Sunday, 14 October 2018

Coleridge's ‘Imagination’ and Hooker



I write this in a mood somewhere between bogglement and sheepishness. After all: I've been working on Coleridge for many years, have published scholarly work on the man and blogged extensively about him. More I am currently in what I hope are the latter stages of writing a bloody monograph on the geezer. It's late in the day to realise, for the first time, something that strikes me as so central to my author's imaginative and intellectual praxis, something that means one of his most famous and influential ideas suddenly slots into a new focus (as an optician clicks down lens after lens into the ungainly face-worn frame until suddenly, bingo, there's the chart in all its clarity). Long story short: I should have known this long before. It is but small exculpation to note that nobody else seems to have noticed it either. Unless they have and I've missed that? Or unless nobody has because there's nothing there and I've lost my mind? That's possible too, I suppose.

It has to do with Coleridge's concept of the imagination, something he wrote about in various places, but which he most famously elaborated in the Biographia Literaria (1817). There Coleridge makes the distinction between ‘imagination’, which is genuinely creative, and ‘fancy’ which is merely imitative:—a process of pastiche of more imaginative writers, the shuffling around of pre-existing counters rather than the poetic or artistic bodying-forth of something new and meaningful. Towards the end of chapter 4 of the Biographia, Coleridge says:
Repeated meditations led me first to suspect,—(and a more intimate analysis of the human faculties, their appropriate marks, functions, and effects matured my conjecture into full conviction,)—that Fancy and Imagination were two distinct and widely different faculties, instead of being, according to the general belief, either two names with one meaning, or, at furthest, the lower and higher degree of one and the same power. ... Milton had a highly imaginative, Cowley a very fanciful mind. If therefore I should succeed in establishing the actual existence of two faculties generally different, the nomenclature would be at once determined. To the faculty by which I had characterized Milton, we should confine the term imagination; while the other would be contra-distinguished as fancy. Now were it once fully ascertained, that this division is no less grounded in nature than that of delirium from mania, or Otway's
Lutes, laurels, seas of milk, and ships of amber,
from Shakespeare's
What! have his daughters brought him to this pass?
Otway thinks, fancifully, the way to capture madness is to have his character babble random things because madness is a kind of randomness, or a sort of babble. Shakespeare knows better, that madness is actually that which bends sanity around the lines of force of its obsession. Fair enough. Then, in what now strikes me as a dead giveaway, and by way of concluding chapter 4, Coleridge goes from this passage to a lengthy quotation from Hooker's Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity—I mean, it really is right there. The thing is that then, in characteristic Coleridgean style, he gets distracted and instead of developing this idea he embarks on a massive metaphysical and theological detour, one which occupies the whole of chapters 6-13. Finally, right at the end of his long thirteenth chapter, Coleridge returns to imagination and fancy with this often-cited, rarely-understood definition:
The IMAGINATION then I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary Imagination I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate: or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and to unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

FANCY, on the contrary, has no other counters to play with, but fixities and definites. The fancy is indeed no other than a mode of memory emancipated from the order of time and space; while it is blended with, and modified by that empirical phaenomenon of the will, which we express by the word CHOICE. But equally with the ordinary memory the Fancy must receive all its materials ready made from the law of association.
So, [1] God makes the world, including our souls; [2] the true artist makes a little world in his/her art, in a finite imitation of the infinite primary creativity of God, and [3] the crappy artist merely copies-and-pastes (we can compare Tolkien's subcreation, and its relationship to divine creation). With that, Vol 1 of the Biographia ends. Vol 2 starts an entirely new enterprise, largely pursuing practical criticism of Wordsworth's poetry, amongst others. There's one more wrinkle: according to his daughter, Coleridge crossed out ‘as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM’ in his own copy of the Biographia.

