Friday, 30 November 2012


'Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires ...'  But the latter surely contradicts the former: 'I am compelling you to do this thing; but I am asking you nicely to do it, at the same time.' Latent and manifest Imperialism.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Biographia Dialogia

What's with all the Biographia Literaria stuff, Adam?

I'm glad you asked. This term, I'm running a BL reading group at my university; we're going through it chapter by chapter. Accordingly, I'm refreshing my memory of the book, chapter by chapter, working through it. I'm struck, as I do so, how many of Coleridge's myriad references and quotations have never been traced or sourced. So I'm doing that as I go.

To what end?

I'm pulling together some academic something on Coleridge, plagiary and the BL.  Conceivably I'll published a new edition of the book, if I can find an academic publisher interested in such a thing. Maybe a monograph.


I know! It's one of those texts, foundational as far as literary criticism is concerned. I studied it as a student, and re-read it when I started academia (bits of it, anyway) in order to teach it.  But going through again in detail has been an eye-opener.

You realise that I'm a figment of your imagination? There's not actually a third-person asking you these questions?

Two things in particular have struck me.  One is just how massively the plagiarism issue is hidden in plain view; how much STC goes on about it, how centrally 'plagiary' defines 'fancy', and the extent to which the 'imagination' is a process of using the tools of plagiary against it, making something new out of the orts and scraps of --

Nobody cares, you know.

-- literary tradition.  The second thing is: how little other art there is in the book.  It's all: poetry, poetry, poetry (and, of course, metaphysics, metaphysics, metaphysics).  One reference to a painting is the only other mode I've come across: where's music? Dance? Sculpture? I always thought of Coleridge's aesthetic theory as an aesthetic theory that discussed all the arts; but now I'm wondering if it isn't much more specifically logocentric than that. And for Gospel-of-St-John religious reasons.

You done?

Sure. For now.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

One more Coleridge quotation

Today's is from Biographia chapter 12, near the beginning: 'Vir bonus es, doctus, prudens; ast haud tibi spiro.' The Latin means: ‘you are a good man, well-schooled, prudent, but it’s not for you that I breathe [ie ‘speak’].’ The second part is proverbial. ‘Let Mr Galt satisfy himself by addressing [criticisms] in the cautionary words of the Rosemary to the Sow: Sus, apage; haud tibi spiro’ [‘Galt’s Life of Byron’, Museum of Foreign Literature and Science 17 (1830), 506]—that is, the flower’s words to the pig are ‘go away, pig: I do not blow for you.’ The earliest printed example of this is Joachim Camerarius’ Sÿmbolorum et Emblematum (1590; not as Engell and Bate have it, ‘Symbolarum’). The first part, though, nobody seems to have traced. In fact it's quoted from Johannes Trithemius, Annales Hirsaugienses: Opus nunquam hactenus editum, & ab Eruditis (1590), in which Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV is described as ‘vir bonus, magnificus, prudens & doctus’ [2:215].

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Rain poem

The sky pours love
hushing the earth
mother and baby.

Cords of water,
stethoscope-thick, dark
as any grey was ever dark.

The rainstorm says what it has always said:
unhide your head; unhide your head.

Monday, 26 November 2012


They’ve just discovered a copy of Machiavelli’s rare 1519 2nd-edition of The Prince: ‘Symbole: ye Treatise Formerlye Known As Prince’.

There’s nothing stopping Asperger’s sufferers becoming major international poets. Just look at Rainman Maria Rilke.

Bad news: ITV have turned down my pitch for a new vegetarians-in-discomfort reality show, "I'm Full Of Celery -- Get Me A Root Beer"

‘When I buy bees it is God’s will I buy them from a man. The Bible is very clear on the topic of Women’s Bee-Shops.’

Loganberries. Watch out for them. They give you the runs, kill you soon after your 30th birthday.

Ingot-glorious Basterds. #metalfilms

Shire On You Crazy Diamond #tolkiensongs

Positive noises from the BBC re: my idea of combining ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ & ‘One Man And His Dog’: “Strictly COOM-BY, COOM-BY Dancing’.

Dear Authorities. Please rename Penny Farthings ‘Two-pound-coin Five-pee-pieces.’ This is the 21st Century. Yours, A. PS I am not a crank.

Like any serial killer I make furniture out of body parts of my victims. And now this fat-headed policeman wants to arrest me? *Headdesk*

And God said ‘fiat lux’. And so God created a luxury Italian car. ‘This is no use,’ God said, tetchily. ‘The headlights don’t even work.’

Hearing that George III’s urine was blue the citizens of Boston insisted he show them, insisting ‘no taxation without wee presentation!’

'Doctor Freud! People keep riding pushbikes across me.' 'I'm afraid there's nothing I can do. You're a cyclepath.'

I want to stuff my casual shoes with leaves. Crazy that I can’t manage it! There must be fifty ways to leaf your loafers!

The French wine industry finally decides to cash-in on James Bond. A franchise agreement has been signed to permit ‘Double-O Sauvignon’

The London Array has gone live, but is presently not generating any electricity. It’s a shame about Array.

To adapt Eliot: ‘It’s gidding it’s gidding it’s gidding kinda hectic/So POLICE stay off my back, or I will attack./And you don’t want that.’

Each 24 hour period used to have its own spine. Back in the day.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Intuition, Quidnunc mention

More hitherto untraced quotations/allusions in the Biographia.  Apologies; but I need to park all the instances of this sort of thing I discover for future reference.  The first is an especially dull one, too.  Bear with me.

‘Thus too,' says Coleridge, in chapter 10, 'have I followed Hooker, Sanderson, Milton and others, in designating the immediateness of any act or object of knowledge by the word intuition.’ OK.

Editors have traced the Miltonic use, not least because Coleridge quotes the passage he means (from Paradise Lost) at the bottom of this very paragraph. But they haven't traced the Hooker or Sanderson; Engell and Jackson Bate in fact assert that they think Sanderson doesn't use 'intuition' ('no particular example of the use of intuition has been found in the works of Bishop Sanderson'). They're wrong, though.

Take them one at a time.  Richard Hooker is much concerned with what he calls the fullest development of faith, ‘the intuitive vision of God in the world to come’ [Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie 1 (1594): 12:11]. And English theologian Robert Sanderson (1587-1663) talks in his The Case Determined: of the Military Life (1678) of ‘the intuition of Honour and Glory’ as a ‘lawful and commendable’ thing in a soldier. [The Works of Robert Sanderson (ed William Jacobson; 6 vols 1854), 5:112]. For completeness's sake, here's the bit in Paradise Lost (5:487-9) where the angel Raphael explains to Adam that ‘reason’ is either ‘Discursive, or Intuitive’, adding that ‘discourse/Is oftest yours, the latter most is ours.’ The distinction is one of immediacy of apprehension of truth (‘Discursive or Intuitive—, Tracing Truth from Argument to Argument, Discerning, Examining, Distingushing, Comparing, Inferring, Concluding. This is Discourse; whether with One Another, or Alone; whether in Words or Mentally. Intuitive is when the Mind Instantly perceives Truth as we with one Glance of the Eye Know if the Object is Red, Green, White etc.'[Jonathan Richardson, Explanatory Notes and Remarks on Milton's Paradise Lost (1734), 229].

The second one, though, is just smallbeer. In chapter 10 Coleridge recalls living at Nether Stowey, during the invasion panic of the Napoleonic Wars, when he and Wordsworth were suspected of being French spies. 'Far different were the days to which these anecdotes have carried me back. The dark guesses of some zealous Quidnunc met with so congenial a soil in the grave alarm of a titled Dogberry of our neighbourhood.' Engell and Bate gloss 'Quidnunc' thus: 'literally "what now?" Hence an inquisitive, gossipy person' [BL 1:193]. That's not right. In fact Quidnunc is the title character in the once-popular play, The Farce of the Upholsterer (1758) by Arthur Murphy. Young Bell loves Quidnunc’s beautiful daughter, but his way is blocked: ‘the Man’s distracted about the Balance of Power and will give his Daughter to none but a Politician.— … his Head runs upon Ways and Means, and Schemes for paying off the national Debt: The Affairs of Europe engross all his Attention, while the Distresses of his lovely Daughter pass unnoticed’ [Murphy, The Upholsterer, a Farce in Two Acts As it is Performed at the Theatre Royal in Covent-Garden (1763), 6]. Dogberry, of course, is the incompetent but self-satisfied night constable from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Saturday, 24 November 2012


Back to Coleridge. Did you miss him?

