Coleridge’s Literary Studies at Göttingen in 1799:

Reconsidering the Library Borrowings from the University of Göttingen

Maximiliaan van Woudenberg


(Coleridge Bulletin, New Series 21, Spring 2003, pp.66-80)




On September 16, 1798, Coleridge embarked on a ten-month journey to Germany—during four months of which he studied at the University of Göttingen in 1799.  It is well-known that during his second university career at Göttingen, Coleridge attended the natural history lectures of Professor Blumenbach—the founder of modern anthropology—as well as the theology lectures of Professor Eichhorn.  Lesser known, but of equal significance, are Coleridge’s literary studies at Göttingen.  In a letter from Ratzeburg to Thomas Poole on January 4, 1799, Coleridge outlines his proposed study of German literature:


by three month’s residence at Gottingen [sic] I shall have on paper at least all the materials… of a work… . I have planned… a Life of Lessing—& interweaved with it a true state of German Literature, in it’s rise & present state.—at Gottingen [sic] I will read [Lessing’s]… works regularly, according to the years in which they were written, & the controversies, religious & literary, which they occasioned.  (CL 269, 454-455. Emphasis Coleridge)[1]


Earl Leslie Griggs notes that “Coleridge’s projected study of Lessing, to which so many references occur in succeeding letters, was never carried out” (455).

       Literary critics often emphasize Coleridge’s failure to produce his projected Life of Lessing, ignoring the success of Coleridge’s literary studies.  Molly Lefebure’s 1974 biography, for example, construes the non-writing of the Life of Lessing as the direct result of Coleridge’s opium addiction.[2]  Perhaps most representative of the critical shortcoming to address the significance of Coleridge’s literary studies are Basil Willey’s dismissive comments in 1972:


Coleridge himself learnt little during his ten month’s absence [in Germany] which he could not have learnt at home… the Göttingen lectures, the collecting of materials for a… life of Lessing, served


[67] perpetuate the illusion of work-in-progress… [blinding Coleridge] to the reality of wasted time and dissipated energies. (74)[3]


Such approaches, however, disregard the significance of Coleridge’s studies of German literature facilitated via his library borrowings at Göttingen.  A close analysis of the intertextual dialogue between Coleridge’s letters and borrowings from the Göttingen library in 1799, clearly indicates that Coleridge had fully researched enough material for a book on Lessing and the “true state of German literature” upon his return to England.

       Willey, therefore, is simply mistaken that “Coleridge… learnt little [in Germany]… which he could not have learnt at home.”  The historical fact is that Coleridge’s studies of German literature and language could not have been facilitated in England.  In the late-eighteenth century, the knowledge of German literature, language, and culture, was limited to the transmission of periodical reviews about German texts and distorted English translations of French translations of the German original.  Moreover, the works that enjoyed particular popularity in England, such as Kotzebue’s plays and selected works by Schiller, to name a few, were received in England outside of their cultural context, indeed, in ignorance of, the cultural production and literary movements behind these works.[4]

       In German Literature in British Magazines (1949), Hohlfeld and Morgan argue that the cross-cultural exchange of German literature on its own cultural terms was non-existent in England during the 1790s.


There was evidently no cultural center capable of fostering, clarifying, or defending what was most valuable in the… [German] field… .What was needed [in England] and not forthcoming was a great mediator to do what Lessing… had done for English culture in Germany… (49-50)


Within the context of this reception history of German literature in England during the 1790s, Coleridge’s literary studies at Göttingen become especially significant because Coleridge studies German literature within the cultural context of its production.  In this regard Coleridge’s proposed Life of Lessing, and its accompanying study of “German Literature, in it’s rise & present state,” potentially position Coleridge in Lessing’s footsteps as a cross-cultural mediator and interpreter of German literature upon his return to England in the Summer of 1799.

       The focus of this paper is Coleridge’s firmness of purpose in pursuing his




literary studies of German language and literature.[5]  Coleridge’s library borrowings at Göttingen provide the best extant documentation of Coleridge’s literary studies facilitated by his reading of German print media.  Indeed, the Göttingen library presents itself as the ideal resource for Coleridge’s literary studies, the library being, in Coleridge’s own words: “without doubt… the very first in the World both in itself, & in the management of it.”[6]  At the end of the eighteenth-century the library at Göttingen numbered more than 200,000 volumes.[7]  An examination of the twenty-one library borrowings listed in A. D. Snyder’s 1928-article entitled, “Books Borrowed by Coleridge from the Library of the University of Göttingen,” reveals that Coleridge did not borrow randomly, but systematically.[8] 

       Specifically, an analysis of Coleridge’s Göttingen library borrowings suggests that Coleridge forges an intertextual dialogue with other print-media sources in order to systematically research his subject matter.  This intertextual dialogue is mediated via a wide-array of print media, which ranges from reference and linguistic texts in Latin and German, epistolary correspondence, and Coleridge’s notebooks, to the subsequent borrowings of sources cited in footnotes.  The subject matter and content of this intertextual dialogue between print-media sources and library borrowings illustrate Coleridge’s systematic study of German literary periods prior to Lessing. Coleridge chronologically studies the Minnesinger and Meistersanger periods in German literature, anthologies of German literature, and scholarly texts about Lessing such as Schutz’s About Lessing’s Genius and Writings (1782).[9] 

       Coleridge matriculated to the University of Göttingen on February 14, 1799.  Between February 21 and June 16, 1799, Coleridge borrowed twenty-two texts from the university library.  Twenty-one of these borrowings are listed chronologically in A. D. Snyder’s 1928 article, compiled from the Göttingen “library registers for the year 1798-99” (377).  An additional borrowing was identified in 1935 by Carl August Weber in his The Significance of Bristol for the English Romantics and German-Anglo Relations.[10]  These twenty-two borrowings comprise a wide array of print media, including periodicals, reference texts, glossaries, scholarly texts, and anthologies.  Sixteen of these texts are in the German language, four are written in Latin, one in French, and one in English.  The subject matter and chronology of these borrowings,




however, concentrate almost exclusively on German literature and language from the Gothic period to the eighteenth century.

