Thursday, 24 December 2015

Maximum Recluse



Seems otiose, penning a 'round-up of 2015' post for a blog such as this, however common such round-ups appear to be in Blogdom today. Still, I suppose I could jot a few things down, state-of-the-union-wise, where my Coleridge dabblings are concerned.

So: EUP published my Biographia Literaria edition in 2014. I've spent much of 2015, when I wasn't doing other things, putting together a follow-up edition of Coleridge's Lectures on Shakespeare, and much of this blog has been involved in detailing my progress, as an online jotting-pad and notebook as well as a place for the trying-out of various ideas and passages. I also did some other things here, including readings of various Coleridge poems. The most notable of this latter kind of post are:

'Kubla Khan': What Happens Next?

Is this a previously-undiscovered Coleridge poem? (Spoiler: almost certainly not)

'Recollections of Love' (written 1808-17, published 1817)

The Latin 'Ad Vilmum Axiologum' (1807): Sex, Betrayal and Ariosto. Quite a combo.

Nocte Gelu: 'Frost at Midnight' and Genesis 31.

'When absent soon to meet again' (1810)

Some thoughts on 'Christabel'

Coleridge's Epitaph.

And a couple more posts on neo-Latin poetry: this one on Coleridge's reaction to the 'Ode on the Eucharist' 

... and this one, on Coleridge's 'Verecundia' poem.


So where have we got to? Well, I now have the whole Lectures on Shakespeare, text plus introduction, more or less finished; which is good news since the end of the month is when the press expect delivery of the TS. Just a couple more runs-through for polishing, typo-spotting and so on, and we're done.

So what next? Well, my conversations with the Press have involved three future titles in this series, although how many of them see the light of day depends on several factors (not least, EUP's willingness to continue publishing volumes of Coleridge, which in turn will depend upon how well these two are received critically, and how well they sell). The three are editions of Aids to Reflection, On The Constitution of Church and State and Poems. I've also floated the notion, though tentatively, of an edition of The Friend: tentatively because this would be both big (and so expensive to publish) and of limited popular appeal, I think. Of course, Aids to Reflection, though it was STC's single most popular volume through the 19th-Century, is of fairly limited readerly reach today; and much though I'd like to edit it, the Press may be cautious about greenlighting that one. We'll see. I hate to get pushy, but it would help me enormously if you could see your way to ordering copies of these two books—I mean the Biographia ed, and the forthcoming Lectures on Shakespeare volume—for your University, College or even Public Library. I say so not because it will benefit me financially (really, it won't) but because it'll make it easier for the Press to continue with the whole series.

And looking beyond that, there are two projects I'd really quite like to undertake, which I'm going to dub Thing 1 and Thing 2, not least because of their capacity for playfully and creatively upending my life for quite a stretch of time, a prospect I contemplate somewhere between 'I'm the goldfish in the bowl' and 'I'm the Cat in the Hat'. So, Thing 1 would be: to produce a ‘completed’ version of Coleridge’s Logosophia, his 'Opus Maximum'.



I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what that is (so please indulge my mansplaining): Coleridge referred many times to his big book, his life's work, which was to sum-up and express in a single place the whole of his thought about God and art and philosophy. He worked on this off and on through the last three decades of his life, under various titles: ‘Logosophia’, ‘Assertion of Religion’; ‘The Great Work’, ‘Magnum Opus’, ‘Opus Maximum’. He never finished it, although at his death he left a great quantity of draft material relating to it, with more that can be extracted from his Notebooks, conversation and his other works (especially the Biographia Literaria, a work which Coleridge several times describes only a ‘vestibule’ or preliminary work to the Logosophia). There was talk of Henry Nelson Coleridge completing and publishing the Logosophia in the years after STC’s death, but that came to nothing. In fact, the first publication of any of this material was Thomas McFarland’s 2002 edition for the Princeton Collected Coleridge under the ‘Opus Maximum’ title.

McFarland's volume really is an extraordinary scholarly achievement; though even its most fervent admirers would, surely, not deny that it makes for hard reading. Partly this is because McFarland is so scrupulous about recording the scrappy MS jottings as they have come down to us, complete with crossings out and variants and so on. But then, after all, it is unfinished. At any rate, the passages as presented in this 2002 version hardly cohere at all.

So what I would like to do is bring together a titivated version of this material with relevant stuff from Notebooks and Marginalia etc. to produce a ‘finished’ or at least plausibly stitched-together book, something readable and coherent and that did the things Coleridge hoped the project would do; and publish it together with an introduction contextualising the whole undertaking and summing up Coleridge’s prose. It would be a synthetic exercise, in several senses of that word, but, I think, a valuable one nonetheless.

This, though it looks dangerously hubristic (I know, I know), is positively small-scale compared to Thing 2. And yet, Thing 2 is the one that refuses to let-go its claws from my imagination. It is: to produce a completed edition of Wordsworth's The Recluse. Now, the odds of me ever doing this are small, and the odds of a reputable publisher agreeing to put it out smaller; but I have to say it doesn't seem to me altogether a forlorn hope. After all, we have somewhere between a third and a half of the actual Recluse, and quite a good idea of how Wordsworth wanted it completed: man, nature and society, three parts. 'Home at Grasmere' would kick us off, in Spring; The Excursion would fill the middle slot, with Summer. Clearly the final section, on 'society' would begin in Winter. Wordsworth talked about the whole as a 'Gothic church', with The Prelude as the 'ante-chapel' or 'portico'; that gives us a sense of the architectonics of the whole. I'm confident I could rustle up convincing-enough pastiche-Wordsworthian blank verse, and would enjoy doing so.



That's Kenneth Johnston's diagrammatic representation of Wordsworth's unfinished epic, from Stephen Gill's very good Cambridge Companion to Wordsworth (1999).

Wait a moment, though. Perhaps this project isn't as insane as it first appears. The point of the exercise would not be produce the 'actual' final version of The Recluse, of course; that would indeed be foolish thing to suggest. And I'm not daft enough to assume people are interested in reading my pseudo-Wordsworthian blank verse for its own sake. The point, from a scholarly and critical perspective, would be twofold. One would be to challenge the notion that fragmentariness is somehow integral to The Recluse as a work of art, the sense often expressed by critics that this epic was not only unfinished but unfinishable. I don't think that's right, and I'd like to argue the case contra the critical 'apotheosis of the fragment' as the essence of Romanticism. And secondarily, related to that: there could be merit less in the exercise of 'completing' The Recluse, and more in the critical self-reflection of somebody engaged in such an exercise. That might open new avenues, hermeneutically and critically, into Wordsworth's life's-work, don't you think?

No?

Ah well. You're probably right. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

'National Independence: A Latin Fragment' (1814) Not An Original Coleridge Poem



Hold the front page!  A brief pendant to my previous post, and not really any less dull. J C C Mays includes this 8-line Latin poem in his edition of the Collected Poems, as you can see above, under the title 'National Independence: A Latin Fragment'. It was written in one of STC's Notebooks in 1814, and not reprinted in his life.

The thing is (a) this is not by Coleridge, and (b) when you compare it with the original you can see that it hasn't been transcribed properly from STC's Notebook ('ullum' in that first line should be 'unum'). Lines 1-2
Dignius an vates alios exercuit unum
Femineae virtutis opus?
are from Claudian's Laus Serenae 30: 11-12; they mean 'Did ever the single theme of woman's worth more fitly stir other bards?' The middle section:
Tibi mutua laudes,
Armipotens Virgo, patriae dilecta Deoque,
Tradit Posteritas, semel et succumbere Gallis,
Te victrice, juvat meliores clade Britannos.
is stitched together from various bits and pieces: 'tibi mutua laudes' is Tibullus (Elegies, 3:28); 'te victrice' is also Tibullus (Elegies 7:7); 'patriae dilecta' is a Neo-Latin commonplace, and is also in Claudian's In Rufinum (2:95); the reference to Britannia plays on Claudian's Panegyricus Dictus Manlio Theodoro Consuli, 51 and so on. (The lines mean: 'you are honoured by all and sundry, Armed-and-powerful Virgin, loved both by your country and by God, and all rejoice that the British once yielded to France before your victorious banners, made better by their defeat'). The last three lines are from Claudian's Panegyricus de Quarto Consulatu Honorii Augusti ('Panegyric on the Fourth Consulship of the Emperor Honorius'), 98-100:
Illi iustitiam confirmavere triumphi,
Praesentes docuere deos. hinc saecula discant
Indomitum nihil esse pio tutumve nocenti:
This means 'It was those triumphs that set Justice on her throne and taught us all that divine help will be forthcoming. From such victories let the after-ages learn that virtue need fear no enemy and that there is no safe-place for the guilty'. So there you have it: Coleridge's very own Frankenstein poem.

