Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Ariosto's "Ad Petrum Bembo" (c.1500)


In an earlier post on this blog (‘The Latin “Ad Vilmum Axiologum” (1807): Coleridge and Ariosto’) I talked about how Coleridge, stung by what he had seen—or perhaps, by what he had hallucinated—on the morning of Boxing Day 1806, ran out of the house and into a nearby tavern, where he spent the day drinking and scribbling-out his agony into his notebook under the portentous title ‘THE EPOCH’. What had he seen? Wordsworth in bed, naked, with Sara Hutchinson, Wordsworth's wife's sister, and the object of STC's profound and unreciprocated desire. Coleridge later tore-out most of these pages and destroyed them, but references to the events recur in his notes and poems for many years. How could Wordsworth cheat on his wife? How, more importantly, could Wordsworth betray him? How could Asra?

The main focus of that earlier blogpost was one such later reaction to ‘THE EPOCH’, the Latin ‘Ad Vilmum Axiologum’ (‘To William Wordsworth’), a blistering poem of hurt and rebuke aimed at his friend.

Me n'Asrae perferre jubes oblivia? et Asrae
Me aversos oculos posse videre meae?
Scire et eam falsam, crudelem, quae mihi semper
Cara fuit, semper cara futura mihi?
Meque pati lucem, cui vanam perdite amanti,
Quicquid Naturae est, omne tremit, titubat?
Cur non ut patiarque fodi mea viscera ferro,
Dissimulato etiam, Vilme, dolore jubes?
Quin Cor, quin Oculosque meos, quin erue vel quod
Carius est, si quid carius esse potest!
Deficientem animam, quod vis, tolerare jubebo,
Asrae dum superet, me moriente, fides
At Fidis Inferias vidi! et morior!—Ratione
Victum iri facili, me
Ratione, putas?
Ah pereat, qui in Amore potest rationibus uti!
Ah pereat, qui, ni perdite, amare potest!
Quid deceat, quid non, videant quihus integra mens est:
Vixi! vivit adhuc imraemor ASRA mei
Here's how I translated this poem, in that original blogpost:
You command me to endure Asra's neglect? and Asra's
eyes turned from me, something I see very well for myself?
To know her to be false, cruel, who to me has always
been dear, who always will be dear to me?
I must endure this light: I've vainly loved a false woman, [5]
at which the whole of Nature trembles and stutters?
Why not order my own bowels stabbed with a sword,
and then pretend, William, that it does not hurt?
Why not tear out my heart, or my own eyes, or something else
that is even dearer, if anything is dearer!                          [10]
I'd command my weary soul to endure anything,
if only Asra, though it killed me, remained faithful.
But I've seen the funeral of her fidelity! and I'm dying!—Reason
is too easily defeated, you really think Reason can help me?
Ah, perish the man who can subordinate love to reason!    [15]
Ah, perish any man who does not love to perdition!
What's decent, what's not, let the sane decide on that:
My life is over! Though ASRA lives on, unmindful of me.
In that earlier blog I showed that this poem is not an original composition, but appropriates and reworks Ariosto's early 16th-century poem, ‘Ad Petrum Bembo’ (‘To Pietro Bembo’). What I'm doing in this blog is digging a little deeper into that.

Here's the whole of Ariosto's poem, together with my new translation:
Me tacitum perferre meae peccata puellae?
    Me mihi rivalem praenituisse pati?
Cur non ut patiarque fodi mea viscera ferro
    dissimulato etiam, Bembe, dolore iubes?
Quin cor, quin oculosque meos, quin erue vel quod
    carius est, siquid carius esse potest.
Deficienteni animam quod vis tolerare iubebo,
    dum superet dominae me moriente fides.
Obsequiis alius faciles sibi quaerat amores,
    cautius et vitet tetrica verba nece;
qui spectare suae valeat securus amicae
    non intellecta livida colla nota;
quique externa toro minimi vestigia pendat,
    dum sibi sit potior parvo in amore locus.
Me potius fugiat nullis mollita querelis,
    dum simul et reliquos Lydia dura procos.
Parte carere omni malo, quam admittere quemquam
    in partem; cupiat Iuppiter, ipse negem.
Tecum ego mancipiis, mensa, lare, vestibus utar;
    communi sed non utar, amice, toro. 
Cur ea mens mihi sit, quaeris fortasse, tuaque
    victum iri facili me ratione putas.
Ah! pereat qui in amore potest rationibus uti!
    Ah! pereat qui ni perdite amare potest.
Quid deceat, quid non, videant quibus integra mens est;
    sat mihi, sat dominam posse videre meam.
Am I to endure in silence my girl's cheating?
    To permit my rival outshining me?
Why not order me to stab my guts with an iron knife
    all the while hiding, Bembo, my agony?
Why not rip-out my heart, or my eyeballs, or                  [5]
    something dearer to me (if anything is dearer)? 
I'd order my drooping spirit to bear up,
    if only my mistress stayed true til I died.
Let another man easily surrender to his lover,
    dodging harsh words like death to keep love alive;    [10]
watching with eyes, trusting his lover, though he
    can't comprehend the strange lovebites on her neck;
overlooking signs a stranger has shared her bed,
    so long as he feels she loves him more, or as much.
Fine if she blanks me, if my begging doesn't soften her— [15]
    hard-hearted Lydia—if she avoids her other men too.
I'd rather lose the whole, than to let anyone else
    have any part; if Jupiter himself desired her, I'd say no.
I'll share my slaves, my table, house, my clothes;
    with you my friend, but not my bed!                               [20]
Why do I say so, you ask? You might think you could
    cool my anger with a piece of your clever logic.
Ah! may the man perish who measures love by logic!
    Ah! may he perish if love doesn't absolutely slay him!
Let the clear-sighted concern themselves with propriety;   [25]
    for me, all I care about is seeing my mistress.
You can see that Coleridge has done two things to Ariosto's poem. One is swapping the names: Vilme for Bembe (addressing William rather than Bembo) and specifying Asra as the puella in question. The other is condensing the poem from 26 to 16 lines. This latter is achieved by a process of selection, filling in gaps with Coleridge's own Latin. So: STC’s first line adapts Ariosto’s opening line. Lines 2-6 are STC’s own. His lines 7-10 are Ariosto’s lines 3-6 and his lines 11-13 are a bridge to Ariosto’s line 22 (which STC reworks as his lines 14-15). The last four lines are, name-change aside, the same as Aristo’s last four lines. (The linking passages are not exactly original Coleridgean compositions either: for instance line 5's puella perdite amanti, I have loved a worthless girl, is Propertius Elegies 2.1. But I shan't get into all that here).        

