COLERIDGE---LIFE, AND LITERARY THEORY: BIOGRAPHIA LITERARIA
THE HORRORS OF DRUG ADDICTION:
Anyone who believes that taking drugs offers a "short-cut, quick-fix" ticket to happiness might consider their effects on the lives of Coleridge and another Romantic writer quoted below, DeQuincy. Since Coleridge's addiction to opium is probably the best known fact about his life, we will put that addiction in context and explore its effect on his brain.
It should be noted that the effects of drugs on the brain were not fully understood in the 19th century, and often opium, sometimes given with alcohol, (called laudanum) were given as routinely as we take aspirin today.
DeQuincy, T. Confessions of an English Opium Eater. New York: New American Library, 1966.
Untermeyer, L. Lives of The Poets. N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1959.
Watters, Reginald. Coleridge. London: Evans Brothers, 1971.
1. Had an incredible imagination, but most of the work he started in his life was left unfinished.
2. He was the last of 13 children, and resented being the last child--[neglected?] Once in a rage, he attacked one of his brothers with a knife. Ran away, stayed outside and caught a fever which left him ill for the rest of his life. A letter recalls the details:
I had asked my Mother one evening to cut my cheese entire, so that I might toast it: this was no easy matter, it being a crumbly cheese--My mother however did it--I went into the garden for some thing or other, and in the mean time my brother Frank minced my cheese,'to disappoint the favorite'. I returned, saw the exploit, and in an agony of passion flew at Frank--he pretended to have been seriously hurt by my blow, flung: himself on the ground, and there lay with outstretched limbs hung over him moaning & in a great fright--he leaped up, and with a horse-laugh gave me a severe blow in the face--I seized a knife, and was running at him, when my Mother came in & took me by the arm--I expected a flogging-& struggling from her I ran away, to a hill at the bottom of which the Otter flows--about one mile from Ottery.--There I stayed; my rage died away; but my obstinacy vanquished my fears--& taking out a little shilling Look which had, at the end, morning & evening prayers, I very devoutly repeated them-- thinking at the same time with inward & gloomy satisfaction, how miserable my Mother must be !--I distinctly remember my feelings when I saw a Mr. Vaughan pass over the Bridge, at about a furlong's distance--and how I watched the Calves in the fields beyond the river. It grew dark--So I fell asleep--it was towards the latter end of October--& it proved a dreadfully stormy night--I felt the cold in my sleep, and dreamt that I was pulling the blanket over me, So actually pulled over me a dry thorn bush, which lay on the hill--in my sleep I had rolled from the top of thc hill to within three yards of the river, which flowed by the unfenced edge of the bottom.--I awoke several times, and finding myself wet and stiff, and cold, closed my eyes again that I might forget it.
[He was found ill next day. A neighbor observed...]
in rushed a young Lady, crying out--'I hope you'll whip him, Mrs.Coleridge...neither Philosophy or Religion have been able to conquer the antipathy which I feel towards her, whenever I see her.
[from: Coleridge by Reginald Watters. London: Evans Brothers, 1971., pp. 9-10]
3. Spent most of his youth alone, reading, and due to illness was not good at sports and was tormented.
4. When his father died, he was put in a state school [he was nine] where the conditions were brutal, which forced him more and more to retreat into a fantasy word of his own making--daydreaming etc. "..read, read, read..." he put it. He did not seem to have a close relationship with his mother.
5. A teacher named Boyer took an interest in him, and forced him out of his shell, doing among other things giving him a feeling for religion emotionally, if not rationally. He became a very conservative Anglican.
6. Physically, he was not attractive; he said: "I have the brow of an angel...and the mouth of a beast."
7. Fell in love with the sister of a school friend, Mary Evans.
8. Planned at one time to be a doctor like one of his brothers; read a lot of medical books that only served to give him a sense of hypochondria. Entered College at 19 on a scholarship. He worked off and on at school, doing well but not staying put; started to take drugs for his illnesses; ran up a considerable debt, tried to commit suicide, but was rescued by his family. Enlisted for a time in the army--not successful. Even tried teaching!
