Friday, 30 October 2015

Coleridge's 'Recollections of Love': the Dream Within the Dream



This sad little love-poem was first published in Sybilline Leaves (1817). Scholars have had trouble piecing together when it was written. The first four stanzas were drafted as metrical experiments in Coleridge's notebook: in October 1804 according to Kathleen Coburn; in 1807 according to the Norton editors, Halmi, Magnuson and Modiano (J C Maas's Princeton edition of the poem helpfully dates it: 'Oct 1804? 1806-7?'). The Norton editors also note that 'a later draft of stanza 3 is in an 1810 notebook and headed "Questions and Answers in the court of Love", and speculate that 'the final stanzas may have been written when Coleridge was preparing copy for Sybilline Leaves in 1814-15' [Halmi, Magnuson and Modiano (eds), Coleridge's Poetry and Prose (Norton 2004), 193]. What I offer in this blogpost is some evidence to support this latter speculation, and indeed to push the composition of the last two stanzas even later than the Norton editors do. At any rate, here's the poem:
I.
How warm this woodland wild Recess!
LOVE surely hath been breathing here;
And this sweet bed of heath, my dear!
Swells up, then sinks with faint caress,
As if to have you yet more near.

II.
Eight springs have flown, since last I lay
On sea-ward Quantock's heathy hills,
Where quiet sounds from hidden rills
Float here and there, like things astray,
And high o'er head the sky-lark shrills.

III.
No voice as yet had made the air
Be music with your name; yet why
That asking look? that yearning sigh?
That sense of promise every where?
Belovéd! flew your spirit by?

IV.
As when a mother doth explore
The rose-mark on her long-lost child,
I met, I loved you, maiden mild!
As whom I long had loved before—
So deeply had I been beguiled.

V.
You stood before me like a thought,
A dream remembered in a dream.
But when those meek eyes first did seem
To tell me, Love within you wrought—
O Greta, dear domestic stream!

VI.
Has not, since then, Love's prompture deep,
Has not Love's whisper evermore
Been ceaseless, as thy gentle roar?
Sole voice, when other voices sleep,
Dear under-song in clamor's hour.
It's a poem about returning to the Quantocks after a period away. It's also, with a topographic oddness that recalls dream logic, also somehow about the north west. 'Greta' in stanza V is the river that runs behind Greta Hall, in the Lake District, into which Coleridge moved in July 1800. ‘The river Greta flows behind our house,’ he wrote to Josiah Wedgwood in November 1800, ‘roaring like an untamed Son of the Hills, then winds round & glides away in the front—so that we live in a peninsula [CL 1 644]. That's Greta Hall, and the river, at the top of the post (drawn by W. Westall and engraved by E. Francis in 1829); the house is now a posh B&B, with a 'Coleridge Wing' that is, apparently, 'perfect for a family holiday'. Quite tempting, that.

This is also a poem about meeting again the woman with whom the poet has long been in love. The gently sexually-suggestive 'breathing love', 'sweet bed' and 'caress' of stanza 1, start to go 'astray' in stanza 2, and then the poem fragments into the rather desperate questions of stanza 3. The poet's love had not been reciprocated, and meeting her again has failed to rekindle, or indeed kindle, it. The poem then reiterates how deeply 'beguiled' the poet has been by the woman, and the last stanzas compare his love for her to the sound of the river, always audible as an undercurrent, or 'under-song', behind the day-to-day clamour of life. Easy enough to picture here Coleridge and his hopeless passion for Sara Hutchinson.

It makes for a pleasant, bittersweet sort of poem, elevated from the run-of-the-Coleridgean-mill by two (it seems to me) more striking images, or moments. The first is Stanza IV's image of the mother exploring 'the rose-mark on her long lost child'. This, when you come to think of it, is a pretty strange way of talking about the physical intimacy of a lover's caress. So: Coleridge is comparing re-encountering the woman he (hopelessly) loves, and reassuring himself that he still loves her, to a mother who has lost her child, who recovers him (her?) and reassures herself that she has the right child by running fingers over a birth-mark. There's a jolting turn to the quasi-incestuous in this, not inappropriately so for a man who wants to relate to the woman he loves and cannot have as both a pure sister and a secret erotic focus (and there's fair amount of anxiety about incest in Coleridge over this decade: his 1811 lecture on Romeo and Juliet segues disconcertingly from discussing the erotic passion of Shakespeare's two lovers into an earnest meditation on the incest taboo). But it's surely rather odd to conceptualise this kind of love according to a parent-child vector. Is Coleridge the mother, imaginatively caressing the 'rose-mark' of Sara Hutchinson? That's potentially quite rude. Or is Sara Hutchinson the mother, and Coleridge is imaginatively projecting himself into an infantile state of perfect intimacy with her? That's even odder.

The second striking moment in the poem occupied the final two stanzas, and brings me back to the matter of dating.
V.
You stood before me like a thought,
A dream remembered in a dream.
But when those meek eyes first did seem
To tell me, Love within you wrought—
O Greta, dear domestic stream!

VI.
Has not, since then, Love's prompture deep,
Has not Love's whisper evermore
Been ceaseless, as thy gentle roar?
Sole voice, when other voices sleep,
Dear under-song in clamor's hour.
The syntax is quite interesting here. The dash after 'Love within you wrought' reads as though a sentence has been abruptly broken off: wrought what? Or if the sense is 'your meek eyes told me that love was being wrought within you' then ... what? The 'But when' calls out for an answering clause, instead of which the poem shifts to the description of the stream. I suppose the '... has not' might be thought as completing the unit of sense; but there's a mismatch between the two elements that wrongfoots the reader. Perhaps it is supposed to do precisely that.

The best two lines in the whole poem seem to me
You stood before me like a thought,
A dream remembered in a dream
A beautifully poised acknowledgement of the emotional and psychological distance opening up between the two individuals. If Coleridge's love for Sara was only a dream eight years ago, now it is only the dream of a dream. From the physical immediacy and intimacy of the poem's early stanzas, to this etiolated 'thought' of love.

The dream of a dream. We know that Coleridge owned and annotated a copy of Rachel Baker's Devotional Somnium (1815), although sadly the copy has now been lost. It's a strange pamphlet. Baker was a New York woman who created something of a local sensation in the early 18teens by falling asleep and preaching the gospel in that state; her sermons were then collected and published by 'Several Medical Gentlemen', together with various related accounts of unusual somnolence, sleep-walking and the like. It's the kind of thing well-fitted to Coleridge's peculiar interests, and it's likely he read it closely. What did he write in those margins, I wonder? More to the point, I wonder if this passage snagged his interest:
But the most curious circumstance of the mind in the state of dream is, the power it has to become the agent of every person, character, and thing, of which it dreams. It carries on conversation with several, asks questions, hears answers, gives and receives information, and it acts all these parts itself. But though the imagination cannot supply the place of real memory, it has the wild faculty of counterfeiting memory. It dreams of persons it never knew, and talks to them as if it remembered them as old acquaintance. It relates circumstances that never happened, and tells them as if they had happened. It goes to places that never existed, and knows where all the streets and houses are, as if we had been there before. The scenes it creates are often as scenes remembered. It will sometimes act a dream within a dream, and, in the delusion of dreaming, tell a dream it never dreamed, and tell it as if it was from memory. [Baker, 'Devotional Somnium', Collection of Prayers and Exhortations (1815), 173]
This is not by Baker herself, but is from 'An Interesting Essay on Dreams' that the editors of Baker's sermons include in the volume (it was, we are told, 'conceived by a vigorous mind, and written by an able hand' and is 'inserted in the present publication', on account of its 'profound sagacity and intrinsic merit ... deserv[ing] the consideration of all those who study the mind and its operations'.)

This has two implications. One is that, if this passage is behind the last two stanzas here, then they may been written 1815-16, and not earlier. And the second is that it throws over the whole poem a rather more desolating cast than might be otherwise the case. 'Recollections of Love' becomes about the uncertainty of recollection itself, or more specifically, it becomes a (deeply Coleridgean) meditation of the ways imagination and desire tangle with memory, and a love-object retreats to the position of being a 'dream within a dream'. This is certainly the Devotional Somnium take on the imagination: 'it will sometimes act a dream within a dream, and, in the delusion of dreaming, tell a dream it never dreamed, and tell it as if it was from memory.'

