Francis Jeffrey, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, and contemporary criticism of William Wordsworth
The thesis examines Coleridge's criticism of Wordsworth in the Biographia Literaria in the context of the contemporary review reaction to Wordsworth's poetry and theory of poetic diction, concentrating throughout on Wordsworth's most representative and persistent critic, Francis Jeffrey. The thesis is divided into two sections, according to a distinction laid down in the opening pages of the Biographia. The first examines "the long continued controversy concerning the true nature of poetic diction", the second, "the real poetic character" of William Wordsworth. The first section, on "The Language of Poetry", opens with a discussion of the explicit and implicit aspirations of the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, relating them to the theory of mind and nature in Wordsworth's poetry, and to Wordsworth's poetic practice. Chapter Two discusses Coleridge's reading of the Preface, its misrepresentation of the Preface's basic assumptions, and the extent to which Coleridge assimilates many of the arguments of the contemporary reviewers, only to move beyond them. The second section, "The Poet, the People, and the Public", concentrates more closely on the criticism of Francis Jeffrey. Chapter Three deals, briefly, with the prejudices of Jeffrey's criticism - with the Edinburgh Review as an historical enterprise - and then, at length, with the principles of his criticism as revealed in his review of Archibald Alison's Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste and his reviews of other aesthetic, ethical, and philosophical writings. After establishing the critical ambiguity of Jeffrey's associationist aesthetic, Chapter Four moves to a comparison of Jeffrey's and Coleridge's criticism of Wordsworth, treating their similarities and differences on the subject of poetic sensibility and poetic genius. The final chapter, Chapter Five, looks at the social and political implications of Jeffrey's rejection of Wordsworth, interpreting that rejection as prophesying and enforcing the isolation of the poet from the public. Throughout, Coleridge's Biographia Literaria is seen as a coherent response to the contemporary reviewers generally, and, more specifically, to Francis Jeffrey's criticism of William Wordsworth.