9. While still in love with Mary Evan who turned him down, he out of a promise "from principle, not feeling" married Sara Fricker whose sister was married to poet friend of his. This marriage was not a happy one: "but to marry a woman I do not love--to degrade her, whom I call my Wife, by making her the Instrument of low Desire--and on the removal of a desultory Appetite, to be perhaps not displeased with her Absence!--enough. These Refinements are the wildering Fires, that lead me into Vice. Mark you, Southey--I will do my duty"
[from: Coleridge by Reginald Watters. London: Evans Brothers, 1971., pp.19]
10. His home life was very unhappy, his physical and mental afflictions increased as did his use of drugs.
11. He met Wordsworth in 1797, and saw him as the greatest English poet, something Wordsworth was all to willing to accept. He and Wordsworth collaborated on the LYRICAL BALLADS published in 1798. It was the Preface to the 1800 edition by Wordsworth that you read parts of. It was agreed that Wordsworth would write about ordinary life, while Coleridge would address the supernatural as in KUBLA KHAN and ANCIENT MARINER.
12. Coleridge worked sporadically, and for a while considered becoming a minister, but in 1798, he went to Germany with Wordsworth, where he studied German philosophy, which influenced his own literary theories.
13. Back in England, the Coleridge's lived near the Wordsworths, and Coleridge fell in love with Sara Hutchinson, the sister of Wordsworth's wife, Mary. They became intimate friends in every way but one, and Coleridge looked to her for the comfort he did not get from his own wife who regarded him as a failure.
14. As his drug use increased, he stopped working, gradually drifted away from his family and the Wordsworth's, and finally went to London, never to return. He talked incessantly: " the stimulus of conversation suspends the terror that haunts my mind." One biographer said, "He enjoyed nothing, but he endured."
15. The last 18 years of his life were somewhat better. A Dr. James Gillman brought his addiction under control, and two of his four children had become fairly successful poets. Before his death in 1834, he had established himself as a poet and critic.
Excerpts from BIOGRAPHIA LITERARIA are below...
COLERIDGE AND ADDICTION:
THOMAS DEQUINCY WAS a friend of Coleridge and Wordsworth. His brilliant career as a writer was ruined by his drug habit, to which he became addicted to cure pain from a stomach problem. His CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM EATER (1821) is still a horrifyingly accurate insight into what drugs can do to the mind and body.
How came any reasonable being to subject himself to such a yoke of misery, voluntarily to incur a captivity so servile, and knowingly to fetter himself with such a sevenfold chain?
It was not for the purpose of creating pleasure but of mitigating pain in the severest degree that I first began go use opium as an article of daily diet. In the twenty-eights year of my age, a most painful affliction of the stomach which I had first experienced about ten years before, attacked me in great strength.
I took it in an hour--oh heavens, what a revulsion. What an upheaving, form its lowest depths of the inner spirit! What an apocalypse of the world within me. That my pains had vanished was not a trifle in my eyes. This negative effect was swallowed up in the immensity of those positive effects which had opened before me in the abyss of divine enjoyment, thus suddenly revealed. Here was a panacea, a utopia for all human woes. He was the secret of happiness about which philosophers have disputed for so many ages at once discovered; happiness might now be bought for a penny, are carried in the pocket; portable ecstasies might be had, corked up in a pint bottle and peace of mind...
