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osophy. While Monboddo had felt it was his duty to engage with ˜the
absurdities of his philosophy™, among the Romantics Hume was side-
lined or ignored. Even Coleridge, who virtually alone attacked Hume™s
arguments directly, rarely did so, preferring to demonize the relatively
conservative Locke. Typical of this is his warning in Biographia Literaria
that if one accepts without quali¬cation the Lockean principle, nihil in
intellectu quod non prius in sensu, then ˜what Hume had demonstratively
deduced from this concession concerning cause and effect™, would apply
˜with equal and crushing force™ to all knowledge. The implication, as
so often, is that Locke™s is the original and greater philosophical error.
Certainly Hume had a radical appeal for some. Hazlitt found his
nominalism useful for his own theory of abstraction, and Shelley used
the same for more overtly political ends. Nonetheless, and despite the fact
·
Romanticism™s knowing ways
that Hume pioneered the notion of the associative imagination a full ten
years before Hartley™s ±· Observations on Man, elsewhere the mood was
dismissive. More typical is Lamb™s complaint to Manning in ±°° of that
˜Damned Philosophical Humeian indifference, so cold & unnatural &
inhuman™,µ and Wordsworth™s sour aside in his ±±µ ˜Essay™ to the effect
that Adam Smith was ˜the worst critic, David Hume not excepted,
that Scotland, a soil to which this sort of weed seems natural, has pro-
duced™. The anti-Caledonian bent of these remarks, like Lamb™s fulmi-
nations against the systematizing Scottish intellect in his essay ˜Imperfect
Sympathies™, reveals the extent to which, for the English mind in the late
eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a speci¬c philosophical posi-
tion, viz. Humean scepticism, became identi¬ed with the general practice
of philosophy, and that, in turn, with the culture of the Scottish universi-
ties. There is, indeed, an ambivalence to these remarks. Lamb™s punning
identi¬cation of the ˜inhuman™ in the ˜Humeian™ obsession with philos-
ophy “ on the grounds of the latter™s ˜indifference™ to life “ is logically,
but not tonally consonant with his own professed indifference to ques-
tions of time and space. His rhetoric of attachment involves a stance of
ironic detachment and indifference to philosophy™s own commitment to
knowledge which Hume, for all his ironizing over his sceptical predica-
ment, would have found ˜cold and unnatural™. The point here is that
despite Lamb™s own posture, his attack on philosophy™s indifference with
an indifference to philosophy is originally targeted not towards ˜Damned
Philosophical Humeian indifference™, but ˜Damned Philosophical Humeian
indifference™ “ in other words, not the activity of philosophizing as such,
but speci¬cally the outcome of that activity in Hume™s hands, namely an
alienating Hobson™s choice of scepticism or naturalism. In the same way,
the motivating force behind Wordsworth™s condemnation of Smith and
Hume is their belief, as Wordsworth puts it, ˜that there are no ¬xed prin-
ciples in human nature [. . .]™.· The anti-philosophical turn in English
Romanticism, then, is itself sustained by a deep epistemological anxiety,
just as its conviction that scepticism is merely a symptom of philosophy
is tainted by the fear that philosophy is not a formal discipline but is itself
a form of life, no more optional as an activity than thinking.
A second, related development determining Romanticism™s outlook
on knowledge is the emergence of a radical theory of creation. Isaiah
Berlin identi¬es this as the Romantic belief ˜that truth is not an objective
structure, independent of those who seek it, the hidden treasure waiting
to be found but is itself in all its guises created by the seeker™. It was a
commonplace of eighteenth-century aesthetics and epistemology that in
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
exceptional cases original genius, like Shaftesbury™s ˜just °   µ  ™,
might create a kind of beauty which excelled that of the faithful imitator
of nature. But only within Romanticism does one ¬nd the idea that
aesthetic creativeness might be paradigmatic for human knowledge, and
only with Romanticism, as Rorty notes, does one encounter the notion
˜that truth is made rather than found™.° The difference between these
views, to use a well-known analogy of the time, is comparable to that
between Greek and Hebraic mythologies of divine creation. On the
Platonic model, knowledge was prior to actual creation. In Plato™s
mythology of creation in Timaeus, the Demiurge proceeded like a crafts-
man, manipulating and combining materials which came to hand in
order to fashion a new whole. But such elements, like the plan to which
he worked, were themselves already discovered or present for him.±
Similarly, neoclassical conceptions of creation in eighteenth-century
Britain generally insisted upon a prior foundation of empirical truth
to which new creations were either subject or (more rarely) miraculous
exceptions. Alexander Gerard™s Essay on Genius, for instance, though out-
wardly an apology for the creative imagination, insists ˜that a man can
scarce be said to have invented till he has exercised his judgement™.