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Nature, Stepmother



Joseph Cottle records this letter by Coleridge to his friend Mr Wade in his Early Recollections;: Chiefly Relating to the Late Samuel Taylor Coleridge [(2 vols 1837), 1:171]. It dates from 1796 and contains a little poem:
My dear friend,

* * * I succeeded very well here at Lichfield. Belcher, Bookseller, Birmingham; Sutton, Nottingham; Pritchard, Derby; and Thomson, Manchester, are the publishers. In every number of the Watchman, there will be printed these words, 'Published in Bristol, by the Author, S. T. Coleridge, and sold &c. &c.' I verily believe no poor fellow's idea-pot ever bubbled up so vehemently with fears, doubts and difficulties, as mine does at present. Heaven grant it may not boil over, and put out the fire! I am almost heartless! My past life seems to me like a dream, a feverish dream! all one gloomy huddle of strange actions, and dim-discovered motives! Friendships lost by indolence, and happiness murdered by mismanaged sensibility! The present hour I seem in a quickset hedge of embarrassments! For shame! I ought not to mistrust God! but indeed, to hope is far more difficult than to fear. Bulls have horns, Lions have talons.
The Fox, and Statesman subtile wiles ensure,
The Cit, and Polecat stink and are secure;
Toads with their venom, Doctors with their drug,
The Priest, and Hedgehog, in their robes are snug;
Oh, Nature! cruel step-mother, and hard,
To thy poor, naked, fenceless child the Bard!
No Horns but those by luckless Hymen worn,
And those, (alas! alas!) not Plenty's Horn!
With naked feelings, and with aching pride,
He bears th'unbroken blast on every side!
Vampire Booksellers drain him to the heart,
And Scorpion Critics cureless venom dart!
S. T. C.
This, though it looks like it, is not an original Coleridge poem. In fact it is a sort of compressed adaptation of a section from a longer poem by Robert Burns: 'The Poet's Progress' (1788) lines 17-36 of which read.
Foxes and statesmen subtle wiles ensure;
The cit and polecat stink, and are secure:
Toads with their poison, doctors with their drug,
The priest and hedgehog, in their robes, are snug:
E'en silly women have defensive arts,
Their eyes, their tongues-and nameless other parts.

But O thou cruel stepmother and hard,
To thy poor fenceless, naked child, the Bard!
A thing unteachable in worldly skill,
And half an idiot too, more helpless still:
No heels to bear him from the op'ning dun,
No claws to dig, his hated sight to shun:
No horns, but those by luckless Hymen worn,
And those, alas! not Amalthea's horn:
No nerves olfact'ry, true to Mammon's foot,
Or grunting, grub sagacious, evil's root:
The silly sheep that wanders wild astray,
Is not more friendless, is not more a prey;
Vampyre-booksellers drain him to the heart,
And viper-critics cureless venom dart.
Naughty Coleridge: it's this kind of thing that gets him a reputation for plagiary. Mind you, the alterations, small though they be, are pretty interesting. I suspect that Coleridge had been reading John Jortin (he quotes an anecdote from Jortin in the 1811-12 Lectures on Shakespeare). John Jortin's Tracts, Philological, Critical, and Miscellaneous (2 vols 1790) was recently out, and it is Jortin who ‘If there were no GOD, we should have no father but only a cruel step-mother, called Nature’ [2: 532]; Burns may have read the same passage, but Coleridge makes the allusion that much clearer.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Genius of an Onion



Craig Raine's early and still famous poem 'The Onion, Memory' (1978) draws the force of its comparison between the vegetable and the mental process not on account of shared layering (though it might have done), but via tears:
Outside the trees are bending over backwards
to please the wind: the shining sword
grass flattens on its belly.
The white-thorn's frillies offer no resistance.
In the fridge, a heart-shaped jelly
strives to keep a sense of balance.

I slice up the onions. You sew up a dress.
This is the quiet echo—flesh—
white muscle on white muscle,
intimately folded skin,
finished with a satin rustle.
One button only to undo, sewn up with shabby thread.
It is the onion, memory,
that makes me cry.
Might Raine have picked this up from Coleridge? Or have I merely reached that level of scholarly immersion in my author where I start to see him everywhere? Swap Rainean pathos for mockery, and step back to the Great Room of the London Philosophical Society, 16th December 1811, where Coleridge is lecturing on Shakespeare.
Shakespeare was often spoken of as a Child of Nature, and many had been his imitators, who attempted to copy real incidents; and some of them had not even genius enough to copy nature, but still they produced a sort of phenomenon of modern times neither tragic nor comic, nor tragicomic, but the Sentimental. This sort of writing consists in taking some very affecting incidents, which in its highest excellence only aspired to the genius of an onion,—the power of drawing tears; and in which the author, acting like a ventriloquist, distributes his own insipidity.
Layers. Layers everywhere.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

An Essay on Shakespeare by 'Philalethes' (1808)



[UPDATE Dec 2015. It turns out that this essay is not by Coleridge; it is by Bowdler himself, and was collected in his posthumously-published Select Pieces in Verse and Prose (1816). I could take this whole blogpost down, but I think I'll leave it here, as evidence of the lengths it's possible to go when trying to convince oneself of something. Apply the requisite pinch of salt when reading what follows]



The essay, published June 1808, takes the form of a long letter written 'To the Editor of the Christian Observer' on the subject of Thomas Bowdler's famous, or notorious, Family Shakespeare, which had been reviewed by the journal (broadly, they thought Bowdler didn't go nearly far enough). Bowdler's edition, of course, set out to purge Shakespeare of indecencies and indelicacies and so to make him fit reading for the whole family. The question is: was this little essay written by Coleridge?

What we want is some proof, or at least some hard evidence that it was. As it stands, what we have is only circumstantial. We know Coleridge read the Christian Observer: he took a copy with him to Malta in 1804, which he annotated, and he makes reference to the journal in an article he wrote for the Courier. In 1808 (when this letter was written) Coleridge was busy lecturing on literature, Shakespeare not the least, at the Royal Institution; so the bard was clearly on his mind. There are various touches in the essay itself, from its opening Ovidian tag [Pontics 2.9.48, in case you're wondering] to the myriad footnotes, the tone and the larger thesis, that smack of STC.

The letter is signed 'Philalethes'. In the very first lecture of his 1811-12 series (on Shakespeare) Coleridge laments the modern journalistic habit of signing articles and letters with authors' real names, and deplores the fact that he lives in 'an age, when a bashful Philalethes or Phileleutheros is as rare on the title-pages and among the signatures of our Magazines, as a real name used to be in the days of our shy and notice-shunning grandfathers.' (He repeats this lament, pretty much word for word, and again invoking 'Philalethes', in the Biographia, 1817; the pseudonym mean 'Lover of Truth'). Indeed, the original passage on which both the 1811 and 1817 passages are based comes from an issue of The Friend of 1809 also mentioning Philalethes. He often published poems under various pseudonyms (for example: his 'To Two Sisters' appeared in the Courier in Dec 1807 under the name 'Siesti'). Did he make use of the 'Philalethes' moniker in writing to the Christian Observer in 1808?

An alternative hypothesis is that 'Philalethes' might be Hazlitt. This has a certain appeal, since we know that Hazlitt wrote to the Morning Chronicle (28 October 1813) using this pseudonym, in part attacking Coleridge. I say 'we know'; Duncan Wu, at any rate, is confident that this letter can be attributed to Hazlitt, ‘Philalethes being a favoured pen-name of the Revd William Hazlitt [Hazlitt’s father]. Hazlitt would use it again when writing to the Atlas in 1829.’ [Wu (ed), New Writings of William Hazlitt: New Essays and Poems 1818-19 (OUP 2007), 76-7]. The problem here is that the establishment Anglican Christian Observer is very far from the sort of journal the radical Hazlitt is likely to have read, or with which he would have wanted to associate (would he really write 'I have long read the Christian Observer with pleasure and improvement'?)  It’s also this that makes it extremely unlikely that this Philalethes was Hazlitt Senior, even though the old fellow didn’t die until 1820, and even though he did write to magazines using this pseudonym. Hazlitt senior was a Unitarian minister, and corresponded with such journals as the Protestant Dissenter's Magazine and the Universal Theological Magazine; he would have had nothing to do with an Anglican journal like this. Also he is not in the least noted for his critical engagement with Shakespeare. Of course, Philalethes could be any Shakespeare-obsessed Anglican thinker and writer, motivated to express in eloquent prose littered with abstruse classical quotation the notion that the 'reign of imagination favours the growth of generous and exalted feelings'. Still, I find myself clinging to the idea that it was Coleridge who wrote this piece. I'm really not sure, though.

Here, at any rate, is the piece. What do you think? Coleridgean enough?


To the Editor of the Christian Observer.

Ingenuas didicisse fideliter artes Emollit mores, nec sinit esse feros.”

I have read your review of the Family Shakespeare, and it reminds me of an anecdote, which is told—no matter where. It occurred in the reign of Louis the Fourteenth.

A general complaint had prevailed in France for many years of the disorderly state of the capital. There was no walking in the fauxbourgs after five o’clock, without danger of being murdered; every table-d'hôte was a scene of uproar; and the lowest class of profligate women infested the streets without number. Colbert (who was a great man for police and privileged companies) undertook to reform this evil; and, after applying himself for some time diligently to the business, had the vanity to think he had succeeded. But a zealous Jansenist of that day, whose name was Bussy-Guitot, understood the matter differently. He published a small piece, by which he shewed, in the first place, that Paris was a town where no reputable gentleman should think of residing;—that all towns indeed were to be avoided as hostile to the simplicity of country life; and therefore that the labour of purifying them was quite misplaced. And, as to the minister's boasted success in Paris, he observed that nothing could be more imperfect; for he himself had heard the bargemen swearing at the Pont-Neuf, and a lad of fourteen had actually been hustled not three weeks before in the Rüe de S. Honoré. My readers will inquire, perhaps, how this ended. I am sorry to say, that the pamphlet had a run; Colbert, finding his reforms unpopular, threw them up; and the city soon became as riotous and profligate as ever.

