Sunday, 13 May 2018

Amicus and Amica: "The Friend" (1809/10, 1818) and Friendship




:1:

Having read The Friend straight through—read, that is, Coleridge’s 1818 rifacciamento of his original more harum-scarum 1809-10 magazine issues—I’m struck that it's more cogently structured than it's generally given credit for being. Out of the welter of original material Coleridge, revising and selecting, has gone some way (not all the way, but some of it) towards imposing an overall shape that, in turn, makes manifest the key thesis of the work as a whole.

The original Friend was a miscellany, an omnium gatherum of quotations and passages C considered interesting, of stories, anecdotes and potted-biographies, of poems and epigraphs and footnotes as well as being a compendium of various Coleridgean essays on politics, religion and literature. The 1818 rifacciamento retains something of this compendious feel. After all, part of the point of the exercise, perhaps a main point of it, was to gather together nuggets: quotations, passages and stories that caught Coleridge's eye and that he considering edifying or entertaining. To this end the epigraphs to the essays are as important as the essays themselves, and those essays are as often as not composed of lengthy quotations from Bacon, Hooker or Wordsworth, translations from Jonas Ludwig von Hess and others. But the lump has been, post-Biographia, considerably leavened by Coleridge’s more focused eighteen-teen interests.

He produces a book that purports to be about the application of certain religiously-derived principles to politics and personal morals, but actually is (unsurprisingly given its title) a complex and unresolved meditation upon the valences of friendship. At least, that's what I'm going to argue. But before we get onto that, some more straightforward features of the 1818 edition.



One thing Coleridge does in the reworking is style reading the whole as an ascent: climbing the stairs from the ground floor to higher and harder topics. The three volumes of essays start with a block of sixteen essays that discuss the principles and practicalities of Coleridge's project, touching on ‘the communication of truth’, on style and on the exigences of publishing in the Britain of the early 19th-century (Essay 10 is on ‘the Liberty of the Press’, Essay 11 covers Libel and Essay, 13 Tolerance). Then Coleridge interposes the first of three ‘landing-places’, a smaller group of essays to give the reader a breather, designed more for ‘amusement retrospect and preparation’ [Friend 1:127] than the more serious-minded essays of the rest of the volume. Amusement is as amusement does, I suppose: the first Landing-place comprises a potted biography of Luther’s life, a contrast of Luther and Rousseau, a couple of pages on ‘ghosts and apparitions’, a summary of the introductory essays that we’ve just finished reading and an explanation of Kant’s distinction between Reason and Understanding. This was, I suppose, C.'s idea of fun.

The remainder of the 1818 Friend is bipartite. ‘Section the First’ which is sixteen essays on politics and economy (1—‘On the Principles of Political Philosophy’; 5—‘On the Errors of Party Spirit’; 7—‘On the Vulgar Errors Concerning Taxation’; 13—‘On the Law of Nations’) followed by a ‘second landing-place’. Then ‘Section the Second’ (‘On the Grounds of Morals and Religion, and the Discipline of the Mind Requisite for a True Understanding of the same’), which is eleven broadly metaphysical-theological essays on what Coleridge calls ‘the Principle of Method’. A third ‘landing-place’ ends the book, with a short essay on whether fortune favours fools, and five linked essays entitled ‘Sketches for a Life of Sir Alexander Ball’.

Coleridge had a high opinion of the essays in this ‘second’ (actually third) section. In a letter to Joseph Britton (28 Feb 1819) he wrote:
At least, were it in my power, my works should be confined to the second volume of my “Literary Life”, the Essays of the third volume of the “Friend”, from page 67 to page 265, with about fifty or sixty pages from the two former volumes, and some half-dozen of my poems.
And those third-volume essays are, like most of the first volume of the Biographia, hard work: dense and complexly argued. The staircase structure of the 1818 arrangement is, it seems an acknowledgement of this. The final, most-elevated portion of the whole is larded with long quotation from Platonic and Heracleitan Greek, and Baconian Latin, and the essays constitute this final platform attempt to ground the ‘two wants connatural to man ... constituting and sustaining nationality’, namely ‘Trade and Literature’ (‘without trade and literature, mutually commingled, there can be no nation; without commerce and science no bond of nations’ Friend, 1:507) in God-given ‘REASON’ mediated in the world through ‘understanding’ applied ‘methodically’, that ‘METHOD’ (Coleridge doesn't make this connection of course, but his ideas as regarding method are kind of quasi-Daoist) is an articulation of human free will.
To this principle we referred the choice of the final object, the control over time—or, to comprise all in one, the METHOD of the will. From this we started (or rather seemed to start: for it still moved before us, as an invisible guardian and guide,) and it is this whose re-appearance announces the conclusion of our circuit, and welcomes us at our goal ... namely, the principle of religion, the living and substantial faith “which passeth all understanding,” as the cloud piercing rock, which overhangs the strong-hold of which it had been the quarry and remains the foundation. This elevation of the spirit above the semblances of custom and the senses to a world of spirit, this life in the idea, even in the supreme and godlike, which alone merits the name of life, and without which our organic life is but a state of somnambulism; this it is which affords the sole sure anchorage in the storm, and at the same time the substantiating principle of all true wisdom, the satisfactory solution of all the contradictions of human nature, of the whole riddle of the world. This alone belongs to and speaks intelligibly to all alike, the learned and the ignorant, if but the heart listens. For alike present in all, it may be awakened, but it cannot be given. But let it not be supposed, that it is a sort of knowledge: No! it is a form of BEING, or indeed it is the only knowledge that truly is, and all other science is real only as far as it is symbolical of this. The material universe, saith a Greek philosopher [he means Plotinus], is but one vast complex MYTHOS (i.e. symbolical representation): and mythology the apex and complement of all genuine physiology. But as this principle cannot be implanted by the discipline of logic, so neither can it be excited or evolved by the arts of rhetoric. For it is an immutable truth, that WHAT COMES FROM THE HEART THAT ALONE GOES TO THE HEART: WHAT PROCEEDS FROM A DIVINE IMPULSE THAT THE GODLIKE ALONE CAN AWAKEN. [Friend, 1:524]
This dense and lengthy chunk of thinking-through in prose ends, in other words, on a peroration to our feelings as the royal road to truth. Friendship, after all, is a matter of the heart, not the head. Though we can't choose our family we do choose our friends, and we do with our hearts.

Appropriately, then, the very last portion of the 1818 book is Coleridge's heartfelt biographical panegyric to Sir Alexander Ball, a piece that was particularly singled-out for praise by contemporaries (at least by those few who noticed the book at all). It is a personal recollection—Coleridge served under Ball when the latter was Governor of Malta—and ends:
But Sir Alexander Ball is no more. The writer still clings to the hope that he may yet be able to record his good deeds more fully and regularly; that then, with a sense of comfort, not without a subdued exultation, he may raise heavenward from his honored tomb the glistening eye of an humble but ever grateful Friend.
(Ball had died in 1809). This account of a friendship is one bookend to the 1818 volume; at the other end of the work is another bookend, another testimony of friendship: a prefatory letter addressed to a friend of Coleridge’s identified only as ‘R.L.’.



Who? We don't know for sure. It's probably Coleridge’s neighbour Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff; though it might possibly be Robert Lloyd and just conceivably could be Robert Southey (as Robertus Lector, perhaps). This last guess is a stretch, I concede, but a stretch several critics have proposed. As Barbara Rooke notes in her standard edition: ‘C had asked Southey to write a letter critical of The Friend’ for inclusion early in the magazine, but ‘instead of printing Southey's answer he informed him that “I have been obliged to write a letter myself, as you have seen—tho' I shall certainly insert yours in a few weeks” (Collected Letters 3.259)’—something he never got around to doing—and a slightly puzzled-sounding Rooke concludes: ‘if “R.L.” was not Southey, perhaps he was C's neighbour during the writing of The Friend, Richard Watson, bp of Llandaff’ [Friend 1:19].

The point is, Southey actually was Coleridge's friend, and a letter to an actual friend is what we'd expect this text to be. Coleridge's relations with the good bishop may have been respectful but they were certainly impersonal, occasional and without intimacy. Which is what you'd expect: the bishop was 35 years older than the poet, a very senior churchman, peer of the realm and Cambridge Regius Professor of Divinity. His autobiography, Anecdotes of the life of Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, completed in 1814 (published after his death in 1817) makes no mention at all of Coleridge or Wordsworth. Is this really a relationship to which the word friend even applies?

To be clear: I'm not saying this letter wasn't addressed to the bishop. I think it probably was. What I'm doing is pointing up an oddness in the way Coleridge uses friend in this work. In 1809 this letter was buried halfway through the eleventh number (October 26 1809), squeezed between the end of C.'s long essay on the Errors of Party Spirit and a clutch of Wordsworthian sonnets. For the 1818 rifacciamento Coleridge brings it to the front: after the throat-clearing first essay (and its puzzling ‘Fable of the Maddning Rain’) and a second essay in which C. instructs his reader, in so many words, to sit down and pay attention, the letter constitutes Essay 3 in its entirety. It contains, according to Coleridge's own note, ‘the explanation’ for The Friend as such: to ‘refer men in all things to PRINCIPLES or fundamental truths’ and to wage ‘war against, the Queen Bee in the Hive of our errors and misfortunes, both private and national’, viz. ‘the contemptuous aversion to all intellectual effort’ [Friend, 1:19. 22]. Fair enough.