Even Shaftesbury™s non-empirical and potentially subversive notion of
˜Poetical [. . .] Truth™ is mandated by ˜natural Knowledge, fundamental Reason,
and common Sense™. With the Romantics, however, this order is reversed:
knowledge, and epistemic warrant, it was suggested, was itself a creative
enterprise. After the manner of the Christian God of Genesis who cre-
ates ex nihilo, the Romantics viewed creation as healing its own difference
with truth, thereby annihilating the division between act and thought,
means and predetermined end. Predictably, it is in Coleridge™s work that
the linkage between divine and human creation is most pronounced; the
unity of law and spontaneity being expressed by the logos, the original
creative word, or ˜in¬nite I   ™, of which the human mind was an echo.
Elsewhere, however, this new promotion of creation is observable on
many levels in Romantic writing. It can be seen in Hazlitt™s argument in
An Essay on the Principles of Human Action that the agent ˜creates the object™µ
which determines his moral judgement, no less than in Wordsworth™s
assertion that poetic genius is responsible for ˜the introduction of a new
element into the intellectual universe [. . .]™.
That which liberated knowing, however, also made it risky. The
self-ordering and regulative power of the logos is always in peril of being
undermined by its playful, satanic alter-ego: ˜[t]he serpent™, as Geoffrey
Hartman puts it, ˜is the ¬rst deconstructor of the logos™.· Coleridge

Romanticism™s knowing ways
himself was at ¬rst pleased to liken the active process of reading in
Biographia Literaria to ˜the motion of a serpent, which the Egyptians
made the emblem of intellectual power [. . .]™. But by the time of
the publication of Aids to Re¬‚ection it had become ˜the Symbol of the
Understanding™, or:
the sophistic Principle, the wily Tempter to Evil by counterfeit Good [. . .] ever
in league with, and always ¬rst applying to, the Desire, as the inferior nature in
Man, the Woman in our Humanity; and through the D ©  prevailing on the
W©¬¬ (the Manhood, Virtus) against the command of the Universal Reason,
and against the Light of Reason in the W© ¬¬ itself.

The danger inherent in a theory which sees knowledge as an ongoing
process of creation is that the price of thus emulating God is to be cast
out of an Eden of certainty. What is gained is a sense of freedom and of
truth as self-created, but also, and consequently, of truth as fallible, inde-
terminate, and groundless. M. H. Abrams has charted the way in which
the Romantic ¬guration of knowledge typically ˜fuses the idea of the
circular return with the idea of linear progress™, yet the relationship was
more one of torsion than of fusion.° Coleridge himself, as will be seen,
deployed various metaphysical strategies to secure the creative spiral to
¬rm foundations. But among contemporaries still working within a cul-
ture of empiricism, commitment was edgy. As Mark Kipperman puts
it, the Romantic mind ˜hovers™ between ˜the word as symbol needing to
be understood and the mind as freedom, asserting itself in creation™.±
Yet what might be better understood is the way in which English
Romanticism comes to de¬ne itself by this oscillation and indecision,
prizing indifference and ˜negative capability™ above argument to the
point where the literal articulation of its ideal is itself superseded by its
metaphoric presentation, its enactment in poetry. Again, essential to such
an understanding is the recognition that in this respect Romanticism
in England is a way of rejecting scepticism which comes to refuse the
activity of philosophizing as such, insofar as that discipline represents
the search for knowledge as a quest for certainty.
