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admiration of original genius™,±· and concludes that, insofar as they
are led by the associative imagination in the absence of judgement and
taste, ˜it is in the accuracy of their minute details, that men of warm
Imaginations are chie¬‚y to be distrusted [. . .]™.±°
From another perspective, however, Stewart™s insight is that the cre-
ative imagination will not brook the curbs of knowledge. It is not like
creative advance in science, he suggests, because it does not involve the
¬nal squaring of the ¬gurative cycle with the linear grid of validation.
Ernest Tuveson thus overstates matters, to say the least, when he identi-
¬es Stewart as a ˜spokesman for the faith of early romanticism™.±± While
Stewart™s divorce of the epistemic and aesthetic ¬nally frees poetry from
the burden of verifying itself empirically, his foundationalism means that
this results in the marginalization of creative activity from the ˜trusted™
grounds of knowledge. With this development we arrive at the full cul-
mination of the legacy of Hume™s division of fact and value: philosophy™s
¬nal divorce of the aesthetic and the epistemic. It is this dichotomy which
forms Romanticism™s point of departure, not its ˜faith™.
In the meantime, much of the debate within epistemology at the
close of the eighteenth century centres on the friction between two dif-
ferent legacies: namely, Reid™s commonsensism, and Hume™s theory of
·
The eighteenth century
association. Two years before Stewart wrote against imagination in the
¬rst volume of his Elements, Archibald Alison had proposed a positive
associationist theory of taste and the sublime in his Essays on the Nature and
Principles of Taste. This advanced on Gerard™s theory by making emotion
an irreducible part of the imaginative act. For Alison, feelings of beauty
or sublimity are complex, not simple, and the effect of association: ˜The
simple perception of the object, we frequently ¬nd, is insuf¬cient to ex-
cite these emotions, unless [. . .] our imagination is seized, and our fancy
busied in the pursuit of all those trains of thought, which are allied to this
character or expression.™ Consequently, judgements of taste are func-
tions of imagination. In consequence, emotion becomes, in a manner of
speaking, the glue which holds the aesthetic experience (seen by Stewart
as dangerously unstable) together: not only are the ideas which make up
the ˜train of thought™ produced by sublimity or beauty themselves ˜Ideas
of Emotion™, but the unifying or ˜general principle of connexion™ of such
trains is also an emotional one.±
From here it is a relatively easy step for Alison to take to deny that
even the painter™s business is wholly imitative: ˜the language he employs
is found not only to speak to the eye, but to affect the imagination and
the heart™. It is through the emotional activity of the imagination that
genius manifests itself:
It is not the art, but the genius of the Painter, which now gives value to his
compositions [. . .] It is not now a simple copy which we see, nor is our Emotion
limited to the cold pleasure which arises from the perception of accurate Imi-
tation. It is a creation of Fancy with which the artist presents us, in which only
the greater expressions of Nature are retained [. . .].

Nevertheless, the power of painting is ˜limited™ when compared to
poetry: ˜The Painter can represent no other qualities of Nature, but those
which we discern by the sense of sight. The Poet can blend with those,
all the qualities which we perceive by means of our other senses.™ The
radicalism of Alison™s work lies in the manner in which he adapts Hume™s
observation that in value-judgements reason is a slave to the passions,
turning it into a positive associationist theory of beauty and sublimity. In
doing so, he suggests a process by which reason™s damning verdict upon
emotion might be reprieved within the parameters of aesthetic experi-
ence. However, Alison is a passive associationist, more interested in the
nature of the mind™s response to certain objects, than its creation of them.
Nor does he go so far as to extend his theory into emotional cognitivism,
through which feelings of beauty or the sublime might be permitted some
 Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
limited constituency or function within human knowledge. With regard
to genius, he is, moreover, something of a traditionalist; declaring, for ex-
ample, that ˜[h]ad the taste of S«° been equal to his genius,
or had his knowledge of the laws of the Drama corresponded to his
knowledge of the human heart, the effect of his compositions would [. . .]
have been greater than it now is [. . .]™.± Alison™s ¬nal verdict on genius
should come as no more of a surprise than that of Stewart or Ferguson:
together, they are the natural verdicts of late eighteenth-century empiri-
cism upon the theory of artistic creation as invention or discovery.

