Sunday, March 30, 2008
Howard, Jennifer. "A Question of Evidence, or a Leap of Faith [on Coleridge]?" CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION March 28, 2008.
Did he or didn't he? The question is vexing Coleridge scholars. Did the author of "Christabel," "Kubla Khan," and "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" compose a blank-verse translation of Goethe's Faust that was published anonymously in London in 1821? Two prominent Romanticists, Frederick Burwick and James C. McKusick, both Americans, believe they have clinched the case for Coleridge, settling a debate that stretches back decades. Last November, Oxford University Press published their edition of the 1821 translation, a partial rendering of Goethe's masterpiece about a scholar who sells his soul to Mephistopheles. The volume arrived with a provocatively definitive title: Faustus, From the German of Goethe, Translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Burwick and McKusick are not upstarts who hope to make their names by advancing wild claims; they have toiled long years in the vineyards of Romantic scholarship. Burwick is a professor emeritus of English at the University of California at Los Angeles. His co-editor is a professor of English at the University of Montana as well as dean of Davidson Honors College there. Now a group of equally eminent British scholars — Roger Paulin, William St Clair, and Elinor Shaffer — has stepped forward to dispute Burwick and McKusick's claim. Paulin is an emeritus professor of German at the University of Cambridge. St Clair, formerly of Trinity College Cambridge, and Shaffer are both affiliated with the School of Advanced Study at the University of London. He is a senior research fellow in the Institute of English Studies there, and she holds the same title in the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies. In late February, they published an online review essay, "A Gentleman of Literary Eminence," on the School of Advanced Study's Web site. "The case that Faustus is a work by Coleridge has not been made," they assert in that essay. "This volume is not what it appears to be. Nor is it consistent with the normal standards of Oxford University Press." . . .