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The Kubla Khan manuscript and its first collector

Hilton Kelliher


COLERIDGE'S Kubla Khan, Or, A Vision in a Dream, first printed with Christabel and The Pains of-Sleep in 1816, has long been regarded as one of the great literary icons of the Romantic movement. Coleridge's famous account of its conception in the summer or autumn of 1797 - the lonely Exmoor farmhouse, the effects of an 'anodyne', and the poetical reverie interrupted by the arrival of 'a person on business from Porlock'- contributed in no small measure to the hypnotic sway that it has always exercised over the imagination of its readers. Awe and wonderment were, if anything, only increased by the researches of J. L. Lowes and others into its sources, which proved to have stretched far beyond the simple sentence in Purchas his Pilgrimage that was allegedly the immediate inspiration. Yet these fifty-four verses were, the author later insisted, merely 'A Fragment' rescued from a broken trance in which images, rising up before him 'as things', had shaped themselves into a poem of two or three hundred lines. Some scholars have been sceptical, seeing in Coleridge's insistence on the dream-origins of the poem a mere fiction masking his inability to complete it, though this line of argument is nowadays little regarded.

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