I knew of course that Coleridge read the celebrated Elizabethan theologian Richard Hooker—that's him, at the top of this post, with a seagull on his loaf—in detail and with sympathy. It's something all Coleridgeans know. Volume 2 of the Bollingen Marginalia prints forty, count ’em, pages of close-written marginal annotations Coleridge scribbled on his edition of Hooker's complete works (these actually date from 1824-26, which is too late for my purposes here—though Coleridge was reading Hooker all his life).





Of course, some scholars have engaged with this vector of influence, usually in the service of unpacking Coleridge's religious and political thought: Nicholas Sagovsky (2014) on Coleridge's ideas of Church and State for instance, or Luke Wright's patchy but interesting Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Anglican Church (Notre Dame, 2010). But nobody, so far as I know, has ever made the point I'm about to make in the remainder of this blogpost, even though it does seem to me, occuring to me late in the day though it do, both a vital gloss on Coleridge's theory of the imagination and also just, well, obvious when it's pointed out.

It comes about because, even though I knew how important Hooker was to Coleridge, I was content to let my knowledge of the eminent theologian rest at second hand. I had the sense of Hooker as a famous prose stylist who argued against the excesses of the Puritans and defended the legitimacy of the Anglican church; which is, kind-of, what he was (although he nowhere uses the phrase Anglican, it turns out). But then I read some Hooker. And then I slapped the palm of my hand to my brow, Wallace-and-Gromit style.

Because it turns out the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is about rather more than just refuting Puritain opposition to the established church. It is a comprehensive attempt to establish the idea of polity, the legal establishment of social and religious law, authority and order, from first principles. Hooker's proximate objective is indeed to make a particular case, contra Puritanism, about the polity of the Church, but his larger aim is to describe the structure of polity as such: what the law is, under what circumstances it might be changed to meet changing circumstances, and why we should all follow it. Hooker chooses the word polity deliberately: he might have written about Ecclesiastical Discipline or Ecclesiastical Government, but the former term had been too effectively colonised by the Puritans, and the latter he thought people would associate with ‘the exercise of superiority peculiar unto Rulers and Guides of others’ [LEP, 3.1.4]. Polity, he thinks, is the best expression of the collective assent to Law as such, grounded (as he sees it) in God. So the first book of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity sets out to define Law as such, and to that end Hooker insists that there are two Laws, which we can call primary and secondary. The primary is the ‘First Eternal Law’ [1.3.1]; ‘that Law which giveth life unto all the rest’ [1.1.3], ‘that order which God before all ages hath set down with Himself to Himself to do all things’ [1.2.6]. Himself to Himself, or I AM THAT I AM—this latter one of Coleridge's favourite Biblical moments, of course. Of this Primary Law, Hooker says:
The Being of God is a kind of Law to His Working: for that Perfection which God is, giveth Perfection to that He doth. [LEP, 1.2.2]
But Hooker also posits a secondary Law, ‘the Second Eternal Law’ which he defines as ‘that order with which Himself God hath set down as expedient to be kept by all His Creatures, according to the several conditions wherewith He hath endued them’ [1.3.1]. This is, if you like, the iteration of the infinite divine Law in the finite realm, and manifests in, for instance, what we would today call the laws of physics, as well as in the law that governs angels and so on. But Hooker's focus, as you'd expect, is on ‘the Law of Men, a Law of continual progress to that Perfection which is in God alone’ [5.1.2.]. The eight books of the Ecclesiastical Polity explore many facets of this, from questions of duty and ethics to the ‘Law Politic’, and especially the linked categories ‘Laws made by a Body Politic which is civilly united’ and ‘Laws made by a Body Politic which is spiritually joined, and makes such a Body as we call the Church’ [1.10.11]. And the important thing for my purposes is that Hooker insists that this secondary law manifests in two distinct ways: ‘within each’ of the disciplines of human law ‘there is a distinction between Primary and Secondary Laws; the one grounded upon sincere, the other built upon depraved, Nature’ [1.10.13]

