Thursday, 16 May 2019

Waterfalls and Silence

On the 31st December 1803 Coleridge wrote in his notebook:
The waterfall at the head of the Vale, (the circular mountain walled vale) white, stedfast, silent from Distance /—the River belonging to it, smooth, full, silent—the Lake into which it empties itself silent / yet the noise of waters every where / — and the pillar of smoke / the smooth winter fields — the indistinct Shadows in the lake are all eloquent of Silence. [Notebooks, 1:1784]
The eloquence of silence is a nice seeming-paradox, and very Coleridgean. Because this waterfall is somehow simultaneously silent and noisy (‘yet the noise of waters every where’), as if its very clamour somehow generates its silence. In ‘The Eolian Harp’ Coleridge says ‘the stilly murmur of the distant sea / Tells us of silence’ (11-12). ‘“Tells us of silence” is no mere word game,' says G S Morris. ‘In the world of the conversation poems, in which there is no such thing as true silence, the sound of the sea focuses the poet's mind and allows him to see the sound in silence.’

This entry has something to do with the end of the year, and the ending of other things more generally. Two weeks after writing it, on January 14th 1804, Coleridge walked away from Grasmere. By the 26th January he was in London, and from there he travelled to Malta. He was trying to restart his life, to escape the dead end of his inacitivity, his ill-health and addictions and his hopeless love for Asra. He was, in point of fact, trying to escape himself.

Seamus Perry [Coleridge and the Uses of Division (Clarendon 1999)] notes how earnestly and consistently Coleridge yearned for a dissolution of self, an eradication or annihilation of identity as such, a yearning that was at once mystical and practical, another manifestation for his desire to escape. It had its political aspect: Pantisocracy, for Coleridge, was the dream of abandoning the self into selfless serving of others, to ‘throw aside the panoply of artificial and personal distinction and feel a common identity with mankind at large.’
The splenetic letter that followed Southey’s resignation from the scheme complained, ‘I returned to Cambridge hot in the anticipation of that happy Season, when we should remove the selfish principle from ourselves’ only to find Southey relapsing into the language of ‘“I and I” and “will and will”—sentences of gloomy and self-centering Resolves’: ‘Why do you say, I—I—I—will do so and so?’ [Letters 1:163, 164, 150] … prominent among Southey’s failings, as Coleridge enunciated them to his notebook, was that, whatever his political theory, ‘HE IS NOT self-oblivious or self-diffused.’ [Notebooks 1:1815] [Perry, 157]
That last complaint about Southey was written five days after the silent waterfall passage. Perry goes on:
Coleridge exclaims to the notebook ‘O! how quiet it is to the Eye, & to the Heart when it will entrance itself in the present vision, & know nothing, feel nothing, but the Abiding Things of Nature, great, calm, majestic, and one’; and a few days before speculates how obstructive it would be to know that a tree you were contemplating was planted by Shakespeare: ‘the constant association of Shakespeare’s having planted it [would be] an intrusion that prevented me wholly & as a whole man losing myself in the flexures of its Branches & interweaving of its Roots [Notebooks 2:2026]. Such ‘silent aweful idealess Watching’ [Letters 2:1008] is precisely the being ‘lost and scattered in sensible Objects’ that he elsewhere belittled when compared to the Platonic appeal ‘to the fact within, to the mind’s Consciousness’ [Notebooks, 3:3935]. He writes in a late notebook: ‘it is an instinct of my Nature to pass out of myself, and to exist in the form of others.’ [Perry, 158]
Go back to the 1804 notebook entry. It's him, I suppose: this cold fall surrounded by its ridge, the ‘waterfall at the head of the Vale, (the circular mountain walled vale)’—STC knows that, etymologically, the words wall and vale are linked (Latin vallum, ‘wall, rampart, entrenchment, palisade’ and vallis ‘valley, vale, hollow’, since the one defines the other). The problem is that this silent isolation flips about so easily into a kind of frozen egoism: ‘white, stedfast, silent from Distance’. This notebook entry is saying that the point is not this walled separation, but the fact that—as in Xanadu—a river flows out of it, ‘belonging to it’, the externalisation of fluidity and plenitude (‘smooth, full’) in contrast to the icicle-jaggedness of the walled vale, a river also ‘silent’, just as ‘the Lake into which it empties itself’ is silent. The poetry this cold subjectivity produces is only eloquent insofar as it says nothing and makes no sound, although it is at the same time endlessly saying and sounding-off.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

