Aesthetic Realism Consultant Nancy Huntting

Sara Coleridge (1802-1852), daughter of Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Sara Coleridge

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

Part IV. "What Was He to Himself?"

In Eli Siegel's poem "Ralph Isham, 1753 and Later" there is the question, "What was he to himself?"  I think this is one of the greatest, kindest lines of poetry, and I believe in the history of good will between people they are among the most powerful words ever written.  It was when I was asked, in an Aesthetic Realism consultation, about my father, "What did he have most against himself?" that I began to feel I could know him—the feelings inside, which I hadn't granted existence.  Pain in families will end when people ask and try to answer this question.

Jane Marston studies Aesthetic Realism in consultations, and it was clear from her first consulta­tion the person she was angriest with was her father.  She was raised mostly by her mother, she said; when she was a girl, her father left her mother for another woman.  When we asked what she thought her father felt at that time, she was short and uncomfor­table in her answer.  "I saw he was guilty and angry," she said.

We asked: "Do you see your father's feelings as real?  Do you think if he felt he was wrong, and felt guilty, against himself, that you should respect that?"

Jane Marston: Yes, that's true.  Mostly I think of his anger.

We asked Miss Marston to write a monologue of her father at the age of 18, and try to think what his hopes and his fears were then.  She brought the monologue to her next consultation, and read what she had written about her father's thoughts as he dressed to go to a dance:

My jacket is too short...I want to belong...The guys like my sense of humor—girls like it when I goof around, but I hate being something I'm not.  And I don't even know who I am.

"Do you think your father is still trying to know who he is?" we asked.  "Do you think you have given men the right to have a question about who they are...this enormous question that you know you have?"  "Not enough," Miss Marston answered.

Consultants.    Do you think your father, now, is for himself or against himself?

Jane Marston.    I don't know him that well—it's probably a combination.

Consultants.   Do you want him to think more of himself, or less of himself?

Jane Marston: I want him to think more of himself.

"Do you think you've used your father and the pain you saw your mother have," we asked, "to keep your distance from the world?"  Yes, she said. 

We asked how she felt writing the monologue.  "I feel better," she said.

Consultants: Do you feel proud? To write [this way] about your father is a major event in your life, because you tried to think about the insides of a person you used to hate the world. You're going to give the world a second chance.”

V. Good Will Has Lasting Power

Sara Coleridge did have a hard time because the father whose warmth of heart she truly loved and respected so much, also wanted to forget the persons who meant the most to him.  I believe the way Sara Coleridge had resentment about her father's absence had to do with the difficulty sleeping and ill health that plagued her from early childhood, and her death after a long illness at the age of 49. But her life has deep value because in such a large way she did try to understand her father and what he went through.
Toward the conclusion of her introduction she asks for honesty from the critics. I am impelled to say, this is what Eli Siegel has been denied by the press and literary world:

I have endeavored to give the genuine impressions of my mind respecting [my father], believing that if reporters will but be honest, and study to say that and that alone, which they really think and feel, the color, which their opinions and feelings may cast upon the subject they have to treat of, will not finally obscure the truth.

Commented Mr. Siegel:

What Ms. Coleridge is saying here is that you need to have good will to be a critic. The critic always has to hope that he meet something good. At the same time, in order to be just to your hope, you have to make sure you don't want to be deceived.

In a letter she wrote to her husband, Mr. Siegel said, is her greatest writing: "She is saying in a sweet way, that once there has been good will for a person, love that is honest, it can be seen as part of the permanent being of the world, and can't be destroyed." Sara Coleridge writes:

Will death at one blow crush into endless ruin all our mental growths as an autumnal tempest prostrates the frail summer-house...? Surely there will be a second spring when these firm and profuse growths shall flourish again.... how utterly impossible it is to reconcile the mind to the prospect of the extinction of our earthly affections...

Mr. Siegel explained:

If it's honest love, it's immortal, you cannot feel it otherwise....There is a notion that if the world ever comes to something honest, honest, honest, honest, honest, it couldn't let it die. In the largest sense honesty is the beauty of beauty itself. The more it's honest and beautiful, the more it has to be immortal. This is what Sara Coleridge is dealing with.

This is about the power a woman hopes to have. Eli Siegel wanted to see the value of persons of the past, in this instance a woman so unknown, and made it possible for us, of the present, to understand ourselves.

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