Richard Holmes' marvellous book is the sequel to his Coleridge: Early Visions. For fifteen years, he has been constantly engaged with Coleridge's ideas, poems, plays and philosophical writings. He traces Coleridge's lifelong dialogues with the greatest of English poets, Shakespeare, Milton and Wordsworth, and also with the finest German writers, Goethe and Schiller.
Coleridge was that rare creature, a superb poet who could also grapple with the deepest of philosophers. He could brilliantly summarise the two basic possible lines in philosophy: "The difference between Aristotle and Plato is that which will remain as long as we are men and there is any difference between man and man in point of opinion. Plato, with Pythagoras before him, had conceived that the phenomenon or outside appearance, all that we call thing or matter, is but as it were a language by which the invisible (that which is not the object of our senses) communicates its existence to our finite beings ... Aristotle, on the contrary, affirmed that all our knowledge had begun in experience, had begun through the senses, and that from the senses only we could take our notions of reality ... It was the first way in which, plainly and distinctly, two opposite systems were placed before the mind of the world."
Although Coleridge adhered to Platonism, he honestly admitted, "All these poetico-philosophical Arguments strike and shatter themselves into froth against that stubborn rock, the fact of Consciousness, or rather its dependence on the body."
Like other notable literary biographies - one thinks of Holmes' earlier one of Shelley, Richard Ellman's of Oscar Wilde, Peter Ackroyd's of Charles Dickens, Tim Hilton's of John Ruskin, E. P. Thompson's of William Morris, and Leon Edel's of Henry James - this wonderful book arouses our enthusiasm for literature. It shows us again how a great writer's work can help us both to enjoy and to make sense of the world.