A Flash of Lightning

Here's Coleridge's Notebook entry for 22 June 1806 [CN 2:2866], written in Pisa, where he was taking a break on his long journey back to England. He'd left for Malta in 1804 hoping, amongst other things, to recuperate his health and energies, and get over his hopeless, desperate and unreciprocated passion for Sara Hutchinson; but he was returning home in a worse physical and mental condition than he left.
The concrete in nature nearest to the abstract of Death is Death by a Flash of Lightning. Repeatedly during this night’s storm have I desired that I might be taken off, not knowing when or where/but a few moments past a vivid flash passed across me, my nerves thrilled, and I earnestly wished, so help me God! like a Love-longing, that it would pass through me!—Death without pain, without degrees, without the possibility of cowardly wishes, or recreant changes of resolve/Death without deformity, or assassin-like self-disorganization/Death, in which the mind by its own wish might seem to have caused its own purpose to be performed, as instantaneously and by an instrument almost as spiritual as the Wish itself!/—

Come, come, thou bleak December Wind,
And blow the dry Leaves from the Tree!
Flash, like a Love-thought, thro’ me, Death
And take a Life, that wearies me.
It's a rather lovely quatrain, that. Ernst Hartley Coleridge included it in his edition of Coleridge's Poetical Works (1912), adding a footnote remarking its similarity to this stanza from an old ballad:
Martinmas wind, when wilt thou blow
And shake the green leaves off the tree?
O gentle Death, when will thou come?
For of my life I am wearie.
That verse was clearly somewhere in STC's memory when he jotted his four lines down, although Coleridge's poem is about the very opposite of gentleness where its death is concerned. Bleak December wind is, perhaps, more directly from Robert Burns's ‘To A Mouse’ (1785: in that famous poem, the mouse's nest has been blasted by ‘bleak December's winds ensuing/Both snell [bitter] and keen’).

But what's distinctive here is the idea that this deadly lightning strikes ‘like love’. Coleridge implores the lightning bolt to ‘flash, like a Love-thought, thro’ me.’ Is STC thinking, in part, of this bit from Ovid's Amores?
In manibus nimbos et cum Iove fulmen habebam,
Quod bene pro caelo mitteret ille suo—
Clausit amica fores! ego cum Iove fulmen omisi;
Excidit ingenio Iuppiter ipse meo.
Iuppiter, ignoscas! nil me tua tela iuvabant;
Clausa tuo maius ianua fulmen habet
. [Amores, 2:1, 15-20]
‘I held in my hands the clouds and Jove's own lightning-bolt, the same one he shot down so expertly to defend his heavens—but then the woman I loved shut her door on me. Both Jupiter and his lightning fell from me; Jupiter went clean out of my mind. Forgive me: your weapons are useless to me now; that shut door is more of a lightning-strike than yours.’ Marlowe's version of those lines:
Jove and Joves thunderbolts I had in hand
Which for his heauen fell on the Gyants band.
My wench her dore shut, Joves affares I left,
Even Jove himselfe out off my wit was reft.
Pardon me Jove, thy weapons ayde me nought,
Her shut gates greater lightning then thyne brought.
If so, I wonder if this moves the (as it were) centre of gravity of this Notebook passage away from the sheerly existential, or abruptly suicidal, and towards a more characteristically Coleridgean agonising over love. He's on his way back to England after all, which is where Asra lives. A few pages earlier in this very notebook Coleridge tries to swear-off Sara Hutchinson [CN 2:2860]. A couple of years earlier, when he was travelling in Germany and his passion for Asra was new on him, Coleridge sent earnest letters back to Sara in Britain (‘my dearest love’ one began). He recalled crossing the North Sea, at the moment he lost sight of land, when ‘the heavens all around me rested upon the waters, my dear Babies came upon me like a flash of lightning—I saw their faces so distinctly!’ [Letter to Sara Hutchinson, 18th Sept 1798; Collected Letters 1:254]. A love-flash, not a death-flash, then. A few weeks before recording the thunder-and-lightning at Pisa, and his desire it would shock through him like love, Coleridge wrote the following German in his notebook: ‘Ein Blitz der Seligkeit von Gottes Throne durch mein Wesen, als ich sie wiedersah’ [Notebooks 2:2790]. This seems to be Coleridge's own (it's not quoted from anywhere, I think) and means ‘A lightning-flash from God’s throne through my being when I saw her again.’ No prizes for guessing whom he meant by her.

