A Tract for the Times

The Friend

by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited by Barbara E. Rooke
Bollingen Series LXXV:4, Princeton University Press, 2 volumes, 1,371 pp., $20.00

First of all gratitude to Kathleen Coburn, the editor, and the Bollingen Foundation, the sponsors, of the sorely needed Collected Works of Coleridge; then to Professor Barbara Rooke, the editor of The Friend, which is the first of the works to appear.

The periodical essays that make up this strange miscellany belong to the most troubled period of Coleridge’s life. “Dejection,” the last of the great poems, was written in 1802; Biographia Literaria, the critical work by which he is still best known, came out in 1817. Between these dates, apart from the time spent in Malta (1804-5) as private secretary to Sir Alexander Ball, the British High Commissioner in Malta, Coleridge was almost continuously beset with troubles, domestic and financial. Occasional journalism, occasional lectures, and help from friends barely supplied his own needs and those of his family. Besides, there was the strong inner drive to get his own ideas—his thoughts about metaphysics, religion, and the world at large—into some sort of order. Periodical essays might keep the wolf from the door, and the sense of an audience would perhaps provide the incentive to regular work that he needed so badly. As early as 1804 he had thought of bringing out a series of essays with the resounding title of

Consolations and Comforts from the exercise and right application of the Reason, the Imagination, and the Moral Feelings, addressed especially to those in Sickness, Adversity, or Distress of Mind, from Speculative Gloom etc.

It was not, however, until the summer of 1809—and then in spite of almost insuperable difficulties—that the first number of his paper The Friend finally appeared. Twenty-seven numbers were issued before the project had to be abandoned in March, 1810. The periodical was reissued in book form in 1812, and, with major changes, in a three-volume edition in 1818.

The first of the two volumes now before us contains the definitive text, Coleridge’s reworking of the original publication, with its tidying-up, omissions, and additions, of which the most important is the restored “Treatise on Method,” so sadly mangled when it came out in the Encyclopaedia Metropolitana for which it had been commissioned. Volume II contains the text of The Friend as it first appeared in 1809 and 1810, together with notes on subscribers, collation tables, and other useful information. Lavish footnotes give printed and manuscript variants; |quotations are traced to their sources and translated.

In a long Introduction Miss Rooke tells the heroical-tragical-comical story of Coleridge’s attempt to keep his periodical going, traces the history of The Friend to the “rifacimento” of 1818, indicates its effect on such nineteenth-century figures as Frederick Denison Maurice, and adds—all too briefly—some comments of her own on Coleridge’s “toughness of mind” which went with his openness of imagination. In short, Miss Rooke has done a splendid piece of work. The price of these two handsome volumes is very high, however: in view of the standard of editorial care and of production it is hard to see how…

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