ERIC Number: EJ791979
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2008-Mar-28
Reference Count: 0
A Question of Evidence, or a Leap of Faith?
Chronicle of Higher Education, v54 n29 pB14 Mar 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." 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. In late February, they published an online review essay, "A Gentleman of Literary Eminence," on the School of Advanced Study's Web site. They assert in that essay that the case that "Faustus" is a work by Coleridge has not been made. The volume is not what it appears to be. Nor is it consistent with the normal standards of Oxford University Press. At a stroke, their counterclaim called into question what had been hailed, at least in some quarters, as a definitive study of authorial attribution. The ensuing debate has pitted old acquaintances against each other. It sets instincts developed over a lifetime spent studying Coleridge against an insistence that informed conjecture does not add up to proof. It tests the usefulness of the computer-driven analysis of literary texts known as stylometrics. For some, it calls into question the judgment of one of the world's leading scholarly publishers. In the end, it asks another question that, in the absence of a smoking gun--a manuscript of "Faustus" in Coleridge's hand, for instance--may not be answerable: How much evidence is enough?
Descriptors: Romanticism, English Literature, Scholarship, Conflict, Translation, Authors, Validity, University Presses, Text Structure, Literary Criticism, Computational Linguistics
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