Blackwood's Magazine/Volume 47/Issue 293/The Plagiarisms of S. T. Coleridge
THE PLAGIARISMS OF S. T. COLERIDGE.
Of late years the works of Mr Coleridge, both in prose and verse, have been continually gaining upon public notice, and now enjoy, we believe, a pretty extensive popularity. Most of them have been reprinted since his death, and several volumes of posthumous miscellanies have been added to their number. Their celebrity being thus established, and on the daily increase, we think it not improbable that his Biographia Literaria (one of his principal works, and one which has been long out of print) may likewise be re-issued before long by some enterprising bookseller. But at the same time we think it would be highly discreditable to the literature of the country, if any reprint of that work were allowed to go abroad, without embodying some accurate notice and admission of the very large and unacknowledged appropriations it contains from the writings of the great German philosopher Schelling. Partly, therefore, for the sake of any future editor or publisher who may choose to profit by our animadversions, and partly because we think the case can hardly fail to be a matter of some interest to the general reader, as disclosing a curious page in the history of literature, we propose to do our best to supply the requisite information on this subject—tracing Coleridge's plagiarisms to their true sources, fixing their precise amount, or nearly so, (as far, at least, as Schelling is concerned,) and arguing the whole question on its broadest grounds, both literary and moral.
We are aware that this subject is not now broached for the first time. It was mooted some years ago in Tait's Magazine, (September 1834,) and in the British Magazine, (January 1835,) Mr De Quincy appearing in the former for the prosecution, and Mr J. C. Hare in the latter for the defence. But on both sides the case was very badly conducted; indeed we may say it was altogether bungled. Neither party appears to have possessed a competent knowledge of the facts; and the question was not fairly and fully argued on the grounds either of its condemning or justifying circumstances. The Opium Eater was evidently ignorant of the extent to which Coleridge's plagiarisms from Schelling had been carried; and therefore, with all his willingness, he was not in a position to press the charge very far or very successfully. But besides this, even in the one great instance in which he convicts Coleridge, losing sight of his usual extreme accuracy, he not only does not lead us to the right work of Schelling from which the "borrowed plumes" are taken; but he refers us to a work which, under the tide he gives it, is not to be found in the list of the German philosopher's publications. As the source of Coleridge's plagiarisms, his accuser refers the inquisitive reader to a work which never existed! This, it must be admitted, is not a very satisfactory way of conducting a discussion, or of throwing light upon a doubtful matter; and therefore, so far as the Opium-Eater's side of the controversy is concerned, he will excuse us for saying that he has left the question as much in the dark as ever, or rather involved in greater confusion and obscurity than before.
Neither is Mr Hare's side of the question a bit better managed. He likewise is either ignorant of the amount to which Coleridge was indebted to Schelling, or else he does not choose to speak out. He talks of Coleridge having transferred into his work "half-a-dozen pages," or little more, of Schelling. By our Lady! they are nearer twenty. He brings forward what be conceives to be the triumphantly exculpatory circumstance of the case, as they are to be found in the Biographia Literaria itself; but he evidently sees through them as little as though they had been so many milestones, and the inference he draws from them appear to n to be very shallow and very questionable. The reader shall be aid, to judge of this for himself by-and-by. And, lastly, the great body of his defence consists of recriminations against Mr De Quincy for having been the first to bring the charge of plagiarism against a man who had been his friend, and whom he admired so much—as if the Opium-Eater's delinquency in this respect, admitting it to have been—which we do not—the blackest ever committed under heaven, were any exculpation of Coleridge, or had any thing whatever to do with the merits of the case. We think, therefore, that the whole question requires to be revised, and that some attempt ought to be made to bring out its details with the justice and accuracy befitting literature which does not choose to close its eyes, and have foreign productions palmed of upon it as indigenous growth of its own soil.
In bringing this matter before the public, we have no fear that the readers of this Magazine will suppose us actuated by a desire to detract from the merits, or to affix a stigma upon the memory, of Mr Coleridge. The high terms in which he has been spoken of all along throughout our pages, and the exalted rank assigned therein to his genius, will secure us, we should hope, against any such imputation. We are extremely unwilling to hold him guilty of any direct and intentional literary dishonesty; but it is only when we take into consideration what we believe to line been his very peculiar idiosyncrasy, that we are able to attribute to some strange intellectual hallucination a practice, which, in the case of' any other man, we should have called by the stronger name of a gross moral misdemeanour. But, be that as it may, we are not going to sacrifice what we conceive to be truth and justice out of regard to the genius of any man, however illustrious and unsullied it may be. Fair play is a jewel; and we think it our duty to see fair play upon all sides; and, if our admiration of Coleridge has whispered in our ear to keep this disclosure back, our admiration of Schelling (which we admit to be greater than that which we feel for Coleridge) was ever at hand, appealing to our conscience with a still louder voice to bring it forward, and to do justice to the claims of foreign philosophy and of individual genius, by showing that one of the most distinguished English authors of the nineteenth century, at the mature age of forty-five, succeeded in founding by far the greater part of his metaphysical reputation—which was very considerable—upon verbatim plagiarism from works written and published by a German youth, when little more than twenty years of age!
