Sunday, 8 March 2020

Alph, the Sacred River

Walter Bradick's 1765 Choheleth: or, The Royal Preacher: a Poem most Humbly Inscribed to The King opens with a preface attributing the original version of the poem to somebody else (J. Dennis Furley, according to some sources) and claiming it first appeared in 1691. The DNB, though, seems to imply Bradick was himself the author (it also laments that ‘it may be doubted whether the work is now extant’. Cheer up, DNB! Here it is, on Google Books!)

‘Koheleth’ is the Hebrew name for the Preacher, Ecclesiastes; and the poem is a versification of that Biblical book. Did Coleridge know it? I can't prove so, but I'd like to think he did.

The poem starts on a suitably gloomy, Ecclesiastes-y note:
O vain, deluding world! whose largest gifts
Thine emptiness betray, like painted clouds,
Or watry bubbles: as the vapour flies,
Dispers'd by lightest blast, so fleet thy joys,
And leave no trace behind. This serious truth
The Royal Preacher loud proclaims, convinc'd
By sad experience; with a sigh, repeats
The mournful theme, that nothing here below
Can solid comfort yield: 'Tis all a scene
Of vanity, beyond the pow'r of words
T'express, or thought conceive. [1-11]
If it's really ‘beyond the pow'r of words/T'express, or thought conceive’ you have to wonder what the point is in writing a poem about it. Still. Nature, the poem (takings its prompt from scripture) insists, is a Heraclitan flow:
See, how the winds
From ev'ry point are whirl'd, and still renew
Their circuit. Rapid torrents rivers fill,
And these their tribute to the Ocean pay,
Whose vast abyss ne'er overswells its bounds;
For strait, in vapours, by the Sun exhal'd
Or through Earth's secret caverns, it restores
All back again.
This is the earliest reference I've come across the idea (was it common in the 17th/18th centuries?) that the ocean supplies waters back to the sources of rivers via ‘secret caverns’. I'd like to know more about this idea, actually: is it, for instance, behind Coleridge's dream-vision caverns measureless to man through which Alph flows? Is (that is to say) Alph the sacred river running back from the sea to the springs of creation? The original Biblical verses don't include the secret caverns: ‘The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.’ [Ecc. 1:6-7]

The poem adds another very Romantic-sounding passage to the original Bible verse, viz.:
More anxious none t' explore the hidden springs
Of Nature's wondrous works; nor less intent,
Though more abstruse the study, to trace out
The mazy lab'rinths of the human heart,
Its dark recesses, various and perplex'd
Its motions, diff'rent passions and pursuits.
Immense the labour, thorny was the road:
This sounds very like Wordsworth. But then we go on, and the anticipatory shadow of Kubla Khan falls again across the reader's mind:
       In the royal Seats I rais'd,
United shone magnificence and taste;
With ev'ry precious thing within adorn'd,
That wealth immense could furnish; planted round
With choicest vines, in beauteous order rank'd,
Whose racy juice supply'd the sumptuous board,
And cheer'd the heaviest heart. When tir'd with pomp
Of Court, and Solitude to rural scenes
Invited, entertainment sweet I found
In gardens, which with Eden might compare
Here flow'rs profuse exhal'd their odours, more
Reviving than Arabia's spicy gales;
Nor could Aurora paint on clouds, nor bow
Of Heav'n, by solar beams reflected, shew
Colours so various, or of lovelier hue.
There lofty trees th' extended vista form'd,
Or shady grove. The most delicious fruits
Of ev'ry kind, so plenteous, that, beneath
Their weight, the branches funk. Nor chrystal streams
Were wanting, which in pleasing torrents roll'd
From high cascades, or, in meanders flow,
Through artificial channels taught to glide,
Or rise in figur'd shapes from marble font.
Each tender plant the kindly moisture shar'd,
Nor felt the scorching rays. In this retreat
I pass'd my vacant hours, the cares of life
In sweet oblivion lost.
The parallels with Coleridge's Xanadu aren't, perhaps, very close; although this account is rather more languidly orientalist than the Biblical original (‘I made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.’ Ecc. 2:4-8). Still, Ecclesiastes as a source for ‘Kubla Khan’ (or maybe it would be better to say: ‘Kubla Khan’ as a sort of exoticised, far-eastern version of Ecclesiastes) hadn't occurred to me before.

That Hebrew is, in some sense, ‘behind’ Alph the Sacred River makes sense, of course; since ‘Al[e]ph’ is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In 1828, unfortunately for my purposes long after this poem was written, Coleridge wrote to his friend Hyman Hurwitz thanking him for a gift of his recently published pamphlet, An Introductory Lecture Delivered in the University of London on Tuesday 11, 1828, by Hyman Hurwitz, Professor of the Hebrew Language and Literature: a work he read, he says, ‘in gladsomeness of heart’ [CL 6:772]. One thing Hurwitz mentions is the theory of Caspar Neumann (1648-1715) regarding the Hebrew alphabet:

This is so en point for ‘Kubla Khan’ as a poem, one yearns to believe that Coleridge had encountered Neumann's ideas prior to the writing. I can't find evidence that he did, though. Which is a shame. After all, manifestly that's what Alph is in this poem: promary motion, origination, activity. Indeed, I wonder if one of the reasons STC's imagination slides from the ‘Cublai Khan’ of his source-text to that klakky doubled-k, i-less ‘Kubla Khan’ is that it comes closer to a rebus compounded of kaf, beth and alph, a mystic connection of originating poetic motion, space and concavity.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

New Coleridgeiana

In 1918, the auction house Henry Sotheran and Co offered for sale a bundle of autograph writings by Coleridge, including both published and unpublished pieces of poetry and prose. Some, although by no means all, of this latter material was later published, which means this catalogue remains our only clue for a number of intriguing,  hitherto unknown pieces of Coleridgean prose and poetry. Below is what Sotheran were hoping to sell, all-in, for £175. I mark what I believe to be previously unnoticed material with ‘[*]’:

1. ‘10 pp octavo, mostly dated from The Grove, Highgate [Mr. James Gillman's], June 1st, 1822, to February 11th, 1832, to MR. or MRS. CHARLES ADERS, the latter the beautiful and accomplished daughter of Raphael Smith, the engraver, Euston Square, and Laurence Pountney Lane, City, long, closely-written letters of very intimate character, full of discussions on ETHICS, METAPHYSICS, LITERATURE, RELIGION, etc., mentioning CHARLES LAMB, ROBERT SOUTHEY, EDWARD IRVING, DORA WORDSWORTH, etc., but most remarkable for their constant allusions to a young lady by whom the poet seems to have been attracted at that time; her name, which happens very often in connexion with affectionate messages, has been carefully deleted quite a long time ago, possibly soon after the letters were received, but by careful scrutiny and comparison of the deletions can be seen to have been ELLEN KELLY; in one letter COLERIDGE writes her face is like a Corelli Concerto (the VIIIth) a silent music, he also several times expresses a wish that the ADERS should come to live with the GILLMANS, and bring the lady with them.’ The catalogue includes the following excerpts from this bundle:
[i] ‘It is a maxim with me, to make Life as continuous as possible, by linking on the Present to the Past. ... The Present is a phantom known only by its pining, if it do not breathe the vital air of the Future : and what is the Future, but the Image of the Past projected on the mist of the Unknown, and seen with a glory round its head. But where shall we find the Eternal, which gives the Three in One, and makes all exist in each? It is Love-Love that like Flame can pass successively, from this to this, ever the same essentially, and yet taking up into its character the nature of the object on which it finds its sustenance. I of course am a stranger to your dear now spiritual Mother ; but as by the beauty of a Daughter we may form an idea of the beauty and there is an almost divine Beauty) of Age that formed the shrine of holy love in the Present, so by Mrs. Aders' Countenance, Tones, and Movements can I interpret what your Mother must have been—for no man can truly love diversely or diverse objects.’ [CL 5:266]

[ii] [*]‘Mr. Green like myself is half German—and in the best sense, all German.’

[iii] ‘If Mr. R. [Reece] could give me time, unused as for so many many years I have been to versifying of any kind, and dried up I fear, my poetic spring will be found by the severities of austere Metaphysics, I will attempt it [some translation] for him.’ [CL 5:271]

[iv] ‘To be with one for any continuance and in any bond of sympathy, and not to feel attached to Germans, and to prize the intellectual growth of Protestant Germany, is scarcely possible.’ [CL 5:287]

[v] ‘I am resolved to tell Miss [Kelly], as soon as ever the Rose makes its appearance on her cheeks, that she deserves to have a gray haired Poet's kiss inflicted on her for the gloom, her sad naughty sore throat has thrown over our anticipations ... Be assured dear Madam! that if there be any medical efficacy in fervent and affectionate Wishing, your dear [child? this word deleted] will not long remain on a sick bed.’ [CL 5:366-67]

[vi] ‘Mr. Green ... is among the very best men I know. But probably you may have heard Mr. Robinson (that Pineapple of a Crab, as Charles Lamb says) speak of him.’ [CL 5:367]

[vii] [*] ‘Give my love to Miss [Kelly, this word deleted] and tell her that spite of absence and dreary weather she buds and blossoms on the Green-house of my fairest Recollections.’

[viii] [*] ‘Tell [dear Ellen, these words deleted], that I do not forget her—because I never forget her or can, she being one of the letters in the name written on the inward tablet.’

[ix] ‘My dear Friend, and (by the privilege of silvery locks and heart pure as burnished silver, in defiance of Beauty and Genius I dare add, beloved Sister!'[)] (Then follows a very long letter, to Mrs. Aders, 4 pp. 4to. relating to three copies of a portrait of himself by Madame von Predl.] [CL 6:651f]

[x] [*] ‘Another long letter is written in the form of anEXTRACT FROM THE DOMESTIC AND LITERARY INTELLIGENCER, No, I, OCTOBER 12TH, 1825’: the supposed extract being a pretended press puff of “THE INVITATION, an epic Drama, in the style of Homer and Shakespeare. Finer models the Authors could not have selected”; this is followed by a Synopsis of a “Scena on the East Cliff of Ramsgate,” in which the writer and his friends figure as Esteecy [his pet pun on his own initials], Philophilé, Venus and Hygeia, the latter “enters a flying Machine and mounts aloft.” The whole forms a very remarkable Fantasia. At the end is a Letter by MR. GILLMAN stating that writing and talking what he calls nonsense, is an infallible symptom, that our dear Friend is in good spirits and in his bettermost health.’

[xi] ‘In this bleak World of mutabilities where what is not changed, is chilled, and in this winter-time of my own Being, I resemble a Bottle of Brandy in Spitzbergen—a Dram of Alcoholic Fire in the centre of a cake of Ice.’ [CL 6, 532]

[xii] ‘I have long had it in my wish and imagination to attempt the founding of a Teutonic Club, that should be connected with the gradual purchase of a permanent German Library in London.’ [CL 6:544]

[xiii] ‘He [Mr. Watson] loves Germany & Germans—dislikes the Italians, and ABHORS the French—all as a good man ought to do—just as I would have had it.’ [CL 6:553]

[xiv] ‘From Mr. Reynolds I have heard—that my two Poems, the first for an engraving, and entitled “Boccaccio's Garden”, and the other, a wild and somewhat long Ballad, are all they can print this year, owing to the disproportionate length of Sir W. Scott's Prose (that was to have been a Canongate Tale, had not Mr. Heath outbid).’ [CL 6:757]

[xv] ‘I should like to suggest to some of his [Ackermann's] able artists what seems to me no bad subject for a Caricature viz. The REFORM BILL, allegorized as a Loco-motive Steam-Engine, with all its smoke and fury, and by a long train of waggons, carts, etc., dragged on by it, one or two large caravans containing the ministerial Majorities, etc, ... each of the waggons should represent some one of our dead weights, and dead blunders of the present Ministry-Belgium, Holland, Portugal, Irish Tythes ... with the Steam Engine run mad, over hedge & ditch.’ [CL 6:883]
Some of these letters later appeared in the Collected Letters (the first, third, fourth, sixth and last are all known to scholars, as is the ‘Bottle of Brandy in Spitzbergen’ letter and the ‘founding of a Teutonic Club’ letter, plus the letter that references Mr Watson loving Germans but hating Italians); but so far as I'm aware the second passage here, most of the letters that refer to STC's old-man passion for Ellen Kelley, and the letter that references ‘THE INVITATION’ have none of them been published. Were the Ellen Kelley letters, in effect, suppressed, because they were in some sense indiscreet? Tantalising!

