(Coleridge Bulletin, New Series 21, Spring 2003, pp.107-109)
MICHAEL JOHN KOOY’S book provides a reading of many of Coleridge’s major works through Schiller’s concept of “aesthetic education”. Prior to his analysis, however, Kooy addresses what he sees as the major obstacle to his approach—the scarcity of references to Schiller in Coleridge’s notes, letters, and marginalia. He begins with AC. Dunstan’s 1922 claim that Coleridge was not familiar with Schiller, traces that contention in recent articles, then argues that such a “long-standing critical consensus deserves now to be rethought” (4). Kooy bases his contention on Coleridge’s access to a large number of Schiller’s works, his relationship with English Germanophiles, and his consistent response to Schiller’s concept of “aesthetic education”. Finally, Kooy questions the emphasis on “citation alone [as an] accurate measure of one writer’s interest in another (6).
Kooy arranges his analysis chronologically, beginning with the early careers of both Coleridge and Schiller and concluding with their eventual recommendations for the formation of a group of aesthetic educators, a group which Coleridge, of course, termed the “clerisy”. Drama formed the initial link, according to Kooy, especially Coleridge’s interest in Schiller’s political plays The Robbers and Don Carlos during the 1790s. However, Kooy also identifies Coleridge’s preoccupation with the psychological complexities of Schiller’s characters, which, in turn, contributed to similar characterization in his play Osorio.
Acknowledging Coleridge’s failure to “become known to Schiller” during his stay in Germany, Kooy demonstrates Coleridge’s continued attention to Schiller’s work. For example, he refers to Coleridge’s reading of Schiller’s article in Allegemeine Literatur-Zeitung and argues that Coleridge probably purchased or read other works by Schiller, such as Part One of Shorter Works in
Prose and Muses Almanac. Thus, in Kooy’s opinion, Coleridge followed Schiller’s transition from a “hot-blooded iconoclast” to an advocate for the “civilizing function of art” (37). Coleridge, also moderating his own stance, found in Schiller much that paralleled his own shifting opinions, a parallel that, in part, led to and was strengthened by his translation of Wallenstein.
Kooy maintains that during the years following the translation of Wallenstein Coleridge’s reading of Schiller continued as a result of his acquaintance with Germanophiles such as Thomas Beddoes and Henry Crab Robinson. Also, the journal The German Museum served as a resource for those involved in German literature and scholarship. Despite the short-lived popularity of The German Museum (January 1800 to June 1801) and the fading attention of the general public, Kooy identifies a consistent discussion of and access to Schiller’s works. He cites the publication of a biographical essay in The Monthly Magazine following Schiller’s death in 1805 and several poems and essays in 1809 editions of The Universal Magazine. Kooy thus demonstrates a general, though varying in scope, discourse related to Schiller and his aesthetic theories. In addition, he suggests that Coleridge, as an active participant in that discourse and an advocate of Schiller’s aesthetics, turned to his works “not as a source to steal from . . . but rather as an inspiration for his own thinking” (65).
He provides examples of such inspiration in the chapter “Schiller’s Poetry in Coleridge’s Notebooks”. Here Kooy traces Coleridge’s use of Schiller’s poetry to reaffirm or voice his thought during the first decade of the nineteenth century. He mentions, for example, a connection between several of the distichs recorded in his notebooks and “Dejection: An Ode” and points out that Schiller’s poetry echoed many of Coleridge’s deliberations on theology. Kooy also connects Schiller’s notion of “semblance” and Coleridge’s concept of “Poesie”, stressing, again, Coleridge’s practice of expanding and revising Schiller’s theories to suit his own rather than merely duplicating them.
In the chapter on Coleridge’s criticism, Kooy discusses in greater detail Coleridge’s adaptation of Schiller’s “semblance”. First, however, he reviews both Coleridge and Schiller’s responses to Kant and concludes that although both agreed that art should be free to move beyond a solely moral purpose, they, however, sought to resolve the strict dichotomy that Kant established between art and moral action. In order to separate art from moral lessons or factual reports Schiller identifies “semblance” which secures “art’s potentially liberating function” while occupying a middle ground between “physical constraints and moral compulsion” and, as a result, allows exploration of the potential beyond sensory data (111). Kooy argues that in Biographia Literaria Coleridge adapts Schiller’s discussion of “semblance” in his description of “imitation”, “copy”, and “illusion”. Finally, according to Kooy, both authors free art from formulaic didacticism, and, in doing so, place art in a position to “indirectly” benefit individual moral life (118).
Furthermore, as Kooy demonstrates in the last section, Schiller and
Coleridge develop from their notions of the autonomy of art and aesthetic education a broader, national development. Schiller termed such a progression Bildung, a concept Coleridge reworks in his distinction between “civilization” and “cultivation”. In addition, Kooy locates in Coleridge’s notion of the “clerisy” a foundation in Schiller’s Bildung and identifies several similarities, including the exclusion of women from an active role in aesthetic education. Kooy concludes by addressing the dual conception of Bildung present in the theories of both. Schiller and Coleridge depict Bildung as history, “functioning in time and over time” and history as Bildung, “the unfolding of an educative process leading in due course to fulfillment” (193).
Kooy’s book offers a fine, detained analysis of the coherence between the aesthetic theories of Schiller and Coleridge. His treatment incorporates related scholarship thoroughly and convincingly. On the other hand, while Kooy’s defense of the exclusion of women from participation in aesthetic education is commendable, his argument fails to convince. Although, as he asserts, the act of displacement may explain the existence of a few “anomalies”, female characters who “enter into a process of ‘aesthetic education’”, the fact remains that women were consciously excluded in both Coleridge and Schiller’s deliberations. This minor difficulty, however, in no way detracts from Kooy’s thorough and well-documented study which should encourage scholars to reconsider the relationship between Schiller and Coleridge.