the objective world. The Reason, Genius, and the Imagination are creative and deal with the subjective world.


The extent to which Coleridge made use of these three leading distinctions colors all his work. The distinction between the Understanding and the Reason is fundamental to a proper understanding of The Friend 20 and Aids to Reflection." The distinction between the Fancy and the Imagination is the foundation stone of the Biographia Literaria.28 And the distinction between Talent and Genius, a complete study of which appears in The Friend,29 is implied in the distinction between the Fancy and the Imagination, for as Coleridge says, "Imagination is implied in genius." 30

These three distinctions lead to another point of view from which Emerson considered Coleridge. The distinction between the Understanding and the Reason may be looked upon as Coleridge's contribution to philosophy and metaphysics. The distinction between

26 P. 142.

27 P. 95.

28 P. 152 (Edition of 1920).

** Pp. 384-88.

30 P. 386.

In Coleridge's Idealism, Howard touches upon the relation of the distinction between the Fancy and the Imagination to the distinction between the Understanding and the Reason. On the distinction between the Fancy and the Imagination Howard says (p. 21): "Fancy was considered a subjective, passive, unemotional reproduction of arbitrarily related ideas or images, while imagination was made a synthesizing and creative faculty whose associations were objective or universal." But we have already seen that with Coleridge "Imagination is implied in genius." Now the distinction between Talent and Genius is much the same as that between the Understanding and the Reason so far as Coleridge is concerned. Since both Genius and Reason are subjective with Coleridge, it follows that the Imagination is also subjective and not objective as stated by Howard. We can see this distinction more clearly if we refer to a passage in Table Talk written in June of 1834 just a few days before Coleridge's death: "You may conceive the difference in kind between the Fancy and the Imagination in this way,-that if the check of the senses and the reason were withdrawn, the first would become delirium, and the last mania." Surely, we must conclude that Coleridge linked together the Fancy and the senses on the one hand and the Imagination and the Reason on the other.

Talent and Genius is fundamental to an understanding of Coleridge as a psychologist. The distinction between the Fancy and the Imagination is the basis of his work as a literary critic.

Emerson's treatment of these three distinctions is clear, both in the Journals and in his lectures and essays covering the years 1836-44. The first to receive his consideration was the distinction between the Understanding and the Reason. The study began in 1834 and culminated in 1836 with the publication of Nature. The distinction between Talent and Genius was impressed upon Emerson's mind by the discussion of that subject at the second meeting of the Club. In a large measure "The American Scholar " grows out of this distinction. The first clear indication of Emerson's interest in the distinction between the Fancy and the Imagination is found in 1835. For the final word on this distinction by Emerson we must turn to "Intellect." This essay grew out of an address on Genius, and is a complete illustration of the way in which Emerson followed Coleridge in linking together Genius and the Imagination.

Emerson begins his study of Transcendental philosophy with a definite recognition of its value: "Various terms are employed to indicate the counteraction of the Reason and the Understanding, with more or less precision, according to the cultivation of the speaker. A clear perception of it is the key to all theology, and a theory of human life." 31 We need not emphasize this statement of the importance of the distinction between the Understanding and the Reason were it not for the fact that both in The Friend and in Aids to Reflection Coleridge had previously taken the same position.32

For a period of at least ten years Emerson seldom lost an opportunity to enforce his conception of the power of intuition by means of this distinction. What he understood by the distinction in all these years comes out in his first use of it:

31 Journals, Vol. 3, p. 237.

32 The Friend, p. 142.

The reader will have observed that already has the term reason been frequently contradistinguished from the understanding and the judgment. If I could succeed in fully explaining the sense in which the word reason is employed by me.. I should feel little or no apprehension concerning the intelligibility of these essays from first to last.


Reason, seeing in objects their remote effects, affirms the effect as the permanent character. The Understanding, listening to Reason, on the one side, which says It is, and to the senses on the other side, which say It is not, takes middle ground and declares It will be. Heaven is the projection of the Ideas of Reason on the plane of the Understanding.33

But we shall find a clearer use of the distinction between the Understanding and the Reason if we turn to an entry in the Journals for April of 1835:

Why must always the philosopher mince his words and fatigue us with explanation? He speaks from the Reason, and being, of course, contradicted word for word by the Understanding, he stops like a cogwheel at every notch to explain. Let him say, I idealize, and let that be once for all; or, I sensualize, and then the Rationalist may stop his ears.34 Emerson shows that he fully understands that the Reason deals with the realm of ideas and that the Understanding deals with the external world through the senses. With this interpretation of the distinction we have the key to at least four of the seven divisions of Nature.

