LETTER: Coleridge's worry

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The Independent Online
From Professor John Beer

Sir: Coleridge, as Bryan Appleyard says ("Two Cultures: a science fiction", 27 September), once wrote in a letter that the souls of 500 Sir Isaac Newtons would go to the making up of a Shakespeare or a Milton, but he later twice begged his correspondent to destroy the letter as having been written "in the ebulliency of indistinct Conceptions":

if I were to die and it should see the Light it would damn me forever, as a man mad with Presumption

As usually happens, the letter was preserved.

Coleridge was, in fact, a voracious student of science, as of everything else, but he worried about the effects when scientific analysis was exercised at the expense of imagination. Many scientists would no doubt agree with him.

Yours sincerely,

John Beer

Peterhouse, Cambridge

27 September

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