BUT NOW FAREWELL, A LONG FAREWELL TO HAPPINESS. FAREWELL TO HAPPINESS, FAREWELL TO SMILES AND LAUGHTER, FAREWELL TO PEACE OF MIND:
Farewell to hope and to tranquil dreams and to the blessed consolations of sleep. For more than three years and a half, I am summoned away from these, and I am now arrived at an Iliad of woes, for I now have to record: BUT FOR MISERY AND SUFFERING, I might indeed be said to have existed in a dormant state. I seldom could prevail on my self to write a letter...an answer of a few words to any that I received was the utmost I could accomplish and often that not until the letter had lain weeks or even months on my desk. My whole domestic life whatsoever...must have gone into irretrievable confusion. I shall not afterwards allude to this part of the case, it is one, how- ever, which the opium taker will find, in the end, as oppressive and tormenting as any other, from the sense of incapacity and feebleness, from the direct embarrassment incident to the neglect or procrastination of each day's appropriate duties, and from the remorse which must often exasperate the stings of those evils to a reflective and conscientious mind. The opium- taker loses none of his moral sensibilities or aspirations; he wishes and longs as earnestly as ever to realize what he believes possible and feels to be exacted by duty, but his intellectual apprehension of what is possible in- finitely outruns his power, not of execution only, but even of power to attempt. He lies under the weight of...nightmare, he lies in sight of all he would hope to perform. Just as a man forcibly confined to his bed by the mortal languor of a relaxing disease, who is compelled to witness injury or outrage offered to some object of his tenderest love, he curses the spells which chain him down from motion; he would lay down his life he might but get up and walk, but he is as powerless as an infant...
I now pass to what is the main subject of these confessions to the history and journal of what took place in my dreams for these were the immediate and proximate cause of my acutest sufferings:
The first notice I had of any important change going on in this part of my physical economy was from the reawaking of state of eye [mental / imaginative awareness] generally incident to childhood or exalted states of irritability. I known not whether my reader is aware that many children, perhaps most, have a power of painting, as it were, upon the darkness, all sorts of phantoms. In some that power is simply a mechanic affection of the eye [ the ability of the mind to make mental images]... others have a voluntary or semivoluntary power to dismiss or summon them, or, as a child once said to me when I questioned him on this matter, "I can tell them to go, and they go; but sometimes they come when I don't tell them to come." Whereupon I told him that he had almost as unlimited a command over apparitions as a Roman centurion over his soldiers. In the middle of 1817 I think it was that this faculty became positively distressing to me: at night, when I lay awake in bed, vast processions passed along in mournful pomp, friezes of never-ending stories that to my feelings were as sad and solemn as if they were stories drawn from times before Oedipus or Priam, before Tyre, before Memphis. And, at the same time, a corresponding change took place in my dreams; a theater seemed suddenly opened and lighted up within my brain, which presented, nightly, spectacles of more than earthly splendor.
And the four following facts may be mentioned as noticeable at this time:
1. That, as the creative state of the eye increased, a sympathy seemed to arise between the waking and the dreaming states of the brain in one point- -that whatsoever I happened to call up and to trace by a voluntary act upon the darkness was very apt to transfer itself to my dreams, so that I feared to exercise this faculty, for as Midas turned all things to gold, that yet baffled his hopes and defrauded his human desires, so whatsoever things capable of being visually represented I did but think of in the darkness immediately , shaped themselves into phantoms of the eye; and by a process I apparently no less inevitable, when thus once traced in faint and visionary colors, like writings in sympathetic ink, they were drawn out by the fierce chemistry of my dreams into insufferable splendor that fretted my heart.
2. For this, and all other changes in my dreams, were accompanied by deep- seated anxiety and gloomy melancholy, such as are wholly incommunicable by words. I seemed every night to descend--not metaphorically, but literally to 1 descend-into chasms and sunless abysses, depths below depths, from which it seemed hopeless that I could ever reascend. Nor did I, by waking, feel that I had reascended. This I do not dwell upon, because the state of gloom which attended these gorgeous spectacles, amounting at least to utter darkness, as of some suicidal despondency, cannot be approached by words.