By repositioning this letter to a friend in 1818, we can see that he is framing the whole enterprise with texts that construe friendship through actual examples. But in both cases, with Bishop Llandaff at the beginning and with Sir Alexander Ball at the end, 1818 Coleridge is addressing men markedly his social superior, men with whom he was never intimate, and what is more dead men (Llandaff died in 1816). Can one be friends with the dead?

If that looks like a frivolous question it oughtn't. Coleridge in The Friend is very exercised by this question, or variants of it. At several points, and at length in the second essay of the first ‘landing place’ [Friend 1:135-43], Coleridge praises Luther (‘the heroic LUTHER, a Giant awaking in his strength!’) contrasting him with ‘the crazy ROUSSEAU, the Dreamer’ and ‘Spinner of speculative Cobwebs’ [1:132]. A later essay, ‘Government and Reason: Rousseau's Theory’ [1:186-202] contrasts crazy Rousseau with Edmund Burke (‘this Great Man’). In one sense what Coleridge is doing here is saying: ‘where religion is concerned, Luther is your friend and Rousseau is not’ and ‘in politics, Burke is your friend and Rousseau is not’.Important to know who your friends are in life, I'm sure you'd agree.

This, though, is to use friend in a rather more distancing sense than modern usage is comfortable with. Today our friends are people to whom we are close, our intimates, the people who know us and whom we know. The Latin amicus originally meant this kind of close friend, but in Augustan and later usage came to mean something more removed: ‘counsellor’, ‘guide’, ‘minister’. For Coleridge the Bishop of Llandaff and Sir Alexander Ball are like Luther and Burke: friends in the latter, more distanced sense rather than the former more intimate one. And this in turn speaks to Coleridge's ambitions for his journal. He hopes it will be a friend to his readers in this sense of being able to take them by the hand and lead them through the thickets of modern political and moral life. This is a model of friendship that requires a measure of verticality to it: you need to respect your guide, your counsellor, to look up to him. The other kind of friendship, the one predicated on emotional intimacy and on sharing, is on the contrary one of horizontality.


:2:



Two specific friendships haunt The Friend: Coleridge and Wordsworth's and, a rather different thing, Coleridge and Sara Hutchinson's. They haunt our reading of The Friend, as we must intuit they haunted Coleridge's writing of it.

A decade earlier Wordsworth and Coleridge had indeed been intimates, striding over the Wessex countryside together in earnest, breathless confab, embarked on the joint-project of redefining what poetry could be. The Wordsworth-and-Coleridge friendship of this period probably remains the most famous literary-artistic collaboration of them all (at least, perhaps, until McCartney met Lennon). The 1798 edition of Lyrical Ballads, in its anonymity, textually fused the two men into a single joint-production, and its prodigious success and influence (Hazlitt famously declared the Lyrical Ballads was to English poetry what the Fall of the Bastille was to the Ancien Régime) figures as a function of what friendship can achieve.

With hindsight, it is obvious this degree of intimacy between two men so constitutionally and personally different to one another could not last. And it did not. Though Coleridge often stayed with the Wordsworths, and was living with them as he wrote the essays that make up The Friend, William was neither an indulgent nor a forgiving host, and was indeed often frankly patrician and judgmental. He disapproved of STC's various alcoholic and opiate dissolutions, deprecated his infatuation with Sara Hutchinson and generally criticised his slovenliness and his disorderly hours. Juliet Barker's Wordsworth: A Life [Viking 2000] rather takes Wordsworth's side in this whole matter actually, tending to paint Coleridge as a disruptive and unhinged intruder into Wordsworth’s already difficult family and strained day-to-day routines. Of course, it's hard for a Coleridgean to be too sympathetic with that perspective.

At any rate, the first decade of the 1800s for Wordsworth were a process of slowly pushing STC out to arm's length, beginning with his notorious land-grab of the Lyrical Ballads volume. Famously, or notoriously, for the second edition Wordsworth relegated Coleridge's ‘Ancient Mariner’ from pride of place as the first poem in the collection to obscurity somewhere in the middle, spurned Coleridge's offer of ‘Christabel’ as a new piece, added a lengthy Wordsworthian preface and clapped his name, solus, on the title page:



In personal terms Wordsworth increasingly rebuked his friend for his perceived shortcomings, something evident from the notebook entries and poems STC composed over this period. It's likely, for instance, that Coleridge's ‘Verecundia: to William Wordsworth’ poem dates from 1805-10 (I'd guess 1809 as the most likely date), recording as it does some severe criticism Wordsworth levelled at Coleridge, probably to do with Sara Hutchinson.
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.

[‘Proper behaviour’? 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 prophet, as wise one and as my Chief Friend
I've gladly known you! But not as my Tribune.]
‘Chief Friend’ is a reach, translation-wise: you can see, in line 8 of the Latin there, that Coleridge (even as he bridles at whatever criticism William has been making of his behaviour) actually calls Wordsworth ‘meus rex’, my king. But, presumably thinking this looked jarringly sycophantic, he added a little footnote to his little poem, clarifying: ‘Rex Meus for the most honored Friend’.

If rex strikes us as an odd synonym for friend, we can situate it in Coleridge's declaration from the 1st June 1809 very first issue of The Friend—words significantly not carried over into the 1818 rifacciamento—that ‘for some years I have felt and deeply felt, that the Poet's high Functions were not my proper assignment’. STC balanced this statement of withdrawal with one more endorsement of Wordsworth's poetic destiny: ‘I feel it as a Blessing, that even among my Contemporaries I know one at least, who has been deemed worthy of the Gift; who has received the Harp with reverence, and struck it with the hand of power’ [Friend, 2:15]. Strange, perhaps, that the word friend doesn't find its way into that description. Or maybe not so strange. That powerful hand, striking, has a rather pugilistic vibe to it, don't you think? Has Coleridge given up poetry because his inspiration has dried up? Or has Wordsworth beaten it out of him?

This is all tangled-up with the December 1806 events of ‘the EPOCH’, whatever they were. Coleridge thought he saw Wordsworth and Sara Hutchinson in bed together and had a sort of hysterical break-down. On the back of this latter collapse it seems that Wordsworth was able to convince Coleridge that the whole thing had been a figment of his fevered, opium-addled imagination. If it had happened it would have been profound betrayal of the two men's ‘friendship’, or would have felt that way to Coleridge at any rate, although a lawyer might quibble (cheating on his wife would be deplorable and might diminish Wordsworth's rex-y status, but since there was nothing going on between Coleridge and Sara H, it wouldn't be as though Wordsworth was specifically betraying him). Rather than believe his friendship had been betrayed, Coleridge worked to persuade himself that he'd imagined the entire episode.

In June 1807, half a year after the ‘the EPOCH’ Coleridge left the Wordsworths, visited his own family and estranged wife, and then travelled via Bristol to London. He returned north to stay with the Wordsworths, and Sara Hutchinson, at the beginning September 1808, issuing the prospectus to The Friend a few weeks later. And that's where he stayed: at Grasmere all through 1809 and most of 1810, working on the journal. That relations were not easy between the two men we can intuit from the fact that somewhere towards the end of 1808 Coleridge wrote Wordsworth a long letter of passionate accusation. We no longer have that letter but we do have a draft of Wordsworth's reply, which, to quote Richard Holmes, ‘by trying to refute Coleridge's accusations point by point’ thus gives us ‘some idea of what Coleridge had actually written to him’:
It is a series of most intimate reproaches: they had supervised Asra's letters; they had regarded his influence as ‘poison entering into her mind’; they had told Asra that she was ‘the cause’ of all his misery. It's clear that Wordsworth was shocked ... Coleridge's accusations [he replied] were made ‘in a lamentably insane state of mind’. His obsession with Asra, and suspicions over Wordsworth's own conduct towards her, his ‘transports of passion’, were all ‘unmanly and ungentlemanly’ and the product of a perverted sexual imagination. [Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 139]
The final breach in Wordsworth and Coleridge's friendship took place in October 1810, as Coleridge was travelling down to London to stay with the Morgans. The proximate cause of the break-up was trivial, some garbled second-hand reporting of a few things Wordsworth had supposedly said about Coleridge to a third party, to which Coleridge took melodramatic offence. Looking at the larger context, though, it's only surprising it didn't happen sooner. Coleridge's feelings towards Wordsworth during the first decade of the 1800s were a tangle of admiration and envy, sexual jealousy and resentment and self-loathing, bitterness and shame at his (Coleridge's) lack of gratitude to his friend. It was a mess, emotionally, and it was guillotined by the quarrel of 1810. Through the eighteen-teens Coleridge and Wordsworth were no longer friends in any actual sense, and although a sort of rather formal rapprochement was later brokered between the two of them, they were never again close.