Ariosto's poem was a response to a short poem by his friend Bembo, ‘Ad Melinum’. I won't quote it (it's on the other end of that link if you're interested) but here's John Grant's summary of it:
The speaker, adopting the role of praeceptor amoris, advises the addressee, who is to be identified with the poet Pietro Mellini, to stop accusing or suspecting his lover of infidelity. For if he does not do so, he will lose her (lines 1-4). The central section of the poem (5-12) expands upon this advice. Puellae [girls] are by nature infirmae [weak] and can be seduced by blandae preces [smooth or beguiling entreaties]. Men should recognize that fact, but pretend to be unaware of it. That is how a love affair lasts. In the concluding four lines the speaker brings his own situation into the poem. “If I saw my girl friend being unfaithful,” he says, “I would not want to admit to it.” And he closes by addressing Mellini again as he had at the beginning, urging him to follow his example and comforting him with the assurance that he is worrying needlessly; the situation he fears will not arise. [John N. Grant, ‘Propertius, Ovid and Two Latin Poems of Pietro Bembo’, International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 1:4 (1995), 51]
This smoothly cynical attitude to love and sex provokes Ariosto's impassioned retort. 

It's not clear to me if Coleridge was aware of both poems, or had only read Ariosto's. This matters, since it speaks, at least potentially, to the circumstances out of which Coleridge wrote, or adapted, his poem. Did Wordsworth, having been discovered by Coleridge in flagrante with Asra, adopt a Bembo-like suavity? He might have said something like ‘yes I slept with her, but, come now! We're both men of the world. You know what women are like, don’t get so het-up, be rational’ and so on. This doesn't strike me as impossible, although it also doesn't seem to me particularly likely. It's surely more probable that Wordsworth pressed the ‘you were drunk, or opiated, and imagined the whole thing’ line. 

The vision, whatever it was, wouldn't leave Coleridge alone. I assume he was reading neo Latin poetry (as we know he was doing in this period, pursuant to his plan to publish his own translations of select neo-Latin poets) and came across this poem. We can picture him caught by its applicability to his situation with Wordsworth and Asra, copying it out and adapting it as he did to point-up that specificity. Yet Coleridge's poem is (I'm suggesting) different to Ariosto's tonally, characterised by its earnest outrage and sincerity. I'm not sure Ariosto's original is especially sincere (hence my going to the bother of restranslating it). For instance: the couplet ‘Quin cor, quin oculosque meos, quin erue vel quod/carius est, siquid carius esse potest’ [5-6] (which Coleridge copies across) involves, we can assume, a comically oblique reference to Ariosto's prick. And more than that, it's a recycled joke, riffing off Catullus 82:
Quinti, si tibi vis oculos debere Catullum
aut aliud si quid carius est oculis,
eripere ei noli multo quod carius illi
est oculis seu quid carius est oculis

Quintus, if you want Catullus to owe you his eyes
or another thing (if there is one) dearer than his eyes,
do not steal from him that which he holds dearer
than his eyes or the things dearer even than eyes.
Catullus is begging Quintus not to steal his girl. You might as well (he says) rob me of my eyes, or of my balls, which are of course even more important than my eyes! The joke here is: being cuckolded is emasculating, a kind of castration. I mean I say that: older commentators (E T Merrill et al), a little prudishly, suggest that the thing that is more valuable to Catullus than his eyes is his love, Lesbia. That's not what the poem actually says, though (it says his eyes are dear to him, the things that are dearer to his eyes are dearer, and Lesbia is dearer still than both). Plus it's surely funnier the first way.

