Coleridge is such a celebrity that many who have never read "The
Rime of the Ancient Mariner" have a fair idea who he was, and yet
the common impression of him is not flattering. He is typically
seen as a youthful genius transformed by drugs and philosophy into
a tedious sage. It is time for a change of image. A "Book I Value"
offers a one-volume sampling of Coleridge's encyclopedic
marginalia, revealing a figure more complex but also more humanly
attractive--clever, curious, playful, intense--than the one we are
This book makes a convenient introduction to Coleridge's life,
the intellectual issues and contemporary concerns that held his
attention, and the workings of his mind. The marginalia represent
an unintimidating sort of writing that Coleridge famously excelled
at (often in books borrowed from friends). "A book, I value," he
wrote, "I reason & quarrel with as with myself when I am
Unlike the complete "Marginalia" in six volumes arranged
alphabetically by author, this representative selection is
chronological and footnote-free, with a contextualizing
introduction and brief headnotes that outline Coleridge's
circumstances year by year and provide essential historical
information. Our own cultural taboo against writing in books is
slackening in light of new interest in the history of the book. It
will be weakened further by the extraordinary and now accessible
example of Coleridge, who was a remarkably shrewd but at the same
time a remarkably charitable reader.
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