Revising The Friend in 1818 was, then, stepping back across the breach to a time when Wordsworth and Coleridge's relationship, though fraught, was still friendly. That gives those moments in the collection where Wordsworth is interpellated into the text as friend particularly piquancy. As I've already noted on this blog, one the most remarkable of such moments occurs in the middle of ‘Section 1, Essay 3’, a discussion of the need for Governments to follow principles of sound and religious Reason:
But if my readers wish to see the question of the efficacy of principles and popular opinions for evil and for good proved and illustrated with an eloquence worthy of the subject, I can refer them with the hardiest anticipation of their thanks, to the late work concerning the relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, by my honoured friend, William Wordsworth, quem quoties lego, non verba mihi videor audire, sed tonitrua! [Friend, 1:182]
The reference is to Wordsworth's pamphlet On the Convention of Cintra (1809), and the Latin means ‘when I read him it seems to me I am not hearing words, but thunder!’ The quotation is a little obscure (Barbara Rooke's edition was unable to trace it, for instance) but its source is rather interesting: it's Saint Jerome, from his Regula Monachorum and refers to Saint Paul—(Donne quotes the Latin in his Sermon XLIV, which is where I think Coleridge came across it). Jerome, of course, is most famous for translating holy scripture into Latin, the great Vulgate Bible still in use today. What's interesting about this, I think, is the way this quotation is used not only to praise Wordsworth's thunderous eloquence, but, tacitly, to position Coleridge as Jerome to Wordsworth's Paul. That would be characteristic of STC's attitudes more generally, actually: Wordsworth was the one genuinely inspired, and Coleridge just the bookish and scholarly drudge, plugging away interpreting the inspiration of others. It's not true, of course (however great Wordsworth was as a poet he neither wrote nor was capable of writing a poem as exceptional as ‘Kubla Khan’) but it was Coleridge's view, and it acquires extra emotional piquancy given how strained the friendship had become between the two men. How in retrospect it turned out that as he wrote these very words (they originally appeared in the 7th Sept 1809 issue) their friendship was on the very brink of completely breaking down.

This puts a particular complexion on Coleridge's understanding of the term friend. Because his complicated friendship with rex-amicus Wordsworth was, over this period of his life, all tangled up with his equally-but-differently complicated friendship with amica Sara Hutchinson, his ‘Asra’. Just as amicus can mean either intimate friend or more formally removed mentor or guide, so the first of those two senses hovers, itself, between the conventional friend and the more intimate lover—the word's root is amo, I love, after all (the Greek φίλος similarly balances its meanings between friend and lover in meaning).

Coleridge's praxis in writing was that he dictated and relied upon amanuenses to write up what he said; and in the case of The Friend that amanuensis was Sara Hutchinson. ‘Coleridge was dictating every issue directly to Sara Hutchinson, closeted in his study,’ notes Richard Holmes, adding, in striking phrase: ‘so that if the mouth was his the hand was Asra's’.
Coleridge now had that daily, and even nightly, intimacy with Asra that he had so long and so passionately desired. But it was not easy for either of them. The shared pressure, and even excitement, of their literary work (often witnessed by Asra's breathless notes to Brown the printer, reporting on progress) hid far deeper emotions and conflicts. [Holmes, Darker Visions (1998), 176].
It was hardest on Coleridge himself: his notebooks ‘ranged back obsessively’ over his memories of Asra, and he debated with himself whether to write an essay for The Friend on what he considered to be the two models of falling in love, one a passive ‘irresistible’ passion and the other a more controlled ‘act of will’. But, as Holmes says, ‘he could not dictate such an essay to Asra, and it was only written long after ... indeed, perhaps because of their very physical proximity, Coleridge could never speak openly to Asra of his feelings’.

Dierdre Coleman's detailed critical account of The Friend [Coleridge and The Friend 1809-1810 (Oxford: Clarendon 1988)] says insightful things about the extent to which Coleridge's writing of the magazine actualised, ironically enough, a withdrawal from friendship as such. It was something his real-life friends marked of the post-Malta STC:
Oppressed by an ‘unquenchable Yearning’ for release from anguish of body and mind, a yearning which could only be satisfied by further doses of opium of complete renunciation of the drug, Coleridge turned in on himself; and this habit ‘inward Brooding’ daily made it ‘harder to confess the Thing I am, to any one—least of all to those, whom most I love & who most love me’ [CN 2:3078]. Even worse, he found that withdrawal from his friends introduced and fostered a habit ‘of negative falsehood, & multiplies the Temptations to positive, Insincerity’ [CN, 2:3078]. As we have seen, this retreat of Coleridge's was the feature of his post-Malta self which most struck his friends on their first meeting at Kendal. [Coleman, 24]
Coleman adds, astutely, that ‘painful as Coleridge's withdrawal was to his friends, it was a weapon aimed primarily at himself, for it went against his “very social” nature ... loving and being loved in return had always been felt by Coleridge as a necessity of his nature’ [Coleman, 25]. In Spring 1810 Asra had left the Wordsworths, and Coleridge, to go and live with her brothers on a farm in Radnorshire, in Wales, a move Coleridge regarded as little short of personal betrayal: ‘Coleridge felt he had been stung to death,’ notes Richard Holmes; ‘he finished just two more issues of The Friend’ before giving up on the project, sinking ‘“under a depression of spirits little less than absolute Despondency”’ [Holmes, 192-93]. Seven months later came the final break with Wordsworth, and Coleridge's relocation to London. He sunk very low for several years before slowly reassembling something like a regular life, and with the success of his lectures and the publication of Sybilline Leaves and the Biographia in 1817 it must have seemed as though he had salvaged something from his life. But returning to the Friend to revise and reset it for 1818 publication can only have awakened all manner of difficult emotions. But perhaps this is the nature of friendship in the rifacciamento. Easier, after all, to be friends with Luther and Burke, with the Bishop of Llandaff and Sir Alexander Ball, it seems, than with actual, messy, complicated intimate personal friends.

What is The Friend saying, overall, in its tessellation of disparate essays, quotations, epigraphs, footnotes, recycled stories and anecdotes and praise for notable men? It circles around a set of linked questions, to do especially with politics and moral behaviour, arguing that such behaviour must always be grounded in principles—rearguing the old Socratic-Platonic point that expedience and justice can never genuinely come into conflict—and then going into a great deal of not-easy-to-follow detail in the third volume on how we determine what the best principles are, how we understand our God-given reason.

Coleman considers the whole project muddled to the point of incapacity.
Contrary to Coleridge's self-description of The Friend as an attempt in periodical form to articulate ‘principles’ underlying the ephemeral particulars of politics and religion, Coleman asserts that The Friend is in actuality an elaborate apology for the Tory administration. The periodical is part of the ‘Tory reaction against those who questioned the need to continue the war’ against Napoleon [Coleman, 12]. Coleridge, compared unfavorably to the less conservative Southey and Wordsworth [11-12], is depicted as a slavish devotee to those in power, as he at times conceals his real opinions in order to mimic ‘official postures’ [13]. The central piece of evidence for Coleridge's political cowardice is Number 24, ‘On the Law of Nations,’ in which the Copenhagen affair is allegorized and discussed (chapter 8). It is difficult not to agree with much of Coleman's analysis here, as Coleridge lamely tries to find principled reasons for the bombardment of Copenhagen and the seizure of the Danish navy. The British motive seemed quite simple: ‘grabbing Denmark's navy before Napoleon did’ [Coleman, 189]. Rather than face the brutal facts, the essay acts like a fog machine-a fairly ineffective one, it turns out, as hardly any of Coleridge's friends agreed with him. [Michael Scrivener, reviewing Coleman's book for Nineteenth-Century Literature, 45:3 (Dec., 1990), 366]
Other portions are, perhaps, more convincing. So for example Coleridge makes a good case, in his life of Sir Alexander Ball, that the Maltese preferred rule by the British—which they inarguably did, petitioning the Crown to become a British dependency—to rule by the French because the British acted in a more principled and reliable and less rapacious manner towards them than had either the French or the Neapolitans. But Coleman touches on an important point: there's a real dilemma in Coleridge's thinking, torn as it is between advocating a respect for authority as one key principle, and advocating the moral necessity of rebelling against tyranny as another. ‘Bad’ authority, in The Friend, is epitomised by Napoleon on the political stage and Catholicism on the religious one; and what makes Luther so great a hero in Coleridge's eyes is precisely that he rebelled against the Pope. At the same time, Coleridge can write, apparently with a straight face:
To dogmatize a crime, that is, to teach it as a doctrine, is itself a crime, great or small as the crime dogmatized is more or less palpably so. You say, (said Sir John Cheke, addressing himself to the papists of his day) that you rebel for your religion. First tell me, what religion is that which teaches you to rebel. [Friend, 1:282]
This is a damn peculiar thing for a Protestant to write, don't you think? The point, I suppose, is that try as he might Coleridge cannot find a way to square his two principles ‘respect authority’ and ‘think for yourself! resist tyranny!’ And I don't think it's a stretch to map these two modes of being onto the two models of friend that structure Coleridge's wanting: his desire for an amicus to guide, counsel and inspire him, and his desire for an amica to provide him with a rather different set of emotional and spiritual (and we can be honest: physical) intensities of private intimate connection.


