Biographia Literaria Project

“In 1794…” (Biographia Project)

We’re off!

Straightaway into confusion.

The source of our Holy Writ, for those who do not wish to shell out their shells and shekels to the likes of Amazon, is L’Archive version of the Biographia. I thank Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore for the library at Visva-Bharati University, which scanned the copy my Chinese pirate printer most approved of. For those uninitiated into literary larceny: you want white page backgrounds as opposed to parchment-colored. On his part, Mr. Tagore had to praise only one fascist dictator to get me my archive of well-scanned books. A small price to pay for this noble project of ours!

On page 2, STC quoth:

In 1794, when I had barely passed the verge of manhood, I published a small volume of juvenile poems. They were received with a degree of favor, which, young as I was, I well know was bestowed on them not so much for any positive merit, as because they were considered buds of hope, and promises of better works to come.

This is where the fog of confusion begins, which might be evaporated by an expert in Coleridge, which I am not and never will be (I confess I find his person repugnant, a matter that requires its own entry at some point, since I’ve decided to spend so much time with him). It is not clear to me that he published a volume in 1794, though one doesn’t imagine Mr. Coleridge would have forgot. Is he thinking of The Religious Musings, which he started in 1794 but published in 1796, or of some other volume? The matter is not a small one in under the aegis of The Biographia Project, since we are obliged by our rules to read every matter even alluded to, else hold our manhoods cheap. To resolve this problem, it seems meet to turn to his complete poems (parchment colored! don’t print this one!) and simply pluck from the pages, like a rose, the whole bouquet of young buds, 1794.

STC tells us what we’re looking to criticise in this juvenalia:

The critics of that day, the most flattering equally with the severest, concurred in objecting to them obscurity, a general turgidness of diction, and a profusion of new coined double epithets

This last warning to the young author–a profusion of new coined double epithets–marks a imputation he lays upon a number of our great writers in their immature work.

Our first homework assignment becomes clear. We shall read the poems of 1794 with a critical eye, especially looking for these things: when the poet is too obscure, turgid in diction, and reliant on newly coined double epithets that do not ring true to the ‘ear’.