Scandal!




At some point in 1814 Coleridge wrote that word—scandal— in his notebook, and followed it up with the following Latin verses:
——gravior terras infestat Echidna
Cum sua vipereæ jaculantur toxica linguæ
Atque homini fit homo serpens; O prodiga culpae
Germina, naturaeque utero fatalia monstra!
Queis nimis innocuo volupe est in sanguine rictus
Tingere, fratemasque fibras, cognataque pasci
Viscera, et arrosae deglubere funera famoe;
Quae morum ista lues? [Notebooks, 4201]
Coburn's edition notes 'the Latin verses are untraced', but also records that they are not original to Coleridge. He found them in Jeremy Taylor's The Worthy Communicant (1674) 4:3, where they are quoted as part of the chapter 'Of Speaking Good of our Neighbours'. The Latin means:
... a heavier burden than this infests the Earth, Echidna,
When you all shoot poison into your own language
And man is snake to man; oh an egregious fault
Germinates, monstrous portents from the womb of nature!
Who takes easy pleasure with the blood of the innocent
Dyed red with it, the fraternal flesh, the ancestral farmhouse
Viscera chewed, skin flayed off, reputation murdered;
What is the moral of this plague?
So: neither editors of Coleridge nor editors of Taylor seem to know where this is quoted from. It's certainly tricky. My hunch is: it's from Boninus Mombrizius' (fairly loose and moralising) Latin verse translation of Hesiod's Theogony, from 1474; though since Mombrizius text doesn't seem to be online, it'll take me a little longer than usual to check. The original Greek runs as follows (in the Project Perseus translation):
And in a hollow cave she bore another monster, irresistible, in no wise like either to mortal men or to the undying gods, even the goddess fierce Echidna who is half a nymph with glancing eyes and fair cheeks, and half again a huge snake, great and awful, with speckled skin, eating raw flesh beneath the secret parts of the holy earth. And there she has a cave deep down under a hollow rock far from the deathless gods and mortal men. There, then, did the gods appoint her a glorious house to dwell in: and she keeps guard in Arima beneath the earth, grim Echidna, a nymph who dies not nor grows old all her days. [Theogony, 299-306]
More relevant (since STC almost certainly didn't know the original source of the lines, and merely copied them out of his edition of Taylor) is the context in the The Worthy Communicant itself. The lines are pendant to the following passage:
God opens His mouth and His heart and His bowels, His bosom and His treasures to us in this holy sacrament, and calls to us to draw water as from a river; and can we come to drink of the pleasant streams that we may have only moisture enough to talk much and long against the honour of our brother or our sister? can it be imagined that Christ, who never spake an ill word, should take thee into His arms, and feast thee at His table, and dwell in thy heart, and lodge thee in His bosom, who makest thyself all one with the devil, whose office and work it is to be an accuser of the brethren? No, Christ never will feast serpents at His table', persons who have stings instead of tongues, and venom in all the moisture of their mouth, and reproach is all their language.
Did the passage, or more pointedly the Latin verse, catch STC's eye because he felt some particular woman had been bad mouthing him? The next entry in the Notebooks [4202] consists of speculative title-pages for a proposed long-poem: The National Independence, or the Vision of the Maid of Orleans: a Vision, under which STC wrote out one Latin epigraph (from 'Poetae hades Vinculis', a poet bound in hell), crossed that out, then wrote another passage from Claudian, and crossed that out too.


The three lines of Claudian mean 'It was those triumphs that set Justice on her throne and taught us all that divine help will be forthcoming. From such victories let the after-ages learn that virtue need fear no enemy and that there is no safe-place for the guilty'. They are from the Panegyricus de Quarto Consulatu Honorii Augusti ('Panegyric on the Fourth Consulship of the Emperor Honorius'), 98-100: Latin text of the whole poem here, and English translation, via Loeb, here. The 'Poet Bound in Hell' lines have been assumed by some critics to be by Coleridge himself, but actually they're from a Latin poem called the Laudes Herculis, once thought to have been written by Claudian, but by 1814 not considered part of the Claudian canon ('To most of the editions is subjoined a spurious poem, intitled Laudes Herculis, written in a strain of respectable mediocrity, but unlike Claudian in all respects'; 'Of Claudian', The Classical Journal 30 (1814), 13). Hence STC's invented pseudonym. (The actual pseudo-Claudian passage begins at the emicat omnis/In laudes mox turba tuas, longoque relicta...; the Coelitus afflatu, o Virgo armigera—is, I think, Coleridge's own addition, to bring a passage originally in praise of Hercules into line with a vision of Joan of Arc). The Latin there means: 'Inspired by the heavens as you are, Virgin-Warrior—the people leap up in praise of you, running over the same fields that have been so long neglected through fear; they rejoice to see the land free again, their homes defended again from the enemy, the woods available to their flocks, and meadows now free from lamentation.'

The 'Scandal!' lines hardly fit with these other two, in tone or content, so I suppose he jotted them in his Notebook because they struck him for some other reason.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Coleridge's Checklist for Ineffective Lecturing



I'm closing down on the deadline by which my edition of Coleridge's Lectures on Shakespeare has to go off to the press, and accordingly I've been trying to wrangle my intro into acceptable shape. Now, one of the main issues with which I have to deal where Coleridge's lectures are concerned is how unlike 'lectures' in the generally accepted sense of that word they are. I lecture for a living. My own education (last century, as an undergrad) entailed attending many lectures. I share with the rest of whatever constituency exists for Coleridge's prose writings—a constituency made-up, I would guess, almost entirely of professional academics and their students—a sense of what a good lecture is: a degree of comprehensiveness; a coherent structure; an accessible and engaging delivery in which key points are reinforced by the redundancy of varied repetition; supported by paratextual material such as handouts and powerpoint displays. From a very great number of guides as to what constitutes effective lecturing, I select one, pretty much at random—Stanford's ‘Teaching Commons’ Resources page, according to which the lecturer should amongst other things do the following:
Outline clear objectives for your lecture—both what students should know after the lecture and why it is important.

Develop a lecture outline and any audiovisuals.

Limit the main points in a lecture to five or fewer.

Create effective visuals, analogies, demonstrations, and examples to reinforce the main points.

Share your outline with students.

Emphasize your objectives and key points in the beginning, as you get to them, and as a summary at the end.

Integrate visuals, multimedia, discussion, active learning strategies, small-group techniques, and peer instruction.

Plan for diverse learners. Use verbal, visual, and kinesthetic approaches such as hands-on exercises and simulations.
Good advice, all; but a checklist of pretty much all the things Coleridge does not do in his Shakespeare lectures. His lectures on Hamlet and the Tempest do not provide an overview of the plays, do not situate either in its time or in a broader critical debate, do not work methodically through a small number of closely related points. Instead Coleridge isolates a few key scenes or speeches, almost always in these lectures from the opening Acts, and expatiates upon a series of sometimes only obliquely connected points related to them.

So: a fundamentally immethodical lecturer? You wouldn't be the first person to say so.
When Henry Crabb Robinson wrote that Coleridge's ‘pretended lectures are immethodical rhapsodies, moral, metaphysical, and literary, abounding in brilliant thoughts, fine flashes of rhetoric, ingenious paradoxes, occasionally profound and salutary truths,’ but not ‘an instructive course of readings on any one subject a man can wish to fix his attention on,’ he described a manner of presentation which continues to vex Coleridge's readers as it did at least one of his auditors. Far from developing a full body of Shakespearean criticism, Coleridge did not even give a detailed critique of any one play.
That's Peter Hoheisel’s summary [‘Coleridge on Shakespeare: Method Amid the Rhetoric’, Studies in Romanticism, 13:1 (1974), 15].  Now, Hoheisel bravely attempts to counter-argue, insisting that ‘contrary to Robinson, there is a method amid the rhetoric, and that method, to put it in a Coleridgean way, is to illuminate certain central principles which contain endless potentiality for development.’ Though my heart is with him, in terms of his desire to rescue Coleridge's often brilliant, circulating, sometimes obliquely rendered, thought-provoking meditations on Shakespeare from the charge of flat disorganisation, I can't say I'm fully persuaded by Hoheisel's defence here.

Maybe the problem has to do with how we frame these lectures. I mean, precisely, as 'lectures'. Of course, if it seems only fair to judge Coleridge-as-lecturer by the norms of contemporary academic praxis it may be because Coleridge is implicated in the creation of the academy itself. For one thing, the Biographia Literaria, or at least certain aspects of it (close reading most notably) proved foundational for the twentieth-century creation of ‘English’ as an academic discipline. For another, Coleridge argued for the need of a ‘clerisy’, an elite group of learned people, a caste of intellectuals and literati paid for out of public funds and tasked with the education of the nation as a whole. It’s common enough amongst academics (such as myself) to see in their professional life the practical manifestation of that ideal.