®  ¬µ © ®
Throughout the eighteenth century, the dominant Lockean epistemol-
ogy in Britain struggled to contain a creationist aesthetic to which its own
synthetic foundations gave rise, an aesthetic which was further fostered by
an ancient tradition of ˜inspired™ composition, as well as the more recent
vogue of the sublime and of the primitive origins of ˜natural™ language and
genius. Increasingly, poetry came to bear the responsibility for aspects
of experience that philosophy now refused to carry, such as the sense of
nature as a totality from which the individual could not be abstracted,
and the feeling that experience was not merely something ˜given™ to con-
sciousness as a pure commodity, but was the product of our minds, and
even of our emotions. The signi¬cance of Hume™s Treatise in this is that
it confronts what is at risk in the empirical/representationalist point of
view; namely, a division of labour between the discipline of philosophical
thinking and ordinary life experience outside the study, in the world of
backgammon and friends. Above all, it marks out epistemic certainty
as something which is not already present in pure thought or ˜fact™, but
which is normative or ˜value-added™, only through our lived intercourse
with the world. In the face of this, attempts to regain certainty for philos-
ophy through notions of inner sense or common sense, though enjoying
some success, could too easily appear like arbitrarily sinking founda-
tions for knowledge where Hume had shown (by a method, moreover,
which was empirical through and through) that there could be none. In
the meantime, such strategies would also have to vie with the increas-
ingly in¬‚uential philosophy of associationism, which from most angles
seemed only to con¬rm Hume™s ¬ndings. This is the stress-fracture within
eighteenth-century foundationalism which Romanticism seeks to heal,
but at the same time accentuates, for an essential part of its modus vivendi
is the recovery of creation from the epistemic margins.

The eighteenth century
This recovery had another dimension. Throughout the later eight-
eenth century, the largely utilitarian Scottish presentation of genius was
of a power which contributed to the public good. Subordinating artistic
to scienti¬c invention to an extent helped to mitigate the feeling that
the age was witnessing a degeneration in the arts.± Ferguson notes that
˜[t]he progress of ¬ne arts has generally made a part in the history of
prosperous nations [. . .]™.±µ Beattie, meanwhile, links his idea of genius
as a discovering and inventive power with the idea of progress: ˜let us
learn™, he urges, ˜to set a proper value on industry and manufacture. The
meanest arti¬cer in society, if honest and diligent, is worthy of honour™ “
worthy, that is, insofar as he represents one aspect of the ˜boundless
variety™ of genius.±
In England, however, to many (the Romantics included) the taming
of creative imagination into productive artisan represented an unaccept-
able Caledonian triumph of fact over value. The utilization of the creative
meant that cultural production became vexed with the fear of commod-
i¬cation. Young adopts the language of the marketplace to complain of
imitations that they ˜are often a sort of Manufacture wrought up by those
Mechanics, Art, and Labour, out of pre-existent materials not their own™.
˜Thoughts™, he continues, ˜when become too common, should lose their
Currency; and we should send new metal to the Mint [. . .].™±· This
anxiety extended to the proliferation of reading matter. Isaac D™Israeli
registered regretfully in ±·µ the manner in which ˜since, with incessant
industry, volumes have been multiplied, and their prices rendered them
accessible to the lowest artisans, the Literary Character has gradually
fallen into disrepute™.± In all of this the feeling that knowledge itself has suf-
fered in¬‚ation, that facts have lost their value by becoming too ˜common™,
crosses political divides and allies some unexpected voices. Shelley™s diag-
nosis in the Defence of Poetry that ˜[w]e want the creative faculty to imagine
that which we know™ in this light has a kinship with Francis Jeffrey™s ac-
knowledgement in an ±± review that both the increased discovery, and
˜the general diffusion of knowledge tends [. . .] powerfully to repress all
original and independent speculation in individuals [. . .]™.± Thus was
born what Thomas Pfau terms ˜the professionalization of leisure™, whereby
the aesthetic was transformed by a culturally insurgent but politically
disenfranchised middle class into the privileged commodity of superior
subjectivity, a product that can only be experienced productively.±° In this
way, pure creativity is saved from the grinding mill of the utilitarian econ-
omy and rehabilitated by means of a self-re¬‚exive social consciousness.