A few years later, in 1808, another notebook entry considers the extent to which ‘falling in love’ is able to satisfy one’s moral yearnings; and the lightning-flash image reappears. ‘If,’ Coleridge said, ‘this innermost & holiest Instinct have discovered its Object, as by a flash of lightning, or the Strike of a Horse’s Shoe, on a Flint, in utter darkness—if on after knowledge & tender affection one look of the eyes, one vision of the countenance, seen only by the Being on whom it worked, & by him only to be seen—’ at which point the notebook entry shifts to verse:
All Look or Likeness caught from Earth,
All accident of Kin or Birth,
Had pass’d away: there was no trace
Of aught upon her brighten’d face,
Uprais’d beneath that rifted Stone
But of one image—all her own!
She, She alone, and only She
Shone thro’ her body visibly. [Notebooks, 3:3291]
John Beer [Coleridge’s Play of Mind (OUP 2010), 110] glosses: ‘under the impact of that recalled momentary vision, swift as a flash of lightning, he has not only fallen in love with Sara, but done so with an absoluteness that (to cite another of his favourite formulations) replaced the feeling of positiveness with the sense of certainty.’

An quia fulmen Amoris lingua amabiles facilè flammas proximü iaculatur ad cor’, wrote Giulio Gabrielli in 1622; how like a lightning-bolt comes the language of love flaming as it bursts through the heart. Gabrielli means the spiritual love of God, but then, in his way, so does Coleridge. It's all tangled up for him, and in him, and he yearns for some exterior force to cut the Gordian knot that he himself has become.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Some Untraced Allusions in Coleridge’s Letters

These are all marked as ‘Source Untraced’ in the Collected Letters (ed Earl Leslie Griggs; 6 vols Oxford 1956-71; reprinted 2000).

1. To Robert Southey, Friday 13 Nov 1795. Coleridge's attempts to rebut Southey’s accusations that he let-down their joint Pantisocratic plans. The letter's tenth paragraph begins: ‘Thus far had I written when the necessities of literary Occupation crowded upon me—and I met you in Red Cliff, and unsaluted and unsaluting pass'd by the man to whom for almost a year I had told my last thoughts when I closed my eyes, and when I first awoke! But “Ere this I have felt Sorrow![”]——I shall proceed to answer your Letters—and first excriminate myself, and then examine your conduct.’ The quotation is from the following William Lisle Bowles's sonnet (it first appeared in 1789's Fourteen Sonnets, a volume very dear to both Coleridge and Wordsworth, and praised extravagantly in the Biographia Literaria):
How blest with thee the path could I have trod
Of quiet life, above cold want’s hard fate,
(And little wishing more,) nor of the great
Envious, or their proud name! but it pleased God
To take thee to his mercy: thou didst go
In youth and beauty, go to thy death-bed;
E’en whilst on dreams of bliss we fondly fed,
Of years to come of comfort—Be it so.
Ere this I have felt sorrow; and e'en now
(Though sometimes the unbidden thought must start,
And half unman the miserable heart)
The cold dew I shall wipe from my sad brow,
And say, since hopes of bliss on earth are vain,
“Best friend, farewell, till we do meet again?”

