Dept. of English Great Lecture Hall
Kant, Coleridge and Public Romanticism
The public debates about Kantian concepts in English periodicals and pamphlets illustrate the continuity of Enlightenment rationality during the Romantic period. The lecture will give students a brief introduction to Kant’s philosophy and focus on the public dissemination of Immanuel Kant’s first translation into English, On Perpetual Peace, 1796, in the print culture to which the young journalist and poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge belonged. Moreover, the lecture will highlight the polarization in these public debates as well as the threat of seditious libel at the time.
The lecture will reconstruct the reception processes of Kantian philosophy in British periodicals and pamphlets of the Romantic period. This hermeneutic approach integrates Enlightenment and Romantic philosophy, communication theory, and formalism. It allows us, on the one hand, to dismantle the notion of the apolitical Kant in Biographia Literaria, and, on the other hand, to rehabilitate notions of human autonomy by uncovering the socio-political negotiations and assimilations of Kantian ideas during an early, but formative period in the British discourse of moral and aesthetic disinterestedness.
The lecture will show that, in the context of the French Revolution and the French Revolutionary Wars, some influential British editors and journalists instrumentalized Kant’s transcendental philosophy for conspiracy theories about the French Revolution. At the time, Coleridge launched his journal The Watchman and published poetry including the pamphlet Fears in Solitude, while the Anti-Jacobin press attacked the poet’s reputation and condemned his cosmopolitan views as the failure to perform his duties towards his nation and his family. Drawing on Paul Magnuson’s Reading Public Romanticism, the lecture proposes that if we consider the repressive measures used by the Anti-Jacobin press and the concomitant need for duplicity in the publications written by rational dissenters and political activists, Coleridge’s poetry in the late 1790s conveys subtle, somewhat hidden affinities with Kant’s On Perpetual Peace, namely with regard to the limits of human reason and the concept of nature as a corrective for human avarice.
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