As will be seen, however, the anxious tension with knowledge persists.
·° Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
This ¬nally brings us up to date with Wordsworth and Hazlitt, and how
in their hands poetry or creative ˜power™ turns the tables upon knowledge
by challenging epistemology itself. Yet at the same time they struggled to
reconcile the numinous halo surrounding genius and poetic value with a
concept of knowledge which remained anchored in foundationalism of
a distinctly empirical cast. Kant™s ±·° discussion of genius in the Critique
of Judgement was not yet available in Britain. As Leslie Stephen points
out, ˜[i]f Kant had never lived, or had lived in Pekin[g], English thinkers
in the eighteenth century would not have been less conscious of his
position™.±± Indeed, though his work was to become more widely known
in Britain in the ¬rst few decades of the next century, it was generally
perceived as either sunk in mysticism or harking back to the exploded
thesis of innatism. Stewart™s biting remark in the belated second volume
of his Elements (±±) that ˜I can, without much vanity, say, that, with
less expense of thought, I could have rivalled the obscurity of Kant™ is
not untypical.± Coleridge alone fully engaged with the implications of
Kant™s new deal: it was the task of writers such as Wordsworth and Hazlitt
to mediate between creative indifference and foundational knowledge
without the apparatus of transcendental method.


The charm of logic: Wordsworth™s prose




A tranquillizing spirit presses now
On my corporeal frame, so wide appears
The vacancy between me and those days,
Which yet have such self-presence in my mind
That sometimes when I think of them I seem
Two consciousnesses “ conscious of myself,
And of some other being.
William Wordsworth, The Prelude ±

By the time Coleridge proclaimed that Wordsworth was capable of pro-
ducing England™s ˜F©   G ® µ ©®  P© ¬   ° ©  P ™, the state of
philosophy itself in Britain was at a crossroads, caught between an empiri-
cism sunk in scepticism and a descriptive naturalism which harboured,
it seemed, a freedom-denying materialism. As a result, Wordsworth™s
problems in living up to this accolade are as much to do with the
fact that philosophy was beginning a long process of rede¬ning itself
as they are to do with the impossible expectations of Coleridge. The
Romantic notion of ˜philosophy™ is inherently unstable, oscillating be-
tween an Enlightenment foundationalism collapsed by Hume, and some,
as yet unde¬ned, new way of knowledge which did not sever value from
fact. The responsibility of ˜knowing™, taken as the detached perspective
of the neutral spectator, continued to weigh heavily on Wordsworth™s
brave new poetics of engagement. Thus, as Kenneth Johnston observes,
the obstacle facing Wordsworth in his attempts to compose The Recluse
˜is rather too much philosophy than too little, giving rise to expecta-
tions that it cannot satisfy™. By refashioning a model of poetic truth
according to a creative paradigm of imagination more dynamic than
the native logic could accommodate, Wordsworth mounted a challenge
to conventional epistemology. Yet he never entirely overturned empiri-
cism™s principle of truth, namely, the doctrine that if an utterance is
to be both true and informative, it is so only because its statement™s
·±
· Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
proposition corresponds to facts attested by sense experience. Conse-
quently, Wordsworth struggled to reconcile a creationist poetics with
a notion of truth as correspondence. There is a detectable edge of
uncertainty, for instance, in his Coleridgean-sounding description of
truth, recollected by Aubrey de Vere, according to whom ˜truth in its
largest sense, as a thing at once real and ideal, a truth including exact
and accurate detail, and yet everywhere subordinating mere detail to
the spirit of the whole this, he [ Wordsworth] af¬rmed, was the soul and
essence not only of descriptive poetry, but of all poetry™.
