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Mr. Coleridge's obligations to Schelling, and the unfair view of the subject
presented in Blackwood's Magazine.
SOME years ago, when the late Editor of my Father's works was distantly contemplating a new edition of the Biographia Literaria, but had not yet begun to examine the text carefully with a view to this object, his attention was drawn to an article in Black. wood's Magazine of March, 1840, in which “ the very large and unacknowledged appropriations it contains from the great German Philosopher Schelling” are pointed out; and by this paper I have been directed to those passages in the works of Schelling and of Maasz, to which references are given in the following pages,-to most of them immediately, and to a few more through the strict investigation which it occasioned. Whether or no my Father's obligations to the great German Philosopher are virtually unacknowledged to the extent and with the unfairness which the writer of that article labors to prove, the reader of the present edition will be able to judge for himself; the facts of the case will be all before him, and from these, when the whole of them are fully and fairly considered, I feel assured that by readers in general,—and I have had some experience on this point already,—no such injurious inferences as are contained in that paper will ever be drawn. The author, it must be observed, before commencing his argument, thinks fit to disclaim the belief, that conscious intentional plagiarism is imputable to the object of his censure ; nevertheless, throughout great part of it, Mr. Coleridge is treated as an artful purloiner and selfish plun
derer, who knowingly robs others to enrich himself, both the tone and the language of the article expressing this and no other meaning. Such aspersions will not rest, I think they never have rested, upon Coleridge's name; the protest here entered is a duty to his memory from myself rather than a work necessary to his vindication, and the remarks that follow are made less with a view to influence the opinions of others than to record my own.
The charge brought against my Father by the author of the article appears to be this, that, having borrowed largely from Schelling,' he has made no adequate acknowledgments of obligation to that philosopher, only such general admissions as are quite insufficient to cover the extent of his debt; that his anticipatory defence against a charge of “ungenerous concealment or intentional plagiarism” is no defence at all ; and that his particular references are too few and inaccurate to vindicate him from having dealt unfairly towards the author from whom he has taken so much. The plaintiff opens his case with giving as the whole of this defence of my Father's (that it is not the whole will appear in the sequel)-certain parts of a passage upon Schelling that occurs in the ninth chapter of the Biographia Literaria ; and although, in that passage, the author desires, that, “whatever in this or any future work of his resembles or coincides with the doctrines of his German predecessor though contemporary be wholly attributed to him," yet he insists that Coleridge has defrauded Schelling of his due, and seeks to support the impeach. ment on these two grounds, first that very “ absence of distinct references to his books,” which he himself plainly admits and particularly accounts for ; or in the accuser's own words, his omission of specific acknowledgments in the instances in which he was indebted to him ; secondly, his having affirmed that he had in some sort anticipated the system which he proposed to teach.
Now it must be remarked, by way of preliminary, that no man
i The passages borrowed by my Father from Schelling and Maasz are pointed out in this edition in notes at the foot of the pages where they occur. For the particulars and amount of the debt, therefore, readers are referred to the body of the work, chapters v, vii. viii, ix. xii, in the first volume.
can properly be said to defraud another, nor ought to be so spoken of, who has not a fraudulent intention : but it never yet has been proved, after all the pains that have been taken to this effect, that Mr. Coleridge intended to deprive Schelling of any part of the honor that rightfully belongs to him, or that he has, by Mr. Cole. ridge's means, been actually deprived of it, even for an hour. With regard to the first ground of accusation, it is doubtless to be regretted by every friend of the accused, that he should have adopted so important a portion of the words and thoughts of Schelling without himself making those distinct and accurate references, which he might have known would eventually be required as surely as he succeeded in his attempt to recommend the metaphysical doctrines contained in them to the attention of students in this country. Why did Mr. Coleridge act thus, subjecting himself, as he might well have anticipated, aware as he was of the hostile spirit against his person and principles, that existed in many quarters, to suspicion from the illiberal, and contumelious treatment at the hands of the hard and unscrupulous ? Why he so acted those who best knew him can well understand, without seeing in his conduct evidence of unconscientiousness: they see the truth of the matter to be this, that to give those distinct and accurate references, for the neglect of which he is now so severely arraigned, would have caused him much trouble of a kind to him peculiarly irksome, and that he dispensed himself from it in the belief, that the general declaration which he had made upon the subject was sufficient both for Schelling and for himself. This will be the more intelligible when it is borne in mind, that, as all who kuew his literary habits will believe, the passages from Schelling, which he wove into his own work, were not transcribed for the occasion, but merely transferred from his notebook into the text, some of them, in all likelihood, not even from his note-book immediately, but from recollection of its contents. It is most probable that he mistook some of these translated passages for compositions of his own, and quite improbable, as all who know his careless ways will agree, that he should have noted down accurately the particular works and portions of works from which they came.