:3:

I've been struck, thinking about Coleridge and friendship and The Friend, how poorly the concept of friendship has been theorised, how little space the great philosophers and critics have devoted to it. Odd, really, when you think how important friendship is to (almost) all of us: how marriage depends at least as much, and in the long run much more, on friendship than on erotic excitement; how our friends sustain us in ways other relationships do not. How we get by, by and large, only with a little help from our friends. Who is the great philosopher of friendship, I wonder?

I'm sure I'm missing somebody obvious.

Blake—a man who lived his life happily enough outwith extensive networks of friendship, content to commune with his own individual vision—famously asserted that opposition is true friendship. But I think people get the emphasis of this apothegm wrong: it is actually stressed on the true, not on the friendship, and it makes for a forbidding sort of metric so far as people actually trying to live in the world are concerned. Practically speaking, friendship necessarily involves acceptance of the other, which usually entails a degree of compromise, which is only to say that it is rarely true in the sense that Blake means. Might we argue that Sara Hutchinson's truest act of friendship to Coleridge was in opposing his pressure for her to sleep with him? Can we really style Wordsworth's patrician hostility to Coleridge's lack of moral structure and will-power true friendship? William Empson said of T S Eliot: ‘I do not know for certain how much of my own mind he invented, let alone how much of it is a reaction against him or indeed a consequence of misreading him. He has a very penetrating influence, perhaps not unlike an east wind.’ Coleridge would surely have recognised that sentiment with respect to Wordsworth.

One thing that worries Coleridge, and which The Friend addresses without really resolving the matter, is how easily prejudices can be mistaken for principles. Respect is one thing, toady-ish adulation quite another. The verticality of one mode of friendship, with all its bag-and-baggage of hierarchy and abasement, of services to be repaid with gratitude, jarred for him with an idealised horizontality of truer friendship. When in 1796 Thomas Poole organised a subscription for Coleridge from a group of ‘sincere Friends and ardent admirers’, Coleridge wrote back to thank him for the money (‘God bless you, my dear, very dear Friend!’) but added a strange rider:
The Spirit, who counts the throbbings of the solitary heart, knows that what my feelings ought to be, such they are. If it were in my power to give you anything which I have not already given, I should be oppressed by the letter now before me ... and because I have nothing to bestow, I know how much I have bestowed. Perhaps I shall not make myself intelligible; but the strong and unmixed affection which I bear to you seems to exclude all emotions of gratitude, and renders even the principle of esteem latent and inert. [CL 1:158]
Gurion Taussig comments: ‘Coleridgean friendship somehow transcends emotions like gratitude’, and speculates that he sought to ‘evade the emasculating sense of dependency that charity conveys, and so make it easier for him to accept the annuity—which he did’ [Taussig, Coleridge and the Idea of Friendship, 1789-1804 (University of Delaware Press 2002), 92]. Well maybe so: but reducing this to the practical strategies by which Coleridge squared his amour-propre with his need for money perhaps overlooks how much of a dilemma the whole issue of friendship was to him in the larger sense.

Ought we to be grateful to our friends? Grateful to have friends as such, maybe; but grateful to any one or other specific individual that they have condescended to be our friend? Doesn't that seem a little desperate? A touch crawly? Coleridge is quick in to insist, in his ‘Verecundia’ poem, that he is no toady. He respects Wordsworth's superior qualities as a poet and a man, but won't writhe on his belly with sheer gratitude merely to call Wordsworth friend. Friendship surely should be above such considerations.


:4:

In his account of Christopher Ricks's late monograph True Friendship: Geoffrey Hill, Anthony Hecht and Robert Lowell under the Sign of Eliot and Pound (Yale 2010), Adam Phillips looks back to an earlier, more famous Ricks book to try and unpack what the ‘true friendship’ of the book's title might owe to gratitude.
In his first book, Milton’s Grand Style, Christopher Ricks showed us that Milton wanted his readers to be attentive to the fact that when our ‘first parents’ fell, their language fell with them. Paradise Lost could only have been written in the language we were left with after the catastrophe, but is partly about the language we started with, and what happened to it. Our words have a prior innocence; Adam and Eve meant what they said, and after the Fall they didn’t. The first language was innocent because there was nothing to be duplicitous about; there was no interpretation because there was nothing to interpret... Ricks says:
Take grateful, for instance. Sometimes it has the sense of ‘thankful’, sometimes of ‘pleasing’ (both are common 17th-century meanings). Perhaps Milton’s fondness for the word is a reflection of the fact that in a prelapsarian state there would be no distinction of this kind. Adam and Eve were thankful for what pleased them, and being thankful is itself a pleasure.
Ricks, too, is fond of the word ‘grateful’—he uses it 23 times in this new book—and fond too of being thankful for what pleases him. This is not obviously a riveting quality in a critic, especially in a critic determinedly un-shy of using old-fashioned Paterian words like ‘lovely’ and ‘delicate’ and ‘beautiful’ (and ‘appreciation’), in a discipline so keen to be up to date in its jargon and theoretical presumptions. But for Ricks innocence and experience—the difference between being thankful and being pleasing, and the difference between wanting to be these things and being them—have always been the issue. [Phillips, ‘Misgivings’, LRB 32:14 (July 2010), 19]
This tension between the prelapsarian and postlapsarian possibilities of friendship are perfectly germane to Coleridge's habits of thought. What we owe to our friends, and what we owe to God, might, in Swinburne's ‘Love, the Beloved Republic’ be the same thing; but they very rarely correspond in the actual world, and that fact causes Coleridge real grief. E M Forster quotes Swinburne's phrase in that same passage that also contains his famous assertion that ‘if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country’. But Coleridge could never commit so earnestly—so Romantically, we might say—to this Forsterian amicable imperative.

In the fourteenth issue of the original Friend (23 November 1809) Coleridge reprints a letter from his travels in Germany. He relates how he encountered a wealthy Danish man on the boat over to the Continent, and how they struck up a friendship. This, though, was a friendship Coleridge declined to continue when he realised how aggressively atheistical his companion was. (This passage was not included in the 1818 Friend, but only because it had already been recycled for the Biographica Literaria):
He talked of Deity in a declamatory style, very much resembling the devotional rants of that rude blunderer, Mr. Thomas Paine, in his Age of Reason, and whispered in my ear, what damned hypocrism all Jesus Christ's business was ... Pericles answered one of his dearest friends, who had solicited him on a case of life and death, to take an equivocal oath for his preservation: Debeo amicis opitulari, sed usque ad Deos. Friendship herself must place her last and boldest step on this side the altar. What Pericles would not do to save a friend's life, you may be assured, I would not hazard merely to mill the chocolate-pot of a drunken fool's vanity till it frothed over. Assuming a serious look, I professed myself a believer, and sunk at once an hundred fathoms in his good graces. He retired to his cabin, and I wrapped myself up in my great coat, and looked at the water.
The Latin means, in Coleridge's own footnoted translation, ‘It behoves me to side with my friends, but only as far as the gods’. A closer translation might be ‘I owe it to my friends to help them as far as possible, but not so far as the gods’ (it's from Aulus Gellius's Noctes Atticae: 1.3.20). In this anecdote there is, evidently, no real contest between the horizontal duty of friendship with a coxcomb and the vertical duty of respecting the leader, counsellor, amicus of God Himself. But what happens when a genuine friendship comes into conflict with one's duty to God?

In our postlapsarian world difficult choices become unavoidable, and friendship is determined by what we owe, by Plutarch's professed debitum. Coleridge loses his closest poet-friend and mentor, his amicus. Coleridge loses the woman he loves more than any in the world, his amica. But there must be, he feels, a better place in which these vertical structures of debitum and hierarchy are swept away, and a perfect love horizontalises all our common amicability. Maybe in the next world.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Coleridge and Wordsworth: Jerome and Paul


In the middle of a discussion of political matters, and the need for Governments to follow principles of sound and religious Reason, Coleridge drops-in a reference to his onetime collaborator Wordsworth. Matters were actually a little strained between the two men 1809-10, but Coleridge praises his friend effusively here:
But if my readers wish to see the question of the efficacy of principles and popular opinions for evil and for good proved and illustrated with an eloquence worthy of the subject, I can refer them with the hardiest anticipation of their thanks, to the late work concerning the relations of Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal, by my honoured friend, William Wordsworth, quem quoties lego, non verba mihi videor audire, sed tonitrua! [Friend, 1:182]
The reference is to Wordsworth's pamphlet On the Convention of Cintra (1809), and the Latin means ‘when I read him it seems to me I am not hearing words, but thunder!’ But where's it from? ‘Source untraced’ says Barbara Rooke, ‘but perhaps Coleridge's’.

It's not Coleridge's, though: it's Saint Jerome's (there he is, at the head of this post, nattily painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1480). It's from his Regula Monachorum and refers to Saint Paul—Donne quotes the Latin in his Sermon XLIV, which is where I think Coleridge came across the phrase. Jerome, of course, is most famous for translating holy scripture into Latin, the great Vulgate Bible still in use today.

