Coleridge views on Fancy and Imagination in Biographia Literaria

Question: Describe and comment on Coleridge's views on Fancy and Imagination.
Or, How does Coleridge distinguish between Fancy and Imagination in his Biographia Literaria?

Fancy and imagination in Coleridge's Biographia Literaria

Coleridge is a very reputed critic, who minutely and elaborately discusses the two faculties- Imagination and Fancy in his Btographia Literaria. During the 17th century, these two terms had often been used to refer to the realm of a fairy tale or make-believe.

In the light of 17th-century reasonableness, fancy suffered a decline in reputation but imagination acquired a new place of respect in sensationalist aesthetics. During the 17th century, the distinction between Fancy and imagination was made, and honours fell to the term imagination.

Coleridge gives us some idea of Imagination and Fancy early in the Biographia Literaria. It was Wordsworth's poem Guilt and Sorrow which led him to meditate upon the two terms and come to a conclusion that imagination and fancy are two distinct and widely different faculties and not two names with one meaning. Both Wordsworth and Coleridge are of the opinion that fancy and imagination are two kinds of human faculties.

But Wordsworth has generalized the idea to its extreme degree when he says that- To aggregate and to associate, to evoke and combine, belong as well to the Imagination as to the Fancy. But to Coleridge, Imagination stands for the faculty of shaping or modifying, and fancy for the aggregative and associative power. In Biographia Literaria, Coleridge elucidates his view on Fancy and Imagination.

According to Coleridge, Imagination has two forms - primary and secondary. It is merely the power of receiving impressions of the external world through the senses. It is an involuntary or unconscious act of the mind. Through the primary imagination, the mind gets able to form a clear image of the outside world.

The secondary imagination, on the other hand, is a higher kind of imagination, which is not possessed by all but by the poet of genius. Secondary imagination is more active and conscious in its working. It requires an effort of the will, volition and conscious effort. It works upon what is perceived by the sensations and impressions supplied to it by the primary imagination.

The secondary imagination selects and orders the raw material and reshapes and remodels it into objects of beauty. Thus it is a shaping and modifying power. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to create. The secondary imagination is at the root of all poetic creation. Fancy, on the contrary, is the inferior of the two forms of imagination.

According to Coleridge, it is not a creative power. It only combines different things into pleasing shapes, and does not, like imagination, fuse them into one. It is a mode of memory, liberated from the order of time and place. It receives all its materials readymade from the law of association.

Coleridge has illustrated the different ways in which the two faculties (Fancy and Imagination) function. The best well-known illustration is taken from the meeting between Venus and Adonis in Shakespeare's narrative poem. The white hands of Venus have taken hold of the white hand of Adonis, which the poet pictures as 'A Lily imprisoned in the goal of snow."

This is the work of Fancy which has brought together "Lily" and "Snow" simply because they are superficially alike in the whiteness of their colour. Then comes the picture of Adonis, the young man of bright face, darting into the darkness from the side of anxious Venus: Look! how a bright star shouted from the sky, So glides he in the night from Venus' eyes.

This is the working of imagination where so many ideas are fused into one image plunge into the darkness and the gloom, his departure creates in the heart of amorous Venus. - the beauty of Adonis, his charming but eager Fancy is equated with a mechanical mixture and Imagination is equated with a chemical compound. In a mechanical mixture, a number of ingredients are brought together. They are mixed up, but they do not lose their individual identities.

In a chemical compound, on the other hand, the different ingredients combine to form something new. They lose their individual identities and fuse together to create something new and entirely different. From the definition of Fancy, we can get the idea that Fancy is light and playful, while Imagination is grave and solemn.

Fancy sports with definite and static images and does not modify them; while imagination dissolves and reshapes them into new wholes. The operation of Fancy is regulated by the principle of choice irrespective of the time and the place. Mere choice suggests juxtaposition and aggregation of images, rather than their interpenetration which is effected by Imagination.

For Coleridge, Fancy is the drapery (dress) of poetic genius, but Imagination is its very soul, which forms all into one graceful and intelligent whole. Coleridge owed to Wordsworth for his interest in the study of Imagination. Wordsworth was interested only in the practice of poetry. But Coleridge was interested in the theory of imagination. He is the first critic to study the nature of imagination and examine its role in creative activity.

Secondly, while Wordsworth uses Fancy and Imagination almost as synonymous, Coleridge distinguishes between them and defines them. their respective role. Thirdly, like Coleridge, Wordsworth did not distinguish between primary and secondary. Thus the conception of Coleridge is superior to that of Wordsworth.
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