3. The sense of space, and in the end, the sense of time, were both powerfully affected. Buildings, landscapes, etc. were exhibited in proportion so vast as the bodily eye is not fitted to receive. Space swelled and was amplified to an extent of unutterable infinity. This, however, did not disturb me so much as the vast expansion of time. I sometimes seemed to have lived for seventy or one hundred years in one night, nay, sometimes had feelings representative of a millennium passed in that time, or however, of a duration far beyond the limits of any human experience.
4. The minutest incidents of childhood or forgotten scenes of later year were often revived. I could not be said to recollect, for if I had been told of them when waking, I should not have been able to acknowledge them as parts of my past experiences. But placed as the were before me, in dreams like intuitions, and clothed in all their evanescent circumstances and accompanying feelings, I recognized them instantaneously.
THESE ARE THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THE COMPOSITION OF KUBLA KHAN:
KUBLA KHAN IS IN THE TEXTBOOK. READ IT, AND NOTE THE FOLLOWING SPECIFICS CONCERNING COLERIDGE, OPIUM AND THE POEM'S COMPOSITION:
"Opium never used to have any disagreeable effects on me." (prescribed at school when C. was 19)
"I have been obliged. to take laudanum almost every night." (in response to personal and professional tragedies)
Coleridge writes of being "...under the immediate inspiration of laudanum." (25 drops every 5 hours.)
"I gasped and reeled with dread. And ever when the dream of night renews the phantam to my sight, cold sweat drops gather on my limbs, my ears throb hot, my eyeballs start my brain with horrid tumult swims, wild is the tempest of my heart and my thick and struggling breath imitates the toil of death. No stranger agony confronts the soldier on the war-filled spread when all foredone with toil and wounds, death-like he dozes among heaps of dead. The strife is over, the daylight fled, and the night-wind clamours hoarse. See the startling wretches' head lies pillowed on a brother's corpse."
laudanum gave me repose..." (At this time the addiction was fairly strong)
Laudanum gave me repose; not sleep; but you, I believe, know how divine that repose is, what a spot of enchantment a green spot of fountain and flowers and trees." (C. had taken drug for a toothache)
CRITICS BELIEVE THAT "KUBLA KHAN" WAS COMPOSED IN THE SUMMER OF 1798, JUST AFTER THE (INITIAL DRAFT) OF "ANCIENT MARINER."
DeQuincy notes that opium "gives and takes away. It defeats the steady habit of exertion; but it creates spasms of irregular exertion...it develops intermitting power." Another critic said, "For superb, unwavering imaginative control is the very essence of "Ancient Mariner." The theory is then the KK was probably composed under opium's influence, but AM was not due to its length, structure, plot and the sustained imaginative effort need to write it.
IN 1803, COLERIDGE WROTE A POEM CALLED THE "PAINS OF SLEEP" WHICH TODAY IS TAKEN TO BE A DESCRIPTION OF THE WITHDRAW SYMPTOMS FROM OPIUM...
[Coleridge included a draft of this poem in a letter to a poet friend of his. The letter, dated September 11, 1803, said, "...my spirits are dreadful, owing entirely to the horrors of every night--I truly dread to sleep. It is no shadow with me, but substantial Misery, foot-thick, that makes me sit by my bedside...and cry--I have abandoned all opiates except Ether be one, and that only in fits...."
There on my bed my limbs I lay,
It hath not been my use to pray
With moving lips or bended knees;
But silently, by slow degrees,
My spirit I to Love compose,
In humble trust mine eye-lids close,
With reverential resignation,
No wish conceived, no thought exprest,
Only a sense of supplication;
A sense o'er all my soul imprest
That I am weak, yet not unblest,
Since in me, round me, every where
Eternal Strength and Wisdom are.
But yester-night I prayed aloud
In anguish and in agony.,
Upstarting from the fiendish crowd
Of shapes and thoughts that tortured me:
A lurid light, a trampling throng,
Sense of intolerable wrong,
And whom I scorned, those only strong!
Thirst of revenge, the powerless will
Still baffled, and yet burning still !