The truth, though, is otherwise. To go back to what Coleridge actually wrote about the ‘clerisy’ is to be struck by how unlike a modern Professor of English Literature the original concept was.
The CLERISY of the nation, or national church, in its primary acceptation and original intention, comprehended the learned of all denominations;—the sages and professors of the law and jurisprudence, of medicine and physiology, of music, of military and civil architecture, of the physical sciences, with the mathematical as the common organ of the preceding; in short, all the so called liberal arts and sciences, the possession and application of which constitute the civilization of a country, as well as the Theological. The last was, indeed, placed at the head of all; and of good right did it claim the precedence. But why? Because under the name of Theology, or Divinity, were contained the interpretation of languages; the conservation and tradition of past events; the momentous epochs, and revolutions of the race and nation; the continuation of the records; logic, ethics, and the determination of ethical science, in application to the rights and duties of men in all their various relations, social and civil; and lastly, the ground-knowledge, the prima scientia as it was named,—PHILOSOPHY. [Church and State, 47]
Coleridge is clear that the duties of the clerisy are largely pedagogic: primarily to dispose of ‘materials of NATIONAL EDUCATION, the nisus formativus of the body politic, the shaping and informing spirit, which, educing or eliciting the latent man in all the natives of the soil, trains them up to be citizens of the country, free subjects of the realm’. ‘Nisus formativus’ means the forming force, the formative urge; and ‘educing’ (Latin: educo ‘I lead out, I draw out; I raise up, I erect”; via e ‘from, out of’; and duco ‘I lead, I conduct’). But he is equally clear that this class, as its name makes clear, is an aspect of the church. He has in mind clerics rather than professors.

This is not to deny that one of the ways Coleridge’s clerisy idea developed was precisely into the expansion of the university sector, not just to broaden educational opportunities for the citizenry but to furnish the nation with an intelligentsia. Given the glowing terms in which STC talks of ‘the clerisy’, it would be hard for any latter-day inheritor of the mantle—such as myself—to talk objectively about it. (We’re liable to say: ‘of course the State should pay for our upkeep—and pay us handsomely!’) But I don’t think Coleridge had people like me in mind when he coined his term. It’s not just that I’m not religious, and it’s not that I’m part of a university system specifically set apart from the church. It’s that what we do (increasingly so, with the introduction of tuition fees) is simply not disseminated into every portion of the realm, eliciting the latent man in all the natives of the soil to be citizens of the country, free subjects of the realm.

This is one, practical reason why Coleridge models the clerisy on the clergy. The clerisy’s job is to educate the nation, practically and morally; and to do that it needs to go into every village, even into every home. Priests already do that. My sense is that Coleridge can’t imagine a secular organisation having that same access without it becoming a horrific secret-police-style invasion of privacy. The 1820s and 1830s, when Coleridge coined the term, saw fierce debate in Britain over the establishment of the Metropolitan Police Force, when what was seen as a French-style invasion of state apparatus of law, order and control into private life was fiercely debated and as fiercely opposed.

Now, clearly, a course of lectures on Shakespeare at which attendance costs two guineas (or three 'with the privilege of introducing a lady') is not calculated to ‘educe’ on this national, popular scale. But it is well to keep in mind that Coleridge’s idea of the ideal educator overlaps to a large degree with his idea of the ideal priest. This in turn leads us to reconsider which paradigm for ‘the lecture’ he was working from. Not, clearly, any anachronistic or modern-day model of Stanfordesque ‘effective lecturing’ (grand and lovely though that be); but from a different model altogether. The sermon.

Coleridge was a preacher before he was anything else. In the early 1790s he preached often, all around the country, and planned to become a Unitarian minister, until a no-strings-attached annuity from the Wedgwoods enabled him to concentrate on reading, thinking and writing. And the logic of the sermon informs much of what he then goes on to write. The Ancient Mariner is a preacher of rare power, and Coleridge's edition of his (verse) sermon includes, in its later iterations, a prose gloss elucidating the theological moral. In the middle of his stint as a lecturer-on-Shakespeare, Coleridge published two (of a planned three) Lay Sermons, addressed to the upper (1816), middle (1817) and—in the unwritten third—the working classes, and concerning the contemporary political situation. As R J White notes, these political pamphlets ‘were sermons. They begin with a text, and end with it, in the approved pulpit manner.’
Coleridge did it to the manner born. ‘Have you ever heard me preach, Charles?’ he once asked his friend Lamb. ‘N-n-never heard you d-d-do anything else, C-c-coleridge.’ He had begun as a young Radical at Bristol in 1795, lecturing at the coffee-house on the Quay on the ‘grand political View of Christianity’ … Next year he was among the Midland Charity Sermons. ‘The Sacred may eventually help off the profane—and my Sermons spread a sort of sanctity over my sedition’ John Thelwall, who was often in trouble over his Jacobin politics, remarked enviously that Coleridge ‘cannot preach very often without travelling from the pulpit to the Tower.’ The transition was easy. ‘Mount him but upon his darling hobby-horse, “the republic of God’s own making”, and away he goes, scattering levelling sedition and constructive treason.’ That he never became a Unitarian minister was not the fault of the Unitarians, but the consequence of Thomas Wedgwood’s offer of £150 a year as an endowment for the pursuit of poetry and philosophy for the greater glory of his country, an endowment (Hazlitt tells us) that Coleridge accepted while tying on one of his shoes. All the same, he continued even after 1798 to preach. [R J White (ed), Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Lay Sermons (Collected Coleridge: Routledge/Princeton 1972), xxxiv-xxxv]
A lecture is not, of course, quite the same thing as a sermon. We might say that the latter is designed to establish or reinforce religious faith, where the former is supposed to establish or deepen knowledge of one or other discourse. But the parallels are closer than that, I think. Many more sermons are preached to people who already believe than to unbelievers, after all (I’m not sure we would even call attempts to proselytise and convert sermons, actually: does a sermon not imply a willing audience?) The phrases ‘preaching to the converted’ and ‘preaching to the choir’ exist to index a sense of what constitutes a bad sermon: a preacher who takes his or her audience for granted, who brings nothing new to the experience. By the same token, we might define a good sermon as one that deepens and enriches an already-existing faith, that makes the auditor consider things s/he already believes from a new light, that makes a portion of lived experience new. As for lectures, we might distinguish between two kinds. The elementary lecture is designed, and if well-delivered can be received, as an exercise in apprising an audience of the fundamentals of some body of knowledge. From such a lecture an auditor learns something she or he did not know before. This, though, does not really describe what Coleridge is doing in his Shakespeare lectures. These performances embody a different approach: one that presumes a certain knowledge of Shakespeare, but which attempts to inflect that knowledge in new ways, to correct previous errors of emphasis and interpretation and propose a new way of looking at a shared body of culture. In this respect these lectures, and others like them, have more in common with the logic of the sermon.

I am arguing, in other words, that there is more here than the fact that both sermons and lectures belong to what Robert H Ellison calls the ‘genre of oral literature’—a genre he identifies as both very important to nineteenth-century culture and as rather overlooked by critical study. Ellison says: '‘I believe we can regard the sermon as a genre of “oral literature”. Some scholars have objected to the use of this phrase … [as] paradoxical, even oxymoronic. Walter J Ong [calls] “oral literature” a “monstrous” term, arguing that it is “preposterous” to discuss the creative works of an oral culture in terms of a form that is, by definition, written. … I propose, however, that there is a place for this term in orality-literacy studies, that it may more properly describe genres like the sermon, which, more than any other form of nineteenth-century prose, is characterized by the often uneasy juxtaposition of oral and written traditions.’ [Robert H Ellison, The Victorian Pulpit: Spoken and Written Sermons in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Selinsgrove: Susquehanna University Press 1998), 14-15]. What Ellison argues of the sermon applies a fortiori for the lecture. Of course, it wouldn’t do to press the analogy too far. The emphasis in a sermon must be, in one sense, theological; and although Coleridge was committed to a paradigm of literary genius as informed by ‘the vision and the faculty divine’ his purpose in the Shakespeare lectures was literary-critical. Then again, his analysis reverts more often than not to an engagement with specifically moral questions, and Coleridge’s ethics cannot be separated from Coleridge’s faith.