Actually, this is huge -- unless I'm perpetrating some obvious clunker, which I may well be.  But it seems to me that Coleridge criticism has been getting this Coleridgean coinage wrong.  It's a big part of the argument of the Biographia; the word even has its own Wikipedia page:
Esemplastic is a qualitative adjective which the English romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed to have invented. Despite its etymology from the Greek word πλάττω for "to shape", the term was modelled on Schelling's philosophical term Ineinsbildung – the interweaving of opposites – and implies the process of an object being moulded into unity. The first recorded use of the word is in 1817 by Coleridge in his work, Biographia Literaria, in describing the esemplastic – the unifying – power of the imagination.
It is first mentioned right at the start of BL Chapter 10. The italicised bit is Coleridge's imaginary interlocuter objecting to the word; the rest is Coleridge in his own voice, replying:
"Esemplastic. The word is not in Johnson, nor have I met with it elsewhere." Neither have, I. I constructed it myself from the Greek words, εἰς ἓν πλάττειν, to shape into one; because, having to convey a new sense, I thought that a new term would both aid the recollection of my meaning, and prevent its being confounded with the usual import of the word, imagination.
Now all the Coleridge critics and commentators tell us that the Greek [transliterated: eis ev plattein] means ‘make or shape into one’. Coleridge’s Notebooks for February-June 1813 contain the following, often quoted by critics as elucidating ‘esemplasy’ as a key Coleridgean concept:
His Imagination, if it must be so called, is at all events of the pettiest kind—it is an Imagunculation.—How excellently the German Einbildungskraft expresses this prime & loftiest Faculty, the power of co-adunation, the faculty hat forms the many into one, in eins Bildung. [Coleridge, Collected Notebooks III (ed. Kathleen Coburn, 1973), 4176]
In fact the ‘ein’ in the German Einbildungskraft means ‘in’, not 'one'; such that the word means ‘informing power’ rather than ‘one-forming power’. It’s unclear to whom Coleridge refers in the opening of this passage; possibly Southey. ‘Adunation’ is defined by Johnson as ‘an union; being joined.’  The Notebook entry goes to the experiment with English versions of the German: ‘Eisenoplasy or esenoplastic Power’. Nigel Leask [Biographia Literaria (Everyman 1997), 389] thinks it ‘noteworthy that Coleridge here [in chapter 10] suppresses the German origins of “esemplastic”, replacing it with a Greek etymology.’ It may be so; but that Greek etymology is interesting in its own right.

Watch out for the 'BUT!'. It's coming.

Πλάττειν is from πλάττω, ‘to form, mould or shape’ but the more usual form is πλάσσω—from this form we get πλάστος ‘formed, moulded’, the root of the English word ‘plastic’. Conceivably Coleridge specifies πλάττω because, as the Attic form of the word, it is the way it appears in Plato (for instance: Phaedrus 246c; Republic 420c), where it is used to mean—to quote Liddell and Scott—‘to form in the mind, form a notion of a thing.’ ‘εν’ means ‘in’; but—BUT!—‘εἰς’, whatever Coleridge scholars seem to assume, does not mean ‘one’ (‘one’ would be εἷς, ‘heis’). It is, rather, a preposition of place, towardsness, inwardness, in-ness and the like. Since Coleridge specifies ‘esemplasy’ not ‘hesemplasy’, and since he knew the importance of breathings to Greek vowels, we can assume this is intentional. The other thing to say about the ‘εἰς’ [‘to’, ‘into’] is that it too is Attic dialect: other Greek dialects prefer ‘ἐς’ ‘except that’ (to quote L & S again) ‘Poets use εἰς before vowels when metre requires a long syllable.’ The English pronunciation of ‘esemplasy’ with a short initial ‘e’ misses this; maybe we should get into the habit of saying ‘ēsemplasy’; something which would have the additional benefit of glancing at a pun in the Greek ‘ἦς’ [ēs] a variant of εἰμι [‘eimi’] (found for instance in Theocritus) meaning ‘I am’, or the “I am”. The upshot of this speculation (not, I concede, supported by—for example—any Coleridgean notebook scribbles) is that the invented Greek etymology of ‘esemplasy’ is there to emphasise not the oneness but he ideational subjectivity of the concept: that, in other words, it is something tied not so much to the oneness of the cosmos as the oneness of the soul.

Friday, 23 November 2012


The opening crashing chords of Turandot sound to my ear exactly like the soundtrack to a 1920s film about gangsters or dinosaurs. Normally I'd assume film composers were copying Puccini; but given that this opera was first performed in 1926 there's just the hunt of a possibility the vector of influence ran the other way ...

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Kant: Transcendental Idealism

I step hesitantly, since I don't doubt everything I am about to say in this blogpost has been argued over and over by Kantians; or, worse, hasn't been argued over and over because it's beneath contempt in its idiocy. But it's what has always bothered me about the premises of Kant's Transcendental Idealism
We have therefore wanted to say that all our intuition is nothing but the representation of appearance; that the things that we intuit are not in themselves what we intuit them to be, nor are their relations so constituted in themselves as they appear to us; and that if we remove our own subject or even only the subjective constitution of the senses in general, then all constitution, all relations of objects in space and time, indeed space and time themselves would disappear, and as appearances they cannot exist in themselves, but only in us. What may be the case with objects in themselves and abstracted from all this receptivity of our sensibility remains entirely unknown to us. We are acquainted with nothing except our way of perceiving them, which is peculiar to us, and which therefore does not necessarily pertain to every being, though to be sure it pertains to every human being. We are concerned solely with this. Space and time are its pure forms, sensation in general its matter. We can cognize only the former a priori, i.e., prior to all actual perception, and they are therefore called pure intuition; the latter, however, is that in our cognition that is responsible for its being called a posteriori cognition, i.e., empirical intuition. The former adheres to our sensibility absolutely necessarily, whatever sort of sensations we may have; the latter can be very different. (A42/B59–60)
OK; and here's the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Kant introduces transcendental idealism in the part of the Critique called the Transcendental Aesthetic, and scholars generally agree that for Kant transcendental idealism encompasses at least the following claims: 
[1] In some sense, human beings experience only appearances, not things in themselves. 
[2] Space and time are not things in themselves, or determinations of things in themselves that would remain if one abstracted from all subjective conditions of human intuition. [Kant labels this conclusion a) at A26/B42 and again at A32–33/B49. It is at least a crucial part of what he means by calling space and time transcendentally ideal (A28/B44, A35–36/B52)]. 
[3] Space and time are nothing other than the subjective forms of human sensible intuition. [Kant labels this conclusion b) at A26/B42 and again at A33/B49–50]. 
[4] Space and time are empirically real, which means that “everything that can come before us externally as an object” is in both space and time, and that our internal intuitions of ourselves are in time (A28/B44, A34–35/B51–51).
Right, so: I'm less interested for the moment in the question of whether the relationship between representations and things-in-themselves can be resolved, or whether the latter are necessary to Kant's theory. I'm interested in what K. says about the a priori forms of our sensible intuition. Wikipedia quotes John Watson's The philosophy of Kant Explained (1908), 62–72., so you can see how up to date my engagement is:
[Kant's] most influential contribution to metaphysics: the abandonment of the quest to try to know the world as it is "in itself" independent of sense experience. He demonstrated this with a thought experiment, showing that it is not possible to meaningfully conceive of an object that exists outside of time and has no spatial components and is not structured in accordance with the categories of the understanding, such as substance and causality. Although such an object cannot be conceived, Kant argues, there is no way of showing that such an object does not exist. Therefore, Kant says, the science of metaphysics must not attempt to reach beyond the limits of possible experience but must discuss only those limits, thus furthering the understanding of ourselves as thinking beings. The human mind is incapable of going beyond experience so as to obtain a knowledge of ultimate reality, because no direct advance can be made from pure ideas to objective existence.
There's a rightness about this; it has a common-sense-y 'an eyeball can see lots of things but not itself' vibe to it. But I don't think it is right. Let's replicate Kant's thought experiment.

Kant's argument is that space and time are not 'things'; they are forms of perceiving. The Wikipedia article I quote there goes on: 'both space and time and conceptual principles and processes pre-structure experience.' So in other words, Kant's point is that we see space and time when we look around us because (I read this analogy somewhere, but can't remember where) we are in effect wearing 'space and time spectacles' over our eyes.  A parallel case would be a man who had his corneas tinted yellow, and who accordingly would see a yellowish world. We can prove this, says Kant, because it is not possible to imagine a spaceless or timeless object, or entity, or whatever. So: I can think of a cube, in space; and I can imagine that the cube has vanished, but I can't imagine that the space in which I had previously imagined the cube has vanished. This appears to have persuaded many people.

My problem is that Kant takes these 'categories' as absolutes.  What I mean is: he says, in effect, 'we can imagine lots of objects that have spatial dimensions and that exist in time; but we cannot imagine no space and no time.' I don't disagree: I, personally, cannot imagine no space.  But I can imagine more or less space.