Now, in the Biographia Coleridge devotes a good deal of space not just to explicating Kant's ideas but to stressing the impact reading Kant's Critique of Pure Reason had upon his younger self: Kant ‘took possession of me as with a giant's hand’ is how he phrases it. But although the Biographia does quote Hooker, there's no equivalent passage describing Hooker's giant hand on Coleridge's shoulder, perhaps because STC never got around to it, or perhaps because it seemed to him so much more obvious (nobody was reading Kant in Britain in the early 19th-century because he hadn't been translated into English; but everyone knew about Hooker, one of the greats of English prose—so maybe Coleridge figured Kant needed to be explained in a way that he assumed wasn't true of Hooker). Anyway, it came home to me with sudden force that this is what Coleridge was doing in the Biographia, or at least this is what he set out to do before his work diverticulated to such an extent that he ends-up promising he'll explain the real meat of his argument in his forthcoming Logosophia.

What is he doing? I think he's setting his own fundamentally aesthetic-psychological theory of the imagination calculatedly alongside the theories of those two other great thinkers: one, Kant's distinction between Understanding and Reason—which Coleridge interpreted in his own, particular way, identifying a human but also a divine Reason and associating the latter with the Logos—and two, Hooker's distinction between divine Law, human-primary Law and human-secondary Law. In other words: the Biographia Literaria presents a coherent theory of aesthetic creation and appreciation that posits human poetry (in the broadest, ποίησις sense of the word) as something with a pure and an impure form, the former mimicking the primary creative-imaginative ποίησις of God Himself; and Coleridge does so in order to parallel this with the Kantian distinction between Divine Reason, Human Reason and Human Understanding on the one hand, and the Hooker-ian distinction between the First Eternal Law of God, the Second Law of (sincere) Men and the lesser Law of (depraved) men on the other. That, to be plain, Coleridge sees all three of these as versions of the same thing, rooted in the same Divine origin and sanction, and expressing in the three overlapping realms, art, mind and law, the same fundamental logic. It would be a very Coleridgean thing to argue, and it makes such sense of the Coleridgean distinctions of the primary imagination/secondary imagination/fancy thing that I'm sheepishly boggled that, until this weekend, it had honestly never occurred to me.

‘Blest in the Happy Marriage of Sweet Words’



I know a lot of these source-hunting posts are pretty dry and indigestible, but this one's a fraction more interesting than usual (or else I'm finally going Stockholm Syndrome on all this dryasdust pedantry). Anyway. In the early 1800s Coleridge, estranged from his wife, fell deeply in love with Sara Hutchinson, the unmarried sister of Wordsworth's wife Mary, who lived with the Wordsworths at Grasmere. Sara H., though a good friend to Coleridge in many ways, rejected his advances, leading to a deal of anguished scribbling in his notebooks and a number of heartbroken poems addressed to Sara under the paper-thin pseudonym ‘Asra’. Then something traumatic happened—something he referred to in his Notebook as the ‘EPOCH’. We can't be sure exactly what this was, although it brought Coleridge close to breakdown. Probably what happened was that, in December 1806, Coleridge discovered Wordsworth in bed with Sara Hutchinson. He was devastated by this, although Wordsworth tried to convince him the whole thing was just a hallucination he had experienced. Indeed Coleridge seems to have come to believe this, or at least seems to have wanted to believe it (not the same thing, of course). At any rate he continued staying with the Wordsworths, and therefore with Sara Hutchinson, after the December 1806 events of the EPOCH, only finally leaving for London in April 1807.

