What is “Fancy’ and “Imagination”?

Describe Coleridge’s views on Fancy and Imagination.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), father of impressionistic criticism, defines Imagination, both primary and secondary, and distinguishes it from Fancy in his famous critique Bioraphia Literaria. Though the definition has a certain amount of vagueness and obscurity, from his discussion we come to learn that he considers “Fancy” as the dress of poetic genius, and “Imagination” as its very soul. He has theorized the concepts of imagination and fancy giving more emphasis on philosophy than poetry.

Coleridge’s theory of imagination and fancy: In the beginning of the Romantic period S.T. Coleridge theoretically proclaimed that imagination is greater than fancy in the process of artistic creation. He calls imagination, “a magical and synthetic power”. He has also fixed their area of meanings through a long theoretical and philosophical description in his Biographia Literaria.

Read More: Elucidate Coleridge’s theory of poetry.

Imagination and fancy, two separate faculties: Early in the Biographia Literaria, Coleridge gives us some idea that what he meant by these two terms. He takes Wordsworth’s poem(“Guilt and Sorrow,” which leads him to meditate upon “imagination” and “fancy” and come to a conclusion. His conclusion asserts that, imagination and fancy are two distinct and widely different faculties, and not two names with one meaning. In “Chapter xiii” of the book Coleridge brings out his views on the nature and function of imagination, and the ways in which it is distinguished from fancy. According to Coleridge, imagination stands for the faculty of shaping or modifying and fancy stands for the aggregative and associative power. In this context, Coleridge also points out that Milton had a highly imaginative mind and Cowley had a very fanciful mind.

Philosophical distinction between imagination and fancy: Coleridge has brought poetry, criticism and philosophy into a close relationship with one another. This relationship is best in his concept of imagination, which he distinguishes from fancy. The difference between the two is the same as the difference between a mechanical mixture like Radio and a chemical compound like Syrup. In a mechanical mixture a number of elements are brought together. They are mixed up. but they do not lose their individual properties. They still exist as separate identities. On the other hand, in a chemical compound the different elements combine to form something new. The different elements no longer exist as separate identities. They lose their respective properties. They also fuse together to create something new and entirely different. A compound is an act of creation, while a mixture is merely a bringing together of a number of separate elements. So, fancy is equated with a mechanical mixture while imagination is equated with chemical compounds.

Thus, we see in the Biographia Literaria, Coleridge talks about the imagination and fancy very philosophically and intellectually. He has also successfully attached the concept of creation to the philosophical concepts of imagination and fancy. Coleridge’s assertion of the role of imagination in poetic creation is original. Through imagination and fancy, Coleridge has explained indirectly the process of creation including painting, poetry and any other arts.

Read More: What are the major objections of Coleridge to Wordsworth’s poetry?

Mottaleb Hossain
Mottaleb Hossain

This is Motaleb Hossain, working on studying, a researcher on English literature and Theology.

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