We start, then, by supposing it admitted (as it must be) that Coleridge, in his Biographia Literaria, borrowed to a certain extent from Schelling, without making any specific acknowledgment in the instances in which he was indebted to him. That, in general terms, is the charge. The defence is, that in this work there are certain general admissions in which he owns is obligations, and certain protestations, under which he strongly deprecates the charge of plagiarism even while he is in the very act of committing the offence. The question then comes to be—What weight is to be attached to these general admissions? What are we to understand from them? Do they speak out plainly, and lead us to form an accurate notion of what Coleridge's dealings with Schelling really are? Do they cover the whole extent of his obligation to him?—or do they not rather lead the reader to rank him (from his own showing) almost pari passu with the German philosopher in the latter's own particular line of thought?—To what extent do these protestations, or can any such protestations entitle him, or any one, to appropriate, without a specific acknowledgment, the property of another man? These questions can only be answered by attending to the terms in which his admissions and disclaimers are couched. in the Biographia Literaria, P. 148, Coleridge writes thus. We give the whole of his defence:—
"In Schelling's 'NATUR-PHILOSOPHIE' (Schelling, we may remark, never published any work under this title,) and the SYSTEM DES TRANSCENDENTALEN IDEALISMUS, I first found a genial coincidence with much that I had toiled out for myself, and a powerful assistance in what I had yet to do. It would be a mere act of justice to myself were I to warn my future readers that an identity of thought, or even similarity of phrase, will not at all times be a certain proof that the passage has been borrowed from Schelling, or that the conceptions were originally learned from him. In this instance, as in the Dramatic Lectures of Schlegel, which I have before alluded from the same motive of self-defense against the charge of plagiarism, many of the most striking resemblances, indeed all the main and fundamental ideas, were born and matured in my mind before I had even seen a single page of the German philosopher; and, I might indeed affirm with truth, before the more important works of Schelling had been written, or at least made public… God forbid! that I should be suspected of a wish to enter into a rivalry with Schelling for the honours so unequivocally his right, not only as a great and original genius, but as the founder of the philosophy of nature… To Schelling we owe the completion, and the most important victories of this revolution in philosophy. To me it will be happiness and honour enough should I succeed in rendering the system itself intelligible to my countrymen, and in the application of it to the most awful of subjects for the most important of purposes. Whether a work is the offspring of a man's own spirit, and the product of original thinking, will be discovered by those who are it sole legitimate judges, by better tests than the mere reference to dates. For readers in general, let whatever shall be found in this or any future work of mine that resembles or coincides. with the doctrines of my German predecessor, though contemporary, be wholly attributed to him; provided that the absence of distinct references to his books, which I could not at all times make with truth, as designating citations or thoughts actually derived from him, and which, I trust, would, after this general acknowledgment, be superfluous, be not charged on me as an ungenerous concealment or intentional plagiarism."
Such are the terms in which Coleridge arming himself beforehand, anticipates and deprecates the charge of plagiarism, and justifies all the liberties be may think proper to take with the writings of Schelling. Our decided opinion is, that his arms are very ineffectual, his panoply full of flaws, and that the ground he takes up, though specious enough, and an apparent shelter, will be found to be altogether untenable.
In the first place, we remark, that so long as human nature and the laws of evidence remain what they are, "an identity of thought and similarity of phrase," occurring in the case of two authors, must be held as a very strong proof that one of them has borrowed from the other. But in the present case it is not similarity: it is absolute sameness of phrase that we are prepared to bring forward against Coleridge; and this we maintain to be in every instance a certain proof that the passages, about which a. question is, have been borrowed. If a man were to publish some verses like Milton's Penseroso, the probability, to say the least, would be, that he had borrowed a good deal from Milton; but if he were to publish as his own some verses the same as the Penseroso, we should at once pronounce him, with complete certainty, and in spite of all he might say to the contrary, to be a downright plagiarist. In the same way Coleridge, who has dealt in this manner, and (a few extremely insignificant variations and interpolations excepted) in no other manner, with the writings of the German philosopher, must be held, notwithstanding all his warnings and protestations, to have afforded us "a certain proof that the passages have been borrowed from Schelling, and the conceptions originally learned from him;" and that be himself has been guilty of direct palpable plagiarism, and, we regret to say, of worse than plagiarism, in thus giving the denial to a fact established by the clearest and most irresistible evidence.
But that is not the most important feature of the defence to be attended to. We ask, what is the general impression left on a reader's mind by the passage quoted? Is it not this: that Coleridge, having "borne the burden and the heat of the day;' and having made good his own independent advances in philosophy, had, in the person of Schelling, fallen in with a fellow labourer moving along the same difficult path with himself, and at the most only with a step somewhat firmer than his own? Is it not this: that, having "toiled out much for himself," and "many of the most striking resemblances, indeed all the main and fundamental ideas, having been born and matured in his mind before he had ever seen a single page of the German philosopher," he was prepared to pour from the lamp of an original though congenial thinker a flood of new light upon the dark doctrines with which he so genially coincided? Is not this what we are reasonably led by his language to expect? Nay, is not this what a reader unacquainted with foreign philosophy would believe Coleridge, from his own statement, to be actually performing in the case of' the numerous passages throughout the Biographia Literaria, which open up glimpses into a philosophy far profounder than the common? Then, as to the exclamation, "God forbid! that I should be suspected a wish to enter into a rivalry with Schelling for the honour so unequivocally his right;" does it not second this belief, and stand forth as a sort of guarantee that these passages are not literally Schelling's own, but that they are "genial coincidences" on the part of Coleridge, which he is generously disposed to make over to his "German predecessor, though contemporary?" (He cannot even admit him to have been his predecessor, without a qualification.) And further, in the sentence where Coleridge writes—"Whether a work is the offspring of a man's own spirit, and the product of original thinking, will be discovered by better tests than the mere reference to dates;" is not the impression conveyed, and evidently meant to be conveyed, this, that though Coleridge did not publish his ideas on the transcendental philosophy until after Schelling, still, notwithstanding that, "his work is the offspring of his own spirit, and the product of original thinking?"