There's a parallel, I think, with what Bertrand Russell says about Berkeley in his History of Western Philosophy. Russell challenges Berkeley's 'idealism', the 'argument against matter.' That argument, according to Russell, 'is most persuasively set forth in The Dialogues of Hylas and Philonous (1713); for that is where Berkeley 'advances valid arguments in favour of a certain important conclusion, though not quite in favour of the conclusion that he thinks he is proving.'  That's what Russell says, at any rate. 'He thinks he is proving that all reality is mental; what he is proving is that we perceive qualities, not things, and that qualities are relative to the percipient.':
The characters in the Dialogues are two: Hylas, who stands for scientifically educated common sense; and Philonous, who is Berkeley. After a few amiable remarks, Hylas says that he has heard strange reports of the opinions of Philonous, to the effect that he does not believe in material substance. "Can anything," he exclaims, "be more fantastical, more repugnant to Common Sense, or a more manifest piece of Scepticism, than to believe there is no such thing as matter?" Philonous replies that he does not deny the reality of sensible things, i.e. of what is perceived immediately by the senses, but that we do not see the causes of colours or hear the causes of sounds. Both agree that the senses make no inferences. Philonous points out that by sight we perceive only light, colour, and figure; by hearing, only sounds; and so on. Consequently, apart from sensible qualities there is nothing sensible, and sensible things are nothing but sensible qualities or combinations of sensible qualities. Philonous now sets to work to prove that "the reality of sensible things consists in being perceived -- as against the opinion of Hylas -- that "to exist is one thing, and to be perceived is another.' That sense-data are mental is a thesis which Philonous supports by a detailed examination of the various senses. He begins with heat and cold. Great heat, he says, is a pain, and must be in a mind. Therefore heat is mental; and a similar argument applies to cold. This is reinforced by the famous argument about the lukewarm water. When one of your hands is hot and the other cold, you put both into lukewarm water, which feels cold to one hand and hot to the other; but the water cannot be at once hot and cold. This finishes Hylas, who acknowledges that "heat and cold are only sensations existing in our minds." [624-25]
Russell has this to say about this famous thought-experiment:
The argument about the hot and cold hands in lukewarm water strictly speaking, would only prove that what we perceive in that experiment is not hot and cold, but hotter and colder. There is nothing to prove that these are subjective. [628]
Russell has other arguments against Berkeley but I want to stick with this one. Within the spectrum of human experience, there is no such thing as absolute hot or absolute cold.  Of course there is such a thing as absolute zero, and I suppose an object that was so hot the molecules within it were agitated towards the speed of light would be 'absolutely' hot. But we're not talking about such exotic circumstances. 'Hot' and 'cold' describe a spectrum of relative measurements between (say) minus 50 and plus 120 degrees centigrade, because this is how human beings encounter hot and cold in the world. And when we do that encountering, what we actually experience is hotter or colder; which is to say, relative terms.

So, mutatis mutandi, with space and time.  I can imagine a three-dimensional object, says Kant, but I cannot imagine an absolute absence of dimension.  Perhaps so, but I can imagine a two dimensional object (Abbot's Flatland is an example of somebody imagining such a thing at length and in detail), and I can also imagine a one-dimensional object; not to mention a four- or five-dimensional object.  Not that these things actually exist; that's not Kant's point.  But that I can imagine them.  As with Berkeley's hot and cold, space and time are not proven to be absolutely in the mind by Kant's thought-experiment because space and time figure conceptually as asymptotes towards precisely the situation Kant denies.

There's something similar in Kant's critique of the Descartean cogito.  The problem, says Kant, is that 'it is not legitimate to use "I think" as a complete phrase, since it calls for a continuation -- "I think that ... (it will rain, you are right, we shall win ...)"  According to Kant, Descartes falls prey to the "subremption of the hypostasized consciousness": he wrongly concludes that, in the empty "I think" which accompanies every representation of an object, we get hold of a positive phenomenal entity, res cogitans, which thinks and is transparent to itself in its capacity to think.' [I'm quoting from here, p.13]  Of course I take the point that we don't 'think' in the abstract; that we are always thinking about something.  But though it's true that when we think we must think about something and cannot think about nothing, we can nonetheless think about more, or less; and at either end of that spectrum is the asymptote towards which thinking tends, and which returns us to a Descartean purity.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

What does 'exotericé' mean?

Now that I have an actual question to ask, I'll confess I'm starting to feel sorry I've driven all the traffic away from this blog with the pressure of relentless Coleridge trivia. But I'm going to ask the question anyway. What does exotericé mean?

It's in Biographia chapter 9; in a section where Coleridge is gently mocking Fichte:
Thus his theory degenerated into a crude egoismus, a boastful and hyperstoic hostility to NATURE, as lifeless, godless, and altogether unholy: while his religion consisted in the assumption of a mere ORDO ORDINANS, which we were permitted exotericé to call GOD; and his ethics in an ascetic, and almost monkish, mortification of the natural passions and desires.
The Princeton edition of the Biographia, edited by stalwarts Engell and Jackson Bate, gloss the word as meaning 'popularly', but I don't see where they get that from (they give no source). I can't, indeed, find a definition -- except that presumably it is from the Latin 'exoticus' ('foreign, exotic'). Google books returns but one instance of the word's usage that isn't Coleridge's Biographia: Georg Conrad Bergius and Johann Christoph Neander's Disputatio civilis (1653), where it's used (with, as in Coleridge, an accent on terminal 'e') to mean 'foreign' or 'exotic'. Isn't it likely that's what Coleridge meant, too? I'd gloss '... which we were permitted exotericé to call GOD' as '... which we were permitted unusually, or as a special concession to call GOD'. Am I wrong?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


It's dawning on me that's I'm not going to get properly on top of the Biographia unless I learn German. I should have learned it long before now, of course; it being one of the world's great languages, and crucial to philosophy.  Plus, it would give me the chance finally to read Klopstock, about whom 18th- and 19th-century British writers talked a lot, and whose Messiah I have never (I'm ashamed to say) read. He needs better PR: look at how that Wikipedia entry linked-to above, itself scavenged from an old Encyclopedia Britannica piece, describes the work:
The subject matter, the Redemption, presented serious difficulties to adequate epic treatment. The Gospel story was too scanty, and what might have been imported from without and interwoven with it was rejected by the author as profane. He had accordingly to resort to Christian mythology; and here again, circumscribed by the dogmas of the Church, he was in danger of trespassing on the fundamental truths of the Christian faith. The personality of Christ could scarcely be treated in an individual form, still less could angels and devils; and in the case of God Himself it was impossible. The result was that, despite the groundwork — the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Revelation of St John, and the model ready to hand in Milton's Paradise Lost — material elements are largely wanting and the actors in the poem, divine and human, lack plastic form. That the poem took twenty-five years to complete could not but be detrimental to its unity of design; the original enthusiasm was not sustained until the end, and the earlier cantos are far superior to the late ones. Thus the intense public interest the work aroused in its commencement had almost vanished before its completion. It was translated into seventeen languages and led to numerous imitations.
I love the non sequitur of that last sentence.  Here's how the 1821 English translation of the poem (by the beautifully-named G H C Egestorff) begins:
My Soul, degenerate man's redemption sing,
Which the Messiah in his human state
On earth accomplished, by which, suffering, slain
And glorify'd, unto the Love of God
The progeny of Adam he restor'd.
Such was the everlasting Will divine.
Th' infernal Fiend opposed him, Judah stood
In opposition proud; but vain their rage:
He did the deed, he wrought out man's salvation.

Yet, Wondrous Deed, which th' all-compassionate
Jehovah alone completely comprehends,
May Poesy presume from her remote
Obscurity to venture on thy theme ? —
Creative Spirit, in whose presence here
I humbly' adore, her efforts consecrate,
Conduct her steps and lead her, me to meet,
Of transport full, with glorious charms endow'd
And power immortal, imitating Thee.
Invest her with thy fire, Thou who the depth
Of deity discernst, and dost erect
Thy sanctuary in the breast of mortal man!
Pure be the heart, devoid of all offence,
Then I, though with a mortal's feeble voice,
May venture the Incarnate Son to sing, —
May venture on the awful path, forgiv'n
If ever with unsteady pace I move.

Ye Sons of earth, can ye the dignity
Appreciate to which ye were exalted,
When the Creator of the universe
Your state assumed, the Saviour to become
Of his appostate creatures? Listen then,
And heed my song, hut more especially ye,
Ye noble few, ye dear unfeigned friends
Of the Messiah, who with pious hope
And confidence dare the tremendous day
Of awful retribution humbly meet;
Regard it and e'er by a life devout
Sing grateful praises to th' Eternal Son.
Not from the holy city far remote,
That now through blindness ignorantly spurn'd
The crown of high election, rendering thus
Herself unhallowed; wont to be the plane
Of the Eternal's Glory, of the prophets
The succouring abode, an altar now
Of blood, by hands of heinous murderers shed;
There' the divine Messiah now withdrew,
And separated from a people who
External honours oft on him conferr'd,
But these of that pure feeling were devoid,
Which faultless in the sight of God remains.