Perhaps a more relevant parallel has to do with form. O C Edwards’ study of the different kinds of sermon that predominated in the long eighteenth-century identifies a number of older styles of preaching that persisting through the period—specifically, the Spanish ‘concetto’ style, the German ‘emblematic’ and the Puritan ‘plain style’ sermons—whilst also noting certain popular newer styles such as the Anglican preaching of Tillotson, the evangelical sermons of the eighteenth-century ‘awakenings’ as well as those of Lutheran Pietism. [See O C Edwards Jr, ‘Varieties of Sermon: A Survey of Preaching in the Long Eighteenth Century’, in Joris Van Eijnatten (ed), Preaching, Sermon and Cultural Change in the Long Eighteenth-Century (Leiden/Boston: Brill 2009), 3-55] None of these have any close formal affinity with the mode of lecturing, as old as the Middle Ages, of the synoptic and systematic itemisation of terms of knowledge. And when we put it like that, it becomes easier to see the ways in which Coleridge’s approach takes a quasi-Germanic ‘emblematic’ approach to its topic, mixed with elements of the ‘inspired’ Tillotsonian or nonconformist tradition. There may have been reasons other than personal quirk that lead Coleridge to extemporise his lectures, rather than reading from a prepared text.

So for example. The second lecture of the 1811-12 series begins with a designedly amusing division of readers into four classes, characterised by their increasing acuity and retention. The lecture as a whole then goes on to make more serious points about the importance of precision in the use of words, the divisions of taste, a definition of poetry and a brief contextualising history of the English stage. The initial four-part distinction is not exactly the text upon which the lecture is then preached, but it does formally embody the shape the lecture then takes. The third lecture in series opens with Coleridge’s view ‘that poetry is no proper antithesis to prose—in the correct opposite of poetry is science, and the correct antithesis of prose is metre’, and then develops this with a series of meditations upon moral pleasure, metrical form, knowledge and truth to life, bringing-in (sermonically) the Bible as poetry and ‘religious controversy’ as a shaping influence on Shakespeare himself. The fourth lecture involves, in a manner of speaking, this principle upon itself: it starts by identifying the starting point of Shakespeare’s writing life, and goes on to close-read the ‘sweetness’ and organically satisfying imagery of the Venus and Adonis and Rape of Lucrece. The lectures that follow, at least the ones that we have been able to recover, tend to read a specific Shakespearian play, and to do so by establishing an emblematic point at the beginning—often derived from the opening of the play—and then elaborating upon it as a way of unlocking the specific excellence of the text under review. Sometimes the connection between the one and the other is more intuitive and poetic—more, we could say, organic—than is common in lecturing. So, for example, the sixth lecture of the 1811-12 series opens, rather oddly, with comments on the undesirability of corporal punishment at school. The lecture itself soon moves onto Shakespeare, but the initial emblem animates the whole. This is, in part, because Coleridge’s point has to do with the foolishness of trying to apply any mode of procrustean schoolmasterish ‘rules’ to Shakespeare, whose plays grow like the ideal Rousseauian child by a natural genius, not by obedience t the Classical Unities. And the shadowy figure of the master’s stick or cane becomes itself transformed in Coleridge’s imagination, to:
The wit of Shakespeare is like the flourishing of a man’s stick, when he is walking, in the full flow of animal spirits: it is a sort of overflow of hilarity which disburdens, and seems like a conductor, to distribute a portion of our joy to the surrounding air by carrying it away from us.
Directly following this wonderful image, Coleridge reverts to questions of moral delinquency and moral freedom. The eighth lecture begins with the thought that that ‘religion is the Poetry of all mankind’, moves from this into a meditation on divine and human love, and then undertakes a reading of Romeo and Juliet in a manner that, with considerable nuance and sensitivity, juxtaposes the romantic love shared by the deuteragonists with the passion the lover of Shakespeare—such as Coleridge himself—feels for this art. The ninth lecture takes ancient sculpture as its emblem, moving on to a discussion of the Tempest as an artefact not of slavish imitation but of ‘the imagination …the scheme of his drama does not appeal to any sensuous impression of time and place, but to the imagination’. The twelfth lecture opens with ‘the anecdote of John Wilkes, who said of himself that even in the company of ladies, the handsomest man ever created had but ten minutes’ advantage of him’, and goes on to develop some of Coleridge’s most sensitively insightful character-readings of the dynamic between the inner and outer lives of Richard II and Hamlet.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

'Fancy in Nubibus' (1817)



One of Coleridge's late sonnets, this: written October 1817, first published in The Courier 30 January 1818, later reprinted in various places including Coleridge's own collections of his verse in 1828 and 1834:
O, it is pleasant, with a heart at ease,
Just after sunset, or by moonlight skies,
To make the shifting clouds be what you please,
Or let the easily persuaded eyes
Own each quaint likeness issuing from the mould    [5]
Of a friend’s fancy; or with head bent low,
And cheek aslant, see rivers flow of gold
’Twixt crimson banks; and then, a traveller, go
From mount to mount, through Cloudland, gorgeous land!
Or listening to the tide, with closèd sight,                [10]
Be that blind bard, who on the Chian strand
By those deep sounds possessed, with inward light
Beheld the Iliad and the Odyssee
Rise to the swelling of the voiceful sea.
The 1828 reprinting gets a touch shoutier with some select capitalisation:


It's a rather oddly-, if charmingly-, shaped poem, I think: opening with a mood of gentle reverie in order to execute a sort of knight's-move into a much grander and more stirring sestet. The opening, at any rate, has a kind of studied indolence, a confidently understated suavity of ease;—the first four rhymes barely exerting themselves to trouble the aaaa of minimum exertion into the abab actually required by the sonnet form; the second four rhymes going only a little better in terms of separating out the sounds of their cdcd. The way mid-line rhymes drape their hands in the water to make lazy ripples as the boat drifts on: head bent low/...see rivers flow of gold. Given that 'clouds' are mention in line 3, the line 'From mount to mount, through Cloudland, gorgeous land!' repeats mount, echoes cloud and doubles-up -land with land, in an effective monotony of iteration. The whole of the octave, in fact, cleverly recasts the activity of travel into a satisfying passivity: you needn't even keep your cheek upright, if you don't want it! Aslant let it lie, and project your effortless imaginary self rather than your laborious physical being into the rivers of gold and gorgeous hillocks of Cloudland. Who doesn't enjoy cloudwatching, after all?



The sestet, hinging on its 'Or...' moves from sky to sea, and from sight to blindness. There is supposed to be a 'turn' in a sonnet between octave and sestet, of course, but this one verges on the extreme. In the first eight lines a poet rhapsodises on the joys of a purely visual imaginary engagement. In the final six he shifts to the most famous of all blind poets, to hearing rather than sight, to water instead of cloudy air. There's another mode of shift, too: from originality into plagiary, for the critics have long noted that the sestet draws from Friedrich Leopold Stolberg's 'An das Meer' ('By the Sea' 1777). The whole of—to give him his rather magnificently Germanic official name—Graf zu Stolberg-Stolberg's poem is available online here, so you can see for yourself.

'An das Meer' is a poem made up of ten four-line stanzas. Most of the whole is given over to praise of swimming in the North Sea, something Stolberg loved to do, but which is much too strenuous an activity to fit STC's sonnet. Stolberg's last three stanzas, though, invoke Homer, and here we come closer to Coleridge's lines:
Der blinde Sänger stand am Meer;
Die Wogen rauschten um ihn her,
Und Riesenthaten goldner Zeit
Umrauschten ihn im Feierkleid.

Es kam zu ihm auf Schwanenschwung
Melodisch die Begeisterung,
Und Ilias und Odyssee
Entstiegen mit Gesang der See.

Hätt' er gesehn, wär' um ihn her
Verschwunden Himmel, Erd' und Meer,
Sie sangen vor des Blinden Blick
Den Himmel, Erd' und Meer zurück.
That means:
The blind singer stood by the sea;
The waves roared around him,
And the giant deeds of his golden time
Surged around him as a raiment.

It came to him like a swan's wing beating
The inspiration of his melodies,
And the Iliad and Odyssey
Rose with the singing of the Sea.

Could he have seen what surrounded him
Sky, earth and sea would have disappeared,
To sing before the blind gaze
And be returned as Heaven, earth and sea.
J.C.C. Mays says this was first noticed by German translator of Coleridge's poems Ferdinand Freiligrath, in 1852. In fact it was noticed earlier than that: George Ripley's anthology of translated Continental poetry, Specimens of Foreign Standard Literature (London 1842) includes this slightly truncated version of Stolberg's poem:





Which leads us irresistibly to 'Note Q':





I think 'word for word' overstates this a tad. Clearly 'Beheld the Iliad and the Odyssee/Rise to the swelling of the voiceful sea' owes something to 'Und Ilias und Odyssee/Entstiegen mit Gesang der See', something reinforced by Coleridge's Germanic spelling of 'Odyssee'. But 'voiceful sea' is Coleridge's own contribution, and rather lovely it is too. Perhaps it gives the impression of having been translated from the German phrase Stimmegefüllt See, or something; but of course actually it's not. (If Coleridge took it from anywhere, it is more likely to be from English pastoral poet William Browne, whose Britannia's Pastorals (1613) positions the speaker ‘Near Tavy’s voiceful stream, to whom I owe/More strains than from my pipe can ever flow’).