He spent the rest of that year in London, Bristol and a few other places and then in February 1808 he wrote to Sara Hutchinson, making her a present of some books, including a copy of Chapman's Odyssey, together with a covering letter. Henry Nelson Coleridge, assembling the Literary Remains of Samuel Taylor Coleridge for posthumous publication (it came out 1836), thought the sentiments in this letter interesting enough to include, although to evade even the whiff of indecency he pretended it had been sent to Wordsworth rather than to Sara H.
Chapman I have sent in order that you might read the Odyssey/ the Iliad is fine, but less equal in the Translation, as well as less interesting in itself. What is stupidly said of Shakspeare, is really true & appropriate of Chapman—“mighty faults counterpoised by mighty Beauties.” Excepting his quaint epithets which he affects to render literally from the Greek, a language above all others “blest in the happy marriage of sweet words”, and which in our language are mere Printer's compound Epithets—such as—quaff’d divine Joy-in-the-heart-of-man-infusing Wine/ the undermark’d is to be one word, because one sweet mellifluous Word expresses it in Homer—excepting this, it has no look, no air, of a translation. It is as truly an original poem as the Faery Queen—it will give you small idea of Homer, tho’ yet a far truer one than from Pope's Epigrams, or Cowper's cumbersome most anti-homeric Miltoniad—for Chapman writes & feels a Poet,—as Homer might have written had he lived in England in the reign of Queen Elizabeth/ In short, it is an exquisite poem, spite of its frequent & perverse quaintnesses and harshnesses, which are however amply repaid by almost unexampled sweetness & beauty of language, all over spirit & feeling, in the main/ it is an English Heroic Poem, the tale of which is borrowed from the Greek—& I anticipate pleasure in your enjoyment of it. [Marginalia 2:1120]
The phrasing is interesting there, I think: I anticipate pleasure in your enjoyment of it presumably means ‘I anticipate that you will derive pleasure from it and enjoy it’; but what Coleridge has actually written is: ‘I look forward to me deriving pleasure from the fact that you will enjoy this’. A very different sentiment! And the choice of gift looks rather freighted, don't you think? A poem about a storm-tossed hero, forced to weary peregrinations, but always hoping to return to his true love, in her Ithaca. Like an 1808 version of giving a mix-tape to a girl you have a crush on.

The single Homeric word that gets translated, in STC's letter, by that English multiply-hyphenated monster is μελίφρονα [eg Odyssey 7:182; it actually occurs a dozen times in the poem], which means ‘sweet-to-the-mind’, via the Greek μέλι, ‘honey’: Chapman calls this ‘one sweet mellifluous word’ and actually translates it as ‘honey-sweet-to-the-mind’. The shift from that to Coleridge's misremembering ‘joy-in-the-heart-of-man-infusing’ is the distance between a broader somatic pleasure to the yearning of a man who still, in his emotionally bruised and hopeless way, yearns for one particular woman to fuse her heart with his. It was a hope destined to remain unfulfilled. Although Coleridge returned to the Wordsworths in Sept 1808, and enjoyed physical propinquity with Sara H as she acted as his amanuensis on The Friend through 1809, at the beginning of 1810 she left Grasmere to live with her brothers on a farm in Wales. Coleridge felt personally betrayed by this departure, unreasonably enough. Penelope, after all, is supposed to wait patiently at home for her Odysseus to work his way, eventually, back to her.

What of that quoted phrase, the one that says Greek is ‘blest in the happy marriage of sweet words’? George Whalley appends the following footnote:



Hard to blame Whalley for not tracking this down, since it's another creative misrememberquoting by Coleridge. In fact it is from the allegorical play Lingua, or the Combat of the Tongue and the Five Senses for Superiority (published anonymously in 1607, scholars now generally attribute it to Thomas Tomkis). In the play, the beautiful young woman Lingua, the personification of language, offers a prize for the worthiest of man's five senses: Auditus (hearing); Visus (sight); Olfactus, Gustus, and Tactus): ‘He of the five that proves himself the best,/Shall have his temples with this coronet blest’. The five bicker and fight over who should win—eventually Visus does—and Lingua's demands to be received as the sixth sense are rejected. The relevant passage, in which Lingua berates Audita, is here:
LINGUA: O, horrible ingratitude! that thou,
That thou of all the rest should'st threaten me:
Who by my meanes conceiv'st as many tongues,
As Neptune closeth lands betwixt his armes:
The ancient Hebrew, clad with mysteries,
The learned Greeke, rich in fit epithites,
Blest in the lovely marriage of pure words,
The Caldy [ie Chaldean] wise, the Arabian physicall,
The Romane eloquent, the Tuscane grave,
The braving Spanish, and the smooth-tong'd French,
These precious jewels that adorne thine eares,
All from my mouthe's rich cabinet are stolne:
How oft hast thou beene chain'd writo my tongue?
Hang'd at my lips, and ravisht with my words,
So that a speech, faire feather'd, could not flie,
But thy eares' pit-fall caught it instantly.
But now, O, heavens! [Lingua, 1.1.55-70]
The subtle subconscuous pressures that lead to Coleridge inadvertently correcting ‘pure’ to the μελίφρον-ic ‘sweet’ (for who would want a pure love-match when you can have the more intimate consummation of a sweet one?) is the same force that slides the original lovely to STC's wished-for happy.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Weiblich τετραγραμματον



So: Notebooks 1:555. In September and October 1799 Coleridge, not long back from Germany, went off for a walking tour of the Lake District with Wordsworth. During the course of this the two of them visited Thomas Clarkson at Eusemere in Cumbria (I note without comment that ten years ago this house sold for £3 million), and there Coleridge jotted the above in his notebook.

The meaning is clear-enough, though it's a little, uh (not to clutch my pearls too tightly) surprisingly phrased. STC sees a hill shaped like half an arse (a ‘fat backside’). Reflected in the mirror-like clarity of lake this becomes a full arse, and the road running up between the two prominences resembles an ‘opening’—crossed out for being too suggestive—a ‘suture’ and finally the ‘Weiblich τετραγράμματον’. The adjective weiblich means ‘female’, and the Greek tetragrámmaton means ‘word comprised of four letters’. We don't need to know which particular word Coleridge had in mind (‘slit’? ‘cunt’?) to see what he's getting at.

What's odd here is that, although τετραγράμματον can mean any four-letter word, the Tetragrammaton refers to the four Hebrew letters יהוה‎ (in transliteration, YHWH or JHVH) used as the ineffable name of God in the Hebrew Bible, variously transliterated as Yahweh or Jehovah. Does it seem strange to you that a man as religiously devout as Coleridge would trifle with a piece of terminology so holy? Is he demeaning the holy name of God, or is he, in the privacy of his private notebook, elevating the vagina to Biblical ineffability? ‘I never saw so sweet an Image!!’ he says. Well, quite.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Several Thousand Words of German Copied into Coleridge's 1799 Notebook



This is ‘Notebook 3’ which, as Coburn speculates, was probably bought in Germany and which is about one-third full of German-related jottings, including this very lengthy passage of German prose—I'd estimate about 4000 words—printed in the Bollingen edition over several entries: 1:434-439. It's all copied out in what Coburn calls ‘a German hand’ (not Coleridge's) and the first three chunks of this new hand relate to the topography of the Harz region, in which is located the Brocken, which Coleridge visited. Entry 434 begins ‘Alle Gebürge des Harzes, die meistens Ganggebürge sind, werden durch einen hohen vom kleinen Brocken herab, gegen Abend ziehenden Bergrücken, den Bruchberg, fast nach einem rechten Winkel mit der Mittagslinie, in zwey ziemlich gleiche Theile abgesondert ...’ (‘All the mountains of the Harz, most of which are iron-ore mountains, are divided into two roughly equal parts by a fairly high mountain ridge, the Bruchbergh, which runs westwards down from the little Brocken almost at right angles to the meridian ...’) and continues to discuss the landscape and the susceptibility of the forests of the Harz to dry-rot. Two further entries prefer (438) direct to indirect religious revelation and discuss (439) the potential of new processes for deriving sugar from beet. With respect to this material Coburn notes: ‘the source has not been found’ although she does record that she has searched—one can almost smell her weary frustration—through long runs of the Jahrbücher der Preussischen Monarchie, the Denkwürdigkeiten der Mark Brandenburg ‘and other journals’. From this she concludes that ‘in the spring of 1799 a controversy was raging on the “important new discovery” of the sugar beet.’ Beet, it seems, was it. They told her don't you ever come around here/don't want to see your face, you better disappear. The feuer's in their eyes and their Wörter are really clear, so ...

