Page images
[blocks in formation]

Of late years the works of Mr Coleridge, both in prose and verse, have been continually gaining upon public notice, and now enjoy, we believe, a pretty extensive popularity. Most of them have been reprinted since his death, and several volumes of posthumous miscellanies have been added to their number.

Their celebrity being thus established, and on the daily increase, we think it not improbable that his Biographia Literaria (one of his principal works, and one which has been long out of print) may likewise be re-issued before long by some enterprising bookseller. But at the same time we think it would be highly discreditable to the literature of the country, if any reprint of that work were allowed to go abroad, without embodying some accurate notice and admission of the very large and unacknowledged appropriations it contains from the writings of the great German philosopher Schelling. Partly, therefore, for the sake of any future editor or publisher who may choose to profit by our animadversions, and partly because we think the case can hardly fail to be a matter of some interest to the general reader, as disclosing a curious page in the history of literature, we propose to do our best to supply the requisite information on this subject-tracing Coleridge's plagiarisms to their true sources, fixing their precise amount, or nearly so, (as far, at least, as Schelling is concerned,) and arguing the whole question on its

broadest grounds, both literary an moral.

We are aware that this subject is not now broached for the first time. It was mooted some years ago in Tait's Magazine, (September 1834,) and in the British Magazine, (January 1835,) Mr De Quincy appearing in the former for the prosecution, and Mr J. C. Hare in the latter for the defence.

But on both sides the case was very badly conducted; indeed we may say it was altogether bungled. Neither party appears to have possessed a competent knowledge of the facts; and the question was not fairly and fully argued on the grounds either of its condemning or justifying circumstances. The Opium- Eater was evidently ignorant of the extent to which Coleridge's plagiarisms from Schelling had been carried; and therefore, with all his willingness, he was not in a position to press the charge very far or very successfully. But besides this, even in the one great instance in which he convicts Coleridge, losing sight of his usual extreme accuracy, he not only does not lead us to the right work of Schelling from which the "borrowed plumes" are taken; but he refers us to a work which, under the title he gives it, is not to be found in the list of the German philosopher's publications. As the source of Coleridge's plagiarisms, his accuser refers the inquisitive reader to a work which never existed!* This, it must be admitted, is not a very sa

* Instead of calling the work of Schelling, which he has in his mind's eye, by its right name, Philosophische Schriften, he calls it his Kleine Philosophische Werke. We


tisfactory way of conducting a discussion, or of throwing light upon a doubtful matter; and therefore, so far as the Opium-Eater's side of the controversy is concerned, he will excuse us for saying that he has left the question as much in the dark as ever, or rather involved in greater confusion and obscurity than before.

Neither is Mr Hare's side of the question a bit better managed. He likewise is either ignorant of the amount to which Coleridge was indebted to Schelling, or else he does not choose to speak out. He talks of Coleridge having transferred into his work "half-a-dozen pages," or little more, of Schelling. By our Lady! they are nearer twenty. He brings forward what he conceives to be the triumphantly exculpatory circumstances of the case, as they are to be found in the Biographia Literaria itself; but he evidently sees through them as little as though they had been so many milestones, and the inferences he draws from them appear to us to be very shallow and very questionable. The reader shall be able to judge of this for himself by-and-by. And, lastly, the great body of his defence consists of recriminations against Mr De Quincy for having been the first to bring the charge of plagiarism against a man who had been his friend, and whom he admired so much-as if the Opium-Eater's delinquency in this respect, admitting it to have been which we do not-the blackest ever committed under heaven, were any exculpation of Coleridge, or had any thing whatever to do with the merits of the case. We think, therefore, that the whole question requires to be revised, and that some attempt ought to be made to bring out its details with the justice and accuracy befitting a literature which does not choose to close its eyes, and have foreign productions palmed off upon it as the indigenous growth of its own soil.