It's not that Coleridge was shy of reworking and translating various Stolbergiana, something he sometimes did, after the manner of his characteristic delinquency, without acknowledging the fact. His splendid 'On A Cataract' (maybe written at the end of the 1790s) is actually a translation of Stolberg's 'Der Felsenstrom'; ‘Tell’s Birth-Place’ imitates Stolberg’s ‘Bei Wilhelm Telles Geburtstätte im Kanton Uri’ (although here STC at least adds 'Imitated From Stolberg' to his title); and Stolberg’s ‘Hymne an die Erde’ is largely present in Coleridge’s ‘Hymn to the Earth’. Then there are things like 'Wills of the Wisp: a Sapphic from Stolberg', probably written 1801. Indeed, as Stolberg-imitation goes, 'Fancy in Nubibus' is fairly oblique.

Or maybe a better way of putting that would be to say there's a clearer vector of imitation at work here, and its not German so much as it is Roman. I mean: just look at that title! Nubibus is the dative plural of the Latin nubes, cloud, which makes the title into two dactyls both in terms of prosodic quantity and stress: fancy in/nūbibus. Which is nice, I think; since it seems to me that the workhorse iambic prosodic skeleton of Coleridge's poem includes a kind of spectral inclination towards the dactylic: so that we hesitate between reading
oh, IT is PLEAsant, WITH a HEART at EASE,
just AFTer SUNset, OR by MOONlight SKIES,
and reading
O, it is pleasant, with a heart at ease,
Just after sunset, or by moonlight skies,
and so on. The dactyllic reading is slightly more energetic, a little more forceful; the lullaby rocking of the iambic is more restfully what we're used to. And that's also the tacit theme of Coleridge's sonnet: whether the poet's imaginative apprehension of the beauties of sky and water is perfectly passive, or a magically hidden force of active agency. I'd suggest that 'in nubibus' is there to make us think of Vergil, and of the famous two lines from Aeneid book 5, where, during the funeral games for Anchises, the Sicilian king Acestes (Ἄκέστης! It's almost like an externalised STC, ἐκ ἐστηση ...) fires an arrow into the clouds:
Namque volans liquidis in nubibus arsit harundo,
signavitque viam flammis, tenuisque recessit
consumpta in ventos, caelo ceu saepe refixa
transcurrunt crinemque volantia sidera ducunt. [Aeneid 5: 525-8]
There's your in nubibus, right there in line 525. These lines mean:
And then, soaring into the liquid clouds, his arrow caught fire, tracing a gleaming path of flame, before vanishing into the wind,—as a star will sometimes fall loose from the heavens drawing its fiery tresses behind it.
Aeneas interprets this portent regarding the divine favour bestowed on Acestes. When Walter Scott reviewed Southey's Curse of Kehama for the Quarterly Review in 1811 (a review Coleridge certainly knew) he deployed precisely this quotation:
Mr. Southey resembles Acestes, who shot merely to shew the strength of his bow, and the height to which he could send his arrow.
volans liquidis in nubibus arsit harundo,
signavitque viam flammis.
In this point of view, it is impossible to read the Curse of Kehama without conceiving the highest opinion of the author’s force of imagination and power of expression.

In Coleridge's expansion of this Vergilian tag the arrow fired is the metaphorical one of sight (the viewer with head bent low,/And cheek aslant, like an archer taking aim). It goes up into the air and is transformed into rivers of gold.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Coleridge, 'Verecundia: To William Wordsworth' (?1807-10)



Here's a pendant to my earlier 'EPOCH'al post, once again concerned with a Latin poem Coleridge addressed to William Wordsworth. In the previous example, 'Ad Vilmum Axiologum', STC wrote in Latin because he was adapting a Latin poem by Ariosto, about a girl's sexual infidelity and how the wronged man ought to deal with it. In this case we are dealing, I think, with an original poem by Coleridge, written in Latin not to veil its meaning (since Wordsworth read Latin too, it wouldn't hide anything from him) but rather because it is in part about the peculiarly Roman virtue identified in its first word. Coleridge wrote the poem in his notebook [CN 2:2750] and did not publish it in his lifetime.
Verecundia? imo, tyrannis hoc est!
Quod cuivis adulor, negabis ipse;
Nec non quod sapiam, haud negabis, Ergo
Mores, et Sophiam, sacrasque Musas
Uno nomine (dumque vivis ipse)
Dicturum, Gulielme,—quaeso, cur me,
Et quo Jure tuum “Veto” coercet?
Te vatem, atque Sophum, meumque Regem
Agnovi, usque lubens! At haud Tribunum.
The notebook entry includes a Coleridgean footnote on 'Regem', in line 8, there: 'Rex Meus for the most honored Friend/ Vide Martial V 22 et passim'. He means rex is not there to suggest that Wordsworth is in any sense Coleridge's king or ruler, but after the usage of Martial to imply that he's the best of friends. The Martial epigram specified makes an interesting intertext, actually: in it, the poet complains that, having travelled long and hard to see Paulus, his friend (or, as translators more usually render 'rex', his patron) he is told that Paulus is not at home. The final lines of Martial 5.22 are 'Semper inhumanos habet officiosus amicos:/Rex, nisi dormieris, non potes esse meus'; 'It's always the most attentive client who's most neglected by his friends. Sleep-in longer, or you can't be my rex' (usually this is rendered '... or you can't be my patron'). I suppose the last line means: please sleep in, don't leave your house too early, such that you've gone by the time I turn up. I'm not sure. Anyway: here’s an English version of Coleridge's hendecasyllabics:
'Knowing my place'? Not so! This is tyranny!
You must admit yourself I'm no-one's toady.
Nor do I lack of wisdom, you'll say; and so
By all that's moral, wise, by the sacred Muses
Under one name (as long as you yourself live)
What you said, William,—I ask, why me?
And what force does your "Veto" even have?
As a prophet, and wise and as my Chief Friend
I've gladly known you! But not as my Tribune.
There were two kinds of tribune in Ancient Rome: the military tribune and the tribunus plebis or tribune of the people. The latter was a kind of sacrosanct popular magistrate who could veto the commandments of the Senate and other officers of law if they felt such laws were disadvantageous for the plebs. They also had the power to call a popular meeting known as the concilium plebis that could enact legislation, and otherwise pass down judgement. Translating 'tribunus' as 'judge' as Kathleen Coburn (in her edition of the Notebooks) and J C C Mays (in his edition of the Poems) both do rather misses the point that the main power of the Tribunes of the Plebs was that of veto, which in turn drains the force from Coleridge's reference in line 6.

So: Wordsworth has rebuked Coleridge over some aspect of his behaviour, and threatened to impose some manner of veto upon him. But what kind of veto could Wordsworth, plausibly, have imposed on Coleridge? It's a little hard to imagine. He could not, for instance, stop him from publishing something if he wished to publish, or prevent him from (for example) lecturing in London, writing for the newspapers, living with the Morgans or anything of that kind. No, presumably the veto must have related to something in Wordsworth's power, which is to say: in Wordsworth's house. If the threat was one of banishing Coleridge from Coleorton (let's say), then veto would surely not have been the word used. It's more likely that Wordsworth proposed to veto some mode of Coleridge's interaction with Sara Hutchinson.