That said: I don't get that Catullian vibe from Coleridge's poem. There's nothing ribald, even in a coded way, about this expression of his anguish over Asra, here, I'd say.

There's more to say, perhaps, about the extent to which, or perhaps about whether, Coleridge saw in Ariosto's relationship with Bembo his own relationship to Wordsworth—beyond, that is, the fact that Bembo seems to have shagged Ariosto's girlfriend, I mean. Bembo was an important cultural figure, a collector and arbiter of taste, wealthy and well-connected. Ariosto, as a poet, wrote often in Latin; it was Bembo who persuaded him to write his masterpiece, the Orlando Furioso, in Italian (strictly, in Tuscan). Both men were what we might, to use the anachronistic term, playboys, but Bembo's mistresses were of a higher class than Ariosto (he had a famous, or notorious, affair with Lucrezia Borgia for instance). But if Coleridge is Ariosto in terms of wounded sexual feeling, Wordsworth is Ariosto in terms of epic ambition. Coleridge of course is a major poet, but he himself always ceded to Wordsworth the true poetic laurels, and took the Bembo role of advice and exhortation whe it came to his friend's ‘philosophical epic’.  It's a complex set of conflicting identifications, actually.

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Coleridge quotes Cowley


Coleridge copied-out this passage into his notebook, late 1808 or perhaps early 1809. It (entry 3196, as you can see) is one of several that respond to Cowley's neo-Latin epic, Davideidos (entry 3198 copies-out a line from Herodotus that Cowley quotes in a note to his own poem, and entry 3199 speculates on the physical dimensions of Hell, again following up one of Cowley's own footnotes). But for now I want to concentrate on this quotation.

Abraham Cowley was a late 17th-century Royalist poet who wrote with equal fluency in English and Latin. In general terms Coleridge was not exactly a fan: in the Biographia he speaks of the ‘seductive faults, the dulcia vitia, of Cowley’ as a poet. George Whalley quotes the following assessment: ‘for competitors in barbarism with Cowley's Latin Poem de Plantis, or even his not quite so bad Davideid, we must go I fear to the Deliciae Poetarum Germanorum, or other Warehouses of Seal-fat, Whale Blubber and the like Boreal Confectionaries selected by the delicate Gruter.’ He had a higher opinion of some of Cowleys shorter English poems, praising his ‘discursive intellect’ and calling him ‘a legitimate child of Donne’ and ‘probably the best model of style for modern imitation in general.’ 

There are a couple of reasons why Coleridge might have written out this particular passage. Maybe it just struck him and he made a memorandum of it. Maybe he was thinking ahead to one of the various projects he was planning—a lecture series on literature (which he did eventually deliver), his translations of a selection of the best modern Latin poems (which he never did)—and had picked this passage out as an example to use later.

Cowley's first plan for an epic poem was called The Civil War, which he hoped would commemorate and heroize King Charles' martial struggles and victory. After the king's cause went pear-shaped Cowley abandoned this plan (the unfinished portion was re-discovered in manuscript in the 1960s, and finally published in 1971). Instead he reworked some sections into a new epic, based on the life of the Biblical David. Cowley started this in Latin. Ambitiously enough, his plan was for twelve books, like the Aeneid. In the event he finished only the one book in Latin (it was published as Davideidos Liber Primus in Cowley's 1656 Poems) before changing tack, and starting over in English. He completed four books of Davideis, a Sacred Poem of the Troubles of David, but got no further (these four were also published in the 1656 collection). It's worth noting that the first book of the English Davideis is close to, but not an exact transation of, the Davideidos.   