Such, unquestionably, is the general impression conveyed by Coleridge's indefinite admissions. The question between him and his reader then comes to be this: is this impression a true or a false one? Does Coleridge really perform what he leads the reader to believe he is performing—or does he not? For his exculpation must depend very much upon an affirmative answer being returned to this question. Now we should say, that provided Coleridge has any where throughout his book shown any indication of having brought the power of an independent mind to bear upon the difficult problems with which the German metaphysician is manfully grappling, provided he has identified himself with the philosophy, by having reflected upon it the light of his own original thinking—then the impression is a true one. Even in that case we think it would have been as well had he acknowledged specifically the instances in which he makes use of Schelling's identical words—but about that we should not have been at all particular—and his not having done so would not have been founded upon by us as a just ground of complaint. Not only should we have found no fault with him; but, knowing the very great value to be attached to a genuine coincidence between two independent thinkers upon any great philosophical question, we should have been exceedingly thankful to him for the pains he had taken in making Schelling's system his own, and his own system Schelling's; both of which things he leads us to believe he does.
But, alas! if this controversy can be decided in Coleridge's favour, (as we think it can,) only provided it should appear that he has contributed something of his own to the stock he so unscrupulously appropriates, we fear that he has not the smallest chance of an acquittal. For it is not true that he has made even the smallest return. Schelling might have been a beggar for any thing that he gives him out of his own pocket, in repayment of the very large sums which he secretly draws from the bank of German transcendentalism. Instead of having toiled out, as he says, "much for himself," he has left the whole of the toil to Schelling: his own toil being merely (without saying one articulate word about it) to render, page after page, into very tolerable English, some of the profound speculations of the German thinker. In every instance in which we meet with any remarks more than usually profound, bearing upon the higher metaphysics, it is Schelling and not Coleridge that we are reading. Instead of having converged (as he leads us to suppose he has done) the rays of his own independent mind into one common focus with the German, he leaves that philosopher shining on alone, and illuminating, as he best may, his own dark discussions. Not one ray of light, we maintain, is any where thrown by him upon Schelling's system; and further than this, we maintain that not only is it an incorrect statement that "many of the most striking resemblances, and all the main and fundamental ideas, were matured in his mind before he had ever seen a single page of the German philosopher"—not only is this an incorrect statement; but there is not the smallest evidence in this, or any other of his works, betokening any "coincidence" whatever between him and Schelling—there is no proof to be met with, that he ever travelled so much as one step in the same line of thought with him, except.—mark you, reader—except in the case of those passages which are faithful and (with the omission of a few very unimportant interpolations) verbatim translations from that author. Therefore our verdict must be, that Coleridge, in the passages in which he deprecates the charge of plagiarism, and defends his dealings with Schelling, does not speak out plainly—does not, in reality, give the German philosopher his due—does not act fairly towards his reader, but conveys to his mind an impression that he is doing one thing when he is doing quite another thing; in other words, conveys an impression altogether false, erroneous, and misleading.
It must be remembered, that we are at present speaking of Coleridge only in reference to his connexion with the transcendental philosophy. He lays a good deal of stress on his possession of "the main and fundamental ideas" of that system. We ourselves, in our day, have had some small dealings with "main and fundamental ideas," and we know this much about them, that it is very easy for any man, or for every man, to have them. There is no difficulty in that. The difficulty lies in bringing them intelligibly, effectively, and articulately out—in elaborating them into clear and intelligible shapes for this appears to be the nature of fundamental ideas—the more you endeavour to extrude them, the stronger does their propensity become to run inwards, and to get out of sight. Now, it is precisely in the counteraction of this tendency, and in the power to force these ideas outwards, that philosophical genius displays itself. indeed, it is the ability to do this which constitutes philosophical genius. The mere fact of the ideas being in you is nothing—how are they to be got out of you in the right shape, is the question. It is the delivery and not the conception that is the poser. Wasps and even dung-flies, we suppose, are able to collect the juice of flowers, and this juice may be called their "fundamental ideas." So far they are on an equal footing with the bee; that is, they possess the "raw material" just as much as he does. But the bee alone is a genius among flies, because he alone can put out his ideas in the shape of honey, and thereby make the breakfast-table glad. When, therefore, Mr Coleridge tells us, that, before Schelling's time, he was in possession "of all the main and fundamental ideas" of the transcendental philosophy, we reply—very likely—that, in one sense, is just what you, or we, or any weaver in the suburbs might be in possession of; but show us your honey, for that alone will convince us that you are the philosophic genius you wish us to believe you to be. To this Mr Coleridge, instead of producing any stores of his own, makes answer by presenting us with some combs purloined from the hive of a foreign worker, calling them by the alluring title of "genial coincidences."
We perceive that Mr Gilman, in the one only sentence in which he attempts to defend Coleridge, has, like ourselves, though for a very different purpose, brought forward the bee as an illustration of the case. He thus writes, (Life of Coleridge, p. 245—the italics are his own)—" With regard to the charge made by Mr De Quincy of Coleridge's so borrowing the property of other writers as to be guilty of 'petty Larceny;' with equal justice might we accuse the bee, which flies from flower to flower in quest of food, and which, by means of the instinct bestowed upon it by the all-wise Creator, extracts its nourishment from the field and the garden, but digests and elaborates it by its own native powers." Now this is precisely what we are complaining Coleridge does not do. Unlike the bee, he steals his honey ready-made. A friendly naturalist suggests, that bees will steal ready-made honey too, when they can get at it, and that, therefore, the parallel is not exact. But we- reply that even then, they make a point of elaborating it over again within their own internals before they publish it to their neighbours in the hive. But with regard to the transcendental philosophy, Coleridge has done nothing of this sort—he has digested nothing by his own native powers. The pots all stand in his Biographia exactly as Schelling elaborated and made them up.