What of verecundia? This is a particular Roman virtue, relating to modes of behaviour that are not specifically determined by law or custom; behaviour that is mindful, fitting, tactful, socially conscious, aware of your place and your duties and responsibilities to others. Translating this as ‘deference’ (as J.C.C.Mays does) or ‘modest respect’ (as Kathleen Coburn does) really doesn't get at what's going on in the poem. Robert A. Kaster discusses 'verecundia' at length, beginning with the observation that 'the epitaph of the Republican poet Pacuvius is preserved by the scholar and litterateur Aulus Gellius, who presents it to us as “verecundus and pure in the highest degree and worthy of [the poet’s] superbly discriminating dignity (elegantissima)”. Kaster goes on:
Verecundia animates the art of knowing your proper place in every social transaction and basing your behaviour on your knowledge; by guiding behaviour in this way verecundia establishes or affirms the social bond between you and others, all of whom (ideally) play complimentary roles. Most fully, this means that you will each gauge your standing relative to the others; you will each present yourself in a way that at least will not give offence—for example, by confrontation or importunity—and that preferably will signal your full awareness of the others’ face, the character they wear in the transaction and the respect that that character is due—not obliterate your own face, the character you are wearing and the respect that it is due. This is the script, the sequence of interlocking motives and moves, that someone experiencing verecundia—a verecundus person—enacts; by enacting that script, the verecundus person draws a line for the self to observe, in settings where no such line is drawn by formal or external authority, where he or she must improvise a performance as a well-socialized person. [Robert A. Kaster, ‘Between Respect and Shame: Verecundia and the Art of Social Worry’, in Emotion, Restraint, and Community in Ancient Rome (Oxford University Press 2005), 13-15]
Coleridge may have been thinking of virtue in a Roman sense, or may be remembering a specific discussion with Wordsworth on that topic. But there is also a Christian context. Some Christian writers were suspicious of verecundia, precisely because it locates the individual's moral and social compass in their own tact and judgement, rather than in obedience to external authority and divine commandment. For example, Jesuit theologian Diego de Baeza argues that 'ubi verecundia nimia, potentissima diaboli tyrannis?' Where there is excessive verecundia, is there not the devil’s most potent tyranny? [Diego de Baeza, Commentariorum moralium in evangelican historiam (1644), 394]. I’ve no idea if Coleridge read this (he wasn’t really in the habit of browsing Jesuitical theology); but he was surely aware that Thomas Aquinas defends a proper verecundia as a key Christian virtue: he devotes two whole sections of the Summa Theologica to demonstrating that ‘verecundia est virtus’. Here, a couple of decades after Coleridge wrote his poem, is the Quarterly Review's definition of the word:
Verecundia ... comprises many distinct sensibilities. It implies regard for the opinion of others, the fear of injuring them, bashfulness, emulation, respect for superior power, humility, personal affection: it is, in short, in morals, what faith is in religion—the grapple by which men, during the process of education and instruction, are retained under the moral influence of others, until the love of virtue, for its own sake, has been infused into their mind. ['Tyler on Oaths', Quarterly Review 61 (1834), 394]
It is in morals, what faith is in religion. If this was the ground of Wordsworth's specific rebuke to his friend, no wonder it stung.

There's another context, though, which may be relevant here; and that is the close relation between verecundia and pudicitia, the word for a woman’s proper modesty and sexual chastity. Kate Wilkinson’s recent Women and Modesty in Late Antiquity (Cambridge Univ. Press 2015) discusses this:
After pudicitia, the most common term indicating a woman’s modesty in the late ancient era was verecundiaVerecundia for men is the delicate feeling of restraint which guards one from slighting the reputation of another man while still maintaining one’s own reputation. It is the gatekeeper for social ‘face’ in a competitive and hierarchical setting. Women’s verecundia keeps them out of masculine public spaces like the forum or the courtroom, encourages proper respect for their husband’s superior social status, and protects puditicia. While puditicia often refers to the behaviour protecting sexual purity as well as the physical state of purity, verecundia is that shyness, bashfulness or restraint which maintains … “their face as chaste persons”. [Wilkinson, 16]
So, for example, Pelagius’s treatise on the chastity of the Virgin Mary praises the mother of God specifically for her stupenda verecundia and her pudoris verecundia, her ‘stupendous reserve’ and the ‘bashfulness of her chastity’.

Perhaps this is a poem actually about the oppressive aspect of the public face of sexual chastity. STC is being pressured into a mode of bashful timidity that he deems tyrannical. It could well be that whatever rebuke Wordsworth dished-out, and whatever veto he threatened to impose, it had to do with the pudor of Sara Hutchinson, and the sexual impropriety of Coleridge's behaviour, which in turn Coleridge repudiates in this poem. Wordsworth may be a Vates, and the embodiment of that kind of wisdom best called Sophia, and he may be Coleridge's Chief of Friends, but in sexual matters he has no right to impose strict behavioural standards on STC. He is no Tribunus sexualis.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Coleridge and the 'Ode on the Eucharist'

Here is one of STC's Notebook entries, from June 1810 [Coburn (ed), Notebooks 3.1:3765]:
3765 17.163 Ode on the Eucharist
Great allegorical Reality!—
Substance & Symbol!—
{Necessary Will of God} το εν κ’αγάθων λόγος—στοργὴ at the first contemplation of the λόγος—from the στοργὴ, the τα εν λόγω, and first the divine Humanity—Creation of free will of God—Finiteness—and free will in the finite—the Fall—the mysterious corruption of the Human Will, evidently as a fact compatible with free will because accompanied with remorse/ the process of Redemption by the descent of the divine Humanity—the outward manifestation & life of Jesus the allegorical Reality vouchsafed by God, & properly called revelation/it is manifested by the assumption of a double or [?clouted] Veil—
The Greek means 'the one and the logos of the good—the storgèe at the first contemplation of the logos—from the storgèe, the things of the logos and first the divine Humanity'. στοργὴ/storgèe means 'love, affection; especially of parents and children/(rarely) sexual love'; 'deep love and affection, as of a mother for her child'. 'Good', there, should be 'goods', if that didn't make us think of 'goods and services': αγάθων is the genitive plural of ᾰ̓γᾰθός, so the Greek actually means 'the one and the Logos of the many good things', or '... the Logos of the virtues'. Clear? OK.

Kathleen Coburn thinks the 'Ode on the Eucharist' must be an abortive project which Coleridge himself planned to write ('a work projected by himself'), since 'the description does not apply to The Eucharist or the Holy Sacrament of Our Lord's Supper: A Divine Poem (1751) or The Eucharist (1737)'. I think we need to go back a bit earlier than that; indeed all the way to a 16th-century poem written by Suor (that is, sister) Laurentia Strozzi (1514-1591), a Dominican nun and Latin poet. The poem in question is 'Ode in Eucharistiam', from Strozzi's Hymni (1588)



Strozzi is a fascinating figure: a highly intelligent, well-educated daughter of the influential Strozzi family who entered a convent by choice and wrote some of the best Latin verse of her generation (you can read more about her here). Here's an English version of her Eucharist Ode:
Sky of earth applauds; and so, believers, ye rejoice:
   Born of a supernal father and chaste mother, into Time,
   He sets his all-lasting Passover to save the people.
As the hour of death approached him, eating with his sons:
   He'd perfected the old Law, given to the Patriarchs:
   Now ordains a new one, passes it into his sons’ breasts.
Sweet the Manna given to the world under the figure of wheat,
   Bread of angels now become the true believer's food,
   Changes wine, through the Thunderer’s words, into blood
Offered to the multitude, and JESUS spoke this word,
  This take as my body, and we dearly so receive it:
   Everyone of purer mind may taste, the master pledged it.
Then he handed them the cup, and he said these sacred words,
   In atonement's name my blood is given to the living,
   So that, drinking it, they may renew the Maker’s passion
,
So the priest speaks whilst completing purest sacrifice:
   Offering it daily there before the Father's greatness,
   And he calls to guiltless souls to join the holy feast.
Christ commands a pure heart, clean from sinfulness:
   He floods on the innocent mind like a river in full spate,
   Anyone with guilt inside will never bear sweet fruit.
He will feed and shelter virtue, sacred heaven victim he
   Sheds the impious in death, and leads them down to hell
   Lusting to drive themselves to wickedness's furthest realms.
Hail, though gate-of-life food, sweeter milk and honey,
   Christ JESUS, radiant sun, the most powerful of joys,
   Let your worshippers be carried gladful home. Amen.
(Not much of a translation, this; although I have at least tried, very roughly, to capture something of the trochaic form of the Latin). If Coleridge did read this poem, then I wonder if his focus on στοργὴ responds to the way Strozzi describes Christ not as son, but as father, sitting at the last supper with his disciples and motivated by a paternal love:—eating with his sons, instilling love into his sons' breasts. The 'double or [?clouted] Veil' (should that be 'pleated', I wonder?) might connect Strozzi's own adoption of the Dominican veil with the double allegory in his ode: for Christ, here, is both bread, 'angelorum panis unde fit cibus credentium', and the sun, 'Sol refulgens'. And indeed, this double figure is itself doubled, or pleated; since the bread that he is figures divine Manna: 'Manna praebet dulce Mudo, sub figura tritici'. The stuff about 'descent of the divine Humanity' into 'the finite' perhaps reflects Strozzi's description of the incarnation as happening 'in tempore', in Time. And the free will speculation may riff off the doubled-sense, in the last lines of the poem, that Christ both 'leads' (ducit) the wicked to Hell, and they take themselves there on account of their own concupiscence.