Aders was a German merchant resident in London, who in July 1820 married an Englishwoman, Eliza Smith (daughter, as the catalogue notes, of the painter John Raphael Smith). Earl Leslie Griggs includes a number of letters from STC to either Mr or Mrs Aders, the earliest dating from December 1820. He has no letter dated June 1st, 1822, although he does include a letter to Charles Aders dated February 11th, 1832. The reference to ‘Miss [Kelley, heavily inked out] whose face is a Corelli Concerto (the VIIIth) a silent Music’ is from a letter to Eliza Aders dated 26th December 1822 [Griggs 5:262], Arcangelo Corelli being the famous 17th-century Italian violinist and composer. STC had attended a dinner party at the Aders on the 22nd Dec, with many other people (Henry Crabb Robinson has a detailed account of this, ‘Coleridge was the star of the evening’, and musicians had been hired to perform, presumably Corelli being among the pieces played—the 8th concerto is called ‘The Christmas’ (you can listen to it here), so it would have been appropriate.

What else? Well, the poem STC here calls ‘Boccaccio's Garden’ was actually published as ‘The Garden of Boccaccio’ in The Keepsake for 1829 (edited by Reynolds), and reprinted soon after in Coleridge's 1829 Poetical Works [CC 16:652]. The ‘wild and somewhat long Ballad’ must be ‘Alice du Clos; or, The Forked Tongue. A Ballad’ which also appeared in the 1829 Keepsake. The cod-heroic ‘THE INVITATION, an epic Drama, in the style of Homer and Shakespeare’, however much of it there originally was, has been altogether lost.

[*] 2. ‘HOLOGRAPH MS., of an UNPUBLISHED POEM. “ON QUITTING OXFORD STREET, BRISTOL, FOR NETHER STOWEY, NEW YEAR'S DAY, 1795, WITH MRS. C. AND HARTLEY, THEN AN INFANT, ADDRESSED TO MR. MAURICE OUR MEDICAL FRIEND, AT WHOSE HOUSE WE HAD PASSED THE PRECEEDING EVENING, AND SENT OFF FROM CROSS, ABOUT 19 MILES FROM BRISTOL”; a Poem of 7 Verses, and Verses 1-3 of “PART THE SECOND: SENT BY THE POST THE SAME EVENING FROM BRIDGWATER”—at the foot of which Coleridge has written, “I have laboured in vain to recollect the remaining 7 or 8 Stanzas”; 4 pp. quarto., watermarked 1828.’ The catalogue gives us four lines of this poem:
My first-born! my bright-eyed, with three-cornered mouth,
Thee the winds for a while their own murmours may teach
Till the Cuckoo and Nightingale come from the South
They shall set thee, my Babe, thy first Lesson in Speech!
The catalogue adds: ‘the verses previous to this very pleasing one are of a humorous and somewhat coarse description.’ These four lines have never, so far as I can see, been published.

You came from o'er the Waters,
From Famed Columbia's land;
And you have Sons and Daughters
And Money to command.

But we are all the Children
Of one great Lord of Love;
Whose Mercy, like a Mill-drain
Runs over from above.
This poem was published under the title ‘To Baby Bates’. J C C Mays [CC 16:653] notes ‘the verses are known only from a transcript in a contemporary album and a transcript of a transcript reported in 1888.’ The version he prints in the Princeton Poetical Works is four stanzas, with minor variants of stanzas 1 and 2 (‘And Money to command’ is, in Mays, ‘And Money at command’, and there are differences in capitalisation and punctuation).

The Rose that blushes like the morn
Bedecks the valleys low,
And so dost thou, o tender Corn,
My Angelina's Toe.
This is published by Mays as ‘To a Young Lady Complaining of a Corn’ [CC 16:539], although he speculatively dates this to ‘Jun-Jul 1817’ which is too early; its appearance in this batch of papers must mean it comes from the later 1820s. Mays has ‘And so dost thou, sweet infant Corn’ for ‘And so dost thou, o tender Corn’.

[*] 5. ‘THREE OTHER SHORT UNPUBLISHED POEMS: LOVER'S REVERIE; and THE YOUNG TANNER’; and some Prose Remarks respecting the same, ending, O that the Songs and Songlets here collected were but set to Charming Music by some modern Haydn—I might then exclaim!
Blest be the man that set these Lays!
He claims our thanks as well as praise!
Since had it not been for the Music
The Words had made both me and you sick.—S. T. COLERIDGE.
We can only guess at the nature and specifics of the three short poems, although STC's facetious quatrain has never been reprinted.

6. ‘ORIGINAL HOLOGRAPH MS. of the following UNPUBLISHED EPITAPH, 1 p. quarto, watermarked 1828’:
Here lies our Black Cat!
Caught many a Rat:
Till—sad Exchange!
He caught the Mange:
And, no Cure found,
In a Water-Tub
We drown'd, drown'd, drown'd,
Drown'd, drown'd, drown'd,
Drown'd, drown'd—drown'd
This poem is printed, it seems from this very autograph, by Mays [CC 1:654]

7. ‘ORIGINAL HOLOGRAPH MS. on GOETHE, 1 p. octavo: “What more aggrieves me in the greater part of Goethe's Compositions is the Irrememberable. The sorrows of Werther, the Mignon of old Harper of his Wilhelm-Meister, his Gorz von Berlichingen, and his Faustus, with many others, all are such glaring exceptions, that they might seem to justify the direct contrary”—etc.’ Earl Leslie Griggs prints this in his Unpublished Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1932).

8. ‘ORIGINAL HOLOGRAPH NOTE on SCHLEIERMACHER'S SERMONS, 2 pp. octavo., signed, and dated Jan. 23rd, 1826, with a P.S. mentioning CHARLES LAMB: “You will think it worth my noticing that in a little blank verse Poem addressed by me to Charles Lamb on his Sister's Illness in my 23rd year I had expressed the same sentiments as Schleiermacher in the conclusion of his 2nd Sermon, and in my 24th year had already publicly recanted and renounced them in a Note to the Poem in the first edition of my Juvenile Poems!”-etc.’ This one is in the Collected Letters.

9. ‘To ELIZA, IN PAIN’; ORIGINAL HOLOGRAPH MS. of an unpublished Poem, of 12 Verses, 3 pp. quarto., signed, and dated June 3rd, 1826, addressed to MRS. ADERS, the subject of the poem, and enclosed in one of the above-mentioned letters of the same date’:
Twas my last waking thought—how can it be.
That thou, sweet Friend! such anguish should'st endure?
And hence the apish Dwarf, I dreamt to see,
Who told the cause and mock'd me with the cure—
This is in May's Poetical Works [16:618], although with a couple of quite significant variants:
Twas my last waking thought, how it could be.
That thou, sweet friend, such anguish should'st endure?
When straight from Dreamland came a Dwarf, and he,
Could tell the cause, forsooth, and knew the cure.