       In her article, Snyder chronologically lists Coleridge’s library borrowings in two registers.  Register one lists five borrowings from February 21 to February 28, 1799.  The remaining seventeen borrowings commence after the March semester hiatus on April 1 until June 16.  There are no existing records for borrowings during March, nor for books consulted in the library itself.  I will discuss each register in regard to Coleridge’s methodological and chronological study of German literature and language in turn.  


Register I:  Coleridge’s Study of the Minnesinger Period

Register I documents the start of Coleridge’s literary studies with the Gothic period and the development of the German language during the middle ages.  Coleridge’s initial two borrowings are specific: a collection of Schwabish Poetry until the fourteenth century and a Collection of Minnesinger Poetry.[11]  Why would Coleridge specifically select to start with texts about the Minnesingers and Schwabish Poetry? 

       From the extant correspondence with the Wordsworths in Goslar we know that Coleridge was already studying the older German poets while lodging at Ratzeburg.  In early December 1798 Wordsworth writes to Coleridge asking if he was “able to get any information concerning the earlier poets of Germany?”  Wordsworth then forwards Coleridge the following textual reference:


I find in Monsieur Raimond’s translation of Coxe’s Travels in Switzerland, that Mr Bodmer a German poet of Zurich had presented him with a volume of amorous verses of the thirteenth century.  This work is extracted from a manuscript which the King of France entrusted to the city of Zurich in the year 1752.  (EWL 105)[12]


Wordsworth’s cited reference is to the 1758 Bodmer and Breitinger text, Collection of Minnesinger Poetry (1758-59),[13]—the exact edition first borrowed by Coleridge from the Göttingen library, along with another Bodmer and Breitinger edition of Schwabish Poetry published in 1748.  Coleridge’s initial borrowings, therefore, are stimulated by the intertextual dialogue of Wordsworth’s reference to Bodmer from a 1781 French translation of Coxe’s travels that he had been reading.

       The Bodmer and Breitinger borrowings are significant not only for this example of intertextual dialogue, but also for their scholarly content.  The




glossary of the 1748 text explains the “darker words in contemporary” use by the Minnesinger.  The explanatory preface to the 1758 text updates the “History of the Hand-writing of the Minnesinger” appendix which had been previously published in the 1748 text.  Clearly, these borrowings function as a selected introduction to the beginnings of the German poetic tradition.  The glossary allows for an understanding of the archaic language, while the preface provides Coleridge with a contemporary scholarly interpretation.

       Coleridge’s subsequent borrowings a week later on February 28, 1799, are three texts about the linguistic development of the German language.[14]  Two of these borrowings are in Latin: a book of Grammar Tables and a Latin Dictionary of German.  In particular, the Latin dictionary, which alphabetically lists German words with a Latin definition, would have been a useful reference resource for Coleridge.  Judging by Coleridge’s notebook entries during this period, this method of employing his linguistic knowledge of Latin to cross-reference his understanding and learning of the German language was not uncommon. Indeed, he had applied such a method of Latin-German cross-referencing while learning the German language in Ratzeburg.

       However, in the case of the Latin borrowings at Göttingen a few months later, Coleridge was no longer learning, but rather studying the origins of the German language.  Clearly, within the context of the Bodmer and Breitinger borrowings of Minnesinger poetry—written in an archaic form of the German language—Coleridge is trying to familiarize himself with the linguistic expressions used during the Minnesinger period in order to contextualize his reading of the poetry.  This is further supported by his last borrowing before the March hiatus: Willenbücher’s Practical Instructions; a detailed and somewhat specialized study of the development of the German language until the fourteenth century.  This German text presents comparative tables charting the linguistic evolution of German words over specific periods from the ninth to the fourteenth century.

       Clearly, Coleridge’s initial five library borrowings in February 1799 are not random, but testify to a systematic study of German literature and language forged from a variety of print-media sources.  In starting with the Minnesinger literary period, Coleridge begins his study with the roots of German literature.  Methodologically, Coleridge cross-references his reading of Minnesinger poetry through a linguistic study of Latin and German reference texts.  Lastly, the intertextual dialogue of the epistolary correspondence with Wordsworth stimulates and supports Coleridge’s literary studies.



