lyrical Ballads" and Coleridge's "Biographia Literaria."
The question of where Williams Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge differ in opinion on the correct understanding of poems and poetry as expressed in their respective writings Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1800) and Biographia Literaria (1817) is a complex one requiring a detailed answer.
In this forum, an overview is the only kind of answer possible, but it will lead you toward further research. Most of Coleridge's rebuttal to Wordsworth's Preface is in Chapters XVII and XVIII of Biographia, with definitions of poem and poetry in Chapter XIV.
Colridge's disagreements with Wordsworth lie in the following points.
(1) What constitutes the language of "real life."
(2) Whether the feelings of lesser educated farmers (of the 1700s) are more genuine than the feelings of people in the higher classes.
(3) Whether Aristotle's principles of poetry do or do not govern poems and poetry.
(4) What is to be done about language that is dull and garrulous in everyday conversation, which is still dull and garrulous in poems. Wordsworth cleans it up, so to speak; Coleridge says don't use it because it has to be cleaned up, which renders it the same as the language of higher classes.
(5) That Wordsworth's poetry about "low rustic" people, feelings, ideas disproves his own philosophic assertions because of (4).
(6) That rustics focus on facts while individuals at higher levels of education, work and experience focus on the connections between facts and the connection of facts to governing laws, hence focusing on a higher order of thought, ideas, language, conversation.
(7) These support Coleridge's chief point that there is a difference between the language of prose and poetry, while Wordsworth asserts that there is no difference.
Breaking with the earlier eighteenth century, which maintained that poetry should be rational and objective, Wordsworth's "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads" focused on the subjectivity of the individual. He writes, "Humble and rustic life was generally chosen, because, in that condition, the essential passions of the heart...speak a plainer and more emphatic language." He believed that feelings "coexist in a state of greater simplicity" than "rational thought. Thus, to Wordsworth it is a poet's duty to capture and express experience with authentic and internal force, "a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings with emotions recollected in tranquility."The poet should descend from his or her "supposed height" and "express himself as other men express themselves". This statement lies at the very essence of Wordsworth's theory of poetry.Notice, that in the preface to "Lyrical Ballads," there is not much about imagination.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge brought back the issue of imagination and fancy in his discussion of poetry in "Biographia Literaria." While to Wordsworth, imagination was something taken for granted, especially in poets, Coleridge, while agreeing with Wordswoth's premise, nevertheless, clarifies for himself what imagination was; what was the difference between imagination and fancy that the eighteenth century critics tended to merge together?
The Biographia Literaria was one of Coleridge's main critical studies. In this work, he discussed the elements of writing and what writing should be to be considered genius. The "Biographia" blends criticism of poetry with literary theory, philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and is full of discussions on politics, religion, social values and human identity.
Central to the Biographia Literaria," is his discussion of imagination and fancy.
Like Wordsworth, Coleridge, too, rejected that the mind was a tabula rasa on which external experiences and sense impressions were imprinted, stored, and recalled. Rather, he believed that imagination is innate. Coleridge divides the mind into imagination and fancy.
To Coleridge imagination was primary and secondary. Primary imagination, was the creative force behind perception itself; meaning, that there is nothing called objective perception. Perception, according to Coleridge, is essentially subjective. While the human being is finite, Coleridge maintained that the poet's creation of "I AM" is his or her expression of the infinite. What this means is, according to Coleridge, if we could remind ourselves of the "I AM," we can, through our writings, move gradually from the finite to the infinite.
FANCY, on the contrary, is much more limited. It comes from memory, according to Coleridge. When we free our memory from being to bound up with time and space, we are in the realm of fancy. Its provenance is memory and its interaction is through the association of ideas. Whereas imagination is active and dynamic, fancy is "passive and mechanical." Imagination, on the other hand, is "vital" and transformative, "a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation."e and inventive genius."
Frederick Engell, one of the two original Marxist's critics, has observed that Coleridge's division of the imagination into the "primary" and "secondary" draws a distinction between creative acts that are unconscious and those that are intentional and deliberate. Imagination works at the unconscious level, while fancy is willful and deliberate.
Before one can undertake a comparative study of these two poet's philosophies, their background and sentiments must be panoramically surveyed. However, due to time constraints, I will focus on the little that time permits me to.
Wordsworth writes in a subjective style. He examines his state of mind or consciousness before attempting to write a creative work. This is largely why he fell in love in nature and became a natureworshipper. He believes in a primodial relationship between the mind of man and the nature around him. Coleridge on the other hand is quite objective. His works arise out of the factual and biographical antecendence that surrounds his life.
Wordsworth's writings are highly sequential, logical and remain in a single thought form all thoughout his creative endeavors. Coleridge writes in fragments and he his unable to maintain a single thought probably due to his opium use which he is notorius for.
Wordsworth isnt rebelious in his writings. He seeks not to attack any person but to establish his own views while Coleridge in his 'Biographia Literaria', he dedicates some chapters just to rebel and criticize wordsworth's ideals.
Wordsworth establishes in his famous preface that there is no difference between the language of prose and poetry as they both one and the same thing while Coleridge differentiates these two concepts on the basis that poetry contains metre and rhyme while prose doesnot contain these.
Wordsworth in his preface believes that a real language that can communicate to the low, common or rustic people should be the language of poetry while Coleridge admonishes that there is no 'real' language as language differs based on education, culture, belief, etc, but that a 'lingua communis' should be used.
Wordsworth's famous preface can be regarded as the manifesto of romanticism because it echoes key feature inherent in the works of the romantics but Coleridge's Biographia Literaria is largely an autobiographical works which strayed from its immediate purpose along the course of the work.
Wordsworth believes that poetry should contain events from real, common and everyday life while Coleridge believes that this feature is too limiting.
Wordsworth believes that a poem should be spontaneous and that it should arise out of powerful emotions which are recollected in ecsatcy or tranquility while Coleridge believes that poetry deals with the communication of both truth and pleasure and that some poems may even lack pleasure and communicate only truth as in the case of Isaiah 1:1 which Coleridge tags as a poem.
Wordsworth believes the mind of man is capable of achieving ecstacy even without infuence drugs while Coleridge is notorius for his drug abuse and critics have even written that Coleridge was having an opium rush when he wrote his 'Biographia Literaria.' This assertion is evident on his illogicality in sequence and ideas all through the essay.
Wordsworth is a worshipper of nature to a dogmatic level in that he is so fanatic that he believes nature is his religion and that those who dont see the beauty of nature are as well as mundane. Coleridge, in as much as he admonishes the creative power of nature, he doesnt take it to a fanatical or a dogmatic level before of orphism which is evident on his catholicism.
Wordsworth admonishes simplicity of diction and style which is also evident of his famous preface but coleridge is known for his convuluted, esoteric and philosophical language in his biographia literaria.