What's interesting about this, I think, is the way this quotation is used not only to praise Wordsworth's thunderous eloquence, but, tacitly, to position Coleridge as Jerome to Wordsworth's Paul. That would be characteristic of STC's attitudes more generally, actually: that Wordsworth was the one genuinely inspired, and Coleridge just the bookish and scholarly drudge, plugging away interpreting the inspiration of others. It's not true, of course (however great Wordsworth was as a poet he neither wrote nor was capable of writing a poem as exceptional as ‘Kubla Khan’) but it was Coleridge's view, and it acquires extra emotional piquancy following the difficulties of C.'s post-EPOCH relations to W.

Monday, 30 April 2018

No Such Book As Ulricus Rinovius's "De Controversiis" (1590)



‘Essay IV’ in The Friend sets out the principles to which Coleridge declares he will adhere in the essays that follow. He won't, he says, be constantly I-ing his prose (he promises ‘solicitude’, though not ‘excessive solicitude’ when it comes to avoiding ‘the use of our first personal pronoun’), he'll try not to be too obscure, he'll do his research and support what he says with evidence, and above all he promises to do his very best to avoid ‘Arrogance’ and ‘Presumption’. Those latter qualities are the real focus of the essay, in fact. ‘The word, Presumption, I appropriate to the internal feeling [of superiority], and arrogance to the way and manner of outwardly expressing ourselves’ [Friend, 1:27]. Coleridge discusses several varieties of this arrogance as it appears in other writers, with some tart examples, and the essay ends with this lengthy sentence:
As long therefore as I obtrude no unsupported assertions on my readers; and as long as I state my opinions and the evidence which induced or compelled me to adopt them, with calmness and that diffidence in myself, which is by no means incompatible with a firm belief in the justness of the opinions themselves; while I attack no man's private life from any cause, and detract from no man's honours in his public character, from the truth of his doctrines, or the merits of his compositions, without detailing all my reasons and resting the result solely on the arguments adduced; while I moreover explain fully the motives of duty, which influenced me in resolving to institute such investigation; while I confine all asperity of censure, and all expressions of contempt, to gross violations of truth, honour, and decency, to the base corrupter and the detected slanderer; while I write on no subject, which I have not studied with my best attention, on no subject which my education and acquirements have incapacitated me from properly understanding; and above all while I approve myself, alike in praise and in blame, in close reasoning and in impassioned declamation, a steady FRIEND to the two best and surest friends of all men, TRUTH and HONESTY; I will not fear an accusation of either Presumption or Arrogance from the good and the wise, I shall pity it from the weak, and despise it from the wicked. [Friend CC 4.1: 32-33]
Wordsworth specifically praised this one sentence for its ‘architecture.’ And you can see why he liked it: it's a lovely bit of writing, constructed with enough syntactic and expressive aplomb that the reader never loses her way, but building to a very cleverly, rhetorically-weighted conclusion.

Now: this essay starts, as you can see above, with a Latin epigraph:
Si modo quæ natura et ratione concessa sint, assumpserimus, PRÆSUMPTIONIS suspicio a nobis quam longissime abesse debet. Multa Antiquitati, nobismet nihil, arrogamus. Nihilne vos? Nihil mehercule, nisi quod omnia omni animo Veritati arrogamus Sanctimoniæ. ULR. RINOV. De Controversiis

(Translation.)—If we assume only what Nature and Reason have granted, with no shadow of right can we be suspected of Presumption. To Antiquity we arrogate many things, to ourselves nothing. Nothing? Aye nothing: unless indeed it be, that with all our strength we Arrogate all things to Truth and Moral Purity. [Friend CC 4.1: 25. This is the 1818 version of this quotation and its translation; a variant text from the 1837 version edited by Henry Nelson Coleridge is screenshotted above]
Barbara Rooke, whose Bollingen edition of The Friend I'm using, annotates this passage drily: ‘source untraced’. Because in fact it's a made-up quotation (Rooke's footnote adds ‘as early as Poems (1797) C confessed that when he did not find “a suitable motto” he “invented one”’). There's no such person as Ulr. Rinov., and non-he never wrote the words attributed to him here. Coleridge concocted this Latin for the 1818 edition (this epigraph isn't part of the original 1809 text).

Still, made-up though it be, we can intuit certain things about this bit of faux-Latin, and those things shed an, I think, interesting light on Coleridge's essay, and indeed his larger project in The Friend. Ulricus Rinovius wasn't a person, but there was a 16th-century German priest and historian called Petrus Rinovius; which enables us to deduce that Ulricus was German, and to speculate that Peter might be his relative. And though no book called De Controversiis was authored by any Rinovius, there was a famous book that had that title. This one, in fact:



This is Robert Bellarmine's extremely influential defence of the legitimacy of Papal authority: Disputationes de Controversiis Christianae Fidei adversus hujus temporis Haereticos (3 vols 1581-93). So important, indeed, has this book proved to Catholicism that Pope Pius XI canonised Bellarmine in 1930 and made him a Doctor of the Church a year later. The De Controversiis remains one of the prime documents of the counter-Reformation.

One index of its influence was the ferocity with which it was attacked by Protestant thinkers. Indeed, attacking Bellarmine became for a while something of an industry: specific university chairs were endowed in England and Germany for scholars to disseminate Protestant counter-arguments to Bellarmine's work. The De Controversiis was attacked, as Gordon Campbell notes, ‘by Protestants of all persuasions: in England attacks were mounted by Alexander Cooke, William Whitaker, Francis Bunny, John Rainolds, Matthew Sutcliffe, and Joseph Hall; on the continent [by] Johannes Piscator, Amandus Polanus, and Francis Junius’ and Campbell thinks Milton himself prepared a rebuttal to the De Controversiis, now lost [Campbell, ‘Milton's Index Theologicus and Bellarmine's Disputationes De Controversiis’, Milton Quarterly 11 (1977), 13].

The controversiae to which the book's title refers are those points of faith in dispute between Catholicism and Protestantism. Specifically, Bellarmine discusses the question of faith versus good works, the need or otherwise for extreme unction, the status of the Pope (controversially enough he insists the Pope is not the antichrist prophesied in the Revelation of St John), issues of grace and free-will and, as you'd expect, the nature of the eucharist. He engages with the writing of various Protestant theologians, concentrating particularly on Calvin and Luther, quoting and interrogating their works. Robert Richgels calls De Controversiis ‘massive anti-Protestant summa’ (‘Bellarmine goes directly into the works of his foes, noting carefully their views and arguments on the issues and then providing the Catholic response to each point in turn’ [Richgels, ‘Scholasticism Meets Humanism in the Counter-Reformation the Clash of Cultures in Robert Bellarmine's Use of Calvin in the Controversies, The Sixteenth Century Journal 6:1 (1975), 54].)

Coleridge's imaginary addition to the extensive body of anti-Bellarmine tracts (written by a German and therefore a Protestant it would of course be an anti-Bellarmite work) does two quite interesting things in its context, here. One is that, without leaning too heavily on the reader, it connects what follows—Coleridge's discussion of the proper way of writing literary and moral essays—with the larger theological questions of the whole Reformation. It's not hard to extrapolate what the larger argument of ‘Ulricus Rinovius’ must be: that instead of blindly trusting to the authority of the (ancient) Roman Church, we must orient ourselves to God by means of our individual truth and moral purity. By appropriating this confected book to his argument, Coleridge is tacitly aligning what he does with religion; in much the same way that he'd styled thoughts on the role of the statesman in society ‘Lay Sermons’ in 1816-17. It's not belle lettres; its much more godly and important than that.

The other thing STC is doing in this made-up quotation is an etymological unpacking of the words ‘arrogance’ and ‘presumption’. By inventing a Latin quotation that actually uses the words, he picks out the way the English arrogance, ‘an extreme and foolish pride, a sense of superiority to others’ derives from the Latin arrogo, which means ‘to claim as one's own, arrogate to oneself, assume’ and so is connected with assumo (‘to take to or with one's self, to take up, receive, adopt, accept, take’). He is saying, in other words, that arrogance is a matter of unchallenged assumptions, which in turn devolves on where we ground our beliefs. If we assume (si assumpserimus), if we take up, what ‘natura et ratione’ offer us, then we cannot be accused of præsumptio, presumption; but if we instead take up the offerings of tradition, ‘antiquitas’, then we move from assumption to arrogation and thence to the outward form of presumption, arrogance. Instead of the antique, we should take up what veritas and sanctimonia proffer.

