Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Coleridge on Four Kinds of Readers

Emerson claimed that Coleridge had identified four kinds of readers:
  • hour glass - gives back everything it takes in, unchanged
  • sponge - gives back everything it takes in, a little dirtier
  • jelly bag - squeezes out what has value and keeps the worthless
  • Golconda - runs everything through a sieve and keeps only the nuggets
This is based on Robert D. Richardson, First We Read, Then We Write. Emerson on the Creative Process (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2009) pp. 8f. I have not verified whether Coleridge said this.[1] Even if he did not say it, it's interesting.[2]

1. This post is related to the previous one. "Incremental reading," even if taken in the most modest sense, does not, per se, differentiate between these four different kinds of reading. There is no criterion that would would allow the student to distinguish between what seems important and what is important. In fact, it favors what seems important.
2. Added Saturday, August 07, 2010: I have found the quote in Emerson's Journals at least: "House of Seem & house of Be. Coleridge's four classes of Readers. 1. the Hour glass sort, all in all out; 2. the Sponge sort, giving it all out a little dirtier than it took in; 3. of the Jelly bag, keeping nothing but the refuse; 4. of the Golconda, sieves picking up the diamonds only." (Joel Porte, ed., Emerson in His Journals (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1982), p. 130.


Isinger said...

I can't verify that Coleridge categorized readers in this interesting fourfold way. However, this post put me in mind of a similar categorization in Pirkei Avot, an ancient rabbinic text:

"There are four types among those who study with the Sages: the sponge, the funnel, the strainer, the sifter. The sponge absorbs everything; the funnel--in one end and out the other; the strainer passes the wine and retains the dregs; the sifter removes the chaff and retains the edible wheat."

A coincidence? Or was this Coleridge's source, directly or indirectly?

MK said...

It sure sounds as if Coleridge was directly or indirectly dependent on this source.

Thanks for the information. I will try and find out more.