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MR. COLERIDGE'S OBLIGATIONS TO SCHELLING, AND THE UNFAIR VIEW OF THE SUBJECT PRESENTED IN BLACKWOOD'S MAGAZINE.
SOME years ago, when the late Editor of my Father's works was distantly contemplating a new edition of the Biographia Literaria, but had not yet begun to examine the text carefully with a view to this object, his attention was drawn to an article in Blackwood's Magazine of March, 1840, in which large and unacknowledged appropriations it contains from the great German Philosopher Schelling," are pointed out ; and by this
paper I have been directed to those passages in the works of Schelling and of Maasz, to which references are given in the following pages,—to most of them immediately, and to a few more through the strict investigation which it occasioned. Whether or no my Father's obligations to the great German Philosopher are virtually unacknowledged to the extent and with the unfairness which the writer of that article endeavors to prove, the reader of the present edition will be able to judge for himself; the facts of the case will be all before him, and from these, when the whole of them are fully and fairly considered, I feel assured that by readers in general,—and I have had some experience on this point already,—no such injurious inferences as are contained in that paper will ever be drawn. The author, it must be observed, before commencing his argument, thinks fit to disclaim the belief, that conscious intentional plagiarism is imputable to the object of his censure ; nevertheless, throughout great part of it Mr. Coleridge is treated as an artful purloiner and selfish plunderer, who knowingly robs others to enrich himself, both the tone and the language of the article expressing this and no other meaning. Such aspersions will not rest, I think they never have
rested, upon Coleridge's name; the protest here entered is a duty to his memory from myself rather than a work necessary to his vindication, and the remarks that follow are made less with a view to influence the opinions of others than to record my own.
The charge brought against my Father by the author of the article appears to be this, that, having borrowed largely from Schelling, * he has made no adequate acknowledgments of obligation to that philosopher, only such general admissions as are quite insufficient to cover the extent of his debt ; that his anticipatory defence against a charge of “ ungenerous concealment or intentional plagiarism" is no defence at all; and that his particular references are too few and inaccurate to vindicate him from having dealt unfairly toward the author from whom he has taken so much. The plaintiff opens his case with giving as the whole of this defence of my Father's,—(that it is not the whole will appear in the sequel,)—certain parts of a passage upon Schelling that occurs in the ninth chapter of the Biographia Literaria ; and although, in that passage, the author desires, that,
". whatever in this or any future work of his resembles or coincides with the doctrines of his German predecessor, though contemporary, be wholly attributed to him," yet he insists that Coleridge has defrauded Schelling of his due, and seeks to support the impeachment on these two grounds, first, that very “ absence of distinct references to his books,” which he himself plainly admits and particularly accounts for ; or, in the accuser's own words, his omission of specific acknowledgments in the instances in which he was indebted to him ; secondly, his having affirmed that he had in some sort anticipated the system which he proposed to teach.
Now it must be remarked, by way of preliminary, that no man can properly be said to defraud another, nor ought to be so spoken of, who has not a fraudulent intention : but it never yet has been proved, after all the pains that have been taken to this effect, that Mr. Coleridge intended to deprive Schelling of any part of the honor that rightfully belongs to him, or that he has, by
* The passages borrowed by my Father from Schelling and Maasz are pointed out in this edition in notes at the foot of the pages where they occur. For the particulars and amount of the debt, therefore, readers are referred to the body of the work, chapters v. vii. viii. ix. xii.
Mr. Coleridge's means, been actually deprived of it, even for an hour. With regard to the first ground of accusation, it is doubtless to be regretted by every friend of the accused, that he should have adopted so important a portion of the words and thoughts of Schelling without himself making those distinct and accurate references, which he might have known would eventually be required as surely as he succeeded in his attempt to recommend the metaphysical doctrines contained in them to the attention of students in this country. Why did Mr. Coleridge act thus, subjecting himself, as he might well have anticipated, aware as he was of the hostile spirit against his person and principles, that existed in many quarters, to suspicion from the illiberal, and contumelinus treatment at the hands of the hard and unscrupulous ? Why he so acted those who best knew him can well understand, without seeing in his conduct evidence of unconscientiousness : they see the truth of the matter to be this, that to give those distinct and accurate references, for the neglect of which he is now so severely arraigned, would have caused him much trouble of a kind to him peculiarly irksome, and that he dispensed himself from it in the belief, that the general declaration which he had made upon the subject was sufficient both for Schelling and for himself. This will be the more intelligible when it is borne in mind, that, as all who knew his literary habits will believe, the passages from Schelling, which he wove into his work, were not transcribed for the occasion, but merely transferred from his note-book into the text, some of them, in all likelihood, not even from his note-book immediately, but from recollection of its contents. It is most probable that he mistook some of these translated passages for compositions of his own, and quite improbable, as all who know his careless ways will agree, that he should have noted down accurately the particular works and portions of works from which they came.
But even with the fullest conviction,” says Archdeacon Hare, “ that Coleridge can not have been guilty of intentional plagiarism, the reader will, probably, deem it strange, that he should have transferred half a dozen pages of Schelling into his volume without any reference to their source.
And strange it undoubtedly is. The only way I can see of accounting for it is from his practice of keeping note-books or journals of his thoughts, filled with observations and brief dissertations on such matters as