Register II: From Meistersinger to the Eighteenth Century

After the March hiatus Coleridge borrows three texts[15] between April 1 and April 6, but only one of these—von Selchow’s Elements of the German Language[16]—directly continues the subject matter of Coleridge’s linguistic studies begun in February.  During the following eighteen days Coleridge does not borrow at all from the library.[17]

       The second phase of Coleridge’s literary studies, then, dates from April 28 to June 16 and concentrates specifically on German literature from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Coleridge’s borrowings during this period become more specialized, focusing on academic and scholarly editions.  Although the remaining fourteen borrowings follow Coleridge’s chronological study of “an history of the Belles Letters in Germany before the time of Lessing”[18] for the purpose of clarity, I have classified these borrowings according to area of study as follows:


1.         a study of individual German authors prior to Lessing

2.         a study of anthologies and scholarly texts on German literature 

3.         miscellaneous borrowings


Thematically, the three texts in the miscellaneous category stand out as random borrowings rather than systematic borrowings concerning Coleridge’s literary studies. For this reason I have chosen not to discus these three texts in detail here.[19]


1. The Meistersinger Period:  Individual Authors and Intertextuality

Coleridge outlines his study of individual authors prior to Lessing in a May 21 letter to Josiah Wedgwood. 


[M]y main Business at Göttingen has been to read all the numerous Controversies in which L. [Lessing] was engaged / & the works of all those German Poets before the time of Lessing, which I could not, or could not afford to buy— (CL 283, 519; Emphasis Coleridge)




Starting on May 24 Coleridge selectively borrowed six texts considered either too costly, or not available on the market, and therefore exclusive to the library holdings at Göttingen.  These borrowings concentrate on individual authors and their works before the “time of Lessing,” such as: Hans Sachs (1494-1576); Daniel Caspar Lohenstein (1635-1683); Johann Christoph Wagenseil (1633-1705); and Balthasar Kindermann (1636-1706).[20]  The study of these four authors can be categorized as a study of the Meistersinger period: the German guilds of poets during the fourteenth and sixteenth century.  Chronologically, then, these borrowings chart the natural progression from Coleridge’s study of the Minnesinger period in German literary history.  For the sake of brevity here, however, I will focus exclusively on the intertextual dialogue of Coleridge’s rather enthusiastic study of Hans Sachs.

       Coleridge’s interest in Hans Sachs during this period has been well-documented.  His June, 1799, notebook entry records his visit to Hans Sachs’ shop in Wolfenbüttel.[21]  Lesser known, perhaps, is Weber’s argument about Coleridge’s “systematic reading” and the intertextual dialogue of his library borrowings.  Coleridge’s systematic reading “is indicated by the works he [Coleridge] takes up and in his verification of the truthfulness of the content by checking the context of the quoted authority” (Weber, 165).[22]   Weber supports his argument by tracing several footnoted sources in Coleridge’s borrowings to subsequent library borrowings.

       However, Weber does not develop the implications of this intertextual dialogue in regard to Coleridge’s literary studies.  An analysis of the first chapter of Ranish’s text, entitled “About the Sources of this Particular History,”[23] reveals that Ranish not only lists the Wagenseil text on page 8, but identifies Wagenseil as one of three definitive authorities on Hans Sachs.  “Many authors of the previous century” writes Ranish


have dealt with H. S. [Hans Sachs]. . . .All these books… .with which I have become acquainted… [and] consulted… .above-all [do] deserve Wagenseil… .the famous Prof. in Altdorf [sic]… [and] the unmentioned collector of the poetical masterpieces… [and] Herr Schöber… and… M. Hirsch… to be named with praise… (Ranish, 7-9) [24]


Interestingly, Ranish footnotes the specific Wagenseil edition used in his study as: “this particular book of the Meistersingerkunst can be found in the 1697 work printed in Altdorf [sic][25] de civitate Noribergensi” (Ranish, 8).[26]  The immediate borrowing of the exact 1697 Wagenseil edition the following day suggests that Coleridge is cross-referencing the sources cited by Ranish both for research purposes and perhaps to contextualize Ranish’s critical method.  Moreover, the Wagenseil text presents a very detailed study of the Meistersinger period.  Contrary to its Latin title, the text is written in German and presents a history of the Meistersinger Art complete with musical notations illustrating the four performance laws of Meistersinger verse.

       Similarly, on page 155 of the Ranish-text, Weller’s five-volume edition of Hans Sach’s poetry, Very Marvellous Beautiful Poems,[27] is identified as “the first attempt [to print] a complete collection...of Hans Sachs’” poetry (Ranish, 154-155).[28]  Coleridge borrows the first four volumes on May 25 and the fifth volume on May 27.   Again, the immediacy of these borrowings the following day documents Coleridge’s seriousness about a thorough study of Hans Sachs which appears to include a fundamental study of Sachs scholarship.

       The intertextual dialogue of these borrowings contextualize Coleridge’s laments to Poole and his wife that he lacks time to transcribe “information from sources so scattered” (CL 276, 484).  Coleridge’s systematic cross-referencing of intertextual dialogues, such as the footnote references above, testifies to a thorough and systematic methodology of research.  The study of Sachs initiates future research as well, not only via the intertextual dialogue, but also in relation to Coleridge’s library visit to Wolfenbüttel and to Sachs’ shop upon his return journey to England in June 1799.  Coinciding with Coleridge’s borrowings about Hans Sachs and study of individual authors are three anthologies of German literature and a text of scholarly criticism on Lessing. 


2.  Scholarly Borrowings and Anthologies

The three anthologies[29] borrowed by Coleridge are all scholarly editions published between 1769 and 1799.  These borrowings continue Coleridge’s study of individual authors and their works within the eighteenth-century.  Interestingly, these texts provide Coleridge with a contemporary scholarly overview of “canonized” German authors and literary works over the previous thirty years.