Coleridge had a rather, well, seventeenth-century attitude to the eucharist: that is to say, he thought about it a great deal, it mattered to him, as a crucial feature of Christian worship. He took communion as a student at Cambridge in the early 1790s, but then stopped until 1827, late in his life, when he started again. According to a letter written by his daughter after his death 'my Father's views on the Eucharist ... were deep and spiritual, but in perfect harmony & analogy of his view of baptism, and all his other ways of conceiving religious subjects—they were perfectly—I think what Pusey would call rationalistic':
He would subscribe to no form of words supposed to convey a religious truth, on a merely supposed external evidence, such as what is called the tradition of the Church. All doctrines of the Eucharist which connected a spiritual presence with the elements, apart from the soul of the receiver, were separated from his faith by an equally impassable chasm. He sometimes discussed the different forms and phases of this doctrine, as I might turn over pink, yellow or blue garments, with no thought of wearing such but only of considering which will suit others best. Just in this spirit S.T.C. used to defend Transubstantiation, & contend that it was a more convenient form of belief than our Anglo-Catholic theory of the real presence. [quoted Coburn, 3:2 3847]
One thing is clear: that around this time, mid to late 1810, Coleridge was reading and thinking a lot about the Eucharist. His reaction to Strozzi's poem (if that is what he is reacting to) is one example, probably from early June 1810; later in June he wrote two lengthy Notebook entries [3847, 3934] on the subject, and around this time he was reading, or re-reading, the 17th-century Archbishop of Canterbury John Tillotson's Discourse Against Transubstantiation (1684) [see Notebooks, 3868]. It was also at this time that Coleridge (in Richard Holmes' words) 'began the remarkable group of entries concerning St Theresa of Avila', prompted by his reading of her Life and Works (1671). Holmes thinks he grew 'more and more fascinated by the mixture of spiritual and erotic mysticism in her visions' [Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Visions (1998), 205], visions he read as psychological manifestations rather than divine inspiration, but as eloquent and powerful nonetheless. Holmes astutely singles out Coleridge's version of the way Theresa used 'water metaphors' to describe the four stages of prayer:
Prayer begins as an act of "seeming unassisted poor labouring Will", like water drawn up painfully from a well in a bucket, "by mere force of the arm"; later it is assisted "by the wheel & pulley"; thirdly it becomes easier "like the drawing off streamlets from a River & great Fountain"; and lastly it becomes the effortless pouring down of "copious rains from Heaven." [Holmes, 206]
The connection with the Ancient Mariner is the obvious one ('My lips were wet, my throat was cold/My garments were all dank;/Sure I had drunken in my dreams/And still my body drank'). But Strozzi's poem is also about the way Christ is actual as well as spiritual refreshment to us: how he fills our mind like a full-flowing river ('menteis replet alto fluimine'), how his flesh is sweeter than fruit or Manna, the bread of the angels, his blood wine. Does it stretch matters to see in the opening line of Strozzi's poem an oblique reference to the refreshing rain falling from the sky?—just as the Mariner, and before him, Theresa slaked their thirsts on rainfall? (If not, then what does that first line mean, I wonder?)

The Notebook entries of the second half of 1810 paint the picture of a man craving some kind of heart-food, some refreshment of spirit and mind. And there is a clear enough biographical reason for this: March 1810 was when Sara Hutchinson, abruptly, left the Wordsworths' house to go and live with her brother Tom and a man called John Monkhouse on the two men's farm in Wales. Coleridge, as Holmes put it, 'felt he had been stung to death'; and in the months that followed his despair curdled when 'Asra' didn't write or contact him, and he felt he had been utterly abandoned by her. His own letters record his 'depression of spirits, little less than absolute Despondency', and mourn, not unangrily, Asra's 'cruel neglect & contemptuous silence ever since' [Letters 3:287].

There's clearly a danger in reading everything Coleridgean 1799-1810 through the lens of his hopeless love for Sara H.; but in this case it strikes me as very likely that that's what's going on. Coleridge is craving a particular body, is desperately hungry for it, and the fact that it has moved wholly out of his ken only makes his sense of craving more acute. He generalises his starvation into a larger, spiritual narrative of bread and wine, refreshment and atonement. This, I'd say, is why he discusses στοργὴ, here. His erotic obsession with Asra had always had a strange quasi-incestuous element to it: he often refers to her in writing as his 'sister', and in his lyric of love-longing, 'Recollections of Love', he describes meeting Sara Hutchinson again as a strange mix-up of adult sexual desire and maternal storgèe:
As when a mother doth explore
The rose-mark on her long-lost child,
I met, I loved you, maiden mild!
This in turn opens into a broader discussion of food and drink in Coleridge, the role they played in his life and his imagination. It's hard to put it this way without sounding condescending, but one way desire becomes a physical appetite for consumption is when it shades towards a sort of oral infantilism. But it's not just that: not just, that is, the adult-erotic fantasy of forever feeding at the ever-supplying maternal breast (Strozzi's lacte melle dulcior).  Two years before his death, Coleridge began—though he never finished—a piece of autobiographical prose, the 'Folio Notebook'. Here's Theodore Leinwand useful account:
In what is called the 'Folio Notebook,' Coleridge begins with his childhood, passes on to his father's death, and then to his years at Christ's Hospital school. He remembers that a stranger gave him borrowing privileges at a circulating library in King's Street, Cheapside, and that he 'read thro the whole Catalogue, folios and all. ...' He describes how his 'whole Being was with eyes closed to every object of present sense—to crumple myself up in a sunny Corner, and read, read, read,—finding myself in Rob. Crusoe's Island, finding a Mountain of Plum Cake, and eating out a room for my self, and then eating it into the shapes of Chairs; Tables—Hunger and Fancy—'. [Theodore Leinwand, 'Shakespeare, Coleridge, Intellecturition', Studies in Romanticism, 46:1 (2007), 81]
'What struck me when I first read this,' Leinwand adds, 'was what Kathleen Coburn calls Coleridge's "solitariness," I was brought up short when I found Coburn shrewdly asking us to notice that "the plum-cake room had tables and chairs, in the plural, for sociability".'That is a good point: eating, for Coleridge, even in this Erysichthonic extremity of hungry-devouring-reading, is about making a connection with another, not just about the selfish indulgence of appetite. Coleridge is metaphorically eating his way into the world, sculpting his world through a strange hybrid reading-devouring. And this brings me back, at the end of this very lengthy post, to his thoughts on Strozzi's Ode on the Eucharist'. The doubled, or clouted, metaphor at work here is not only that of divine eating, and not only the frisson of engaging with the inspired writing of a beautiful woman (as with Saint Theresa). It is also about reading. We read this poem about eating; and reading is a process Coleridge considers an eating. The argumentum in circulo he (boldly, I think) valorises in the Biographia Literaria as the truth of individual engagement in faith finds its actualisation in this conceptual gyre: not that the bread turns magically into the body of Christ, one thing linearly becoming another thing, but rather that reading the divine word, or logos, and eating his sustaining food, and the craving the erotic intimacy of another body, are all revealed as versions of one another, reverting back upon one another, and circling round as strophe and antistrophe.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

'Of the Uncertainty of Life'

Abstruser and abstruser. In September 1808, Coleridge wrote the following in his Notebook:
Silence was a full answer of him who being asked what he thought of Human Life, said nothing, turned round, and vanished.
This is entry 3373 in Kathleen Coburn's monumental edition of The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Volume 3 1808-1819 (Princeton/Routledge 1973), and her annotation on it reads in full: 'Source untraced'.

It's actually quoted from Resolves, Divine, Moral, and Political (1623) by Owen Felltham or Feltham (1602-68). A new edition had been published by John Hatchard, out of Piccadilly, in 1806, and perhaps Coleridge was reading that.


The quotation in question is from an essay called 'Of the Uncertainty of Life'. It actually reads:
Miserable brevity! more miserable uncertainty of life! We are sure that we cannot live long, and uncertain that we shall live at all; even while I am writing this, I am not sure my pen shall end the sentence. Our life is so short, that we cannot in it, contemplate what ourselves are; so uncertain that we cannot say, we will resolve to do it. Silence was a full answer from that philosopher, who, being asked what he thought of human life, said nothing, turned himself round, and vanished. Like leaves on trees, we are the sport of every puff that blows. [pp 70-71 in the 1806 edition]
This is the first evidence we have that Coleridge read Feltham. Exciting, no?

No? Suit yourself.

George Dyer at Shakespeare's 1811-12 lectures


We know that Coleridge's friend, the important, if eccentric (and now-forgotten) poet George Dyer, was at some of the 1811-12 lectures. John Payne Collier records a post-lecture conversation at Charles Lamb's house, the evening of Wednesday 27th November 1811, in which Lamb, Hazlitt, John Rickman and Dyer discussed STC's most recent lecture. Hazlitt 'did not think Coleridge at all competent to the task he had undertaken of lecturing on Shakespeare', but Dyer disagreed: 'Dyer thought that Coleridge was the fittest man for a Lecturer he had ever known: he was constantly lecturing when in company, only he did it better' [Foakes, Lectures on Literature 1808-1819 (1987) 1:233]. Presumably he meant that Coleridge was a better lecturer in private than he had been in Scot's Corporation Hall, two days earlier, so a slightly back-handed compliment, really. But still.

