Biographia Literaria

The Biographia Literaria is a critical autobiography written and published by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in 1817. The work was published in two volumes.

Its publicly given title was ‘Autobiographia Literaria’. Samuel’s work was highly influenced by Wordsworth’s theory of poetry, the Kantian view of imagination as a shaping power, various post-Kantian writers including F.W.J. von Schelling, and the earlier influences of the empiricist school, including David Hartley and the Associationist psychology.

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Biographia Content

The Biographia work was originally intended as a preface to a collected volume of his poems, explaining and justifying his own style and practice in poetry.

It however grew to a literary autobiography, taking care of his education and studies, early literary adventures, an extended criticism of William Wordsworth’s theory of poetry as given in the ‘Preface’ to the Lyrical Ballads, and a statement of his philosophical views.

By the action of all these factors, the initial plan of using the work as just a preface to other works failed thereby making this new piece a literacy masterpiece of its own.

Public Reaction

Just as has mostly been the case from reviewers, readers, and the public, critics have reacted strongly to the Biographia Literaria publication. Some early readers thought it portrayed Coleridge’s opiate-driven decline into ill health, and soon after Coleridge’s death, he was accused of plagiarising Schelling.

But by the early 20th century, it had emerged as a major if puzzling work in criticism and theory, with George Saintsbury placing Coleridge next to Aristotle and Longinus. Recent criticism has been divided between those who think that the Biographia’s philosophical pretensions were illusory and those who take the philosophy seriously.

While contemporary critics recognize the degree to which Coleridge borrowed from his sources, they also see in the work far more structural and well-planned than is apparent at first glance.

Biography

A biography, which is simply called a bio, is a detailed description of a person’s life. It involves more than just the basic facts like education, work, relationships, and death; it conveys details of a person’s experience of these life events and brings accounts of other people in the process.