       For example, the John Gottfried Dyck edited borrowing entitled Characteristics of the Most Distinguished Poets of All Nations; with Critical and Historical Discourses (1792)[30] presents an historical overview of poetry from Roman verse to Ewald Christian von Kleist. This volume would have given Coleridge a good overview of the “canonized” poets by German scholars within Europe.  The volume lists individual chapters on Pindar; Bernard de Fontenelle; Theokrit; Albrecht von Haller; Clement Marot; Catull; and von Kleist.

       The other two anthologies borrowed by Coleridge are Christian Heinrich Schmidt’s Biography of Poets (1769) and Leonhard Meister’s Characteristics of German Poets, Organized by Time-Period, with Portraits (1789) on June 10, 1799.[31]  Similar to the referencing of footnotes that led to the Sachs borrowings, Coleridge’s apparent miscellaneous borrowing on June 06, 1799, of a travel writing text, Friederich Dominicus Ring's About the Journey of the Züricher… to Strasburg in 1576 (1787), leads to the borrowing of Meister’s anthology.[32]  Weber notes that the Meister’s text is cited on page 68 of the Ring text.  Interestingly, this page mentions Meister’s Characteristik as a chronological study of the characters of the German poets, which Ring writes, he has lying in front of him like with the Bodmer collection.[33]  

       Clearly, Coleridge’s borrowing of these anthologies familiarizes him with contemporary German literary scholarship.  Schmidt was a professor at the university in Erfurt.  Unfortunately, it is not documented in Coleridge’s notebooks, letters, or other extant documents, which authors were of primary interest to him in reading these borrowings.[34]  Like the Dyck borrowing, the Schmidt borrowing also contains a chapter on Ewald Christian von Kleist, who had been a friend of Lessing at Leipzig.  Coleridge could possibly be researching the canonization of German poets by cross-referencing the poets listed in the Schmidt and Dyck texts.  But since Lessing’s friend, Ewald von Kleist, is mentioned in both volumes, a more likely theory is that Coleridge was researching Lessing’s contemporaries and friends for his projected Life of Lessing.  In the process, Coleridge also familiarized himself with contemporary German scholarship. 

       All of the borrowings examined so far either pre-date the literary period of Lessing’s works, or fail to discuss and analyze Lessing’s literary productions; or, in Coleridge’s own words, fail to study the “controversies, religious & literary, which they [Lessing’s works] occasioned.”  Coleridge’s very last borrowing, Christian Gottfried Schutz’s About Lessing’s Genius and Writings,[35] is the only borrowing that directly discusses Lessing.  This 1782 text, published a year after Lessing’s death, marks the beginning of Coleridge’s “official” study of Lessing, but ironically also the end of his literary studies and his library borrowings from the Göttingen library. 

       While the content of Coleridge’s borrowings all concern a systematic and chronological study of German literature and language, the scholarly approaches of these borrowings testify to Coleridge’s close analysis of methodology.  His preference for scholarly texts written by both contemporary professors and early-eighteenth century scholars illustrates an interest in the German academic method.  Moreover, Coleridge contextualizes this method by cross-referencing footnotes, thereby establishing an intertextual dialogue with, and to, other borrowings and German print media.


Conclusion and Implications

In conclusion I would like to sketch the implications of Coleridge’s literary studies facilitated via his library borrowings at Göttingen.  From my examination of the intertextual dialogues between Coleridge’s epistolary correspondence with Wordsworth in December 1798, Poole on January 4, 1799, and Wedgwood on May 21, 1799, as well as his Göttingen borrowings, it is clear that Coleridge did not borrow randomly or whimsically, but with a distinct purpose to research German language and literature, and to collect materials for his Life of Lessing.  Moreover, upon his return journey from Göttingen, Coleridge detours to the libraries at Wolfenbüttel and Helmstedt to further his research on Lessing and Sachs.[36]  These library visits illustrate a consistency of purpose during his German travels in 1799 not often attributed to Coleridge by literary critics and biographers.

       The failure to produce the projected Life of Lessing and “interweaved with it a true state of German Literature, in it’s rise & present state” as outlined to Poole, therefore, becomes a separate issue when juxtaposed to the success of Coleridge’s systematic and methodological study of German literature and language at Göttingen.  Contrary to the arguments by Willey and Lefebre about Coleridge’s non-activity at Göttingen, the failure to produce the Life of Lessing is not related to Coleridge’s literary studies during the Göttingen period which clearly supply Coleridge with the research material and knowledge about German literature to write such a text.

       In The German Idea (1980), Rosemary Ashton has argued that Coleridge became “intellectual[ly] isolated” during the early 1800s because of his interest in German culture.[37]  Upon his return to England in July 1799, Coleridge found that the popular, albeit misinformed, reception of German literature during the 1790s had been replaced by a condemnation of German culture and literature.  During 1797 and 1798, “Coleridge and Southey” had been the
“chief victims of the satire of Canning… [and] Frere” in “the influential Anti-Jacobin” which had successfully constructed the poets’ interest in German literature as Jacobinist (Ashton, 6).  During the early 1800s Francis “Jeffrey took over from the Anti-Jacobins” and in his specific attacks on Coleridge in the Edinburgh Review, “particularly,” in Ashton’s view, “contributed to… [Coleridge’s] feeling that he was unlucky with the press, and that this had much to do with his being known for his German mania” (8-9).[38]  Even the Wordsworths, who, as we have seen, had stimulated Coleridge’s interest in German literature, gradually withdrew their support for Coleridge’s German studies during the 1800s. 