Yet by elevating metaphor and poetic ¬guration to a new level of epis-
temic autonomy, Romanticism simultaneously proposes two very dif-
ferent alternatives: ¬rst, that the notion of created truth might rescue
philosophy (and knowledge) from scepticism; and, second, that poetic
creation might obviate the need for epistemic certainty, and thus for
˜philosophy™ altogether. Unlike the American pragmatists a century later,
the English Romantics did not always use the notion of creation to sever
±° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
ties with empirical foundationalism. Indeed, more frequently they at-
tempted instead to make a foundation of it. James was able to assert with
con¬dence that ˜[i]n our cognitive as well as in our active life we are
creative. We add, both to the subject and to the predicate part of reality.
The world stands really malleable [. . .]. Man engenders truths upon it™.
But this was only because he had adopted the ˜attitude of looking away from
¬rst things, principles, “categories”, supposed necessities; and of looking towards last
things, fruits, consequences, facts™. It is dif¬cult to ¬nd such thoroughgoing
pragmatism in Romantic texts “ leading Dewey to complain that the
Romantics merely glori¬ed the ¬‚ux of creation for its own sake. But
this is only half the story. Dewey™s charge may, for instance, be true of
Keats™s notion of negative capability or Lamb™s avowed preference for
suggestion over comprehension. But when one considers Wordsworth™s
claim in the ±°° Preface that ˜Poetry is the ¬rst and last of all knowl-
edge™, one ¬nds an enduring desire for epistemic security; for stability
or veri¬ability, or for what is ˜¬rst and last™ in knowledge: in short, for
foundations.µ
This Romantic ambivalence is characteristically displayed in one of its
most celebrated attacks on knowledge, namely De Quincey™s de¬nition
of literature, which, as Jonathan Bate notes, alternates between the two
distinctive positions represented respectively in his ± Letters to a Young
Man and his ± essay, ˜The Poetry of Pope™. In the ¬rst, literature is
boldly marked as value-rich and non-epistemic, the domain not of fact,
but of power: ˜All that is literature seeks to communicate power™, De
Quincey asserts, ˜all that is not literature, to communicate knowledge™.·
Two and a half decades later, however, De Quincey™s position is more
subtle, which is to say, uneasy:
There is, ¬rst, the literature of knowledge; and, secondly, the literature of power.
The function of the ¬rst is “ to teach; the function of the second is “ to move
[. . .]. The ¬rst speaks to the mere discursive understanding; the second speaks
ultimately, it may happen, to the higher understanding or reason, but always
through affections of pleasure and sympathy.

Literature now internalizes the distinction between epistemic and non-
epistemic which originally de¬ned it, and ˜power™ itself is reinvested with
a ˜higher™ epistemic status, a status which “ supported by a sequence
of qualifying clauses which threatens to regress ever further “ is all the
more insecure for being ˜higher™. But De Quincey™s change of heart is by
no means unusual; indeed, in Romantic prose such ambivalence is the
norm, and similar patterns can be found in the very writers, Coleridge
±±
Romanticism™s knowing ways
and Wordsworth among them, whose ideas De Quincey is developing
here. In this respect, within Wordsworth™s ˜poetic truth™ and Lamb™s
indifferentism as much as De Quincey™s ˜literature™, one can see the
same post-Humean dilemma at work; namely, and respectively, between
making creation (or power, or life) the ground of knowing, or celebrating
the spiral of creative activity regardless of truth; or again, between ¬nding
a secure ˜end™ or terminus for thought, and bringing thought™s linear
pursuit of certainty itself to an end.

¤©  ¦ ©§µ © ®§ § µ  ®
One of the major legacies, then, of Hume™s uncoupling of statements of
value from statements of fact is a dilation of the margin between lan-
guage and the world to which it refers or corresponds. Though Hume
himself did not go so far as to claim that value-statements were mean-
ingless (just incapable of being known to be true or false) his scepticism
led to an intensi¬cation of the question of the relation between truth and
language “ or to put it another way, between literal meaning, referentially
grounded in the world, and ¬gurative meaning, creating its own world.
This intensi¬cation of the question, rather than its resolution, leads to
Romanticism. The Romantics energize the ¬eld of meaning with poetic
value, almost to the extent of collapsing the distinction between refer-
ence and ¬gure, declaring with Shelley that ˜language itself is poetry™.