Let's look at the passage that caught Coleridge's eye:
Dic mihi, Musa, sacri quæ tanta potentia Versus
(Nam tibi scire datum, & versu memorare potenti,
Cuncta vides, nec te poterit res tanta latere
In regno, Regina, tuo) vim Diva reclusam
Carminis, & late penetralia ditia pande,
Thesaurósque & opes, & inenarrabile Sceptrum:
Quæ sprevere homines, tandem ut mirentur amento;
Divisque accedat reverentia justa Poetis. [Davideidos, 1:499-506]
Kathleen Coburn's note on the entry, understandably but a little misleadingly, translates by quoting the equivalent passage in Cowley's Davideis (it's 1:441-56):
Tell me, oh Muse (for Thou, or none canst tell
The mystick pow'ers that in blest Numbers dwell,
Thou their great Nature know'st, nor is it fit
This noblest Gem of thine own Crown t' omit)
Tell me from whence these heav'nly charms arise;
Teach the dull world t'admire what they despise,
As first a various unform'd Hint we find
Rise in some god-like Poets fertile Mind,
Till all the parts and words their places take,
And with just marches verse and musick make;
Such was Gods Poem, this Worlds new Essay;
So wild and rude in its first draught it lay;
Th' ungovern'd parts no Correspondence knew,
An artless war from thwarting Motions grew;
Till they to Number and fixt Rules were brought
By the eternal Minds Poetique Thought.
This striking notion of the world as ‘God's poem’ (prescient of what was, really, a core Romantic idea, and an especially core Coleridgean idea, as per his ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ imagination) is indeed in Cowley's English epic. But it's not in the Latin Coleridge actually quotes, which stops before it gets to that bit. Line-by-line, that passage means:
Tell me, O Muse, of the holy power of such Poetry
(since you know such things and are mindful of poetry's power,
having seen it all; nor should we fail to acknowledge
your kingdom, O Queen), the revealed power, Goddess,
of Song: open wide its rich inner sanctum,
its treasures, its wealth, its inexpressible sceptre:
though men scorn you, amaze them at last with love;
may you teach them to reverence divine poets.
With inexpressible sceptre, your guess is as good as mine. The ‘God's poem’ stuff is a bit later on (‘Sic magnum Mundi divino ex ore Poema/Prodiit’; lines 513-14) and Coleridge didn't choose to write it out into his notebook. Instead he selected one further line, from the next page: ‘hinc in nos nata est Numerorem sancta potestas’ [line 541]. This means ‘thus it is that the holy power of Numbers is born’ (‘numbers’ in the sense of metrical lines, poems), a meaning not quite reproduced by the line from the Davideis Coburn quotes: ‘from thence blest Musick's heav'nly charms arise.’ The thing from which poetry's holy power springs is ‘Harmonia’, harmony, personified as a goddess. ‘There is so much to be said of this Subject,’ Cowley says in a footnote to this latter passage, ‘that the best way is to say nothing of it. See at large Kercherus in his tenth book de Arte Consoni & Dissoni.’  Mum's the word!

If you're curious how this whole passage fits into the larger context of Book 1 of Cowley's poem, here's his summary of the action (click to embiggen): 

It's from a digression, in other words. My sense is that Coleridge wrote the Latin down because he liked what it said about poetry as a sacred art, not because it's especially notable or euphonious verse as such.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

"Raised by her Love" (1808)

This is notebook entry 3222, most likely from Jan or Feb 1808 (though perhaps a little earlier):
Rais’d by her love the Earthly of my nature rose, like an exhalation that springs aloft, a pillared form, at the first full face of the rising Sun, & intercepting full his slant rays burns like a self-fed fire, & wide around on the open Plain spreads its own splendor & now I sink at once into the depths as of a Sea of life intense—pure, perfect, as an element unmixt, a sky beneath the sky—yet with the sense of weight of water, pressing me all around, and with its pressure keeps compact my being & my sense of being, presses & supports—what else diffusing seemed—

Asra Schonthinu

Musaello rita gelocedri
The last two lines are deduced from Coleridge’s ‘Greek’ code, (a simple substitution, with Greek letters and other characters representing the English letters, but enough to baffle the casual browser).

Usually Coleridge switched to his code when writing about his deep but unreciprocated love for Sara Hutchinson (‘Asra’)—Wordsworth’s sister-in-law—and his sexual jealousy at his suspicions Wordsworth was having an affair with her (since W, his wife Mary and Sara all lived in the same house where Coleridge often stayed, any of them might read the notebooks, which presumably necessitated the code). ‘Asra Schonthinu’ is an anagram for Sara Hutchinson, and ‘Musaello rita gelocedri’, of course, is Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 

This passage might be a first draft for a poem. It just about shakes-out, a little awkwardly, into blank verse:
                                             Rais’d by
Her love the Earthly of my nature rose,
Like an exhalation that springs aloft,
A pillared form,
At the first full face of the rising Sun,
And intercepting full, his slant rays burn
Like a self-fed fire, and wide around
On the open Plain spreads its own splendor
And now I sink at once into the depths
As of a Sea of life intense—as pure,
Perfect, as an element unmixt, a sky
Beneath the sky—yet with the sense of weight
Of water, pressing me all around, and with
Its pressure keeps compact my being and 
My sense of being, presses & supports—
What else diffusing seemed—
That this breaks off into the (deliberately) tangled inscription of Sara and Samuel’s names is interesting. This might be a poem, or the start of a poem (or notes towards the start of a poem) about STC’s ‘earthly’ desire, waking at dawn tumescent with thoughts of ‘Asra’—a common enough eventuality, physiologically, as men will confirm!—and being ‘burned’ (with shame at lust) by the ‘pure’ sunrise, slowly revealing the land, Coleridge then records his emotional sinking, ‘drowned’ in the impossibility of their connection and his agonising sense of baseness. That would certainly explain why he didn't develop it any further.

