The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 4. Coleridges Christabel
Coleridge was certain to be interested in this matter; and, whether the famous introductory note to Christabel be a satisfactory statement of the nature of the Christabel metre or not—whether his notion that the principle was new can or cannot be reconciled with his undoubted knowledge of previous examples thereof—the statement itself remains one of the most important and epoch-marking, if not epoch-making, in the history of the subject. Even when we make the fullest allowance for his peculiarities in the way of not doing things, it is extraordinary that, in the welter of individual utterances that we have from him, there is not more on the matter. If he had only indicated to his nephew the exact grounds of his remarkable dissatisfaction with Tennyson’s prosody, we might have had more to go upon. But it is now known that, in addition to the pretty numerous metrical experiments which have long been in print, he made others of a much more interesting character, directly on the lines which Tennyson himself pursued; and some of them, if not all, have already been published. They all show—as does Christabel, whichever side be taken in the accent ν. foot battle about it; as do other pieces of his strictly English versification; and, as do even those very pretty and most remarkable dodecasyllabic hendecasyllables of the “old Milesian story”—that his natural ear, assisted by his study more especially of Shakespeare, had made him thoroughly—if not, to himself, explicitly—conscious of that principle of substitution which, more than anything else, and almost by itself, strikes the difference between the old (or rather middle) prosody and the new, and which The Ancient Mariner and Christabel, each in its way, were to beat, inextricably, into the heads of the next three generations.