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©¤§ µ¤© ©® ®©© µµ

This ambitious study sheds new light on the way in which the
English Romantics dealt with the basic problems of knowledge,
particularly as they inherited them from the philosopher David
Hume. Kant complained that the failure of philosophy in the
eighteenth century to answer empirical scepticism had produced
a culture of ˜indifferentism™. Tim Milnes explores the way in which
Romantic writers extended this epistemic indifference through their
resistance to argumentation, and ¬nds that it exists in a perpet-
ual state of tension with a compulsion to know. This tension is
most clearly evident in the prose writing of the period, in works
such as Wordsworth™s Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Hazlitt™s Essay on the
Principles of Human Action and Coleridge™s Biographia Literaria. Milnes
argues that it is in their oscillation between knowledge and indiffer-
ence that the Romantics pre¬gure the ambivalent negotiations of
modern post-analytic philosophy.

© ©¬®  is Lecturer in English at the University of Edinburgh.
He has published articles in the Journal of the History of Ideas, Compar-
ative Literature, Studies in Romanticism and European Romantic Review.
©¤§ µ¤© ©® ®©©
General editors
Professor Marilyn Butler Professor James Chandler
University of Oxford University of Chicago

Editorial board
John Barrell, University of York
Paul Hamilton, University of London
Mary Jacobus, University of Cambridge
Kenneth Johnston, Indiana University
Alan Liu, University of California, Santa Barbara
Jerome McGann, University of Virginia
David Simpson, University of California, Davis

This series aims to foster the best new work in one of the most challenging
¬elds within English literary studies. From the early ±·°s to the early ±°s
a formidable array of talented men and women took to literary composition,
not just in poetry, which some of them famously transformed, but in many
modes of writing. The expansion of publishing created new opportunities for
writers, and the political stakes of what they wrote were raised again by what
Wordsworth called those ˜great national events™ that were ˜almost daily taking
place™: the French Revolution, the Napoleonic and American wars, urbaniza-
tion, industrialization, religious revival, an expanded empire abroad and the
reform movement at home. This was an enormous ambition, even when it
pretended otherwise. The relations between science, philosophy, religion and
literature were reworked in texts such as Frankenstein and Biographia Literaria;
gender relations in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Don Fuan; journalism
by Cobbett and Hazlitt; poetic form, content and style by the Lake School and
the Cockney School. Outside Shakespeare studies, probably no body of writing
has produced such a wealth of response or done so much to shape the responses
of modern criticism. This indeed is the period that saw the emergence of those
notions of ˜literature™ and of literary history, especially national literary history,
on which modern scholarship in English has been founded.
The categories produced by Romanticism have also been challenged by
recent historicist arguments. The task of the series is to engage both with a chal-
lenging corpus of Romantic writings and with the changing ¬eld of criticism
they have helped to shape. As with other literary series published by Cambridge,
this one will represent the work of both younger and more established scholars,
on either side of the Atlantic and elsewhere.
For a complete list of titles published see end of book.

University of Edinburgh
©¤§ µ®©© °
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge  µ, United Kingdom
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521810982

© Tim Milnes 2003

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published in print format 2003

©®-± 978-0-511-06436-4 eBook (NetLibrary)

©®-±° µ
isbn-10 0-511-06436-5 eBook (NetLibrary)

©®-± 
isbn-13 978-0-521-81098-2 hardback
©®-±° ±
isbn-10 0-521-81098-1 hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of
µ¬s for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this book, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
For my parents, Les and Audrey Milnes

Acknowledgements page viii

Introduction: Romanticism™s knowing ways
± From artistic to epistemic creation: the eighteenth
 The charm of logic: Wordsworth™s prose ·±
 The dry romance: Hazlitt™s immanent idealism ±°µ
 Coleridge and the new foundationalism ±
µ The end of knowledge: Coleridge and theosophy ±·
Conclusion: life without knowledge