2. To Thomas Poole, March 1797. Coleridge provides Poole with an account of his parents and siblings. He notes that his parents' seventh child, a son called Luke, and eighth child, a daughter called Anne, both died:
My sixth Brother, Luke (indeed the seventh, for one Brother, the second, died in his Infancy, & I had forgot to mention him) was bred as a medical Man—he married Miss Sara Hart: and died at the age of 22, leaving one child, a lovely Boy, still alive. My Brother Luke was a man of uncommon Genius,—a severe student, & a good man.——The 8th Child was a Sister, Anne—she died a little after my Brother Luke—aged 21.
Rest, gentle, Shade! & wait thy Maker's will;
Then rise unchang'd, and be an Angel still!
Coleridge found this couplet in Gilbert Wakefield's autobiography, Memoirs of the Life of Gilbert Wakefield (1792), which records an epitaph from St Mary's Church Nottingham. In this very ancient church of St. Mary, of which mention is made in Doomsday Book, on the western end of the south wall, is a marble mural monument, erected by a fond husband to the memory of his wife. After a short account of her family, her age, and the day of her death, follow these two lines, in my opinion exquisitely beautiful, and most happily allusive to that grand consolatory declaration in St. Luke xx. 36:—“Neither can they die any more; for they are equal to the angels, and are children of God, being children of the resurrection;”
“Rest, gentle shade! and wait thy Maker's will:
Then rise unchang'd, and be an angel still.” [Memoirs of Gilbert Wakefield, 7]

3. To Joseph Cottle, April 1797. Coleridge writes to his publisher and friend, regretting Southey’s decision to publish his Poems (1797):
I, who in the sincerity of my heart am jealous for Robert Southey's fame, regret the publication of that volume. Wordsworth complains, with justice, that Southey writes too much at his eases—that he seldom ‘feels his burthened breast
Heaving beneath th’ incumbent Deity.’
He certainly will make literature more profitable to him from the fluency with which he writes, and the facility with which he pleases himself, But I fear, that to posterity his wreath will look unseemly.
This is a reference to Lucan's first-century AD epic of Roman civil war, Pharsalia, which opens with praise for the eventual victor, Julius Caesar, from whom Lucan's patron, Nero, derived his imperial authority. Lucan worries (or ostentatiously performs the flattering pretend-worry) that the weight of the now-divine Caesar will be too much for his humble poem to bear:
Aetheris immensi partem si presseris unam,
Sentiet axis onus. Librati pondera coeli
Orbe tene medio: pars aetheris illa sereni
Tota vacet, nullaeque obstent a Caesare nubes. [Pharsalia, 1:56-59]
The standard translation of Lucan in Coleridge's day was Nicholas Rowe’s (1718), which renders the quoted lines thus:
Hard were the task thy weight divine to bear;
Soon would the axis feel th’unusual load,
And groaning bend beneath th'incumbent god:
O'er the mid orb more equal shalt thou rise,
And with a juster balance fix the skies.
The line-and-a-half Coleridge quotes in his letter is, interestingly enough, halfway between a distorted memory of Rowe's verse and STC's own translation of the Lucan.

4. To Thomas Poole, 18 April 1801. ‘A nation where the Plough is always in the Hand of the owner, or (better still) where the Plough, the Horse, and the Ox have no existence, may be a great & a happy nation; and may be called so, relatively to others less happy, if it has only a manifest direction & tendency towards this “best Hope of the World”.’ This last phrase is presumably Coleridge quoting the Biblical Book of Wisdom, and its account of how God guided Noah: ‘sed et ab initio cum perirent superbi gigantes, spes orbis terrarum ad ratem confugiens remisit saeculo semen nativitatis quae manu tua erat gubernata.’ ‘For even in the beginning, when giants perished in their pride, the best hope of the world took refuge on a raft, and guided by your hand left the seed of a new generation to the world.’ [Wisdom 14:6]