Now this Jansenist, it should be known, was an exceedingly worthy person. He read his Bible continually; and cordially believed every sentence he gave to the public. How happened it then that he was the occasion of so much mischief? Why just thus. He had been bred in the college of PortRoyal, and understood all the points in controversy with the Jesuits to perfection. But Père Arnauld, who was his oracle, could teach only what he knew; and of the ways of the world he had the happiness to know nothing. In this only he was wiser than his pupil, that he meddled but little with its concerns.

I could not refrain troubling you with this little history, because I really think it very parallel to what has lately happened,—saving only the size of the respective subjects.

All the world read Shakespeare, and all the world would read him. He had been, for more than two centuries, the pride and delight of his countrymen. His finer passages were quoted by every body. His familiar dialogues had become the language of common life. Meantime, all serious persons lamented that dramas so justly admired should be deformed in every page with indecency and profaneness; yet still the years rolled by without any attempt to purify them. If we may guess by the lateness of the undertaking, the task should seem to have been difficult. At length, twenty of the plays are published; cleared for the most part from offensive passages, without being deprived of their original interest; and the intentions of the editor appear, from his preface, to have been equally moral and good-natured.¹ A critique soon afterwards appears in a very valuable religious publication, the sum of which is this: Shakespeare ought never to be read at all —the other dramatists are in the same case—it is therefore idle to reform them: and as to this attempt, it has quite failed; for the name of the evil spirit is retained at p. 334, an oath at p. 360, Falstaff is allowed to quibble upon grace, and—“Oh major tandem parcas, &c.” [This is Horace: Oh major tandem parcas, insane, minori—‘O you who are the greater madman, spare me, I beg you, who am not so far gone’ AR]
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¹ In justice to the editor, it should be observed, that the play (1st Part of Henry IV.) which alone the reviewers thought it necessary to examine, and from which they have selected all their specimens of impropriety, is that which every one will allow to have been the least susceptible of a perfect reform, without material mutilation; while at the same time its transcendent excellence made it impossible that it should be omitted. Notwithstanding the bead-roll of defects with which the Christian Observer has presented us, I cannot but think an impartial examiner will feel surprised at the success with which the editor has executed this part of his labours. As to the integrity of the motives which prompted this publication, let the editor himself be heard: “Though the works of our immortal bard have been presented to the public in a great variety of editions, and are already the ornament of every library, and the delight of every reader; I flatter myself that the present publication may still claim the attention, and obtain the approbation of those, who value every literary production in proportion to the effect it may produce in a religious and moral point of view.— Twenty of the most unexceptionable of Shakespeare's plays are here selected, in which not a single line is added, but from which I have endeavoured to remove everything that could give just offence to the religious and virtuous mind.” Preface to the Family Shakespeare.
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The writers of the article alluded to must allow me to remonstrate a little, both on the spirit and the justice with which their office has been executed, Was it necessary, in reviewing a work which indicated at least good wishes to religion and morals, to exhibit only a censorious disposition, ready to carp at every defect; and to fill three columns (in which their whole critique is included) with a detail of improprieties, left probably, in many instances, from the difficulty of removing them, and which in their aggregate amount to nothing. One is reminded of the old tale in Boccalini, where a gentleman shewed his industry, by picking out with care every particle of chaff to be found in a bushel of sifted wheat—He was rewarded for his pains by a free gift of his precious collection. Why (ask the reviewers, p. 339) are the three Parts of Henry the Sixth omitted? A plain man would imagine, because they are dull. Why retain Othello, yet discard Anthony and Cleopatra and Measure for Measure?² Truly these things are matters of taste; and it is taste, too, that seduces us to read Dryden, and send Marvel and Elkanah Settle to the pastry-cook. But Romeo and Juliet– this too omitted! Here indeed I sympathise with the reviewers; yet, considering their dread of the romantic, one is rather surprised to hear them breathing after a drama, which excites the passions, perhaps, more powerfully than any that Shakespeare has furnished. But there is no end to such objections—they may be supplied at the rate of fifty to a minute. Twenty plays forsooth! why not thirty – why not all? And then Shakespeare must be reformed, while Otway, Rowe, Congreve, are forgotten?
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² Truly I suspect the reviewers are but ill read in Shakespeare. The three Parts of Henry the Sixth undoubtedly contain very striking passages. Such are the deaths of cardinal Beaufort and the earl of Warwick, with many of Henry's speeches. But Warburton declares these plays not to have been written by Shakespeare. It is indeed likely (though denied by Johnson) that his master hand was only employed to throw in a few strokes and some of the boldest colouring. They are besides very heavy, and a most unfaithful transcript of the history of those days. Anthony and Cleopatra, though too busy to be dull, is a poor performance. It contains no original sketches of character, and very little of good sentiment; and is preserved from putrefaction only by its restless activity. Dryden's All for Love, though not good, is generally thought a better performance.--Measure for Measure has many beauties. In particular the scene between Isabella and Claudio, in the third act, is inferior to very few in Shakespeare; but the plot of this drama is so radically indecent, that no skill or labour can purify it. Surely, if the reviewers were sensible of these things, they ought not to have indulged in such weak and cynical exceptions. If they were ignorant, how could they presume to write with more than the authority of knowledge?
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To the whole array of verbal peccadillos, that are marshalled so ostentatiously, it is enough to reply, that if the work had been performed by the greatest master of taste and morals in the empire, every schoolboy would have been able to select twenty times their amount. I willingly believe that the authors of this review have been actuated by good intentions. Yet let me observe, that good intentions and ill-humour match very indifferently together. Should they suggest that these remarks partake of the spirit they condemn, I freely plead guilty. Their article has made me splenetic; and it may be useful for them to have an opportunity of observing how ungraceful spleen and petulance appear in men who sit in judgment upon others. On the general merits of the Family Shakespeare I shall say nothing.

Let it live or perish as it deserves. The editor, however, will probably refuse the decision of critics, who doubt whether the drama can lawfully be studied, and therefore, if true to their principles, acknowledge their incapacity to judge in the act of pronouncing, sentence. From such a bench the reformer of Shakespeare is entitled to appeal, and say, with the old Romans, “Provoco ad populum.” I must, however, observe a little on the moral charge presented by the critics against their literary culprit. They seem to think even his undertaking somewhat reprehensible. “Let it” (they say) “be considered, that the ground-work of almost every dramatic story is passion.” p. 328. Let it be considered, that, of the twenty plays now edited, scarcely one is, in strictness, grounded on passion. Love mingles in their actions, as in common life, and not much more.—“It is scarce possible for a young person of fervid genius to read Shakespeare without a dangerous elevation of fancy.” ib. In an age so fertile of genius as our own, this is melancholy intelligence. But comfort is at hand. Johnson says, the poet “is not long soft or pathetic without some idle conceit or contemptible equivocation;” and a writer, whose discernment the reviewers at least will not question, observes, that “this deformity in the dramatic person of Shakespeare, repulsive as it is to our intellectual feelings, renders his works less seductive and pernicious. Where the judgment is offended, the passions sometimes resent the injury as offered to themselves. The redundant absurdity of Shakespeare occasionally operates as an antidote to his seductions. We refuse to sympathize with the lover or hero, who in the article of death is eager to find rhymes, and expires in giving utterance to a quibble,” and so forth. p. 332. This last authority is decisive. But the general doctrine of this review deserves notice. It is this. Mankind are by nature vastly too romantic. All stimulants therefore should be avoided. Not only the theatre, but dramatic compositions in general, are to be condemned. Other works of imagination follow; novels en masse;³ and, by parity of reasoning (for philosophers at least are answerable for the consequences of their principles), the most animated effusions of eloquence—the finest pieces of history—and “thou, sweet Poetry.” Thus “art after art goes out, and all is night.” [Pope's Dunciad 3. AR] Adieu to every thing that can soften the mind, or elevate, or refine it. Science only is left us; and that too, as it nurses pride and scepticism, may as well go with the rest. In conclusion we hear, “the objector must not plead that imagination is annihilated, for every intellectual ower finds its place in religion. The prophetic imagery of the Old Testament, and the parables of the New, may be regarded as properly the offspring of the inventive faculty.” Let me not be thought insensible to the sublimity and beauty of the Holy Scriptures; yet surely it could scarcely have been expected, that in the nineteenth century the fable of the Egyptian caliph should be realized; who is reported to have burnt the Alexandrian library, because the contents of those volumes if found in the Koran would not be missed, if not found there must be wicked.
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³ The reviewers are somewhat inconsistent. While Shakespeare is banished, the works of Mrs. Radcliffe and Madame D'Arblay are to be retained, (in the upper shelves of the library indeed, where young ladies and gentlemen cannot reach them), because their heroes and heroines are on the whole tolerably moral personages. Do these writers then possess no power over the heart? Is not “passion the ground-work of their stories?” Or if those works only can be permitted, in which the characters pourtrayed are not deformed by great crimes, what shall we say of Thucydides, Livy, Guicciardini, and Clarendon ? I own I am unable to perceive why the histories of Macbeth, John, and Henry the Eighth, dramatized by Shakespeare, are more pernicious than the histories of the Pazzi and Caesar Borgia, dramatized by Machiavel. the strength of their colouring renders vice more odious. I presume, of course, that the impurities of the first of these writers are to be cleared away; but the reviewers will not hear of reform.
 P. 334. The reviewers do not seem to have possessed themselves well of their own theory. If there is any thing of principle in their article, it is, that whatever excites the imagination is hurtful. This renders all inquiries into the moral character of works falling within that description, superfluous; and an adversary would certainly have sought an “ex absurdo” refutation of this doctrine, in those passages of Scripture which the reviewers have above alluded to. Yet these writers proceed with a flowing sail, and never suspect they are among breakers.

