I remember struggling, but not whether I finished the Biographia Literaria when I picked it up and laid it back down more than twenty years ago. I refuse to believe it's because I've grown up — well, maybe just a little — but last night I picked it up again and found it utterly delightful and wonderfully relevant to my thinking about poetry today. See here what I mean:
One great distinction I appeared to myself to see plainly, between even the characteristic faults of our elder poets and the false beauties of the moderns. In the former, from Donne to Crowley, we find the most fantastic out-of-the-way thoughts, but in the most pure and genuine mother English; in the latter, the most obvious thoughts, in language the most fantastic and arbitrary. Our faulty elder poets sacrificed the passion and passionate flow of poetry to the subtleties of intellect and to the starts of wit; the moderns to the glare and glitter of of a perpetual yet broken and heterogeneous imagery, or rather to an amphibious something, made up half of image and half of abstract meaning. The one sacrificed the heart to the head, the other both heart and head to point and drapery.
I picked it up again because of a discussion of poetry sales at New Poetry
during which I learned that there were more editions of Pope produced in the years 1795-1830 than in any time before. I thought that must have driven Coleridge and Wordsworth crazy, and tried to find whether they'd said anything about it in the only source readily available to me here in the land of soybeans and F-18s. Sure enough, Pope's all over the beginnings of the book, but in much more ambivalent guise than I'd expected. In the first chapter Coleridge calls Pope's Iliad an "astonishing product of matchless talent and ingenuity" in the same paragraph where he says that it, the Rape of the Lock, and the Essay on Man are "characterized not so much by poetic thoughts as by thoughts translated into the language of poetry" (emphasis in the original). Then this appears in a note to to the second chapter:
… I had occasion to point out the almost faultless position and choice of words in Mr Pope's original compositions, particularly in his satires and moral essays, for the purpose of comparing them with his translation of Homer, which I do not stand alone in regarding as the main source of our pseudo-poetic diction. [emphasis in the original]
Seems as if Whitman was not the only one to contain multitudes.