A New Specimen of Coleridge's Table Talk (1826)

Surprising this has passed by unnoticed: Caroline-Frances Cornwallis (1786–1858) was an important 19th-century feminist writer, hardly obscure or unknown. Her Selected Letters (1864) contains one to ‘Mrs Mossop’ from Jan 1826:
To Mrs. Mossop. Nizells, Jan. 1826

. . . . My Séjour at Hampstead was delightful. One of the people I met there was a Mr. Bandinell, of the Foreign Office, who had just been conversing with Major Denham, lately returned from Africa. He reports that amongst the nations of the interior there is much more appearance of civilization than towards the coast; that in one place he found a market attended by 50,000 people, soldiers clad in iron armour, and much that betokened a considerable advance above the savage life. On the coast it would appear that the slave-trade, by encouraging war, that great opposer of peaceful arts, had tended to degrade the people to their present state, as well as the vile policy of Europeans, who generally contrive to disseminate vice and disease amongst the natives wherever they go. Sir George Rose, Coleridge, Terrick Hamilton (the translator of Antar), besides the tribe of Freres, made our dinner-parties delightful; and Mrs. G. F. possesses the rare art of drawing forth the clever people whom she entertains at her table. Coleridge is an odd man, exceedingly fond of talking, and with an eternal flow of language which nothing seems to exhaust. He generally talks well if he does not get too metaphysical, and I had the luck of being placed beside him at dinner, so that I had the most of his talk. One idea of his seemed to me good, and I do not think I have seen it in print, though it has often passed through my mind—that the knowledge of a future state, or rather the consciousness of immortality, partook of the nature of an instinct. “No nation has been found without such a belief,” said he; “children feel the impression almost before you can say that they have been taught, and nature is never deceived in her instincts; birds never err in the building their nests, animals in a wild state always seek their proper food, and man, if he throws away this conviction, is like a domesticated animal that grows wanton and eats dirt by way of change. The only time I ever saw Lord Byron he pointed to a man in a state of brutal intoxication, and asked if I thought that a proof of an immortal nature? ‘Your inquiry, my lord, is,’ I answered; and so it was; it was the natural instinct shrinking with abhorrence from the degradation of the soul.” Such conversation at a dinner party is not common, and I was much pleased with my place. He is an old man—rather heavy in appearance, excepting that his eyes brighten as he speaks, and he is rarely silent; a good deal of action, though his movements have the air of infirmity, his hand is slow and unsteady, and his back is bowed; he is not corpulent, but square built. After dinner, when he came into the drawing-room, he began a regular lecture of about two hours duration, which rather tired his hearers, and as I was out of his circle, I could not hear what it was about. I have learnt a new art—that of modelling in wax, and I have, in this fashion, got a likeness both of Coleridge and his Excellency [Mr. Frere], which are much approved by those who know them, and which I shall hope to show you some day.
This is, in fact, a double-whammy: a new (which is to say, hitherto unnoticed) piece of Coleridgean prose that contains within it a new, if minor, anecdote concerning Lord Byron. One wonders what Coleridge's two-hour lecture concerned, and whatever happened to Cornwallis's wax likeness of the poet ...

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

‘The Parterre’ (1836): New Coleridge Verse and Anecdotes

This seems to have been overlooked: an article in the short-lived 1830s miscellany-magazine The Parterre (1832-36) that includes a number of anecdotes about Coleridge's life, including a hitherto unnoticed (parodic) couplet by the poet. The article is written by ‘A Descendent of Oliver Cromwell’, though it's a little hard to say whether this is meant literally, or whether it's an arch allusion to some mode of revolutionary political affiliation. If the latter (or indeed, the former) it is unlikely to be the Tory De Quincey, whose Lake Reminiscences began appearing in Tait's Edinburgh Magazine in 1839 and were later collected in book form (although a Coleridge memorabilium from De Quincey is quoted in this same volume of the Parterre—p.108—and attributed to him). None of these memorabilia appear in De Quincey, nor, so far as I can tell, anywhere else either:

I have seen and heard much through a long life. I have written my autobiography, which I intended should be published on the day a grave-stone was erected over my tomb. Too impatient, however, to await the period of my ghost flitting around my executors whilst employed correcting the proof sheets of my literary post obits, I have come to the resolution of giving the world some fragments of my memorabilia whilst l am yet alive.

I was in company with the celebrated Dr. Parr. He was then young and engaged in courtship. He related facetiously a dispute he had had with his lady-love. “If I marry,” said Parr, “I shall not approve of Jewish names for my expected children. I will not have a little tribe of Christian perfectly Jewish in nomenclature. If I had eleven daughters, I would name the first, “Amo; ” the second, “Amas; ” the third, “Amavi;” the fourth, “Amari;” the fifth, “Amandi;” the sixth, “Amando;" the seventh, “Amandum ; ” the eighth, “Amatum;” the ninth, “Amatu;” the tenth, “Amans; ” the eleventh, “Amaturus.” The translation of these latter words,” continued Parr, “would probably denote my love towards my wife, and my wife's love towards me, during the ten years necessary to give birth to the daughters to be named.”

Another time, I was with Dr. Parr at Will's coffee-house, Serle-street, London. Two Warwick attorneys were dining in the coffee-room. They did not like the port wine, and asked the waiter to change it for a tawny wine. “The wine you have got is what master calls attorney wine,” said the waiter.

The poet Coleridge was particularly fond of quaint poetry, similar to the description of a ball:
“Thin dandies in tights, weighing each one an ounce,
Young ladies befurbelowed, flounce upon flounce.”
I once went with Coleridge to visit a young lady whose father and mother were for years martyrs to the gout; when he in his eccentricity expressed their helpless situation by a parody of Byron, thus—
“They lazily mumbled their meals in bed,
Unable to crawl from the spot where they fed.”
Walking with Coleridge in the country, we saw washed linen hanging in a village church-yard. He said, “The inhabitants dry their clothes on the graves of their ancestors.” After a pause, he added, “the scene appears as if the ghosts had hung up their shrouds.”

Talking of the lunacy of poor ———, Coleridge said, “I intend writing some lines on one curious aberration of poor ———'s mind.” He declared that “kneeling was not the proper position in which a Christian ought to pray. He always prayed in an erect attitude, with his outstretched arms in figure of a cross.”