The Son divine concealed himself from them.
They strewed his path with palm, they filled the air
With shouts and loud hosannas; but the loud
Acclaims of their unholy joy were vain,
They knew not him whom they saluted — King!
Their eyes discerned not the Lord's Anointed.
God from the heavens came down. The powerful voice:
Behold, I glorified mine only Son,
And I will glorify him yet again! —
The presence of the deity proclaim'd.
But they had been by aggravated crime
Too much debased , his words to comprehend.
Jesus mean while, yet once more solemnly
The purport of the covenant to avow,
That he would rescue man from death and sin;
Approach'd the awful presence of the Father,
Who had in anger turned his countenance
From th' earth, and reascended to the heav'ns,
Because man, obdurate, regarded not
The gracious call in the propitious hour.
East of Jerusalem a mountain rears
It's hoary brow, whose lofty summit oft
E'en as the sanctuary of the Most High,
The Saviour in it's lonely haunts receiv'd
When he devoted nights to close communion
With his Eternal Father.
I break off there, depressed that Egestorff perpetrates the 'its/it's' error I spend so much time correcting in students' essays.  Otherwise -- well, this is HEROICALLY dull stuff.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Another previously untraced Coleridge quotation

I keep stumbling upon these.  In Chapter 9 of the Biographia Coleridge discusses humble men who are moved by religious vision to write books of theology. After praising German Christian mystic Jakob Böhme (1575 - 1624) and Englishman George Fox (1624-91), founder of the Society of Friends, Coleridge goes on to discuss men who
in simplicity of soul, made their words immediate echoes of their feelings. Hence the frequency of those phrases among them, which have been mistaken for pretences to immediate inspiration; as for instance, "It was delivered unto me," "I strove not to speak," "I said, I will be silent," "but the word was in my heart as a burning fire," "and I could not forbear." Hence too the unwillingness to give offence; hence the foresight, and the dread of the clamours, which would be raised against them, so frequently avowed in the writings of these men, and expressed, as was natural, in the words of the only book, with which they were familiar. "Woe is me that I am become a man of strife, and a man of contention,—I love peace: the souls of men are dear unto me: yet because I seek for light every one of them doth curse me!"
The italicised bits are all from the Bible. But where is the passage "Woe is me ... them doth curse me!" quoted from? James Engell and W. Jackson Bate admit they don't know:
Though untraced, the passage suggests Fox (the use of "Light" and reference to a "man of contention",) whom C. may also refer to, below, as one for whom neither the world nor the world's law was a "friend". [Biographia Literaria (2 vols; Princeton Univ. Press 1984), 1:150]
But this passage isn't Fox, as it happens. It is from an anti-Slavery sermon by an English preacher called George Barrell Cheever:
‘“Woe is me,” exclaimed Jeremiah, “for I am become a man of contention and strife.” I love peace, and I love my people, and I love my country, and out of love I speak to them this word of the Lord. I have neither lent on usury, nor men have lent to me on usury, yet every one of them doth curse me. [George Barrell Cheever, God Against Slavery: And the Freedom and Duty of the Pulpit to Rebuke It, as a Sin Against God (1800), 40].
Cheever's first sentence is quoted from Jeremiah 15:10. There’s no evidence that Coleridge knew Cheever, although Cheever’s book certainly praises Coleridge (‘…as that great writer, Mr.Coleridge, once remarked… [74]). Anti-slavery! The unfriendliness of the world and its laws is thus explained.

Sunday, 18 November 2012


Wavering it always flows
Horseless it neighs
Whooping and dinning-down it goes
To storm hell’s ways.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Did Coleridge coin the word "substrate"?

I can see a whole phalanx of posts with variants of this title stretching out to the crack of doom. But nobody's interested (I'm barely interested myself) so I'll make this my last.  James Engell, W. Jackson Bate and the OED agree: 'OED cites C (in an annotation on Jeremy Taylor) as the first to use the word "substrate" as a noun for "substratum".'  Engell and Bate think he got it by Englishing Kant's das Substratum when writing chapter 8 of the Biographia. But the word was in fairly widespread use before him. It had long been used as an adjective (Theophilus Gale talks of 'substrate matter' in 1677; and Richard Baxter -- whom Coleridge read and annotated in furious detail -- talked of 'the substrate act' in 1675. But it was also used as a standalone noun:
7. Pimento, Jamaica Pepper, Allspice. —  This tree rises to the height of thirty feet, and is found almost every where in the woods of Jamaica ... It grows luxuriantly, and bears well, in every richer mould, on a gravelly substrate, and rarely fails expectation, planted any where. [Edward Long, The History of Jamaica: Or, General Survey of the Antient and Modern State of That Island (3 vols; 1774), 3:703]
The earliest I can find for this use of 'Substrate' as a noun for soil is 1671.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Spondee, iamb, iamb, spondee

Mist hates sharpness; acid-bath mist.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Did Coleridge coin the word "intensify"?

The OED thinks he did.  Indeed, he himself claimed that he did (Biographia Literaria, 1:7)
Intensify. I am aware, that this word occurs neither in Johnson's Dictionary nor in any classical writer. But the word, to intend, which Newton and others before him employ in this sense, is now so completely appropriated to another meaning, that I could not use it without ambiguity: while to paraphrase the sense, as by render intense, would often break up the sentence and destroy that harmony of the position of the words with the logical position of the thoughts, which is a beauty in all composition, and more especially desirable in a close philosophical investigation. I have therefore hazarded the word, intensify: though, I confess, it sounds uncouth to my own ear.
So did Coleridge invent this word? Well, no, he didn't. It was in earlier use earlier. Here's one example: ‘They [Catholic schools] cheapen, they defend, they intensify learning; and all this is more than an equivalent for the injury which may arise from their connection with specific creeds’ [‘Chandler’s Life of Bishop Waynflete’, The Monthly Review 67 (1812), 67]. So there we have it.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Hartley's Arguments for Life After Death

David Hartley's Observations on Man (1749) is in two parts. Part One advances a fundamentally (though he sometimes says otherwise) materialist, rational explanation for sentience, thought and consciousness, as a function of the physical body, nerves and brain.  Part Two argues the correctness and necessity of Hartley's own Christian faith.  That's interesting, that conjunction -- it reflects Hartley's own life, as both a phsyician-scientist and an Anglican.