In bringing this matter before the public, we have no fear that the read

ers of this Magazine will suppose us actuated by a desire to detract from the merits, or to affix a stigma upon the memory, of Mr Coleridge. The high terms in which he has been spoken of all along throughout our pages, and the exalted rank assigned therein to his genius, will secure us, we should hope, against any such imputation. We are extremely unwilling to hold him guilty of any direct and intentional literary dishonesty; but it is only when we take into consideration what we believe to have been his very peculiar idiosyncrasy, that we are able to attribute to some strange intellectual hallucination a practice, which, in the case of any other man, we should have called by the stronger name of a gross moral misdemeanour. But, be that as it may, we are not going to sacrifice what we conceive to be truth and justice out of regard to the genius of any man, however high it may have been, or to the memory of any man, however illustrious and apparently unsullied it may be. Fair play is a jewel: and we think it our duty to see fair play upon all sides; and, if our admiration of Coleridge has whispered in our ear to keep this disclosure back, our admiration of Schelling (which we admit to be greater than that which we feel for Coleridge) was ever at hand, appealing to our conscience with a still louder voice to bring it forward, and to do justice to the claims of foreign philosophy and of individual genius, by showing that one of the most distinguished English authors of the nineteenth century, at the mature age of forty-five, succeeded in founding by far the greater part of his metaphysical reputation-which was very considerable upon verbatim plagiarisms from works written and published by a German youth,* when little more than twenty years of age!

We start, then, by supposing it admitted (as it must be) that Coleridge, in his Biographia Literaria, borrowed to a certain extent from Schelling, without making any specific acknow

admit he tells us that he is drawing upon his memory or his belief. But he ought not to have done so; for in a case of this kind nothing can be tolerated short of the most scrupulous accuracy. Besides, the passage he refers to is not contained even in the Phil. Schrift.; it occurs in Schelling's System des Transcendentalen Idealismus.

Schelling was born in 1775. The one of his works which Coleridge unmercifully rifles was written in 1796-97, (Phil. Schrift., p. 201;) the other, the Transcendental Idealismi, was published in 1800. Coleridge was born in 1772—and his work, the Biographia Literaria, was not published until 1817.

ledgment in the instances in which he was indebted to him. That, in general terms, is the charge. The defence is, that in this work there are certain general admissions in which he owns his obligations, and certain protestations, under which he strongly deprecates the charge of plagiarism even while he is in the very act of committing the offence. The question then comes to be-What weight is to be attached to these general admissions? What are we to understand from them? Do they speak out plainly, and lead us to form an accurate notion of what Coleridge's dealings with Schelling really are? Do they cover the whole extent of his obligation to him?-or do they not rather lead the reader to rank him (from his own showing) almost pari passu with the German philosopher in the latter's own particular line of thought? To what extent do these protestations, or can any such protestations entitle him, or any one, to appropriate, without a specific acknowledgment, the property of another man? These questions can only be answered by attending to the terms in which his admissions and disclaimers are couched. In the Biographia Literaria, p. 148, Coleridge writes thus. We give the whole of his defence :"In Schelling's 'NATUR-PHILOSO PHIE,' (Schelling, we may remark, never published any work under this title,) and the SYSTEM DES TRANSCENDENTALEN IDEALISMUS, I first found a genial coincidence with much that I had toiled out for myself, and a powerful assistance in what I had yet to do. It would be a mere act of justice to myself were I to warn my future readers that an identity of thought, or even similarity of phrase, will not at all times be a certain proof that the passage has been borrowed from Schelling, or that the conceptions were originally learned from him. In this instance, as in the Dramatic Lectures of Schlegel, to which I have before alluded from the same motive of self-defence against the charge of plagiarism, many of the most striking resemblances, indeed all the main and fundamental ideas, were born and matured in my mind before I had ever

seen a single page of the German philosopher; and, I might indeed affirm with truth, before the more important works of Schelling had been written, or at least made public.

[ocr errors]

God forbid! that I should be suspected of a wish to enter into a rivalry with Schelling for the honours so unequivocally his right, not only as a great and original genius, but as the founder of


the philosophy of nature. Schelling we owe the completion, and the most important victories of this revolution in philosophy. To me it will be happiness and honour enough should I succeed in rendering the system itself intelligible to my countrymen, and in the appli

cation of it to the most awful of subjects for the most important of purposes. Whether a work is the offspring of a man's own spirit, and the product of original thinking, will be discovered by those who are its sole legitimate judges, by better tests than the mere reference to dates. For readers in general, let whatever shall be found in this or any future work of mine that resembles or coincides with the doctrines of my German predecessor, though contemporary, be wholly attributed to him; provided that the absence of distinct references to his books, which I could not at all times make with truth, as designating citations or thoughts actually derived from him, and which, I trust, would, after this general acknowledgment, be superfluous, be not charged on me as an ungenerous concealment or intentional plagiarism."