I remember Coleridge laughing immoderately at a stage coachman boasting he had realized more than £50 by the retail sale of one small barrel of ale. The boaster drove a stage-coach on one of the western roads, and kept, in his wife's name, on the same road a publichouse. He invariably stopped here under pretence of “washing his horses' mouths.” The passengers would call for “glasses or pints of ale.” It was speedily brought, and paid for; but no sooner did it touch the lips of a passenger, than its acidity caused him to forbear drinking; no one ever drank more than half his order. The coach again rolled forward with its four prancing steeds: the liquor which was left in the pints and glasses was carefully poured through the bung-hole of the barrel, to be re-sold to other sets of passengers of to-morrow and to-morrow.

Coleridge described singing without music as “singing without accompaniment of any sort, except the most wonderful distortion of face.”

The crime of murdering persons by pressing on their bodies and suffocating them, is, from its first discovered offender, Burke, called “Burking.” Coleridge, when any passage of his writings on rereading did not please him, would write a new passage on a slip of paper, and paste it over the disliked passage. This he called “Burking it.”
I suppose ‘poor ———’ is Charles Lamb, with whom Coleridge was close and whose periods of insanity are well-known (though I can't find any other reference to Lamb's habit of praying standing up). The example of ‘quaint poetry’ of which STC was fond (‘Thin dandies in tights, weighing each one an ounce,/Young ladies befurbelowed, flounce upon flounce’) is from an anonymously published and, so far as I can see, never subsequently collected or acknowledged poem in The Literary Gazette (1826) called ‘A Modern Quadrille’:

I suppose the phrasing here implies that ‘A Modern Quadrille’ was a poem Coleridge admired for its quirkiness, not a poem that he himself composed, although the latter possibility is not, perhaps, entirely ruled out of court. This is the poem, at any rate:
A Modern Quadrille

Concordia discors.”—Ovid.

Thin dandies in tights, weighing each one an ounce;
Young ladies befurbelow'd, flounce upon flounce;
Fond mothers extolling their daughters so dear,
To some good-natured youth of nine hundred a-year;
A party at whist, looking grim as a cannibal,
Each at their foe, like the Romans at Hannibal;
Some prints on the table, distressingly maul’d,
And “exquisite, lovely, bewitching!” miscall'd;
Three footmen in lace, and three others without,
All brilliant as candlesticks, stalking about;
An Austrian Hussar, a Sir Patrick O'Stokes,
Of the Poyais Light-horse (but of course that's a hoax);
A crowd on the stairs, with a wind like a knife,
Coming sharp round the legs of maid, husband, or wife;
A pensive young lady, rich, fickle, but cross,
With a pensive young Irishman near her, of course;
One preacher, two poets, and three poetesses;
A critic, fantastic and tawdry whose dress is;
All these, with their talents, loquacious or still,
Make up, gentle lady, a modern Quadrille!
It would be nice to think this a late-flowering spurt of Coleridge in his comic-satiric mode, but that's not very likely. The parody couplet (‘they lazily mumbled their meals in bed,/Unable to crawl from the spot where they fed’) clearly is Coleridgean; based, of course, on the lines from Byron's Seige of Corinth (1816) where dogs are chewing the bones of the slain:
And he saw the lean dogs beneath the wall
Hold o'er the dead their carnival,
Gorging and growling o'er carcass and limb;
They were too busy to bark at him!
From a Tartar's skull they had stripp'd the flesh,
As ye peel the fig when its fruit is fresh;
And their white tusks crunch'd o'er the whiter skull,
As it slipp'd through their jaws, when their edge grew dull,
As they lazily mumbled the bones of the dead,
When they scarce could rise from the spot where they fed.
But the most interesting things here are the anecdotes. “The inhabitants dry their clothes on the graves of their ancestors; the scene appears as if the ghosts had hung up their shrouds” is just splendid. The ‘Burking’ reference also crops-up in Anton Langerhann's record of Coleridges' Table Talk from around 1830 (and there only, I think: it is reprinted in Carl Woodring's 1990 Collected Coleridge vol 14 Table Talk edition: 2:443), although the German Langerhann, whose reminiscences were not even translated into English until the 20th-century, cannot be the ‘descendant of Oliver Cromwell’ who wrote for the Parterre.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

The Epoch Revisited: Honest Whoredom

It's not easy to reconstruct the events of the morning of 27th December 1806. Something that traumatized Coleridge, certainly. We know that he, separated from his wife, often depressed, fond of a drink and addicted to opium, had fallen in love with Wordsworth's unmarried sister-in-law, Sara Hutchinson (who lived with the Wordsworths). We know that Sara did not feel the same way. And we know that this unrequited passion gnawed at Coleridge, drove him nearly mad, that he poured his heart out into poems and entries in his notebook, invoking Sara via the pseudonym ‘Asra’. That he went so far as to leave Britain in 1804 to go and live in Malta in part to try and cauterize the yearning, but that when he returned to England and travelled up to stay with the Wordsworths for Christmas 1806 his feelings proved much as they had always been. Then things get less clear. This is what I wrote about what followed, whatever that was, in a previous blogpost:
Richard Holmes notes in his Coleridge: Darker Reflections that the events are ‘very difficult to reconstruct.’ On the morning of Saturday 27th December Coleridge (perhaps having been up all night, and perhaps in an exhausted, opiated or drunken state) appears to have gone into Sara's room, seen something, and run away—literally run out of the house, over the fields, and into a tavern, where he stayed all day drinking and scribbling pages of desperate prose in his notebook under the portentous heading ‘The Epoch’.