Now, I want to make sure I understand the various and, it seems to me, rather contradictory reasons Hartley gives in Volume 2 Section 3 of his book, 'A Future State After The Expiration of This Life'.  Here they are:
First, That if is not possible to produce any evidence against a future state; so that the probability for it must at least be equal to that against it, i.e. to the fraction ½; if we speak according to the precise language used in the doctrine of chances. We are apt indeed to conclude, that because what we see is, so what we see not, is not; and consequently that there is no future state; i.e. we make our ignorance of the means by which our existence is preserved after death, and of the manner in which we are to exist, an argument against it. But this is utterly inconclusive. Our ignorance is a nothing, and therefore can be no foundation to go upon; and we have every day instances of the mistakes which reasoning from it would lead us into.
'We cannot say there isn't an afterlife' is true, but a strange datum to adduce as the first point of your argument that there is an afterlife. More, I'm unconvinced that the balance of probability is 50;50 as Hartley asserts here -- I mean, on a strict understanding of how probability works. I don't know if there's a horse in the staff kitchenette of the Department of English at Royal Holloway. I don't know because I can't see into the kitchenette from where I'm sitting: but the fact of my ignorance does not lift the probability of there actually being a horse in the kitchenette to 50%. Other factors (who would bring a horse there? How would they get it up two flights of stairs? Why would it go into such a small room? and so on) reduce that probability markedly. It's possible that there's a horse in the kitchenette, but it's not as possible as the alternative that there isn't. The interesting thing here is that Hartley leads off with this argument, as if it's his strongest.
Secondly, The subtle nature of sensation, thought, and motion, afford some positive presumptions for a future state. The connection of these with matter, and their dependence on it, are perhaps more fully seen in the foregoing account of vibrations and association, than in any other system that has yet been produced. However, there remains one chasm still, viz. that between sensation, and the material organs, which this theory does not attempt to fill up. An immaterial substance may be required for the simplest sensation; and if so, since it does not appear how this substance can be affected by the dissolution of the gross body at death, it remains probable, that it will subsist after death, i. e. that there will be a suture state. Or if we take the system of the materialists, and suppose matter capable of sensation, and consequently of intellect, ratiocination, affection, and the voluntary power of motion, we must, however, suppose an elementary infinitesimal body in the embryo, capable of vegetating in utero, and of receiving and retaining such a variety of impressions of the external world, as corresponds to all the variety of our sensations, thoughts, and motions; and when the smallness and wonderful powers of this elementary body are considered in this view, it seems to me, that the deposition of the gross crust at death, which was merely instrumental during the whole course of life, is to be looked upon as having no more power to destroy it, than the accretion of this crust had a share in its original existence, and wonderful powers; but, on the contrary, that the elementary body will still subsist, retain its power of vegetating again, and, when it does this, shew what changes have been made in it by the impressions of external objects here; i.e. receive according to the deeds done in the gross body, and reap as it has sowed. Or, if these speculations be thought too refined, we may, however, from the evident instrumentality of the muscles, membranes, bones, &c. to the nervous system, and of one part of this to another, compared with the subtle nature of the principle of sensation, thought, and motion, infer in an obvious and popular, but probable way, that this principle only loses its present instrument of action by death. And the restitution of our mental and voluntary powers, after their cessation or derangement by sleep, apoplexies, maniacal and other disorders, prepares for the more easy conception of the possibility and probability of the same thing after death. As therefore, before we enter upon any disquisitions of this kind, the probability for a future slate is just equal to that against it, i. e. each equal to the fraction 4 ; so it seems, that the first step we take, though it be through regions very faintly illuminated, does, however, turn the scale, in some measure, in favour of a future state; and that, whether the principle of thought and action within us be considered in the most philosophical light to which we can attain, or in an obvious and popular one.
This is another odd one; as if to say 'I have shown in part 1 how consciousness may be produced out of purely material, physical phenomena; but I could be wrong.' Well I guess you could; but isn't this a rather self-defeating way of proceeding? The second paragraph is odder too: 'consciousness ceases at sleep and yet is restored on waking; perhaps death is like that' -- as if dreams and all the physical twitchings of the sleeping person mean that consciousness has ceased (of course it hasn't); or, even if it had, as if that had any necessary connection to what happens at death. What else?
Thirdly, The changes of some animals into a different form, after an apparent death, seem to be a strong argument of the forementioned power of elementary animal bodies; as the growth of vegetables from seeds apparently putrefied is of a like power in elementary vegetable bodies. And all these phænomena, with the renewals of the face of nature, awaking from sleep, recovery from diseases, and seem in the vulgar, most obvious, and most natural way of considering these things, to be hints and presumptions of a life after the extinction of this.
Following on from the former argument: three things are here lumped together. That some viruses or seeds may be deep frozen, perhaps for a long time, and still be viable when thawed out (although Hartley adduces no complex organisms, which he'd have to do if he wanted to suggest a parallel with human beings); that sleep is just like death and that therefore waking up proves we shall live after our death; that getting poorly is just like death, which proves that, since we get better, so shall we 'recover' from death. These latter two are not like the first one; and the last in particular is very weakly argued (since death by definition is the disease from which we don't recover).
Fourthly, The great desire of a future life, with the horror of annihilation, which are observable in a great part of mankind, are presumptions for a future life, and against annihilation. All other appetites and inclinations have adequate objects, prepared for them; it cannot therefore be supposed, that this sum total of them all should go ungratified. And this argument will hold, in some measure, from the mere analogy of nature, though we should not have recourse to the moral attributes of God; but it receives great additional force from considering him as our father and protector.
My young daughter's great desire for a huge unicorn made of glitter to carry her through the sky is, by this logic, proof that such an entity exists. Hartley goes on:
If it be said, that this desire is factitious, and the necessary effect of self-love; I answer, that all our other desires are factitious, and deducible from self-love, also; and that many of those which are gratified, proceed from a self-love of a grosser kind. Besides, self-love is only to be destroyed by, and for the sake of, the love of God, and of our neighbour. Now the ultimate prevalency of these is a still stronger argument for a future life, in which we may first love God, and then our neighbour in and through him.
But the problem with this is not that the desire for an afterlife is selfish, so much as that desire is not a correlative of necessary existence. I desire intensely to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (not for selfish reasons, you understand; in order to do good works with the money). That very specifically doesn't mean it will happen.
Fifthly, The pain which attends the child during its birth or passage into this world, the separation and death of the placenta, by which the child received its nourishment in utero, with other circumstances, resemble what happens at death. Since therefore the child, by means of its birth, enters upon a new scene, has new senses, and, by degrees, intellectual powers of perception, conferred upon it, why may not something analogous to this happen at death? Our ignorance of the manner, in which this is to be effected, is certainly no presumption against it; as all who are aware of the great ignorance of man, will readily allow. Could any being of equal understanding with man, but ignorant of what happens upon birth, judge beforehand that birth was an introduction to a new life, unless he was previously informed of the suitableness of the bodily organs to the external world? Would he not rather conclude, that the child must immediately expire upon so great a change, upon wanting, so many things necessary to his subsistence, and being exposed to so many hazards and impressions apparently unsuitable? And would not the cries of the child confirm him in all this? And thus we may conclude; that our birth was even intended to intimate to us a future life, as well as to introduce us into the present.
'Why may not this be true?' doesn't cancel out 'why should it be true...?' The dissimilarities between a baby being born and an old man dying so massively outweigh the similarities. OK; I'm not very impressed with this reasoning so far.
Sixthly, It would be very dissonant to the other events of life, that death should be the last; that the scene should conclude with suffering. This can scarce be reconciled to the beauty and harmony of the visible world, and to the general prepondency of pleasure over pain, and subserviency of pain to pleasure, before-mentioned. All the evils of life, of which We are judges, contribute some way to improve and perfect us. Shall therefore the last which we see, and the greatest in our apprehensions, quite extinguish our existence? Is it not much more likely, that it will perfect all such as are far advanced, and be a suitable correction and preparatory to the rest ? Upon supposition of a future eternal life, in which, our happiness is to arise from the previous annihilation of ourselves, and from the pure love of God, and of our neighbour, it is easy to see how death may contribute more to our perfection, than any other event of our lives; and this will make it quite analogous to all the others. But that our lives should conclude with a bitter morsel, is such a supposition, as can hardly consist with the benevolence of the Deity, in the most limited sense in which this attribute can be ascribed to him.
'A loving God would not permit us to be born only to die' presupposes the Loving God, which is a cheat, in the present circumstances. But the problem with the reasoning here is that it says nothing about the survival of individual consciousness. Say, as many scientists do, 'DNA is immortal' and is continuing to 'perfect' its various ways for making more DNA and ensuring its continuing immortality.
Seventhly, All that great apparatus for carrying us from body to mind, and from self-love to the pure love of God, which the doctrine of association opens to view, is an argument that these great ends will at last be attained ; and that all the imperfect individuals, who have left this school of benevolence and piety at different periods, will again appear on the stage of a life analogous to this, though greatly different in particular things, in order to resume and complete their several remaining tasks, and to be made happy thereby. If we reason upon the designs of Providence in the most pure and perfect manner, of which our faculties are capable, i.e. according to the most philosophical analogy, we shall be unavoidably led to this conclusion. There are the most evident marks of design in this apparatus, and of power and knowledge without limits every where. What then can hinder the full accomplishment of the purpose designed? The consideration of God's infinite benevolence, compared with the prospect of happiness to result to his creatures from this design, adds great strength to the argument.
'Design' is a non-starter, I'm afraid.  The watchmaker's blind. Bong!
Eighthly, Virtue is, in general, rewarded here, and has the marks of the divine approbation; vice the contrary. And yet, as far as we can judge, this does not always happen; nay, it seems to happen very seldom, that a good man is rewarded here in any exact proportion to his merit, or a vicious man punished exactly according to his demerit. Now these apparent inequalities in the dispensations of Providence, in subordinate particulars, are the strongest argument for a future state, in which God may shew his perfect justice and equity, and the consistency of all his conduct with itself. To suppose virtue in general to be in a suffering state, and vice in a triumphant one, is not only contrary to obvious facts, but would also, as it appears to me, destroy all our reasoning upon the divine conduct. But if the contrary be laid down as the general rule, which is surely the language of scripture, as well as of reason, then the exceptions to this rule, which again both scripture and reason attest, are irrefragable evidences for a future state, in which things will be reduced to a perfect uniformity. Now, if but so much as one eminently good or eminently wicked person can be proved to survive after the passage through the gulph of death, all the rest must be supposed to survive also from natural analogy. The case of martyrs for religion, natural or revealed, deserves a particular consideration here. They cannot be said to receive any reward for that last and greatest act of obedience.
'It would not be fair if the just were punished and the unjust rewarded, as often happens in this life, and no restitution or compensation ever made for this unpleasant fact ...' Where is it established that life is, or must be, fair?
Ninthly, The voice of conscience within a man, accusing or excusing him, from whatever cause it proceeds, supernatural impression, natural instinct, acquired associations, &c. is a presumption, that we shall be called hereafter to a tribunal; and that this voice of conscience is intended to warn and direct us how to prepare ourselves for a trial at that tribunal. This, again, is an argument, which analogy teaches us to draw from the relation in which we stand to God, compared with earthly relations. And it is a farther evidence of the justness of this argument, that all mankind in all ages seem to have been sensible of the force of it.
'My feelings of guilt prove that there must exist, somewhere, a Judge.' Of course, perhaps the judge is, er, me? Isn't that actually a definition of guilt?
Tenthly, The general belief of a future state, which has prevailed in all ages and nations, is an argument of the reality of this future state. And this will appear, whether we consider the efficient or final cause of this general belief. If it arose from patriarchal revelations, it confirms the scriptures, and consequently establishes itself in the manner to be explained under the next proposition. If it arose from the common parents of mankind after the flood, it appears at least to have been an antediluvian tradition. If mankind were led into it by some such reasons and analogies as the foregoing, its being general is a presumption of the justness of these reasons. The truth of the case appears to be, that all these things, and probably some others, concurred (amongst the rest, apparitions of the dead, or the belief of these, dreams of apparitions, and the seeming passage to and from another world during steep, the body being also, as it were, dead at the same time); and that, as the other parts of the simple, pure, patriarchal religion degenerated into superstition and idolatry, so the doctrine of a future state was adulterated with fictions and fables, as we find it among the Greeks and Romans, and other pagan nations.
'Lots of people have believed in an afterlife. It's undemocratic of you to hold a contrary belief.' Can't argue with that.

