Samuel Coleridge

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The Romantic writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge advanced a theory in his Biographia Literaria that distinguished two important and often confused concepts of his day, Imagination and Fancy. In viewing several of his written works, it is evident that he strove to include a steady balance of both.

Coleridge proposed that Fancy plays with ?fixities and definites, ? things already common to perception. It reshapes memories in the absence of time and space, without barriers. It is a sort of mosaic reordering of natural perceptions, a collage of reality. It lacks the ability to create something completely original but rather uniquely juxtaposes tangible and sensual elements without losing their distinguishing characteristics.

Imagination, on the other hand, leads specifically to original creativity. In the section of Biographia Literaria titled ?On the Imagination, or Esempastic Power? Coleridge illuminates the distinction between Fancy and Imagination. There are two degrees of Imagination, primary and secondary.

Primary Imagination is central to human perception and is analogous to the ?eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.? This type of Imagination is solely attributed to God and His progressive acts of creation. Secondary Imagination, however, is but a whisper of the Primary. God has embedded this innate ability to create in the human conscious will. It differs only in the degree to which it can be utilized and the modes of its operation; it seeks to unify and idealize, ?dissolving, diffusing, and dissipating in order to recreate.? Coleridge clarifies these concepts further in his Lectures On Shakespeare. He marvels at Shakespeare?s ability to utilize Imagination in his writing, which he calls ?a sort of fusion to force many into one.? Taking several lines from Venus and Adonis he demonstrates the multiplicity of feelings and images the Imagination generates. As for Fancy, he clarifies this concept also...