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Samuel Taylor Coleridge is one of the greatest literary critics in the history of English literature. His greatness as a poet and critic has been almost universally recognised. He gives us some idea of fancy and imagination early in his "Biographia and Literaria". According to him imagination has two forms, primary and secondary. Primary imagination is merely the power of receiving impressions of the external world through senses. It is the power of perceiving the objects of sense, both in their parts and as a whole. It is an involuntary act of the mind. The human mind receives impressions and sensation from the outside world. Unconsciously and involuntarily, it imposes some sort of order on those impressions. It reduces them to shape and size so that the mine is able to form a clear image of the outside world. In this way, clear and coherent perception becomes possible.
Coleridge differentiate fancy and imagination

The primary imagination is universal. It is possessed by all. On the other hand, the secondary imagination may be possessed by others also. But it is the peculiar and distinctive attribute of the artist. It is the secondary imagination which makes creations possible. Secondary imagination is more active and conscious in its working. It requires an effort of the will, volition and conscious effort. It works upon what is perceived by the primary imagination. Its raw material is the sensations and impressions supplied to it by the primary imagination. By an effort of the will and the intellect, the secondary imagination selects and orders the raw material. It re-shapes and re-models it into objects of beauty. It is an active agent which dissolves, diffuses and dissipates in order to create.

This secondary imagination is at the roof of all poetic activity. It is this power which harmonises and reconciles the opposites. So Coleridge calls it a magical synthetic power. This unifying power of the imagination is best seen in the fact that it synthesises or fuses the various faculties of the soul, perception, intellect, will and emotion. This also fuses the internal with the external nature and the spiritual with the physical or material. It is through the play of this unifying power that nature is coloured by the soul of the poet. Soul of the poet is steeped in nature. The identity which the poet discovers in man and nature results from the synthesising activity of the secondary imagination. The primary and secondary imaginations do not differ from each other in kind. The difference between them is in degree.

Fancy has no other counters to play with but fixities and definites. Indeed, it is other than a mode of memory emancipated from the order of time and space. But equally with the ordinary memory, it must receive all its materials ready-made from the law of association.

Imagination and fancy differ in kind. These are activities of two different kinds. Fancy is not a creative power at all. It only combines what it perceives into beautiful shapes. But like the imagination, it does not fuse and unify. The difference between the two is the same as the difference between a mechanical mixture and a chemical compound. In a mechanical mixture, a number of ingredients are brought together. They are mixed up but do not lose their individual properties. They still exist as separate identifies. On the other hand, the different ingredients combine to form something new in a chemical compound. The different ingredients no longer exist as separate identities. They lose their respective properties and fuse together to create something new and entirely different. A compound is an act of creation. But a mixture is merely a bringing together of a number of separate elements.

Thus imagination creates new shares and froms of beauty by fusing and unifying the different impressions that it receives from the external world. Fancy is not creative. It is a kind of memory. It arbitrarily brings together images. Even when it is brought together, they continue to retain their separate and individual properties. They receive no colouring or modification from the mind. It is merely mechanical juxtaposition and not a chemical fusion. Coleridge explains the point by quoting two passages from Shakespeare's "Venus and Adonis". The following lines from this poem serve to illustrate fancy ------
 " Full gently now she takes him by the hand A lily prisoned in a goal of snow Or ivory in an alabaster band So while a friend engirds so white a foe."

In these lines, images are drawn from memory. But they do not interpenetrate in one another.The following lines from the same poem, "Venus and Adonis" illustrate the power and function of imagination ----
"Look! How a bright star shoteth Venus' eye."

Coleridge says that there are many images and feeling brought here together without effort and without discord. Beauty of Adonis, the rapidity of the sight, the yearning yet helplessness of the enamoured gazer and a shadowy ideal character are thrown over the whole. In this way, Coleridge makes a very striking distinction between imagination and fancy. He says that fancy is the drapery of poetic genius. But imagination is its every soul which forms all into one graceful and intelligent whole.

To sum up, we can add that Coleridge has owed his interest in the study of imagination to Wordsworth. But Wordsworth was interested only in the practice of poetry. He considered only the impact of imagination on poetry. Coleridge, on the other hand, is interested in the theory of imagination. He is the first critic to study the nature of imagination and examine its role in creative activity. Secondly, Wordsworth used fancy and imagination almost as synonyms. But Coleridge is the first critic to distinguish between them and define their respective roles. Thirdly, Wordsworth does not distinguish between primary and secondary imagination. Coleridge's treatment of the subject is, on the whole, characterised by greaten depth penetration and philosophical subtlety. It is his unique contribution to literary theory.


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