Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, by Charles Robert Leslie
  Samuel  Taylor Coleridge

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Aesthetic Realism Seminar  "Is Good Will Our Greatest Power?"
Given at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation, New York


Part II. Thought About a Father

Sara Coleridge had a father who, as Eli Siegel once described Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "was a force for beauty in England."  He wrote some of the greatest poetry in the English language, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," "Christabel," "Kubla Khan"; he dealt with some of the largest subjects in the world so importantly, philosophy, religion, and especially, poetry and the poetic imagination. And too, there was, as Mr. Siegel put it, exactly and respectfully, his "wish to get away from the world through using laudanum, after seeing that it had alleviated his pain."

Sara Coleridge felt deeply hurt, Mr. Siegel showed, because of her father's absence from home—he never formally separated from his wife, but travelled and lived with friends.  "There was a constant feeling in Sara Coleridge," said Mr. Siegel, that she and her father had been unjustly separated and while she tried to understand it, she also was angry."  No one has understood this important relation of a father and daughter as Eli Siegel did.  Mr. Siegel explained: 

When Samuel Taylor Coleridge gave attention it was real attention, it was sincere, but he forgot he gave it...What I imagine is that he was so concerned with thoughts of his, that he wasn't too interested in his youngest daughter.  So we have a father deeply affecting a daughter and getting away from her too easily...What's a daughter to do with that?  That she succumbed to anger and bad imagination there I feel is true.

But also, Mr. Siegel continued,

From what I know of Sara Coleridge's life, she had a great desire to make sense of her father.  It is one of the greatest daughter-father hopes.

Thirteen years after Samuel Taylor Coleridge's death, Sara Coleridge wrote an introduction and editorial notes for an 1847 edition of her father's Biographia Literaria.  In this historic work are passages by Coleridge that, Mr. Siegel said, "are as near as English literature had gotten to saying poetry was the oneness of opposites."  The power that is in poetry and all art, Eli Siegel was the first person to explain, is the power we want in our lives all the time—the oneness of opposites.
 
Sara Coleridge's introduction is 140 pages long, and it is powerful—I have never read anything by a daughter of a father like it. Mr. Siegel said that Coleridge "couldn't get away from the idea that he had sinned," and "I think if Coleridge had seen how his daughter wanted to see him [in her introduction], he would have gotten more of the feeling that he was redeemed."  I was moved by this statement of Sara Coleridge:

Of this I am sure, that no one ever studied my Father's writings earnestly and so as to imbibe the author's spirit, who did not learn to care still more for Truth.

III. Good Will Is the Oneness of Kindness and Criticism

Good will is the one purpose that makes our minds work well. "Good will is the deepest instinct," Mr. Siegel explained, "and the highest point in intellect in a person." He writes in TRO 71, "Good Will Is Waiting":

One definition of good will is the oneness of kindness and criticism in a person's mind.


Sara Coleridge's introduction is a oneness of kindness and critical exactness. Coleridge has passages in the Biographia Literaria which are his translations from the German philosopher Schelling—but some are not quoted as such and appear as if they are part of his own thought. An article in Blackwood's magazine in 1840 charged him with defrauding Schelling of his due, and though the author admits he does not believe there was intentional plagiarism, he writes anyway as if Coleridge were, as Sara Coleridge describes it, an "artful purloiner and selfish plunderer."

Sara Coleridge did the work to find and footnote the origin of these passages in the German; she was learned, and Mr. Siegel says, "she was a sleuth."  She is passionate and exact as she explains though there is criticism of her father as to how the uncredited passages came to be, Coleridge describes his debt to the work of Schelling in the Biographia Literaria, and in fact did a great deal to have Schelling valued truly.

She quotes her late husband, Coleridge's literary executor, who said of Coleridge, "in thinking passionately of the principle, he forgot the authorship." And she says: “.…no attempt is here made to justify my Father's literary omissions and inaccuracies....I would only maintain that this fault has not been fairly reported or becomingly commented upon.”

Sara Coleridge is seeing something crucial in good will—that there were two distinct things working in her father, and both need to be seen exactly, not one used to obliterate the other, which is ill will, and what most people do.  She continues, "Marked gifts are often attended by marked deficiencies."  She is passionate about not letting people use the faults they find in Coleridge to lessen what was sincerely good and great.
     
     In his lecture, Eli Siegel read this important passage she writes about her father:

His heart was as warm as his intellectual being was lifesome and active,—nay it was from warmth of heart and keenness of feeling that his imagination derived its glow and vivacity, the condition of the latter, at least, was intimately connected with that of the former.

"This will be the keynote of criticism in the future," said Mr. Siegel, "kindness and love will be seen more valuably one with keenness and intellect." 
 
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