‘Asra’ is STC’s standard anagram for Sara, something which presumably links back to his styling of her, when he first met and was attracted to her, as ‘Asahara, the Moorish Maid’. ‘Schonithunu’ rearranges the letters of her surname to foreground her physical beauty (schön). ‘Musaello rita gelocedri’ is a considerably less euphonious anagramatisation of STC's name. We can see a different sent of word games here: ‘Musae[llo]’ (of the muses) ‘rita’ (writer) ‘gelo[cedri]’ (gelid, frozen, chill-hearted). STC: heart-chilled, muse-inspired writer.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

"Fragment in Blank Verse" (1810)


Mays prints this as an original poem by Coleridge, as you can see. It was written into one of Coleridge's notebooks, probably in May 1810, with various embellishments added (again, as you can see from Mays' headnote: click to embiggen). The four corners of the page are marked with ‘W[illiam Wordsworth] + M[ary Wordsworth] + D[orothy Wordsworth] = W’, ‘Coleridge’, ‘Mary’ and ‘William’. The Greek words both refer to Sara Hutchinson. Still harping on EPOCHS, it seems.

                                I have experienc'd
The worst, the World can wreak on me; the worst
That can make Life indifferent, yet disturb
With whisper'd Discontents the dying prayer.
I have beheld the whole of all, wherein
My Heart had any interest in this Life,
To be disrent and torn from off my Hopes,
That nothing now is left. Why then live on?
That Hostage, which the world had in it's keeping
Given by me as a Pledge that I would live,
That Hope of Her, say rather, that pure Faith
In her fix'd Love, which held me to keep truce
With the Tyranny of Life—is gone ah whither?
What boots it to reply?—“tis gone! and now
Well may I break this Pact, this League of Blood
That ties me to myself—and break I shall”—
Printed as echt Coleridge in the James Dykes Campbell 1893 Complete Poems, this has gone on to receive quite a lot of critical attention. John Charpentier calls it ‘one of the most moving poems Coleridge ever wrote’ [Charpentier, Coleridge: the Divine Somnambulist (1970) 251], and Thomas McFarland quotes the poem to illustrate what he calls Coleridge's ‘phenomenology of fragmentation’ (‘His marriage, his friendship with Wordsworth, his love for Sara Hutchinson, his relations with his children, his poetic career itself, after initial strivings for wholeness, subsided into the phenomenology of fragmentation’ [McFarland, Romanticism and the Forms of Ruin (Princeton 1981), 6]).

It's pretty interesting, then, that these lines are not by Coleridge at all. They're by the Elizabethan-Jacobean poet and playwright Samuel Daniel. Specifically they're from his play The Queen's Arcadia (1605), Act 4 Scene 1.

You can see how Coleridge alters the original, either because he is quoting from memory and getting a few things wrong, or else because he is copying-out the text and reconfiguring it the more closely to capture his particular situation (tyranny of life, for instance):
                                I have seen
The worst the World can shew me; and the worst
That can be ever seen with mortal Eye.
I have beheld the whole of all, wherein
My Heart had any Interest in this Life,
To be disrent and torn from off my Hopes,
That nothing now is left. Why should I live?
That Hostage I had giv’n the World, which was
The Hope of Her, that held me to hold truce
With it and with this Life is gone, and now
Well may I break with them; and break I shall,
And rend that Pact of Nature, and dissolve
That League of Blood that ties me to my self.
The play, based on Italian pastoral drama, is set in Arcadia, as you might deduce from the title. The lines Coleridge quotes are spoken by the shepherd Amyntas, who is in love with the beautiful Cloris. Cloris is also loved by another shepherd, Carinus, and the wicked seducer Colax also has his lustful eye on her. Colax persuades the bawd Techne (she has previously obtained young girls for Carinus' bed) to use her wiles and drugs in order to make Cloris his. There's a deal of to-ing and fro-ing, but this scene initiates the play's climax. Amyntas, pouring his heart out to Techne (not realising her evil disposition), despairs of his love for Cloris, persuaded by Techne's libel that she is a wanton and not worth his affection. After exiting, Amyntas, heartbroken, tries to kill himself by swallowing posion. There's a deus ex machina, in which Amyntas is restored to life by a shadowy character called Urania, who is ‘skilled with herbs.’ The play ends happily with Amyntas and Cloris united. But at this point things are pretty bleak.  

I've spoken on this blog before about the way Coleridge used Elizabethan and Jacobean drama to process his misery, sexual jealousy and sense of betrayal at ‘Asra’ sleeping with Wordsworth—assuming the events of the ‘EPOCH’, discovering the two of them in bed together, were real, and not (as Coleridge tried later to convince himself) some kind of hallucination or phantasm. This post has the specifics, and identifies two pieces of poetry, previously believed to be Coleridgean, as actually being passages from Dekker's Honest Whore and Chapman's All Fools

This Danielian misattribution is clearly an example of him doing more of the same, although this passage records not just hurt and disgust (as do those earlier excerpts) but suicidal ideation. Coleridge has added the quotation-marks around the last two-and-a-half lines himself, by way, I presume, of pointing them up. He, like Amyntas, wishes to die, so desolating is the thought of the woman he loves betraying him with another man. Whether we want to add the wrinkle that Coleridge, having read the play, knows that Amyntas doesn't die—whether, that is, we think this leavens the bitterness of despair this passage represents—seems to me unclear.

