I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose = words in their best order; – poetry = the best words in the best order… Samuel Taylor Coleridge


'New morality; - or - the promis'd installment of the high-priest of the Theophilanthropes, with the homage of Leviathan and his suite' by James Gillray, published by John Wright hand-coloured etching, published 1 August 1798

‘New morality; – or – the promis’d installment of the high-priest of the Theophilanthropes, with the homage of Leviathan and his suite’ by James Gillray, published by John Wright hand-coloured etching, published 1 August 1798

The Theophilanthropists (“Friends of God and Man”) were a deistic sect, formed in France during the later part of the French Revolution but in a larger since they were merely part of 19th century utopianism that sprang from the void left by the abandonment of religion in the reformation and age of rationalism that followed. Coleridge was an adherent to this new fervor and his unfortunate addictions may have colored his perspective as they have colored the perspectives of so many who have followed and emulated the addictions as part of the creative process. Rather than a practical moral theology based on sound psychological observations we are left with nothing but the sentiment – He prayeth best, who loveth best; All things great and small; For the dear God who loveth us; He made and loveth all,  may be very true but it is only discernment and reason that allows us to reach such a conclusion – and to recognize its qualifications.

The literary equivalency comes from the Wordsworth side of the equation when he gives his famous definition of poetry as the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. Of course the supreme irony here is that there were never to poets who more slavishly conformed to the rules of rhyme and meter and the later portraits of Wordsworth may be of a man holding his aching head after having found that no word in the language rhymes with orange. Neither man can be faulted for his skill but their ideas are another matter entirely and what they birthed is an age of literary – if not literate – abominations.

The friendship : Wordsworth and Coleridge  Adam Sisman  New York : Viking, 2007  Hardcover. Originally published: London: Harper’s Press, 2006. 1st American ed. and printing. xxv, 480 p. : ill., maps ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 427-456) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG 

The friendship between William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge produced dazzling results. From it came Lyrical Ballads, the volume that kick-started the Romantic Movement in England. Rarely have two such gifted writers cooperated so closely.

They met in 1795 when both were in their early twenties, and in the euphoria of mutual discovery these brilliant and idealistic young men planned a poem that would succeed where the French Revolution failed—a poem that would, quite literally, change the world.

In this account, author Adam Sisman explores their tempestuous bond and the way in which rivalry bred tension between them. Though much has been written about this extraordinary duo, no previous biographer has considered them together. The result offers insights into the rich yet neglected topic of friendship and tantalizing glimpses of the creative process itself.

 

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