In one of these seven divisions of Nature, "Discipline," the distinction between the Understanding and the Reason is the basis of his argument. Emerson begins this essay by giving the material that feeds the Understanding and the Reason: "Space, time, society, labor, climate, food, locomotion, the animals, and the mechanical forces." 35 They educate," says Emerson, "both the Understanding and the Reason." 36 Then, as in the Journals, he continues by giving the distinction between these two opposite powers of the mind:


Every property of matter is a school for the understanding,—its solidity or resistance, its inertia, its extension, its figure, its divisibility. The understanding adds, divides, combines, measures, and finds nutriment and room for its activity in this worthy scene.37

In the realm of the senses, says Emerson, the Understanding has full play. But to the" world of thought" the Understanding has

22 Journals, Vol. 3, p. 236.

34 Ibid., p. 467.

25 Centenary Edition, Vol. 1, p. 36.

36 Ibid., p. 36.

37 Ibid., p. 36.


no relation; for, he says, Reason transfers all these lessons into its own world of thought, by perceiving the analogy that marries Matter and Mind." 38

Having established the distinction between the Understanding and the Reason, Emerson proceeds to show first the function of the Understanding in the discipline of the mind, and second the function of Reason in the moral realm. "Nature is a discipline," he says, "of the understanding in intellectual truths." To illustrate his point he continues,

Our dealing with sensible objects is a constant exercise in the necessary lessons of difference, of likeness, of order, of being and seeming, of progressive arrangement; of ascent from particular to general; of combination to one end of manifold forces. . . . What tedious training, day after day, year after year, never ending, to form the common sense; what continual reproduction of annoyance, inconveniences, dilemmas; what rejoicing over us of little men; what disputing of prices, what reckonings of interest,— and all to form the Hand of the mind;-to instruct us that "good thoughts are no better than good dreams, unless they be executed!" 30

And having determined the forces that "form the Hand of the mind," Emerson illustrates how the Reason must use its Hand: "Sensible objects conform to the premonitions of Reason and reflect the conscience. All things are moral; and in their boundless changes have an unceasing reference to spiritual nature." Then, in unmistakable terms, he describes the world in which only the Reason has full authority:

Therefore is nature glorious with form, color, and motion; that every globe in the remotest heaven, every chemical change from the rudest crystal up to the laws of life, every change of vegetation from the first principle of growth in the eye of a leaf, to the tropical forest and ante-diluvian coal-mine, every animal function from the sponge up to Hercules, shall hint or thunder to man the laws of right and wrong, and echo the Ten Commandments. Therefore is Nature ever the ally of Religion: lends all her pomp and riches to the religious sentiment. Prophet and priest, David, Isaiah, Jesus, have drawn deeply from this source. This ethical character so penetrates the bone and marrow of nature, as to seem the end for which it was made.40

If Emerson had nothing more to say of the necessity of catching

38 Ibid., p. 36.

39 Ibid., pp. 36-37.

40 Centenary Edition, Vol. 1, pp. 40-41.

his interpretation of the distinction between the Understanding and the Reason, either in Nature or in any of his other work during the years 1836-43, we must still conclude that this distinction is the key to his Transcendental philosophy and theology. But in "Idealism," which is closely related to the necessity of discipline, the same distinction is employed to answer his single inquiry: "Whether this end be not the Final Cause of the Universe; and whether nature outwardly exists.” 41

To the senses and the unrenewed understanding, belongs a sort of instinctive belief in the absolute existence of nature. In their view man and nature are indissolubly joined. Things are ultimate, and they never look beyond their sphere. The presence of Reason mars this faith. The first effort of thought tends to relax this despotism of the senses which binds us to nature as if we were a part of it, and shows us nature aloof, and, as it were, afloat. Until this higher agency intervened, the animal eye sees, with wonderful accuracy, sharp outlines and colored surfaces. When the eye of Reason opens, to outline and surface are at once added grace and expression. These proceed from imagination and affection, and abate somewhat of the angular distinctness of objects. If the Reason be stimulated to more earnest vision, outlines and surfaces become transparent, and are no longer seen; causes and spirits are seen through them. The best moments of life are these delicious awakenings of the higher powers, and the reverential withdrawing of nature before its God.12


Nowhere does Emerson use the distinction between the Understanding and the Reason with more telling force. Nowhere does he come nearer to a reconciliation of his Platonic and Transcendental idealism. With Plato he still asserts that in the realm of ideas only may be found the true reality: "The best moments of life are these delicious awakenings of the higher powers, and the reverential withdrawing of nature before its God." But we surely must admit that at the dawn of the Transcendental movement in New England he reasserts the beliefs of his youth in the terms of Kant and of Coleridge rather than in those of his first great master. Furthermore, the realm of ideas of Plato is found to be not in the objective world but in the mind itself, where only is the true reality.

A few days after the publication of Nature the Transcendental

41 Ibid., p. 46.

12 Centenary Edition, Vol. 1, pp. 49-50.

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