Discuss Samuel Coleridge as a literary critic.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Coleridge's great contributions to literary criticism were his lectures on poetry and Shakespeare, given after leaving the Lake District and staying in Italy, and his response to Wordsworth's dissertation in Lyrical Ballads, in which some of Coleridge's poem's are published. As to Coleridge's lectures on Shakespeare, some critics contend that his reputation as England's premier critic lies with his criticism of Shakespeare's works.

Other critics give equal place to Biographia Literaria (1817) in which he expresses his criticism of Wordsworth's work and clarifies (1) how Lyrical Ballads (1800) came to be; (2) where he and Wordsworth differ on "common language" and (3) his critique of the concept of "common language;" (4) his idea of poetry with metaphysical meaning underlying the poetry of words, which he states is different from poetry containing a moral.

To briefly elaborate on an important point, Coleridge contends in Biographia Literaria that writing poetry in the common language of low class people cannot ever be accomplished in the way that Wordsworth asserts--and indeed had not been accomplished. Coleridge gives numerous examples from Lyrical Ballads of verses in which Wordsworth's superior language and command of poetic diction (high poetic language) paraphrases the speech of the low class subjects of his poetry couching the "common language" in a bed of elevated language modified by an elevated understanding to render common language palatable, musical and poetical.