Dyer himself included a reference to Coleridge's lecturing in his Poetics; Or a Series of Poems and Disquisitions on Poetry (2 vols 1812), and I don't think it has ever been noticed. Towards the end of the second volume of this work of Dyer explains that he had originally planned to include in it a discussion of the poetic imagination: 'it would have fallen in the natural course of the preceding Essay to contemplate the Imagination, as the peculiar province of Poetry, and to have shown, that she lives there under laws of her own, somewhat different from'those, by which Philosophy is governed.' But, he says, he decided to omit this discussion. Why?
When the printing of this volume was nearly finished [in late 1811], I was compelled to stop the press, and to direct my whole attention to other subjects. I was invited in the interim by my ingenious friend Mr. Charles Lambe [sic], to hear two of Mr. Coleridge's lectures. One happened to take a turn, which led Mr. Coleridge to consider Poetry, as it more immediately depends on the Imagination; and he judiciously made its characteristic difference from Philosophy, or Science, to consist, in its being the work of the Imagination. With what I heard, I was greatly delighted; but I immediately felt, that while the eloquent Lecturer had enlarged my-views, he had crippled my exertions. For I had certainly two or three more ideas, which belonged to this place; but perceiving myself in danger of going over the same ground with Mr. Coleridge, I struck out of the course: even the word, Imagination, I have studiously avoided, though naturally belonging to the place, and almost essential to my meaning. It matters not, whether what I have said is better or worse; but I gave a turn to my thoughts somewhat different from what I had meditated.

It is most probable, that Mr. Coleridge may have enforced some points in his lectures, which I did not hear, about which he and I may differ. Two people employed in thinking on similar topics, and, occasionally, perhaps, reading similar, or the same books, will naturally, and necessarily, have some sentiments in common; and, if possessed of any mind at all, they will sometimes differ. But as the whole of the volume, with the exception above mentioned, was printed off, before Mr. Coleridge's lectures commenced, it must appear, that as any harmony, or synchronism of thought, can only have been accidental, so any difference of sentiment could not have proceeded from any thing like premeditated opposition. [Dyer, Poetics, 2:213-4]
So, we know that Dyer attended two of Coleridge's lectures from the 1811-12. It is in Lecture 3 that STC makes the first brings in the idea that poetry is to be contradistinguished not from prose but from science, and using 'imagination' as the salient for true poetic inspiration: 'we must combine under the notion of true poet more than ordinary sensibility, occasioning a more than ordinary sympathy with the objects of nature or the incidents of human life. This, again, united with a more than ordinary activity of mind in general, but more particularly of those faculties of the mind we class under the names of fancy and imagination—faculties (I know not how I shall make myself intelligible) that are rather spontaneous than voluntary—they excite great activity, but such as is greatly beyond all proportion to the effects occasioned by them.'

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Marginalia for Marginalia



That's an example of the way STC tended to jot down his Shakespeare thoughts (this particular one is in the British Library). It says:
This Play, which is Shakespeare’s throughout, is to me the most painful, say rather the only painful part of his genuine works. The comic and tragic parts equally border on the wanton, the one disgusting, the other horrible; and the pardon and marriage of Angelo not merely baffles the strong indignant claim of Justice (for cruelty, with lust and damnable Baseness, cannot be forgiven, because we cannot conceive them as being morally repented of) but it is likewise degrading to the character of Woman. Beaumont and Fletcher, who can follow Shakespeare in his errors only, have presented a still worse, because more loathsome and contradictory instance of the same kind in his Night-Walker, in the marriage of Alathe to Algripe. Of the counterbalancing Beauties of to Measure for Measure, I need say nothing; for I have already said, that it is Shakespeare’s throughout. S. T. Coleridge
But never mind the content: isn't it a striking piece of visual art? A kind of calligraphic Rothko.

Monday, 30 November 2015

The Name Game: Coleridge's Epitaph (1833)



Coleridge wrote his own epitaph, probably in 1833. It is, amongst other things, a poem knottily tangled up in the initials of Coleridge's name.
Stop, Christian passer-by!—Stop, child of God,
And read with gentle breast. Beneath this sod
A poet lies, or that which once seemed he.
O, lift one thought in prayer for S. T. C.;
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
Mercy for praise—to be forgiven for fame
He asked, and hoped, through Christ. Do thou the same!
One of the games here involves STC asking passers-by to stop, to stand, such that the poem interpellates a reader who has stood. Coleridge several times referred to the cross-linguistic whimsy that his initials 'S.T.C.' actualised the Greek, ἐστηση, which means 'he has stood'. Then again, the whole of this little elegy plays with the s, the t and the c, as well as with the 'st': STop Christian; STop Child; pray for S.T.C.; do thou the Same Through Christ. Why does the poem request the passer-by read with his or her 'gentle breast' rather than with eyes (we don't normally read with our breasts, do we?) unless it is that the st at the end of the word has a greater claim on the poem than mere logic of content? The S of Samuel turns God to its rhyme-word, the corruptible Sod. 'Once seemed he' not only rhymes STC but jumbles up our nominal letters (onCe SeemTee).

Initials aside, the actual name 'Coleridge' does not appear in the poem, presumably because the author's earnest hope is that death will mean this C-name becomes wholly subsumed in another C-name, Christ. But the Samuel and the Taylor flicker around the middest points, I think.
That he who many a year with toil of breath
Found death in life, may here find life in death!
The whole of STCs life is summed up in that first line: laborious to the point of wheeziness, a life broken by disease and centered on toil—that is to say: Samuel Toiler Coleridge. Then again, we might want to read 'toil of breath' not as physical exhaustion and asthma so much as a straightforward description of the occupation of poet: s/he works at producing poems to be read aloud, breathed to the world. Maybe that's what 'read by the breast' means: spoken aloud. Intoned. It occurs to me that, after  the initial double stop, all the actions listed in the elegy either directly or else via double-meanings relate to things the breath does when it comes out of the mouth: read; lie; pray; praise; forgive; ask; hope. And there is an appositeness in this, since what else is an elegy but a motion of breath recording the moment when all breath stops?

There is, of course, a slightly spooky braiding together of life in death and death in life in any elegy and STC foregrounds that with his hope that he who 'found death in life, may here find life in death'. This is, I suppose, liable to make us think of Coleridge's most famous poem, 'The Ancient Mariner', and I daresay it was meant to. But there's another resonance here, surely: Samuel. It is but a vowel-tweak from stop to step: and the Biblical book of Samuel encapsulates, amongst many other things, the meat of this lyric: 'as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death' [1 Samuel 20:3].

The death of Samuel entails one of the more curious episodes in a Bible not under-supplied with curious episodes. 'Now,' we are told, 'Samuel was dead, and all Israel had lamented him, and buried him in Ramah, even in his own city' [1 Samuel 28:3]. But Sam's successor, Saul, is in trouble with the Philistines, and seeks Samuel's post-mortem wisdom; so he disguises himself and approaches the Witch of Endor, a sorceress who has the power to raise Samuel's ghost. This she does, although Saul does not like the news he receives.
13 And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.

14 And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.

15 And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? And Saul answered, I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do.

16 Then said Samuel, Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy?

17 And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David:

18 Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the LORD, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the LORD done this thing unto thee this day.

19 Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.

20 Then Saul fell straightway all along on the earth, and was sore afraid, because of the words of Samuel: and there was no strength in him.
The Night-mare Life-in-Death draws on this Witch, I think, as well as on other things.



Saul stops, right there, in the road, just as the first line of STC's epitaph commands. Here is a (quite long) blogpost that touches on the fact that Coleridge took 'Amalek' as a way of talking about his inner sinfulness, sloth and moral delinquency, rather than an external threat. This Biblical context, in other words, touches on the uncanny and unholy element in giving speech to the dead: and Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? Might the S, in play throughout this little poem, be more Saul than Samuel? The 'c' in Coleridge is hard, like a k; but sometimes 'c' in English is soft, like an 's', which would give us 'Saul-eridge'. How confident is STC in this elegy thet he has obeyedst the voice of the Lord, and executedst His fierce wrath upon Coleridge's inner Amalek? Not wholly, I think. He asks, he hopes, he invokes mercy and forgiveness. But 'a poet lies' has, in this context and more broadly, two possible meanings, and that ambiguity is not a comfortable one for STC.

Better call Saul.