What is clear, or at least perhaps clearer, is the reason Coleridge kept returning to these sorts of plays, (and also to Latin). He is, as he generally did with his life-experiences, mediating his emotional response through literature, and not all literature is relevant to the specific agony of sexual jealousy and rejection he is undergoing. Jacobean drama is bawdy enough, and deals very often with love-triangles, whores, seducers and so on; and there are Latin and neoLatin poets who do the same. But most of the literature Coleridge read (and in many ways he was quite the prude, where sexual matters were concerned: read his horrified account of the indecency of Maturin's play Bertram at the end of the Biographia Literaria if you don't believe me)—most of the literature Coleridge read was not bawdy, and did not deal with the tangle of sexual desire and disgust, the turmoil of Coleridge's unhappy, unreciprocated and as he believed betrayed love for Sara Hutchinson.

Saturday, 2 January 2021

"Ode to Tranquillity" (1801)


Coleridge most likely wrote this October or November 1801; Mays notes that it was first published in the Morning Post, 4th December 1801. It was widely reprinted in other newspapers. Coleridge then carved off the poem's first two stanzas (they make a series of specific political connections) and published the last four stanzas in the first installment of The Friend [1 June 1809]. He later collected this version in 1817's Sybilline Leaves. That's the version screenshotted at the head of this post. 

TRANQUILLITY! thou better name
Than all the family of Fame!
Thou ne’er will leave my riper age
To low intrigue, or factious rage;
For oh! dear child of thoughtful Truth,
To thee I gave my early youth,
And left the bark, and blest the steadfast shore,
Ere yet the tempest rose and scared me with its roar.

Who late and lingering seeks thy shrine,
On him but seldom, power divine,
Thy spirit rests. Satiety
And sloth, poor counterfeits of thee,
Mock the tired worldling. Idle Hope
And dire Remembrance interlope,
To vex the feverish slumbers of the mind:
The bubble floats before, the spectre stalks behind.

But me thy gentle hand will lead
At morning through the accustomed mead:
And in the sultry summer’s heat
Will build me up a mossy seat!
And when the gust of Autumn crowds,
And breaks the busy moonlight clouds,
Thou best the thought canst raise, the heart attune,
Light as the busy clouds, calm as the gliding Moon.

The feeling heart, the searching soul,
To thee I dedicate the whole!
And while within myself I trace
The greatness of some future race,
Aloof with hermit-eye I scan
The present works of present man—
A wild and dream-like trade of blood and guile,
Too foolish for a tear, too wicked for a smile!
In his copy of The Friend STC scribbled a sardonic little marginalium next to ‘interlope’ at the end of line 14: ‘O Rhyme! Rhyme! what hast thou not to answer for?’ He also annotated the poem's final couplet: ‘these two lines were composed during sleep. S.T.Coleridge.’ Interesting!

It seems to me this is a poem the proper understand of which depends upon a sense of Coleridge's Latin, and upon how important ‘desynonymising’ was to him: that process by which words commonly taken to be synonyms are prised apart to explore important distinctions in meaning. Perhaps the most famous example of this is his account of ‘fancy’ and ‘imagination’ in the Biographia, but there are lots of other places where he does it.  

In Latin, pax and tranquillitas are sometimes used interchangeably; peace, tranquillity, quiet. But the Latin grammars of Coleridge's day stressed the difference between the two words.

This idea fed from Latin grammars into English ones, with the notion, widespread in the eighteenth-century though generally repudiated today, that the latter should take its cue from the former. So for example:

(it doesn't name him on the title page, but this was by John Trusler)


There's interesting work to be done, I think, excvataing the pre-history of Coleridge's ideas of desynonymization in suchlike grammars. 
At any rate, that's what's going on here. There are no shortages to odes ‘Ad Pacem’, after all.

Coleridge's decision to write an ode not to Pax but to Tranquillitas has particular bite at the end of 1801. Britain, having been at war for nearly a decade, was publicly suing for peace. Holy Roman Emperor Francis had signed the Treaty of Lunéville with France in February, and by November Cornwallis was in Paris negotiating what would (at the beginning of 1802) become the Treaty of Amiens. Nonetheless, Coleridge writes not of that, but of an inward state of tranquillity. The contrast is more explicit in the Morning Post version of the poem, which opens with this stanza (Addington and Cornwallis are the Statesmen, Napoleon the ‘CONSUL’):
What Statesmen scheme, and Soldiers work,
Whether the Pontiff, or the Turk,
Will e'er renew th'expiring lease
Of Empire; whether War or Peace
Will best play off the CONSUL's game
What fancy-figures, and what name
Half-thinking, sensual France, a natural Slave
On those ne'er broken Chains, her self-forg'd Chains, will grave;

Disturb not me! ....
Not that I'm suggesting Coleridge is being startlingly original here. On the contrary, much of this poem is perfectly conventional in its styling. For example, the notion, offered so to bolster one's staying-power, that tranquillity will follow life's tempest's (with which stanza 1 ends) is from Erasmus's colloquim Funus (‘The Funeral’ 1526): Sequuta est igitur eam tempestatem tranquillitas. But it does speak to Coleridge's public disengagement, or at least his profession of that. 