One more thing: I hadn't realised, til I actually read his book (Priestley's version of Hartley's argument makes much of this too) that he believed in the doctrine of 'soul sleep':
PROP. XC. It seems probable, that the Soul will remain in a State of Inactivity, though perhaps not of Insensibility, from Death to the Resurrection. Some religious persons seem to fear, lest by allowing a state of insensibility to succeed immediately after death, for some hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, the hopes and sears of another world should be lessened. But we may affirm, on the contrary, that they would be increased thereby. For time, being a relative thing, ceases in respect of the soul, when it ceases to think. If therefore we admit of a state of insensibility between death and the resurrection, these two great events will fall upon two contiguous moments of time, and every man enter directly into heaven or hell, as soon as he departs out of this world, which is a most .alarming consideration.
That the foul is reduced to a state of inactivity by the deposition of the gross body, may be conjectured from its entire dependence upon the gross body for powers and faculties, in the manner explained in the foregoing part of this work.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Man Not Fundamentally Different From the Animals, 1775

Browsing eighteenth-century philosophy of mind, and science of mind more generally, it is striking how often one comes upon thoughts that Victorianists like to argue only began being articulated post Darwin.  Here's Priestley's Hartley's Theory of the Human Mind, on the Principle of the Association of Ideas (1775).  The soul is a material function of the brain, not an immaterial 'spirit' somehow attached to a material brain.
It will stagger some persons, that so much of the business of thinking should be made to depend upon mere matter, as the doctrine of vibrations supposes. For, in fact, it leaves nothing to the province of any other principle, except the simple power of perception; so that if it were possible that matter could be endued with this property, immateriality, as far as it has been supposed to belong to man, would be excluded altogether. But I do not know that this supposition need give any concern, except to those who maintain that a future life depends upon the immateriality of the human soul. It will not at all alarm those who found all their hopes of a future existence on the Christian doctrine of a resurrection from the dead.

It has been the opinion of many philosophers, and among others of Mr. Locke, that for any thing that we know to the contrary, a capacity of thinking might be given to matter. Dr. Hartley, however, notwithstanding his hypothesis would be much helped by it, seems to think otherwise. He also supposes that there is an intermediate elementary body between the mind and the gross body; which may exist, and be the instrument of giving pleasure or pain to the sentient principle after death. But I own I see no reason why his scheme should be burdened with such an incumbrance as this.

I am rather inclined to think that, though the subject is beyond our comprehension at present, man does not consist of two principles, so essentially different from one another as matter and spirit, which are always described as having not one common property, by means of which they can affect or act upon each other; the one occupying space, and the other not only not occupying the least imaginable portion of space, but incapable of bearing relation to it; insomuch that, properly speaking, my mind is no-more in my body, than it is in the moon. I rather think that the whole man is of some uniform composition, and that the property of perception, as well as the other powers that are termed mental, is the result (whether necessary or not) of such an organical structure as that of the brain. Consequently, that the whole man becomes extinct at death, and that we have no hope of surviving the grave but what is derived from the scheme of revelation. Our having recourse to an immaterial principle, to account for perception and thought, is only saying in other words, that we do not know in what they consist; for no one will fay that he has any conception how the principle of thought can have any more relation to immateriality than to materiality.

This hypothesis is rather favourable to the notion of such organical systems as plants having some degree of sensation. But at this a benevolent mind will rather rejoice than repine. It also makes the lower animals to differ from us in degree only, and not in kind, which is sufficiently agreeable to appearances; but does not necessarily draw after it the belief of their surviving death, as well as ourselves; this privilege being derived to us by a positive constitution, and depending upon the promise of God, communicated by express revelation to man.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Bowles 1

Let's have a look at some William Lisle Bowles (1762–1850):
He was born at King's Sutton, Northamptonshire, where his father was vicar. At the age of fourteen he entered Winchester College, the headmaster at the time being Dr Joseph Warton. In 1781, Bowles left as captain of the school, and went on to Trinity College, Oxford, where he had won a scholarship. Two years later he won the chancellors prize for Latin verse. In 1789 he published, in a very small quarto volume, Fourteen Sonnets, which were received with extraordinary favour, not only by the general public, but by such men as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Wordsworth. The Sonnets even in form were a revival, a return to an older and purer poetic style, and by their grace of expression, melodious versification, tender tone of feeling and vivid appreciation of the life and beauty of nature, stood out in strong contrast to the elaborated commonplaces which at that time formed the bulk of English poetry. After taking his degree at Oxford, Bowles entered the church, and was appointed in 1792 as vicar of Chicklade in Wiltshire.
Here's the volume; and here's the first.
Bereave me not of these delightful dreams
Which charm'd my youth; or mid her gay career
Of hope, or when the faintly-paining tear
Sat sad on memory's cheek!----though loftier themes
Await the awaken'd mind, to the high prize
Of wisdom, hardly earn'd with toil and pain,
Aspiring patient; yet on life's wide plain
Cast friendless, where unheard some suffrer cries
Hourly, and oft our road is lone and long,
'Twere not a crime, should we awhile delay
Amid the sunny field; and happier they,
Who, as they wander, woo the charm of song
To cheer their path, till they forget to weep;
And the tired sense is hush'd and sinks to sleep.
Here's Bowles' short preface:
The following Trifles were chiefly suggested by some Picturesque Objects which presented themselves to the Author in a Tour to the Northern Parts of this Islands and on the Continent. They were before committed too hastily to the Press; but the favourable Reception which they experienced, has induced him to revise them, and, with the Addition of a few more, to make them less unworthy of the Publick Eye.

It having been said that these Pieces were written in Imitation of the little Poems of Mrs. Smyth, the Author hopes be may be excused adding, that many of them were written prior to Mrs. Smyth's Publication. He is conscious of their great Inferiority to those beautiful and elegant Compositions; but, such as they are, they were certainly written from his own Feelings.
So: the feeling is certainly there, if a tad too decorously restrained ('faintly-paining tear') for modern tastes, perhaps. But the first thing that strikes me about this sonnet is its Empsonian ambiguity of phrasing. 'hardly earn'd with toil and pain' presumably means 'strenuously earn'd with toil and pain', but flirts with 'barely earned'; the 'patient' of 'Aspiring patient' could be either noun or adverb (presumably it's the latter) and the 'sense' referred to in the last line ('And the tired sense is hush'd and sinks to sleep') could be the senses of the poet, or the singers on the road, or the sense contained in the song, worn out by endless repetition.

Now, I'm not sure I see that this sort of ambiguity serves the larger thrust of the poem.  Indeed it's not immediately obvious what that larger thrust is. The sonnet is addressed 'To A Friend'; it is presumably that friend who is proposing to 'bereave' the speaker of his youthful dreams ('Grow up, Bowles! Concentrate on loftier matters!'). In generic sense, I guess, this is 'pastoral' as opposed to 'epic' poetry; or rural ballads as opposed to scientific and philosophical enquiry. But the same poem that starts with an imperative not to be bereaved ends with a celebration of the ways in which is is good to be bereaved -- to, in other words, be distracted from one's sadness. And the central lines around which the poem hinges -- from the implied urging of the 'friend' to abandon this youthful stuff, to the statement of its existentially analgesic worth -- happens with some lines that are just baffling. 'Unheard some suffrer cries/Hourly'; if he's unheard then how do we know he's suffering? (If a suffrer falls in the forest and nobody's is there  to hear him ...). 'Oft our road is lone and long,' -- but you're not lone; you're specifically addressing this poem to a friend.

These semantic tangles seems to me expressive of a deeper uncertainty. The poem itself is genuinely being pulled in two directions: foreward into a grander future, and backwards (the old-fashioned, small-scale sonnet) into a local, rural, sentimental past.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Alph the Sacred River

From 'Kubla Khan', of course. Ted Hughes, in his brilliant and batty introduction to his Selection of Coleridge's verse, dilates upon his theory that the 'alph' here is the letter, and short for 'the alphabet' as a whole, and that the reference to 'alph, the sacred river' is STC's way of invoking poetry itself as flowing from this exotic source. (This is not a theory original to Hughes, of course; although it was there that I personally first encountered it).

Now, this is a bit of Coleridgeana that is arcane even by my standards (and, as this blog has shown over the last few weeks, I'm no stranger to abstruse Coleridge references), but in the light of this notion, I mention only this: that Johann Albert Salmon describes John Chrysostom’s writings as flumen sanctus eloquentiae, ‘a sacred river of eloquence’ [Johannes Albertus Salmon, Apologeticum Tentamen (1788), 44]. Might Coleridge have seen the phrase there? 'Kubla' is a poem uttered from a golden mouth, if ever poem was.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Five WWI couplets

1. The Origins of the First World War

These treaty-networks were not pertinent
Until some bugger capped Franz Ferdinand.