Such are the terms in which Coleridge, arming himself beforehand, anticipates and deprecates the charge of plagiarism, and justifies all the liberties he may think proper to take with the writings of Schelling. Our decided opinion is, that his arms are very inef.. fectual, his panoply full of flaws, and that the ground he takes up, though specious enough, and an apparent shelter, will be found to be altogether untenable.

In the first place, we remark, that so long as human nature and the laws of evidence remain what they are,


an identity of thought and similarity of phrase," occurring in the case of two authors, must be held as a very strong proof that one of them has borrowed from the other. But in the present case it is not similarity: it is absolute sameness of phrase that we are prepared to bring forward against Coleridge; and this we maintain to be in every instance a certain proof that the passages, about which the question is, have been borrowed. If like Milton's Penseroso, the probabi a man were to publish some verses lity, to say the least, would be, that he had borrowed a good deal from Milton; but if he were to publish as his own some verses the same as the Penseroso, we should at once pronounce him, with complete certainty, and in spite of all he might say to the

contrary, to be a downright plagiarist. In the same way Coleridge, who has dealt in this manner, and (a few extremely insignificant variations and interpolations excepted) in no other manner, with the writings of the German philosopher, must be held, notwithstanding all his warnings and protestations, to have afforded us "a certain proof that the passages have been borrowed from Schelling, and the conceptions originally learned from him; "and that he himself has been guilty of direct palpable plagiarism, and, we regret to say, of worse than plagiarism, in thus giving the denial to a fact established by the clearest and most irresistible evidence.

But that is not the most important feature of the defence to be attended to. We ask, what is the general impression left on a reader's mind by the passage quoted? Is it not this: that Coleridge, having "borne the burden and the heat of the day," and. having made good his own independent advances in philosophy, had, in the person of Schelling, fallen in with a fellow-labourer moving along the same difficult path with himself, and at the most only with a step somewhat firmer than his own? Is it not this that, having "toiled out much for himself," and "many of the most striking resemblances, indeed all the main and fundamental ideas, having been born and matured in his mind before he had ever seen a single page of the German philosopher," he was prepared to pour from the lamp of an original though congenial thinker a flood of new light upon the dark doctrines with which he so genially coincided? Is not this what we are reasonably led by his language to expect? Nay, is not this what a reader unacquainted with foreign philosophy would believe Coleridge, from his own statement, to be actually performing in the case of the numerous passages throughout the Biographia Literaria, which open up glimpses into a philo. sophy far profounder than the common? Then, as to the exclamation, "God forbid! that I should be suspected of a wish to enter into a rivalry with Schelling for the honours so unequivocally his right;" does it not second this belief, and stand forth as a sort of guarantee that these passages are not literally Schelling's own, but that they are "genial coincidences" on the part of Coleridge, which he

is generously disposed to make over to his "German predecessor, though contemporary?" (He cannot even admit him to have been his predecessor, without a qualification.) And further, in the sentence where Coleridge writes "Whether a work is the offspring of a man's own spirit, and the product of original thinking, will be discovered by better tests than the mere reference to dates;" is not the impression conveyed, and evidently meant to be conveyed, this, that though Coleridge did not publish his ideas on the transcendental philosophy until after Schelling, still, notwithstanding that, "his work is the offspring of his own spirit, and the product of original thinking ?"