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I join issue with the Christian Observer on their main postulate, by denying at once that the world is too romantic.—Will they, however, do me the honour to consider of a reply to a few preliminary questions?—

1. While nine-tenths of mankind are indulging in licentious systems of principles and conduct, if an opportunity offers of drawing them away from vice, or the probable contagion of vice, in any material instance, is it wise to neglect the occasion, because we cannot bring them upon their knees in confession and penitence? Shall we do nothing, because we cannot do every thing; and treat those who are more active than we, with sarcastic severity? To me this seems the worst sort of optimism, chained to the worst sort of zoilism; two things, which, like some others ending in ism, might very conveniently be spared.

2. Is it not true, that literature, as distinguished from science, and addressing principally the imagination and feelings, is one of the most powerful causes of civilization? Or have all the masters of political wisdom, from Plato to Burke, been mistaken in this matter? Perhaps we shall here it doubted, whether civilization is itself a blessing. Really there is no debating these points anew. If they are not now settled, when we have thrown our books into the fire, we may as well throw our heads after them.

If our system of education is to be wholly recast, and a Christian youth, instead of reading reformed copies of Herodotus and Horace, must sit down to Sozomen and Prudentius; if he must study Quarles instead of Pope, and throw aside Addison for John Bunyan, where shall we find able or enlightened defenders of that religion for which these sacrifices are to be made? While wit, elegance, and philosophy are combined against us, can we think that the battle will be well fought by men of contracted minds and mean attainments?—Doubtless truth will ever be triumphant; but the promise of our Redeemer to his church can no more supersede the necessity of adopting all wise means to advance the interests of religion, than the promises made to the elect release them from unwearied endeavours after perfect holiness. Should the principles promulged in the article under examination be generally embraced by the readers of the Christian Observer, they would probably in the next age be reduced to a sect of low bigots, and in the following be divided between weak enthusiasts and furious fanatics. Meantime it is likely the spirit and essence of Christianity would escape; and in the third generation, perhaps, a few of the most pious and enlightened would discover the sin and folly of their forefathers, and gradually withdrawing themselves to a better school, bear again that testimony, which every age has furnished, to the natural alliance between knowledge and Christianity, a liberalized understanding and an improved heart. And now a few words on romance. Is this the sin of the present day? Is it, in its nature, a sin of great malignity? I venture to reply in the negative to both these queries; and to doubt whether the dangers, apprehended on this subject, are not even more imaginary, than the evils supposed to exist in our system of feminine education.

---
⁵ Cymon's paper is ingenious, and he is as near the truth perhaps as those he opposes. Yet surely he takes rather too high an average of female attainments.
---
Of all things in the world a terrorist is the most troublesome. He sighs and grumbles till other melancholy souls catch the infection; and them, as numbers give confidence, the prophesyings begin. All who are silly, ignorant, timid, or discontented, become possessed. Old bachelors, tyrannical husbands, country gentlemen of decayed fortunes with their ancient housekeepers, the second rates of a party, doctors of physic who have no patients, citizens retired to Finchley, with an hundred more, join in the clamour, and alarm spreads in every direction. We all remember an epidemical phrenzy of this kind during a season of scarcity; and in private life, tea, carpets, short waists, and romance, have taken their turns. I cannot think the last much more fearful than its predecessors. They, whether harmless or innocent, at least existed; they were visible and tangible: whereas, after rubbing my eyes, and casting a lynx's look around me, I confess the only romancers I have been able to discover are those who declaim against romance.

In what quarter of the town or country is it, that this fever has spread? We see hundreds of young men continually. Among these, it must be owned, there are vices and follies enough; but the most common of all their vices is selfishness, and the rarest of all their follies is romance. The industrious for the most part attend to their books at college, and to their business afterwards. The idle sport away life according to their fancies; they hunt, drink, game, lounge about St. James's, get upon the turf, fight duels, stand contested elections; but neither fancy nor fashion leads them to be romantic.–Girls, however, we hear, have lively imaginations. Whether their natural disposition to romance is greater than ours I know not, but the checks upon it are greater, and they have no inducement to cherish it. They live under the empire of manners; and the manners of the female world are with us very unfavourable to the developement of strong feelings: nor is it possible that romance should be common in one sex while it is neglected and despised in the other. Facts support the theory; and both observation and inquiry will convince us that the offence, so dreaded and so talked of, is almost as rare among women as men. It is evident, indeed, that the genius of this age and country opposes it. In France, where the ancient noblesse were separated from the bourgeoisie by a broad interval; where they were generally unemployed except during the campaigns, and dependent upon a court famous for its magnificence and gallantry; where the spirit of chivalry was still high, and devotion to the sex was the pride of every gentleman; in France, I say, such as it once was, there may have been a redundance of romantic sentiment. Some infusion of it, however, there must be in a polished society; and he surely is inattentive to the course of human affairs, who thinks, that in a community so commercial and calculating as ours, it is likely to be excessive. It may be reasonably suspected that we have too little, but something more than a dry affirmation is necessary to convince us that we have too much. The reviewers, however, are under great apprehensions lest their “half-employed son” should think himself into an Orlando. To say the truth, if they educate him no better than they propose to educate others, there is little danger of his thinking himself into any thing. But suppose the worst. The young gentleman is dying for Rosalind. What then? He may be very silly, but he is not very criminal. Romance is not virtue; it is not reason; but it is better than selfishness and the litter of puppy follies. The reign of imagination favours at least the growth of generous and exalted feelings, which, though ludicrous from their extravagance, have some. thing about them, that, in youth, is not wholly unaniable or unbecoming. Life too supplies correctives abundantly. The romancer of eighteen is sad and sober at thirty; and if he purchases that lesson of the highest wisdom, for which most of us pay in suffering, more dearly than others, the impression it may be hoped will prove the more deep and lasting.

To return, in conclusion, to the Family Shakespeare. I would not be understood to deny, that some words may be found in the reformed copy, which it would have been more proper to omit. Had the reviewers offered a kind and friendly remonstrance on these points, the editor would probably have confessed that his vigilance had sometimes slumbered, and have seized the first occasion of repairing the defects. But no man was ever goaded into a sincere acknowledgment or conviction of errors by the stings and scourges of persecution. Neither can it be admitted that those errors are numerous. On the contrary, I am persuaded that they who are the most competent to estimate the merits of this performance, will not, upon an accurate examination, think its execution unworthy of the virtuous and disinterested motives which gave it birth. I have long read the Christian Observer with pleasure and improvement. Its claims to general favour are very high as a literary performance,—as a religious miscellany still higher; and it would be a source of real regret to me, if any thing contained in this letter should tend in the slightest degree to diminish its well-earned reputation. The editors too, I am sensible, may find it exceedingly difficult to refuse admission to some articles, the spirit of which they cannot approve. But the interests of religion, as well as their own, require that they should exercise a severer judgment on the contributions they receive. The spirit of censoriousness visible in several of their reviews has called forth remonstrances; and I do not hesitate to say, that the article which has occasioned this letter is the worst specimen of severity they have ever exhibited. We may say of them, as Cotta of the Epicureans; “solent, id quod virorum bonorum est, admodum irasci.” [This is from Cicero's De Legibus 1:21: 'and so it is that the best of men are very angry'. AR] Yet it must be owned, that to find fault is the easiest of all things; and one of the least becoming of all things is to find fault pettishly. In men too, who upon all moral questions assume a severe tone, and refer continually to the highest and only just standard of action, we are entitled to expect a very guarded practice. A face of beauty renders every blemish remarkable. To declaim against theatres and theatrical compositions, routs, balls, and card-parties, while we are unkind, ungentle, fretful, or censorious, is exactly of a piece with the old morality of the Pharisees, the more modern casuistry of the Jesuists, and the inconsistencies of formalism in all ages. Whether public amusements are lawful may be questionable; but , there can be no question at all, as to evil tempers being criminal, in all degrees, and of every description. For myself, though I am not now in the habit either of reading dramas or attending their representation, I have no difficulty in confessing, that my mind would be a less burthened with the recollection of having spent an evening in the stagebox at Drury-lane, than of having given to the world the review of the Family Shakespeare.

*.*.*.*

PHILALETHES.