Among the many debts incurred in the course of researching this book,
by far the greatest single one is owed to Roy Park, whose invaluable
advice and support during my time as a D.Phil. student at St Hugh™s
College, Oxford, continued even into his retirement. My postgraduate
work also bene¬ted at various times from the input of Robert Young,
Isabel Rivers, Lucy Newlyn and Sir Peter Strawson. Susan Bruce got
the whole thing started long ago through her encouragement and belief
in an uncertain undergraduate, while Paul Hamilton provided valuable
counsel on the initial direction of my postdoctoral work.
Oxford University eased the penurious pains of my ¬nal year as a
D.Phil. student with a grant from its Hardship Fund, while Christ Church
University College, Canterbury, generously arranged a year™s leave of
absence during my Lectureship in order to complete my dissertation.
The appearance of the work as it stands, however, would not have been
possible without the British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship
which I held for three years at University College, Oxford, where I was
given further support by Jon Mee and Helen Cooper. During this time I
also received welcome guidance from John Beer and Elinor Shaffer, as
well as Marilyn Butler and James Chandler, series co-editors of Cambridge
Studies in Romanticism, and Cambridge University Press™s two anonymous
Every bit as important as professional and institutional backing is that
of friends and family. My parents, Les and Audrey Milnes, to whom this
book is dedicated, have been un¬‚agging in their patience and encour-
agement over the years. For support both intellectual and emotional, I
owe a huge debt of gratitude to Sara Lodge, Uttara Natarajan, Lesel
Dawson, Jo Wong and Liz Barry. Special thanks are also due to Ken
Lomax, Michael John Kooy, Murray Satov, Anne Vasey, Dyan Sterling,
Andrew Palmer, Liz Brown, Jules Siedenburg, Criana Connal, Jessica
Schafer and Alison Sale. To this list I cannot resist adding the name of
Plecostomus, the friendliest, cleverest and laziest ¬sh in the tank.
Introduction: Romanticism™s knowing ways

Philosophy inspires much unhappy love.
Stanley Cavell, Must We Mean What We Say? ±

 ® © © ® ¤© ¦ ¦   ® ©  
The principal argument of this book is that English Romantic writing
has a deep investment in the problem of knowledge, even as it attempts
to conceal that involvement, and that it represents the ¬rst major attempt
in Britain to retrieve philosophical thought from its con¬nement, ¬rst by
Hume, then by Reid and the Scottish philosophers of common sense, to
the margins of experience. The manner in which this retrieval is carried
through, moreover, establishes a pattern for the treatment of knowledge
which has been broadly followed by English-language philosophy to the
present day. Paradoxically, part of that pattern is a denial of interest in
epistemological questions, a cultivated indifference which is itself para-
sitic upon an urgent engagement with the twin questions of what, and
how one knows.
Kant complained in his Preface to the ¬rst edition of the Critique of
Pure Reason in ±·± that, caught between a despotic rationalism and an
anarchic scepticism, the predominant attitude of late eighteenth-century
thought towards the problem of knowledge had become what he called,
using an English term, one of ˜indifferentism™. English Romanticism
internalizes and continues this indifference to knowing. Lamb admitted
in a ±±° letter to Thomas Manning that ˜[n]othing puzzles me more
than time and space, and yet nothing puzzles me less, for I never think
about them™. Yet the ambivalence of the English Romantics to the ques-
tion of knowledge is attested to by the very term ˜Romantic philosophy™ “
or, more precisely, ˜Romantic epistemology™ “ which can sound at one
moment like an oxymoron, and the next a tautology. On one hand, it
is generally acknowledged that within the loose assemblage of family
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
resemblances which characterize English Romantic writing, a preoccu-
pation with knowledge “ or rather, to signal its preference for active over
static paradigms, knowing “ is one of the most widely shared. Indeed,
at least since the publication of M. H. Abrams™ The Mirror and the Lamp
almost half a century ago, it has been a commonplace that the restruc-
turing of knowing constitutes Romanticism™s primary movement. On
the other hand, also recognised (though perhaps not as widely) is the
way in which, at the same time, it places theory of knowledge under
erasure, replacing it with discourses of emotional engagement, the ex-
ertion of power, or the striving of the will. Yet the uncertain manner in
which this transposition is effected raises problems. In particular, one
question which has occupied commentators for the past thirty years is
whether the Romantic refashioning of cognition represents a break with
western foundationalism and logocentrism, or merely a continuance of
it by other means. Paul de Man and Kathleen Wheeler, for instance,
see Romantic irony as inherently subversive and self-deconstructing. For
them, the Romantic consciousness ˜consists of the presence of nothing-
ness [. . .].™µ Alternatively, Tilottama Rajan and Richard Rorty detect,
despite this, a positivist nostalgia for knowing; countering that, in Rajan™s
words, Romantic writers ˜almost never [. . .] reach that zero degree of
self-mysti¬cation envisaged by de Man [. . .]™.
The peculiarity of the problem which Romanticism simultaneously
faces and effaces is that it is one which, having developed within epis-
temology, rebounds upon the discipline itself. At root, it is the direct
consequence of Hume™s separation of truth and value. In A Treatise of
Human Nature, Hume had reduced all statements which were capable of
being true or false to an exhaustive dual grid of logical and empirical
propositions: ˜Truth or falsehood,™ he asserts, ˜consists in an agreement
or disagreement either to the real relations of ideas, or to real existence
and matter of fact. Whatever, therefore, is not susceptible of this agree-
ment or disagreement, is incapable of being true or false [. . .].™· This
division of knowledge forms the basis for the Enquiries™ notorious incen-
diary injunction regarding those works of ˜sophistry and illusion™ which
would exceed this grid, as well as for later attempts by logical positivists
to map the conditions of meaning. The important consequence for
Hume, however, was that among those statements which clearly fell out-
side the twofold epistemic cell of matters of fact and the relations of ideas
were those concerning value. Value judgements, he concluded, were non-
epistemic. They expressed attitudes about how the world ˜ought™ to be,
rather than assertions regarding how the world ˜is™, and therefore could