There only remains one other point to be got over: it is contained in the last sentence of the defence, where Coleridge strongly deprecates the charge of plagiarism, and endeavours to establish a sort of compact, by which he is to be entitled, without acknowledgment, to make what use he pleases of the works of Schelling. To save space, we beg to refer our readers to the sentence already printed. But even here he artfully leads us away from the idea that he has transferred into his work, almost word for word, many, nay any, of the pages of the German philosopher. Why could he not make his reference to Schelling with truth, except on the ground that it was not true that these citations, &c., were actually derived from Schelling? This is certainly the ground upon which the reader is led to believe that he refrains from giving his references. He is not able to bring himself to admit that all the profounder philosophical observations contained in his work are entirely the German's, but wishes to have it understood that they are all his own "genial coincidences" with Schelling. Genial coincidences, forsooth! where every one word of the one author tallies with every one word of the other! Credat Judæus Apella; non ego. We have already said, and are prepared to show, that Coleridge contributes nothing to the expansion or explanation of Schelling's system; therefore the sentence we are writing about must be brought to stand thus: " For readers in general, let nothing that shall be found in this or any other work of mine be attributed to Schelling, provided no fault be found with me should I ever be discovered to have cabbaged from his works ad libitum." The logic of that "provided" baffles us entirely. But even admitting that there are resemblances to Schelling to be found in his works, what right could he have to lay down such an arrangement as this, that he would make all these over to Schelling in the event of their being found to resemble him; provided he, in the mean time, might pay himself secretly what he pleased for them out of the funds of that philosopher, and provided no one would blame him should his doings ever be brought to light? The logical propriety of the "provided" escapes us in this case also. How could he tell how little his resemblances might be worth, and how great might be the value of his purloinings from Schelling? How is any security that this bargain is a fair one to be established? To cut the question short, then, we do not think that any man is entitled to enter such a protestation as this, or that it can be listened to for a moment as a defence, in the event of his being convicted of extensive plagiarism. It appears to us to be much worse than no defence at all; for this is the manner in which it is evidently calculated and designed to cut. So long as these plagiarisms are undetected, this manner of wording the protest will ensure to the author (as it did to Coleridge during the whole of his life) the credit of being original, and when they are detected, (if that ever happens,) it will give him the benefit of his protestation as a defence: in other words, if the plagiarisms are not detected, Schelling's passages remain Coleridge's, and if they are detected, the latter calculates upon getting out of the scrape by pleading that he had, in a manner, admitted them. Ay! ay! the manner of the admission is precisely the question; how does he admit them? We think we have already made clear what we now repeat, that the manner of his admission of them is such as naturally to lead every reader who trusts to his work, and looks no farther, to believe that nothing can be further from his practice and from his intention than plagiarism, in the way and to the extent which we are now about to point out.
Let us here make a passing remark upon what Coleridge says in reference to his "coincidences" with Schlegel. He tells us (see quotation) that, as in reference to Schlegel, his views upon dramatic art, so in reference to Schelling, his views on transcendental metaphysics, were matured before he knew any thing about either author. On the subject of his resemblances to Schlegel, we are not prepared to speak on our own authority. But as he himself here perils the fact of his priority to and independence of Schlegel upon the truth of what he says respecting his priority to and independence of Schelling, placing both instances upon exactly the same footing, we are entitled to say, that as in the case of Schelling we know him to be a consummate plagiarist, and original in nothing; so in the case of Schlegel, we think it more than probable that he has borrowed ready made from that author every thing in which he "genially coincides" with him.
We now proceed to particularize Coleridge's plagiarisms, in the order in which they occur in the first volume of the Biog. Lit., for to it our accusation is confined. Of course, our limits will not permit us to make almost any extracts illustrative of our charge; they will permit us to offer little or no criticism on the merits either of the borrowed or the original passages; and still less will they allow us to, enter into any explanation touching the transcendental philosophy in general; but we can at least state the exact pages of Coleridge in which the plagiarisms occur, and the corresponding pages of Schelling from which they are taken. And we pledge ourselves to do this with the most scrupulous accuracy; for not our own credit merely, but the general character of this Magazine, will be, to a certain extent, perilled upon our faithfulness.
The first instance in which we detect Coleridge translating closely from Schelling occurs in p. 130, beginning at the words " how being"—the last clause is interpolated, we think not very wisely and the next sentence are to be found in Schelling's Transcendental Idealism, p. 113. The next two sentences (Biog. Lit. p. 131) are to be found (slightly altered from the original in Transc. Id. p. 112. Than Coleridge inter-poses a short sentence of his own; after which we come to the words, "Matter has no inward. We remove one surface but to meet with another." This occurs in two places in Schelling's works; vide Phil. Schrift. p. 240, and Ideen, introduction, p. 22. On turning over to p. 133, Biog. Lit., we find that nearly the whole of the first paragraph is taken from the Transc. Id. p. 113. though here the translation is not so close as usual. But the passage is remarkable, as containing a stroke which we daresay many admirers have considered peculiarly Coleridgian. Taking out of Schelling's mouth the words in which he is describing the futility of materialism, as an explanation of the phenomena of thought, Coleridge says," When we expected to find a body, behold, we had nothing but its ghost!—the apparition of a defunct substance!" Now this illustration, and every thing connected with it, belongs exclusively to Schelling. "To explain thinking," says he, "as a material phenomenon, is only possible by making a ghost of matter." Transc. Id. p. 113.