Such, unquestionably, is the general impression conveyed by Coleridge's indefinite admissions. The question between him and his reader then comes to be this: is this impression a true or a false one? Does Coleridge really perform what he leads the reader to believe he is performing-or does he not? For his exculpation must depend very much upon an affirmative answer being returned to this question. Now we should say, that provided Coleridge has any where throughout his book shown any indication of having brought the power of an independent mind to bear upon the difficult problems with which the German metaphysician is manfully grappling, provided he has identified himself with the philosophy, by having reflected upon it the light of his own original thinking-then the impression is a true one. Even in that case we think it would have been as well had he acknowledged specifically the instances in which he makes use of Schelling's identical words-but about that we should not have been at all particular-and his not having done so would not have been founded upon by us as a just ground of complaint. Not only should we have found no fault with him; but, knowing the very great value to be attached to a genuine coincidence between two independent thinkers upon any great philosophical question, we should have been exceedingly thankful to him for the pains he had taken in making Schelling's system his own, and his own system Schelling's; both of which things he leads us to believe he does.

But, alas! if this controversy can be decided in Coleridge's favour, (as we think it can,) only provided it should

appear that he has contributed something of his own to the stock he so unscrupulously appropriates, we fear that he has not the smallest chance of an acquittal. For it is not true that he has made even the smallest return. Schelling might have been a beggar for any thing that he gives him out of his own pocket, in repayment of the very large sums which he secretly draws from the bank of German transcendentalism. Instead of having toiled out, as he says, "much for himself," he has left the whole of the toil to Schelling his own toil being merely (without saying one articulate word about it) to render, page after page, into very tolerable English, some of the profound speculations of the German thinker. In every instance in which we meet with any remarks more than usually profound, bearing upon the higher metaphysics, it is Schelling and not Coleridge that we are reading. Instead of having converged (as he leads us to suppose he has done) the rays of his own independent mind into one common focus with the German, he leaves that philosopher shining on alone, and illuminating, as he best may, his own dark discussions. Not one ray of light, we maintain, is any where thrown by him upon Schelling's system; and further than this, we maintain that not only is it an incorrect statement that many of the most striking resemblances, and all the main and fundamental ideas, were matured in his mind before he had ever seen a single page of the German philosopher"-not only is this an incorrect statement; but there is not the smallest evidence in this, or any other of his works, betokening any "coincidence" whatever between him and Schelling-there is no proof to be met with, that he ever travelled so much as one step in the same line of thought with him, except-mark you, reader-except in the case of those passages which are faithful and (with the omission of a few very unimportant interpolations) verbatim translations from that author. Therefore our verdict must be, that Coleridge, in the passages in which he deprecates the charge of plagiarism, and defends his dealings with Schelling, does not speak out plainly-does not, in reality, give the German philosopher his due-does not act fairly towards his reader, but conveys to his

mind an impression that he is doing. one thing when he is doing quite another thing; in other words, conveys an impression altogether false, erroneous, and misleading.


It must be remembered, that we are at present speaking of Coleridge only in reference to his connexion with the transcendental philosophy. lays a good deal of stress on his possession of "the main and fundamental ideas" of that system. We ourselves, in our day, have had some small dealings with "main and fundamental ideas," and we know this much about them, that it is very easy for any man, or for every man, to have them. There is no difficulty in that. The difficulty lies in bringing them intelligibly, effectively, and articulately out-in elaborating them into clear and intelligible shapes; for this appears to be the nature of fundamental ideas-the more you endeavour to extrude them, the stronger does their propensity become to run inwards, and to get out of sight. Now, it is precisely in the counteraction of this tendency, and in the power to force these ideas outwards, that philosophical genius displays itself. Indeed, it is the ability to do this which constitutes philosophical genius. The mere fact of the ideas being in you is nothing-how are they to be got out of you in the right shape, is the question. It is the delivery and not the conception that is the poser. Wasps and even dungflies, we suppose, are able to collect the juice of flowers, and this juice may be called their "fundamental ideas." So far they are on an equal footing with the bee; that is, they possess the


raw material" just as much as he does. But the bee alone is a genius among flies, because he alone can put out his ideas in the shape of honey, and thereby make the breakfast table glad. When, therefore, Mr Coleridge. tells us, that, before Schelling's time, he was in possession" of all the main and fundamental ideas" of the transcendental philosophy, we replyvery likely that, in one sense, is just what you, or we, or any weaver in the suburbs might be in possession of; but show us your honey, for that alone will convince us that you are the philosophic genius you wish us to believe you to be. To this Mr Coleridge, instead of producing any stores of his own, makes answer

« PreviousContinue »