The question is how far Coleridge is aligning Catholicism with arrogance and Protestantism with assumption. Essay 4 isn't specifically about religious faith, or doctrinal affiliation, but still: his examples do seem to divide along sectarian lines. So those doughty Protestants Newton and Locke are praised, ‘despite being assailed with a full cry for [their] presumption in having deserted the philosophical system at that time generally received by the universities of Europe’ [Friend 1:28] because their genius grounded their assertions in nature. On the other hand Coleridge contrasts a Jesuitical counter-example: ‘I have,’ says Coleridge, ‘looked into a ponderous review of the corpuscular philosophy by a Sicilian Jesuit, in which the acrimonious Father frequently expresses his doubt, whether he should pronounce Boyle or Newton more impious than presumptuous, or more presumptuous than impious. They had both attacked the reigning opinions on most important subjects, opinions sanctioned by the greatest names of antiquity, and by the general suffrage of their learned contemporaries or immediate predecessors.’ This is presumably a reference to Fr Ruggerio Giuseppe Boscovich (though Croatian rather than Sicilian, he published under the Italian version of his forenames, and d'Alembert was one of many contemporaries who thought him Italian—Boscovich wrote back politely to correct his misapprehension—so STC can be forgiven for getting this wrong). Historians of science today mostly argue that Boscovich's atomic theory position him a scientist and thinker of the same stature of a Leibniz or a Locke (perhaps not quite the statue of a Newton: but then, who is?) Coleridge isn't having that, though: any Jesuit investigator into the atomic or corpuscular philosophy’ must be in the sense that Coleridge means it presumptious, because, Coleridge thinks, as a Jesuit he is bound to situate his belief in the authority of the Church rather than in reason and nature.

It's an interesting if rather stretched reading of the nature of arrogance, this, seeing it not only as a matter of pride but of from whence its assertions are taken. It would, surely, be more conventional to ground presumptious arrogance more straightforwardly in egoism and self-love. ‘Pride, simply considered,’ as Samuel Johnson famously remarked ‘is an immoderate degree of self-esteem, or an overvalue set upon a man by himself ... he that overvalues himself will undervalue others; and he that undervalues others will oppress them’ [Johnson Sermons (1688)] And, as you'd expect, Coleridge talks about pride as an underlying arrogant display: arrogance manifests in a ‘proud or petulant omission of proof or argument’ [1.29], something he promises to avoid in his own writing.

But it is more than just ego. STC diagnoses an immoderate self-esteem in the writing of the radical Thomas Paine (‘the illiterate perpetrator of the Age of Reason,’ Coleridge scoffs, ‘must have had his very conscience stupified by the habitual intoxication of presumptuous arrogance, and his common-sense over-clouded by the vapours from his heart’ [1:32]). It is in its deliberate repudiation of Christianity that The Age of Reason embodies its arrogance. Paine's radicalism ‘takes up’ a set of deist-materialist premises that lead it not into mere error but into the arrogant elevation of a hostile and destructive political faux-superiority over the status quo. The notional Jesuit, on the other hand, presumably goes too far the other way, elevating an exploded and superseded past over the necessities of the present.

One, to me, odd aspect of this argument is that Coleridge associates arrogance with both ignorance and plagiarism:
Lastly, it must be admitted as a just imputation of presumption when an individual obtrudes on the public eye, with all the high pretensions of originality, opinions and observations, in regard to which he must plead wilful ignorance in order to be acquitted of dishonest plagiarism. On the same seat must the writer be placed, who in a disquisition on any important subject proves, by falsehoods either of omission or of positive error, that he has neglected to possess himself, not only of the information requisite for this particular subject; but even of those acquirements, and that general knowledge, which could alone authorize him to commence a public instructor. This is an office which cannot be procured gratis. The industry, necessary for the due exercise of its functions, is its purchase-money; and the absence or insufficiency of the same is so far a species of dishonesty, and implies a Presumption in the literal as well as the ordinary sense of the word. He has taken a thing before he had acquired any right or title thereto.
Given the notoriety of Coleridge's own dabblings with plagiary, this rather looks like a self-own.

Coleridge in this essay is not promising he will avoid controversies in The Friend. Quite otherwise: De Controversiis Protestanticorum would be a serviceable alternate title for this whole enterprise, actually. But we'll get onto more specifically religious-themed essays a little later on.

What's going on here, I think, speaks to the heart of Coleridge's ambition to establish the project of The Friend (and, indeed, much of his output as a writer of critical prose) as the articulation of the principles upon which morals, art and life should be founded. In her excellent book-length study of The Friend, Deirdre Coleman explores the ‘unresolved conflicts’ that structure what Coleridge is doing inThe Friend: ‘This striving for absolutes or principles, and its accompanying rhetorical expansiveness, coexists with a more cautious rhetoric, and an intense dislike of abstractions’ [Coleman, Coleridge and The Friend (1809-1810) (Oxford: Clarendon 1988), 17] The more I dig into this work the more convinced I become that the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the draw towards tradition and authority on the one hand and change and spiritual refreshment on the other, is one of the main ones here. The Catholic may be prone to socially-sanctioned arrogance, with all the pomp and performative superiority of his or her Church heirarchy around them; but the Protestant needs to watch out that s/he doesn't become puffed-up with presumption, believing him/herself inwardly better than those poor benighted others.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

'Schlaget du mit Schwert und Munde' (?1808) Traced



In late 1808, or perhaps in 1809 (in either case, around the time he was directing all his energy into the early stages of The Friend) Coleridge wrote the four lines above into his notebook. Kathleen Coburn [(ed) The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Volume 3 1808-1819 (London: Routledge 1973), 3:2, 3425] says: ‘in ink. Source not traced’ and translates as follows:
If you strike with words and steel
True, such wounds will often heal:
But we keep the scar and smart
On our skin and in our heart.
You'll be pleased to hear the source is now traced. It's a four-line poem called ‘Verwundungen’ (‘Wounds’) by Adam Olearius (1599-1671; his German, rather than his Latin, name was Adam Ölschläger). Coleridge came across it in Christian Wernicke's Überschriften, nebst Opitzens, Tschernings, Andreas Gryphius und Adam Olearius: Epigrammatischen Gedichten (Leipzig 1780) where it appears on p.480. Coleridge owned this book, and indeed translated quote a few of Wernicke's epigrammatic poems out of it [see J C C Mays' Poetical Works, the poems numbered 305-319 inclusive].


Coleridge's translations were all published in the Morning Post in 1802 and some of them were reprinted in The Friend, which suggests that Coleridge re-opened his old copy of Wenecke as he began readying material for the journal.

Coleridge, "The Friend" and Polygamy: the Thelyphthora Connection




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Sometimes pedantically taking the trouble to track down the source of an obscure Latin quotation in one of Coleridge's prose works can pay unexpected dividends. Not often, of course; but sometimes. And this, I think, is one such time.

So: a couple of days ago I posted about the start of my read-through of The Friend, the magazine Coleridge edited, wrote (almost entirely) and published intermittently 1809-10. The first essay of this miscellany ends with Coleridge quoting some Erasmus (in the later 1818 rifacimento the first essay ends with a cue to this passage, which is then printed as the epigraph to the second essay). Its placement in either case shows that it was important to Coleridge's sense of the larger project.



Nobody had tracked down where that passage came from, so I did; and you can read the exciting results of that enterprise here. Long story short: it's a passage from Erasmus's introduction to his famous 1516 Latin-and-Greek edition of the New Testament. This one, in fact:



But something about it didn't feel quite right to me. Coleridge wasn't a great reader of Erasmus (though he read Luther avidly), and whilst it was certainly possible he was picking his way through the hundreds of close-printed pages of Latin that constitute the introduction to the Novum Instrumentum omne, in one or other of the hefty, expensive and rare editions published between 1516 and 1536, and this passage just leapt out at him, this didn't strike me as very likely, really. Did Wordsworth (with whom Coleridge was staying at this time) even own a copy of this rare book? Something was off.

So I went back to the quoted text and did some more rummaging around. Long story short: I don't think Coleridge found this passage in the original Erasmus. I think he found it here:



Those, as you can see, are pages xxxiii and xxiv from the introduction to the book whose title-page heads this blog: Martin Madan's Thelyphthora, or A Treatise on Female Ruin (1780). In that once-notorious work Madan, a barrister and Methodist clergyman, advocated Biblically-sanctioned polygamy as the remedy for the evils of social and sexual immorality. The unusual title is Madan's Greek coinage: the suffix Θηλ- refers to women—θηλυκός means ‘female’ and τὼ θηλᾱ́ are a woman's breasts—and φθορά means ‘ruin, death’ but also ‘seduction’ and ‘rape’. Here's Madan, and his English translation:
What Erasmus wrote on the treatment which he met with from many quarters on account of his publication deserves our notice …
‘Sic oportet ad librum legendum accedere lectorem, ut solet ad convivium conviva civilis. Convivator annititur omnibus satisfacere: & tamen siquid apponitur, quod hujus aut illius palato non respondeat, urbane vel dissimulant, vel probant etiam, ne quid contristent convivatorem. Quis enim eum convivam ferat, qui tantum hoc animo veniat ad mensam, ut carpens quæ apponuntur, ne vescatur ipse, nec alios vesci sinat?