5. To Thomas Allsop, 8 April 1820. ‘It had been my wish to commence with the Theological Letters: one, and not the least, is the strong desire I have to put you and Hartley and Derwent Coleridge in full possession of my whole Christian creed, with the grounds of reason and authority on which it rests; but especially to unfold the true “glorious liberty of the Gospel,” by showing the distinction between doctrinal faith and its sources and historical belief, with their reciprocal action on each other.’ I suspect this quotation has only gone unsourced because STC's closing quotation-marks have shifted three words too far to the right: the reference is to Romans 8:21: ‘the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God’ [KJV]

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Dejection: an Ode

Not Coleridge's famous Ode, but an earlier poem with that title by ‘the Reverend J. Black’, published in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1786 (2:793: it's called, simply, ‘Ode’ in the main text, as you can see above: but it's identified as ‘Dejection: an Ode’ on both the contents page of the magazine and in the index for 1786). I'm wondering if Coleridge ever came across it, either in its original magazine form, or in any of its (several) reprintings. There are some rough similarities between his poem and it:
How fiercely drives the rattling hail!
How loudly blows the blustering wind!
Now deep and distant sounds the gale,
And with its murmurs soothes the mind:
Anon, a whistling sound prevails—
By fits, irregular, it roars—
With boisterous force the house assails,
While with harsh, dreary noise, resound the jarring doors.

Yet why, my Maia, why that tear?
Why hangs that gloom upon thy mind?
The storm may rage abroad, but here,
My love, it can no entrance find.
You think, perchance, of those at sea,
Or the poor houseless wretch on shore;
For soft compassion dwells with thee,
And others' griefs oft wound thy tender breast full sore.

Or spring thy sorrows from within,
From sources deeper and more near?
Not from the storm's external din,
But from thine own foreboding fear?
Dreads thou lest we should ever feel
Want's chilling blasts and freezing power?
Say, can mankind their bosoms steel
'Gainst those who shivering stand beneath affliction's shower?

What tho our pittance be but small,
And helpless babe look up for bread,
The Providence, that cares for all,
A table for us still will spread.
Should we become Disease's prey,
And in our veins fierce Fever rage,
On Sickness' pillow Hope will lay
Some cordial drops that may these cruel ills assuage.

In Summer oft the tender flower
Hangs its fair head, surcharg'd with rain;
But soon the sun's enlivening power
Unfolds its beauties all again:
And e'en the showers that weigh it down
Fresh vigour to the stem bestow.——
Thus then, if heaven or smile or frown,
Some good to man may spring, alike from joy or woe.
Not a very good poem, evidently. But, like Coleridge's later and much more powerful work, it is an Ode about mental dejection that opens with a storm (in STC: ‘rain and squally blast’; ‘swelling gust’, ‘and the slant night-shower driving loud and fast!’), that addresses a lady—‘Maia’ rather than Sara—and that ends by commending her to Joy. Coleridge even includes a suffering babe (‘a little child ... now moans low in bitter grief and fear/And now screams loud, and hopes to make her mother hear’) as does Black, whose ‘helpless babe look[s] up for bread’. It's not much, but it may be something.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Damascius in the "Religious Musings" (1796)

These 437 lines of blank verse are young Coleridge rather self-consciously attempting a ‘major’ poem; a lengthy Akensidean meditation on Christian themes written, as its subtitle notes, at Christmas 1794 (though not published until 1796). The poem is, I'd say, interesting rather than successful. William Empson called Religious Musings  ‘hard for us to take seriously today’, which is right I think, although he also noted that ‘Charles Lamb thought the Musings the greatest religious poetry since Milton’. Others amongst Coleridge's friendship group were less impressed. John Thelwall, for instance, thought it ‘the very acme of abstruse, metaphysical, mistical [sic] rant, & all ranting abstractions and metaphysic and mysticism are wider from true poetry than the equator from the poles’ [Warren Gibbs, ‘An Unpublished Letter from John Thelwall to S T Coleridge’, Modern Language Review 25 (1930), 86]. Coleridge replied vigorously enough (‘why so violent against metaphysics in poetry? Is not Akenside's The Pleasures of Imagination [1744] a metaphysical poem?’); and when Robert Poole wrote praising the poem but regretting that it wasn't written ‘more on the level of human understanding’ Coleridge wrote back, slightly haughtily: ‘the Poem was not written for common Readers’ [Collected Letters, 1:207].