Not to get distracted. It turns out that 435, 436 and 437 are from Christoph Wilhelm Jakob Gatterers' guidebook to the Harz region, Anleitung den Harz und andere Bergwerke mit Nuzen zu bereisen (2 vols 1786) 2:106f.


The text itself, or the start of it, is screenshotted at the head of this post.

1:437, beginning ‘Der Verf. will von mittelbarer Offenbarung nichts wissen und glaubt, was uns nicht so scheint, daß man diese nur darum angenommen habe ...’ (‘The author will have no truck wth indirect revelation and believes, though it is a belief we do not share, that it has been accepted because certain objections against direct revelation could not be answered ...’) is from Göttingische Anzeigen von gelehrten Sachen, Volume 1 (1799) 1:823 [dated 25th March 1799]



Finally 1:438, the entry on sugar-beet, beginning ‘Der Anbau der Runkel-Rüben, Beta vulgaris Linn. oder nach Beckmann Beta altessima, und daß solche gewöhnlich ...’ (‘The manner of cultivating sugar-beet, Beta vulgaris Linn, or according to Beckmann Beta altessima, is well-known ...’) is from the Salzburger Intelligenzblatt for the 15th June 1799.



So there you have it.

German Epigrams in Coleridge's Notebooks



Notebooks 1:432 is long, multi-item text. In Coburn's words, ‘most of the entries in this item are adaptations, or notes for adaptations, of epigrams from German authors.’ There are thirty entries in all. Coburn identifies the sources of most of these but three she couldn't trace are noted below.

1:
No mortal spirit yet had clomb so high
As Kepler, and his Country let saw him die
For very want! The Souls minds alone he fed
And so the Bodies left him without bread!
Coburn marks this as ‘Source not found’. In fact it's an epigram by German mathematician and astronomer Abraham Gotthelf Kästner (1719–1800):
So hoch war noch Kein sterblicher gestiegen,
Als Kepler stieg—und starb in Hungersnoth!
Er wusste nur die geister zu vergnügen,
Drum liessen ihn die Körper ohne brodt.
It was widely reprinted and quoted in the 18th-century, so there's no way of being sure where Coleridge found it.

3:
On Lucas Cranach's Grave-stone he is called Pictor celerrimus—a mistake of the Stone-cutter for celeberrimus. With some of our Poets the Public makes just the contrary blunder—& puts celeberrimus where celerrimus only is the Truth.
‘Source not found’ says Coburn. Well, it is indeed true that Cranach's monument does indeed describe him as ‘Pictor celerrimus’, ‘the fastest painter’, which most art-historians think merely reflects his reputation as a rapid craftsman. The idea that this was actually whatever-the-stone-cutter-equivalent-is-of-a-typo is something Coleridge saw in Christian Wilhelm Schneider's Samlungen zu der Geschichte Thüringens (1771) 1:121: ‘Denn obgleich “Lucas Cranach” auch “Pictor celerrimus” gewesen:—so sieht man doch gar wohl, daß er hier “celeberrimus” hat sollen genennt werden’. Coleridge's application of the notional blunder to poetic reputation seems to be his own addition.