Friday, 1 January 2021

Southey's "The Miser's Mansion" (1794)


One of Southey's early poems, this. It appeared in the collection he co-authored with Robert Lovell, Poems: containing the Retrospect, Odes, Elegies, Sonnets etc (1794 in Bath; reprinted, without the authors' names on the title page, in London, 1795). Inside the volume Southey's poems were attributed to ‘Bion’ and Lovell's to ‘Moschus’, which means that the volume is sometimes referred to as Poems by Bion and Moschus. In his later career Southey suppressed these early poems, although Lovell—who died young from a fever in 1796—had higher hopes for his. Southey's low opinion of his own work may have been influenced by Coleridge, who disliked this volume and singled out Southey's ‘The Miser's Mansion’ and Lovell's ‘The Decayed Farm’ for particular dispraise.

I am astonished at your preference of the Elegy [‘The Miser's Mansion’]! I think it the worst thing, you ever wrote —
Qui Gratio non odit, amet tua carmina, Avaro
Why — ’tis almost as bad as Lovell’s Farm house — and that would be at least a thousand Fathoms deep in the Dead Sea of Pessimism. [STC letter to Southey, 18 December 1794; CL 1:115]
Coleridge's Latin, there, is a parody of Vergil's ‘Qui Bavium non odit, amet tua carmina, Maevi’, with the names swapped: ‘Gratio’ is the name of the subject of Lovell's ‘Decayed Farm’ and ‘Avaro’ the subject of Southey's ‘Miser's Mansion’. Indeed, here is that poem, so you can see for yourself:
Thou mouldering mansion, whose embattled side
Shakes as about to fall at every blast;
Once the gay pile of splendor, wealth, and pride,
But now the monument of grandeur past.

Fall'n fabric! pondering o'er thy time-trac'd walls,
Thy mouldering, mighty, melancholy state;
Each object, to the musing mind, recalls
The sad vicissitudes of varying fate.

Thy tall towers tremble to the touch of time,
The rank weeds rustle in thy spacious courts;
Fill'd are thy wide canals with loathly slime,
Where battening, undisturb'd, the foul toad sports.

Deep from her dismal dwelling yells the owl,
The shrill bat flits around her dark retreat;
And the hoarse daw, when loud the tempests howl,
Screams as the wild winds shake her secret seat.

'Twas here AVARO dwelt, who daily told
His useless heaps of wealth in selfish joy;
Who lov'd to ruminate o'er hoarded gold,
And hid those stores he dreaded to employ.

In vain to him benignant heaven bestow'd
The golden heaps to render thousands blest;
Smooth aged penury's laborious road,
And heal the sorrows of affliction's breast.

For, like the serpent of romance, he lay
Sleepless and stern to guard the golden sight;
With ceaseless care he watch'd his heaps by day,
With causeless fears he agoniz'd by night.

Ye honest rustics, whose diurnal toil
Enrich'd the ample fields this churl possest;
Say, ye who paid to him the annual spoil,
With all his riches, was Avaro blest?

Rose he, like you, at morn devoid of fear,
His anxious vigils o'er his gold to keep?
Or sunk he, when the noiseless night was near,
As calmly on his couch of down to sleep?

Thou wretch! thus curst with poverty of soul,
What boot to thee the blessings fortune gave?
What boots thy wealth above the world's controul,
If riches doom their churlish lord a slave?

Chill'd at thy presence grew the stately halls,
Nor longer echo'd to the song of mirth;
The hand of art no more adorn'd thy walls,
Nor blaz'd with hospitable fires the hearth.

On well-worn hinges turns the gate no more,
Nor social friendship hastes the friend to meet;
Nor when the accustom'd guest draws near the door,
Run the glad dogs, and gambol round his feet.

Sullen and stern Avaro sat alone
In anxious wealth amid the joyless hall,
Nor heeds the chilly hearth with moss o'ergrown,
Nor sees the green slime mark the mouldering wall.

For desolation o'er the fabric dwells,
And time, on restless pinion, hurried by;
Loud from her chimney'd seat the night-bird yells,
And thro' the shatter'd roof descends the sky.

Thou melancholy mansion! much mine eye
Delights to wander o'er thy sullen gloom,
And mark the daw from yonder turret fly,
And muse how man himself creates his doom.

For here had Justice reign'd, had Pity known
With genial power to sway Avaro's breast,
These treasur'd heaps which fortune made his own,
By aiding misery might himself have blest.

And Charity had oped her golden store
To work the gracious will of heaven intent,
Fed from her superflux the craving poor,
And paid adversity what heaven had lent.

