Mendelssohn and Coleridge on Words, Thoughts, and Things

  • Frederick Burwick


In his marginalia to Morgenstunden (1785), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834) was especially intrigued with the way in which Moses Mendelssohn (1728–1786) challenged the interaction between language and perception.1 The latter provides an empirical ground through sensory experience; the former a means for describing and communicating. Neither is reliable. Morgenstunden, of course, is not about language per se, but about proving the existence of God. As Mendelssohn’s final work, it was intended as a companion to his Phaedon (1767), on the immortality of the soul.2 Bound together with Coleridge’s copy of Morgenstunden was Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem (1783), a work that cleverly undermined claims of spiritual authority.3 Although addressing Judaism, Mendelssohn implicated the concept of religious power at large and demonstrated the essential disjuncture between spiritual and material claims to strength. A passage from Jerusalem on might and right, transcribed into Coleridge’s notebook in the summer of 1809, was accompanied by a commentary on the Hobbesian thesis on law and power subsequendy published in Coleridge’s Omniana (1809–1816) (CN 3548 and 3548n; LR 1). Coleridge added a few notes to Jerusalem at the time he was also reading Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi’s Werke and revising The Friend (1818). Coleridge read and annotated Morgenstunden sometime during the period that he was writing essays for the Courier, lecturing on literature, and reissuing The Friend (1812–1814), perhaps even during the time that he was assembling his Biographia Literaria (1815–1816) (M 3:846–862).4


Collect Work Positive Power Divine Power Inductive Premise Causal Necessity 
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  1. 13.
    Mendelssohn, Betrachtungen über die Quellen und die Verbindungen der schönen Künste und Wissenschaften (Berlin: Friedrich Voß, 1758), 11–12.Google Scholar
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© Sheila A. Spector 2005

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  • Frederick Burwick

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