After turning over a few leaves, we come to the only passage in the work which Coleridge distinctly admits to be translated, not however from Schelling, but from a "contemporary writer on the Continent." See Biog. Lit, pp. 140, 141, where upwards of a page and a half are copied (omitting one insignificant interpolation) from Schelling's Darlegung, pp. 154, 155. But even here he cannot admit his obligation plainly and directly; the terms in which he introduces the extract are exceedingly curious, and very much in his usual vein. See Biog. Lit, p. 139, where he thus-writes, in reference to p. 140, 141:—"While I, in part, translate the following observations from a contemporary writer of the Continent, let me be permitted to premise, that I might have transcribed the substance from memoranda of my own, which were written many years before his pamphlet was given to the world; and that I prefer another's words to my own, partly as a tribute due to priority of publication, but still more from the pleasure of sympathy in a case where coincidence (Ital. in orig.) only was possible." Now, how Coleridge could reconcile with ordinary faith his statement, that a paragraph, consisting of forty-nine lines, to which his own contribution was six, was only in part translated from a foreign work—how he could outrage common sense, and the capacities of human belief, by saying that he might have transcribed" the substance of it from memoranda of his own, written many years before Schelling's pamphlet was given to the world "—how he could have the cool assurance to tell us that he "prefers another's words to his own"—not, mark you, because these words belong to that other man, and not to him—but as a tribute due to priority of publication—and how he could take it upon him to say that in this case nothing more than coincidence was possible, (except on the ground that it was impossible for any human being to write any thing but what he had written before !)—how he could do all these things, entirely baffles our comprehension.
In B. L., pp. 141-143, are to be found two other long sentences, curiously transmogrified from the Darlegung, p. 156.
In B. L., p. 146, Coleridge's observation about the Noumenon of Kant, is taken from Schelling's Phil. Schrift. pp. 275, 276. His words here are certainly not exactly Schelling's; but he adds nothing to the original remarks from which his observation is borrowed. For the latter part of his sentence, see also Transc. Id. p. 114.
In B. L., p. 147, we next read—"All symbols, of necessity, involve an apparent contradiction." This is translated from the Phil. Schrift. p. 276.
We now pass on to the opening of Chap. X. B. L., p. 157. It commences in italics thus—the introductory words being put into the mouth of an imaginary reader: "Esemplastic!—the word is not in Johnson, nor have I met with it elsewhere!" "Neither have I," rejoins the author, Coleridge; "I constructed it myself from the Greek words," εις ἑν πλαττειν, i.e. to shape into one." To this we, taking up the cause and character of the imaginary reader, reply—" We beg your pardon, sir; but you did nothing of the sort—you met with it in Schelling's Darlegung, p. 61. You there found the word In-eins-bildung—"a shaping into one"—which Schelling or some other German had literally formed from the Greek, set εις ἑν πλαττειν, and you merely translated this word back into Greek, (a very easy and obvious thing to do,) and then you coined the Greek words into English, merely altering them from a noun into an adjective." The word is likewise to be met with in Schelling's Vorlesungen, p. 313. Such, we will lay our life upon it, is the history of Coleridge's neology in the instance of the word "esemplastic." Readers are generally passive enough mortals in the hands of writers; but an author who ventures upon questionable freaks like this, must lay his account with sometimes catching a Tartar among them.
We now pass on to what is perhaps the most singular case of plagiarism in the whole book. We find that the whole of p. 246, and the greater part of p. 247, B. L., are translated from the Phil. Schrift. pp. 327, 328, omitting three interpolations which rather detract from than add to the sense of the paragraph. The whole paragraph is occupied with a description of the kind of mind which is unfitted for philosophical speculations and concludes (B. L., p. 247) in these terms: "To remain unintelligible to such a mind (exclaims Schelling on a like occasion) is honour and a good name before God and man." Exclaims Schelling on a like occasion!—why, this is the very occasion upon which Schelling utters that exclamation—the whole passage (with the slight exceptions mentioned) being a verbatim translation from him!! Can any thing beat that?—this is surely plagiarism out-plagiarised. Coleridge puts forth certain remarks as his own, and clenches and corroborates them by an exclamation said to be uttered by Schelling upon a like occasion. It is then discovered that not only the clenching clause, but that the whole paragraph to which it refers, is Schelling's; and that this is precisely the occasion, upon which, by way of adding force to his own remarks, he gives vent to the exclamation quoted. What can this mean?—is it humour, is it irony, is it dishonesty, or is it simple carelessness on the part of Coleridge? These are questions "admitting of a wide solution," and yet well worthy the attention of any student of the eccentricities of human nature.
Passing on to the middle of p. 250, B. L., we fall in with translations from Schelling of much greater bulk than any that we have yet met with. At this place Coleridge thinks "it expedient to make some preliminary remarks on the introduction of postulates into philosophy." Accordingly, he makes these remarks—and every word of them, running through pp. 250, 251, 252, 253, and part of 254, is taken verbatim from Schelling, with the exception of the last sentence, (top of p. 254,) which is somewhat altered from the original: vide Phil. Schrift., pp. 329, 330, 331, 332. It must be admitted that at the beginning of this extract Coleridge introduces the parenthesis ("see Schell. Abhandl. zur Erläuter. des Id. der Wissenschaftslehre.") But would not a reader naturally deduce, from this reference, merely the inference that Coleridge was here referring; to Schelling in support of his own views, and not literally translating and appropriating the German's? Besides, if a reader had written to the Continent for this work, under the title here given to it, it is next to impossible that he could ever have procured it. For this title denotes a tract buried among a good many others in Schelling's Phil. Schrift., which is the name that ought to have been given to the work referred to, if the reader was to derive any benefit from the information, or was to be put in the way of consulting the original source.
