Saturday, June 14, 2008

On Scholarly Honesty

Essay iv of Coleridge’s The Friend concludes with a – word sentence that is remarkable in its form as well as content. Wordsworth was known to have admired this particular sentence for its ‘architecture’ and was said to have been cited by a statesman, perhaps George Canning. It is a sentence from which we can learn both grammatically and ethically. And although Coleridge did not always live up to it himself, it is a welcome recommendation. The sentence addresses the question of intellectual integrity in the process of scholarship. Coleridge writes;

“As long therefore as I obtrude no unsupported assertions on my Readers; and as long as I state my opinions and the evidence which induced or compelled me to adopt them, with calmness and that diffidence in myself, which is by no means incompatible with a firm belief in the justness of the opinions themselves; wile I attack no man’s private life from any cause, and detract from no man’s honors in his public character, from the truth of his doctrines, or the merits of his compositions, without detailing all my reasons and resting the result solely on the arguments adduced; while I moreover explain fully the motives of duty, which influenced me in resolving to institute such investigations; while I confine all asperity of censure, and all expressions of contempt, to gross violations of truth, honor, and decency, to the base corrupter and the detected slanderer; while I write on no subject which I have not studied with my best attention, on no subject which my education and acquirements have incapacitated me from properly understanding; and above all while I approve myself, alike in praise and blame, in close reasoning and in impassioned declamation, a steady FRIEND to the two best and surest friends of all men, TRUTH and HONESTY; I will not fear an accusation of either Presumption of Arrogance from the good and the wise, I shall pity it from the weak, and despise it from the wicked.”

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