Property and Responsibility:A Lay Sermon (1817)

  • John Morrow
Part of the Coleridge’s Writings book series (COLWRIT)


In the second ‘Lay Sermon’1 Coleridge analyses the causes of the post-war crisis in Britain and assesses the qualifications of those who advance solutions to it. He is critical of radical arguments that focus on the system of taxation and the political institutions of the country, and condemns the motives and conduct of radical political agitators. He also rejects the view (associated with proponents of‘political economy’) that hardship is an unavoidable result of the play of market forces. Coleridge argues that the end of the war was bound to be followed by a period of painful readjustment, but claims that this has been exacerbated by the sophisms of radicals and political economists, and also by the upper classes’ irresponsible attitude towards commercial values. The root cause of present difficulties is the ‘overbalance’ of the commercial spirit, and its permeation of areas of human life that should have provided a counterbalance to it. In A Lay Sermon, Coleridge seeks to encourage the upper classes to restore the balance by attaching themselves to the humanising values found in philosophy and intellectualised religion, and performing those ameliorating functions traditionally associated with the possession of landed property. Although Coleridge defends commerce against the attacks of radicals and claims that it has produced significant additions to the opportunities for free action, he claims that these opportunities should be additional to, not substitutes for, the recognition of moral personality that is central to the justification of the state, and closely connected with those fixed, landed-proprietorial interests that are integral to it.


Christian Religion Radical Argument Commercial World Public Credit Free Citizen 
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  1. 1.
    Originally published in 1817, this sermon was the second in a projected series of three; the first, The Statesman’s Manual or The Bible; the Best Guide to Political Skill and Foresight: A Lay Sermon Addressed to the Higher Classes of Society, was published in 1816, while the third (to be addressed to ‘the lower and labouring Classes of society’) was never written. These sermons were set against the background of economic dislocation and widespread hardship and discontent which followed the end of the war in 1815; for an account of this context see R. J. White’s Introduction to LS. The version produced here is slightly abridged. The text for the sermon is from Isaiah 32:20. Coleridge’s Courier articles ‘To Mr. Justice Fletcher’ (1814) and ’Children in the Cotton Factories’ (1818), for which see EOT, n, 373ff. and 473ff., are useful supplements to the work printed below.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The first motto is partly a translation of, and partly an improvisation on Heraclitus in Theodoret, Opera (Paris, 1642) IV, 716; the second is adapted from Fulke Greville, A Treatise of Warres, stanzas 66–7, in Certaine Learned and Elegant Works (1633) p. 82.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    This note nicely summarises the argument of The Statesman’s Manual; there is a very interesting discussion of this work in R. J. White’s Introduction to The Political Tracts of Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley (Cambridge, 1953).Google Scholar
  4. 47.
    Dr John Donne (1573–1631), the poet and divine, was Dean of St Paul’s. Jeremy Taylor (1613–67), Bishop of Down and Connor, had been a protégé of Archbishop Laud (DNB).Google Scholar
  5. Dr John Donne (1573–1631), the poet and divine, was Dean of St Paul’s. Jeremy Taylor (1613–67), Bishop of Down and Connor, had been a protégé of Archbishop Laud (DNB).Google Scholar
  6. 48.
    Izaak Walton (1593–1683), author of the Lives (subjects of which include Donne, and another favourite of Coleridge’s, Richard Hooker) and The Compleat Angler (1653).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Morrow
    • 1
  1. 1.Victoria University of WellingtonNew Zealand

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