       Coleridge’s failure to produce his Life of Lessing, then, needs to be re-examined not as a personal short-coming, but, as Ashton suggests about Coleridge’s German interests, as a result of Coleridge’s “intellectual isolation.”  Upon his return to England in the Summer of 1799, Coleridge first needed to address his finances as the costs of the German tour, and growing domestic expenses, had overdrawn the Wedgwood annuity.  Hence the Lessing biography was postponed as Coleridge “reckoned to pay off the £150 overdrawn on the Wedgwood annuity by April 1800, when he could “return” to the Lessing biography” (Holmes, 256).[39]  From December 1799 to May 1800 Coleridge wrote “seventy-six articles or ‘leading paragraphs’ for Stuart,” the editor of the Morning Post (Holmes, 254).  Moreover, Coleridge had been contracted for the verse translation of “Schiller’s Wallenstein [pub. 1799 in Germany] for Longman… [and] some form of German travel book with Longman” (Homes, 261).  Most immediately upon his return, then, Coleridge was forced to postpone the projected production of his Life of Lessing and the “state of German literature” in order to publish specifically for financial income.

       Second, and more importantly, Coleridge’s German travels coincided with a severe shift from the reception to condemnation of German literature in England.  Stockley states that


during the first fifteen years of the nineteenth century [followed] a period of comparative apathy towards German literature.  It was fostered by the hampering of intercourse with the Continent resulting from the Napoleonic wars… .The notices of German works in English periodicals grow rarer and rarer during those fifteen years.  There are also much fewer translations than in the preceding decade.  (9-10)[40]


Because of this shift in the reception towards German literature the publication of Coleridge’s translation of Wallenstein in 1800 was poorly received.  Ashton argues that “[u]nfortunately for Coleridge, both his own and Schiller’s names betokened ‘Jacobinism’, and the translation apparently lost its publisher, Longman, £250” (33).  Indeed, the review of Coleridge’s translation of Wallenstein in the Monthly Review labelled Coleridge as a “Partizan of the German theatre” which was now out of vogue in England and synonymous with Jacobinism.[41] 

       Coleridge felt he had to publicly defend his reputation against Jacobinism and responds to the editor of the Monthly Review on November 18, 1800, in order to publicly distance himself from his interest in German literature:



In the review of my Translation of Schiller’s Wallenstein (Rev. for October) I am numbered among the Partizans of the German Theatre.  As I am confident that there is no passage in my Preface or Notes from which such an opinion can be legitimately formed; and as the truth would not have been exceeded, if the direct contrary had been affirmed, I claim it of your justice that in your answers to Correspondents you would remove this misrepresentation.  The mere circumstance of translating a manuscript play is not even evidence that I admired that one play, much less that I am a general admirer of the plays in that language.  (CL 364, 648)


Ashton argues that in his state of “extreme sensitivity” Coleridge “came to believe that he had not really wanted to translate Wallenstein, but had done so only at Longman’s request… ” (33).[42] Indeed, considering Coleridge’s enthusiasm for Schiller’s work from 1794 onwards, the reduction of his translation of Wallenstein to the mere “Preface or Notes” suggests Coleridge wanted to distance himself from being associated with Schiller and German literature.

       Coleridge’s first real attempt in England at the cross-cultural dissemination of his literary studies and research of German literature via the translation of Wallenstein is criticized in the public sphere. Where the cosmopolitan milieu of Göttingen and its library had stimulated Coleridge’s literary studies, the domestic criticism in the English public sphere fostered a stance of public distance in Coleridge from his interest in German literature.  This is ironic, especially considering the dedication and intensity of Coleridge’s literary studies of German literature, and his research on Lessing.

       Therefore, Coleridge’s failure to produce the projected Life of Lessing and the state of German literature should not be interpreted as a personal failure, but within the context of reception history, seen as a missed historical opportunity—the direct result, as Ashton suggests, of Coleridge’s “intellectual isolation” in England. The projected Life of Lessing was initially postponed to pursue financial ventures.  However, against the backdrop of the reception of his translation of Schiller’s Wallenstein, Coleridge realized the futility of publishing his knowledge on German literature and language because of the hostility and prejudice towards German literature that existed in the English public sphere from 1800 onwards.  In light of these events, the postponement of publishing on German literature, including his Life of Lessing, became permanent.         

       Critics such as Willey and Lefebre, only evaluate the reception of published literary productions, and fail to examine the process of production of Coleridge’s literary studies which fostered his knowledge on German literature and Lessing—knowledge which influences the writing of later literary productions.  Although Coleridge never produced his proposed Life of Lessing, his interest in, and knowledge of, German literature remained constant throughout his life; often surfacing in conversation, and occasionally in print.  In September 1816, Coleridge identifies himself as one of the ideal candidates to promote an interest in German literature in England.  “There may be, or… are, many” Coleridge writes,


who have a much more extensive knowledge of German Literature than myself; but that is only one of the Requisites… .Not therefore in Learning or Talent do I claim the least superiority; but in the united knowledge of German and English Literature, without over or under valuing either. (Emphasis Coleridge)[43]


With the publication of Sibylline Leaves and Biographia Literaria in 1817, Coleridge publicly acknowledges in print the significant impact of German literature on his intellectual development.  Certainly, his literary studies at Göttingen in 1799, almost seventeen years earlier, were an influential and promising beginning of his “united knowledge of German and English Literature.”