He later tore these pages out and destroyed them, but the event stayed with him, and later notebook entries often refer to it. Here are a couple of examples of what I mean. See if you can piece together from them what it was that Coleridge saw in Sara Hutchinson's room that morning:
[September 1807] O agony! O the vision of that Saturday morning!—of the Bed—O cruel! is not he beloved, adored by two—& two such Beings.—And must I not be beloved near him except as a Satellite?—But O mercy, mercy! Is he not better, greater, more manly, & altogether more attractive to any but the purest Woman? And yet, he does not pretend, he does not wish, to love you as I love you, Sara! [Notebooks 2:2148]
‘He’ is Wordsworth; the two beings who adore him are presumably Sara and Mary, neither of whom adore poor old Coleridge. Half a year later STC wrote this:
[May 1808] O that miserable Saturday morning! ... But a minute and a half with ME and all the time evidently restless & going—An hour and more with Wordsworth—in bed—O agony! [Notebooks 2:3328]
The ‘in bed’ is written with Greek characters, a code Coleridge often used when he wished to disguise something in his notes. This seems clearer. There's not much a man can do with an evidently unenthusiastic woman in a minute and a half, out of bed, beyond some fumbling and kissing; but a different man, married to that woman's sister though he might be, could do a lot more with her, in bed, for an hour and more. Were Wordsworth and Sara clothed when Coleridge stumbled in upon them? Well, some years STC later wrote of his agony at dreaming about Sara and William together and seeing ‘Asra's beautiful breasts uncovered’ [Notebooks, 4:4537]—an entry that may rehearse an actual memory of that morning, although it was perhaps simply a fantasy. Because, as Holmes points out, Coleridge also devoted a lot of time and energy in his notebooks to trying to convince himself that what he had seen was only a ‘phantasm’, an opium hallucination, a ‘morbid Day-Dream’ (‘a mere phantasm and yet what anguish, what gnawings of despair, what throbbings and lancinations of positive Jealousy!’). This, though, looks to me more like the energetic attempt at self-delusion of a desperate man. Ockham's razor might suggest that whilst Coleridge probably was the worse for wear (he would hardly have stumbled unannounced into Sara's bedroom otherwise), he nonetheless saw what he saw: Wordsworth and Sara naked in bed together. It wouldn't, after all, be the first or last time in human history that a man had sex with his wife's sister; and the existence of Wordsworth's illegitimate daughter with Annette Vallon, to say nothing of the more lurid rumours surrounding his love-life, indicate that he was not what one might call an entirely sexually continent individual.
This isn't the consensus view. It's more usual, I suppose, among Coleridgeans to credit the ‘phantasm’ explanation. Some Romanticists, indeed, wax positively indignant at the suggestion that Wordsworth shagged Sara. John Worthern is angered by the very idea, calling it ‘the most extraordinary argument: that because Sara impressed Wordsworth with her critical opinions, it was natural that he should go to bed with her ... [it] says not one word about Wordsworth's capacity for faithfulness, or his marriage vows, or even about the sheer improbability of such an event, but assumes that because Sara was attractive it would have been natural for Wordsworth to sleep with her’. To which I'm tempted to reply; well, duh.

Of course it goes without saying that we cannot with absolute certainty recover what happened that morning. But I know what I think happened, and you can weigh the evidence and come to your own conclusions.

To that end, I'm going to argue that the next two entries in Coleridge's Notebooks, after (that is) the portentious ‘The Epoch’ entry above (and following the ‘three leaves cut out after the last word at the bottom of this page’)—that the next two entries to have survived from Coleridge's Notebooks, though they have hitherto remained unsourced and unidentified, in fact provide us with pretty compelling evidence-via-imputation as to what happened in Coleorton that morning.

Those entries are as follows. First:
2976 11.45 Fate-encircled Life: your days are tedious, & were it not for riotous Dancing at the hour when all matrons sleep, dreaming of Babe or Husband—Husband or Babe or both by her side, or in her arms there really being were it not for feasting, dancing, wine, which drown and hang in you every honest Thought And on your eyelids hangs so heavily, They have no power to look so high as heaven, you'd muse yourself into a present Hell of Thought By sense of the Hell that is already round you, upon you, in you/an outcast from your nature, yea, only then being something that the Sun can shine on blameless when you pine in anguish o'er that you were and are not.
Of this passage Kathleen Coburn comments: ‘No clue has been found as to source, application or the intention of this entry’. Some critics have assumed it to be STC's own composition. David Ward [in Coleridge and the Nature of Imagination: Evolution, Engagement with the World and Poetry (Palgrave 2013), 49] thinks it a piece of pre-Joyce Joycean free association:

That nice little quotation from the Marginalia notwithstanding, this Notebook entry actually isn't Coleridge's original composition. I'll come back to the real author in a moment. First, let's look at the next entry:
2977 11.46 And the free Light may triumph in our faces—
Coburn: ‘the line is not published as Coleridge's by Ernest Hartley Coleridge [she means in his pothumous editions, Anima Poetae (1895) or Complete Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1912)], nor has any other source been found.’ J C C Mays does print the line as one of Coleridge's, in his 2001 Bollingen/Princeton Poetical Works [1:2, p. 815 #400], although he qualifies his inclusion a little: it is, he thinks, ‘not certainly by C’. Mays adds that Coleridge ‘had recorded on a previous leaf [of the Notebooks] a crucial moment in the history of his jealous fears of SH's intimacy with WW, and an unexplained entry intervenes.’ Indeed.

Anyway: this line is not by Coleridge. It's quoted from George Chapman's Jacobean comedy All Fools (1604). Here's the relevant passage from Dodsley's Old Plays (vol 4, 1780), an edition which we know Coleridge read:

All Fools combines a plot about a son with a secret wife, who persuades his brother (the two of them are speaking here) to pretend she is actually his wife, for complicated reasons to do with their watchful, suspicious father—with a sub-plot about a man called Cornelio who is so jealous of his wife Gazetta that he challenges the man he thinks is her lover to a duel. It seems almost too on-the-nose for Coleridge's situation, or at the least for his bitter state of mind, during his epochal pub-session following his traumatic discovery on the morning of the 27th. That said, the actual line he has written into the notebook has an almost hopeful flavour, as if Coleridge is imaginatively projecting into a wished-for imaginative future when death will release Samuel, William and Sara all three to the clear light of God's love, and the whole jealous tangle will be dissolved in Sam's amorous favour: ‘Do but send/Her serjeant John Death to arrest his body,/Our souls shall rest, wench, then and the free light/Shall triumph in our faces, where now night,/Lowers at our meeting.’ Wench, no less!