Viewed epistemologically, the dif¬culty for Wordsworth is that with-
out Coleridge™s a priori schema, he faces the problem of demonstrating
this relation of ˜mere detail to the spirit of the whole™. So long as they
remain unreconciled, the ˜ideal™ will always threaten to slip back into the
merely ˜real™. This tension between ideal and real is a well-travelled road
in Wordsworth studies, particularly since Geoffrey Hartman™s render-
ing of the poet™s phenomenological via naturaliter negativa, or dialectical
consciousness of consciousness, whereby ˜apocalyptic™ vision and the
binding impulse or ˜akedah™ of nature progressively supervene each other
in a providential poetics of error, so producing in Wordsworth™s poetry
˜a web of transfers™, or ˜to-and-fros (“traf¬ckings”) between inner and
outer, literal and ¬gurative™.µ The providentiality of this dialectic, how-
ever, is something the early Hartman, like Wordsworth, was apt to take
on trust. As de Man observed, since the Victorian era Wordsworth has
been appropriated by philosophers keen to test philosophical discourse
in order to legitimate it, and who have transformed him from nineteenth-
century ˜moral™ philosopher to twentieth-century phenomenologist en
route. This conversion, de Man adds, is ˜a move to which Wordsworth™s
texts respond with almost suspicious docility. The threat from which we
were to be sheltered [i.e. temporality, mutability] and consoled is now
identi¬ed as a condition of consciousness™. Elridge makes a similar point
from a positivist perspective when he reads in Wordsworth™s poetry the
˜simultaneous inevitability and impossibility of philosophy itself as a con-
dition of human life™. With Johnston, he identi¬es Wordsworth™s as a ˜new
condition of philosophy™, an emergent media res between poetic creation
(or postmodern images of unconstrained freedom), and the closures of
foundational philosophy.·
Other commentators have adopted a more politically suspicious atti-
tude to this ambivalence. For John Barrell, Wordsworth™s ¬‚ight from an
inescapable empiricism manifests a con¬‚ict between ˜two con¬‚icting
desires: to demonstrate how abstract words refer to the results of complex
·
Wordsworth™s prose
operations performed on the objects of sense, and are in some way
founded on these objects; but also to insist on that abstract language as en-
tirely sundered from sense, so as to con¬rm a clear division between those
who are, and who are not fully human [. . .]™. Alternatively, some have
been more sympathetic to Wordsworth™s dilemma. Alan Bewell charts
how Wordsworth™s disillusionment with philosophy drew him towards an
Enlightenment tradition of descriptive naturalism whose ˜explicit avoid-
ance and wholescale suppression of philosophical statement™ belied its
own status as philosophy gone ˜underground™. Yet though Wordsworth
˜occasionally succumbed to the temptation of writing moral philosophy
through empirical ¬gures™, Bewell stresses the poet™s ˜attempt to write the
Enlightenment discourse on marginality out of existence by seeking to
undo its pleasure in producing marginals [. . .]™. This thought is echoed
by Rajan, who argues that Wordsworth™s project ˜is better understood as
emergently self-critical than as an instance of either middle-class hybris
or na¨vet´ ™, forever moving ˜between center and periphery, between
±e
authority and its displacement™.±°
Generally, my own linkage of this dynamic to a post-Humean con-
text of alienated fact and value is closest to Elridge and Johnston in its
refusal to reduce its tension to a question of rhetoric, the discourse of
political power or hermeneutic re¬‚exivity. However, where Johnston and
Elridge see in Wordsworth a latent dialectic between epistemic and non-
epistemic voices which might be maintained (if not resolved) in what
Cavell calls a process of ˜acceptance™ instead of ˜knowledge™, I represent
the exchange between these perspectives as more fraught and unstable.