Appendix A: Snyder’s List

Since its publication in Modern Philology in 1928, A.D. Snyder’s article “Books Borrowed by Coleridge from the Library of the University of Göttingen, 1799,” has been an authoritative source for Coleridge scholars.[44]  An additional borrowing can be added to Snyder’s list identified by Carl August Weber in his Bristols Bedeutung für die englische Romantik und die deutsch-englischen Beziehungen (1935).  Weber cites J. C. Wagenseil’s De Sacri Romani… as failing from Snyder’s list (see entry 12A below).[45]  Research of the Ausleihregister’s (library registers) at the Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek in Göttingen confirms the borrowing of the Wagenseil text by Coleridge on May 25, 1799.  

       I have re-produced the titles and dates of Coleridge’s borrowings from Snyder’s list below for reference purposes in reading the paper.   Where relevant and known, I have listed the title of the borrowed text as listed on the title page of the actual borrowed text.  For footnoted and specific details regarding these borrowings beyond the listing of titles and dates, please consult Snyder’s list directly.  A complete listing of Coleridge’s library borrowings at Göttingen in 1799, including the full bibliographical information and the current shelfmarks for all twenty-two borrowings, is forthcoming pending the completion of current research of the Ausleihregister’s at the Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek at Göttingen.



1.    Feb. 21, 1799.  Proben der alten schwäbischen Poesie des Dreyzehnten Jahrhunderts. Aus der Maneßischen Sammlung.   Zürich, 1748.


2.    Feb. 21, 1799.  Sammlung von Minnesingern an der schwäbischen Zeitpunkte.  2 parts. Zürich, 1758, 1759.


3.    Feb. 28, 1799.  Michaeler, Karl Joseph.  Tabulae parallelae antiquissimarum Teutonicae linguae dialectorum, etc. Oeniponte, 1776.


4.    Feb. 28, 1799.  Wachter, Johann Georg.  Glossarium Germanicum, continens origines et antiquitates totius linguae Germanicae hodiernae, etc. Leipzig, 1737.


5.    Feb. 28, 1799.  Willenbücher, T. P. Praktische Anweisung zur Kenntnis der Hauptveränderungen und Mundarten der Teutschen Sprache, von den ältesten Zeiten bis ins vierzehnte Jarhundert, in einer Folge von Probestükken aus dem Gothischen, Alte fränkischen, oder Oberteutschen, Nierteutschen und Angelsächsischen, mit spracherläternden Uebersezzungen und Anmerkungen.  Leipzig, 1789.



6.    Apr. 1, 1799.   Warton, Thomas.  The History of English Poetry, etc.  Probably Vol. I of the three-volume edition, London, 1774-81.


7.    Apr. 4, 1799.  “Mémoires de la Société de Cassel. b.i.”  Mémoires de la Société des Antiquités de Cassel.  Vol. I.  Cassel, 1780.


8.    Apr. 6, 1799.   Von Selchow, J. H.C. Elementa Juris Germanici privati hodierni.  Probably the 7th (1787) or 8th (1795) one-volume edition.  Göttingen.


9.    Apr. 28, 1799.  “Peregrinatio Thesis &c.” [Snyder’s Footnote 3: “Careful work on the handwriting of the register convinces Dr. Buddecke that the foregoing reading is correct.”]


10.  May 3, 1799.   Johann Gottfried Dyck ; Georg Schatz ; Johann Georg Sulzer. Charactere der vornehmsten Dichter aller Nationen; nebst kritischen und historischen Abhandlungen  über Gegenstände der schönen Künste und Wissenschaften von einer Gesellschaft von Gelehrten.  Vol. I, Leipzig, Dykischen Buchhandlung, 1792. (Nachtrage z. J. C. Sulzer’s Allgemeine Theorie der Schönen Künste, etc., 1771, 1774.)


11.  May. 3, 1799. Probably Deutsches Museum, issued at Leipzig, two volumes a year, 1776-1788.


12.  May. 24, 1799.  Ranish, M. Salomon. Historisch kritische Lebensbeschreibung Hans Sachsens ehemals berühmten Meistersängers zu Nürnberg welche zur Erläuterung der Geschichte der Reformation und deutschen Dichtkunst ans Licht gestellet hat M. Salomon Ranisch  erster Prof. des Friedrichsgymnas. zu Altenburg.  Altenburg, in der Richterischen Buchhandlung, 1765.


12a.            May. 25, 1799.  Wagenseils, J. C.  de Sacri Romani Imperii Libera Civitate Noribergensi Commentatio. (Altdorf 1697).  [Missing from Snyder’s list; cited by Weber, Carl August, 165].


13.  May. 25, 1799.  “Hans Sachs.  ed Weller. 1-4.” Sachs, Hans.  Sehr Herrliche Schöne Gedichten, etc.  Ed. Georg Weller.  5 vols.  Nürnberg. 1558-79.


14.  May. 27, 1799.  “Sachsens Gedichte.  b. 5" (See above, item 13.)


15.  Jun. 6, 1799. “Kindermanns Deutsch. W. Redner ed. 2da.” Kindermann, Balthasar.  Der Teusche Wolredner.  Verbesserte Aufgabe.  Leipzig, 1688.


16.  Jun. 6, 1799.  Ring, Friederich Dominicus.  Ueber die Reise des Zürcher Breytopfes nach Strasburg vom Jahr 1576.  Bayreuth, 1787.