I'm straying into speculation. What about that earlier passage, which J C C Mays calls ‘unexplained’ and David Ward thinks resembles Joyce's experiments with language? It's mostly from Middleton and Dekker's The Honest Whore (1604), a play thought in Coleridge's day to have been authored by Thomas Dekker solus. We're in Scene 6. The young hero Hippolito believes his true love, Infelice, the Duke of Milan's daughter, to be dead. In fact the Duke has staged a mock funeral to discourage Hippolito's suit, since he dislikes the young man, and actually Infelice is still alive; but Hippolito doesn't know that. He visits a brothel, with certain friends, but is too mournful to avail himself of the entertainments therein. One of establishment's prostitutes is Bellafront, the titular honest whore; and she, it turns out, is in love with Hippolito. He tells her that, were she his mistress, he'd forbid her from sleeping with other men and she confides in him that she desires nothing more than to be faithful with one true lover. Hippolito scoffs at this, accusing her of trying to seduce him with false promises of fidelity. There is, Hippolito insists, no such thing as an ‘honest whore’. He goes further, vowing to ‘teach’ Bellafront ‘how to loathe’ herself, which he does by delivering a lengthy speech concerning the intrinsic sordid wickedness of prostitution and prostitutes.
HIPPOLITO: A harlot is like Dunkirk, true to none;
Swallows both English, Spanish, fulsome Dutch,
Back-doored Italian, last of all the French.
And he sticks to you, faith; gives you your diet,
Brings you acquainted, first with Monsieur Doctor,
And then you know what follows.

BELLAFRONT:                               Misery
Rank, stinking, and most loathsome misery

HIPPOLITO: Methinks a toad is happier than a whore:
That with one poison swells, with thousands more
The other stocks her veins. Harlot? Fie, fie!
You are the miserablest creatures breathing.
The very slaves of nature. Mark me else:
You put on rich attires, othersʼ eyes wear them;
You eat but to supply your blood with sin.
And this strange curse eʼen haunts you to your graves:
From fools you get, and spend it upon slaves.
Like bears and apes, youʼre baited and show tricks
For money, but your bawd the sweetness licks.
Indeed, you are their journey-women, and do
All base and damned works they list set you to,
So that you neʼer are rich. For do but show me,
In present memory or in ages past,
The fairest and most famous courtesan –
Whose flesh was dearʼst, that raised the price of sin,
And held it up; to whose intemperate boso
Princes, earls, lords (the worst has been a knight,
The meanʼst a gentleman) have offered up
Whole hecatombs of sighs, and rained in showʼrs
Handfuls of gold – yet, for all this, at last
Diseases sucked her marrow; then grew so poor
That she has begged, eʼen at a beggarʼs door.
And – wherein heavʼn has a finger – when this idol
From coast to coast has lept on foreign shores,
And had more worship than thʼoutlandish whores;
When several nations have gone over her;
When for each several city she has seen
Her maidenhead has been new, and been sold dear;
Did live well there, and might have died unknown
And undefamed – back comes she to her own,
And there both miserably lives and dies,
Scorned even of those that once adored her eyes,
As if her fatal-circled life thus ran
Her pride should end there where it first began.

[She weeps.]

What, do you weep to hear your story read?
We can picture Coleridge going over these lines, in the agitated state of the immediate aftermath of ‘the Epoch.’ He is Hippolito, cathartically venting his fury on the sexual infidelities of his Bella-Sara. The phrase fatal-circled life, from the end of this speech, strikes him, and he jots it down. Hippolito's monologue continues, and another passage from it connects with STC enough for him to write it out into his notebook, riffing upon it and modifying it as he does so:
BELLAFRONT: [Weeping] O yes, I pray, proceed.
Indeed, ʼtwill do me good to weep, indeed.

HIPPOLITO: To give those tears a relish, this I add:
Youʼre like the Jews, scattered, in no place certain.
Your days are tedious, your hours burdensome;
And wereʼt not for full suppers, midnight revels,
Dancing, wine, riotous meetings, which do drown
And bury quite in you all virtuous thoughts,
And on your eyelids hang so heavily
They have no power to look so high as heaven,
Youʼd sit and muse on nothing but despair,
Curse that devil Lust, that so burns up your blood,
And in ten thousand shivers break your glass
For his temptation.
Halfway through writing this speech down, at the moment when Hippolito invokes Bellafront's despair, STC veers away into his own sermon-like speculations:
Fate-encircled Life: your days are tedious, & were it not for riotous Dancing at the hour when all matrons sleep, dreaming of Babe or Husband—Husband or Babe or both by her side, or in her arms there really being were it not for feasting, dancing, wine, which drown and hang in you every honest Thought And on your eyelids hangs so heavily, They have no power to look so high as heaven, you'd muse yourself into a present Hell of Thought By sense of the Hell that is already round you, upon you, in you/an outcast from your nature, yea, only then being something that the Sun can shine on blameless when you pine in anguish o'er that you were and are not.
Hell of Thought, a state of mind with which he was only too familiar (he might have been prompted by the repentent Bellafront's later line: ‘The lowest fall can be but into hell’ [scene 11]). An outcast from her nature: for surely this could not be the true nature of the Sara he loved so deeply? Looking forward to her anguished pining, her repetance, when the sun could shine upon her blamelessness again.

What happens in the play is that Hippolito's words so move Bellafront that first she tries to kill herself with a sword, and he has to prevent her. Later she gives up prostitution, despite both inducements and invective from her bawd, and ends the play respectably married (the Duke insists that the man who first seduced and deflowered her, a fellow called Matteo, must now make an honest woman of her). Hippolito, meanwhile, gets to marry the Duke's daughter Infelice.

What do we make of this? Absolute certainty is not the game here, of course, although I'd say we can at least weigh the balance of probabilities. Either Coleridge wrote these passages down as part of his ‘The Epoch’ freakout (and then tore out the three previous pages but not the page containing these two), or else he wrote them soon after that day of acutest distress. Either way it seems to me they are evidence of a man, in mental anguish, finding passages in old plays that chime with his desolate conviction that women are whores, complicated only by the unextinguished hope that they might prove honest whores at some point in the future. And when I say ‘women’, of course I mean: one particular woman. With respect to Coleridge's 27th December, there are really only two possibilities: either he actually chanced upon Wordsworth and Sara in flagrante, or else he only thought he did—the ‘phantasm’ hypothesis. Okham's razor and common sense seem to me to point us towards the former, but even if we believe the latter then we have to acknowledge that the phantasm was so convincing to Coleridge that his first instinct was to believe it wholeheartedly. These two quotations, and the plays from which they come, speak surely to a mental state in which vitriolic misogynist invective connected intimately with his state of mind. That fact in itself seems to me a second piece of evidence supporting the ‘it really happened’ thesis.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

“I Used To Love France ...”

Notebooks 2940 [11.34]: ‘Amabam Galliam (quatenus et quantum a vere Anglo amari Gallia potest) vel eo nomine quod—nobis dedisset: nunc odio eandem eo etiam ipso nomine prosequor.’ This means ‘I used to love France (insofar and to that degree any Englishman can love France)—or at least I loved the things that came to us in the name of France: but now I hate and pursue her in that very name.’ Kathleen Coburn dates this entry to December 1806.