Romanticism™s knowing ways
be neither true nor false. Having being led by his ¬rst dichotomy into
this second, far more worrying one, Hume found himself advocating the
relegation of philosophy, in the form of inquiry into the foundations of
knowledge, from the kind of everyday lived experience which was inher-
ently value-rich. Thus, for Hume and his successors such as Reid and
Beattie, epistemological attempts to justify values gave way to naturalistic
accounts of values. In this light, Hume™s declaration that the threat of
˜total scepticism™ was a ˜super¬‚uous™ question, since ˜Nature, by an abso-
lute and uncontroulable necessity has determin™d us to judge as well as to
breathe and feel [. . .]™ was tantamount to an admission that traditional
philosophy had marginalized itself from the mainstream of human con-
cerns, or ˜common sense™. At the same time, two questions nigglingly
remained: ¬rst, regarding whether human beings were (naturalistically
speaking) necessarily determined to philosophize in a non-naturalistic
way; and second, whether scepticism was, in turn, as inevitable to that
kind of philosophical thinking as breathing and feeling were to everyday
By reacting against Hume™s notion of the divided life and endeavour-
ing to heal the rift between knowledge and value, or between philosophi-
cal doubt and an acceptance of the unre¬‚ective certainties of ordinary
experience, English Romanticism accepts the challenge of the philo-
sophical sceptic. But rather than meeting this challenge on the sceptic™s
own grounds within philosophy, or reverting to a Scottish naturalism
which rejects the attempt to put knowledge (and, by extension, the
subject) ˜¬rst™, Romantic discourse develops an alternating pattern of
engagement with, and abstention from philosophical argument. Michael
Cooke expressed this condition “ which, following Morse Peckham, he
saw as resulting from the ˜explanatory collapse™ of Romanticism “ as its
˜philosophy of inclusion™, whereby argument and consensus are fused in
a process which involves ˜an argument with, using the double force of the
preposition to suggest at once resistance and sharing™.±° My argument,
however, while itself sharing a ¬eld of concern with Cooke™s, stresses the
agonistic nature of Romantic ambivalence. It is the con¬‚ict of its com-
mitment and indifference to justi¬cation which manifests Romanticism™s
rebellious dependency upon the foundations of knowledge, and upon
the Cartesian tradition of the science of knowledge as foundational to all
Since the term ˜foundationalism™ and its corollaries are central to
what proceeds, some initial clari¬cation of usage is called for. Roughly
speaking, there are two senses of the term: a technical one used by
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
modern philosophers working within the Anglophone tradition, and a
more general one, which the same philosophers are apt to deplore. The
¬rst application, which might be called ˜justi¬catory™ foundationalism,
con¬nes itself to giving an ostensibly factual account of the structure of
any individual™s system of justi¬ed beliefs. At its plainest, it claims that all
inferential reasoning ends in a noninferential ground; in other words, that
all mediately justi¬ed beliefs (beliefs justi¬ed by other beliefs) are ultimately
justi¬ed by immediately justi¬ed beliefs (beliefs which require no other be-
liefs for their justi¬cation). What exercises foundationalists of this sort,
and provides much of the force behind their argument, is the twin-spectre
of circularity or in¬nite regress in human reasoning. Without some kind
of foundational structure, it is argued, epistemic deliberation looks like
pointless tail-chasing, a search for an endlessly deferred justi¬cation.
Consequently, the language of foundationalism is coloured by metaphors
of stability, linearity and closure. Terms such as ˜grounds™, ˜ends™, ˜¬rst
principles™ or ˜sense-datum™ are not uncommon.
Beyond the specialized discourse of Anglo-American epistemology,
however, other commentators have noted that such fears and ¬gures
also infect broader traditions within western philosophy, dating back to
Aristotle and Plato. From Descartes until the middle of the twentieth
century the dominant view of philosophy itself has rested upon the epis-
temological search for certainty in self-evident foundations, whether in
the intuitive deduction of the Cartesian cogito, Kant™s transcendental
conditions of experience, or logical positivism™s notion of incorrigible
sense-data. At the heart of this search is the conviction, not just that
justi¬ed belief is foundational in structure, but that true justi¬ed belief
or (leaving aside Gettier-type problems±± ) knowledge itself is founda-
tional. This kind of ˜epistemic™ foundationalism forms the second sense
of the term, one which, despite having been forced onto its back foot for
much of the twentieth century, English-language philosophy has been
rather more reluctant to question. Even foundationalism™s classic op-
ponent, coherentism, which against the ˜bricks-and-mortar™ model pro-
poses a holistic, ˜spider™s web™ structure of mutually supporting beliefs,
is more commonly advocated within a justi¬catory than within an epis-
temic context.± Those who have sought to roll back the in¬‚uence of
foundationalism in other disciplines, meanwhile, have been reluctant
to reject it outright. Kuhn, for instance, having accounted for scienti¬c
progress as a process of immanent paradigm-shift, nonetheless found
the foundationalist presumption that scienti¬c theories are ˜simply
man-made interpretations of given data [. . .] impossible to relinquish
Romanticism™s knowing ways
entirely [. . .]™.± Similarly, in ethics, Bernard Williams™ attack on the foun-
dationalist ˜linear search for reasons™ which can itself only end with ˜an
unrationalized principle™± is limited to ethical theory, and not extended
to the natural sciences, which in his view remain ˜capable of objective
The reasons for this cautiousness are not dif¬cult to understand. For
unlike the ¬rst, the fate of this second, more general kind of foundational-
ism is tightly bound with that of philosophy itself. Without the Cartesian
notion that knowledge can ground itself in the apprehension of a truth
simple and transparent, together with the Kantian ruling that the mode
of this knowledge sets limits on all empiricial deliberation, the priority
of ˜knowledge™ itself in human life is open to challenge. If foundational
metaphors for truth and knowledge come to be seen as optional, then, as
Rorty points out, ˜so is epistemology, and so is philosophy as it has under-
stood itself since the middle of the last century™.± In this way, the reasons
behind why the interrogation of this ˜epistemic™ sense of foundationalism
attracts the hostility of many Anglo-American philosophers are the same
as those which make this sense, rather than the ¬rst, the object of the
present enquiry. For it is often claimed that Hegel is the ¬rst seriously to
challenge Descartes™ elevation of knowledge on an escalating process of
doubt, countering in the Introduction to the Phenomenology that ˜it is hard
to see why we should not turn round and mistrust this very mistrust™.±·
In their own way, however, the Scottish naturalists had already made
a comparable move, while in Germany Jacobi had long maintained his
anti-philosophical conviction that ˜[e]very avenue of demonstration ends
up in fatalism™, albeit not without discomfort, given his own addiction
to argumentation.± I want to argue that in a similar way, by seeking
at once to refute and ignore Hume, oscillating uneasily between ˜fact™
and ˜value™, ˜philosophy™ and ˜life™, the English Romantics, almost with-
out realizing it (and afterwards with some ambivalence), challenged the
boundaries of foundationalism.
English Romanticism thus contains the same knot of concerns which
have unwound into an ongoing ambivalence in Anglophone philosophy
about the value of ˜¬rst philosophy™; an equivocation, however, which re-
mains distinct from the more comprehensive rejection of epistemology
urged by Franco-German thought since Heidegger. Moreover, in its ¬‚uc-
tuating course between seeking and resisting knowledge, Romanticism
formulates the ¬rst but enduring creed for non-foundationalists generally
from Nietzsche to Rorty: the dictum that, in Nietzsche™s phrase, Truth
is not ˜something there™, but something ˜created™.±
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose

°® ®¤ ¬§: ©® . ¦µ®¤©®
At the centre of this issue, and so far somewhat neglected, are two re-
lated developments in England at the end of the eighteenth century.
The ¬rst is the rise of the poet as a philosophical innovator follow-
ing the subduing of conventional epistemology by scepticism. Mid
and late eighteenth-century British philosophy was burdened with a
barely voiced view that there may indeed be no response to Hume,
and thus no answer to the ˜problem™ of knowledge. Monboddo
gravely surmised in ±·· that to agree with Hume was to accept that
˜there can be no science nor knowledge of any kind™.° This was,
in many respects, a tacit acceptance that on his own ground the
sceptic was unanswerable; in Jacobi™s words, ˜that there is no argu-
ing against™ or ˜no defeating the upper or full blown idealist a la Hume
[. . .]™. For Monboddo, the obvious remedy for this, and indeed the only
recourse for theism, was to return to the metaphysical systems of ancient
Greece, yet even he was forced to concede, ruefully, that ˜Metaphysics
[. . .] are, at present, in great disrepute among men of sense [. . .].™
There was no high-road back to Platonic idealism for those who felt that
the weight of the arguments of Bacon and Locke pressed them towards
the uncanny conclusions of Berkeley and Hume.
Yet just as Hume™s in¬‚uence effectively paralysed conventional phil-
osophy of knowledge in the late eighteenth century, it also gave rise to
a philosophically intense Romantic movement in poetry and aesthetics.
Deeply troubled by scepticism, but unable to dissolve it, the Romantics
made a virtue of abstaining from argument altogether. This represented
not a refutation of Hume, but an escape from scepticism by ¬‚eeing phil-

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