[The Christian Observer, 7 (June 1808), 388-94]

Monday, 19 October 2015

Coleridge Writes in Code: Can We Crack It?

Dan Brown eat your heart out.

So the lecture on Othello, delivered 21 January 1819 in London (and which contains one of my favourite nuggets of Coleridgean Shakespeare-criticism, when he describes Iago's speeches as 'the motive-hunting of a motiveless Malignity') is lost to us except for various notes STC made in his edition of Shakespeare. Some of these are quite lengthy, and they end with the following:
But in truth, it is a mere accident of Terms in the first place; for the Trilogy of the Greek theatre was a drama in three acts, and notwithstanding this, the strange contrivances as to place, as in the FROGS. There is no lack of instances in the Greek tragedies—the allowance extorted of 24 hours—is if, perception once violated, it was more difficult to imagine three three hours to be three years than to be a whole day and night. Aeschylus’ AGAMEMNON furnishes a fine instance of this.

There is a danger in introducing into a situation of great interest one for whom you had no previous Interest. Φρϛφρρ Iωαν
Nobody knows what that last little bit of Greek means. It transliterates as Frsfrr Iōan, or if you prefer as Phrsphrr Iōan, the first bit of which doesn't mean anything in Greek, or in any other language (the second bit is the Greek for 'John'). Foakes is frankly baffled: 'The sentence and C's cipher are unexplained' [CC 5.2, 317] and floats the theory that it might refer to John Thelwall, which strikes me as unpersuasive, Or indeed, as clearly wrong.

So what is going on here? I have two theories, one I consider less and one slightly more likely. The less likely is that the Greek picks up on the reference to Aristophanes' Frogs from earlier in the notes. For this to be true, the rendering of the Greek would have to altered, on the understanding that Coleridge's 'ω's could be written so roughly as to be confusable with his 'ρ's: the word would then be 'φωσφόρ[ος] ‎(phōsphóros, light-bearer, light-carrier; also the name of the Morning Star, from φῶς ‎(phôs, light) + φέρω ‎('to bear, to carry'). Maybe φωσφωρ Iωαν might be a mangled jotting-down of Aristophanes' Ἴακχ φωσφόρος from Frogs 342-3?
Ἴακχ᾽ ὦ Ἴακχε,
νυκτέρου τελετῆς φωσφόρος ἀστήρ.
This is the choral address to Iacchus, and it means: 'Iacchus, O Iacchus/Shining star of our night-time rituals!' It is not immediately clear to me what this has to do with the rest of Coleridge's point. Also the reading relies on rewriting the actual Greek, which is not ideal in code-busting terms.

So that brings me to the second, and I think more likely theory. Iωαν is John, and writing it in Greek is Coleridge's way of shorthanding the Gospel of Saint John (written, of course, in Greek). Φρϛφρρ would presumably be a way of coding a specific passage. It's hard to see which one, though. The weird use of a terminal sigma (ϛ) in the middle of the word (it should be a σ, of course) makes me think that this is actually two words: Φρϛ and φρρ. That doesn't exactly help us, though. If Φρϛ is Φωϛ (light), then there is an obvious Johannine connection, since that Gospel is full of references to Christ as the light. But that doesn't solve what φρρ might be referring to, or what it has to do with the broader point being made. The Greek gospel is divided into sections marked with letters, but they don't go as high as any of the letters Coleridge notates. Chapter 3 of the Gospel concerns a doubting Pharisee ('τῶν Φαρισαίων'): might Coleridge's 'Φρϛ' be a shortened version of that word? Is this some oblique reference to the introduction of the Pharisee characters into John's narrative?

Most intriguing.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

John Bristed: the Alt-Coleridge


There are some remarkable parallels between the careers of John Bristed (you’ve never heard of him, but bear with me) and Coleridge. Coleridge was born in Devon in 1772; Bristed was born in Devon in 1778; both men were the sons of a clergyman of the Established Church, and both flirted with Nonconformism in their youth—Coleridge with Unitarianism, Bristed with Quakerism—before settling in the Anglican church (Bristed was ordained in later life). In 1802-3 Bristed published The Adviser, or the Moral and Literary Tribunal in four volumes: a collection of essays ‘on topics of morals addressed to the youth of Great Britain’. Coleridge published The Friend 1809-10, later collected into three volumes, a collection of essays ‘to aid in the formation of fixed principles in politics, morals and religion’. Bristed also published a collection of Critical and Philosophical Essays in 1804, topics that Coleridge (of course) also often explored in print. It’s possible and even likely that the two men were aware of one another; perhaps they even met. Specifically I wonder if Coleridge took The Adviser as his model for The Friend. There is, however, no evidence connecting the two men; at least, not anything I've been able to unearth.

One reason for that may be that during Coleridge decades of higher profile, the 18-teens and 1820s, Bristed was no longer in the country. In 1806 he emigrated to America, something Coleridge had planned to do in 1795 but (of course) never actually managed. From then Bristed becomes an important name in New York, although his transatlantic life continues running in a weirdly parallel track to Coleridge—so, Bristed writes on politics and culture for newspapers and publishes books on those matters, just like Coleridge did; Bristed lectures to paying audiences on a wide variety of topics, just like Coleridge did (In 1814 was issued ‘a Prospectus of a series of courses of Lectures to be delivered by John Bristed’ in New York: four courses of at least fifty lectures each addressing ‘the principles of Metaphysics, History, Political Economy ... their application to National History, National Government, and to Eloquence, oral and written, [and] an elementary outline of the various legal codes of civilized nations’). Late in his life, Bristed published Thoughts on the Anglican and American-Anglo Churches (1822), just as late in his life Coleridge published On the Constitution of Church and State (1829). The difference is that Bristed argued in favour of the voluntary system of American religious observance over the establishments of England, and Coleridge argued the exact opposite. Coleridge died in 1834; Bristed in 1855.

The main difference between the two men, of course, is that Coleridge was a genius and Bristed wasn’t. Still, Bristed lived a productive, fulfilled, successful life, married (happily it seems) to the daughter of a millionaire, and was widely respected in the nascent US; where Coleridge was unhappily married, so often miserable, alienated, drug-addicted and so on. I don't know. Which life would you rather have? Genius, underappreciated brilliance, misery, posthumous fame? Or worthy mediocrity, the respect of your contemporaries, happiness, posthumous obscurity? It's a tough call.

Friday, 16 October 2015

Undersporit

On the 2nd November 1813, at the White Lion, Broad Street in Bristol, Coleridge lectured on Macbeth. This is relevant to my purposes because I reckon he reused some of this material when he lectured again on Macbeth, in London, 14th January 1819. We don't have much by way of records of the 1813 lecture, although some of the notes used were copied out of Coleridge's notebook (now lost) by Ernest Hartley Coleridge into his notebook. From that we get the following:
Das spottische auflauern ob nicht ein umstand der wirklichkeit undersporit—which is yet never attainable—and if attainable would disappoint the very purposes and ends of the Drama, demonstrates not good sense, but an utter want of all imagination, a deadness to that necessary pleasure of being innocently—shall I say deluded? No! but drawn away from ourselves into the music of noblest thoughts in harmonising sounds—Mem the passage—Blest he who not only in the public Theatre—etc./
Foakes does his best with this: since undersporit is not a word in German, or in any language, he consulted his German-speaking friend René Wellek, who suggested the emendation ‘widerspricht’, which he adopts. His footnote reads: 'EHC's scrawl here and the question mark he added suggest he had no idea what he was copying.' Ouch. Foakes adds: 'This paragraph relates to C's theories about imitation (as distinct from copy) and dramatic illusion: see Lecture 4 of the 1808 series.' He also translates the German for us: 'The scornful lying in wait to see whether any circumstance conflicts with reality' [CC 5:1, 528]. He doesn't track down the source of the German, and rather implies that it might be Coleridge musing aloud (as it were) in Deutsch.