Then had thy turrets stood in all their state,
Then had the hand of art adorn'd thy wall,
Swift on its well-worn hinges turn'd the gate,
And friendly converse cheer'd the echoing hall.

Then had the village youth at vernal hour
Hung round with flowery wreaths thy friendly gate,
And blest in gratitude that sovereign power
That made the man of mercy good as great.

The traveller then to view thy towers had stood,
Whilst babes had lispt their benefactor's name,
And call'd on heaven to give thee every good,
And told abroad thy hospitable fame.

In every joy of life the hours had fled,
Whilst time on downy pinions hurried by,
'Till age with silver hairs had grac'd thy head,
Wean'd from the world, and taught thee how to die.

And, as thy liberal hand had shower'd around
The ample wealth by lavish fortune given,
Thy parted spirit had that justice found,
And angels hymn'd the rich man's soul to heaven.  BION.
Not the greatest poem ever written, although not altogether worthless I think. There are some nice pre-Tennysonian touches à la ‘Mariana’ here (which, plus the description of the toads ‘battening’ in the moat, like Tennyson's abyssal Kraken, makes me wonder if Alfred hadn't read and remembered this poem). But there we go: not republished in Southey's life, deprecated by Coleridge, a small cul-de-sac in Romantic poetry.

But wait a moment: the edition of this volume scanned-into Google Books is the original 1794 Bath printing (very rare), as you can see by the title page at the head of this post. And that edition contains the following marginalia at the end of ‘The Miser's Mansion’ [click to embiggen]:  

But here unfriended churl Avaro died
His heir rejoiced and not a neighbour sigh’d
His heir in rising rounds of fashion bred
Seiz’d on Avaro’s store—by folly led
Hastened for Italy’s far shores—intent
To squander that which Heaven’s work had leant
Home he despised—determined with his wealth
To gloss [?] in pleasure & to lose his health
And throws [?] Avaro’s Baggs [?] in folly sound
Never unspent unworthily as they were found
And show these mouldring ruins [wings?] and walls
Which Dawn unveil'st—when the night Owl calls
[Line crossed out]
Moments portend—to tell this timely truth
[Line crossed out]
The Miser’s Hoard begets the spendthrift youth
There is no name in the volume, so these scribblings could be anyone. Although, no, that's not quite right: anyone sets the net too widely. The Bath edition had a tiny print run and was mostly ignored. And we can narrow things a little further, for this is not Southey's handwriting, which was rounder and had more clarity of lettering.

It does, however, look a little like Coleridge's hand (several examples of which are included in this post, if you scroll down a bit). Here's a bit of Coleridge's handwriting, in a scrap that has also been signed by Southey, bottom right:

Coleridge certainly annotated Southey a good deal. Vol 5 of the Princeton Marginalia contains over a hundred pages of his Southeyan jottings (mostly from later in his life than the 1790s; none are recorded in this particular book). Might this be Coleridge writing something at the end of his friend's poem?

As you can see, this is not a standard marginalium, recording a comment or criticism. It is rather a continuation of the poem so as to bring it to (I presume the annotator believed) a more satisfactory conclusion. I have to say: the verse is clumsy and bad, and the handwriting has some features (like the little flourishes on its terminal ds) that don't look like Coleridge (he does often end his ds with an upstroke flourish, but not as fancily as here, I'd say). So it's probably nothing to do with him.

Of course, just conceivably that was the point: Coleridge mocking a poem he considered badly written and ludicrously pessimistic by extending its stanzas, badly, deeper in the pessimism of the next generation. That said: it's not likely.

Friday, 25 December 2020

Coleridge in Malta


Here's an anecdote about Coleridge in Malta that I don't think anybody has noticed (it's buried in the middle of an 1862 Macmillan's Magazine review, by one ‘A Wilson’, of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poems; not the kind of place one might expect to find a story about Coleridge). The most detailed and thorough account of Coleridge's year and a half in Malta is Donald Sultana's Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Malta and Italy (Oxford: Blackwell 1969), and he nowhere mentions this little incident.

It's interesting because it cleaves to the popular prejudice about Coleridge as a dreamy-eyed poet unsuited to practical matters. This, it must be said, is really not the portrait of STC in Malta that emerges from Sultana's book (or from Richard Holmes's biography, which draws heavily on Sultana for its Malta sections). There the emphasis is on how hard Coleridge worked, and how effective an administrator he proved, passing a wide range of bandi (legislative proclamations), sitting-in on Sir Alexander Ball's cabinet meetings, attending court, overseeing oaths and sorting-out disagreements between locals, colonial officials, disputes between ships docked at the port and so on. This Macmillan's Magazine account has a ‘print the legend’ vibe about it, doesn't it. Although if, as he claims he did, ‘A Wilson’ heard it verbatim from somebody who had actually worked with Ball and Coleridge in Malta 1804-05, it might be true. (Although surely the peacock's feather pen is an embellishment? Or were they really a thing?)