2: Two couplets on John Parr

The posh voice says: 'our first fight was at Mons.
That cyclist fellow raly had no chance.'

August '14 a rifle stops John Parr.
Late '18 says: 'how far we've come! How far!'

3. The Battle of the Somme

The god of war came to the Somme;
He looked, and said ‘OM NOM NOM NOM’


The most dead, greatest harm and fullest hate:
It's no coincidence this war's called great.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Coleridge quotes Jeremy Taylor

Well, this is just sloppy work by scholars and editors.  In a footnote to chapter 5 of the Biographia, Coleridge quotes a passage from Jeremy Taylor (1613-67), specifically from his ‘Sermon XXXVII: ‘The Mercy of the Divine Judgments; or, God’s Method in Curing Sinners’ [originally published in Twenty-five Sermons (1653)]. This is what Coleridge writes:
The reader will not be displeased with the following interesting exemplification from Bishop Jeremy Taylor. "St. Lewis the King sent Ivo Bishop of Chartres on an embassy, and he told, that he met a grave and stately matron on the way with a censer of fire in one band, and a vessel of water in the other; and observing her to have a melancholy, religious, and phantastic deportment and look, he asked her what those symbols meant, and what she meant to do with her fire and water; she answered, My purpose is with the fire to burn paradise, and with my water to quench the flames of hell, that men may serve God purely for the love of God. But we rarely meet with such spirits which love virtue so metaphysically as to abstract her from all sensible compositions, and love the purity of the idea."
Here's what Nigel Leask says:
Adapted from Jeremy Taylor's Sermons Preached at Golden Grove, XII (1688), but the last sentence seems to be Coleridge's own. [379]
Let's not blame Leask; all he's doing is copying the information from Engell and Bates's standard Princeton Univ. Press's edition. But this is all wrong.  Some of it is wrong in a silly way (quoting from a sermon supposedly delivered more than twenty years after Taylor died).  Some of it is wrong in a slapdash way. The ‘But we rarely meet with such spirits … love the purity of the idea’ sentence is assumed to be Coleridge's own composition, since it doesn't follow the ' of God' sentence in Taylor's original.  That Coleridge made this bit of his quotation up is a notion I've seen repeated blithely in secondary criticism. But it's not Coleridge's sentence, it's Taylor's. I'm now going to quote the original passage. See if you can spot the rogue sentence. Pay attention, now:
But we rarely meet with such spirits which love virtue so metaphysically as to abstract her from all sensible and delicious compositions, and love the purity of the idea. St. Lewis the king sent Ivo bishop of Chartres, on an embassy, the bishop met a woman on the way, grave, sad, fantastic and melancholic, with fire in one band, and water in the other. He asked her what those symbols meant. She answered, My purpose is with the fire to burn paradise, and with my water to quench the flames of hell, that men may serve God without the incentives of hope and fear, and purely for the love of God.
That's right! It's at the beginning of the passage! The fact that Coleridge has reordered the order of these sentences has completely bamboozled Coleridge scholarship!  This does not reflect glory upon Coleridge scholarship.

More interesting, I think, is just how flowery Coleridge, via misty remembrance or deliberate craft, renders Taylor's plainer prose in quotation.  It's a means, formerly, of embodying his point about the sensible and the delicious.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Canning's Elegy for his Son, 1820

Canning had been a minister in Pitt's and Castlereigh's cabinet throughout the early years of the 19th-century, but he withdrew himself to Paris (tried to resign, in fact, but was unable) over Queen Caroline's trial. Whilst he was there his son George died at the brutally premature age of 19. Canning wrote the following elegy:
Though short thy span, God's unimpeach'd decrees,
Which made that shorten'd span one long disease,
Yet merciful in chastening, gave thee scope
For mild, redeeming virtues, Faith and Hope;
Meek Resignation; pious Charity
And, since this world was not the world for thee,
Far from thy path removed, with partial care,
Strife, Glory, Gain, and Pleasure's flowery snare,
Bade Earth's temptations pass thee harmless by,
And fix'd on Heaven thine unadverted eye!
Oh! mark'd from birth, and nurtur'd for the skies!
In youth, with more than learning's wisdom, wise!
As sainted martyrs, patient to endure!
Simple as unweari'd infancy and pure!
Pure from all stain (save that of human clay,
Which Christ's atoning blood hath wash'd away!)
By mortal sufferings now no more oppress'd,
Mount sinless Spirit, to thy destined rest!
While I—reversed our nature's kindlier doom
Pour forth a father's sorrows on thy tomb.
It's touching stuff; an effect only slightly diminished by the reflection that Canning has nicked the final image from Burke's Letter to a Noble Lord (1796), where he [Burke, that is] talks of the loss of his own son, Richard: 'I live in an inverted order. They who ought to have succeeded me are gone before me. They who should have been to me a posterity are in the place of ancestors. I owe to the dearest relation (which ever must subsist in memory) that act of piety, which he would have performed to me.'

Canning writes a 20-line poem to memorialise the death of his 19-year old son; which makes the last, 20th line (on the father's grief) in a manner of speaking doubly posthumously framed -- a formal embodiment of the belatedness out of which any elegy is composed.

He served as Prime Minister for the last few months of his life, in 1827.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Back to Coleridge: rem credimus, modum nescimus

No getting away from this at the moment.  I was looking through Coleridge's marginalia on Donne [in George Whalley (ed), Coleridge, Marginalia II: Camden to Hutton (Princeton Univ. Press 1984), 281], where STC annotates the following passage from Donne's Sermon IV (on Luke 2:2-30)
When thou commest to this seale of thy peace, the Sacrament, pray that God will give thee that light, that may direct and establish thee, in necessary and fundamental! things; that is, the light of faith to see, that the Body and Bloud of Christ, is applied to thee, in that action; But for the manner, how the Body and Bloud of Christ is there, wait his leisure, if he have not yet manifested that to thee: Grieve not at that, wonder not at that, presse not for that; for hee hath not manifested that, not the way, not the manner of the presence in the Sacrament, to the Church to starve.
STC writes: 'O! I have ever felt & for many years thought, that this rem credimus, modum nescimus, is but a poor evasion. It is a seems to me an attempt so to admit an irrational proposition as to have the credit of denying it.' Whalley translates the Latin phrase: 'We believe what is done, but we do not know how it is done'.  He notes that 'C. also used it in [ie., the marginalia upon] Jeremy TAYLOR, Polemicall Discourses i.227' (he might have added: he uses it in a marginalium upon Sherlock too).  But he cannot locate the Latin: 'the source of the Latin phrase is not traced.'

Well, I traced it.  In fact, it is from Dalmatian cleric Marco Antonio Dominis (1560–1624).  I came across it, as it were, second hand:
Absurdè dicitur: Rem credimus, modum nescimus. Nam verba materialia non sunt res ipsa, quae creditur. [Adrian van Walenburch and Peter van Walenburch, De articulis fidei necessariis, essentialibus, seu fundamentalibus (1666), 246]
'It is absurd to say We believe what is done, but we do not know how it is done; for the words describing material things are not the things themselves, which is what is believed.' This is the Bavarian (Catholic) Van Walenburch brothers  attacking the writing of 'Marcus Antonius de Dominis, Archbishop of Spalatro' -- famous in his day for being a Catholic who had come to England and converted to Protestantism. It is Marcus Antonius who says 'rem igitur credimus, modum nescimus' [De republica ecclesiastica 7:12, p.320], which the van Walenburchs here mock. The specific thing that prompts Marcus Antonius' reflection is the story of Christ's descent into hell: we're not sure of the specifics of this voyage, he says, but we believe it nonetheless: 'Non enim certum habemus, eam particulam Symboli Apostolici, qua descensum Christi ad inferos fatetir … rem igitur credimus, modum nescimus.'

Here is an account of the Archbishop's career from The Monthly Review [48 (1805), 333] which Coleridge may have seen:
The most extraordinary character noticed in the biography [An Historical and Descriptive Account of the Royal Hospital and the Royal Military Asylum at Chelsea] is that of the Archbishop of Spalatro, who was admitted a Member of this College by the King's Letters patent in 1622: "Marcus Antonius de Dominis, Archbishop of Spalatro, came over to England in 1616, and professed the protestant religion, asserting that he had discovered various errors in the tenets of the church of Rome, and published his work, De Republica Ecclesiastica: his powers of disputation were strong and acute, his society much courted by the learned and the great, and his sermons attractive and greatly admired. Fuller, who is virulent in his abuse of him, says, that his sole object in coming to England was the attainment of wealth and preferment. King James gave him, soon after his arrival, the deanery of Windsor, the rich living of Illesley, in Berkshire, and made him master of the Savoy. With these, however, he was not contented; but upon the report of the death of Toby Matthew, Archbishop of York, he solicited the king for the vacant archbishoprick; this being refused, he made application for leave to retire to Rome. After much, deliberation, he was ordered to quit the kingdom in twenty days, as he had been found guilty of holding a secret correspondence with the pope, without the king's knowledge. After living some time in poverty and obscurity at Rome, on a small pension allowed him by Pope Gregory XV. he died there in 1625, and his body was afterwards publicly burnt for heresy. Fuller sums up his character with observing—" that he had too much wit and learning to be a cordial papist, and too little honesty and religion to be a sincere protestant."
Bonus interesting fact: De Dominis is lampooned in Thomas Middleton's 1624 play A Game at Chess as the 'Fat Bishop of Spalato' who changes faiths whenever it suits him.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

If I were to write a children's book, I know what I would call it

We watch our kids. We do so because we have been acculturated to worry about them, to be alarmed on their behalf -- which is to say, we watch them because we love them, and we want to keep them safe.  We watch them assiduously, tenderly, right up to the moment (at school or nursery drop-off) when we hand them over to CRB-checked professionals who will watch over them on our behalf.  And kids need to know that they are loved; that's vitally important.  And kids like the knowledge that somebody who loves them is looking out for them.  But kids need other things too, and some of those things aren't compatible with our wrap-them-in-cotton-wool surveillance.  Kids need, sometimes, to go off on their own. Kids need a time and a place in which they know they are not being watched.  If I were to write a children's book, I know what I would call it: The Secret Places.