Actually, though, the mangled German is from Schlegel's Ueber dramatische Kunst und Litteratur (it should read: ‘Das spöttische Auflauern hingegen, ob nicht irgend ein Umstand der scheinbaren Wirklichkeit widerspricht’), which we know Coleridge didn't read until the very end of 1811, so the reference back to 1808 is a touch misleading. Also, when placed in its context, we can see that the whole of this Coleridgean paragraph is him summarising Schlegel's point, not making one of his own:
Die wahre Täuschung besteht eben darin, wenn man durch die Eindrücke der Dicht und Schauspielkunst so hingerissen wird, daß man die Nebensachen übersieht, und die ganze übrige Gegenwart vergißt. Das spöttische Auflauern hingegen, ob nicht irgend ein Umstand der scheinbaren Wirklichkeit widerspricht, die, strenge genommen, doch niemals vollkommen zu erreichen steht, beweist die Ohnmacht der Einbildungskraft und die Unfähig keit getäuscht zu werden. Dieser prosaische Unglaube kann so weit gehen, daß es den theatralischen Künstlern, die unter jeder Verfassung der Szene gewisse Vergünstigungen bedürfen, ganz unmöglich fällt, durch ihre Hervorbringungen die Zuschauer zu ergötzen, und so sind diese am Ende die Feinde ihres eignen Genusses. [Schlegel, Ueber dramatische Kunst und Litteratur (2 vols; Heidelberg 1817) 2:259]
Here's how John Black translates that passage, in his 1815 translation of the German's lectures. After a bit of Schlegel on scene-painting ('The poet was not obliged to consult the scene-painter to know what could or what could not be represented; nor to calculate whether the store of decorations on hand were sufficient, or new ones would be requisite. He imposed no constraint on the action with respect to change of times and places, but represented it entirely as it would have naturally taken place: he left to the imagination This call on the fancy to supply the deficiencies supposes, indeed, not merely benevolent, but also intelligent spectators in a poetical tone of mind') we get:
That is the true illusion, when the spectators are so completely carried away by the impressions of the poetry and the acting, that they overlook the secondary matters, and forget the whole of the remaining objects around them. The lying censoriously on the watch to discover whether any circumstance may not violate an apparent reality which, strictly speaking, never can be attained, is a proof of inertness of imagination and an incapacity to be deceived. This prosaical incredulity may be carried so far as to render it utterly impossible for the theatrical artists, who in every constitution of the theatre require many indulgencies, to amuse the spectators by their productions; and in this manner they are, in the end, the enemies of their own enjoyment. [John Black’s transl. A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature, by August Wilhelm Schlegel's (1815), 2:270-71]

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Lecturing on Shakespeare: Hazlitt versus Coleridge



Looks rather as if that poster is advertising 'Leitures', don't you think?

So, between January 1808 and March 1819 Coleridge delivered over a hundred lectures, parcelled into twelve separate courses, some courses lasting only for a few lectures, others stretching to as many as seventeen, or maybe more (in some cases we're not quite sure). The topics were mostly literary, with the majority given on Shakespeare, Milton and European Literature; other lectures were Philosophical. Coleridge lectured mostly to earn money, because he was usually stony broke. He charged a few shillings a ticket, and many people paid. He lectured without notes, or else he brought notes and then pointedly did not consult them; there were many digressions, some brilliant, others baffling or bathetic. Reactions were mixed: some reports acclaimed his genius, others mocked his digressive manner, abstruseness and dulness.

He was by no means the only person giving lectures like these at this time, although he probably the most celebrated on the London circuit. The 1811-12 lectures, some of which Byron attended, became quite the 'in' thing, were well-attended and made some good money; but when Coleridge tried to repeat the success later in 1812 it didn't go so well. Still, lots of people were offering paying lectures on lots of topics around this time. By 1819, the New Annual Register could say 'the establishment of various institutions for lectures on literature and science, may be regarded as one of the signs and consequences, as well as one of the causes of a more general prevalence of miscellaneous knowledge on almost every subject, than existed among our ancestors. Among the subjects of these lectures, none have been more engaging and popular than the belles lettres'.

Some of these courses sound, perhaps, a little dull—one example: A Course of Lectures, containing a Description and Systematic Arrangement of the several Branches of Divinity; accompanied with an Account, both of the principal Authors, and of the Progress which has been made at different Periods in Theological Learning. By Herbert Marsh, D.D. F.R.S. Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge (collected in volume form, 1809). Some look rather more intriguing: like these ones—


Schlegel's lectures On Dramatic Art and Literature (especially Shakespeare), which had been delivered from 1801 onwards in Berlin, were translated in English by John Black in 1816, and proved a big hit. Coleridge had read them, in German of course, early in 1812; everyone else read them a few years later.


Who else? Well George Campbell lectured on 'Ecclesiastical History' at Marischal College in 1806; Dr Collyer lectured on 'Scripture Doctrine' and 'Scripture Fact' in 1817; and the Rev Ezekiel Blomfield's Lectures on the Philosophy of History were published posthumously in 1819. Returning to Shakespeare, radical firebrand John Thelwall lectured in 1817-18 at an institution in Lincoln’s Inn Fields on Shakespeare and Dr Johnson. You might be forgiven for thinking that everybody was at it.

But there's one fellow-lecturer in particular who is significant for our purposes. In part motivated by Coleridge's example, William Hazlitt began giving lectures at the Russell Institution in London in January 1812, continuing at the Surrey Institution and elsewhere. He talked, like Coleridge, on Literature and Philosophy. Unlike Coleridge, he wrote up and published his lectures:



Hazlitt and Coleridge had been friends as young men; but Coleridge's drift (as Hazlitt saw it) to what nowadays we would call the right-wing of politics alienated him from his former mentor. Indeed, these two lecture series, Coleridge's and Hazlitt's, stand as rival modes of interpreting Shakespeare. In two books (Shakespeare and the English Romantic Imagination [OUP 1986] and Shakespearean Constitutions: Politics, Theatre, Criticism 1730–1830 [OUP 1989]) Jonathan Bate has mounted a vigorous defence of Hazlitt as not only the more politically sympathetic reader of Shakespeare, but the better critic too.

The danger here, I think, is of too crude an ideological separation being imposed: in the blue corner Coleridge, by this stage in his life a Church and State Tory, reading Shakespeare as in effect a Conservative; in the red, battling Hazlitt, trying to reclaim Shakespeare for the people, and in doing so inadvertently inventing 1980s-era cultural materialism. Bate:
Long before the ‘new historicism’ [Thelwall] saw that the theatre is ‘in reality a question of politics’ and started asking awkward questions about Shakespeare’s politics. He came to the pessimistic conclusion that Shakespeare ‘too often wielded the pen of political prostitution’. Hazlitt agreed that the theatre was political, but argued that behind the show of power and kingly glory in plays like Henry VIII, there was a subversive critique of monarchy. It was Hazlitt who was first to offer a negative reading of that most popular of Shakespearean kings, Henry V: ‘Henry, because he did not know how to govern his own kingdom, determined to make war upon his neighbours. Because his own title to the crown was doubtful, he laid claim to that of France. Because he did not know how to exercise the enormous power, which had just dropped into his hands, to any one good purpose, he immediately undertook (a cheap and obvious resource of sovereignty) to do all the mischief he could.’ Coleridge thought very differently about Shakespeare’s kings. Hazlitt wrote in 1819 of how ‘Mr Coleridge, in his late Lectures, contend[ed] that not to fall down in prostration of soul before the abstract majesty of kings as it is seen in the diminished perspective of centuries, argues an inherent littleness of mind.'
A touch unfair to represent Coleridge not by his own words, but via the hostile prism of Hazlitt. But OK:
Coleridge has his cake and eats it too as far as Shakespeare’s politics are concerned: one moment the Bard is an anti-Jacobin, the next he stands serenely above the cut and thrust of faction, being credited in the same lecture with having ‘no sectarian character of Politician or religion’ despite writing ‘in an age of political & religious heat’. Hazlitt, who was lecturing to a very different, predominantly Dissenting audience at the Surrey Institution, read the Courier report and wrote a reply in the pro-radical Yellow Dwarf. He chid Coleridge with his own former Jacobinism, reminding him of the Conciones ad Populum. But he also produced a counter-reading of The Tempest, which takes the form of an ironic amplification of Coleridge’s comparison with modern France. Hazlitt reads Caliban as the legitimate ruler of the isle and Prospero as the usurper: Prospero is therefore the Jacobin, or the Bonaparte, and Caliban the Bourbon, ‘the Louis XVIII of the enchanted island in The Tempest’. The initial purpose of this is to ridicule Coleridge’s verssion of Caliban, but Hazlitt cannot resist pursuing his reading: ‘Caliban is so far from being a prototype of modern Jacobinism, that he is strictly the legitimate sovereign of the isle, and Prospero and the rest are usurpers, who have ousted him from his hereditary jurisdiction ... “This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother”; and he complains bitterly of the artifices used by his new friends to cajole him out of it.’ If we are to speak of usurpation, does it not come from the court rather than the native, not from Caliban but from ‘those finished Court-practitioners, Sebastian and Antonio’? ‘Were they Jacobins like Caliban, or legitimate personages, like Mr Coleridge? Did they belong to the new school or the old? That is the question: but it is a question which our lay-preacher will take care not to answer.’ Hazlitt has brilliantly turned the argument, and the play is seen in new light as an attack on legitimacy. For Hazlitt, Prospero is like all absolute rulers in that he relies on arbitrary power and the forcible repression of opposition. Furthermore, contained within the claim that Caliban is the real owner of the island is a reading in terms of colonial exploitation – the play thus becomes an exemplary text for abolitionists. Out of Coleridge’s passing remark, Hazlitt has created the kind of Tempest that has been rediscovered in the 1980s.
Clever Hazlitt! How could we fail to agree with Bate? Down with STC, up with Haz. Or ... maybe not. For myself, I'm persuaded by Pamela Edwards' great book The Statesman's Science: History, Nature, and Law in the Political Thought of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (2004) that it is simply a mistake to follow the crowd of Romantic commentators (and subsequent critics) in pegging late Coleridge a Tory. He himself insisted that his core values had not changed, and although it's possible to mock that as the kind of thing late-converts to Toryism from Radicalism are bound to say, it's also possible to take it at face value. His 'radicalism' had always been a very different thing from the radicalism of Thomas Paine or Thelwall; and his Toryism was a much more radical matter, in many ways, than his contemporaries realised. I certainly think that his account of Shakespeare in the 1811-12 and 1818-19 lectures is much more nuanced and ideologically nuanced than Bate gives it credit. But then I would say that, wouldn't I.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Another Hitherto Unnoticed Report of Coleridge's Lectures: 14 Dec 1818