17:
Ein jeder sieht mit Lust diess schöne Bildniss an—
Ich nicht: weil ich nur noch diess Bildniss sehen kann
This is actually the last two lines of a quatrain by Andreas Gryphius entitled ‘Über das Bildniss der Hippolyta’, ‘On a Portrait of Hippolyta’:
So schien Hippolyta, der Ausbund ihrer Zeit,
Der Tugend Ebenbild, die holde Freundlichkeit.
Ein jeder sieht mit Lust diess schöne Bildniss an;
Ich nicht: weil ich nur noch diess Bildniss sehen kann.
‘So Hippolyta: the epitome of her time/the picture of kindness, the grace of kindness/Everyone looks upon her picture with pleasure/But I don't—because it is only a picture!’ [Christian Wernikens Überschriften: nebst Opitzens, Tschernings, Andreas Gryphius und Adam Olearius Epigrammatischen Gedichten (1780), 397]

Monday, 8 October 2018

'A New Augustus'




Here's the Coleridge Notebook entry Coburn numbers as 1:413:
Fluctibus extollens novum salutat Augustum
from the Album in the Brocken, a dante Hexameter—
It's something of a puzzle. The Latin means ‘Rising from the waves, he salutes the new Augustus’, and the rest of the entry can really only mean one thing: somebody had written the line down in a visitor's album in the inn at the Brocken, where Coleridge was staying in May 1799, as a curiosity, and Coleridge copied it into his notebook—the curiosity being that though this phrase occurs in a piece of Dantean prose it happens to be a Latin hexameter. It's the kind of thing that happens. Robert Graves used to go through the Times leaders underlining all the occasions when the prose slipped into iambic pentameter; he said sometimes the incidence was as high as 30%.

The problem is I can't find out where it originally came from. If it is an authentic piece of Dantean Latin, it must be about Henry VII of Luxembourg, whom Dante several times hailed as the new Augustus come to reunite Italy under a new holy Empire (he discusses Henry in these terms in the Monarchia, and wrote many letters on the topic: in Epistola 2.7.5 he even addresses Henry as ‘tu, Cesaris et Augusti successor’).

Henry crossed the Alps with his army in 1310, subdued most of Northern Italy, had himself crowned Emperor (the image at the head of this blogpost) and then, inconveniently for Dante's hopes, promptly died of malaria in 1313 at the age of forty. Several times in Purgatorio Henry is praised as the saviour come to redeem Italy and end secular control of the church, and in Paradiso 30:137 Dante sees the high seat of honour waiting for Henry in heaven: one who ‘came to reform Italy before she was ready for it’. So it's very possible that, at some point in his Latin prose, Dante imagines (let's say) Tiber rising from his bed to hail the new Augustus. But if he does so then I can't find it: it's not in the De Monarchia, and not in the Epistolae either. Maybe it's somewhere else? Or perhaps somebody wrote the phrase in the Brocken Album for some other reason and Coleridge jumped to conclusions. Hmm.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Coleridge on Metrical Invention: an Untraced Quotation from the 1799 Notebook