Another very long translation from Schelling commences near the foot of p. 254, B. L., and is continued through pp. 255, 256, 257, 258, 259, 260, 261. Throughout these, six interpolations and variations occur; but they are so very unimportant that we may say the whole of the pages are faithfully transcribed from the Transc. Id., p. 1 to p. 9. In continuation of his translation, left off near the foot of p. 261, B. L., Coleridge, without a break, copies the remainder of this page and pp. 262, 263, as far as the word" entities," from the Phil. Schrift., pp. 273, 274. We must remark, however, that a pretty long interpolation of his occurs in p. 262, B. L. We have also to remark, that the quotation in p. 263, B. L., Doctrina per tot manus tradita tandem in vappam desiit, is employed by Schelling in Phil. Schrift., p. 212.
At p. 264, et seq., B. L., certain Theses occur, which are mainly taken from Schelling, though here the sentences of the original are so garbled, mutilated, and transposed, as to be in general quite unintelligible. Some of the smaller disjecta membra have probably escaped us: but we may particularize the second sentence of p. 268, B. L., as occurring in the Transc. Id., p. 48. Then the whole of Theses vii. viii. (B. L., pp. 269, 270, 271) are taken bodily from Phil. Schrift., pp. 223, 224, 225, with some slight variations that add nothing to the sense. In Thesis ix., the first and fifth sentences are copied nearly verbatim from Transc. Id., pp. 26, 27. Two full pages of Thesis x. are copied from Transc. Id., pp. 27, 28, 29—a few alterations being introduced, which we may say, in Hibernian fashion, are decidedly improvements for the worse. The last instance, with which we conclude this strange catalogue of plagiarisms from Schelling, occurs in B. L., p. 279. the greater part of which page is to be found in the Phil. Schrift., pp 203, 204.
On looking back over the result of our researches, we perceive that we have traced the palpable presence of Schelling in thirty-three of Coleridge's pages. From these we will deduct two—rather more than the quantity he admits to have been translated in part from a "contemporary writer of the Continent;"—thus leaving thirty-one pages faithfully transcribed, either wholly or partially, from Schelling. We perceive that the continuous whole pages so transcribed, amount to thirteen; that the continuous half-pages so transcribed amount to six; and that the smaller passages under half a page interspersed throughout the work, amount to twelve. These latter may be calculated, on a very moderate computation, at three pages. So that we have the extraordinary number of nineteen full pages, copied almost verbatim from the works of the German philosopher, without one distinct word of acknowledgment on the part of the transcriber—an event in the history of literature altogether unprecedented, we believe; and in reference to the party chiefly concerned, we think we may add, quite unsuspected until now.
Are our readers aware how the first volume of the Biographia Literaria ends? They must understand that the whole of it is intended to stand merely as an introduction to some grand theory of the "Imagination,' discovered and to be propounded by Mr Coleridge. Near the end of the volume, however, when our curiosity is on the point, as we imagine, of being gratified, the work suddenly breaks down in the middle of a sentence, in consequence of Coleridge'. receipt of a letter from a friend—evidently written by himself—informing us that the world is not yet ripe for his discovery; that his "Treatise on Real-idealism," (the very name by which Schelling's system is known,) "holding the same relation in abstruseness to Plotinus, as Plotinus does to Plato," would be too much for ordinary readers; and accordingly, "in consequence of this very judicious letter," Coleridge allows his work to break down as we have said. Now, our view is, that it was not at-all in consequence of the consideration conveyed in this letter that he stopped short. The way in which we account for the stoppage is this. Interspersed throughout the works of Schelling, glimpses and indications are to be found of some stupendous theory on the subject of the imagination. These shadowy intimations, we think, Coleridge expected to be able to catch and unriddle; but after proceeding a certain length in his work, he found himself unable to do so. When he came to try, he found himself incompetent to think out the theory which the German philosopher had left enveloped in shadows, and yawning with many hiatuses; and not being able to swim in transcendental depths without Schelling's bladders, and Schelling's bladders not being sufficiently inflated to support him here, he had nothing else for it but to abandon his work altogether, and leave his readers in the lurch. That is our explanation of the matter. Had Schelling been more explicit and tangible on the subject of the imagination, Coleridge would have been so too. Had Schelling fully worked out his theory, Coleridge would have done the same; and we should have had the discovery of the German thinker paraded, for upwards of twenty years, as a specimen of the wonderful powers of the English philosopher.