“ But even with the fullest conviction,” says Archdeacon Hare, “ that Coleridge cannot have been guilty of intentional plagia. rism, the reader will, probably, deem it strange, that he should have transferred half a dozen pages of Schelling into his volume without any reference to their source. And strange it undoubtedly is. The only way I can see of accounting for it is from his practice of keeping note-books or journals of his thoughts, filled with observations and brief dissertations on such matters as happened to strike him, with a sprinkling now and then of extracts and abstracts from the books he was reading. If the name of the author from whom he took an extract was left out, he might easily, years after, forget whose property it was, especially when he had made it in some measure his own, by transfusing it into his own English. That this may happen I know from experience, having myself been lately puzzled by a passage which I had translated from Kant some years ago, and which cost me a good deal of search before I ascertained that it was not my own."
My Father says himself, in the ninth chapter of this work, “ I have not indeed (eheu! res angusta domi !) been hitherto able to procure more than two of his books, viz. the first volume of his collected Tracts, and his System of Transcendental Idealism ; to which, however, I must add a small pamphlet against Fichte, the spirit of which was to my feelings painfully incongruous with the principles, and which (with the usual allowance afforded to an antithesis) displayed the love of wisdom rather than the wisdom of love.” From this pamphlet (entitled Darle. gung, foc., Exposition of the true relation of the Philosophy of Nature to the improved doctrine of Fichte), he had just cited a striking passage, and it is represented as strangely disingenuous, that he should have given that extract merely as “observations from a contemporary writer of the continent,” without specifying the particular work from which it was taken, or even the writer's name. So indeed it may appear on an examination undertaken ostensibly for the love of wisdom, but a still closer one, conducted in the wisdom of love, will convince any reader that there was
2 From Mr. Hare's defence of Coleridge in the British Magazine, of Ja. nuary, 1835, pp. 20, 21.
as little of self-regard in this transaction as of accuracy. At that stage of his work, at which the citation is made, my Father had not yet introduced Schelling to his readers, readers unacquainted, as he doubtless imagined, with the German philosopher and his writings. He immediately proceeds, however, to give an account of the authors whom he successively studied, when he had “found no abiding place for his reason ” in the “schools of Locke, Berkeley, Leibnitz, and Hartley;" and then, after doing honor to Kant and justice to Fichte, he speaks of Schelling by name, and mentions every work of his to which he ever owed anything. The “ Vorlesungen über die Methöde des Academischen Studium,"s which, as well as the Darlegung, is mentioned as containing the word In-eins-bildung, the original, as is supposed, of his “esemplastic,” he never possessed and probably never saw. In mentioning the pamphlet against Fichte he, naturally enough, described its general character, and probably either forgot, while he was so doing, that from this same work his previous citation had been made, or felt that for readers, to whom the very name of Schelling was new, such particu. larity as that of reciting its long title, and referring to it the passage he had brought forward, was superfluous.
Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur was one of the works of Schelling which my Father had not in his possession, when he composed the Biographia Literaria, and it is remarked that he entitled it Schelling's Natur-Philosophie !—that he had presumed to contract the proper name of a book he had once read, from its fuller form in the title-page, to that abridged one, which it probably wore upon its back. No comment is made, indeed, upon this important fact, but that is supplied by the strain of the article.
His accuser urges against him that he did not elaborate over again what he had borrowed and thus make it, in some sense, his own. It is not easy to see how that which is borrowed can ever, strictly speaking, become the property of the borrower, so as to cease to be that of the original possessor ; the new form in
3 See vol i. Of the use made by the writer in Bl. of this passage I shall have to speak again further on.