At such moments, the centrifugal tendency in Romantic writing, its in-
difference to traditional philosophy™s task of binding a rei¬ed language
and world in knowledge is so pronounced that it seems possible, with
Rajan, to read in it ˜a deconstruction that is postorganicist rather than
poststructuralist™.µ° Yet once again, indifference always carries with it
the tincture of commitment, and it is also possible to see the very re-
pression of philosophy™s discourse of knowledge as its perpetuation by
other means. From this perspective, the elevation of ˜life™ over re¬‚ection
is itself carried through in the service of re¬‚ection. Knowledge, in other
words, is rescued from its tired search for ˜truth™ and guided, whether
by poetry or a poetic quasi-philosophy, towards the ineffable ˜Truth™ of
¬guration in which fact and value are once again reunited. Language
itself is poetry, but as Shelley continues, ˜to be a poet is to apprehend the
true and the beautiful, in a word the good which exists in the relation,
subsisting, ¬rst between existence and perception, and secondly between
perception and expression™.µ± In Hume™s post-lapserian dispensation, the
condition of ¬guration is one of hopeless yet incorrigible nostalgic hunger
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
for knowledge. Even Shelley™s visionary cycles of metaphor do not extend
to deconstructing philosophy™s version of truth as resting on a division
of word and object, expression and existence.
To note this is, in a sense, to rehearse what Stanley Cavell has observed,
namely that the Romantics are engaged in a process of ˜attacking philos-
ophy in the name of redeeming it™, seeking at once to revitalize fact with
poetry and cement poetic value with philosophical knowledge. This in
turn produces the peculiarly ˜Romantic perception of human double-
ness™, a simultaneous craving for the comforts of philosophical limitation
and for an escape from such comforts through poetry, a perception in
turn shared by philosophers such as Wittgenstein and Heidegger.µ More
questionable, however, is Cavell™s further claim that this condition can be
rendered primarily as the story of how the Romantics monitor the sta-
bility of the Kantian bargain for knowledge. For the English Romantics
(putting Coleridge to one side for a moment), the most pressing con-
cern was not dissatisfaction with the security of Kant™s pact between
understanding and reason, but the question of whether a certain kind
of empiricism “ a kind that seemed constitutionally prone to slip into
scepticism “ was worth saving from itself, or whether, in the absence of
transcendental safety-nets, the quest for knowledge (for causes, grounds,
¬rst principles) should be abandoned wholesale. From this vantage point,
the shadow of Hume looms larger than that of Kant. Moreover, at this
point the difference between the German and the English responses to
this issue becomes crucial, for though both turn to poetry and ¬gura-
tion as a recuperation of value and life from depleted knowledge, the
latter do so without the post-Kantian assurance that their troping and
irony embody the re¬‚exional relationship between the real and the ideal,
thereby expressing a deep symbiosis between philosophy and poetry
which, Schlegel felt bold enough to predict, ˜ends as idyll with the abso-
lute identity of the two™.µ One important consequence of this is that, far
more than their German counterparts, the faith of the English Romantics
in the redemptive power of the rhetoric of ˜literature™ was severely tested
by demands for literalness and facticity in formal prose composition.
Wordsworth™s rejection of a metrical for an epistemic de¬nition of
poetry in the ±°° Preface is a good example of how much more edgy
are the re¬‚exive or performative investments of English Romantic prose
when compared with either its poetry or the con¬dent ironizing of its
German counterpart. In the Preface, Wordsworth justi¬es his opposi-
tion of poetry to ˜Matter of Fact, or Science™ rather than to prose, on
the grounds that it is ˜more philosophical™.µ It is, of course, entirely in
±
Romanticism™s knowing ways
keeping with the expectations that arise through having chosen to ex-
press his views in the form of a formal preface, written in prose, that a
writer should prefer a distinction for being ˜more philosophical™. Yet what
makes the preference so interesting is that at the same time Wordsworth
is in the process of developing an alternative voice to philosophy™s; one
which expresses the whole of lived experience, rather than conveying
only what can be veri¬ed in knowledge. Hence Wordsworth™s discom-
fort with, and professed reluctance to write a prose preface to the second
edition of Lyrical Ballads for the reader, lest he be suspected of the ˜foolish
hope of reasoning him into an approbation of these particular Poems™.µµ
Poetry™s voice is not to analyse or dissect, but to renew and enrich ex-
perience. Articulating that purpose is precisely what makes Wordsworth
feel ill at ease, yet he feels compelled to do so.
