Shedd on Coleridge: part 1

In 1853, Shedd's edition of the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge was published. Shedd claimed that it was perhaps the first complete edition, as it included fragments of Coleridge's writings, as well as Table Talk and Literary Remains. In an extensive introductory essay, Shedd chose to write about Coleridge as philosopher and theologian.

The 'mental development of Coleridge was eminently an historic process. He did not, as do the majority of thinking men, begin with the same general system and method of thought with which he ended, but, like the age in which he lived and upon which he impressed himself, he passed by a slow and most thorough process from a sensuous to a spiritual system of speculation.'

Given Shedd's later reputation for conservativism, one wonders whether the statement above illustrates how he had to strain out some justification for spending so much time on Coleridge. The other possibility is that Shedd's theological convictions hardened with age. Was the Congregational Shedd of the 1840s and 1850s a different intellectual spirit to the tough dogmatic Presbyterian theologian of the 1870s, and 1880s? How could the same Shedd that sang the praises of Coleridge take such a low view of Charles Briggs and his conservative appropriation of critical bible study?

In his introduction, Shedd claimed that Coleridge's appropriation of Kant's philosophical musings was basically sound and useful. Kant himself, while denying the possibility of absolute knowledge in the natural realm, did not deny the possibility of (absolute) human knowledge of spiritual things. (I just don't have the background to critique Shedd's reading of Kant here, but I'm slightly suspicious!)

Interestingly, Shedd then turns to Coleridge the theologian. While noting the debate and discussion over Coleridge's theological legacy, Shedd made the following comment. Again, it is perplexing to think just where Shedd was coming from or going to with all this:

'We are inclined to the belief, however, that there is a growing confidence in the substantial orthodoxy of his theological opinions, and that it is coming to be the belief even of those who do not sympathise with his philosophical opinions, and of course not, therefore, with his method of unfolding and defending the truths of Christianity, that the name of Coleridge deserves to be associated with those of the great English divines of the seventeenth century, and that his views do not differ fundamentally from that body of Christian doctrine which had its first systematic origin in the head and heart of Augustine.' p311

More on Shedd on Coleridge the theologian will follow.

W.G.T. Shedd, Literary Essays (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1878), pp271-344.



Anonymous CG said...

I don't think his orthodoxy would be widely defended today!

7:48 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm taking a semester-long independent study in Shedd on Coleridge in the fall at my graduate school. If I conjure up any insights, I'll try to post them :-)

10:34 pm  

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