Et tamen his quoque reperias inciviliores, qui palam, qui sine fine damnent ac lacerent opus, quod nunquam legerint. Atque hoc sane faciunt quidam, qui se Christiana pietatis doctores profitentur, & religionis antistites; cum sit plus quam sycophaticum, damnare quod nescias.’
As I have too much reason to think that some of the unlearned, as well as the learned, stand much in need of being acquainted with the above, I will give it in English.
‘A reader should come to the perusal of a book, as a courteous guest comes to a feast, The giver of the feast does his endeavour to satisfy all; yet, if any thing be brought to table, which may not be agreeable to the palate of this or that person, they politely dissemble their dislike, or even approve, rather than grieve him who has invited them. For who could bear with that guest, who comes to the table only with a disposition to find fault, and neither to partake himself, nor suffer others to partake of the entertainment? Yet you may find others more uncivil than these, who openly, and without end, will condemn and tear a work to pieces, which they have never red. And some do this, who profess themselves teachers of Christian piety, and eminent professors of religion. Whereas, to condemn that of which you are ignorant, is beyond the baseness of the basest informer.’
The Latin Coleridge quotes starts and ends exactly where Madan's passage does. And compare Madan's English above with Coleridge's, here:
A reader should sit down to a book, especially of the miscellaneous kind, as a well-behaved visitor does to a banquet. The master of the feast exerts himself to satisfy all his guests; but if after all his care and pains there should still be something or other put on the table that does not suit this or that person's taste, they politely pass it over without noticing the circumstance, and commend other dishes, that they may not distress their kind host, or throw any damp on his spirits. For who could tolerate a guest that accepted an invitation to your table with no other purpose but that of finding fault with every thing put before him, neither eating himself, or suffering others to eat in comfort. And yet you may fall in with a still worse set than even these, with churls that in all companies and without stop or stay, will condemn and pull to pieces a work which they had never read. But this sinks below the baseness of an Informer, yea, though he were a false witness to boot! The man, who abuses a thing of which he is utterly ignorant, unites the infamy of both—and in addition to this, makes himself the pander and sycophant of his own and other men's envy and malignity.
In my earlier post I noted puzzlement that, having translated sycophantes as ‘sycophant’, Coleridge also made reference to ‘the baseness of an Informer,’ something which I simply couldn't find in the original Latin. But if we work with the theory that Coleridge found the passage in the Thelyphthora here, then the puzzle goes away: since Madan translates ‘sycophantes’ into English precisely as ‘the basest informer’. It was much more likely that Wordsworth would own Madan's book than an old copy of Erasmus's bilingual New Testament. Madan, who had died only a few years earlier in 1790, was the cousin of William Cowper, a poet whom Coleridge admired immensely, and whose blank verse directly influenced Wordsworth's own. And it was a famous, or at any rate a notorious, book; it's very possible Wordsworth had a copy.


:2:

The thing is: this apparently small datum unpacks in quite significant ways in terms of reading The Friend. It is really quite interesting that, as he started writing the essays that would constitute this magazine, Coleridge was reading a book that made the earnest argument that men ought be allowed to marry more than one woman. Quite interesting in terms of the intellectual context out of which this text was produced, and very interesting in terms of the emotional context.

In 1806 Coleridge had finally separated from his wife, Sara Fricker. He continued to support her financially as she raised their children, but the marriage was dead. One cause of this separation was their evident mutual incompatibility, but another more pressing one was that, in 1799, STC had met and fallen in love with Sara Hutchinson, the younger sister of Wordsworth's wife Mary Hutchinson. This was a desperate, unreciprocated passion that wrenched Coleridge. He poured his misery into entries in his notebook and sometimes into poems, disguising her identity under the flimsy anagram ‘Asra’. Sara H was in many ways a good friend to Coleridge, but she did not love him, and even if marriage between them had been a legal possibility (which it wasn't: the Matrimonial Causes Act was half a century away) it's very hard to believe she would have accepted his proposal, however passionate he was about her. And boy was he smitten.

There were long stretches of tantalising physical proximity through the first few years of the 1800s, and then in 1804 Coleridge moved to Malta, in part as a deliberate break with Sara H and an attempt to cauterise his infatuation. It doesn't seem to have helped. On his return from the Mediterranean Coleridge several times visited the Wordsworths, and therefore Sara, who was living with them, and found himself still as smitten. In December 1806 Coleridge and his ten-year-old son Hartley arrived at Coleorton to spend Christmas with the Wordsworths. During this visit something happened, the traumatic something which Coleridge notated in his Notebook as ‘the EPOCH’. It looks as though, one morning, Coleridge blundered into Sara's room to find her in bed with Wordsworth. It's hard to be sure, in part because Coleridge spent years trying to talk himself into believing that whatever he had seen that morning had just been a kind of hallucination (a ‘morbid Day-Dream’, ‘a mere phantasm and yet what anguish, what gnawings of despair, what throbbings and lancinations of positive Jealousy!’)

Then came the Friend. The point to remember about Coleridge's praxis in writing was that he dictated and relied upon amanuenses to write up what he said; and in the case of the Friend that amanuensis was Sara Hutchinson. ‘Coleridge was dictating every issue directly to Sara Hutchinson, closeted in his study,’ notes Richard Holmes, adding, in striking phrase: ‘so that if the mouth was his the hand was Asra's’.
Coleridge now had that daily, and even nightly, intimacy with Asra that he had so long and so passionately desired. But it was not easy for either of them. The shared pressure, and even excitement, of their literary work (often witnessed by Asra's breathless notes to Brown the printer, reporting on progress) hid far deeper emotions and conflicts. [Holmes, Darker Visions (1998), 176].
It was hardest on Coleridge himself: his notebooks ‘ranged back obsessively’ over his memories of Asra, and he debated with himself whether to write an essay for the Friend on what he considered to be the two models of falling in love, one a passive ‘irresistible’ passion and the other a more controlled ‘act of will’. But, as Holmes says, ‘he could not dictate such an essay to Asra, and it was only written long after ... indeed, perhaps because of their very physical proximity, Coleridge could never speak openly to Asra of his feelings’.

In this context, the fact that Coleridge—married to one woman, desperately in love with another woman—was reading a book that used scripture to justify polygamy is remarkable. Though piously-intended, Madan's Thelyphthora quickly became one of the more notorious books of the later eighteenth-century. The scandal occasioned by its main argument was kept alive by Madan's habit of responding with articles and pamphlets to the many published attacks on his work: at least nineteen separate titles critiqued Madan's book in the 1780s alone, including an Anti-Thelyphthora by Madan's own cousin William Cowper.

In fact the sexual element of polygamy, though the thought of it inevitably tickles our lubriciousnesses, plays little part in Madan's argument. Instead he is exercised by a more strictly theological question: did the coming of Christ entirely overthrow the old Mosaic law (under which, of course, men could marry more than one woman) or not? Madan argued it did not. Indeed, he called the orthodox view that Christ set up a new law, more pure and holy, in opposition to the law of the Old Testament, ‘a doctrine ... replete with folly and blasphemy’ [Thelyphthora, 1:326-27].
By God's express command from Mount Sinai, where the laws concerning moral good and evil, were eternally and unalterably fixed, no man could take a virgin and then abandon her. ‘He shall surely endow her to be his wife’ Exod. xxii.16. And again Deut. xxii. 29. ‘She shall be his wife; BECAUSE HE HAS HUMBLED HER, he may not put her away all his days.’ [Thelyphthora, 1:10]
E B Murray summarises the through-line argument of Madan's book:
In practice Madan interpreted this [Biblical text] to mean that any man who seduced a virgin, even if he was already married, had, in effect, wed her and should be so held accountable to her for all his days. While the system of human contrivance that found Madan comprehensively opposed to his Biblical sanctions was civil marriage, with its insistence on monogamy, his immediate object was (as his full title indicates) the repeal of the so called Marriage Act of 1753, which prohibited clandestine marriages. [E B Murray, ‘Thel, Thelyphthora, and the Daughters of Albion’, Studies in Romanticism 20:3 (1981), 275-76]
When Coleridge wasn't dictating the Friend to Asra, he was using his notebooks to explore the tantalising idea that she might be his wife after all, if only he could get himself off opium:
Again: as Mother of my children—how utterly improbable dared I hope it: How impossible for me (most pure indeed are my heart & fancy from such a thought) even to think of it, much less desire it! and yet at the encouraging prospect of emancipation from narcotics, of health & activity of mind & body, worthy of the unutterably [in cipher: dear one], it is felt within me like an ordinance of adamantine Destiny! [Notebooks, 3: 3547]
Perhaps Coleridge found in Madan a justification for this daydream: he was married, true; but by falling so deeply in love with Asra had he not, in some spiritual sense, already married another woman? Might scripture not sanction such heart-polygamy?

In other words, the Friend was all bound up with Asra, and Coleridge's feelings for Asra. Why did Coleridge decide on The Friend as title for his magazine? He was advised against it: people who didn't know better, he was told, would assume it to be a Quaker journal, which might limit circulation. But Coleridge was adamant. His previous attempt as a magazine had been The Watchmen, and his eighteenth-century prototype for the entire enterprise was expressly the Spectator: in 1804 Coleridge wrote in his Notebook that ‘I should like to dare look forward to the Time when Wordsworth & I with contributions from Lamb and Southey—& from a few others should publish a Spectator’ [Notebooks, 2:2074]. But merely spectating, or even watching as a guardian might, no longer chimed with what Coleridge wanted. He was looking now for a friend: in Latin amicus or amica (has anybody wondered what the gender of Coleridge's magazine's title is?) a word hovering between the more distant friend and the more intimate lover—its root is amo, I love, after all (the Greek φίλος similarly balances between friend and lover in meaning).