I highlight the anxiety within Wordsworth™s response to the post-
Humean predicament, and stress how the standpoint of epistemic indif-
ference itself harbours an ambivalence which the ˜new condition™ story is
apt to gloss over, namely between, on one hand, the kind of therapeutic,
non-apodeictic ˜poetic™ philosophy described by Hartman, and, on the
other, the abandonment of knowledge (and thus philosophizing) in favour
of other modes of ˜being.™ Foremost among these is the Romantic answer
to Hume™s philosophy-indifferent recreational pursuits of backgammon,
wine and friends: poetic creation. In this light, Wordsworth™s ˜two con-
sciousnesses™ actually contain at least three major moments: the philo-
sophic or knowing, and an indifference to knowledge which vacillates
between dialectical para-philosophy and pure ¬guration, the outright
denial of knowledge. None of these points is stable, and the slippage
between them is constant: just as the foundational ˜know™ will not
ground itself, so indifferentism always betrays its own knowingness. As a
· Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
consequence, the ideal of an equipoise in which a perfectly poetical phil-
osophy is also a perfectly philosophical poetry, is lost. The Romantic
medium of poetry is itself a troubled one: pure ¬guration offers no ulti-
mate escape from knowing: contrary to Hartman, with Wordsworth, as
with other Romantic writers, the prose determines the poetry as much
as it is determined by poetry. Indeed, the medium of discursive prose is
where the Romantic repression of argument and resistance to the cate-
gorical is most severely tested, and the site at which Wordsworth™s media
res of indifferent para-philosophy is at its most strained. For this reason,
it is the evidence of the prose which is decisive.±±
Wordsworth™s poetics form just one chapter in the story of Anglo-
phone philosophy™s attempt to cope with Hume™s division of fact and
value, a story which has yet to end, and which may never come
to an end. Johnston writes of how Wordsworth and Coleridge were
˜seeking to become what Richard Rorty has recently de¬ned as edifying
philosophers, for whom knowledge is a ¬eld of force (in W. V. Quine™s
metaphor)™.± Indeed, despite their obvious differences, Wordsworth
and Quine share two important traits. In the ¬rst place, both turn
against the foundational empiricism of (in Wordsworth™s case) eighteenth-
century epistemology and (in Quine™s) twentieth-century logical positi-
vism, while simultaneously remaining within a broad tradition of
empirical naturalism “ the ˜fact™ prong, to put it crudely, of Hume™s
fork. As James Chandler has detailed, for Wordsworth this was a highly
political move, representing a turn away from the foundationalist phil-
osophy of the French Ideologues and Rousseau™s nature, and towards the
˜epistemological no-man™s land™ of Burke™s ˜second nature™; of the affec-
tions, prejudice and poetry. By attempting to have it both ways, Chandler
claims, the notion of a human second nature involves a doubling of logic,
intimating that ˜there is a Nature and there is a second nature which is
at once within Nature yet parallel to it™.± At the same time, I would
maintain that this double-mindedness is itself the direct descendant of
Hume™s uneasy settlement between empiricism and a quasi-epistemic
naturalism, or between knowledge and a belief which is justi¬ed but ulti-
mately not demonstrable as ˜true™. In other words, as he reached for the
higher ground of value, Wordsworth attempted to keep his feet planted
on the foundation of fact. Thus, while he sought to interrogate knowl-
edge or ˜science™ with poetic ˜sensation™, Wordsworth maintained in the
±±µ Preface that all the higher powers of poetic production were based
on ˜those of Observation and Description “ i.e., the ability to describe
with accuracy things as they are in themselves [. . .] unmodi¬ed by any
·µ
Wordsworth™s prose
passion or feeling [. . .]™.± Quine, meanwhile, abandons positivism™s ideal
of a logical lexicon for experience and embraces Mill™s principle that
˜[w]hatever we are capable of knowing must belong [. . .] in the number
of the primitive data [i.e., of sensation], or of the conclusions which can
be drawn from these™.±µ Consequently, while attacking empirical knowl-
edge in its foundational form, he happily admits that the basic principle
of his ˜naturalized™ form of epistemology was ˜simply the watchword of
empiricism: nihil in mente quod non prius in sensu™.±
This leads both poet and philosopher to a common problem: that
of the underdetermination, in Wordsworth, of the rich over¬‚ow of poetic
truth by the meagre input of ˜observation and description™, and in Quine,
of scienti¬c theory by sensory stimulus. But what for Quine is a welcome
outcome, the reformation of epistemology into the naturalized, non-
foundational ˜chapter of theoretical science [. . .] the technology of anti-
cipating sensory stimulation™,±· for Wordsworth is a dilemma between the
epistemic security of the language of observation and the risky business
of af¬rming in poetry ˜a life and spirit in knowledge™ which exceeds the
reach of empirical veri¬cation.± With this, one comes to the second trait
shared by Wordsworth and Quine, namely the emphasis they place on
the creative element in knowing. For Quine, this operates on two levels.