The ambivalence cuts both ways. In ˜On the Prose-Style of Poets™
(±), Hazlitt, a prose-writer politically suspicious of the hedonism of
the poetic voice, stresses the virtue of well-written prose™s engagement
with ˜dry matters of fact and close reasoning™. In Burke™s writing, for
instance, ˜[t]he principle which guides his pen is truth, not beauty “ not
pleasure, but power™.µ Leaving aside the fact that the epistemic status of
˜power™ was to cause him at least as much trouble as it did De Quincey,
even Hazlitt was not prepared fully to grasp the horn of fact in Hume™s
dichotomy. As Tom Paulin notes, Hazlitt™s apologia for an argumentative
and Whiggish prose to a great extent betrays his own ˜sense of inferiority
as a prose-writer™ living in an age of poets.µ· And indeed, towards the
end of the essay one ¬nds Hazlitt adding that some of the old English
prose writers ˜are the best, and at the same time, the most poetical in
the favourable sense™. In so doing he aligns himself with the various
attempts made by Coleridge, De Quincey, Shelley and Wordsworth to
refashion the poetic as a supra-cognitive sphere “ a sphere, it turned out,
which transcended truth as facticity but in its will to value threatened to
overreach truth itself.µ
It is, then, chie¬‚y in discursive prose, where they attempt to tackle
questions of knowledge, reality, and morality discursively and in abstract
terms, that one ¬nds the pressure-points of the English Romantics™ chal-
lenge to philosophy, and the primary sites of their dilemma between
foundationalist philosophy and ¬gurative subversion. Once again, it is
quite true, as Richard Elridge points out, that Romantic writers attempt
to cope with this tension through the resources of ¬guration. As he puts
it, ˜Romantic texts depict “ often dramatically in their self-revising, self-
questioning swerves in and out of doctrine and commitment “ an effort
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
to live with expressive freedom as both an enduring aspiration and an
insuperable problem.™µ But this Romantic re¬‚exivity, this indifference
to commitment is itself just as much a repression of the dilemma as is
ratiocination or argument. In epic poetic works such as The Prelude and
ironic fragments like ˜Kubla Khan™ alike, Romantic writers sought to
enact an aesthetic reconciliation of created meaning and objective truth
by metaphoric means, resisting the reduction of imaginative possibil-
ity to literal certainty. But in non-¬ctional prose works “ in prefaces,
essays, reviews, criticism, as well as more conventionally theoretical and
philosophical writing “ diminished scope for self-conscious ¬guration
restricted the opportunities for any performative or symbolic display
of the irreducibility of creative practice to (and yet its unity with)
theory. In particular, the demands of polemical prose composition stretch
Romanticism™s resistance to argument to its limit. Consequently, when, as
evidence of his opposition to traditional metaphysics, Kathleen Wheeler
cites the ˜double-texture™ in Coleridge™s prose whereby ˜both theory and
practice are fused in the text™ (that is, through the simultaneous enact-
ment and exposition of his ironic mode) she con¬rms a Romantic ideal
of uni¬ed style and substance and elides the tension between argument
and indifference which produces such a strategy in the ¬rst place.° It is
then, in such writings as Hazlitt™s Essay on the Principles of Human Action,
Wordsworth™s prefaces and Coleridge™s Aids to Re¬‚ection, that the English
Romantic anxiety of knowing reaches its highest pitch.

 ®· ¦ µ® ¤©  ® ¬©  
The phrase ˜¬rst response™ is used advisedly. For there are two major
chapters to this story, and with Coleridge one comes to the second.
Coleridge shares with other English Romantic writers con¬‚icting alle-
giances to indifferentism and foundationalism. Convinced as to the cre-
ative capacities of human intelligence, he still, as he recounts in Biographia
Literaria, ˜laboured at a solid foundation, on which permanently to ground
my opinions [. . .]™.± The language of foundationalism is important,
though often overlooked by modern commentators keen to integrate
Coleridge into a western tradition of anti-metaphysical thought. Rather
than, like Nietzsche, making non-logocentric play of the notion of creati-
vity as endless becoming, Coleridge is more likely, like Wordsworth and
Hazlitt, to turn groundlessness itself into a foundational trope, as with
his Schellingian claim in Biographia Literaria that ˜freedom must be as-
sumed as a ground of philosophy, and can never be deduced from it [. . .]™.
