During the pilot project, two interconnected ideas began to emerge. First of all, it became clear that the relationship between Coleridge's Notebook entries, and his letters to Sara Hutchinson, offers particularly fertile ground for exploring both differing accounts of a single spatial experience and different kinds of textual space. Secondly, it became evident that the Notebooks themselves offer a singularly rich exploration of geographical and literary spatialities.
In the Introduction to 'Coleridge's Notebooks: A Selection', Seamus Perry charts the textual history of the Notebooks, indicating that the first major edition was edited by Ernest Hartley Coleridge, the poet's great-nephew, and published as 'Anima Poetae' in 1895. It was Kathleen Coburn, though, who embarked on the scholarly task of editing all seventy of the Notebooks: the first four volumes (up to 1826) have been published by Chatto & Windus; the fifth and final volume, edited by Anthony John Harding, is in the process of being brought to publication.
In her Introduction to the Notebooks, Coburn admits: 'it was apparent at an early stage in the editing, and became more so as the work progressed, that short of a photographic reproduction of the pages, a turning out of the chaos of notebook after notebook would not be very useful to students' (p. xxi). Following Coleridge's own assertion that 'the chronological order [is] the best for arranging a poet's work' (1 January 1834, 'Table Talk', I, p. 453), then, Coburn sought to impose a temporal structure on to the non-linear material to be found in the seventy Notebooks. In other words, Coburn attempted a reconstruction of the chronology of Coleridge's composition.
This editorial strategy is to be admired; but, as Coburn freely admits in her Introduction, it is a practice which is inherently problematic and frequently founded upon speculation. Is there not, then, a need to reconsider Coleridge's Notebooks in spatial, rather than temporal, terms? Is there not a need to privilege the physicality and materiality of his pocketbooks and their textual content?
Over the past decade or so, there has been an increasing trend to think about both the representations of space, and the representational spaces, of literary texts. As a result, this 'spatial turn' seems to offer an appropriate theoretical context for re-reading, and even re-organising, Coleridge's Notebooks according to spatial rather than chronological principles. By mapping the vital connections between text and geographical place in Coleridge's 1802 Notebook, this project seeks to foreground that important spatial dimension to his writing.