Monday, 5 November 2012


Painfully famous, of course:

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white
It was on the radio last night, and listening to it I found myself thinking: depends is clever, though. Our first instinct is to read it as an abstraction, a way of saying that the barrow, chickens and water are important and so on.  But, you know: no ideas but in things. As a thing rather than an idea 'dependence' means something dangling or hanging down.  And nothing in this poem does that; instead everything stands upon the ground (or in the case of the rainwater, stands upon the wheelbarrow which stands upon the ground). What thing, then is hanging down in this poem?  Rain sometimes looks as though it is depending from the sky, although in fact it is in free fall.  The motion from above to below, the rain falling, and just after.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Latin for Twitter

It's tuitō, 'I tweet', or 'I use twitter'.  It conjugates like this:

Present Indicative





Present subjunctive




Saturday, 3 November 2012

On the Change in Internet Naming Conventions

We used to speak the internet aloud
By saying the full www.
But now .com's enough to ping the cloud:
That first part needn't trouble you, trouble you, trouble you.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Yet further BL trivia: spotty

Last time this week, I promise. What does Nigel Leask say about this reference in chapter 4 of the Biographia?
Among those, whose candour and judgment I estimate highly, I distinctly remember six who expressed their objections to the Lyrical Ballads almost in the same words, and altogether to the same purport, at the same time admitting, that several of the poems had given them great pleasure; and, strange as it might seem, the composition which one cited as execrable, another quoted as his favourite. I am indeed convinced in my own mind, that could the same experiment have been tried with these volumes, as was made in the well known story of the picture, the result would have been the same; the parts which had been covered by black spots on the one day, would be found equally albo lapide notatæ on the succeeding.
Well, this is Leask says: 'the "well known story" is untraced, but Coleridge refers to the Roman use of white and black stones to mark favourable and unfavourable days.' No, Coleridge doesn't.  It's true that lapis means 'stone', but it also means a landmark, a mark or a spot: 'albo lapide notatæ' means, in this context, ‘distinguished by white spots’ (as opposed to the black spots mentioned earlier).

In fact, Coleridge does not mean a specific picture; he is referring to recent developments in the science of retinal optics. He may for instance have read the entry on ‘Retention’ in Nicholson’s British Encyclopedia: ‘Place about half an inch square of white paper on a black hat, and looking steadily on the centre of it for a minute, remove your eyes to a sheet of white paper ; after a second or two a dark square will be seen on the white paper, which will he seen for some time. … Again, make with ink, on white paper, a very black spot, about half an inch in diameter, with a tail about an inch in length, so as to represent a tadpole. Look steadily at this spot for about a minute, and on moving the eye a little, the figure of the tadpole will be seen on the white part of the paper, which figure will appear whiter or more luminous than the other part of the paper. This Dr. R. Darwin brings as one proof, that when the retina has been subjected to a less excitement, it is more easily brought into action by being subjected to a greater. A surface appears black in consequence of its absorbing all the rays of light; that part of the retina, therefore, which is unemployed while looking at the spot, is afterwards more sensible of the light from the white paper. than those parts which had previously been exposed to it.’ [‘Retention’, William Nicholson, British Encylopedia (6 vols, 1809), 5:450].

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Further Trivia Biographiae Literariae

I'm strangely pleased with this, something nobody previously has been able to trace. Chapter 4 of the Biographia includes this footnote:
In opinions of long continuance, and in which we have never before been molested by a single doubt, to be suddenly convinced of an error, is almost like being convicted of a fault. There is a state of mind, which is the direct antithesis of that, which takes place when we make a bull. The bull namely consists in the bringing her two incompatible thoughts, with the sensation, but without the sense, of their connection. The psychological condition, or that which constitutes the possibility, of this state, being such disproportionate vividness of two distant thoughts, as extinguishes or obscures the consciousness of the intermediate images or conceptions, or wholly abstracts the attention from them. Thus in the well known bull, ‘I was a fine child, but they changed me:’ the first conception expressed in the word ‘I,’ is that of personal identity—Ego contemplans: the second expressed in the word ‘me,’ is the visual image or object by which the mind represents to itself its past condition, or rather, its personal identity under the form in which it imagined itself previously to have existed,—Ego contemplatus. Now the change of one visual image for another involves in itself no absurdity, and becomes absurd only by its immediate juxta-position with the fast thought, which is rendered possible by the whole attention being successively absorbed to each singly, so as not to notice the interjacent notion, changed, which by its incongruity, with the first thought, I, constitutes the bull. Add only, that this process is facilitated by the circumstance of the words ‘I’, and ‘me’, being sometimes equivalent, and sometimes having a distinct meaning; sometimes, namely, signifying the act of self-consciousness, sometimes the external image in and by which the mind represents that act to itself, the result and symbol of its individuality. Now suppose the direct contrary state, and you will have a distinct sense of the connection between two conceptions, without that sensation of such connection which is supplied by habit. The man feels as if he were standing on his head though he cannot but see that he is truly standing on his feet. This, as a painful sensation, will of course have a tendency to associate itself with him who occasions it; even as persons, who have been by painful means restored from derangement, are known to feel an involuntary dislike towards their physician.’
Now, making a bull’ (also called ‘making an Irish bull’) meant uttering, without realising your own illogicality, an incongruent or ludicrous statement. The derivation of the phrase is unclear, but may be related to the Middle English sense of ‘bull’ as a verb meaning ‘befool, mock, or cheat’. The phrase in this sense was first used of Irish politician Boyd Roche (1736-1807), who is reputed to have said during parliamentary debate: ‘Why we should put ourselves out of our way to do anything for posterity, for what has posterity ever done for us?’ Coleridge was particularly fascinated by bulls (in this sense); there are multiple discussions of the phenomenon in his notebooks.

Now this is the new thing, that nobody spotted before: the source of ‘the well known bull, I was a fine child, but they changed me.’ Coleridge found this phrase in James Gregory’s ‘A Dissertation on Bulls’, in Philosophical and Literary Essays (2 vols 1792)—although Coleridge may have come across it not in the published volume, but in The Universal Magazine 91 (1792), 105-06, where this particular essay was excerpted. Gregory gives several examples of ‘bulls'.
We hear and read of many wonderful bulls of the truly practical kind, altogether independent of language, and plainly founded in thought alone; such as, sending express for a physician to come without delay to a patient who was in the utmost danger, and telling the doctor, in a postscript of the letter addressed and actually sent to him, not to come, as the patient was already almost well again; or observing gravely, when this story was told, that it was right to add such a postscript, as it saved the sending another express to countermand the doc tor; or inclosing a thin sixpence in a snuff-box, that it might not be again to seek when it was wanted to open the box, the lid of which was stiff; or realising Hogarth's ingenious emblem, in one of his election-prints, by cutting away close to the tree the bough on which the person who cut it sat himself; which I once saw successfully performed; and, for the honour of my own country, I must say that it was in Scotand, and by a Scotchman, who narrowly escaped breaking his neck by so doing.
... before concluding with what he calls ‘the maximum of bulls, and instar omnium [representative of the whole]’:
A gentleman, when his old nurse came begging to him, harshly refusing her any relief, and driving her away from his door with reproaches, as having been his greatest enemy, telling her that he was assured he had been a fine healthy child till she got him to nurse, when she had changed him for a puny sickly child of her own. If I am rightly informed, France has the honour of having produced this immense and unparalleled bull; which is indeed perfectum expletumque omnibus suis numeris et partibus [‘perfect in all its details and emblematic of the larger whole; Cicero De natura deorum 2:13], and perfect of its kind.
It's almost too exciting! It’s clear from this that Coleridge’s ‘I was a fine child, but they changed me’ means: I was a healthy child but then I was physically replaced by a sickly changeling’, rather than (as I have sometimes seen in critical discussion of the passage) ‘I was a fine child but childhood, or "they", altered me for the worse’.