Before taking leave of the Biographia, we must plead, in a very few words, the cause of another German philosopher, pointed out to us by a friend, as having been very scurvily treated by Coleridge. In Vol. I., p. 107, we find the name "Maasse" (Maasz, it should be) once mentioned by Coleridge, without however any commentary upon it, or any hint that he lay under the smallest obligation to the philosopher of that name. On looking. however, into this author's work, we find that all the real information and learning put forth in Biog. Lit., Chap. V., is stolen bodily from him. In B. L., pp. 100, 101, et seq., a considerable show of learning is exhibited on the subject of the association of ideas; and of course, the reader's impression is, that Coleridge is indebted for the learning here displayed to nothing but his own researches. But no such thing—he is indebted for it entirely to Maasz. He found all the quotations, and nearly all the observations connected with them, ready-made to his hand in the pages of that philosopher. "Long before, says Coleridge, p. 100, "either Hobbes or Des Cartes, the law of association had been defined, and its important functions set forth by Melanchthon, Amerbach, and Ludovicus Vives, more especially the last." Maasz says precisely the same thing, p. 343. Then follows (p. 101) Coleridge's account of the distinction which Vives makes between Imaginatio and Phantasia. This distinction is distinctly pointed out by Maasz, p. 344. Then follow four quotations from Vives—all of which are to be found in Maasz, Pp. 344, 345. In a word, all Coleridge's learning bearing upon Melanchthon, Amerbach, and Vives, is to be found in Maasz. Passing on to Coleridge's remarks on what Aristotle says on the subject of association, we find that here, too, his coincidences with Maasz are a good deal more than coincidences. In B. L., p. 102, we read that "Aristotle's positions on this subject (the association of ideas) are unmixed with fiction." Maasz, p. 345, tells us that Aristotle is (ganz aufs reine gekommen) "as pure as possible" in his doctrines upon this point. Then Coleridge's observation (p. 108) respecting Aristotle's use of the word κίνησις, as which he informs us that Aristotle uses this word "to express what we call ideas or representations;" and that when he uses it to denote material motion, he invariably annexes to it "the words ἐν τόπῳ or κατά τόπον"—all this is to be found distinctly brought forward by Maasz, pp. 321, 324; and finally, a good deal of what follows in B. L., pp. 103, 104, maybe traced to Maasz, p. 325, et seq.
To return for one moment to Schelling. On looking through Coleridge's Literary Remains, we find that he is not contented with purloining Schelling's philosophy, but he must also plunder him of his Aesthetics. Lecture XIII., "On Poesy or Art," (vide L. R., vol. i. p. 216, et seq.,) is closely copied, and many parts of it are translated from Schelling's very eloquent" Discourse upon the Relation in which the Plastic Arts stand to Nature," (vide Phil. Schrift., 343, et seq.) What will Coleridge's admirers say, upon finding it thus proved that even his notions upon poetry and the fine arts in general are mainly drawn from the profound wells of the German philosopher—that his diamonds, no less than his fuel, are dug up from Schelling's inexhaustible mines!
We have seen, then, that Coleridge is indebted to Schelling for most of his philosophy, and for some of his profoundest views on the subject of the great art in which he most excelled—the art of poetry; but to whom is he indebted for some of the brightest gems in his poetic wreath itself? We answer, that among other sources he is indebted in particular to Schiller and to Christian Count Stolberg, some of whose most exquisite productions he has appropriated without one word of acknowledgement. His obligations to Frederica Brun for many of the leading ideas of his " Hymn before Sunrise in the vale of Chamouni" have been already pointed out elsewhere, and are admitted, (see Preface to his Table Talk, p. L.) and therefore we need say no more on that subject. We proceed to particularize three other instances of the grossest plagiarism committed upon the works of the two authors just mentioned; which cases have never, we believe, been exposed till now—a very extraordinary circumstance, in so far, at least, as Schiller is concerned.
When we first read, a good many years ago, (we think in an annual,) these verses of Coleridge's in which he at one describes and exemplifies the Homeric hexameter and the Ovidian elegiac metre, we remember being quite petrified with astonishment and delight. It appeared to us that words—particularly in the instance of the hexameter and pentameter distich—had never before been made to perform so exquisite and miraculous a feat. This, thought we, is certainly absolute perfection in the kind of thing which is attempted. The lines are these
"the homeric hexameter described and exemplified.
"Strongly it bears us along,
in swelling and limitless billows:
Nothing before, and nothing behind
but the sky and the ocean.
"the ovidian elegiac metre described and exemplified. .
"In the hexameter rises the fountain's silvery column;
In the pentameter aye falling in melody back."
What was our surprise and mortification, when, some years afterwards, we found that, in both instances, these lines had been copied verbatim from Schiller. We confess we even felt somewhat indignant at the imposition that had been played off upon us; and besides, we thought it very shameful that Schiller should have been defrauded of his own property, and of his own proper honours. As a translation, Coleridge's verses are certainly very admirable, because, tallying almost word for word with the original, they preserve exactly the effect which it produces: but that is no justification of his concealment. Perhaps he thought that he had improved so much upon the original that he was entitled to claim the verses as his own. But this we deny;—his lines on the Homeric metre are not quite so good as Schiller's; his lines on the Ovidian distich are as good, (with the exception of the word "silvery," which is inferior to "flüssige,") but not one whit better than Schiller's. But that German readers may judge of this for themselves, we subjoin the original verses Coleridge's translation may be seen in his own Works, vol. ii. p. 146, Ed. 1836.
We first read the following verses in the Quarterly Review, vol. ii. p 26; they are now embodied in Coleridge's Works, vol. ii. p. 131, Ed. 1836.
"to a cataract.
Thou leapest from forth
The cell of thy hidden nativity!
Never mortal saw
The cradle of the strong one;
Never mortal heard
The gathering of his voices—
The deep-murmur'd charm of the son of the rock,
Which is lisp'd evermore at his slumber-less fountain.
There's a cloud at the portal, a spray-woven veil
At the shrine of his ceaseless renewing:
It embosoms the roses of dawn;
It entangles the shafts of the noon;
And into the bed of its stillness
The moonshine sinks down as in slumber—
That the sun of the rock—that the nursling of heaven
May be born in a holy twilight."
The Quarterly Review informs us that Mr Coleridge recited these lines "as a specimen of lyric rhythm, which he thought might satisfy the ear without rhyme;"—and he certainly establishes his point—nothing can be more exquisite than the versification here presented to us, and the ideas, too, are good; but we are under the necessity of adding this qualification—alas! he establishes his point, only by closely adopting the metre, the language. and the thoughts of another man. He is but the shadow—a glorified shadow, perhaps—but here is the substance from which it is thrown, presented before us in the person of Count Stolberg. This coincidence was pointed out to us by a friend some time ago. We thus translate, word for word, the Count's "Der Felsen strom"—"The Cataract" subjoining the original in a note for the benefit of unbelievers:—
Thou streamest from forth
Out of the rock-clift;
Never mortal saw
The cradle of the strong one;
Never ear heard
The babbling of the noble one in his spray-scattering well.
