Tuesday, 13 October 2015

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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