Analysis and Review

The book’s 24 chapters constitute a narrative of Coleridge’s literary life spanning approximately two decades--from the publication of his first book of poems at age 24 through his mid-forties. But the narrative, as Coleridge admits, serves only to give continuity to a statement of his views on a variety of subjects.

Central to his critical thought is his theory of imagination. Drawing on the German philosopher Kant’s distinction between understanding and reason, Coleridge distinguishes between fancy and imagination. Fancy is a mechanical human faculty, the ability to manipulate sensory data, to categorize and generalize about the natural world. Imagination is organic, a “synthetic and magical power” which can predetermine and transfigure sensory data, and give us knowledge of ultimate truths.

Of greatest interest and continuing importance are four chapters. Chapter 4 discusses Coleridge’s relationship with Wordsworth and their publication of the Lyrical Ballads, which initiated the Romantic movement in England. The chapter concludes with a distinction between fancy and imagination, which is further developed in chapter 13. Chapter 14 returns to the Lyrical Ballads and ends with philosophical definitions of a poem and of poetry, and chapter 18 explains the difference between poetry and prose.

Coleridge’s distinction between scientific and poetic discourse, his view of the organic unity of a work of art, and especially...

(The entire section is 462 words.)