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“Genial” Perception

Wordsworth, Coleridge, and the Myth of Genius in the Long Eighteenth Century

William Edinger

“Genial” Perception offers a critical examination of Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s naturalist construction of creative and critical perception and a historical study of the perceptual dimension of poetic taste. By exploring the philology of keywords and binaries inherited by the two poet-critics and used to describe and interpret their perceptual experience, “Genial” Perception traces how that experience reveals an unacknowledged indebtedness to discourse and language, having been silently and perhaps unconsciously shaped by patterns and trends in the literary culture in which Wordsworth and Coleridge came of age. “Genial” Perception is an authoritative, wide-ranging account of how the Romantic idea of creative genius—popularized by Wordsworth and Coleridge as an unmediated, transcendent, sui generis phenomenon—evolves out of traditional, common, critical languages, the philological demonstration of which grounds Romantic claims in history and culture while illuminating eighteenth-century aesthetics itself.

“While previous studies have shown the limitations of the Romantics’ claims to originality, Edinger brings welcomed depth and breadth to the discussion. With detailed analysis, he documents specific debts across a wide range of texts, many of which deserve greater critical attention. The result is an especially rich understanding of Wordsworth’s and Coleridge’s intellectual inheritance… [“Genial” Perception] reflects a lifetime of reading and study applied to an accessible, persuasive argument.”
—Christopher D. Johnson, 1650-1850: Ideas, Aesthetics, and Inquiries in the Early Modern Era

“The supporting evidence Edinger gathers in “Genial” Perception ought to be taken seriously by anyone interested in the viability of the term “Romantic” as it falls within the “Long Eighteenth Century”… Edinger’s procedures do much to demythologize the leading Romantic poets, indeed to draw them into the great tide of British and Continental poetical and aesthetic tradition; they encourage their appraisal under other narratives and rubrics from the ones they currently sanction; they de-Romanticize two archetypal Romantics and do so in terms of the Romantics’ own choosing.”
—Philip Smallwood, The Cambridge Quarterly

“Genial” Perception offers a sensitive inventory of what is lost when Wordsworth and Coleridge are examined apart from this background… [w]hatever the topic, Edinger’s range of reference is staggering.”
—Jacob Risinger, The Coleridge Bulletin

About the Author

William C. Edinger was a professor of English at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He was a specialist in poetry and 18th century literature and was a founder of the English Department Honors Program. He passed away in 2021.

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Pages: 304 pages

Published: March 2022


ISBN: 978-1-63804-022-4

ISBN: 978-1-63804-023-1




Eighteenth-Century Moments