A small note, this one:
On Monday evening, Mr. Coleridge commenced a course of weekly biographical and historical lectures on the most important revolutions in the belief and opinions of mankind (See advertisement in our last Number;) and on Thursday another course, on six selected plays of Shakspeare. These lectures are delivered at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in the Strand. That of Monday was principally introductory, shewing the progressive state of civilization, and the consequently improved state of human reason. Mr.C. denied that true philosophy had any existence before the days of Pythagoras, and entered largely into a view of ancient history, as illustrative of the subject. There was much novelty in the manner in which he handled this branch of his theory. We can at present afford no more than this brief notice, which may, however, direct the lovers of science and inquiry where they may reap information in an uncommon, if not an unique way. [‘Mr Coleridge’s Lectures’ Literary Gazette (19 Dec 1818), 808]
For this series, Coleridge alternated Philosophy lectures on Mondays with Shakespeare lectures on Thursdays. I'm really only interested in the latter, but this small note deserves mention anyway.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Hitherto Unnoticed Report of Coleridge's Lectures: 1811-12 Series, Lectures 4, 7, 8 and 9



Today I'm afraid this blog takes a turn towards the abstruse, so far as the general reader is concerned. The specialist in the area of Coleridge-as-Lecturer might be interested in what I say here, but since I reckon I could count the number of such specialists on the fingers of one hand I shan't rely upon that fact for a massive bump in readers.

So, pursuant to producing my EUP edition of Coleridge's Lectures on Shakespeare, I've been chasing up any accounts of Coleridge's lectures that critics have hitherto missed. Since STC didn't write-out his lectures we have to rely on reports from attendees to know what he was saying, which makes these kinds of report sort-of important. The good news is that Foakes (in his standard edition, cover image at the head of this blogpost) has done a pretty good job of tracking down (i) Coleridge's scattered notes, such as they are (they're not much), (ii) lecture transcriptions by Collier or Tomalin as exist (iii) reports in contemporary newspapers and magazines. But there are examples of (iii) that he has missed, and when I find those I'll blog about them here.

Today that means blogging the (anonymously authored) accounts of lectures 4 and 7-9 that appeared under the title: ‘Intelligence—Literary, Philosophical &c’ in The General Chronicle and Literary Magazine [4 (April 1812), 310-12, and 411-15]. The first part of this, pages 310-12, is as follows:
Mr. COLERIDGE, a gentleman already well known for his own poetical writings, has lately delivered, in the metropolis, lectures upon the general body of English poetry, not refraining even from the invidious task of delivering public criticisms upon the productions of living writers. Polite criticism is the source of so many elegant enjoyments, that every effort in that department claims the attention of persons of taste, and the present subject is one which strictly belongs to our head of Literary Intelligence.

Mr. Coleridge was naturally led to dwell upon the writings of Shakespear, that well of poetry, the waters of which are continually, presented to our lips, and of which; we are yet never weary. He commenced his fourth lecture by adverting to the period when Shakespear wrote, and the discouragements of the poet, from the prejudices which prevailed against his sublime art. He conceived, with Mr. Malone, that Shakespear began his public career about 1591, when he was 27 years of age. From the rank his father sustained, he did not credit the stories of the humble situation of the poet, whose earliest productions he considered to be the Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece, and from these it was easy to predict his future greatness: poeta nascitur non fit. In these models we could'discern that he possessed at least two indications of his genuine character—he was riot merely endowed with a thirst for the end, but he enjoyed an ample capability of the means; and in the selection of his subject he distinguished one that was far removed from his private interests, feelings, and circumstances. A third was, that the Venus and Adonis is immediate in its impulse on the senses; everything is seen and heard as if represented by the most consummate actors. The poet does not, like Ariosto, or like Wieland, speak to our sensual appetites; but he has by his wonderful powers raised the; student to his own level, a thousand exterior images forming his rich drapery, and all tending to profound reflection, so as to overpower and extinguish every thing derogatory and humiliating. As little can the mind, thus agitated, yield to low desire, as the mist can sleep on the surface of our northern Windermere, when the strong wind is driving the lake onward with foam and billows before it. There are three requisites to form the poet:—1, sensibility; 2, imagination; 3, powers of association. The last and least is principally conspicuous in this production; but although the least, it is yet a characteristic and great excellence of the art. The lecturer having read the description of the horse and the hare in the same piece, next proceeded to discuss the merits of the Lucrece, in which, he said, we observe impetuous vigour and activity, with a much larger display of profound reflection, and a perfect dominion over the whole of our language, but nothing deeply pathetic, examining the dramatic he should rather pursue the order which had been composed: Love's Labour LostAll's Well that Ends WellRomeo and JulietThe Midsummer Night's DreamAs You Like ItTwelfth Night—which were produced when the genius of the poet was ripening. Then he should follow him through Troilus and CressidaCymbelineThe Merchant of Venice—and Much Ado about Nothing. Last, to the grandest efforts of his pen, MacbethLearHamlet—and Othello. These interesting subjects Were reserved for the next and ensuing lectures. After some short comparative observations, principally in vindication of the great dramatist, Mr. Coleridge concluded with a simple passage from Burns, to show the capacity of the poet to give novelty and freshness, profundity and wisdom, entertainment and instruction, to the most familiar objects. This is eminently conspicuous, when the transient character of his subject is thus beautifully expressed by the Scottish bard:
Like snow that falls upon a river
A moment white, then gone for ever!
The second part follows on pages 411-15:
Mr COLERIDGE having concluded the preliminary discussions on the nature of the Shakspearian Drama and the genius of the poet, and briefly noticed Love's Labour Lost, as the link which connected together the poet and the dramatist, proceeded in his seventh lecture to an elaborate review of Romeo and Juliet, a play in which are to be found all the individual excellences of the author, but less happily combined than in his riper productions. This Mr. C. observed to be the characteristic of genius, that its earliest works are never inferior in beauties, while the merits which taste and judgment can confer are of slow growth. Tibalt and Capulet he showed to be representatives of classes which Shakespear had observed in society, while in Mercutio he exhibited the first character of his own conception; a character formed of poetic elements, which meditation rather than observation had revealed to him; a man full of high fancy and rapid thought, conscious of his own powers, careless of life, generous, noble, a perfect gentleman. On his fate hangs the catastrophe of the tragedy. In commenting on the character of the Nurse, Mr. C. strenuously resisted the suggestion, that this was a mere piece of Dutch painting; a portrait in the style of Gerard Dow. On the contrary, her character is exquisitely generalized, and is subservient to the display of fine moral contrasts. Her fondness for Juliet is delightfully pathetic: 'What a melancholy world would this be without children! how inhuman, without old age!' Her loquacity is characteristic of a vulgar mind, which recollects merely by coincidence of time and place, while cultivated minds connect their ideas by cause and effect. Having admitted that these lower persons might be suggested to Shakespear by observation, Mr. C. reverted to his ideal characters, and said, 'I ask, where Shakespear observed this? (an heroic sentiment of Othello's) it was with his inward eye of meditation on his own nature. He became Othello, and therefore spoke like him. Shakespear became, in fact, all men but the vicious; but in drawing his characters, he regarded essential, not accidental relations. Avarice he never pourtrayed, for avarice is a factitious passion. The Miser of Plautus and Moliere is already obsolete; Mr. C. entered into a discussion of the nature of fancy; showed how Shakespear, composing under a feeling of the unimaginable, and endeavouring to reconcile opposites by producing a strong working of the mind, was led to those earnest conceits which are consistent with passion, though frigidly imitated by writers without any. He illustrated this part of his subject by a reference to Milton's conception of Death, which the painters absurdly endeavour to strip of its fanciful nature, and render definite by the figure of a skeleton, the dryest of all images, compared with which, a square or a triangle is a luxuriant fancy.

Mr. C. postponed the examination of the hero and heroine of the piece, but prefaced his inquiry by remarks on the nature of love, which he defined to be a perfect desire of the whole being to be united to some thing or being which is felt necessary to its perfection, by the most perfect means that nature permits, and reason dictates; and took occasion, with great delicacy, to contrast this link of our higher and lower nature, this noblest energy of our human and social beings with what, by gross misnomer, usurps its name; and asserted, that the criterion of honour and worth among men is their habit of sentiment on the subject of love.