It seems that Coleridge had had enough of spectating, or of being spectated. At exactly the time, in the last months of 1808, that he was formalising The Friend with a detailed prospectus to be distributed to possible subscribers he was also writing Wordsworth a long letter of passionate accusation expressive of his heart-sickness with respect to Asra. We no longer have that letter but we do have a draft of Wordsworth's reply, which, to quote Richard Holmes again, ‘by trying to refute Coleridge's accusations point by point’ thus gives us ‘some idea of what Coleridge had actually written to him’:
It is a series of most intimate reproaches: they had supervised Asra's letters; they had regarded his influence as ‘poison entering into her mind’; they had told Asra that she was ‘the cause’ of all his misery. It's clear that Wordsworth was shocked ... Coleridge's accusations [he replied] were made ‘in a lamentably insane state of mind’. His obsession with Asra, and suspicions over Wordsworth's own conduct towards her, his ‘transports of passion’, were all ‘unmanly and ungentlemanly’ and the product of a perverted sexual imagination. [Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 139]
Coleridge clearly felt that he was being unfairly surveiled, even spied upon (it would make sense, I think, to date Coleridge's Verecundia poem to the end of 1808: it's also about this fevered mood)

To return to his expansive translation of the Erasmus passage in this context is to be struck by the way he renders the one word sycophantes not once but into four separate terms: once as ‘sycophant’, then again by picking up Madan's ‘Informer’ and expanding it into ‘the baseness of an Informer [and] a false witness to boot!’ and finally by doubling up ‘sycophant’ with ‘pander’. Something in this plain-seeming paragraph from Erasmus touched a tender spot in Coleridge's subconscious, and it has more to do with than just its ostensible content of exhorting his readers to keep an open mind. Pander, with its sexual meaning, mingles with the sense of a spy in the house, an informer against him, a general dishonesty, all connected intimately with Coleridge's friend-who-is-more-than-a-friend.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Friend Erasmus


I'm going to spend the next few weeks properly reading The Friend, Coleridge's fascinating if, in the end, abortive attempt at a magazine that ran between 1809 and 1810. It was supposed to be an intellectual and cultural weekly, but since Coleridge not only wrote all the content (pretty much) but undertook much of the labour of publishing it as well, and since he, not particularly reliable at the best of times, was undergoing a series of personal and emotional crises during this period, this schedule was only spottily adhered to. I've previously dipped into the Friend of course, and I have read its most famous essays, but I've never sat down and read the whole thing from cover to cover, an omission I intend now to rectify.

The options are: to read the original series of 1809-10 issues in order, or to read the 1818 three-volume collection of the same material, which Coleridge himself called a rifacciamento (more orthodox spellers would call this a rifacimento), a term originally from architecture now applied to any literary work or musical composition recast to adapt it to a change in the circumstances of the time. The 1818 three-volume reissue includes myriad revisions, small and not so small, selection, rearrangement and so on; but it also represents Coleridge's last wishes for the material comprising the Friend as such, and that's the one I'm going to read. Of course, the true Friendphile—a tautology if ever I saw one—needs to keep both versions in view when it comes to closer analysis of what STC is doing.

One small note before I plunge in. At the very end of the very first issue of the magazine (Thursday June 1st 1809)—a passage moved in the 1818 edition so as to be the epigraph of the second essay—Coleridge quotes ‘the words of one, who was himself at once a great Critic and a great Genius’. He means Erasmus:
Sic oportet ad librum, presertim miscellanei generis, legendum accedere lectorem, ut solet ad convivium conviva civilis. Convivator annititur omnibus satisfacere: et tamen si quid apponitur, quod hujus aut illius palato non respondeat, et hic et ille urbane dissimulant, et alia fercula probant, ne quid contristent convivatorem. Quis enim eum convivam ferat, qui tantum hoc animo veniat ad mensam, ut carpens quae apponuntur nec vescatur ipse, nec alias vesci sinat? et tamen his quoque reperias inciviliores, qui palam, qui sine fine damnent ac lacerent opus, quod nunquam legerint. Ast hoc plusquam sycophanticum est damnare quod nescias. ERASMUS
It's a small example of the way the 1818 shapes its material, this: because in that later version of the material the last line of Essay 1 (‘And yet—and yet—but it will be time to be serious, when my visitors have sat down’) leads directly into this epigraph to Essay 2, which means, in Coleridge's own translation:
A reader should sit down to a book, especially of the miscellaneous kind, as a well-behaved visitor does to a banquet. The master of the feast exerts himself to satisfy all his guests; but if after all his care and pains there should still be something or other put on the table that does not suit this or that person's taste, they politely pass it over without noticing the circumstance, and commend other dishes, that they may not distress their kind host, or throw any damp on his spirits. For who could tolerate a guest that accepted an invitation to your table with no other purpose but that of finding fault with every thing put before him, neither eating himself, or suffering others to eat in comfort. And yet you may fall in with a still worse set than even these, with churls that in all companies and without stop or stay, will condemn and pull to pieces a work which they had never read. But this sinks below the baseness of an Informer, yea, though he were a false witness to boot! The man, who abuses a thing of which he is utterly ignorant, unites the infamy of both—and in addition to this, makes himself the pander and sycophant of his own and other men's envy and malignity.
Accedere doesn't really mean ‘sit down’ so much as ‘approach’, ‘join’ or ‘enter’; but the simile of the banquet allows a certain latitude in the rendering, I think. On the other hand the reference to the Informer, a very Napoleonic-Wars touch, is not in the Latin at all. We take the general point, though.

The standard scholarly edition of The Friend is Barbara E Rooke's Princeton/Routledge Bollingen one from 1969. Of this passage Rooke annotates: ‘source untraced’ [Friend, 1:14]. In fact it's from the introduction to Erasmus's celebrated edition of the New Testament (five versions of which were issued between 1516 and 1536).


The actual text (a screenshot from the 1536 edition, as it happens) heads this post. Source untraced no longer!

Tracking this down is more than a matter of mere pedantry, though. The quoted passage was important enough to Coleridge's sense of the larger project to stand, in effect, at the head of it: actually so in the 1809 version of the work (this quotation is the last thing cited in that first issue, as a kind of climactic summing up), effectively so in the 1818 rifacimento, where the first essay is a whimsical prelude that ends by telling the read to sit down and pay attention, before segueing straight into this quotation.

Two things immediately strike me. One is that Erasmus is not talking about sitting down properly to read any old book. He's talking about the Bible. Is Coleridge, by appropriating the passage, finding a way of cannily elevating the importance of his own writing (the 1818 subtitle describes the project as ‘a series of essays in three volumes to aid in the formation of fixed principles in politics, morals and religion with literary amusements interspersed’) without explicitly making the blasphemous comparison? Maybe not. Consider the changes Coleridge makes in quoting it. This, as you can see from the screenshot above, is what Erasmus actually wrote:
Sic oportet ad librum legendum accedere lectorem, ut solet ad convivium conviva civilis. Convivator annititur omnibus satisfacere: et tamen si quid apponitur, quod hujus aut illius palato non respondeat, urbane vel dissimulant convivae vel probant etiam, ne quid contristent convivatorem. Quis enim eum convivam ferat, qui tantum hoc animo veniat ad mensam, ut carpens quae apponuntur nec vescatur ipse, nec alias vesci sinat? et tamen his quoque reperias inciviliores, qui palam, qui sine fine damnent ac lacerent opus, quod nunquam legerint. Atque hoc sane faciunt quidam qui se Christianae pietatis doctors profitentum et religionis antistites; quum sit plusquam sycophanticum damnare quod nescias.
There are a couple of little changes here (for instance, Coleridge adds the Latin presertim miscellanei generis, ‘especially [books] of the miscellaneous kind’ into the first sentence; it would make no sense in the Erasmus), and one bigger change: namely that Coleridge has omitted a whole Erasmian sentence regarding the doctors of the church: atque hoc sane faciunt quidam qui se Christianae pietatis doctors profitentum et religionis antistites; quum sit plusquam sycophanticum damnare quod nescias; ‘and indeed there is the supposed piety of those among the Christian doctors themselves, who professed themselves the only true overseers of religious matters’ (antistites, ‘overseer’, also means: ‘high priest’, ‘somebody who has mastered an art or skill’ and sometimes ‘bishop’). These two things together tend to repurpose Erasmus's original sentiment, downplaying its original, specifically Biblical context and expanding it to apply to all literature, or at least all serious literature. Is this a kind of religious superstition on Coleridge's part, as if he doesn't want to over-reach his claims for his own magazine? Or is it a more active reconfiguration, consonant with a sense that the best secular literature merits the sort of attentiveness previously reserved for scripture and theology?