17.  Jun. 7, 1799. von Lohenstein, Daniel Gaspar.  Probably Ibrahim Sultan, Schauspiel; Agrippa, Traurspiel; Epicharis, Trauerspiel; und andere Poetische Gedichte, etc.  Breslau, 1689.


18.  Jun. 10, 1799. Meister, Leonhart.  Characteristik deutsche Dichter, nach der Zeitordnung gereihet, mit Bildnissen.  2 vols.  St. Gallen u. Leipzig, 1789.


19.  Jun. 10, 1799.   Schmidts, Christian Heinrich. Biographie der Dichter von Christian Heinrich Schmid, Doktor der Rechte und Professor zu Erfurt.  Erster Theil.  von Kleist; v. Kronegk; Brawe; Chaulien, Plautus; Racine; Thomson; and the second volume: Shakspear; Spenser; Prior; Pyra; Uz; Pindar; v. Hagedorn; Rost; Gay; Lichtwehr. (1770).  2 vols. Leipzig, 1769.


20.  Jun. 15, 1799. “Klotz Leben von Hausen.” [See Snyder’s Footnote 1]


21.  Jun. 16, 1799.  Schutz, Christian Gottfried.  Ueber Lessings Genie und Schriften. Ueber Gotthold Ephraims Lessing’s Genie und Schriften.  In Drei Akademischen Vorlesungen von Christian Gottfried Schüß, Professor der Beredsamkeit und Dichtkunst zu Jena.  Halle, bei Johann Jacob Gebauer, 1782.

[1]     Griggs, Earl Leslie.  The Collected Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Vol 1. (1785-1800).  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956.  Henceforth referred to as CL.

[2]     See: Lefebure, Molly.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge: A Bondage of Opium.  London, 1974.  “In view of evidence of opium during this Göttingen period it is doubtful there was much truth in the pious assurance to Poole: ‘I read and transcribe from morning to night… never in my life have I worked so hard.’ [CL 277]” (289).  “Such avowals of hard-work are themselves suspicious… It is worth noting here that the much-heralded book on Lessing was never written” (291).

[3]     Willey, Basil.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  London, 1972.

[4]     See:  Hohlfeld, A. R. and Bayard Quincy Morgan. Eds.  German Literature in British Magazines 1750-1860.  Madison, Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin Press, 1949.  “[T]remendous obstacles stood in the way of a broad and true understanding of the essence of German literature in the second half of the eighteenth century….progress in grappling the language itself was slow….The reviews reveal hack-work based on superficial reading, and editorial supervision lacks care and accuracy… ”  (49-50).

[5]     Such literary studies clearly could not be initiated in England.  Coleridge’s notebooks and letters between 1794 and 1798 testify to the difficulty in England of satisfying his growing interest in German literature.

[6]     CL 272.  10 March, 1799 to Mrs. Coleridge, 471-472.  The library was generally regarded as one of the best in Europe commanding an annual budget of £1100—which exceeded the annual budget of the Edinburgh Advocates Library by £400.

[7]     See: Fabian, Bernhard.  “Die Göttinger Universitätsbibliothek im achtzehnten Jahrhundert.”  In Göttinger Jahrbuch 1980.  V. 28. (1980): 109-123., 115.

[8]          Snyder, A. D.  “Books Borrowed by Coleridge from the Library of the University of Göttingen, 1799.”  Modern Philology XXV (1928): 377-80.  The borrowings referred to in this paper are numbered from 1-21 following the numbers allocated by Snyder in her article.   See appendix A.

[9]     Über Lessings Genie und Schriften.  All translations from the German into English are my own and aim to communicate idiom rather than a literal translation.

[10]   Weber, Carl August. Bristols Bedeutung für die Englische Romantik und die deutsch-englischen Beziehungen.  Halle. 1935.  This borrowing is listed as entry 12A in Appendix A.

[11]   See entries 1 and 2 in Appendix A.

[12]   The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Early Years 1787-1805.  Ed. Ernest De Selincourt.  Revised by Chester L. Shaver.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.

[13]   The Bodmer and Breitinger collection allowed “readers…a glimpse into the medieval literature of Germany.”  See: Robertson, J. G. and Dorothy Reich.  A History of German Literature.  Sixth Edition.  London: William Blackwood, 1970. Pp. 223-225 for more information regarding the scholarly conflict between the Bodmer/Breitinger school and the Gottsched school in Leipzig.

[14]   See entries 3, 4, and 5 in Appendix A.  Note that Michaeler’s Tabulae…(1776) and Wachter’s Glossarium Germanicum… (1737) are both written in Latin.  The third text, Willenbücher’s Praktische Anweisung… (1789) is in German.

[15]   See entries 6, 7, and 8, in Appendix A.

Note that the first of these borrowings is the first volume of Thomas Warton’s The History of English Poetry from the close of the Eleventh to… Eighteenth Century.  Perhaps Coleridge is contextualizing the development of German poetry to English poetry.  Volume one ends with the discussion of the poetry of Chaucer.  Chronologically this time period is contemporary to Coleridge’s previous study of the Minnesinger Period.  The Warton borrowing is also the only borrowing at Göttingen in the English language, suggesting that Coleridge used the text for the purpose of cross-referencing the developments in German and English literature, rather than for linguistic purposes.

[16]   Von Selchow, J. H.C. Elementa Juris Germanici privati hodierni.  “Probably the 7th (1787) or 8th (1795) one-volume edition.  Göttingen..” (Snyder, 378).