Mr. Coleridge commenced his eighth lecture by pointing out the great similarity in the effects produced by poetry and religion, the latter of which he had ever deemed the poetry of all mankind, in which the divinest truths were revealed. He had heard it said, that 'an undevout astronomer is mad;' much more truly might it be stated, that an undevout poet is insane; in fact it -was an impossibility. After impressing upon his auditors what a poet was, viz. that he combined all the feelings of the child with the powers of the man, he proceeded to trace the passion of love from its earliest origin, asserting by the way, that Shakespear and Sir Philip Sidney only, of all their contemporaries, entertained a fit notion of the female character. They rose like the heads of two mighty mountains in a deluge, remaining islands, while all around them was swallowed up by the oblivious flood. He next entered at length into a defence of the existence of love as a passion, fitted only for, and appropriate only to, human nature, during which he combated with much force the doctrines of the materialists, maintaining that man was formed of body and of mind, and that in the "heights of joy or the depths of sorrow, although the former was the willing and sympathising servant, the latter was mainly acted upon by the delight or by the sorrow. He asserted, that without marriage, the result of exclusive attachment, which was dictated by heaven, men might be herds, but could not form society: without it, all the sacred affections and charities of our nature could never have existence.

The origin and cause of love was a consciousness of imperfection, and an unceasing desire to remedy it: it was a yearning after an ideal image, necessary to complete the happiness of man, by supplying what in him was deficient; and Shakespear, throughout his works, had viewed the passion in this dignified light: he had conceived it not only with moral grandeur, but with philosophical penetration. Romeo had formed his ideal image; he imagined that Rosaline supplied the deficiency; but the moment he beheld Juliet he discovered his mistake; he felt a nearer affinity to her, he became perfectly enamoured, and the love he felt formed the foundation of the tragedy. The feeling of Romeo towards Juliet was wholly different, as he himself expressed it, from that which he had experienced toward Rosaline.

The lecturer went on to notice the analogy between the operations of the mind with regard to taste and love, as with the former an ideal image had been created which the reason was anxious to realize. Other passions distort whatever object is presented to them. Lear accused the elements of ingratitude, and the madman imagined the straws on which he trampled to be the golden pavement of a palace; but, with love,, every thing was in harmony, and all produced natural and delightful associations. In Mr. C.'s opinion, the conceits put into the mouths of Romeo and Juliet are perfectly natural to their age and inexperience. It was Shakespear's intention in this play to represent love as existing rather in the imagination, than in the feelings, as was shown by the imaginative dialogue between the hero and heroine, in the parting scene in the third act. The passion in the youthful Romeo was wholly different from that of the deliberate Othello, who entered the marriage state with deep moral reflections on its objects and consequences. The lecturer insisted that love was an act of the will, and ridiculed the sickly nonsense of Sterne and his imitators, French and English, who maintained that it was an involuntary emotion. Having adverted to the trueness to nature of the tragic parts of Romeo and Juliet, Mr. Coleridge concluded by referring to Shakespear's description of the Apothecary, too often quoted against those of unfortunate physiognomy, or those depressed by poverty. Shakespear meant much more; he intended to convey, that in every man's face there was either to be found a history or a prophecy—a history of struggles past, or a prophecy of events to come. In contemplating the face of the most abandoned of mankind, many lineaments of villainy would be seen ;. yet, in the under features (if he might so express himself), would be traced the lines that former sufferings and struggles had impressed, lines which would always sadden and frequently soften the observer, and raise a determination in him not to despair of the unfortunate object, but to regard him with the feelings of a brother.

Mr. Coleridge introduced his ninth lecture by some original remarks on the distinction between sculpture and painting, and drew an analogy between them and the ancient and the Shakespearian drama. He noticed the advantages and disadvantages of which our immortal poet had to avail himself or to combat, bestowing some severe censures on what was called the 'Sentimental Drama,' which, in its highest state of perfection, only aspired 'to the genius of an onion, the power of drawing tears.' Shakespear's characters, he observed, from Macbeth down to Dogberry, were ideal, and the reader almost every where sees himself depicted without being conscious of it, but much exalted and improved; as the traveller in the North of Germany, at sunrise, in the mists of morning beholds his own form, of gigantic proportions, only knowing it to be his own by the similarity of action. The lecturer afterward adverted to the defective criticism of the English commentators on Shakespear, and the just conceptions of his talents by the German writers, accounting for it by observing, that Englishmen had been chiefly employed in action, while Germans, incapable of action, had been engaged in reflecting upon action. — Shakespear's plays might be divided, first, into those where the real was disguised in the ideal; 2dly, into those where the ideal was hidden in the real. At present, he should refer to those where the ideal was predominant, and chiefly because many objections had been raised against such performances; not objections the growth of England, but of France; the judgment of monkies, by some wonderful phenomenon, put into the mouths of men. As a specimen of the ideal plays, Mr. Coleridge took the Tempest, of which he entered into an elaborate criticism. In the first scene the author had shown his wonderful power of combination of the gay with the sad; where even laughter added to the tear which grief had drawn. He had there likewise introduced the most profound sentiments of wisdom; and Mr. Coleridge illustrated his position by various quotations. In the succeeding scene, Prospero and Miranda are introduced, the latter of whom possessed all the exquisite sensibility of a female brought up far from the busy haunts of men, yet with all the advantages of education. Mr. C. dwelt with peculiar felicity on the various delicate traits of her character. The admirable gradations by which the supernatural powers of Prospero were disclosed, were also noticed, as well as the natural developement of the fable in the relation of the father to his daughter; and Shakespear's accurate knowledge of human nature, by the circumstances of the recollection of long past events by Miranda. The great picturesque power of the poet, equalled only by Pindar and Dante, which often consisted in supplying by a mere epithet a picture to the imagination of the reader, and the inimitable preparation for the conclusion by the fine judgment of Shakespear, received much attention. The character of Ariel, which was neither angel, gnome, nor demon, but rather like a child supernaturally gifted, was happily opposed to Caliban, painted with such masterly originality, and introduced" by the brutal sound of his inhuman voice before his disgusting shape was exhibited to view: After slightly glancing at the characters of Ferdinand and Alonzo, Mr. C. entered into an eulogy of the scene in which a conspiracy was formed to destroy the latter, and explained his reasons for the praise he bestowed in opposition to the opinions of Pope and Arbuthnot. He concluded, by justifying the expression employed by Prospero to his daughter, 'Advance the fringed curtain of thine eye,' which the two annotators above noticed had asserted to be gross bombast.
There's quite a lot of specific detail in this second account which confirms Collier's notes (if not his exact phrasing): Burns is quoted in Lecture 4, or rather slightly misquoted here exactly as Tomalin records (the actual line is 'Or like the snow falls in the river'); Coleridge repudiating the idea that the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet is like the from-life paintings of Gerard Dow (more usually Dou) and the points about Milton's death are in Lecture 7; the points about Sidney and Lear in Lecture 8 and the rest in Lecture 9. Indeed the close parallels between the phrasing here and the phrasing in Collier's notes, down to multiple specific expressions and sentences, and idiosyncracies of spelling (from 'Dow' to 'developement') speaks either to the accuracy of Collier's note-taking, or (much more likely) to the fact that Collier himself wrote this account of the lectures for the The General Chronicle and Literary Magazine. The bad news is that this account adds nothing to the accounts we already have of these lectures. Still, if this 1812 report is by Collier, there's one small germ of interest: for he later lost his notes on Lecture 4, and so the paragraphs above may constitute his only remaining account of that lecture. The points mentioned are all logged by Tomalin, although the phrasing is subtly different in places. So, maybe-Collier, here:
As little can the mind, thus agitated, yield to low desire, as the mist can sleep on the surface of our northern Windermere, when the strong wind is driving the lake onward with foam and billows before it.
The version recorded by Tomalin is:
The reader's thoughts are forced into too much action to sympathise with what is merely passion in our nature. As little could the noisome mist hang over our northern Windermere, when a strong and invigorating gale was driving the lake in foam and billows before it.
If this is Collier, then it would at least explain why he was so assiduous in taking shorthand notes of these lectures: he was reporting them, and presumably getting paid.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Today, in Coleridge Misprint News



Ah, my trusty old Penguin Coleridge! Edited by Kathleen Raine. OK, so in her introduction she insists STC was a Platonist, which he really really wasn't. But no matter: a healthy selection of poetry and prose, nicely printed, and ... wait:



Wave a circle? How would you even do that? Ach, never mind. It only ruins the perfect closing lines of one of the most perfect poems anybody ever wrote in English. It's no biggy.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

'Fishing for Elephants'



From Henry Nelson Coleridge's The Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (2 vols, 1836), 1:148:
Speaking of the small German potentates, I dictated the phrase—officious for equivalents. This my amanuensis wrote—fishing for elephants;—which, as I observed at the time, was a sort of Noah's angling, that could hardly have occurred, except at the commencement of the Deluge.
It's an expressive phrase, especially in the context of Coleridge and his lifelong attempts to snare in the tendrils of his tangling prose some very large truths indeed. Why fish for minnows when we can fish for elephants? Truth, genius, God. It's the elephant in the Rhine.

One wrinkle: I can't find anywhere in Coleridge's works where he refers to German potentates, or anybody else, being officious for equivalents. Might he simply have made this rather delicious mis-hearing up? It wouldn't be the first time he did such a thing.

The 'elephant in the Rhine' line was bad, I admit it. But originally I was going to go with an 'it's the elephant in the Rhûn' gag, so you can count yourselves lucky.