Owen Barfield and the Heritage of Coleridge

Dissertation, Michigan State University (1994)

Coleridge preserved a quasi-adamic notion of language for the later nineteenth century--a notion deployed against the Lockean arbitrary sign and the idea-word-thing paradigm. Coleridge also provided the principal critique of Locke's inheritor, Horne Tooke, who kept philology out of England until the 1830s: Coleridge's commitment to unity in multeity required a consubstantial relationship between sign signified--a belief preserved by two Coleridgeans, F. D. Maurice and Richard Trench . Trench, grandfather of the OED, passed along to Owen Barfield an essentially Coleridgean view of language, which Barfield has preserved together with a Coleridgean idea of imagination. ;Trench was interested in words "contemplated singly" ; he belonged to a popularist tradition of writers on language to which Logan Pearsall Smith and OED editor Henry Bradley also belonged. Each influenced Barfield's early work, History in English Words, which shares with its sources structural and verbal similarities. Smith, additionally, suggested to Barfield that the evolution of consciousness lay hidden in the history of single words. Coleridge had also intimated this evolution. ;The late work in History in English Words on myth and imagination prefigured Poetic Diction. Barfield defined himself against Locke, Max Muller, and I. A. Richards. That the evolution of consciousness could be traced in words meant that neither Locke's arbitrary sign nor Muller's "mythic period" was acceptable either for language origin or development. Barfield postulated the "given" meaning in response. He also postulated, from Coleridge, a paradigm of polarity which served his critique of the Ogden-Richards collaboration, The Meaning of Meaning; he thereby defined himself as a true Colridgean, though Richards was to become the respected authority. ;In the context of Cambridge English: Poetic Diction anticipated and supplied a critique of Richards on Coleridge. The best Coleridgean at Cambridge, Raymond Williams, disapproved of Richards's criticism of trained reading and response and instead preserved Coleridge for writing in society. His and Barfield's distance from Richards invites comparison. That they are both important preservers of Coleridge who yet have nothing to say to each other suggests the enormity of Coleridge's vision. ;Barfield's later works show him defining more carefully imagination as it relates both to the production of poetry and nature herself--to phenomena. Barfield's reading of Wordsworth and Coleridge as both "nature" and "mind" poets, but as poets in whom either nature or mind dominates, brings him once again to polarity. The difference on Barfield's account between Wordsworth and Coleridge suggests an important and radical hermeneutic for Romantic texts. A study of "Frost at Midnight," "Tintern Abbey," and the two great odes, "Intimations" and "Dejection," bears out Barfield's reading of Coleridge as the one Romantic who attempted to achieve in himself the ultimate polarity which is imagination
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