Desire with loathing strangely mixed,
On wild or hateful objects fixed.
Fantastic passions! maddening brawl!
And shame and terror over all!
Deeds to be hid which were not hid,
Which all confused I could not know
Whether I suffered, or I did:
For all seemed guilt, remorse or woe,
My own or others still the same
Life-stifling fear, soul-stifling shame.
So two nights passed: the night's dismay
Saddened and stunned the coming day.
Sleep, the wide blessing, seemed to me
Distemper's worst calamity.
The third night, when my own loud scream
Had waked me from the fiendish dream.
O'ercome with sufferings strange and wild.
I wept as I had been a child;
And having thus by tears subdued
My anguish to a milder mood,
Such punishments, I said, were due
To natures deepliest stained with sin,--
For aye entempesting anew
The unfathomable hell within,
The horror of their deeds to view,
To know and loathe, yet wish and do!
Such griefs with such men will agree,
But wherefore, wherefore fall on me?
To be beloved is all I need,
And whom I love, I love indeed.
COLERIDGE'S LITERARY THEORIES ON THE IMAGINATION:
The imagination then I consider either as primary or secondary. The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will; yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate...it struggles to idealize and unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects are essentially fixed and dead.
THE LYRICAL BALLADS:
It was agreed that my endeavors should be directed to persons and characters supernatural or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, that constitutes poetic faith.
The office of philosophical disquisition consists in just distinction...In order to obtain adequate notions of any truth, we must intellectually separate its distinguishable parts, and this is the technical process of philosophy. But having done so, we must then restore our conceptions to the unity in which the actually co-exist, and this is the result of philosophy. A poem contains the same elements as a prose composition; the difference therefore must consist in a different application of them...the immediate purpose may be the communication of truths...pleasure and that of the highest and most permanent kind may result from the attainment of the end; but it is not itself the immediate end. In other words, the communication of pleasure may be the immediate purpose, and though truth, either moral or intellectual, ought to be the ultimate end; yet this will distinguish the character of the author...A poem is that species of composition which is opposed to works of science by proposing for its immediate object pleasure, not truth, and from all other species it is discriminated by proposing to itself such delight from the whole as is compatible with a distinct gratification from each component part. My own conclusions on the nature of poetry have been in part anticipated in the preceding discussion on the fancy and imagination. What is poetry? ...is so nearly the same question with "What is a poet?" The answer to the one is involved in the solution of the other. For it is a distinction resulting from the poetic genius itself, which sustains and modifies the images, thoughts and emotions of the poet's own mind. The poet, described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone and spirit of unity that blends and fuses by that synthetic and magical power, the imagination. This power put into action by the will and understanding...reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities.
MECHANIC AND ORGANIC FORM:
Poetry must act creatively under laws of its own origination...the form is mechanic when on any given material, we impress a predetermined form, not necessarily arising out of the properties of the material, as when to a mass of wet clay we give whatever shape we wish it to retain when it hardened. The organic form, on the other hand, is innate; it shapes as it develops itself from within, and the fullness of its development is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form. Such is the life, and such is the form.
TO UNDERSTAND THE ABOVE, FILL IN THE CHART WHICH APPLIES COLERIDGE'S HIERARCHY OF "KNOWLEDGE" TO HIS POEM, KUBLA KHAN:
For each of the following "levels" of knowledge in the hierarchy, find an example in Kubla Khan:
4. Primary /secondary imagination--see above for definition
3. Reason-conceptual thinking
2. Understanding-science / integrates sense data (fancy)-NOTE: there is a difference here between Coleridge's and Wordsworth's use of "fancy"
1. Sense data-five senses
GENERAL GUIDES TO LITERATURE, CHRONOLOGIES, SOCIAL AND POLITICAL PHILOSOPHIES, AND SCRIPTURAL/THEOLOGICAL REFERENCES CURRICULUM LINKS
THE ROMANTIC PERIOD CURRICULUM LINKS