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Michael John Kooy, Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education

Thursday, May 15, 2003 - 07:26
Michael John Kooy, Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education. New York: Palgrave, 2002. xii + 241pp.  $59.95 (Hdbk; ISBN: 0-333-74936-7).

Reviewed by
Tilar J. Mazzeo
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Although much has been made of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's interest in and intellectual obligations to German Romantic figures such as Schelling and Kant and to the Jena Romantics more generally, his relationship to his older contemporary, Friedrich Schiller, has not been the subject of extended critical inquiry.  In his recent study of Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education, Michael John Kooy remedies this imbalance, offering the first sustained account of Coleridge's relationship to Schiller and while tracing the poet's evolving investment in the psychological and historical effects of Bildung, a term that encompasses both "aesthetic education" and its "cultivation."  Drawing upon extensive new research into Romantic print culture and offering lucid insights into subtle philosophical distinctions, Kooy charts the contours of a sustained intellectual engagement and offers Coleridge's readers a fresh perspective on his early German translations, his attitudes toward female education and genius, and his privileging of clerical history.

Kooy suggests that Coleridge's relationship to the writing of Schiller has been obscured for several reasons.  On the one hand, Kooy identifies and refutes the "unexamined presumption" (4) that, because Coleridge does not call attention to Schiller as a source, there was no substantial interest or influence.   In fact, Coleridge not only owned copies of Schiller's Muse's Almanac (1797), Poems (1800, 1803; 2 vols.), and Shorter Works in Prose (1792-1802; 2 vols.)--a collection representing the majority of the philosopher's corpus--but he also had access to any number of contemporary periodicals publishing works of German literary interest for an engaged British reading public.  Perhaps most importantly, Kooy shows that Coleridge was at least loosely affiliated with a circle of English Germanophiles, which included intimates such as Thomas Beddoes, William Taylor, and Henry Crabb Robinson, all of whom were writing reviews and completing German translations for these periodical journals.  Kooy suggests that Coleridge's fraught relationship to his other German sources has made critics wary of engaging his intellectual debts to Schiller, especially in the Biographia Literaria.  Although "Coleridge clearly did not rely on Schiller textually in the same way as he did on the Schlegels or on Schelling," Kooy proposes that there has been a "nervous fixation on sources" and that "we have become unaccustomed, even unwilling, to think of Coleridge's relationship with the other thinkers except in terms of either slavish dependence or absolute ignorance" (96).  As a result, Kooy maintains that important aspects of both Coleridge's compositional method and his investment in the social role of aesthetics have been elided.

The first four chapters of Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education focus on how Schiller influenced the context of Coleridge's early writings and literary efforts, particularly his initial interest in drama.  Kooy argues that, although Coleridge and Schiller did not meet personally during the 1798-99 trip to Germany, there are several reasons to suspect that Coleridge had identified intellectually and politically with Schiller by the time Coleridge undertook his tour.  Most significantly, Kooy reminds his readers that Schiller was well-known in Britain during the 1790s because of his republican dramas such as The Robbers (English, 1792), a text that Coleridge recorded having read in 1794.  However, although Coleridge was familiar with Schiller from these theatrical and political contexts, Schiller's "psychological accuracy" (26) in these plays emerges as the most resonant influence.  Notably, and perhaps inevitably, this psychological interest shaped Coleridge's early interest in dramatic forms.  Kooy points to the comparisons Coleridge drew between The Robbers and Wordsworth's The Borderers due to a shared mastery of sentiment, and he reads Coleridge's own Osorio (1797) drama as a text in dialogue with Schiller.  However, Kooy's main point is to offer an extended account of the translation of Schiller's three-part drama Wallenstein (1798) that Coleridge undertook in 1800.  As Kooy observes, the place of the translation in Coleridge's career "is still understudied" (38), and he argues that Coleridge's engagement with Wallenstein and with the themes of aesthetic education that it explores marks an important moment in the poet's formulation of an "educative thesis" (6).

If Coleridge was initially drawn to the psychological drama and the theatrical forms Schiller had refined, he soon came to apply these principles to verse compositions as well, and Kooy suggests that it may be possible to read in the early poems a similar investment in Weimar classicism and "aesthetic education."  Kooy makes two main points here: first, that Coleridge came to apply dramatic principles and themes of "aesthetic education" to his verse in a cross-genre engagement with Schiller; and secondly, that Coleridge became increasingly interested in the poetry of his German contemporaries after the turn of the century.  In the first instance, Kooy notes, for example, that Coleridge had directly linked Schillerean drama and his own poetic efforts when he decided to translate Wallenstein into English verse.  His reading of the early Coleridge sonnet "To the Author of 'The Robbers'" (c. 1794) likewise explores how the figure of Schiller as the frenzied and ecstatic dramatist helped to shape the more famous representations of aesthetic sublimity in works such as "Kubla Khan" and "Dejection: An Ode."  In respect to the second instance, Kooy tracks Coleridge's reading of Schiller's poetry circa 1801-04 through his fragmentary transcriptions and translations in the notebooks and provides a persuasive account of the ways in which Schiller's poems, along with verse from several other German and Italian poets, contributed to Coleridge's "ongoing study of metrics" (74).  Perhaps most importantly, Kooy traces echoes of Schiller's distichs (Poems, 1800) in "Dejection: An Ode" (71) and echoes of Schiller's review of Bürger's Poems (1789) in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads and, thus, helps to restore one of the international contexts out of which Romanticism emerged.