[17]   His letters to Poole on April 6 (CL 274) and to Mrs. Coleridge on April 23 (CL 276) 1799, indicate that Coleridge was emerged in transcription during this period. 

[18] See:  CL 283. 21 May, 1799 to Josiah Wedgwood, 518.

[19]   See entries 9, 11, and 16 in Appendix A.

[20]   See entries 12, 12A, 13, 14, 15, and 17 in Appendix A.

[21]   See:  The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 3 double vols, vol 1.  Text and Notes.  Edited by Kathleen Coburn, Bollingen Series and Routledge, 1957-73.  Detailed endnotes by Kathleen Coburn are informative about Coleridge’s possible consultation of a Sachs manuscript.  See: 453 3½.38 Notes.  “For a full discussion of his reading of Hans Sachs, see RX 604n-r; 542-4” (Coburn, 453 3½.38).

[22]   “Er ist leicht auf Grund der Entleihungen aus der Universitäts-Bibliothek darzulegen, wie systematisch er bei der Lektüre vorging, Hinweise des einen Werkes aufgriff und sie auf ihren Wahrheitsgehalt wie weiteren Zusammenhang bei der zitierten Autorität nachprüfte” (Weber, 165).

[23]   “Von den Quellen dieser besondern Geschichte.”

[24]   “Sehr viele Schriftsteller des vorigen und jetzigen [?] Jahrhunderts haben von H. S. gehandelt….Alle diese Bücher, so viel mir ihrer bekannt geworden sind, habe ich zwar zu Rathe gezogen, um daraus das Wahre sowohl als das Falsche anzuführen; aber vornehmlich verdienen Wagenseil (a), der ehemals berühmte Prof. zu Altdorf, der ungenannte Sammler der poetischen Meisterstücke (b), Herr Schöber, (c) belobter Bürgermeister und Liebhaber alter Schriften zu Gera, und der bereits 1754 zu Nürnberg verstorbene Diak. M. Hirsch (d), mit Ruhme genennet zu werden, weil sie die Geschichte seines Lebens nicht nur am wahrhaftesten zu erfahren die beste Gelegenheit, sondern auch am glaubwürdigsten zu beschreiben die lautere Absicht gehabt haben” (Ranish, 7-9).

[25]   The correct name and spelling of the town is “Altendorf.”

[26]   “(a) Dessen besonderes Buch von der Meistersingerkunst befindet sich in dem zu Altdorf 1697 gedrucktem Werke de civate Noribergensi” (Ranish, 8). 

[27]   Sehr herrliche schöne Gedicht.

[28]   “Der erste Versuch H. S. [Hans Sachs] Gedichte in einer ganzen Sammlung heraus zu geben, ward von Georg Willern 9d), belobtem Buchhändler” (154).

[29]   See entries 10, 18 and 19 in Appendix A.  

[30]   Charactere der vornehmsten Dichter aller Nationen; nebst kritischen und historischen Abhandlungen (1792).  See entry 10 in Appendix A. 

[31]   Biographie der Dichter and Characteristik deutsche Dichter, nach Zeitordnung gereihet, mit Bildnissen.

[32]   Über die Reise des Züricher Breytopfes nach Strasburg vom Jahr 1576. See entry 16 in Appendix A.

[33]   Ring writes: “… und Meister in seiner erst in diesem Jahre zu Zürich herausgekommenen Charakteristik deutscher Dichter, nach der Zeitordnung gereihet, mit Bildnissen von Heinrich Pfenninger Th. I. S. 93 ff. die ich zum Glücke, so wie Bodmers Sammlung, vor mir liegen habe und daher noch eines und das andre ausheben kann” (Ring, 68).

[34]   Kathleen Coburn hypothesizes that the Meister and Schmidt anthology borrowings could possibly relate to Coleridge’s research on Lessing:  “nor are there more than two pages about his life in the article on Lessing in either Christoph H. Schmidt's Nekrolog (Berlin 1785) or L. Meister’s Characteristik deutscher dichter (St Gall and Leipzig 1789)” (see 377 3½.13 Notes). It is unclear to me at this time where the reference to Schmidt’s Nekrolog fits in.

[35]   Über Gotthold Ephraims Lessing’s Genie und Schriften (1782).  See entry 21 in Appendix A.

[36]   The “Lessing Haus” in Wolfenbüttel lists the famous visitors to the library.  Coleridge is the last entry on this list dated 1799.

[37]   Ashton, Rosemary.  The German Idea:  Four English Writers and the Reception of German Thought 1800-1860.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Francis Jeffrey was the editor of the Edinburgh Review from 1802-1829. 

[39]   Holmes, Richard. Coleridge: Early Visions.  London: Viking Penguin, 1989.

[40]   Stockley, V.  German Literature as Known in England 1750-1830. London: George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., 1929.

[41]   See Monthly Review, XXXIII (October  1800), p. 127-131.

[42]   It would not be until the 1810s and 1820s that the merits of Coleridge’s translation of Wallenstein were proclaimed.  See  Ashton, 33-35.

[43]   From:  Collected Letters, IV, 663-4, 666.  31 August and 4 September, 1816.  Quoted in Ashton, Rosemary. The German Idea.  27-28.

[44]   Snyder, A. D. "Books Borrowed by Coleridge from the Library of the University of Göttingen, 1799."  Modern Philology.  XXV (1928): 377-380.

[45]   See page 165 in Weber.