In early March 1815, deciding what manuscripts, even older ones, might be fit for the press, Coleridge proposed to friends and publishers the project that would become Biographia Literaria. He had no intention of producing a two-volume work, let alone a classic of humane letters fusing literary criticism, both deeply theoretical and brilliantly practical, with autobiography, philosophy, religion and poetry. Yet, for the final result, what Arthur Symons claimed in 1906 remains true: 'The Biographia Literaria is the greatest book of criticism in English, and one of the most annoying books in any language' (BL 1906, introd., x-xi). George Saintsbury, who wrote about literary criticism more comprehensively than anyone until René Wellek, stated simply: 'So, then, there abide these three, Aristotle, Longinus, and Coleridge.' Saintsbury avowed that if all literature professors were made redundant, and the proceeds used to furnish 'every one who goes up to the University with a copy of the Biographia Literaria, I should decline to . . . be heard against this revolution, though I should plead for the addition of the Poetics and of Longinus' (History of Criticism iii, 230-1).
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