Since nobody was sure where the Latin was from (Coburn: ‘the source is not known’), and since it so neatly encapsulates STC's shift from youthful enthusiasm for liberty to middle-aged Burkean hostility to French revolutionary upheavals, scholars have sometimes assumed it was written by Coleridge himself. It wasn't though. It's Coleridge minimally adapting something said by Renaissance French scholar Henri Estienne (1528-98).

The context of the original statement was a dispute between Estienne and the celebrated Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives over, of all things, Aulus Gellius. Estienne, editing an edition of Gellius's Noctes Atticae (Paris 1585), discovered that Vives had criticised Gellius as ‘indigestible’, and also on account of his (Gellius's) low opinion of Seneca—a Spanish-born Roman citizen. Estienne complained that Vives had allowed love of his own country, Spain, to overwhelm the truth (putting amor patriae before amor veritatis). In a supplement to his edition, titled Noctes Parisinae, Estienne took Vives to task in detail. He insisted that he had used to love Vives, prior to this attack on Gellius, at least so far as any Frenchman can love a Spaniard—but no longer: ‘Amabam Hispaniam (quatenus et quantum a vere Gallo amari Hispania potest) vel eo nomine quod Ludovicum Vivem nobis dedisset: nunc odio eandem eo etiam ipso nomine prosequor.’

This is from the third page of the dedicatory epistle right at the start of Estienne's edition. There's a nice irony in Coleridge taking a Frenchman's words to express his own growing hostility to, precisely, Frenchmen.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Coleridge's Sicilian Inscription

The above is from Coleridge's Notebooks [2:2176, as you can see], dated by Kathleen Coburn to August 1804. It appears to be an inscription or perhaps a poem from a ‘hospes’—a hostel or monastery—near Mount Etna in Sicily. In a brief note that (evidently) records a laborious, lengthy and ultimately futile process of enquiry, Coburn reluctantly concedes defeat:

All that can be deduced from context is that Coleridge visited the Benedictine Monastery at Nicolosi, near Mount Etna, and there jotted these lines down. They might have been an inscription or (something Coburn considers more likely) ‘Coleridge might have found the lines in an album’. In either case the original has since been lost, which, since Etna experienced major eruptions in 1928, 1949, 1971, 1979, 1981, 1983 and 1991–1993 (and that's only limiting ourselves to the twentieth-century), is not surprising.

I can shed a little more light on this. It turns out the entry is Coleridge's record of an inscription written on the wall of the ‘first room’ (perhaps the antechamber, or hallway, or else perhaps the largest of the interior rooms) of the monastery. I know this because a visitor called Niccolò lo Bosco also made note of the inscription; his account afterwards being published in the 1846 Giornale del Gabinetto Letterario dell Accademia Gioenia di Catania [pp 61-62].

Bosco records that the inscription dates to 1735, and notes that (‘a mettere il lettore al fatto della storia, e de' fasti di questo antico cenobio casinese mi basta per tatto documento riportare le quattro belle iscrizioni latine che si leggono nella prima sala del presente ospizio’; ‘to inform the reader of the facts of history, and of the glories of this ancient Casinese monastery, it suffices for me to report the four beautiful Latin inscriptions that can be read in the first room of this hospice’) it is one of four. He also transcribes the other three, but I'm going to limit myself to the one that caught Coleridge's eye. Bosco's Latin differs in small ways from STC's:
Quisquis hoc templum hospes ingrederis,
paulisper in limine consiste,
locique sanctitatem venerare
temporis vicissitudine non extinctam;
nigris hic sub arenis
piorum ascetarum conduntur cineres;
      ne mireris
sterile sabulum sacrorum ossiuni attactu
gratos ubique antumnavit in fructus,
pomis onustos palmites dedit:
et qui viventes in carne
virtutum fuderunt odores
in pulveres resoluti
adhuc vernant in floribus
adhuc oleut in rosis.
Aedem hanc ipsorum vita
ipsorum miraculis
multiples inspice redivivam,
Aetnaei montis impeta jacuit,
pulchrior e ruina surrexit;
iterum terretmotu collisa
nobìliorem induit venustatem,
eo adversae fortunae emolumento
ut varios tot inter casus
pugnasse diceres ac triumphasse pietatem.
Felix ergo progredere,
divique tutelaris effigiem
religioso cultu devoto prosequens,
prospera omnia ab ejus patrocinio
        tibi polliceas.
This means: ‘whosoever wishes to enter into this sacred hostel stop, if only for a moment, on the threshold, and pay homage to the holiness of this place which the vissicitudes of time have not erased; beneath this black sand are the ashes of holy monks cached as treasure; do not marvel; the sterile sand has been brought into contact with these saints' bones and the admixture has, in the course of time, resulted in lovely fruits endowing the orchard trees with heavy-laden branches: those who lived in the flesh have gifted to the flowers their fragrant virtue by the intermixture of their dust, and they still bloom with the flowers, still cast their scent with the roses. Consider that this holy place is restored to life by their life and miracles. What Mount Etna, in the force of its eruption, has laid low has risen from its ruins more lovely than before. On this hill did nobility graciously don the mantle of adversity, and it can be said that holiness has fought through many disasters and been rewarded with victory. May you go on your way in peace, and, by honouring the spirit that guards this place, be sure that its grace will keep you well in your travels.’

This translation (it's mine) differs in a couple of particulars from the one Coburn prints, though it's not clear to me if her ‘inquirat’ [line 1] for Bosco's ‘ingrederis’ is her error of transcription from STC's notebooks, or STC's error copying the actual inscription (or perhaps STC has it correct, and Bosco has erred: the difference is between ‘whoever wishes to know about’ and ‘whoever wishes to enter into’). Similarly Coburn has ‘condumento’ [line 23], which is just odd, where Bosco has the more logical ‘emolumento’.

The monastery had been completely destroyed when Etna erupted in 1693, and was subsequently rebuilt from scratch. This 1735 inscription is, amongst other things, a record of that fact. Clearly, the text has since been destroyed itself, probably by a subsequent eruption (or perhaps when the monastery was desacralised in 1866; it has since been restored as a religious site). So without these two men jotting it down, Coleridge in 1804 and Bosco four decades later, we would have no idea about it whatsoever.