The sun clothes thee in rays of glory;
He paints with the colours of the heavenly bow
The wavering clouds of the dust-flood."
Having alluded to the Quarterly Review, we shall here take the liberty of extracting part of a sentence, from that very able work, touching another of Coleridge's coincidences:—" We cannot" (says the Quarterly, vol. lii. P. 21)—" we cannot miss this opportunity of mentioning the curious act, that, long before Goethe's Faust had appeared in a complete state—indeed before Mr Coleridge had ever seen any part of it—he had planned a work upon the same, or what he takes to be the same, idea." This is certainly a curious fact; but we do not think our readers will consider it so very curious, now that a good deal of light has been thrown upon the nature of his other "coincidences."
We have now done with our subject. We have set forth and argued the case of Coleridge's plagiarisms, precisely as we should have done that of any other person who had carried them on to the same extent. By this we mean to say, that we have accorded to him—on the plea of peculiar habits, or peculiar intellectual conformation—no privilege, or immunity, or indulgence, which we would not equally have accorded to any plagiarist of the most methodical ways and of the most common clay. And in acting thus, we think we have acted rightly. For why should a man, who has been more highly gifted than his fellows, be therefore held less amenable than they to the laws which ought to bind all human beings, and regulate their relations and their dealings with one another? It is high time that genius should cease to be pleaded as an excuse for deviations from the plain path of rectitude, or be held up as a precedent which the leading men of future generations may avail themselves of, should they be inclined to depart from the strict standards of propriety and truth.
That Coleridge was tempted into this course by vanity, by the paltry desire of applause, or by any direct intention to defraud others of their due, we do not believe; this never was believed, and never will be believed. But still he was seduced into it—God knows how: he did defraud others of their due, and therefore we have considered it necessary to expose his proceedings, and to vindicate the rights of his victims. Perhaps we might have dwelt more than we have done upon what many may consider the extenuating circumstances of his case—we mean his moral and intellectual conformation, originally very peculiar, and further modified by the effects of immoderate opium-taking. But this would only take us out of one painful subject into another still more distressing. We therefore say no more. Our purpose will have been answered, should any future author who may covet his neighbour's Pegasus or prose-nag, and conceive that the high authority of Coleridge may, to a certain extent, justify him in making free with them, be deterred from doing so by the example we have now put forth in terrorem. Let all men know and consider that plagiarism, like murder, sooner or later will out.
- Instead of calling the work of Schelling, which he has in his mind's eye, by its right name, Philosophische Schriften, he calls it his Kleine Philosophische Werke. We admit he tells us he is drawing upon his memory or his belief. But he ought not to have done so; for in a case of this kind nothing can be tolerated short of the most scrupulous accuracy. Besides, the passage he refers to is not contained even in the Phil. Schrift.; it occurs in Schelling's System des Transcendentalen Idealismus.
- Schelling was born in 1775. The one of his works which Coleridge unmercifully rifles was written in 1796-97, (Phil. Schrift, p. 201;) the other, the Transcendental Idealism, was published in 1800. Coleridge was born in 1772 and his work, the. Biographia Literaria, was not published until 1817.
- System des Transcendentalen Idealismus. Tubingen: 1800.
- Philosophische Schriften. (First volume — all ever published.) Landshut: 1809.
- Ideen zu einer Philosophie der Natur. (Second ed.) Landahut; 1803.
- Darlegung des wahren Verhältnisses der Natur-philosophie zu der verbesserten Fichteschen Lehre. Tubingen: 1806.
- Vorlesungen über die Methode des Academischen Studium.
- Versuch über die Einbildungskraft. Halle and Leipzig: 1797.
- Der epische Hexameter:—
"Schwindelnd trägt er dich fort auf rastlos strömenden Wogen:
Hinter dir siehst du, du siehst vor dir nur Himmel und Meer."
"Im Hexameter steigt des Spring-quells flüssige Säule:
Im Pentameter drauf fällt sie melodisch herab."
— Shiller's Werke, Vol. I., p. 262. Ed: Stuttgart und Tubingen: 1827.
Let the classical reader take up Ovid's Heroides or Tristia, and he will find in every page illustrations of the manner in which the hexameter breaks, as it were, and falls back in the pentameter—thereby adding a most exquisite grace to the rhythm. The secret genius of the metre appears to consist in this play. Here are one or two instances taken from Penelope's Letter to Ulysses:—
"Troja jacet certe, Danais invisa puellis.
Vix Priamus tanti totaque Troja fult."
"Quando ego non timui graviora pericula veris?
Res est solliciti plena timorie amor.
"Sive quis Antilochum narrabat ab Hectore victum
Antilochus nostri causa timoris erat."
- "Unsterblicher Jungling!
Du strömest hervor!
Au der Felsenkluft. !
Kein Sterblicher sah!
Die Wiege des Starken: !
Es hörte kein Ohr, !
Das Lallen des Edlen im sprudelnden Quell. !
Dich kleidet die Sonne!
In Strahlen des Ruhmes! !
Sie mahlet mit Farben des himmlischen Bogens!
Die schwebenden Wolken der staüdenden Fluth."
—Vide Vol. I., p. 104, Gesammelte Werke der Bruder Christian und Fred. Leopold Grafen. zu Stolberg. Hamburg: 1820.