First in a Wittgensteinian way, it determines the initial language-game
chosen. For the science of naturalized epistemology, he admits, is just one
among an in¬nite number of other ˜good language games such as ¬ction
and poetry™.± More importantly, however, science monitors the creative
input of the human mind as it constructs a coherent conceptual scheme
from its raw sensory data: ˜Subtracting his cues from his world view™,
Quine claims, ˜we get the man™s net contribution as the difference. This
difference marks the extent of man™s conceptual sovereignty “ the domain
within which he can revise theory while saving the data.™° Similarly, and
famously, the autonomy of poetic truth for Wordsworth is tied to its origin
in an undetermined, spontaneous over¬‚ow of powerful feelings.
It might be argued that this is a facile comparison. When considered
apart from Hume™s dichotomies, it will seem so. But when the post-
empirical poet and post-analytic philosopher are read in the context of a
shared predicament whereby knowledge and value have been estranged
by scepticism, a common strategy can be perceived; one of marginalizing
the ideal of epistemic certainty, either for a naturalistic account of the
creative relation between conceptual scheme and sensation, or a natural-
istic account of the creative relation between poetic value and sensation.
Indeed, one might go further by noting that, at the same time, neither
· Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose
writer is entirely comfortable with the complete elision of foundational
knowledge. Wordsworth™s outline in the ±°° Preface of a creative lan-
guage of pure feeling and value plays leap-frog with tropes of empirical
veri¬cation, as spontaneity is checked by veridical observation. Such is
his assurance, for example, that he has ˜at all times endeavoured to look
steadily at my subject™.± Furthermore, like most writers of his genera-
tion, he was troubled by scepticism in art and morals as well as in episte-
mology. ˜So strange indeed are the obliquities of admiration™, he writes
in the ˜Essay™ with evident disapproval, ˜that they whose opinions are
much in¬‚uenced by authority will often be tempted to think that there
are no ¬xed principles in human nature for this art [i.e. criticism] to rest
upon [. . .]™. It is in a footnote to this remark that he singles out as an
example of this tendency, ˜Adam Smith, the worst critic, David Hume
not excepted, that Scotland, a soil to which this sort of weed seems
natural, has produced [. . .].™ Similarly, some critics have argued that
Quine™s holism sits ill with his perseverance with epistemology as an
autonomous discipline. Henryk Skolimowski for one points to what he
sees as a tension between Quine™s earlier work, which emphasises the
extent to which ˜we are at liberty to choose among various conceptual
frameworks that are available to us™ and his later ˜bias™ toward the view
that ˜[i]t is science [. . .] that determines our conceptual and philosophical
destinies™.
One of Wordsworth™s greatest endeavours, then, was to create a space
within discourse which was distinctly ˜poetic™, but at the same time
socially ˜grounded™. His concern with the current state of literature was
twofold: impatient with the triviality of traditional poetic form, and the
irrelevance of Neoclassical dogma, he also interpreted the tastes of the
broadening reading ˜public™, fed by an ever more commodi¬ed literary
culture, as symptomatic of social malaise. If the poet was to be for the
˜people™, then, and not merely of the people, he must take a leading role:
he must be autonomous. The problem with this arrangement, however,
concerned the conditions according to which the poet was entitled to
institute the new discourse. What gave him this privilege? Wordsworth
was, in effect, proposing that the poet might ˜give the rule™ to taste,
and thereby to the people. This he supported by proposing that the
poet was creative in a special, unique kind of way: an exemplary way. As
he puts it in his ˜Essay, Supplementary to the Preface™ of ±±µ, poetic
genius ˜is the introduction of a new element into the intellectual uni-
verse™. Yet this remained an idea which was fundamentally at odds

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