In the next four chapters of his study, Kooy focuses on how Coleridge's intellectual relationship to Schillerean "aesthetic education" shaped his mature works and, particularly, the theory of poetry that he put forward in works such as the On the Principles of Genial Criticism (1814), the Biographia Literaria, (1815-17), and The Friend (1809-10; 1818).  Here Kooy skillfully negotiates the terrain of Kantian and post-Kantian moral philosophy in order to demonstrate that "Schiller's 'aesthetic education' would become . . . the conceptual frame for Coleridge's 'imagination'" (107).  Revising and occasionally correcting earlier readings of both Schiller and Coleridge that have over-emphasized the ahistorical and amoral implications of Bildung or "cultivation," Kooy's thesis proposes that Coleridge, like Schiller, "sought to make aesthetic autonomy purposive by stressing the indirect relationship to moral self-determination" (98).  The argument is essentially that by cultivating the aesthetic and its experience of freedom from external (e.g., social, moral, physical) laws of determination the individual is able to understand by way of analogy his own moral freedom and its internal and ideal regulation.  In addition to tracking carefully a complex philosophical genealogy, Kooy's argument has several important implications.  Perhaps most significantly, Kooy is able to offer a new assessment of Coleridge's attitude toward didacticism.  Returning to the Romantic-period contrast between the "naïve" poetry associated with writers such as John Clare and "various women poets" and the "sentimental" poetry with which Coleridge occasionally associated his own verse, Kooy argues that the characterization of didacticism as "a kind of pitfall into which the 'sentimental' poet in particular was liable to fall . . . complicates our picture of the sort of 'high Romanticism' Coleridge and Schiller can be said to stand for" (133).  The opposition to didacticism was that it represented the reinsertion of external laws of determination into art and was, therefore, fundamentally contrary to the freedom of the moral-aesthetic experience.  However, the "sentimental" mode also stands in for the poetry of a dominant category of Romanticism that has historically been associated with the bourgeois and masculine values of the first generation.  Thus, Kooy proposes that when Coleridge argued against didactic sentimentalism, he was simultaneously suggesting "the very limitations of that dominant mode" (133).  The implication here, of course, is that Coleridge may have been--philosophically at least--open to the possibility of more inclusive and multiple paradigms for Romantic aesthetic values.

This attention to women writers and to the role of women in Coleridge's vision of "aesthetic education" perhaps warrants particular attention.  Kooy's engagement with the question of gender-bias is at once the most ambitious and the least satisfying part of this fine study.  In the twenty pages that he dedicates to the analysis of gender, Kooy deftly recovers for his readers the essentials of Schiller's argument concerning women and aesthetic education: they are naïve and, therefore, naturally moral beings, for whom the higher moral purposes of aesthetic education are at best redundant and at worst misleading, and, thus, he concludes that "[t]hough she stands as an emblem of Bildung's ambitions, the female nevertheless remains unconscious of its secret workings: she is the object of 'aesthetic education', but not its subject" (183).  Continuing his analysis of this point, Kooy observes that Coleridge's revision of Schiller tends to emphasize more explicitly the dangers of female education, to the degree that female "participation in Bildung seems not only unnecessary but immoral" (184).  This is placed in the context of the ways in which Coleridge represented and shaped the education of his own intellectually gifted daughter, Sara, and to the value Coleridge placed on the "characterless" (186) female figure in his literary criticism.  However, Kooy also wants to argue that Coleridge was more liberal than Schiller in at least one regard: by giving women a role (albeit subordinate) in the "clerisy" and in the processes of "cultivation," Coleridge imagines a public role for women that Schiller did not conceive.  Unfortunately, the limitations and possibilities of this public role are not further interrogated, and the subsequent analysis of representations of women focuses primarily on Schiller--perhaps the only instance in this study where the balance between the two authors is not maintained seamlessly.  Perhaps as a result, the conclusion is profitably suggestive but equivocal; Kooy's section summary proposes that:

The imaginative reality of what Coleridge and Schiller both judged in theoretical terms to be impossible suggests that, in spite of themselves, the reciprocity of the sexes which they had theorized need not be the exclusive advantage of the male; and that the 'Aesthetic State' could admit either sex into its ranks.  Bildung need not be--though it often has been--a prerogative of men. (191)

Precisely how either Coleridge or Schiller opened intellectual space for women remains indeterminate, and readers are left to puzzle over the apparently contradictory statements on and representations of women that Coleridge produced.

Kooy concludes this study by engaging the question of aesthetic history and by examining the role within moral education that Coleridge gave to the "National Church."  Here Kooy proposes that Coleridge distinguished between the divergent aims of economic "civilization" and aesthetic "cultivation," both of which Coleridge maintained were necessary for moral development in society.  Further, Coleridge imagined that a third party--"an institution or class of educators especially responsible for 'aesthetic education'" (167)--would be required to mediate between these opposing forces.  Offering insightful and incisive readings of Coleridge's On the Constitution of Church and State (1829) and the Lay Sermons (1816-17), Kooy shows that the poet sought to establish the "clerisy" or "National Church" in the intermediary function--and in doing so sought to establish a providential history of sorts.  This last point is particularly illuminating: Kooy argues that, as the guardians of "cultivation" or Bildung, the "clerisy" represented an important historical function for Coleridge, who "begins to conceive of history itself as Bildung writ large, as a process of 'cultivation', mediated by the figure of Logos" (201).  Thus, while Coleridge remained often privately invested over the course of his career in the writings of Schiller and in the notion of the disinterested aesthetic experience, Kooy demonstrates in Coleridge, Schiller, and Aesthetic Education that this interest was part of, rather than a diversion from, his public commitments to moral and social progress.