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Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Assessment

Coleridge worked for many years on his Biographia Literaria (1817), containing accounts of his literary life and critical essays on philosophical and literary subjects. It presents Coleridge's theories of the creative imagination, but its debt to other writers, notably the German idealist philosophers, is often so heavy that the line between legitimate borrowing and plagiarism becomes blurred. This borrowing tendency, evident also in some of his poetry, together with Coleridge's notorious inability to finish projects—and his proposal of impractical ones—made him a problematic figure.

Coleridge's lifelong friend Charles Lamb called him a "damaged archangel." Indeed, 20th-century editorial scholarship has unearthed additional evidence of plagiarism; thus, Coleridge is still a controversial figure. However, the originality and beauty of his best poetry and his enormous influence on the intellectual and aesthetic life of his time is unquestioned. He was reputedly a brilliant conversationalist, and his lectures on Shakespeare remain among the most important statements in literary criticism.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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