Today I'm focusing on one small thing. When Religious Musings was first published, in Poems (1796), Coleridge included various footnotes after the eighteenth-century didactic manner. When he reprinted the poem in 1797 he deleted many of the more politically incendiary of these annotations (his political views were starting to shift, even at this early stage) but he added a new note to ‘line 35’.

The Greek, Το Νοητον διηγηκασιν εις πολλων Θεων ιδιοτητας (printed, as you can see, thus, without accents or breathings—it should be τὸ νοητὸν διηγήκασιν εἰς πολλῶν Θεῶν ἰδιότητας) means: ‘they divided the νοητός into many individuated gods’, where the νοητός [from νοέω, ‘I perceive, I think out’] means ‘that which is conceivable, perceptible, intelligible, comprehensible’. Coleridge's note attributes this (correctly) to the Neoplatonic philosopher Damascius, but incorrectly suggests it's from the De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum, a book actually by a Neoplatonist from a different, earlier generation, Iamblichus. And in fact Coleridge's error of attribution (it was first noticed by Ian Wylie in his Young Coleridge and the Philosphers of Nature 1990) is kind-of understandable, I think. STC came across the Greek when reading Cudworth's The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678), that huge and influential work of Anglican theology, a Coleridgean favourite. Cudworth includes a chapter on the Egyptians in which he argues that Egypt was originally a nation of monotheists, worshiping ‘one supreme and universal Numen’ [1:4], but that later Egyptian and Greek religious practice broke this unity into myriad pagan godlings. Here's the relevant bit, with the Greek from which, you can see, Coleridge culled his line.

To be honest it's not clear to me that Coleridge ever actually did confuse Damascius and Iamblichus, since (as you can see) Cudworth doesn't attribute the passage to a specific title but rather to ‘Damascius's principle MS’. Most of Damascius' work, including his titles, has been lost to us; it's perfectly possible he wrote a book under the title On the Egyptian Mysteries, which is, after all, what he's talking about here. Cudworth's Greek comes from a fragmentary piece of early 6th-C Damascius, quoted at length but without sufficient context by Photius in the 9th-C, and now generally reconstructed by scholars under the hypothetical title The Life of Isidore, or sometimes The Philosophical History. Not that Coleridge was likely to have known that.

‘As quoted’, say Nicholas Halmi, Paul Magnuson and Raimonda Modiano, ‘the sentence seems to refer to the proliferation of pagan gods, but the Unitarian Coleridge could have intended it to apply to the Christian trinity.’ I wonder about that; it seems a little super-subtle to me. The emphasis of this passage is more Cudworthian, surely. We know that Coleridge was reading not the 1678 original text of Cudworth, but Thomas Birch's 1743 abridged edition of the work; and the frontispiece of that edition draws out one of Cudworth's main aims (the defense of faith and disproof of atheism):

Apologies for the slightly wonky scan, there. But you can see: the Sun of Reason shining on both the victorious theists and the confused atheists.

This is surely the image behind Coleridge's ‘Holy with power/He on the thought-benighted Sceptic beamed/Manifest Godhead, melting into day/Floating mists of dark idolatry’.