Notebooks 1:387 is a short quotation in German marked ‘source not traced’ by Coburn.
Was im eigentlichsten und schärfsten Verstande erfunden wird, ist für die menschliche Gesellschaft nur selten wirklich nützlich.
In its day, this small thing generated a deal of bad-tempered heat in the narrow world of Coleridgean scholarship. Coburn's account of the entry notes that ‘without context it is not absolutely certain whether Verstand here means understanding, intelligence in the Kantian use of it, or simply sense (ie meaning)’. Accordingly she proposes two possible translations: ‘whatever is invented by the pure, and most acute, intelligence is but rarely of real use to human society’ and ‘whatever is invented in the most literal and exact sense [of the word invented] is but rarely of real use to human society’. Then she adds the following:
Since the above was written, a sharp controversy involving four correspondents and four translations of Coleridge's quotation has raged in the Listener, 2 April-7 May 1953. The argument turned partly on the two interpretations above: whether the word Verstand means a mental power, or the sense or meaning of a word; but it also turned on whether erfunden means invented, or discovered. As none of the controversialists identified the source of the quotation we are not much better off. The main point—Coleridge's reason for being interested in the passage, and whether he was impressed by it or noted it to refute it—remains obscure. If it be read according to (1) above, it reflects a position familiar to readers of Coleridge's later prose, and the quotation becomes a reference in support of his view of the limited use of conceptual understanding. But in the light of other entries in these early notebooks, and in view of eighteenth-century interest in the nature of erfinden and Erfindungen, reading (2) seems the more likely one, and the reading of erfunden as discovered suggested by correspondents to the Listener, unlikely. [Coburn (ed) Notebooks 1.ii: 386]
It is illuminating, then, to be able finally to locate the source of this quotation. It's by the German grammarian and philologist Johann Christoph Adelung and comes from Magazin für die deutsche Sprache, Volume 1 (1783), p. 147. It is, in fact, not a Kantian speculation on the nature of Understanding versus Intelligence, but speculation about the origin of poetic metre.

The sentence occurs in an essay titled ‘Noch ettwas über Deutsche sprache und Litteratur auf Veranlassung der Berlinischen Monathsschrift’; ‘Another reply to the Berlin Monthly on the topic of German language and literature’. The Berlinische Monatsschrift was a monthly magazine published by Johann Erich Biester and Friedrich Gedike, most famous nowadays because it published Immanuel Kant’s celebrated ‘What is Enlightenment?’ essay. The immediate context for the passage Coleridge copied into his notebook is some speculation about the provenance of German poetic metres: ‘Ob unsere Litteratur eine Einheit hat,’ Adelung wonders ‘wenn bald morgenländische, bald Laplädische Schwünge des Geistes, bald fremde Sylbenmaße ...’: whether our Literature possesses a unity, [and if so] when Eastern influences became apparent, when a Lapland spirit first animated it, when foreign metres first appeared. At this point Adelung adds a lengthy footnote that begins:
“Attiker,” sagt Herr Biester, “erfanden neue Sylbenmaße,aber Rammler soll das nicht!” Ich antworte: 1. Erfunden wird in der menschlichen Gesellschaft eigentlich nichton sondern herrschen, kurz wenn unsere schönen Schriftsteller angegeben hatten, mit klarent Bewußtseyn heraus gehoben, und der Absicht bequemer und angemessener gemacht. Was im eigentlichsten und schärfsten Verstande erfunden wird, ist für die menschliche Gesellschaft nur selten wirklich nützlich. 2. Weder Pindar noch Attiker haben wohl in diesem schärfsten Verstande Sylbenmaße erfunden, sondern was schon in der Sprache, dem Tone, den Tonmaße conventionellen Begriffe des Wohlklanges dunkel lag, herausgehoben näher bestimmt, und mit Bestimmtheit angewandt.

“Attic,” says Mr. Biester, “invented new metres—but Rammler should not!” I answer: 1. In human society, such invention is not actually inventing but a process of codifying, in brief, taking that which our most beautiful writers have expressed and extracting metre from the clarity of their poetic awareness with the intention of making a more convenient and suitable account. What is actually and literally invented is seldom of real use to human society. 2. Surely neither Pindar nor any Attic speaker invented metres in this narrow sense, but rather took what was already hidden in the language, the tone, the measures of  lovely-sounding conventional terms, and emphasized these more precisely, and applied them with more sureness.
Here's the bottom of p.146:


... and here's the top of p.147.



‘Rammler’ is the poet Karl Wilhelm Ramler, and ‘Biester’ the Berlin Professor Johann Erich Biester. In other words, the reason this sentence caught Coleridge's eye is precisely because it insists that what is called invention is actually discovery (except in a few, artificial and unimportant cases). But the specific context of this quotation had to do not with Kantian thought or human consciousness more generally but the narrower question of poetic metre. Which is pretty interesting, actually.