Biographia Literaria: Analysis of Coldridge's Fancy and Imagination


The Term Fancy and Imagination

During the 17th century, the term 'Imagination' and 'fancy' has often enough been used in a vaguely synonymous way to refer to the realm of facing tale or make belief. Yet here and there the term 'Imagination'  had tended to distinguish itself from fancy and settled towards a meaning centred in the sober literalism of sense impression and the survival of these in memory. Such is the distinction between imagination and fancy. 


Imagination and fancy in Biographia literaria 

Coldridge differed from Wordsworth in his aim and purpose, he was more preoccupied with the psychological process which the imaginative creations becomes more vitally important than the poems themselves. Although Coldridge has been expected as the more articulate and theoretical sportsmen between the two poets, Coldridge  has attributed to his own belief to the poetical practice of Wordsworth. A deep analysis of human faculties and repeated meditation on Wordsworth's writings led Coldridge to believe that fancy imagination were distinct from each other . It was Wordsworth who achieved absolute poetical harmony in the union of thoughts and feelings, the space of poetry as being 'emotion recollected in tranquillity', where ordinary shapes and form acquired a new significance for the poet. It is the power of imagination that transform common scenes and provides it with the element of beauty and wonder. 


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Forms of Imagination

Coldridge's study of Wordsworth's poetry influenced him to expound 'The Nature and Genesis of Imagination'. Imagination of Coldridge, consists two forms: Primary and Secondary. 


Primary Imagination:

The primary Imagination is an act of self-consciousness as the foundation of all knowledge and human perceptions, it is in the power of receiving object through the senses. It is literally the act by which man of us creates his world, and is a human perception of the act by which god created the world as a whole. It units the knower and known in a single act. It reduces it into a shape and size, often, unconsciously, and this make so perceptions possible. 


Secondary Imagination:

The Secondary Imagination is considered by Coldridge to be 'an echo of the former', the poetic or secondary imagination unites the poet's mind with the object of its contemplation and those various objects with each other, it is that which makes a poem, not merely a reproduction of things previously existing in the objective world, but a new unity, with an existence of its own. It is this power that makes the figure of the 'Leech gatherer' something more than a mere remembered old man, and Tintern Abbey something more than a remembered landscape. In both detach materials reminiscences are made into new wholes under the pressure of a powerful impulse of feeling. 

It is the secondary imagination in which depends the specific poetic faculty in man. It consists of several mental Faculties, besides that of perception which it employs to its own conscious will. It is 'a shaping and modifying power which creates images' By the effort of the will and the intellect, the secondary imagination selects and orders the raw material supplied by primary imagination, and reshapes and remodels it into objects of beauty. Secondary imagination Is thus at the root of all poetic creativity. It is the power that harmonizes and reconciles opposites and hence Coldridge calls it a magical synthetic power.


Biographia literaria: Distinction between Primary and Secondary Imagination


Coleridge's distinction between fancy and imagination is given its fullest exposition in 'Biographia Literaria' where he describes the nature of the processes involved in poetic creation. Fancy and imagination, according to Coleridge, are 'two distinct and widely different faculties, instead of being... either two names with one meaning' or the 'lower and higher degree of one and the same power.' whereas fancy is an associative process, imagination is a creative one. 

The imagination Coleridge opined, can be considered 'either as primary or secondary' The primary imagination is the faculty which meditates between sensations and perceptions. It is 'The living power and prime agent of all human perceptions, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation, in the infinite I AM'. This faculty is operative in all people for everyone is a percipient living. Coleridge then proceeds to give his description of the secondary or poetic imagination. This is considered to be identical with primary imagination 'in the kind of its agency'. The different between primary and secondary imagination is one of the degree, and this is discernible 'in the mode of its oppression'. Coleridge says the secondary imagination '....... Dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create ;or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealised and to unify'. 

The essential different between the primary and secondary imagination is that the one is involuntary, for one can not choose whether to perceive or not, whereas the other is related to 'The conscious will'. Another difference is that the secondary imagination can not always achieve the unity it seeks and it is not always entirely successful in its struggle to unify'. But like the primary imagination, the secondary is a creative process, it is essential vital, even as all objects ('as' objects) are essentially fixed and dead'. In this respect the poetic imagination is unlike the fancy which 'on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but finites and definities.'

The primary imagination enables not only to perceive objects, but also to frame concepts and to engage in discursive thinking. Further more in chapter IX of Biographia Literaria where he is discussing the secondary imagination, he declares that 'an Idea in the highest sense of the word cannot be conveyed by a symbol'. Here the imagination is seen as meditating between the understanding, which is concerned with conceptualisation, and the reason, which is concerned with knowledge that transcend concepts, the secondary imagination, thus, is the agent of the reason 'and it operates under the directions of will. 

In any discussion of the primary and the secondary imagination, it must be borne in mind that they are not so much faculties, but processes. Coleridge didn't regard the primary imagination as a form of intuition which penetrates to the idea behind the appearance of things ;nor, for him was the secondary imagination an autonomous faculty. In other words, primary imagination is an agency which enables the mind to discriminate and to order, and thus makes perception possible. In the use of the primary imagination there is no question of will, as it 'is basic to human awareness and perception to the external world.' the secondary imagination is, in a broad sense, a poetic activity. It is consciously employed and it projects and creates new harmonies of meanings. A poem thus involves the use of secondary imagination, which results from the special kind of creative awareness achieved by the exercise of the imagination. The secondary orders and harmonizes 'opposite or discordant qualities' in the creative process. In other words, although the primary and the secondary imagination vary in the manner of oppression, their different is not of kind but only of degree. 

          Imagination, to Coldridge, is a unifying power which identifies the mind with nature and nature with the mind. The discovery of the ultimate reality lies in the identity of the poets as well as the things he sees fancy on the contrary, 'is indeed no other than a mode of memory emancipated from the order of time and space'. It is not a creative power at all. It merely combines what is perceived into pleasing shapes and forms, while different components are gained to form a new things, the components parts undergo no change whatsoever. Therefore, it is 'the faculty of bringing together images dissimilar in the main by come one point or more of likeness'. 

          Wordsworth's view of the fancy is strikingly similar to Coldridge, although he regarded it to be a creative faculty. But the essential disparity between fancy and imagination happens to be the same to both poets, while one combines, the other unifies. Fancy retains the original invadians of the pleasing, shape and imagination dissolves and diffuses and dissipates to recreate new substance. The different between them is same as the different between mechanical mixture and a chemical compound. Coldridge explains the point by quoting two passages from Shakespeare's 'Venus and Adonis'. The following lines serves to illustrate fancy:


Full gently now she takes him by the hand,  A lily prison'd in a gaol of snow,  Or ivory in an alabaster band;  So white a friend engirts so white a foe. 

In these lines the images are drawn from memory and do not interpenetrate into one another. 

The following lines from the same poem illustrates the power and freedom of imagination :


Look how a bright star shooteth from the sky,  So glides he in the night from Venus' eye;

Coldridge point out that here many images and feelings are brought together without effort and without discard. Imagination then lies in the basis of all creative as seen in the immortal works of Shakespeare and Milton. It can be distinguished from the 'Imaginative fancy' of the poetry of Spenser, which lacks the true essence of imagination. Poetry fancies the body of the poetic genius  ut imagination is its soul, which forms all into one graceful and intelligent whole.