"Genial" Perception

Book"Genial" Perception

"Genial" Perception

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

Clemson University Press: Eighteenth-Century Moments


June 1st, 2022



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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. “Genial” is the adjectival form of “genius,” and eighteenth-century critical naturalism understands “genial” perception as a gift of nature, as an inborn power operating autonomously through the senses and imagination and thus independently of cultural influence.

By exploring the philology of keywords and binaries inherited by the two poet-critics and used to describe and interpret their perceptual experience, both creative (imaginative) and critical, 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.

This study shows that critical perception, often thought to be too elusive and subjective to make a proper subject for historical investigation, can be approached through study of the terms—the language—of the practical criticism that attempts to communicate it; that both critical and creative perception are far more dependent on language than is commonly recognized; and that philology, by recovering the original usage, functions, and contexts of critical keywords, provides for an accurate historical understanding of the claims made by critics in the long eighteenth century for “genial” perception, and can illuminate the dynamics of “genial” perception itself.


Author Information

William C. Edinger was a professor of English at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. 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.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
1 “Genial” Perception33
2 The Imagination/Fancy Distinction and the Tradition of Critical Binaries59
3 Critical Binaries of the Mid- and Later Eighteenth Century71
4 Local Unity of Effect in Wordsworth and Coleridge91
5 Perceptual Naturalism in Wordsworth (I): Artful and “Natural” Beholding; Languages of Art and Languages of “Nature”115
6 Perceptual Naturalism in Wordsworth (II): Longinian Beholding and Wordsworth's New Pictoralism135
7 The Shaftesburyan Inheritance149
8 “Genial” Perception and Literacy171
9 Wordsworth’s Revisions to the Snowdon Episode183
Conclusion: The Philology of Unacknowledged Indebtedness201
Appendix A: The Snowdon Passages205
Appendix B: "Soul" and "Imagination" in The Prelude207