±µ
Romanticism™s knowing ways
Like Schelling (at this point at least), Coleridge™s strategy is ambivalent,
attacking philosophy™s concept of knowledge as foundational in order
to establish new and rehabilitated philosophical ˜grounds™ through a
discourse of unknowing.
What sets Coleridge apart from his contemporaries in England, how-
ever “ indeed, what makes him unique is not his contact with German
idealism in general, but speci¬cally his embracement of Kant™s new pro-
gramme for philosophy. Where writers like Wordsworth and Hazlitt
developed what might be called strategies against argument, or non-
epistemic paradigms of emotion and power with which to critique an em-
pirical philosophy to which they remained tied, Coleridge initially found
in Kant a reply to Hume on his own terms, a positivist argument which
appeared to allow philosophy, and knowledge, to cure itself. Generally in
English Romantic writing resistance to epistemology fought the compul-
sion to philosophize against the background of the threat of scepticism.
In Coleridge™s work, however, the same con¬‚ict is worked out within a
context which includes the possibility that transcendental argument might
prove effective against Hume, rendering scepticism incoherent and ob-
viating the Scottish scramble for a naturalistic escape-hatch. Thus, while
the general Romantic strategy of attacking philosophy in the name of
redeeming it remains the same, in Coleridge this is the product of his
endeavour to make positivist foundational philosophy of a particularly
Kantian and a priori mould amenable to his own idea of human creative
potential.
In this way Coleridge perpetuates the serpentine movement of English
Romantic theoretical prose, which, by perpetually striving to ground the
ungroundable, bites its own tail. In Coleridge™s writing a non-logocentric,
creative ideal (itself encouraged by, but contrary to Kant™s teachings)
undermines synthetic a priori grounds just as it had pressurized empiri-
cal foundations in the work of Wordsworth and Hazlitt. The resulting
oscillation between knowing and creation or ¬guration, though more
explicit, is the same. Thus, after the Biographia™s failed attempt to prepare
˜a total and undivided philosophy™, which incorporated the dynamic
powers of art and religion, Coleridge turned to ever more baroque means
of squaring the circle of creative knowing. Dialectic and voluntarism
replaced the aesthetic/poetic in the struggle with foundational thought in
the Philosophical Lectures and later in Aids to Re¬‚ection, as religious faith and
moral freedom competed for space with grounding epistemology and
˜¬rst principles™. Coleridge was thus drawn into a web of post-Kantian
disputes concerning the fate of philosophy and of knowledge, aspects of
± Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
which he shared not only with Jacobi, Fichte and Schelling, but also with
Hegel and Schopenhauer.

 « ®· ©® § ®-« ®· © ® §
Andrew Bowie has written compellingly of how ˜major concerns of liter-
ary theory and the contemporary philosophy of language, both analytical
and European [. . .] converge in space ¬rst opened up by Romantic lit-
erary theory [. . .]™. This is a line of argument familiar to students of
Romanticism, and my present study does not dissent from it. But where
Bowie sets out from the observation that ˜the signi¬cance of “literature”
and art for the thought of Kant™s period relates precisely to the aware-
ness that epistemology cannot complete the job it is intended for™, in
this instance ˜epistemology™, is not necessarily construed as something
already Kantian.µ Rather, the purpose here is to explore how, both
before and concurrently with Coleridge™s engagement with German
thought, the English Romantics developed a strategy comparable to
German Romanticism™s creation of the domain of the aesthetic as
˜literary absolute™ “ comparable, that is, in that it is every bit as ambiva-
lent and hesitant as its German cousin in its displacement of apparently
intractable epistemological problems. Subsequent discussion of the work
of Wordsworth (chapter ), Hazlitt (chapter ) and Coleridge (chapters 
and µ) will have more scope to expand on the central claim that in their
ambivalent response to scepticism, the Romantics established a pattern of
behaviour which alternated between abstention from and engagement

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