In other words the poem is celebrating the birth of Christ as the moment when the originary monotheism of humanity was restored, rescued from the fogs of pagan polytheism into which it had fallen. That this sunlight, piercing the fog of idolatory, was actually the moment when the Jewish monotheos disclosed itself into the world as a plurality of divine identities (Father and now Son) seems to me a striking and rather pleasing irony. To be clear—I know that the Christian orthodoxy is that the trinity always existed, from the beginning of time, as Father-Son-Spirit and the very first Christmas Day was merely the moment when one aspect of this holy triad manifested in the material world, but still.
             Holy with power
He on the thought-benighted Sceptic beamed
Manifest Godhead, melting into day
What floating mists of dark idolatry
Broke and misshap'd the Omnipresent Sire:
And first by FEAR uncharm'd the drowséd Soul
Till of its nobler nature it 'gan feel
Dim recollections; and thence soar'd to HOPE.
Strong to believe whate'er of mystic good
Th'ETERNAL dooms for His IMMORTAL Sons.
From HOPE and firmer FAITH to perfect LOVE
Attracted and absorb'd: and center'd there
GOD only to behold, and know, and feel,
Till by exclusive Consciousness of GOD
All self-annihilated it shall make
GOD its Identity: God all in all!
We and our Father ONE! [Religious Musings, 33-51]
The passage enacts what it describes: the singular identity of the unitary ‘Godhead’, the ‘Omnipresent Sire’, has been obscured for many generations by the ‘floating mists of dark idolatry’, which ‘broke’ it into seeming ‘misshapen’ fragments—each worshipped as gods by the pagans—that is reconciled to true monotheistic trinitarianism (pace Halmi, Magnuson and Modiano) by Christ's birth, which draws the variegated ‘dim recollections’ through HOPE to FAITH and LOVE, through a kind of contra-centrifugal process, thrice-specified because it is trinitarian, ‘attracted and absorb'd: and center'd’ back to the, again thrice-named capitalised GOD, whose presence enables another triadic process, ‘to behold, and know, and feel’ the ‘all-in-all’ oneness of us and God.

How did this lapse into paganism happen in the first place? According to Coleridge, the problem was ‘FEAR’, a hypothesis he takes from Cudworth's book. The True Intellectual System suggests that polytheism was what happened ‘when the Minds of Men strongly possess'd with Fear, especially in the Dark, raise up the Phantasms of Spectres, Bug-bears, or Affrightful Apparitions to them’, events they think ‘to be Objects really existing without them, and so call them Ghosts and Spirits, whilst they are indeed nothing but their own Phancies’:
So the Phantasm or Phancy of a Deity (which is indeed the Chief of all Spectres) created by Fear, has upon no other Accompt, been taken for a Reality. From the Fear that proceeds from the Ignorance it self, of what it is that hath the Power to do men Good or Harm, men are inclined to suppose and Feign to themselves, several kinds of Powers Invisible, and to stand in awe of their own Imaginations, and in time of Distress to invoke them, as also in the time of an expected good Success, to give them thanks, making the Creatures of their own Fancies, their Gods... This (we say) was the first Original of that Vulgar Belief of Invisible Powers, Ghosts, and Gods. [Cudworth, True Intellectual System, 1.2]
One last note. I think there's another piece of wordplay going on in this passage, one that is mediated via the Damascian Greek quoted in STC's 1797-added footnote: the shift, that is to say, from the mists of Idolatry at the beginning of the passage to the triumphant restoration of God as Identity at its end, via Damascius's ἰδιότητα. Now Coleridge was not a dunce. He understand that the English word idolatry derives not from the Greek ἰδιότητα (which means: ‘property, characteristic, attribute, status’) but from the quite different source, εἴδωλον (eidōlon, “idol”) + λάτρις (latris, “worshipper”). But by the same token he surely knew that Identity comes from exactly that source. That in other words, buttressing his verse-paragraph with this particular Damascian, Cudworth-derived footnote licenses the reader to navigate from the ghost or phantom εἴδωλον of fear-inspired idolatry back to the true divine ἰδιότητα, the identity of A = A that is the perfect union of father, son and holy ghost, in which we, redeemed in Christ, can find our all-in-all. None of this needs to draw on Damascius's Neoplatonism, and none of it is incompatible with trinitarianism (Coleridge's relationship to Unitarianism, evem at this early stage in his intellectual career, was always complicated). It is, more simply, a Coleridgean elision of the obscure many into the sunbright one.